BLTC Press Titles

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Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour

Creative criticism

by Joel Elias Spingarn



Three of the four essays in this volume have already appeared in print. The first, "The New Criticism," was delivered as a lecture at Columbia University in 1910, and was published, under the title of "Literary Criticism," in the Columbia University Lectures on Literature; "Dramatic Criticism and the Theatre" was published in the fourth volume of Essays and Studies by Members of the English Association (Oxford: Clarendon Press); and " Creative Connoisseurship" was written as a letter to an artist friend and was printed in the New York Evening Post. All of them have undergone more or less alteration, and a few passages taken from an article on "The Seven Arts and the Seven Confusions" in the Seven Arts have been added to them. The essays are now gathered together in the hope that they may stimulate interest in a province of aesthetic theory which has been largely neglected by the English-speaking world.


"what droll creatures these college professors are whenever they talk about art," wrote Flaubert in one of his letters, and voiced the world's opinion of academic criticism. For the world shares the view of the Italian poet that "monks and professors cannot write the lives of poets," and looks only to those rich in literary experience for its opinions on literature. But the poets themselves have had no special grudge against academic criticism that they have not felt equally for every other kind. For the most part, they have objected to all criticism, since what each mainly seeks in his own case is not criticism, but uncritical praise. "Kill the dog, he is a reviewer," cried the young Goethe; and in an age nearer our own William Morris expressed his contempt for those who earn a livelihood by writing their opinions of the works of others. Fortunately for Criticism, it does not live by the grace of poets, to whom it can be of small service at its best, but by the grace of others who have neither the poet's genius nor the critic's insight. I hope to persuade you this evening that the poets have been mistaken in their very conception of the critic's craft, which lives by a power that poets and critics share together. The secret of this power has come to men slowly, and the knowledge they have gained by it has transformed their idea of Criticism. What this secret is, and into what new paths Criticism is being led by it, is the subject of my lecture to-night.


At the end of the last century, France once more occupied the center of that stage whose auditors are the inheritors of European civilization. Once more all the world listened while she talked and played, and some of the most brilliant of her talk was now on the question of the authority of Criticism. It is not my purpose to tell you (what you know already) with what sober ' and vigorous learning the official critics of the Revue des deux Mondes espoused the cause of old gods with the new weapons of science, and with what charm and tact, with what grace and suppleness of thought, Jules Lemaitre and Anatole France, to mention no others, defended the free play of the appreciative mind. Some of the sparks that were beaten out on the anvil of controversy have become fixed stars, the classical utterances of Criticism, as when Anatole France described the critic not as a judge imposing sentence, but as a sensitive soul detailing his "adventures among masterpieces."

To have sensations in the presence of a work of art and to express them, that is the function of Criticism for the impressionistic critic. His attitude he would express somewhat in this fashion: "Here is a beautiful poem, let us say Shelley's Prometheus Unbound. To read it is for me to experience a thrill of pleasure. My delight in it is itself a judgment, and what better judgment is it possible for me to give? All that I can do is to tell how it affects me, what sensations it gives me. Other men will derive other sensations from it, and express them differently; they too have the same right as I. Each of us, if we are sensitive to impressions and express ourselves well, will produce a new work of art to replace the work which gave us our sensations. That is the art of Criticism, and beyond that Criticism cannot go."

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