BY calling these lectures 'The Profession of a Critic' I suggest one thing, but I intend another. Criticism has increasingly in this century become professionalized, in the sense that one recognizes more and more, both here and in the United States, a tone in literary criticism which one can only call professional. It is the accent of someone who feels himself to speak with the authority which a certain discipline or training gives. There is very little feeling in critical writing today of someone loving to 'fold his legs and have out his talk'. A certain severity and strenuousness reigns. The notion that anybody with natural taste, some experience of life, a decent grounding in the classics, and the habit of wide reading can talk profitably on English Literature is highly unfashionable. The cynic might point to other more sinister signs of professionalism: the esoteric and almost unintelligible vocabulary of some critics; the appearance of a Dictionary of Critical Terms, comparable to a legal or medical dictionary; the embittered quarrels of rival sects, ranged under banners whose significance the lay mind can hardly appreciate; the fact that so many contributions to critical journals consist not of studies of a writer or his works, but of considerations of Mr. X's modifications of Mr. Y's criticism of Mr. Z's article on — shall we say Measure for Measure, or Marvell's 'The Garden?' The ordinary cultured reader, picking up such a journal, feels like someone entering a cinema in the middle of a gangster film, baffled about the antecedents of the battle which is raging, and uncertain who is fighting on whose side. He might well find himself less at sea if he picked up the Lancet or the Law Quarterly Review.
We may deplore some of these developments and mock at others; but it has to be recognized that some such developments are inevitable. The amateur is being squeezed out in every field by the immense extensions of knowledge and of the technical means for acquiring it. Problems which did not exist for Johnson confront the modern critic. They have been created by the growth of historical science, with the consequent development of the historical sense, by the growth of psychological science, which has profoundly modified our whole conception of the motivation of human activities, including speech, and by the growth of sociology, with its ally anthropology, which asks us to see a work of art not merely in relation to its author but as the expression of the culture in which it was created. Further, there is for the literary critic the task of coming to terms with the growth of linguistic studies: the development of the historical study of the English language on the one hand, and of the philosophic study of language on the other. The critic today reads an author of the sixteenth or seventeenth century haunted by a sense that although what he reads is apparently written in the language which he himself speaks, in various, subtle ways it is not; and merely looking up the hard words in the Oxford English Dictionary does not help, because it is in the ordinary words that the traps lie. He hardly dares to talk of the 'music of Shakespeare's verse', because he is uncertain of the quality or the quantity of the vowels and of possible shifts in the accentuation of words. And if he decides to ignore the findings of the historians of the English language, and take it that Shakespeare 'means' what he means today and that his 'music' is whatever music a modern ear finds in his verse, he is disturbed by echoes of the dimly understood debates of modern logicians, who have undermined the simple assumption that we all know what something means, or indeed that we know what meaning itself is.
This widening of the intellectual horizon has gone on side by side with a multiplication of aids to knowledge which makes the task of being well informed on any topic extremely arduous. More and more libraries are catalogued, more and more records calendared; there are bibliographies of bibliographies and indexes of indexes. Most of all, the inventions of the photostat and the microfilm have made the contents of all the libraries of the world accessible. An editor today has no excuse, except the weakness of the flesh, for not examining all known manuscripts of a work. A critic can find it only too easy to defer making up his mind while he studies what is rather ironically called 'the literature of the subject'. He cannot plead justifiable ignorance of the researches or opinions of a Chinese or Peruvian professor. He should have known of them if he had kept abreast of the bibliographies and reports of 'work in progress'. Even unpublished theses, which used to lie unread in the stack-rooms of libraries, are now indexed and can be microfilmed.
Some degree of professionalism is, I imagine, unavoidable in all intellectual pursuits today. What seems uncertain is what is meant by 'the discipline of literary criticism' — a phrase that is often used; and what sort of training and what standards should be taken for granted by someone who regards himself as a literary critic. The title I have chosen suggests that I am going to attempt to answer these questions; but I am not. It is only too apparent that a great many critics today, who appear to have in common a sense of criticism as a profession, hold very different views on what equipment the critic needs and what his purpose or function is. I have taken refuge therefore in the indefinite article, and also in the ambiguity — blessed word — of the word 'profession'. I am not concerning myself with critics and criticism in general; but with what I, as an individual, feel to be involved in the act of literary criticism and with what I have come to feel to be its discipline. I am using the word 'profession' in its older sense, for in the sense in which law and medicine are professions, criticism can never be one. Criticism is an art, although only a minor one. It is impossible to conceive — or at least I hope it is — of a General Critical Council, holding diploma examinations, awarding a right to practise and stigmatizing certain practitioners for unprofessional conduct and striking them off its register. I am taking an opportunity to scrutinize and avow the beliefs which underlie my own practice as a critic. I am not prepared to define what qualifications are necessary before one can be regarded as professionally equipped to criticize, and I am not disturbed by the thought that many critics whose work I admire and read with profit and pleasure might, if pressed, give a very different account of their beliefs and practices.
The primary critical act is a judgement, the decision that a certain piece of writing has significance and value. It asserts a hold in some way upon my intellect, which entertains the propositions which it makes. It appeals through my senses and imagination to my capacity to recognize order and harmony and to be delighted by them. It appeals also to my experience as a human being, to my conscience and moral life. I put the triad in this order because in literature, whose medium is words, unintelligibility prevents recognition of the presence of either beauty or wisdom. We must feel that the work 'makes sense', even if at first only in patches, if we are to feel its value. But, of course, in experience we are not conscious of these different kinds of value as distinct. It is only for purposes of analysis, and when we come to try to rationalize our responses, that we separate what is in a work of art not separable: what it says, how it says it, and why what it says is important to us.
This response to a work as having value is the beginning of fruitful critical activity as I see it. The critic's function then is to assist his readers to find the value which he believes the work to have. To attempt to measure the amount of value, to declare or attempt to demonstrate that this poem is more valuable than that, or to range writers in an order of merit does not seem to me to be the true purpose of criticism. Such attempts ignore the nature of taste and the nature of values. Good taste is not an absolute. Two persons of excellent taste and judgement may differ strongly on the relative merits of two works; and the attempt to rank writers in a literary hierarchy ignores the obvious fact that certain writers and certain works mean more to some ages and to some persons than to others, and that our responses vary very greatly with our circumstances and our age. Statements about relative values are either unnecessary, elaborate attempts to prove what cannot be proved and can only be accepted as established by the judgement of the ages, or else they are rationalizations of personal and temporary tastes and prejudices. King Lear needs no tributes now. We have no need to argue its claim to greatness: it has long ago passed the test of 'length of duration and continuance of esteem'. Equally, it would be a waste of time to demonstrate what nobody would deny, that it is a greater work than Love's Labour's Lost; or to debate whether it is or is not superior to Hamlet. I have no desire to find reasons for finding less or more enjoyment in Herbert's poetry than I do in Marvell's. I prefer to attempt to deepen my understanding and enjoyment of both and am grateful for diversity of gifts and the difference of one star from another in glory. When Wordsworth wrote
If thou indeed derive thy light from Heaven
Then, to the measure of that heaven-born light,
Shine, Poet! in thy place, and be content.
he was not inviting us to apportion their proper places to the poets, though he, of course, took for granted that some stars are larger and brighter than others, as also that their largeness and brightness may vary with times and seasons. Comparison is a most valuable tool by which to bring out the individuality of the writers compared. When used to attempt to set one up and put another down it usually reveals not objective standards of value by which writers may be ranked, but imperfect sympathies in the critic.
This is not, I hope I need hardly say, a plea for the indiscriminate acceptance of all writing which has had the good luck to survive the ravages of time. Nor do I mean that it is not part of the critic's function to distinguish failures in conception and execution. This is often an essential part of the disengaging of the essential value of a writer or his work. But anyone capable of intellectual growth can remember with amusement, and possibly some shame, youthful ineptitudes which seemed at the time to be 'discriminating evaluations'. We have often much less need to blush for earlier enthusiasms which have not stood the test of time. To have seen more promise of value than the work came in time to provide is less destructive to the development of right judgement and true taste than to have been superior to what is of value. Critics are wise to leave alone those works which they feel a crusading itch to attack and writers whose reputations they feel a call to deflate. Only too often it is not the writer who suffers ultimately but the critic:
The man recovered of the bite
The dog it was that died.
When the dust and flurry of the argument has subsided, the writer has not been 'dislodged'. He is still there:
Still green with bays each ancient Altar stands
Above the reach of sacrilegious hands.
'The rudiment of criticism', wrote Mr. T. S. Eliot,
'is the ability to choose a good poem and reject a bad poem; and its most severe test is of its ability to select a good new poem, to respond properly to a new situation."
This suggests that there is in all 'good poems' a kind of essence which the critic, like a sensitive dog, should with one sniff distinguish; and it suggests that poems can be absolutely divided into 'good poems' and 'bad poems', whereas from the universally acknowledged masterpiece to the total failure there is a whole range where praise or blame, interest or indifference, is quite properly qualified by the critic's personal predilections. To demand this unerring apportioning of a pass or fail mark is to confuse the critic with the connoisseur. The rudiment of criticism is not so much the power to distinguish any good poem from any bad poem, as the power to respond to a good poem and to be able to elucidate its significance, beauty, and meaning in terms which are valid for other readers. And by a 'good poem' I am content to mean a poem which is agreed to be so by lovers of poetry, or which the critic can convince such lovers is a good poem, by making them aware of the significance, beauty, and meaning which he finds in it. If the severest test of criticism is the ability to give good tips in the Parnassus stakes, to spot the winners, some of our greatest critics must be judged to have failed the test. But our judgement of Coleridge as probably our greatest literary critic is not qualified by his extravagant admiration when young for the sonnets of the Rev. William Bowles, or by his failure when old to be excited by the work of his younger contemporaries. Keats, reading the first two cantos of Don Juan on publication, saw in them only 'a paltry originality'. This signal failure to 'respond properly to a new situation' does not affect our admiration for him as a critic of extraordinary insight. Coleridge and Keats are great critics because of what they tell us of the nature of the poetic imagination and of the power of poetry, and because the things they have to say about certain poets, notably Shakespeare, permanently affect our own reading of those poets. The capacity to ponder works of art and to say something which enlarges our conception of their value, or gives them a fresh relevance, is the rudiment of criticism as an art. This explains why, on the whole, criticism which has survived its own day is rarely concerned with the critic's contemporaries, unless, as with Coleridge on Wordsworth, the critic has been deeply implicated with his subject. Coleridge writing on Wordsworth cannot be said to be 'responding to a new situation'. Mr. Eliot's own critical writings are a case in point. No poet, I suppose, in all history has been more aware of the contemporary situation or more generous in praise and encouragement of younger writers; but his own criticism has been almost wholly concerned with the literature of the past. A conviction of value needs the test of experience and time. Literary journalism and literary reporting are valuable and highly skilled activities, requiring great gifts and fulfilling an important literary function. But the capacity to write significant criticism is not the same as the power to make a rapid, immediate judgement. They may be linked, but frequently they are not. And the power to see deeply, which the critic needs, may be linked, though it need not be, with an inability to see widely.
In Johnson's allegory in the third number of The Rambler Criticism is the eldest daughter of Labour and Truth, committed at birth to the care of justice and brought up in the palace of Wisdom. She was
'appointed the governess of Fancy, and impowered to beat time to the chorus of the Muses, when they sung before the throne of Jupiter'.
When the Muses descended to the lower world she accompanied them. Justice bestowed a sceptre upon her, to be held in her right hand. With this she could confer immortality or oblivion.
'In her left hand, she bore an unextinguishable torch, manufactured by Labour and lighted by Truth, of which it was the particular quality immediately to show everything in its true form, however it might be disguised to common eyes.'
But she found herself confronted with so many works in which beauties and faults were equally mingled that,
'for fear of using improperly the sceptre of Justice', she 'referred the cause to be considered by Time', whose proceedings, 'though very dilatory, were, some few caprices excepted, conformable to justice'.
Before returning to heaven she broke her sceptre, one end of which was seized by Flattery, and the other by Malevolence.
Johnson's onslaught on the critics of his own day provides me with a convenient metaphor. I do not feel any call to wield the sceptre. This is not solely because with the poetry of the past the fact that it speaks at all over the years is evidence that it has some value, and the question of how much or how little does not seem to me a profitable subject to discuss; and with the poetry of the present all verdicts must be proved right or wrong by time. My fundamental reason for rejecting the notion that the fundamental task of the critic is the erection and application of standards by which writers and their works are to be given their ratings is that the enterprise seems to me not merely futile but deleterious. If a critic is to be judged by his success in giving just the right amount of approval, then he, and the common reader who is to learn from him, is required to take up an attitude to works of art which is highly inimical to their proper enjoyment, whether they are works which give profound delight, or works which give lesser pleasures. A mind which is concerned with being right, which is nervously anxious not to be taken in, which sits in judgement, and approaches works of passion and imagination with neatly formulated demands, is inhibited from the receptiveness and disinterestedness which are the conditions of aesthetic experience. The attempt to train young people in this kind of discrimination seems to me to be a folly, if not a crime. The young need, on the one hand, to be encouraged to read for themselves, widely, voraciously, and indiscriminately; and, on the other, to be helped to read with more enjoyment and understanding what their teachers have found to be of value. Exuberance and enthusiasm are proper to the young, as Quintilian remarked:
'The young should be daring and inventive and should rejoice in their inventions, even though correctness and severity are still to be acquired.' And he added that to his mind 'the boy who gives least promise is one in whom judgement develops in advance of the imagination'.
True personal discrimination or taste develops slowly and probably best unconsciously. It cannot be forced by exercises in selecting the good and rejecting the bad by the application of stock critical formulas: it may indeed be stunted. It comes, if it is to come at all, by growth in understanding and enjoyment of the good. 'Principium veritatis res admirari.' Knowledge begins in wonder and wonder will find and develop its own proper discipline. True judgement or wisdom in a critic can only come in the same way as all wisdom does:
'For the very true beginning of her is the desire of discipline and the care of discipline is love.'
The torch rather than the sceptre would be my symbol for the critic. Elucidation, or illumination, is the critic's primary task as I conceive it. Having made the initial act of choice, or judgement of value, I want to remove any obstacles which prevent the work having its fullest possible effect. Because a poem already speaks to me, I want to find ways to ensure that, as far as possible, it says to me what it has to say and not what I want it to say, and that it says it in its own way and not in mine. I say 'as far as possible', because of 'Nature's Law'
By which all Causes else according still
To the reception of their matter act,
Not to th'extent of their own Sphere.
Comprehension is limited by the capacity of the comprehender, and inexhaustibility is one of the marks of a work of art. But although we have only our own eyes to see through, we can train them to see better, and we can make use of instruments, such as spectacles, telescopes, or microscopes, to supplement our natural powers of vision.
The beginning of the discipline of literary criticism lies in the recognition of the work of art's objective existence as the product of another mind, which exists not to be used but to be understood and enjoyed. Its process is the progressive correction of misconceptions, due to ignorance, personal prejudice, or temperamental defects, the setting of the work at a distance, the disentangling it from my personal hopes, fears, and beliefs, so that the poem which my mind recreates in the reading becomes more and more a poem which my own mind would never have created. If the first response to a work of art is wonder, the child of wonder is curiosity. The satisfaction of curiosity, which is a great pleasure, brings a renewal of the sense of wonder and so leads to further curiosity. The last word is never said.
To know, can only wonder breede,
And not to know, is wonders seede.
The enlarging and continual reforming of one's conception of a work by bringing fresh knowledge and fresh experience of life and literature to it, this process of continual submission and resubmission to the work, is highly delightful and perpetually renews the original sense of delight from which the critic began. Wordsworth, who we know found composition laborious and exhausting, insisted again and again on the 'overbalance of enjoyment' which accompanied the poet's sympathies, however painful the objects which called them out. He declared that the poet prompted by this feeling of pleasure, is accompanied by pleasure throughout his studies. To this 'grand elementary feeling of pleasure' Wordsworth referred all intellectual activity, seeing it as the motive force of the man of science — the chemist, mathematician, and anatomist — as much as of the poet. But beyond the pleasure that there is in all intellectual activity, the delight in the satisfaction of curiosity, in the serious inquisition of truth, and in the ordering of our experience into rationally intelligible statements, the critic of literature, like all students of the fine arts, has a special kind of pleasure in his work. He is continually in the company of his intellectual and spiritual betters. He is concerned with things which are precious to his readers as well as to himself. His task is 'to add sunshine to daylight, by making the happy happier': to help himself and his readers to understand more deeply and to enjoy more fully what he and they already understand and enjoy. I feel little confidence in the judgements of any critic who does not make me feel, however minute his analysis, and however laborious his researches may have been, that his motive force has been enjoyment. We do not need to disguise our good fortune, as if to allow the world to see that the study of literature is enjoyable might diminish its intellectual respectability.
When I say that the beginning of the discipline of literary criticism lies in the recognition of the objective existence of a work of art, I am not denying the truth in Mr. Eliot's saying that the meaning of a poem is 'what the poem means to different sensitive readers'. This is not, in its context, and in the general context of Mr. Eliot's criticism, a justification of subjective criticism, but a plea for what Lascelles Abercrombie pleaded for in a famous lecture, 'liberty of interpretation'. He was concerned with one form of critical tyranny: the refusal to allow a work to gather meaning through the ages. Mr. Eliot is protesting, also I think rightly, at another: the tendency of some modern interpretative criticism to trespass into an area where the reader has the right to demand to be left alone with the poem. This is the area of aesthetic experience, which must, of its nature, be personal, conditioned by the individual's experience of life and art. The critic's task is to assist his readers to read for themselves, not to read for them. He must respect their sensibilities by not obtruding his own. He is not writing to display his own ingenuity, subtlety, learning, or sensitiveness; but to display the work in a manner which will enable it to exert its own power.
All works of art, whatever else they may be, are historical objects, and to approach them as such is, I believe, a fundamental necessity if they are to realize their power fully over us. 'All good art is contemporary' is a well-known critical maxim. It needs to be balanced by the statement that 'All art, including contemporary art, is historical.' One of the main difficulties in coming to terms with contemporary art is the difficulty we have in thinking of ourselves and our own age as historical. We know both too much and too little of our own context to see the work in perspective. Certain elements in it have an adventitious value; others we are unable to see. Every work of art is the product of a point in space and time, in so far as it would certainly have been different if it had appeared in any other place and time. It could not have been what it is but for the art which went before it. We ourselves see it through our knowledge and experience of what has come after it. It is historical also as the product of a mind which grew through particular experiences and not through others; and each particular work has an historical relation to its author's other works.
Attempts have been made in this century to ignore these truisms, or to depreciate their importance. The work of art has been treated as autonomous and self-explanatory, and the pure critic has tried to concern himself with the poem as it can be explained purely in terms of itself and himself. Loosed from its moorings in place and time, the poem is conceived as floating like a balloon, with the critic caught up to meet it in the clouds. This attempt to isolate the work of art and treat it as a thing per se , putting it under a kind of mental bell-jar, disregards the nature of art, and makes criticism a special kind of activity, divorced from our normal habits as readers. The ideal which is aimed at approximates to the scientist in his laboratory, as opposed to the student in his library, the chemist faced with a substance to analyse, rather than the reader bringing his human experience to the book he is reading, who is listening to 'a man speaking to men'. The critics who tried to perform these feats of levitation, or to achieve this rigorous exclusiveness, were, in fact, usually highly sophisticated and well-educated persons who were only playing at being ignorant of historical and biographical facts. Those who claimed that they were interpreting a poem of Donne's 'by itself' actually knew a good deal about Donne and the history and literature of his age, although they might have done better if they had tried to learn a little more. They were not really reacting to the poem as they would have to a poem by an unknown contemporary, met with accidentally in a newspaper. Luckily Dr. I. A. Richards undertook the experiment of presenting poems 'by themselves', without even an author's name attached, to classes of undergraduates, and published the results in the protocols in Practical Criticism. The experiment proved, I think, not the incapacity of the readers, but the futility of the method. Quite apart from the inhibiting anxiety of many of the readers to say the right thing or not to be taken in, it was clear that, divorced from their human and historical context, works were deprived of their power to speak to the heart and conscience. The young person who was faced with Donne's sonnet on the Last Judgement,
At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels ...
and commented that the poem expressed 'the simple faith of a very simple man' was not making at all an idiotic comment. There is nothing in the language of this poem to suggest to a reader looking at it on a sheet of paper in a classroom that it was written over three hundred years ago, and no educated Christian today would write in these literal terms of the general Resurrection at the Last Day. It was to the reader's credit that he at least recognized that the poem was written out of such a literal faith. If a poem such as this is to communicate its intense religious feeling, we must accept the terms in which it speaks to us, which are the terms of its age. The necessity of an historical sense if the works of the past are to have a present value to us and not appear quaint or, as in this case, intellectually absurd, is seen in the difficulty each generation has in reading the works of its immediate predecessors. There is nearly always a kind of dead period when works of art sink in repute and interest because they are near enough to seem old-fashioned but not far enough off to have become historical. They have lost the power to 'speak to our condition'; but as soon as they can be felt to be historical they regain a contemporary relevance.
How to make a proper use of historical and biographical information and of the facts of literary history is a fundamental problem for the critic. The deepening of historical apprehension in his readers, the provision of a context for the work, is one of the main ways in which he can assist them in their approach to the meaning of the work. I say 'approach to the meaning' because of the paradox that the more we put a poem into the past, establish it in its historical context, and interpret it by its own age's aesthetic canons, the more its uniqueness and individuality appear. When we are unfamiliar with the art of an epoch all its products tend to seem alike. The better we come to know a period, the less its products appear 'period pieces'. The historical approach takes us towards the meaning and can explain much; but the value of a poem does not lie in its power to tell us how men once thought and felt. It has an extra-historical life, which makes what had significance, beauty, and meaning in its own age have significance, beauty, and meaning now. The total meaning of a work of art cannot be analysed or treated historically, though I believe we cannot approach it except through history as we ourselves meet it in history. It is extra-historical, I believe, because it is the expression and creation of a human mind and personality and so is ultimately irreducible into anything but itself. The mystery of the survival of the significance of works of art brings one face to face with the mystery of human personality. A critic's attitude to works of art must depend ultimately on his conception of the nature of man. Those who hold seriously to enjoyment as the true end of reading speak from within the Greek tradition which rates the life of contemplation above the life of action and holds that man's destiny is to enjoy the vision of truth, beauty, and goodness, or, to use the Christian formulation, 'to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever'. And the critic who, in addition, believes that the true meaning of a work of art can only be apprehended by seeing it within its historical context, but that its meaning is not limited by that context, is one who has to some degree or other parted company with Plato and does not believe that man is a soul imprisoned in a body, but that the union of soul and body makes man.
'Books are not absolutely dead things', wrote Milton. 'A good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.' This is nearer my way of thinking about a poem, or a play, or a novel, than the conception of a work as 'a well-wrought urn', even though it is an urn containing the 'greatest ashes'. As a counterpoise to the sense of the work as historically conditioned, the critic needs a sense of the work's quiddity or essence, its individuality, as a particular expression of a personal response to experience, a personal vision of the world. This sense of the work's individuality can be deepened by the reading of the author's other works and can be aided by the knowledge gained by various means of the author's life. Insistence on the impersonality of the poet or the poem seems to me to be a heresy which has arisen, as most heresies have, from a reaction against imperfect and vulgarized notions of the truth. To treat a poem purely as an artifact and analyse it solely in terms of its rhetorical structure, is to ignore, in an attempt to make criticism pure, the facts of our experience as readers. In our reading we recognize individual voices and respond to individual visions. We find in an author's various works the impress of an individual mind whose quality we come to know. The desire to know all we can about this mind — to know Shakespeare, as well as to know Hamlet, King Lear, or The Tempest — is the natural result of contact with it in one work, and indeed an obvious way to understand that work better. The writer's personal history, like the pressure of the age in which he lived, is a context which can help us to focus on the work as it is. Although much biographical information may be irrelevant, the critic cannot afford to be ignorant of facts which may assist him to learn the habit of an author's mind, or the circumstances in which a work was written, which may, in that particular work, have affected that habit. Biographical knowledge can sharpen the sense of the work's objective existence, as itself, distinct and meaningful in itself. This sense of the work's originality can be stimulated and enriched also by the study of an author's sources, not merely his direct sources, but also his indirect, that is, his general reading. I suppose one of the best examples of such enrichment is the effect that reading Livingstone Lowes's The Road to Xanadu has on our response to The Ancient Mariner. This pioneer study not only illustrated the workings of the poetic faculty; it gave a new dimension to the poem. Although it was itself an investigation of the poem's origins, rather than a study of the poem, it called our attention, as no previous criticism had, to certain elements in the structure, narrative details, and diction of the poem, and added to the overtones of the narrative echoes of greatly told stories of adventure and endurance.
I have continually recurred in this discussion to the words 'the work itself'. Although I have a quarrel over method with the 'new critics', for their rejection of the historical aspect of a work of art, fundamentally I am on their side. The ultimate end of scholarship and literary history and biographical study for me is the assistance it will give to the elucidation of a work of art. Of course these activities have their own value and interest; but as far as I am concerned they serve a greater end. My primary concern is with the work itself, not as part of an author's total oeuvre, certainly not as a psychological or sociological document, or as a piece of historical evidence, and not as a link in the chain of a literary tradition. I want to study it for what it has to give which extends and strengthens my imaginative apprehension and understanding of life. When Mr. Eliot says 'I am more and more interested, not in one play or another, but in Shakespeare's work as a whole', I should tend to disagree and say that fundamentally I feel a desire to elucidate certain works which have come to have great value for me. But since knowledge of all the writer's works is desirable for the fullest understanding of each, and knowledge of each is required for the understanding of his work as a whole, the point is a fine one. To concentrate upon the single work, the created whole, is the thing which I feel most called upon to do. The discovery of a work's centre, the source of its life in all its parts, and response to its total movement — a word I prefer to 'structure', for time is inseparable from our apprehension of works of literature — is to me the purpose of critical activity. And if I ask myself why I write criticism I think the answer is that since it is true
That no man is the lord of anything —
Though in and of him there be much consisting —
Till he communicate his parts to others:
I write because the attempt to formulate satisfactory answers to questions which arise from the work itself makes the work more meaningful to me. It is, in the end, for my own sake and not for any other purpose, that I hold up the torch, manufactured by labour, and lighted, I hope, by truth.
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