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The Complete Essays of John Galsworthy by John Galsworthy

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be judged? In the fluster of meeting novelty, we have even seen
coherence attempting to bind together two personalities so
fundamentally opposed as those of Ibsen and Bernard Shaw dramatists
with hardly a quality in common; no identity of tradition, or belief;
not the faintest resemblance in methods of construction or technique.
Yet contemporary; estimate talks of them often in the same breath.
They are new! It is enough. And others, as utterly unlike them
both. They too are new. They have as yet no label of their own then
put on some one else's!

And so--I thought it must always be; for Time is essential to the
proper placing and estimate of all Art. And is it not this feeling,
that contemporary judgments are apt to turn out a little ludicrous,
which has converted much criticism of late from judgment pronounced
into impression recorded--recreative statement--a kind, in fact, of
expression of the critic's self, elicited through contemplation of a
book, a play, a symphony, a picture? For this kind of criticism
there has even recently been claimed an actual identity with
creation. Esthetic judgment and creative power identical! That is a
hard saying. For, however sympathetic one may feel toward this new
criticism, however one may recognise that the recording of impression
has a wider, more elastic, and more lasting value than the delivery
of arbitrary judgment based on rigid laws of taste; however one may
admit that it approaches the creative gift in so far as it demands
the qualities of receptivity and reproduction--is there not still
lacking to this "new" critic something of that thirsting spirit of
discovery, which precedes the creation--hitherto so-called--of
anything? Criticism, taste, aesthetic judgment, by the very nature
of their task, wait till life has been focussed by the artists before
they attempt to reproduce the image which that imprisoned fragment of
life makes on the mirror of their minds. But a thing created springs
from a germ unconsciously implanted by the direct impact of
unfettered life on the whole range, of the creator's temperament; and
round the germ thus engendered, the creative artist--ever
penetrating, discovering, selecting--goes on building cell on cell,
gathered from a million little fresh impacts and visions. And to say
that this is also exactly what the recreative critic does, is to say
that the interpretative musician is creator in the same sense as is
the composer of the music that he interprets. If, indeed, these
processes be the same in kind, they are in degree so far apart that
one would think the word creative unfortunately used of both....

But this speculation--I thought--is going beyond the bounds of
vagueness. Let there be some thread of coherence in your thoughts,
as there is in the progress of this evening, fast fading into night.
Return to the consideration of the nature and purposes of Art! And
recognize that much of what you have thought will seem on the face of
it heresy to the school whose doctrine was incarnated by Oscar Wilde
in that admirable apotheosis of half-truths: "The Decay of the Art of
Lying." For therein he said: "No great artist ever sees things as
they really are." Yet, that half-truth might also be put thus: The
seeing of things as they really are--the seeing of a proportion
veiled from other eyes (together with the power of expression), is
what makes a man an artist. What makes him a great artist is a high
fervour of spirit, which produces a superlative, instead of a
comparative, clarity of vision.

Close to my house there is a group of pines with gnarled red limbs
flanked by beech-trees. And there is often a very deep blue sky
behind. Generally, that is all I see. But, once in a way, in those
trees against that sky I seem to see all the passionate life and glow
that Titian painted into his pagan pictures. I have a vision of
mysterious meaning, of a mysterious relation between that sky and
those trees with their gnarled red limbs and Life as I know it. And
when I have had that vision I always feel, this is reality, and all
those other times, when I have no such vision, simple unreality. If
I were a painter, it is for such fervent vision I should wait, before
moving brush: This, so intimate, inner vision of reality, indeed,
seems in duller moments well-nigh grotesque; and hence that other
glib half-truth: "Art is greater than Life itself." Art is, indeed,
greater than Life in the sense that the power of Art is the
disengagement from Life of its real spirit and significance. But in
any other sense, to say that Art is greater than Life from which it
emerges, and into which it must remerge, can but suspend the artist
over Life, with his feet in the air and his head in the clouds--Prig
masquerading as Demi-god. "Nature is no great Mother who has borne
us. She is our creation. It is in our brain that she quickens to
life." Such is the highest hyperbole of the aesthetic creed. But
what is creative instinct, if not an incessant living sympathy with
Nature, a constant craving like that of Nature's own, to fashion
something new out of all that comes within the grasp of those
faculties with which Nature has endowed us? The qualities of vision,
of fancy, and of imaginative power, are no more divorced from Nature,
than are the qualities of common-sense and courage. They are rarer,
that is all. But in truth, no one holds such views. Not even those
who utter them. They are the rhetoric, the over-statement of half-
truths, by such as wish to condemn what they call "Realism," without
being temperamentally capable of understanding what "Realism" really

And what--I thought--is Realism? What is the meaning of that word so
wildly used? Is it descriptive of technique, or descriptive of the
spirit of the artist; or both, or neither? Was Turgenev a realist?
No greater poet ever wrote in prose, nor any one who more closely
brought the actual shapes of men and things before us. No more
fervent idealists than Ibsen and Tolstoy ever lived; and none more
careful to make their people real. Were they realists? No more
deeply fantastic writer can I conceive than Dostoievsky, nor any who
has described actual situations more vividly. Was he a realist? The
late Stephen Crane was called a realist. Than whom no more
impressionistic writer ever painted with words. What then is the
heart of this term still often used as an expression almost of abuse?
To me, at all events--I thought--the words realism, realistic, have
no longer reference to technique, for which the words naturalism,
naturalistic, serve far better. Nor have they to do with the
question of imaginative power--as much demanded by realism as by
romanticism. For me, a realist is by no means tied to naturalistic
technique--he may be poetic, idealistic, fantastic, impressionistic,
anything but--romantic; that, in so far as he is a realist, he
cannot be. The word, in fact, characterises that artist whose
temperamental preoccupation is with revelation of the actual inter-
relating spirit of life, character, and thought, with a view to
enlighten himself and others; as distinguished from that artist whom
I call romantic--whose tempera mental purpose is invention of tale or
design with a view to delight himself and others. It is a question
of temperamental antecedent motive in the artist, and nothing more.

Realist--Romanticist! Enlightenment--Delight! That is the true
apposition. To make a revelation--to tell a fairy-tale! And either
of these artists may use what form he likes--naturalistic, fantastic,
poetic, impressionistic. For it is not by the form, but by the
purpose and mood of his art that he shall be known, as one or as the
other. Realists indeed--including the half of Shakespeare that was
realist not being primarily concerned to amuse their audience, are
still comparatively unpopular in a world made up for the greater part
of men of action, who instinctively reject all art that does not
distract them without causing them to think. For thought makes
demands on an energy already in full use; thought causes
introspection; and introspection causes discomfort, and disturbs the
grooves of action. To say that the object of the realist is to
enlighten rather than to delight, is not to say that in his art the
realist is not amusing himself as much as ever is the teller of a
fairy-tale, though he does not deliberately start out to do so; he is
amusing, too, a large part of mankind. For, admitted that the
abject, and the test of Art, is always the awakening of vibration, of
impersonal emotion, it is still usually forgotten that men fall,
roughly speaking, into two flocks: Those whose intelligence is
uninquiring in the face of Art, and does not demand to be appeased
before their emotions can be stirred; and those who, having a
speculative bent of mind, must first be satisfied by an enlightening
quality in a work of Art, before that work of Art can awaken in them
feeling. The audience of the realist is drawn from this latter type
of man; the much larger audience of the romantic artist from the
former; together with, in both cases, those fastidious few for whom
all Art is style and only style, and who welcome either kind, so long
as it is good enough.

To me, then--I thought--this division into Realism and Romance, so
understood, is the main cleavage in all the Arts; but it is hard to
find pure examples of either kind. For even the most determined
realist has more than a streak in him of the romanticist, and the
most resolute romanticist finds it impossible at times to be quite
unreal. Guido Reni, Watteau, Leighton were they not perhaps somewhat
pure romanticists; Rembrandt, Hogarth, Manet mainly realists;
Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, a blend. Dumas pere, and Scott, surely
romantic; Flaubert and Tolstoy as surely realists; Dickens and
Cervantes, blended. Keats and Swinburne romantic; Browning and
Whitman--realistic; Shakespeare and Goethe, both. The Greek
dramatists--realists. The Arabian Nights and Malory romantic. The
Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Old Testament, both realism and romance.
And if in the vagueness of my thoughts I were to seek for
illustration less general and vague to show the essence of this
temperamental cleavage in all Art, I would take the two novelists
Turgenev and Stevenson. For Turgenev expressed himself in stories
that must be called romances, and Stevenson employed almost always a
naturalistic technique. Yet no one would ever call Turgenev a
romanticist, or Stevenson a realist. The spirit of the first brooded
over life, found in it a perpetual voyage of spiritual adventure, was
set on discovering and making clear to himself and all, the varying
traits and emotions of human character--the varying moods of Nature;
and though he couched all this discovery in caskets of engaging
story, it was always clear as day what mood it was that drove him to
dip pen in ink. The spirit of the second, I think, almost dreaded to
discover; he felt life, I believe, too keenly to want to probe into
it; he spun his gossamer to lure himself and all away from life.
That was his driving mood; but the craftsman in him, longing to be
clear and poignant, made him more natural, more actual than most

So, how thin often is the hedge! And how poor a business the
partisan abuse of either kind of art in a world where each sort of
mind has full right to its own due expression, and grumbling lawful
only when due expression is not attained. One may not care for a
Rembrandt portrait of a plain old woman; a graceful Watteau
decoration may leave another cold but foolish will he be who denies
that both are faithful to their conceiving moods, and so proportioned
part to part, and part to whole, as to have, each in its own way,
that inherent rhythm or vitality which is the hall-mark of Art. He
is but a poor philosopher who holds a view so narrow as to exclude
forms not to his personal taste. No realist can love romantic Art so
much as he loves his own, but when that Art fulfils the laws of its
peculiar being, if he would be no blind partisan, he must admit it.
The romanticist will never be amused by realism, but let him not for
that reason be so parochial as to think that realism, when it
achieves vitality, is not Art. For what is Art but the perfected
expression of self in contact with the world; and whether that self
be of enlightening, or of fairy-telling temperament, is of no moment
whatsoever. The tossing of abuse from realist to romanticist and
back is but the sword-play of two one-eyed men with their blind side
turned toward each other. Shall not each attempt be judged on its
own merits? If found not shoddy, faked, or forced, but true to
itself, true to its conceiving mood, and fair-proportioned part to
whole; so that it lives--then, realistic or romantic, in the name of
Fairness let it pass! Of all kinds of human energy, Art is surely
the most free, the least parochial; and demands of us an essential
tolerance of all its forms. Shall we waste breath and ink in
condemnation of artists, because their temperaments are not our own?

But the shapes and colours of the day were now all blurred; every
tree and stone entangled in the dusk. How different the world seemed
from that in which I had first sat down, with the swallows flirting
past. And my mood was different; for each of those worlds had
brought to my heart its proper feeling--painted on my eyes the just
picture. And Night, that was coming, would bring me yet another mood
that would frame itself with consciousness at its own fair moment,
and hang before me. A quiet owl stole by in the geld below, and
vanished into the heart of a tree. And suddenly above the moor-line
I saw the large moon rising. Cinnamon-coloured, it made all things
swim, made me uncertain of my thoughts, vague with mazy feeling.
Shapes seemed but drifts of moon-dust, and true reality nothing save
a sort of still listening to the wind. And for long I sat, just
watching the moon creep up, and hearing the thin, dry rustle of the
leaves along the holly hedge. And there came to me this thought:
What is this Universe--that never had beginning and will never have
an end--but a myriad striving to perfect pictures never the same, so
blending and fading one into another, that all form one great
perfected picture? And what are we--ripples on the tides of a
birthless, deathless, equipoised Creative-Purpose--but little
works of Art?

Trying to record that thought, I noticed that my note-book was damp
with dew. The cattle were lying down. It was too dark to see.


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