WRITING in Lux Mundi in 1889, in the famous essay on 'The Holy Spirit and Inspiration', which provoked such a storm, Charles Gore declared:
'A literary criticism is being developed, which is as really new an intellectual product as the scientific development and, as such, certain to reverse a good many of the literary judgements of previous ages.'
When I was honoured by the invitation to deliver these lectures, I thought that the best way I could fulfil the intentions of the foundation was by a discussion of modern methods of literary criticism and of the problems they raise; since literary criticism has an obvious bearing on a matter which is of great importance to Christians, the interpretation of Holy Scripture. Gore was stating in his generation, with his characteristic prophetic insight, what is stated afresh in every generation, and always as if it were a new discovery, that the Bible, whatever else it may be, is certainly literature, and presents to the human understanding literary problems, and demands that we exercise upon it the methods and skills appropriate to the discussion of such problems.
When Gore spoke of a new literary criticism he had in mind developments in that literary criticism of the Bible which came into being in the nineteenth century and distinguished itself from textual criticism under the name of Higher Criticism. But his words can be given a wider extension. Since he wrote, the study of literatures ancient and modern has become an autonomous study in universities, and literary criticism has become conscious of its scope and methods as a distinct intellectual activity. It has become a professional study. I would not wish to suggest that the remarkable developments which have taken place in the literary criticism of the Bible in the last hundred years are a result of the practice of literary criticism in our schools of English literature in the universities. It would be futile to attempt to establish priorities between the New Testament critic and the Shakespearian critic, each finding old answers insufficient, and attempting to frame new questions which will give better answers. But that there are connexions, some arising from the intellectual habits of the age, some due to a process of cross-fertilization, is obvious to anyone reading recent studies in the two fields. As a professional student of secular literature, I tend to feel when I read certain recent works of New Testament criticism that I am finding familiar tools taken up and used on unfamiliar material. I do not doubt that the New Testament scholar reading some recent studies of Shakespeare's plays might feel the same sense of being at home and not at home. It is anyhow undeniable that a writer who asserts today that a problem in the New Testament is a literary problem and requires a literary solution means something very different from what Jowett, or Matthew Arnold, or Dean Farrar, or even Charles Gore would have meant by such a statement. Developments in literary criticism and the problems they raise are therefore of concern to those who hold the Christian faith, and I thought that some such conception of the relevance of my professional studies might have been in the minds of those who so kindly invited me to give these lectures. At the same time, when I decided to draw some parallels and make some comments on fields so far apart as the criticism of seventeenth-century literature and the criticism of the New Testament, I realized that I was committing myself to saying perhaps little that was worthwhile on either. I am aware also that I may, in the one field through lack of detailed discussion, and in the other by sheer ignorance, appear to misrepresent the work of those more learned than myself. I can only hope that an attempt to show some connexions and to suggest some misgivings may be of interest to those in either field who are not aware of what is happening in the other, and may also have some bearing on the general problem of the purpose and the limits of literary criticism.
The literary critic is often spoken of as exercising one of two functions, interpretation or evaluation. Good criticism is said to enlarge and purify our understanding of a work, or to enable us to judge of its excellence. The division is an artificial one since neither function can be exercised without the other. Although the stress of a particular critic, or the nature of the particular work he is dealing with, may weight his criticism towards one or other of these ends, no judgement of a work's excellence is possible without understanding, and understanding is itself the fruit of an initial act of judgement seeking confirmation. Nobody wastes time interpreting what is not thought worth interpretation. It would, however, be generally true to say that the main stress of criticism in the last thirty years has been on the duty of interpretation, and that the major triumphs, and one might add the main aberrations, of modern literary criticism have been not in the region of judgement, but in the region of interpretation. This is in itself a sign of an evaluating judgement: the immense importance attached to literature, and particularly to poetry, in this century. Because imaginative literature has come to be thought of as one of the prime vehicles of knowledge, we see so many persons devoting their intellectual powers to the interpretation and detailed exegesis of poetry. Serious works of literary criticism have something of the same kind of place in publishers' lists today which sermons held for the Victorians. A feature of criticism is the treatment of poetry as if it were scripture. As a corollary, the literary problems of the New Testament are discussed in the terms in which poetry is discussed, and we have recently been asked to consider St. Mark, or whoever wrote the second Gospel, as having written what is from the literary point of view, 'more of a poem than a treatise'. The growth of the conception of the literary critic as primarily an interpreter, and changes in the conception of what is demanded of an interpreter of the literature of the past, have brought about the opposite of what it was thought would be the result of the injunction to read the Bible as we read any other book.
Thirty years before Gore, Benjamin Jowett contributed to Essays and Reviews in 1859 an essay on 'The Interpretation of Scripture', which also provoked a great storm. Jowett had none of Gore's sense of the disturbing possibilities of literary criticism. The concept of reading the Bible as we would read any other book was to him a simple and simplifying one. It meant brushing aside the accretions of time and the dust of theological controversy, and going back to the true meaning of Scripture,
'the meaning which it had to the mind of the prophet or evangelist who first uttered or wrote, to the hearers or readers who first received it'.
It was, of course, necessary to understand the historical circumstances, be aware of the presence of outworn modes of thought, and analyse the peculiarities of the writers' language; but Jowett plainly assumed that these were not difficult tasks, and that it was a relatively simple matter to recognize the meaning words had for those who uttered them in an alien language two thousand or more years ago. The test by which the true meaning could be recognized was an apparently simple one:
'The universal truth easily breaks through the accidents of time and place.' For Jowett believed that 'the world changes, but the human heart remains the same'.
As we read Jowett's essay an image arises in the mind of how he envisaged the events behind the Gospel records. He conceived them in terms of what he held dearest and holiest. A teacher is speaking to a group of serious, but not highly educated, workingmen, attempting to inculcate in them a loftier and sweeter morality. This is to him the core of the Gospels, their true meaning. When he turned to the Old Testament, as a book made up of many books, he saw in it a record of the history of an ancient people whose religious customs and moral conceptions culminated in the high ethical monotheism of the prophets. The plain sense and true meaning of the Scriptures is for Jowett historical. Although the writers' own historical sense was faulty, we can, by the exercise of critical judgement, glean from them a record of the growth of mankind's sense of the holy and the good. The conception of progress makes us able to derive profit from all the books of the Bible. We can discern in all what speaks to the best in ourselves, stripping off the husks and finding the kernel of moral and religious truth. It did not seem to strike Jowett that he was invoking the historical sense in order to be able to ignore it. The writers of the Old Testament were not concerned to furnish materials for nineteenth-century historians, and the writers of the New Testament presumably related miracles because they thought them of significance. Jowett looked for 'the meaning which Scripture had for those who first uttered it' in order to be able in some measure to discount it.
If we pass from Jowett to Arnold we are passing from the world of critical scholarship to the world of higher journalism. In Literature and Dogma in 1873 Arnold declared, again as if it were a fresh discovery, that the Bible was a book and must be read as we read other books. His master-keys to the interpretation of Scripture were 'a fair mind' and 'the tact which letters, surely, alone can give':
For the thing turns upon understanding the manner in which men have thought, their way of using words, and what they mean by them. And by knowing letters, by becoming conversant with the best that has been thought and said in the world, we become acquainted not only with the history, but also with the scope and powers, of the instruments which men employ in thinking and speaking.
It is well known what Arnold, approaching the Gospels with a fair mind and literary tact, found there. He found in their central figure a
'new and different way of putting things', 'what is indicated by the expression epieikeia or "sweet reasonableness"'.
He declared that we could leave out all matters which he called 'theosophy', since Jesus himself preferred to describe himself by the simplest term 'Son of Man', and that we could leave out all matters about the Church, because
'Jesus never troubled himself with what are called Church matters at all; his attention was fixed solely upon the individual.'
These remarks no doubt appeared grotesque to anyone acquainted with serious biblical criticism in Arnold's own day. They are grotesque to us as a piece of literary criticism, even if we have only a rudimentary acquaintance with New Testament problems. It seems fantastic that anyone sitting down today to read the Gospels with a fair mind and literary tact should think 'sweet reasonableness' the dominant note of the Lord's teaching. He would be much more likely to emphasize the dark sayings and to point to the uncompromising nature of the demands made upon the Lord's disciples. But, further, Arnold's whole approach seems to us unliterary. He has not asked any of the questions we should ask and seems unaware of the kind of question which interests us. He is not, on the one hand, attempting to make sense of a single work, one of the Gospels. Nor is he asking in what circumstances or for what purpose these works were written, or what the words and phrases the writers employed meant to them. The lack of interest in particular works as self-subsistent objects, to be apprehended as wholes, and the lack of interest in the historical circumstances in which a work came into existence, are consequences of Arnold's general theory of literary criticism. He was interested in trying to sum up writers by some expressive formula which would epitomize what he found most valuable in them, and was not interested in the elucidation of a work as in some sense independent of all its writer's other works, an aesthetic whole, or in analysing the idiosyncrasies of a writer's modes of thought and expression in the context of the thought of his age, the two main preoccupations of literary criticism today. The lighthearted manner in which Arnold approaches the problems of the interpretation of Scripture is a consequence of the fact that he did not consider elucidation and interpretation to be tasks to engage the higher faculties. These were shown in the appreciation of what was of lasting value in the work. Arnold's literary tact responded to the moral fervour of Hebrew literature, its passion for righteousness. This was its abiding significance to which the literary critic should point. Behind the Gospels he felt the moral renewal which Christianity brought to the ancient world, and saw Jesus of Nazareth as a greater and gentler prophet.
Arnold's criticism is the criticism of a man of letters. To Charles Gore, writing in 1889, literary criticism was a more serious and professional affair. It was primarily analytical. It meant distinguishing the different strata in works whose single authorship had been taken for granted, the study of sources, the recognition of literary forms. By its light the historical books of the Old Testament could be shown to be idealized and interpreted history, and other books, which appeared superficially to be historical, could be shown to be quasi-dramatic compositions put into the mouths of historical persons; while the earliest records of the Jewish race were to be treated as myths and legends, sometimes semi-allegorical. This strictly limited definition of literary criticism, which makes it anterior and ancillary to interpretation and evaluation proper, was the orthodox meaning of the term in biblical studies still in 1928, when it was defined very clearly in an essay by E. J. Bicknell in the Commentary on Holy Scripture edited by Gore and others for the S.P.C.K.:
Literary criticism investigates the date and authorship of a writing, the circumstances under which it was composed, the scope and purpose and nature of the work. It asks such questions as whether it is the production of one author or more than one; whether it is based on or embodies earlier writings; and if so, what is their date and character, and have they been altered by the editor.
I think, even as late as 1928, many teachers of literature in the universities would have defined literary scholarship in much the same way, and distinguished it from the criticism of men of letters. Gore's essay belongs to a different world of discourse from Jowett's, because his whole discussion of the interpretation of Scripture is set in the context of a profound consideration of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and the nature of inspiration. But he agrees with Jowett and Arnold in one thing: he emphasizes, as they do, that the historical sense is the primary sense of Scripture and he dismisses the mystical sense as wholly uncongenial to the modern mind. Nearly forty years later, in his preliminary essay in the S.P.C.K. Commentary in 1928, he put forward essentially the same view:
Thus we heave a sigh of relief when we discover that the great St. Thomas lays it quite decisively down, basing himself on St. Augustine, that no argument on behalf of the faith is to be based on any allegorical interpretation of Scripture. And he adds that we lose nothing scriptural thereby 'because nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense of Scripture, which Scripture does not somewhere deliver manifestly through the literal sense'.
But by 1928 matters had changed so much that, in spite of the editor's statement, there was included in the Commentary a long essay by Dr. Darwell Stone on the mystical interpretation of the Old Testament, with a plea for its recognition as of high spiritual value and the statement that in his judgement
'the Church is not likely to be able to retain the reading of the Old Testament and the recitation of the psalter in public worship unless the use of the mystical interpretation is to some extent recognized'.
A note to this essay was appended by Dr. Charles Harris, a specialist in the Wisdom literature, calling for
'a fresh treatment of mystical interpretation which shall distinguish between its arbitrary and its rational use'.
To Jowett, all attempts to look for a hidden meaning in Scripture were ludicrous:
'That the present age has grown out of the mystical methods of the early fathers', he wrote, 'is a part of its intellectual state. No one will now seek to find hidden meanings in the scarlet thread of Rahab, or the number of Abraham's followers.'
But he went on to point out that, although his readers might smile at the excesses of the early Fathers, 'who have read the Bible crosswise, or deciphered it as a book of symbols', remains of the method survived
'whenever there is departure from the plain and obvious meaning', adding severely: 'If words have more than one meaning, they may have any meaning.'
Jowett's disciple and admirer Dean Farrar, who supplied Jowett's demand for a history of the interpretation of Scripture in his Bampton Lectures of 1885, which he dedicated to Jowett, supported Jowett's position with a splendid range of what he regarded as wholly preposterous interpretations. His learned and entertaining book is a mine of information. It is written in a highly tendentious, vigorous manner, well seasoned with epigrams. He put forward, as Jowett did, the basic axiom that
'all Exegesis must be unsound which is not based on the literal, grammatical, historical, contextual sense of the sacred writers. . . . It is impossible that we should rightly apprehend the meaning of that Book otherwise than by linguistic and literary laws.'
The mystical interpretation of Scripture was to Farrar a source of endless exasperation. How could intelligent men be so wrong-headed? He summed up the work of the Alexandrian Fathers by saying:
'They do but systematize the art of misinterpretation. They have furnished volumes of baseless application without shedding upon the significance of Scripture one ray of genuine light.'
The Liber Formularum Spiritalis Intelligentiae of Eucherius, the first writer to distinguish the anagogical sense as implying reference to the heavenly Jerusalem, he dismissed as 'a dull and desultory dictionary of metaphors'. He paid a noble tribute to the great Origen as founder of all Christian biblical study, the father of its textual criticism, and of grammatical as well as allegorical exegesis; but over Origen, the exegete of the spiritual senses, he could only shake his head with despair:
'Arbitrary in its purport, immeasurable in its extent, a great part of this allegoric comment becomes a mere shuffling of subjective commonplaces.' Such comments 'do but weary and offend us with a sense of incongruous unreality. They change tender human narratives into dreary and ill-constructed riddles.'
I am aware that in quoting Jowett and Farrar I am citing Liberal Churchmen and that a different and tenderer attitude towards the comments of the Fathers would be found among the High Churchmen; but it was preeminently the Liberals who demanded that the Bible should be interpreted in accordance with literary laws. There is some irony in the fact that the literary criticism which they so confidently invoked to establish a single plain sense of Scripture has, by its own development, led men away from a historical interpretation of the Bible to a theological one. Further, the method of seeking for the spiritual sense, so far from seeming an incomprehensible aberration of the human intellect, has become not merely comprehensible but extremely sympathetic. The sleep of Adam, the ark of Noah, the passage of the Red Sea, the thread of Rahab, and even, 'most shocking of all' as Farrar calls it, the drunkenness of Noah, interest the literary student, as well as the student of Scripture, much less as human narratives, tender, exciting, or grotesque, than as significant in something of the same way as they were to the early Christian centuries. They are read as symbolic stories which have meaning beyond their value as narratives, and call for interpretation in some 'spiritual sense', as myths or symbols embodying some kind of inner truth.
The mystical interpretation of the story of Noah drunk and naked in his tent, which so deeply shocked Dean Farrar, happens to provide an admirable example of this change of attitude. Many visitors to Venice must have been struck by the choice of this episode from the Old Testament as the subject of the sculpture on one of the three beautiful corner pillars of the Doge's Palace. The first pillar, next to St. Mark's, shows the judgement of Solomon. Its appropriateness is obvious outside the seat of government and palace of justice. The next, on the corner facing the lagoon and Piazzetta, shows Adam and Eve plucking the apple, with the tree between them. Again, it is highly appropriate that the first sin and the beginning of human history should be represented here. On the opposite corner, however, instead of the expected parallel to the Tree of the Fall, is to be found the figure of Noah drunk. He is shown leaning upright against the vine-tree which he had planted, with his two good sons turning away from the sight of his nakedness and holding a robe with which to cover his shame. In the mosaics of the atrium of St. Mark's, as culmination of the story of Noah and the ark, there appears again this episode of Noah drunk. This time Ham is shown, mocking his father's nakedness and calling to his brethren. In two even more famous works of art this same episode is prominent. It occupies the foreground of the panel devoted to the story of Noah on Ghiberti's gates for the Baptistery at Florence, and it is the final episode of Michelangelo's series on the roof of the Sistine Chapel at Rome. But on Ghiberti's gates and on Michelangelo's ceiling Noah lies prostrate, whereas on the Doge's Palace he is standing. The reason for this difference is clear if one looks at the whole design. In the panel immediately above that portraying the story of Noah, and in the same corner of the panel as the corner below in which Noah lies drunk, Ghiberti placed the creation of Adam, with Adam prostrate, being raised from the ground by his Creator. Similarly, on the roof of the Sistine Chapel it is the figure of the newly created Adam rising from the earth which parallels the prone figure of Noah drunk. In each series Noah is set over against Adam, as type of the second Adam who is Christ. On the pillars of the Doge's Palace the reference to the Passion is more obvious, because the pose of Noah leaning against the vine reminds the spectator of a Deposition or Descent from the Cross. The reference to the Passion in the recumbent Noah is not in the same way suggested to the eye.
This manner of thinking appeared little short of blasphemous to Dean Farrar, and indeed most persons without literary training, whether Catholic or Protestant, whom I have asked whether they could see any connexion between the Drunkenness of Noah and the Passion of Christ have shared Dean Farrar's sense of irreligious absurdity at the suggestion of a connexion. But most literary persons, though few have been able to explain precisely how Noah here typifies Christ, have not felt this sense of absurdity and impropriety, and have been willing to entertain in their minds the notion that this queer old story in Genesis has a meaning, and that the reason it was preserved in Genesis was that it had some meaning, although the meaning the writer intended may not necessarily be its true meaning.
The story was early referred to the Passion by Cyprian, who equated the wine Noah drank with the cup of the Passion. But the fully developed mystical interpretation, which we find in the Glossa Ordinaria, and which lies behind the very frequent representation of the episode in art, was given by Augustine in his Contra Faustum. It owed its existence to the well-known principle that anything unedifying in Scripture should be interpreted in a spiritual sense, and to a second principle, that a figure who typified Christ in one thing, as Noah saviour of the human race did, must typify him somehow in everything related about him. Noah, having planted a vine and drunk the wine of it, was drunken and naked in his tent. What else can this signify, asks Augustine, but that Christ drank of the cup of the Passion and suffered death among his own people the Jews — in tabernaculo suo? His nakedness is the mortality of the flesh — the death which was a scandal to the Jews and to the Gentiles foolishness, but to 'them that are called both Jew and Greek', that is to Shem and Japheth, the power and wisdom of God. Ham the mocker is unbelief. The sons who will not look upon their father naked, and look only upon the robe with which he will be covered, are those who did not consent to the death of Christ and will look upon it only through the veil of the Sacrament. Over against Adam and Eve and the Forbidden Tree, the Doge's Palace shows Noah leaning against his vine and the two sons holding up the veil. They typify the new creation in Christ. On Ghiberti's doors and on Michelangelo's ceiling the remaking of mankind through the death and resurrection of Christ is symbolized by the parallel between the recumbent Adam and the recumbent Noah:
'For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.'
Such an interpretation of the old story does not seem strange to those who are familiar with the work of art-historians, and who have made their pilgrimages around French cathedrals under the guidance of M. Emile Male, or to the literary student familiar with the hidden senses of Scripture from the work of scholars on Piers Plowman, and from recent popular studies of Dante. But it is not merely a wider dissemination of historical knowledge, a kind of antiquarianism, which has made scriptural symbolism congenial once more. This particular story struck the imagination of Simone Weil. She was apparently unaware of the standard interpretation from Augustine and of the popularity of the subject in late medieval art. She fastened upon it as embodying a truth about ancient civilizations and interpreted it mystically for herself. She was, in fact, doing just what Augustine had done, extending the typical sense; for she knew, and claimed as justification for her reading, that Origen had said that Noah was Christ. Out of her intense repugnance for Jewish exclusiveness she evolved her own interpretation of the story's true meaning. The Jews, who preserved the story, falsified its significance, because they made Ham accursed for looking on his father's shame and praised the sons who refused to look and covered their father's nakedness. But the truth of the story, she declares, lies in the fact that the Jews alone of Mediterranean people forbade wine to their priests, and rejected the mystery religions in which men looked upon the death of God. The Egyptians, in their mysteries, contemplated the death and dismemberment of Osiris, and they taught the Greeks, the sons of Japheth. Only the Semites remained obstinately blind. When the time of fulfilment came, the sons of Shem rejected the revelation of Christ's Cross. To Simone Weil, Noah was known to the Egyptians as Osiris, and to the Greeks as Dionysus: all are types of Christ. In this ancient story is shadowed the mystery of the God who speaks in weakness and in nakedness, and dies and is dishonoured; who is not the God of power, the Lord of Hosts, who is worshipped by the children of Shem. The sons who would not look were refusing the knowledge of the Cross.
Simone Weil is declaring that the true meaning is quite other than the meaning the original writer intended. The writer in Genesis plainly told the story to justify the triumph of the Israelites over the Canaanites. Ham is the father of Canaan who is cursed and devoted to bondage, while Shem is blessed and exalted over him. The Christian Fathers saw its true meaning as a prophecy of Christ, in accordance with their conception that the whole of sacred history was the revelation of God's actions towards men which culminated in the creation of the new Israel by the new Covenant. They were, to some degree, developing the original meaning, or at least the spiritual sense they found did not wholly contradict the literal. They were giving a new content to two fundamental Jewish ideas: the Jewish sense of the otherness of God, whose name must not be uttered, and whose Face no man can see and live, and the fundamental Jewish conception of election and calling, of some being chosen and blessed and others being rejected. Simone Weil brushes the literal sense wholly aside, and finds the true meaning in terms of her own deepest conviction: that God speaks in secret to all men and that the Christ who was rejected by the Jews was known to the pagans. Because of this fundamental belief she does not, of course, limit herself to seeing types of Christ in Scripture. She can write of a passage from Sophocles which she has been translating:
'The interpretation which sees Electra as the human soul and Orestes as Christ is almost as certain for me as if I had written these verses myself.'
I quote this as an extreme example of a habit of mind of our age which shows itself in many ways, the looking for a hidden or true meaning. The method of 'mystical interpretation' can hardly any longer be said to be 'alien and repellent to the modern mind'. On the contrary it is plainly only too fascinating. The work of anthropologists studying primitive myths and rituals supports it, as does the work of psychoanalysts analysing dreams by the interpretation of symbols. The efforts of philosophers constructing theories of symbolism, the discussion of the language of poetry as a symbolic language, and the conception that the work of art is a symbol, objectifying experiences which defy conceptual expression, have encouraged critics of literature to look below the surface of narratives or dramatic actions, and the thread of the discourse of a lyric, in an attempt to discover the realities which the writer is symbolizing, and find personal symbols or archetypal myths. Some critics have found it convenient to make use of the old terms of scriptural interpretation and have spoken of literal, moral, and mystical senses. I found the terms useful myself when I was trying to suggest that the subject of Mr. Eliot's Four Quartets could be regarded in various ways. I was, perhaps illicitly, using the terms in quite another way from the way their original inventors used them, and so, I fear, adding to intellectual confusion. But it has been explicitly declared that the old method of four-fold interpretation needs 'refurbishing' and bringing up to date, in order
'to make partially available to reason that complex of human problems which are embedded deep and imponderable in the Myth'.
The growth of this habit of mind has coincided with a marked tendency in literary studies which, at first sight, would seem to lead towards very different results in the field of interpretative criticism. In field after field theories of composite authorship, earlier versions, different strata have been discarded. The kind of analysis which was once thought to be the particular duty of literary criticism is now markedly out of fashion. The assumption today is more and more in favour of single authorship, unless there is clear external evidence to the contrary, and of taking works as they stand and not postulating earlier versions to account for inconsistencies. Even where the inconsistencies in the work as published are as glaring as they are in The Faerie Queene, most people would agree with Professor C. S. Lewis that it is
'quite impossible to reconstruct historically the phases in Spenser's invention of which particular inconsistencies are, so to speak, the fossils',
and would applaud him for taking the poem as it exists and not speculating on its growth. This general movement in scholarship has gone on side by side with the rise of the so-called 'ontological school' of criticism, whose main axiom has been the necessity of interpreting a work by itself. 'Make sense of what you have' has been the motto with both scholars and critics, if I may for the moment accept what is an unhappy distinction. The importance of the single author and the single work dominates literary studies, as can be seen if the plan and treatment of the new Oxford History of English Literature, now in progress, is compared with that of the old Cambridge History. 'Schools and influences' are out of fashion. Old disintegrating theories which assumed that Shakespeare spent much of his career revising other men's plays, and later attempts to show him as almost continuously engaged in revising his own, theories of Beowulf being based on heroic lays, and later theories of a pre-Christian Beowulf were all in the air, or at least being debated, thirty years ago, although they were then being increasingly challenged. The modern undergraduate is not troubled with these discussions. Occam's razor has been applied to the critical postulates beloved by nineteenth-century scholars. The modern scholar or critic concentrates in the first place on making what he can of his text as it has come down to him. There has been a strong reaction against the study of even extant and known sources, much more against the discussion of hypothetical ones. Why should we trouble ourselves with the source on which a poet worked, it is asked: what matters is what he has made of his material, not where he quarried his stone, or what was the shape of the unsightly lumps before his chisel transformed them into a significant masterpiece.
I hope it will not be thought that I am implying that all this is merely our fashion. The gains in knowledge which this concentration upon the object itself has brought are solid and unquestionable. Literary criticism and scholarship have rightly learned from the sciences the importance of isolating problems, of defining the scope of an investigation, of not multiplying hypotheses, and of starting from what is known. But it is interesting that so many scholars working independently and in widely different fields have felt the hypothesis of single authorship to be the obvious and fruitful one, whereas to our grandfathers it was the opposite hypothesis which they assumed to be the more probable and the one more likely to prove fruitful in results.
Trends in literary scholarship thus give support to critics who regard it as their duty to see works as integrated wholes, and the body of an author's work as a totality proceeding from a single mind. Many critics would say that their prime task is to display the individuality and particularity of a work or of an author: to lay bare the inner principle of its organization, if their study is of a single work, or the modes of operation of a writer's imagination, if the study is of a writer's works generally. The methods employed are the close analysis of the language, and particularly the study of the images, considered as symbols whose recurrent use creates patterns of meaning, through which we apprehend the real content of the work or the prime and dominant concerns of the writer.
At first sight it would seem that critics of this type who are concerned with what is called 'structure', defined by an influential critic of this school as
'a pattern of resolutions and balances and harmonizations, developed through a temporal scheme',
would come to very different conclusions from the critics referred to earlier who look in poems and plays for dominant themes or underlying archetypal myths: that a critic who insisted on the individuality and uniqueness of a work of art would differ greatly from a critic who insisted that poetry was myth or vision. But although there are marked differences between critics who are mainly concerned with 'tension', the inner coherence of the poem, and critics whose concern is with themes, which have recently been explored very acutely by Professor Crane, I do not feel that anyone acquainted with the range of modern interpretative criticism is as much aware of these differences between them as of what the two schools have in common. Whether the critic is looking for what lies behind the images or for a meaning which is created by their interplay makes in practice very little difference to the reader's impression. He feels in either case that he is being confronted with what he might unphilosophically describe as a distinction between what the work says and what it means.
Origen himself reported that critics of his methods of scriptural interpretation complained: 'Hoc divinare magis est quam explanare.' Explanation, or making plain, is not a word much used in critical circles today. An older word has been revived, and 'explication', or the process of unfolding or bringing out what is implicitly contained in a work, is the term favoured by the interpretative critic. He has become a solver of riddles.