Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

festations of a spirit working in the mind of the people, which has assumed a particular aspect in politics, but which has produced analogous results in the spheres of religion and art? So, at least, it has appeared to others beside myself; and if any are still inclined to question the propriety of my title, I may appeal to the example of so great a master of the English language as Cardinal Newman, in whose “History of my Religious Opinions' the word "Liberalism' is employed over and over again to denote a movement in the region of thought.

I have not used the words · Liberalism' and Conservatism'in

any

invidious or party sense. By · Liberalism' I mean the disposition which ' leads men to seek above all things the enlargement of individual liberty : by Conservatism’ that which makes them desire primarily to preserve the continuity of national development. Between these two principles I can see no essential contradiction, nor do I think that they can be safely separated. At the same time it is perfectly easy to consider each by itself; and indeed, it is sufficiently obvious that, under our

[ocr errors]

party system, there is an unfortunate tendency to regard them as if one was exclusive of the other. Pushed to their logical extremes, each has a danger peculiar to itself. Excessive Conservatism

may

doubtless develop into the stagnation of Ancestor Worship. On the other hand, the extravagant pursuit of Liberty ends in an individualism which strikes at the root of social and national growth. If, for instance, the maintenance of rigid commercial restrictions in favour of a particular interest may have been injurious to the development of the nation, has there been no danger in the universal application of the principle of laisser faire without regard to circumstances? If the imposition of political disabilities on those who refused to conform to the established religion of the country was a policy which could only be defended under certain conditions of society, is it more reasonable, in the interests of so-called freedom of thought, to uproot a religious organisation which has from time immemorial formed part of the national life ? So in the sphere of creative Imagination. There may be no less error in the

theories of those who, like Wordsworth, make the individual mind the standard of art, and defy the rules of tradition and convention, than in the inflexibility of critics such as Gifford, who are inclined to yield to prescription an almost passive obedience.

My intention has been to trace historically the manner in which the movement on behalf of liberty during the present century has affected the order established in the sphere of Imagination since the Revolution of 1688. I have sought to exhibit the constant course of conflict and reconciliation between the spirit of Authority and the spirit of Freedom, which has hitherto preserved for us the continuity of our national life. I have shown how, out of the ruins of Feudal and Catholic sentiment, arose a new code of taste, derived from old English sources, corrected and refined by classical authority; how this assimilated naturally with the ideas of a ruling aristocracy; how the romantic element in our language was virtually suppressed ; and how, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, as the classical spirit began

'to languish, the genius of Romance revived, and associated itself in a multitude of subtle forms with the growing spirit of Liberty and Democracy. The subject is a large one, and I have not been able to treat it otherwise than in outline ; but, now that these essays have been collected, I trust it may appear that I have been animated by the spirit of a student rather than of an advocate, and that, according to my lights, I have endeavoured to trace accurately the course of the great conflict of opinion visible in the sphere of taste since the French Revolution. At the same time, I do not for a moment imagine that the account bere given of the Liberal and Romantic movement in our literature is wholly dispassionate. The men of genius who played the most prominent part in it lived too near to our own times, and are associated too closely with our own feelings and prejudices, to be judged like Greek and Roman authors, and I can well believe that the impartial reader may detect a bias in my judgments of which I am myself unconscious. If, however, he be inclined to complain that the tribute paid in

[ocr errors]

these essays to the great romantic poets of the present century is short of what justice demands, I would ask him to remember that he is required by Liberal critics to believe that ' Dryden and Pope are not classics of our poetry. When two writers who have exercised so powerful an influence on the growth of English metrical literature are thus stripped of their laurels by the stroke of a pen, and without any intelligible reason being assigned, it is perhaps not wonderful that those who reverence and admire them as poets should scrutinise closely the claims of the new deities in whose honour they are deposed.

Numerous symptoms, such as the controversy between Mr. Arnold and Mr. Swinburne respecting the merits of Byron and Shelley,' show that we have not yet emerged from the party struggle that divided the critical world in the beginning of the century. The relative position in the history of English literature that will finally be assigned to the great poets of the

[ocr errors][merged small]

? See Mr. Swinburne's essays on ' Byron and Wordsworth' in the Nineteenth Century for April and May 1884,

« FöregåendeFortsätt »