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With the Compliments of 







ijJL . 

',- :"l 



Professor of English in Vassar College 











First published, October, 1916 


13 1 


The social criticism of literature has, no doubt, 
been practiced more widely than it has been recog- 
nized as a theory. With the more or less uncon- 
scious practice of such criticism, however, this book 
does not attempt to deal. It is concerned solely 
with the explicit theory of social criticism and with 
the development of the conception of literature 
underlying it, which has "come to consciousness" 
either partially or wholly in various writers about 
literature, since the time of Plato. Some of these 
writers have been noted in the following pages, but 
only such as seem best calculated to illustrate the 
conception or some phase of its development. A 
complete history of the genesis and evolution of the 
social theory of literature remains to be written, 
when the theory itself is more fully understood. As 
a contribution towards its fuller understanding, 
this little book is offered. Its purpose will be 
achieved, if it shall succeed in clearing the ground 
for further study of the social theory of literature, 
^>y presenting its relations to other critical theories 
,V and defining certain of its more obvious implica- 
tions,, both speculative and practical. 

Jfi i ^ Grateful acknowledgment of my indebtedness 
y^j ^ for light upon this subject is due to Professor 

[ Fred Newton Scott, of the University of Michigan, 



whose courses, more than twenty years ago, 
explicitly recognized the social significance of 
literature and inspired his students to further 
investigation of this significance; to Professor 
Laura Johnson Wylie, under whose leadership 
every course in English at Vassar College is ani- 
mated by the social conception of literature; to 
Professor John Dewey, of Columbia University, 
whose philosophy of society has directed all my 
thinking about literature; and, finally, to my stu- 
dents in Literary Criticism, who for many years, 
attacking its problems with me, have stimulated 
and clarified my understanding of them. 

G. B. 
Vassar College, September 18, 1916. 







Muddle of Criticism . 





Larger Criticism . 

. 16 




Standards of Criticism 

. 33 




Function of the Critic 

. 47 



By simple folk in every age literary criticism 
has been accounted only a more pretentious name 
for finding fault with what one reads. All 
authorities, past and present, agree in ruling out 
of court this untutored definition; but when an 
accredited substitute for it is demanded, the hith- 
erto unanimous voice of critical doctrine breaks 
into a jangle of dissonant statements. The flippant 
will have it that criticism consists chiefly in anec- 
dotes concerning Johnson's tea and the love-affairs 
of Shelley. By no means, protest the philological. 
Rather is it the textual emendation of Chaucer. 
It is nothing, urges the old-fashioned scholar, if 
it be not the principles of poetry delivered unto us 
by Aristotle. No doubt, asserts the pedagogue, 
criticism is the English teacher's use of red ink on 
a pupil's theme. The historian of literature finds 
his conception of criticism exemplified in Gilbert 
Murray's study of the folk-lore connected with the 
plot of Hamlet; the apostle of "general culture," 
in Arnold's cryptic enthusiasms over a passage 
from Homer or Dante. 

"Which of these diverse meanings is the bewil- 
dered reader to affix to the term "criticism" when 


it meets his eye in some literary essay ? The writer 
may have had in mind any one of the foregoing 
conceptions of the term, or any one of a dozen 
others. Only the hard-worked context could pos- 
sibly determine which, unless, indeed, a saving 
adjective has been prefixed to the general term. 
Accordingly such adjectives have been called to 
the rescue, and we read of scientific, and of histori- 
cal literary criticism, of criticism deductive and 
inductive, comparative, appreciative, impression- 
istic, aesthetic and social. 1 But even these appar- 
ently definite terms refuse to yield immediate 
enlightenment. Mr. George Saintsbury, himself a 
distinguished advocate and exemplar of compara- 
tive criticism, protests, almost with tears, that 
while he has "gravely and strenuously endeavored 
to ascertain from the writings both of foreign 
critics . . . and of their disciples at home, what 
'scientific' criticism means," in no case has he 
"been able to obtain any clear conception of its 
connotation in the mouths or minds of those who 
use the phrase." 

The case is not, however, for most of us, quite so 
hopeless as this. The fundamental distinction 
between judicial or deductive and scientific or 

1 Mr. E. G. Moulton, who gave currency to the term 
"inductive criticism," has also added "speculative criti- 
cism" to our nomenclature. See ch. x in his Modern 
Study of Literature. 

2 Essays in English Literature, 1780-1860, pp. xi-xii. 


inductive criticism has long since been broadly 
established on the lines suggested by their respec- 
tive names, the former basing itself on accepted 
principles, the latter on tested facts. Deductive 
criticism, we are invariably told, both by its parti- 
sans and by its assailants, stands firmly upon some 
accredited canon of literature, such as, to take an 
extreme instance, the " three unities" of drama. 
Applying this canon to, say, The Two Gentlemen 
of Verona, a critic of the deductive school must 
conclude that the construction of this play is 
faulty. Inductive, historical or scientific criti- 
cism, on the contrary, turning its back upon all 
accepted principles, sets out to discover cer- 
tain facts about this same play, such facts, for 
instance, as its probable date, different printings 
and performances, changes in the text, the sources 
of various elements in the plot. These facts must 
often lead to certain inferences, but not, it must 
be noted, inferences as to the value of the play. 
Scientific criticism, in its furthest recoil from 
judicial criticism, would confine itself to account- 
ing for a given piece of literature, steadfastly 
refusing to evaluate it. In so doing it explicitly j 
challenges the claim of judicial criticism that the > 
literature of past ages, from which the latter 's 
standards are necessarily drawn, should fix values ' 
for the literature of the present and of the future ; 
and sets up a conception of literature as per- 
petually growing and changing, a creature of 


organic development, not of fixed, inorganic 

Out of such a conception, however, logically 
arises a new standard of judgment for particular 
pieces of literature. Those scientific critics who, 
like M. Brunetiere, insist that the judgment 
of a work of art is an essential part of the pro- 
cess of criticism, imply, as a basis for this judg- 
ment, the accurate "placing" of the piece of litera- 
ture in question in the development of a particular 
type or period. The ultimate question for such 
criticism is not: "Does this play follow the 
accredited literary traditions?" but "How does 
it further the observed development of literature ? ' ' 

This observed development of literature, more- 
over, gives rise to a new conception of the laws of 
literature, which scientific criticism recognizes not 
as laws in the legal, mandatory sense of the word, 

but rather as ' ' 

yi, "_ "declaring _ not what ought 
i is. On these points, tnen^-^^ntmaeiy, the right 
starting point for the critical process, its proper 
method and conclusions, its underlying concep- 
tions of the nature and the laws of literature, 
scientific criticism stands, broadly speaking, in 
point-blank opposition to judicial criticism. 

Comparative criticism is essentially scientific in 
its appeal to a wide reading of related literature 

a R. G. Moulton, Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist, p. 33. 


rather than to a single accredited model or prin- 
ciple. Yet Mr. George Saintsbury's exposition 4 
stresses its deductive affiliations, not merely in 
holding judgment of values to be a primary con- 
cern of the critic of literature (for, as we have 
seen, some scientific critics also profess this faith), 
but in making value apparently synonymous with 
conformity to accepted classic standards rather 
than w r ith the furthering of literary evolution. 

In this merry war of critical theories, the pro- 
tagonists of scientific criticism, though largely out- 
numbering the defenders of the earlier faith, have 
not held the field unassailed. Mr. Irving Babbitt, 
in an article entitled Impressionist versus Judi- 
cial Criticism, 5 having roughly classified as either 
impressionistic or scientific "nearly all recent 
criticism, so far as it is anything more than 
a form of gossip and small talk," asserts that 
neither of these types affords, as does judicial 
criticism, "any real means of escape from the 
quicksands of relativity to some firm ground of 
judgment." He neatly discriminates the types 
arraigned by declaring that for Taine, the scien- 
tific critic, a poem is the result of certain "prosaic 
facts of environment," while to the impressionist 
critic it is rather a cause of his own sensations. 
Impressionist criticism has no more concern with 

* Essays in English Literature, 1780-1860, p. xxvi. 

B Publications of the Modern Language Association, 1906. 


the process by which a book came into being than 
it has with a judgment of the book's value. It 
only revels in the unanalyzed effect produced by 
the book. When this effect is expressed in words 
for the benefit of other readers, we have a mere 
report of the critic's personal reactions to a work 
of literary art, a recital, in the overquoted phrase 
of M. Anatole France, of "les aventures de son 
ame au milieu des chef s-d 'oeuvre. ' ' 8 This recital 
may or may not be interesting reading ; but neither 
it nor the report of the scientific critic can have 
any value as criticism, since neither affords any 
sure test of the quality of a given piece of writing. 
The scientific critic, declares Mr. Babbitt, fixes our 
attention "on precisely those features of a poem 
that are least poetical. The very prosaic facts he 
is looking for would be at least as visible in the 
writing of some mediocrity as in a work of the 
first order." Or, as Miss Ethel Puffer more 
picturesquely puts it, "the psychological process 
in the development of a dramatic idea ... is, ... 
from the point of view of such analysis, exactly 
the same for a Shakespeare and for the Hoyt of 
our American farces. ' ' 7 

And, as for impressionist criticism, Mr. Babbitt 
is quite sure that a ' ' third-rate bit of contemporary 
sentimentality will 'suggest' more ineffable dreams 

La Vie Litteraire, 1 serie, p. iii. 
i The Psychology of Beauty, p. 17. 


to the young woman in the long chair than a play 
of Sophocles," and therefore must, by the prem- 
ises of impressionistic criticism, be ranked as the 
better literature ! Even the appreciative critic, 
most closely associated with the impressionist, has 
opened fire upon his shifting scale of values. 1 1 Can 
criticism," asks Mr. Lewis E. Gates, with portent- 
ous courtesy, "properly confine itself to the record 
of a momentary shiver across a single set of 
possibly degenerate nerves ? " 8 

The alleged assumptions of impressionist criti- 
cism that the critic's reactions to a piece of litera- 
ture are more important than the writer's process, 
and that these reactions are important as being 
individual, rather than as being typical or repre- 
sentative, have been repeatedly brought to light 
by its opponents and set up as a plain target for 
ridicule. By its partisans they have, however, 
been as often disclaimed. The critic's reactions 
need not, they assert, be held more important than 
the writer's process in order to justify any presen- 
tation of them, nor does the critic of necessity 
regard his reactions as of importance primarily 
because they are his. A sensitive and cultivated 
mind, however rare, is not unique ; and the record 
of its responses to any work of art must have value \ 
as the revelation of what this work of art may j 

s Impressionism and Appreciation, The Atlantic Monthly, 
July, 1900. 


mean to other minds in some degree capable of 
appreciating it. 

{ The charge of relativity of judgment has never 
V been disproved, because it could not be; but it is 
set aside by the fundamental conception of impres- 
sionist criticism, which it shares with the more radi- 
cal body of scientific criticism, namely, that judg- 
ment of values in literature is no part of the criti- 
cal process. Naturally this view is sustained by 
11 appreciative criticism," which, as defined by Mr. 
Gates, seems to blend scientific and impressionist 
criticism in the fuller, deeper experience of appre- 
ciation. To appreciate a work of art, the critic 
must have regard to its historical setting and its 
psychological origin; but we note that his aim in 
so doing "is primarily not to explain (with the 
scientific critic) and not to judge or to dogmatize 
(as does the judicial critic) but to enjoy; to realize 
the manifold charms the work of art has gathered 
unto itself from all sources and to interpret this 
charm imaginatively to the men of his own day and 
generation. ' ' 9 

This statement suggests a sentence from the 
preface by Messrs. Gayley and Scott to their inval- 
uable bibliography of literary criticism: "There 
j are degrees of enjoyment, the highest of which is 
1 criticism; as there are of creation, the highest of 

Impressionism and Appreciation, The 'Atlantic Monthly, 
July, 1900. 


which is art." 10 And such a conception seems to 
promise at once a freer and a richer development 
of the critical process than either facile impres- 
sionism or laborious fact-grubbing, taken each by 

Miss Puffer, however, finds even this larger 
notion of criticism incomplete. 11 It still lacks, as 
do its component elements, impressionist and scien- 
tific criticism, any standard of judgment. Through 
exact knowledge of the time, the writer, the lan- 
guage, other languages and literatures, one may re- 
produce mentally the process by which a work of 
art comes into being, yet have no idea whether it is 
beautiful or ugly or merely commonplace. One may 
enjoy a work of art without ever knowing "whence 
and why" its charm, be moved by it without under- 
standing whether or to what degree one ought to 
be moved by it. There is need of a type of criti- 
cism, latterly styled "aesthetic," a criticism which, 
disregarding the writer's end of the literary pro- 
cess, shall devote itself to explaining the effects 
produced by the play or poem upon the reader, and 
evaluating these effects by reference to established 
assthetic laws. 

This type of criticism, though newly named, is 
as old as Aristotle. The ancient critics, however 
inadequately from the modern point of view they 

10 Methods and Materials of Literary Criticism, p. iv. 

11 The Psychology of Beauty, ch. I. 



were furnished for such inquiry, had a lively 
curiosity about the nature and cause of effects 
produced upon the reader by certain types of 
literature and certain "devices" of style. In fact 
the sophistic rhetoricians as represented in Plato's 
Dialogues and as followed too sedulously by Aris- 
totle, tended to reduce the theory of discourse 
altogether to analyses of the means employed by 
the orator to bring about certain desired reactions 
in the hearer. Although ostensibly aiming to form 
the effective orator, they were actually so pre- 
occupied with the auditor's thoughts and feel- 
ings that what the speaker thought -and felt was 
largely left out of their account. In the Poetics, 
Aristotle, with no science of 

but with an unequalled power of using his self- 
made analytic instruments, essayed to discriminate 
and explain the peculiar effect upon the reader of 
tragedy, of metaphor, of " prose poetry " and of 
other phenomena of literature. Longinus, Cicero, 
Horace, Quintilian, Hegel, Lessing, Burke, Frey- 
tag, and many other critics have investigated simi- 
lar phenomena to the end of accouaWg'ftt^the 
reader's reactions and disclosing the laws involved. 
But a new reading of aesthetic criticism has been 
called forth by the development of modern aesthetic 
theory, which, even in its beginning, gives us 
glimpses of possible explanations at variance with 
those offered by the literary critics of two hundred 
or even fifty years ago. When Cicero tells us that 


metaphor gives pleasure because it "is directed 
immediately to our senses and principally to the 
sense of sight, ' ' 12 we find the reason inadequate. 
Nor can Burke 's assertion that we enjoy tragedy 
because "we have a degree of delight, and that no 
small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of 
others, ' ' 13 bring conviction. In recent years, how- 
ever, Miss Puffer's own dealings with The Emo- 
tions of the Drama and The Beauty of Literature, 
M. Bergson's chapters on The Comic in Situations 
and in Words and The Comic in Character, Miss 
Elizabeth Kemper Adams's The ^Esthetic Moment, 
Mr. Fred N. Scott's The Fundamental Differen- 
tia of Poetry and Prose an'd The Scansion of 
Prose Rhythm, offer, for certain aspects or types 
of literature, explanations and standards of valua- 
tion which modern psychology and aesthetics have 
not yet rendered obsolete. 

Esthetic criticism, then, as the latest claimant to 
the title of the one true criticism, stands, like all 
the others, in an attitude of opposition to every 
other type. Scientific criticism, as we have seen, 
condemns judicial criticism for judging literature 
solely by its conformity with accepted models or 
canons ; and accuses it of blocking the progress of 
literature by this procedure. Judicial criticism, on 
the other hand, distrusts scientific criticism because 

12 De Oratore, book in, ch. XL. 

is On the Sublime and Beautiful, part i, section xiv. 


it offers no fixed, external standards of judgment. 
Impressionist criticism holds both scientific and 
judicial criticism to be irrelevant to the one essen- 
tial question: How does this piece of literature 
affect me, the reader ? Scientific and judicial criti- 
cism, in their turn, ridicule impressionist criticism 
as superficial and egoistic. Appreciative criticism 
will accept the aid of scientific and of impressionist 
criticism, but sees both as inadequate to reach the 
final end of criticism, namely, the full experiencing 
of a piece of literature ; while it finds judicial criti- 
cism incapable of even starting in the direction of 
this goal. Esthetic criticism, rejecting all previous 
types, except deductive criticism, on the ground 
that they furnish no sure standard of judgment, 
discredits deductive criticism also, by the familiar 
declaration that it has only a traditional basis for 
its conclusions. 

We have, thus, in the field of critical theory, at 
least six warring conceptions of what criticism 
really is. And to this confusion we must add the 
prevalent uncertainty as to whether criticism is 
an act (the act of judging or investigating or 
appreciating, or what-not), or whether it is rather 
the written product of this act (Pater's essay on 
Coleridge or Freytag's Technique of the Drama). 
These last illustrations, moreover, suggest still 
another source of confusion, which Mr. Saintsbury 
recognizes in distinguishing between Aristotle's 
11 criticism" in the sense of critical judgments of 


particular writers or works, and his "critical 
theory" 14 as exemplified in the Poetics. 15 

Is it possible for the reader of current criticism 
to adjudicate the rival claims of these as yet 
unreconciled, though not irreconcilable, concep- 
tions? Is there a central idea of criticism under- 
lying them all, a single process of criticism to 
which each of the diverse types is contributory? 
If so, the discovery of this focal idea or larger 
process is surely incumbent upon students of criti- 
cal theory, to whom the hopeless muddle of critical 
conceptions exemplified by Mr. Saintsbury's omni- 
bus definition of criticism has become intolerable. 

Criticism [he propounds] is pretty much 
the same thing as the reasoned exercise of 
Literary Taste the attempt, by examination 
of literature, to find out what it is that makes 
literature pleasant, and therefore good, the 
discovery, classification and, as far as possible, 
tracing to their sources, of the qualities of 
poetry and prose, of style and metre, the classi- 
fication of literary kinds, the examination and 

14 The History of Criticism, vol. I, p. 35. 

is Professor Moulton follows this distinction (The Modern 
Study of Literature, ch. x) in separating "speculative 
criticism, working toward theory and philosophy of litera- 
ture, ' ' from ' ' inductive " and ' ( judicial ' } criticism, which 
aim by different means at the interpretation, classification 
or assaying of particular pieces of literature. 


11 proving," as arms are proved, of literary 
means and weapons, not neglecting the obser- 
vation of literary fashions and the like. 18 

Such a heterogeneous, unanalyzed mass of activi- 
ties seems to have swept together most of the vari- 
ant conceptions of criticism with which we started, 
making no attempt to inquire which are essential 
and what their relations to one another may be. 
Clear thinking demands that the literary anecdote 
and textual restoration alike, Aristotle's theory of 
tragedy and the English teacher's correction of 
faulty grammar, the tracing of Hamlet to spring- 
myths and the selection of "touch-stones of litera- 
ture," be either "placed" in the one great activity 
of criticism or definitely excluded from it ; that the 
essential, all-inclusive elements in this activity 
appear, freed from irrelevant and confusing 
detail; that starting-point, method and conclusion 
of the critical process be adequately distinguished 
from one another; that the writer's part in the 
production of literature and the reader's part in 
appreciating it be equally taken into account ; that 
the various types of criticism be discriminated on 
a functional basis, the contribution of each type 
to a larger conception of criticism rightly under- 
stood, and the standards of literature implied in 
each fully recognized. "When these things are 

16 The History of Criticism, vol. I, p. 4. 


done, and only then, will * ' the muddle of criticism ' ' 
be resolved into rational order and the long war 
of critical theories end in the active peace of 


One must listen closely to hear, amid the jangle 
of conflicting theories as to what literary criticism 
really is, the still small voice of their harmonious 
relation to one another. Once heard, however, it 
cannot be disregarded. 

Each type of criticism, arisingjo.gllp^to^nt the 
inadequacies of previous types, has enriched our 
conception of the critical process. Deductive criti- 
cism as first formulated could furnish no basis for 
its judgments save traditional authority or the 
arbitrary personal taste which had, though often 
unconsciously, been moulded by it. Recognizing 
the need of a broader and firmer grounding for the 
critic's conclusions, historic or scientific criticism 
offered to supply such a grounding in the thorough- 
going study of literary origins and development. 
This genetic study gave rise to a conception of 
literature which proved of immense importance to 
critical theory. In so far as any writing under 
examination was recognized as an outcome directly 
of the author's individual experience and training, 
indirectly of the political,, social and industrial 
order in which he worked, in so far as the influence 
upon this writing of other writings in many Ian- 


guages both of this and of antecedent periods was 
taken into account, just so far did literature inevi- 
tably cease to be for criticism a mere static, rigidly 
limited thing-in-itself , and become an organic 
development,, rooted deep in human history and 
complexly interfunctioning with it. 

But though scientific criticism, so to speak, 
loosened the current conception of literature, and 
notably enlarged it at the writer's end, a corre- 
sponding extension in the direction of the reader 
took place only when impressionist criticism 
entered the field. As a result of the attention 
which this type of criticism directed upon the 
reader's reaction to a given piece of literature, the 
epic or drama in question ceased to be for criticism 
merely an outgrowth from the writer's mind, defi- 
nitely conditioned by various historic, economic 
and literary elements in his environment, and 
came to include also the final flowering in the 
reader's mind of this deep-rooted growth. 

Thus did scientific and impressionist criticism, 
each supplementing the work of the other, pre- 
pare a highway for appreciative criticism, which, , 
not content to occupy merely one section of the 
great realm of literature thus opened to it, entered 
into possession of the whole. To the appreciative 
critic literature for the first time presented itself 
as properly inclusive of all the phenomena asso- 
ciated with it; and these phenomena were, more- 
over, for the first time explicitly recognized as 


constituting a continuous activity, comparable 
perhaps to that of an electric current. Literature, 
as thus conceived, might be generated immediately 
in the writer's consciousness and ultimately in the 
consciousness of his age, but it would complete 
itself only as it passed over into the reader's con- 
sciousness to enlighten or to stir it into action. 

The entire literary activity, then, from writer 
to reader, has been preempted for criticism by 
the appreciative theory. Intensive research into 
its various stages or sections, however, belongs to 
those schools whose view of the critical field is more 
limited. ^Esthetic criticism, for instance, has 
undertaken the closer analysis of the reader's 
reaction according to modern scientific method; 
and such a contribution can hardly be overvalued. 
Impressionist criticism had done a needed work in 
turning the critic's attention to the reader's end 
of the literary act. This attention could not, how- 
ever, rest at the point of mere unanalyzed, personal 
impression; but, continually defining and univer- 
salizing every impression by the aid of known 
aesthetic principles, must finally evolve a genuine 
aesthetic criticism. 

Esthetic criticism points us to the future. It 
constitutes, however, an integral part of the con- 
tinuous development of critical theory, by which 
a larger view of the field of criticism has been 
progressively gained and a conception of literature 
suggested which is at once inclusive and active. 


Each successive step in the history of criticism has 
brought us nearer to this conception of literature, 
until to the modern student, graduate of all the 
earlier critical schools, a book consists, not essen- 
tially of so many pages of printed paper bound 
between covers, but rather of certain activities, 
or, still more strictly speaking, of a single, con- 
tinuous activity. This activity may, for purposes 
of analysis, be separated into the writer's action 
and the reader 's reaction ; but neither of these can 
in itself constitute a book. A book is, in philo- 
sophic terms, the writer's action transforming 
itself into the reader's reaction at the point of 
print. And the printed words thus reduce them- 
selves to a mere sign of this transformation, not 
constituting literature but only making it possible. 
Literature as a social activity has not yet com- 
pletely taken place when a book is printed and 
bound. It fulfills itself, becomes literature in any 
practical sense of the word, only in the act of 

The act of reading has thus taken on a new 
dignity, as literature, in the evolution of critical 
theories, has become a process rather than a pro- 
duct, something that takes place rather than some- 
thing which has been made. Literature in this 
sense is no finished material object a pill to be 
swallowed by the reader, or a sugar-plum to be 
eaten by him. Bather is it a great continuous 
activity, which goes on through and by the reader, 


his participation constituting its final stage, as 
organically related to it as the writer's function 

Thus defined, however, the act of reading sug- 
gests close relations with the act of criticism. 
Through criticism, at least of the appreciative type, 
the writer's activity is realized or fulfilled, as it 
is conceived to be through reading. We are, it is 
true, accustomed to think of reading as one of the 
simplest mental processes, of criticism as one of 
the most complex; and, while admitting that the 
child reads, we withhold the name critic from all 
but the highly trained scholar. But as the child 
may become the critic, so may the simple, unana- 
lytic process of reading pass by imperceptible 
degrees into the furthest reaches of that extremely 
complex activity called criticism. 

The essential character of reading, whether ele- 
mentary or advanced in its type, is found in no 
mere perfunctory turning of leaves, but in active 
participation, however limited it may be, in the 
experience which the writer would communicate. 
One reads, in any real sense of the word, only in 
so far as he thinks the writer's thoughts after him 
under the stimulus of his words, sees what the 
writer saw, feels what the writer felt. Hence ' ' the 
will to read," if one may paraphrase William 
James's title, an intelligent hospitality of mind, is 
the first condition of reading, as it is of criticism. 
Lacking this cooperative attitude, the preoccupied 


schoolboy can no more read than the critic, intent 
from the beginning on fault-finding, can criticise; 
while with it no limitations of knowledge or taste 
can prevent an infinite development of genuine 
reading and criticism. 

Reading begins the process of criticism at the 
impressionistic stage. The i >ader cannot but be 
affected to some degree and in some manner by 
what he reads and by some means (not always 
formally " literary") he is bound to convey this 
impression to other persons. It is true that only 
in the degree of his training and sensitiveness has 
the reader's reaction value for anyone else. But 
this training and sensitiveness are by no means 
fixed quantities. They develop in and through the 
very act of reading. In some sense one must, as 
Ruskin says, in order to read at all, ascend to the 
writer's level. "If you will not rise to us, we can- 
not stoop to you." 1 One must approximate the 
writer's position in order even to begin to read 
him, but, once begun, the act of reading itself 
discloses its essential inadequacies. The active- 
minded reader finds that, in order to think the 
writer's thought after him, he must, for a time in 
very truth, be the writer* He must reconstruct the 
writer's milieu, social, industrial, political, and the 
writer's individual life as thus determined, or fail 
fully to apprehend the thought which grew out 

i Sesame and Lilies : Of Kings ' Treasuries. 


of and was modified by this particular set of con- 
ditions. And he must furthermore know the 
writer's literary tools, the form with which he 
worked, its limitations and its possibilities, how 
far it had been developed when he laid his hand 
upon it, or stop short of comprehending his view 
of life as it shaped itself in and through this form* 
Here it is evident that the gaining of an imme- 
diate impression from what one reads has passed 
into the realm of that "scientific" criticism which 
amasses data, brings to bear upon the printed page 
all relevant knowledge, historical, linguistic, psy- 
chological, aesthetic, that reading may be the more 
intelligent, the richer in content, that what the 
writer would convey may the more perfectly inter- 
penetrate the reader's mind. 

SITPJ] inforppTipftrafifoT^ furthermore, is the indis- 
pensable condition of "appreciative criticism," 
that compj^e^gaiuiiLaLtioii of the epic or the essay, 
with all its connotations, which Mr. Gates has 
painted for us in colors of delight. 2 And only such 
complete assimilation of any work of literature 
into the reader's mind enables him surely to 
"disengage" as Pater would say, its peculiar 
' ' virtue. ' ' Otherwise he is bound to miss some 
element, in it, some essential tang or aroma, some 
fine distinction of tone. Thus qualified, however, 

2 Impressionism and Appreciation, The Atlantic Monthly, 
July, 1900. 


his appreciation has the exquisite precision of line 
which we associate with masters of criticism such 
as Pater himself. Like them our reader can not 
only reproduce in his own imaginative experience 
the complex process by which a given poem through 
the ages came to be, but he can also realize in all its 
fullness of meaning the almost equally complex 
process by which it communicates itself to the 
reader's mind, just what its peculiar individual 
effect is and how this effect has been produced. He 
is able, to quote Miss Puffer's words, descriptive 
of "aesthetic" criticism, "to tell us whence and 
why the charm of a work of art: to disengage, to 
explain, to measure, and to certify it. ' ' 3 

When he proceeds "to measure and to certify 
it," however, he has passed out of inductive into 
deductive or "judicial" criticism. He no longer 
merely receives, responds, assembles data, compares 
phenomena and investigates laws, but pronounces 
upon the quality of the work of literature under 
his hands. He understands not only how much 
and why and in what respects he likes it, but how 
and why and in what respects the intelligent 
reader ought to like it. And in so doing he has, 
either implicitly or openly, appealed to certain 
laws previously discovered in the examination of 
individual pieces of literature or works of art in 
other fields. By some body of aesthetic canons in 

3 The Psychology of Beauty, p. 25. 


general, or of literary canons in particular, he 
ranks and evaluates. 

The discovery and formulation of these literary 
canons are a part of the process of criticism, but 
not necessarily a part of the process of reading, in 
which theory remains somewhat implicit. That 
point in the reading-act, then, at which some theory 
about what is read emerges into consciousness, may 
serve as the point of departure for criticism, in its 
more abstract stages, out of the concrete act of 
reading. A further point, at which this theory is 
definitely used as a basis for judging particular 
pieces of literature, may locate a boundary line 
between the theoretic and the judicial aspects of 
the critical process. Thus the critic's progress 
from nai've impression to formulated judgment 
seems, roughly speaking, to present three primary 
stages, the first of which coincides with reading, 
while the second and third ultimately derive from 
it. fiyiti^jftTn T as we have seen, begiuSLJjdth the 
reading of literature in the fullest sense of the 
term, including the gathering together of knowl- 
edge from all the various sources which might 
serve to enrich the understanding of what is read. 
In this reading certain theories of literature and 
of the specific~typ : _of literature read are bound 
to come to consciousness, resulting in a more or 
less formulated body of laws expressive of the 
modes in which literature has its rise under given 
conditions, takes particular forms, develops and 


changes these forms or invents new ones, acts in 
specific ways upon the reader and upon society as 
a whole. And finally, on the basis of these laws, 
particular pieces of literature are judged, ranked 
and classified. 

In practice these three stages of the critical 
process are not rigidly separated fro n. one another, 
and our nomenclature still leaves them undistin- / 
guished. The critical reading and interpretation 
of literature in the light of all relevant facts about 
it is criticism. The formulated body of laws de- 
rived from this reading is criticism. And the 
ranking of particular pieces of literature on the 
basis of these discovered laws is also criticism. 
This blanket-use of the term doubtless tends to 
confusion ; and it seems desirable to adopt the self- 
explanatory names "critical reading/' "critical 
theory" and "critical judgment" as a means 
of recognizing three important stages in the act 
of criticism without denying the essential unity of 
the act. 

The logical order of these three stages is appar- 
ent. The term "critical reading" must be applied 
not alone to the exhaustive analyses of the highly 
trained and sensitive scholar, but to those simpler 
and less self-conscious acts of mental assimilation 
which by the law of their own nature tend contin- 
ually to deepen and enrich themselves. In a very 
sober, literal sense it may be asserted that whoever 
sincerely reads anything not perfunctorily run- 


ning his eye over^the pages but actually trans- 
forming the writer 's^SES*eneJjito-^lts^olm has 
thereby s^ai^e4~Qn^the Imiff p*^* oi criticism. Not 
only does such reading constantly improve itself, 
becoming more exact in its responses to the stii 
ulus given by the writer, better informed on 
points which full reaction to this stimulus involves, 
hut eventually it yields a body of theory organi- 
cally related to the literature read, not arbil 
imposed upon it by some external authority. 

It is such a body of theory, inductively derived, 
which all the protestants against deductive literary 
criticism, from Coleridge to Mr. J. B. Spingarn, 
explicitly demand. "We have done with all the 
old Rules, ' ' declares Mr. Spingarn ; 4 and no doubt 
we have, in so far as these rules have become purely 
arbitrary, without vital connection with the works 
of literature to which they are applied. They can 
have validity for us today only as they come to 
consciousness anew in our reading of the more 
diversified body of literature known to our time, 
and as a result of the more exact psychological and 
aesthetic analysis for which we are now equipped. 
There is, of course, no doubt that an adequate 
theory of poetry, for instance, would ultimately be 
serviceable to the critical reading of poetry. This 
fact cannot, however, be allowed to obscure the 
more important principle that such a theory, in 

* The New Criticism, p. 20. 


order to be thus serviceable, must presuppose an 
extended reading of poetry and arise out of it. 

As for critical judgment, once apparently the 
sole interest of critics, it no longer both begins 
and ends the process of criticism. Instead of 
standing at the entrance of the critic 's course, with 
an effect of blocking his progress, it follows upon a 
prolonged activity of critical reading and a ten- 
tative formulation of critical theory, so that it 
seems rather to reward his labors than to render 
them unnecessary. Built thus upon human study 
and reasoning, it loses its oracular quality, its 
unquestioned finality, and takes on the more useful 
aspect of a conclusion formulated for the present 
on the basis of what is now known, and serving 
merely as a stepping-stone to some further knowl- 
edge or understanding. 

Such a conception of the process of criticism, far 
less authoritative than the old, but compensatingly 
richer and more organically related with the pro- 
cess of literary creation, must serve as basis for 
classifying the products of criticism. These, mul- 
titudinous though they may be, readily group 
themselves under the three headings, critical read- 
ing, critical theory, and critical judgment. Of 
these the second group is most obviously distin- 
guished from the others. That stage of the critical 
process in which theories of literature come to con- 
sciousness leaves behind it systematic treatises such 
as Aristotle's Poetics and Freytag's Technique of 


the Drama. Critical reading, having collected his- 
toric and textual data to its own ends, may give 
them permanent, though usually unliterary, form 
in annotations, emendations, detailed comparisons 
and summaries of evidence upon disputed points. 
But critical reading in its less pedestrian realms, 
and critical judgment as growing out of it, yield 
the richest harvests of critical literature. 

When Matthew^ Jirnqld declares that criticism 
consists in "& disinterested endeavor to learn and 
propagate the best that is known and" thought in 
the world," 5 the verb "to learn" suggests that 
vital assimilative activity of mind which we have 
termed "critical reading"; while its correlative 
"to propagate" lays hold of that creative product 
of the critical process which Arnold's own literary 
essays aptly represent. The writer who brings "a 
new piece of literature into being in some exqui- 
sitely happy characterization," creates "a lyric of 
criticism out of the unique pleasure of an aesthetic 
hour, ' ' 6 propagates in other minds ' ' the best that 
is known and thought in the world," merely car- 
ries over to these minds his own experience of that 
critical process which we have previously analyzed. 
Implicit or apparent in many of the literary essays 
of Arnold we find all the salient elements of the 
complete critical activity, the inquiry after such 

B The Function of Criticism at the Present Time. 
The Psychology of Beauty, p. 3. 


data as may presumably enrich the act of reading, 
the full, vital interpenetration of the given book or 
writer with the critic's mind, the discovery, or at 
least the re-formulation, of certain laws of litera- 
ture, the judgment of writer or book on the basis of 
these laws. Critical literature is, then, the final 
flowering in a creative literary act of the critical 
process, either in part or as a whole. 

Through critical literature, critics of every school 
may contribute to the common stock their knowl- 
edge and understanding of literature in any of its 
aspects or relations. In an essay on The Higher 
Study of English, Mr. Albert S. Cook enumerates 
some of the possible activities of the scholarly 
critic : 

According to the exigencies which circum- 
stances create, or his own intuition perceives, 
he will edit dictionaries, like Johnson or Mur- 
ray; make lexicons to individual authors, like 
Schmidt; compile concordances, like Bartlett 
or Ellis; investigate metre, like Sievers or 
Schipper; edit authors, as Skeat has edited 
Chaucer, Child the English and Scottish Bal- 
lads, and Furness Shakespeare; discourse on 
the laws of literature, like Sidney, or Ben 
Jonson, or Lewes, or Walter Pater ; write liter- 
ary biography, like Brandl or Dowden; or 
outline the features and progress of a national 
literature, like Ten Brink, or Stopford Brooke, 


or Taine. . . . Yet withal he must be content, 
if fortune, or his sense of a potential universe 
hidden in his apparently insignificant task, 
will have it so, merely to settle hoti's business, 
properly base oun, or give us the doctrine of 
the enclitic de sure that posterity, while it 
may ungratefully forget him, will at least have 
cause to bless his name, as that of one without 
whose strenuous and self-sacrificing exertions 
the poets, the orators, the historians, and 
the philosophers would have less completely 
yielded up their meaning, or communicated 
their inspiration, to an expectant and needy 
world. 7 

Plainly, as Mr. Saintsbury declares, ' ' The life of 
Methuselah and the mind of Shakespeare together 
could hardly take the whole of critical knowledge 
to be their joint province. ' ' 8 But the many mem- 
bers are one body. To assign them relative values 
is not only an ungracious but an impossible task. 
"If they were all one member, where were the 
body?" Not the particular section of the critical 
field which is tilled, but the efficiency of its tilling 
determines the critic's value. Every type of criti- 
cal activity is indispensable one might almost say 
equally indispensable to the great process of criti- 
cism. But each type can reach its highest effective- 

7pp. 22-3. 

s Essays in English Literature, 1780-1860, p. xix. 


ness toward the ends of the process as a whole only 
in so far as it becomes intelligently aware of these 
ends. Sound perception of what criticism in its 
largest reaches aims to achieve makes even "hoti's 
business" and "the doctrine of the enclitic de" a 
genuine help to our reading, instead of mere aca- 
demic pottering, redeems impressionist rhapsodies 
from their accustomed trivial finality to fruitful 
suggestiveness, and teaches the critic of every 
school sincere gratitude to the many workers who 
in all ages have added even a little to our vital 
understanding of literature. 

Recognition of the larger whole of criticism re- 
stores the seamless robe which partisanship and 
intolerance have rent in shreds. From the wars 
of critical theories, each too limited in its outlook 
to recognize its cooperative relation with all the 
others, the modern critic has emerged with one 
priceless possession a vitalized, democratized con- 
ception of literature. To him a book can never 
again be a barren, finished product, a scholastic 
abstraction, but a living activity of more than 
writer and reader, a genuine function of the 
social body. This inconceivably precious idea he 
as yet hardly knows how to value or to use. 
Rightly used, it should solve, by its fundamental 
analysis of their factors, the age-old, baffling prob- 
lems of criticism which previous partial or arti- 
ficial conceptions of literature have succeeded only 
in restating. But such thoroughgoing solution 


awaits a more complete realization than has yet 
been generally attained of the length and breadth 
and depth and height of this epoch-making idea. 
When the modern critic knows, not as a mere 
formula, but with full realization of its as yet 
quite incredible implications, what literature as a 
social function may be, the larger criticism will 
also have become the deeper criticism, penetrating 
to the innermost meaning of our literature in its 
relations to our life. 


The practice of criticism has, in many directions, 
profited incalculably by the long development of 
theories of criticism throughout the ages of men's 
dealings with literature. One practical demand 
upon critical theory, however,, yet remains unsat- 
isfied, the demand for a standard of judgment. 

The standard of traditional authority which de- 
ductive criticism offers has been definitely rejected 
by modern critics. All but universally it is recog- 
nized that such a standard stultifies both criticism 
and literature. It substitutes a mechanical coer- 
cion for the living interconnections of criticism 
with literature, reduces the critic to an automaton 
while exalting him to a despot, and artificializes 
literature, by cutting it off from organic relation 
to its own time. 

Scientific criticism, of the extreme "inductive" 
school, reacts, perhaps immoderately, from this 
tyranny of the deductive standard, by denying to 
judgment any place whatsoever in the act of criti- 
cism. This seems, indeed, to throw out the child 
with the bath. It should not be necessary to repu- 
diate all measures of value, in order to do away 
with those arbitrary and external standards which 


have no vital relation with the writings to which 
they are applied. More penetrating thinkers, of 
the type of Coleridge, recognize this fact, and, as 
Miss Laura J. Wylie has pointed out in her Evolu- 
tion of English Criticism* stand with the roman- 
ticists not only in rejecting standards imposed 
from without upon art, but also in conceiving of 
the laws which have present validity for literature 
as essentially organic, because derived from the 
writings in question rather than from the classic 
models. Even Coleridge, however, fails to indicate 
precisely what laws or standards they are which 
may be thus derived from the work of literature 
itself. Nor do modern critics of Mr. J. E. Spin- 
garn's way of thinking greatly further our search 
by insisting only that we apply to the writer "no 
other standard than that applied to any other crea- 
tive artist : what has lie tried to express, and how 
has he expressed it." 2 Such a test fixes for us 
what Mr. Gates rightly denominates the ' ' intended 
value" of a book, but leaves undetermined its 
actual value, which may be quite outside the 
writer's calculation. 

It seems plain that this actual value cannot be 
determined by standards derived from the book re- 
garded merely in its relations to the writer or to the 
conditions under which it was produced, since the 
book, considered as a whole, involves relations to 

1 p. 184. 

2 The New Criticism, p. 28. 


the reader as well. Miss Ethel Puffer implies this 
larger view of literature in her contention that the 
"placing" of a book in the process of literary de- 
velopment, which M. Brunetiere insists upon as an 
essential part of historical or scientific criticism, 
does not necessarily involve any judgment as to 
the value of the book; since "the judgment of 
anything always means judgment with reference to 
the end for which it exists, ' ' 3 and scientific criti- 
cism takes account only of the conditions under 
which literature arises. 

Mr. Saintsbury vehemently reproaches scientific 
criticism for failing to supply us^jLEu-adequate 
standard for judging^literature^ but he^Jaimself 
suggests" ntrstlt?fi "standard, nor apparently makes 
practical iise~^'~any except""fEe' traditional canons. 
In fact, it may be said that comparative criticism, 
in so far as it admits the conception of relative 
values, determines them by the old-fashioned rules, 
while in so far as it confines itself to "placing" a 
given piece of literature in the process of literary 
development, it is satisfied with the partial stand- 
ards of scientific criticism. 

Impressionist criticism cannot fairly be assailed 
for affording us no basis of judgment, since it joins 
with some scientific and most appreciative criti- 
cism in denying the need of any such basis. Mr. 
Gates, however, speaking for the appreciative critic, 

3 The Psychology of Beauty, p. 8. 


admits that even "in his search for the pleasure 
involved in a work of art, ' ' he ' ' finds that he must 
go outside the work of art and beyond his own 
momentary state of consciousness ; he must see the 
work of art in its relations to larger and larger 
groups of facts. ' ' 4 And such an admission seems 
significant not only because it decisively rejects 
the impressionist's purely personal and relative 
attitude toward literature; but because it suggests 
the possibility of seeing a work of art * * in its rela- 
tions to larger and larger groups of facts," until, 
at length, all its relations are taken into account 
and an adequate basis of judgment has thus been 

Esthetic criticism stands with deductive criti- 
cism in definitely recognizing the obligation of 
critical theory to furnish a sure test of values. It 
stands with all the other types, however, in dis- 
crediting the deductive test. The aesthetic critic 
cannot as yet provide us with a usablelStmrdaiMLin 
its place; but Miss Puffer gives us to understand 
that aesthetic theory will supply our need, once it 
has fully entered into its kingdom. The aesthetic 
critic is needed, she declares, to "teach us what 
great art means in literature," to tell us "what a 
novel ought to be/' so that "we shall not always 
mingle the wheat and the chaff. ' ' 5 

Impressionism Pkt"2fpWRaJ*ow, Tke~~Atlantic Monthly, 
July, 1900. 

The Psychology of Beauty, pp. 25-6. 


This is the fairest promise we have had, and we 
may, I think, trust it, so far as the province of 
aesthetics covers the field of literature. Under- 
stood broadly the term aesthetics might include even 
those subtler intellectual and spiritual reverbera- 
tions in the reader which Mr. Gates insists on 
taking into account. No scientific methods as yet 
devised, or in immediate prospect, can, it is true, 
measure them. But this is not to say that such 
measurement is inherently and ultimately impos- 
sible. -.^VA'.K 

Modern* cr4tieisgHtaiids ready to welcome any 
achievement in this direction. But meanwhile it 
must make surlTffialrtfre larger conception of litera- 
ture is not reduced to such a conception as our 
present aesthetic science is qualified to deal with, 
the conception (shall we say?) of literature as 
some piece of verbal apparatus, cleverly designed 
to produce certain reactions in the reader. This 
would be to renounce the spacious territory won 
by criticism through many generations, to drop out 
of account the writer's end of the literary process, 
to ignore our slowly clearing and strengthening 
sense of literature as a great social activity and 

This sense of literature we have seen evolving 
gradual and chiefly unconscious stages as successive j 

schools of criticism have perceived more clearly the > 

great factors in their problem. But in a crude form 
the social conception of literature antedates all 


modern schools of criticism, since it was specifically 
implied in Plato's much-derided exclusion of the 
poets from his ideal state, on the ground that they 
indulge the feelings and enfeeble the reason of 
man. 6 Literature is a social jpstitntir>n t ]Plato in 
effggjLJlflirmed, and as such must be judged by 
*"HflJ * tt dards. Tnat the nature and function of *j 
poetry were buT"imperfectly understood by Plato^^Sr 
does not destroy the significance of this early sug- / 
gestion, though it has often prevented modern 
critics from recognizing its significance*. Nor can 
any later restrictions of the principle tocfrndely - 
moralistic, ^ 

Mr. ""Xi'llmr Raiiydme has lately 
/ the battle-cry, "Art for Art's sake," which was 
/ raised against the domination of moralistic and 
L naturalistic standards in art, into the theory of 
^^ Art -for Life's sake." 7 But the second phrase 
merely substitutes a truer, that is, a more social, 
conception of morality for that implied in the 
bourgeois censure of art. Art exists not for 
^own sake, not for the sake of nature, or even for \ 
\ the sake of morals, not, indeed, for any 

Smaller than that of life itself. To heighten the 
poet's consciousness of life, and to "enrich the 
blood of the world" by offering to his readers 
"opportunities of conscious living," Mr. Ransome 

The Republic, x. 

7 Portraits and Speculations, p. 1. 


defines as the twofold function of poetry. And 
this__is ^sgentiall^_j3 < ...jseciar function. Tlrer poet 's 
intensified consciousness is transmitted to the 
reader, who receives from it an access of life, 
whether in the form of perception, emotion, or 
what-not. Wherever this transfer takes place 
society is at that point leveled up to the poet. 
The poet's individual gain in perception or emo- 
tion has been socialized. 

Twenty years ago, Edward Rowland Sill, in an 
essajr called Principles of Criticism, proposed as a 
test for literature its "life-giving power" and fur- 
ther analyzed this test, as follows: 

It is not enough that a picture or a novel or 
a poem should move us : the question is, What 
does it move in us? How much of the whole 
possible range of our inner life does it awaken ? 
Nor is mere intensity of impression any suffi- 
cient test. For one must inquire, "Whither 
does this tend,, toward further renewal of 
full existence, or toward reaction and stagna- 
tion? Some feelings are kindled only to 
smoulder away and leave dead ashes; . . . 
others tend to kindle on and on, awakening 
thought, rousing to vigorous action. Nor are 
the most easily moved activities always the 
most important ones in the effect of art and 
literature. . . . It is the great motive powers 
deep down in the soul that most contribute to 



abounding life, and whose awakening most 
surely proves the presence of genius. 8 

recognized the precise 

[j^lbft^Mrr^ill recog 
is suggestion to^pTTE 


It is unlike! 
relation of this 

criticism or wholly perceived its social significance. 
But this relation and this significance are plain to 
the reader of today. Perhaps the fundamental 
conception had been drawn from Matthew Arnold 's 
Function of Criticism at the Present Time, which 
in its recognition of the critic's duty to "propagate 
the best that is known and thought in the world" 
states'^fey^implication the social function of litera- 
J;ur&, TJig critic, in Arnold~*s~tlieuTy, is the iiitel- 
lectual middleman of the social order, distributing 
ideas from producer to consumer; but with the 
ultimate purpose of transforming the capable con- 
sumer into a producer. The "current of true and 
fresh ideas" set in motion by the critic swells the 
song of the poet, otherwise mute in a stifling atmos- 
phere of practical life. From poet to critic, from 
critic to readers, from readers to new poets, passes 
the divine afflatus, in a self-perpetuating cycle. 
And thus societyjpft^ftflfcfllfo' fjfltrfrf "P "frith itn 
leaders, only to cast forward in the streajn of_ 
own progress^n'ewteMera "WllOlu it ui'GsTovertake. 


of view, is a primary means by which the race 
advances. The critic's function is to further this 



by faeilitating^tiie ^interaction of litera- 
ture with society. Wherever literature can "directly 
rfnd completely socialize its ideas, it does so. Where 
this is difficult, or delayed, the critic mediates. 
Having read a book, in the full meaning of the 
term, having gained some view of it or some knowl- 
edge about it which may conceivably enrich the 
reading of others, he communicates his experience 
to them, in order that the writer's thinking may 
the more completely interpenetrate their minds, 
and thus raise them to the writer's level. 
/ Part of the critic's experience with the book has 
/ been his judgment of it as worthy of such com- 
munication, as in some respects and in some degree 
I valuable to society. In this sense he may be said 
\ to regard it as " the best that is known and thought 
Xiruthe world ' ' ; the best, that is, not absolutely, but 
at this moment for himself and for the readers he 
addresses (who are presumably at approximately 
his own stage of development), the best calculated 
to satisfy their perhaps unrecognized needs, and 
to carry them a step beyond their present expe- 
rience or powers. If it is too far in advance of 
them to draw them to its standing-ground, or if 
it is only abreast of them, to say nothing of lagging 
behind, it has no function to perform for them as 
individuals or as members of society, and it is not 
therefore for them the best, or even good, litera- 
ture. Good literature, as judged by the social 
standard, is that which efficiently performs the 



function of literature for any individual or for any 
group of individuals, namely, the function of 
making common in society all peculiar advantages 
of mental endowment or experience. 

Such a standard of literature will, it is appar- 
ent, yield us no immutable five-foot shelf of "the 
best books. ' ' Nor is this, I take it, what the reiter- 
ated demand in the history of criticisi 
absolule---standard of values means, 
is "good literatuFe**"in~tKe" social sense 
reader or for one community may not be goo< 
another. But it is good for each reader and for 
each community in the degree in which it furthers 
development of each, as the social jvhole. 
means that, as Coleridge insisted, fne standard 
by which we judge the book is inherent in the 
book itself; but not, we must remind ourselves, in 
the book as a thing printed on sheets of p^per_and 
enclosed between cov^rs.^/ The book, from which ^ 
we are to derive its own standard of value, is the 
book regarded as a cooperative activity of writer 
and reader, to the end of the reader's heightened^__3 
social consciousness. In so far as this activity (the 
book) achieves its end it is good literature. Like a 
social standard of value in expenditure, which 
would affix one value to opera tickets for a given 
person in a particular situation, and another for a 
different person in a different situation, but still 
remains the same standard, the social standard of 
value in literature marks what we roughly call the 


same book, high for one person at one time or in 
one set of conditions, low for another person at 
another time and in other conditions, while the 
standard itself fluctuates not at all. In the case 
of the high as of the low estimate, its unchanging 
basis of judgment is the social efficiency of this co- 
operative activity of writer and reader, whose 
visible symbol is the printed book. 

For the measurement of this efficiency no meth- 
ods have as yet been suggested, no instruments 
devised. The social. ^Rlues ^^^e^B^ur^Ga^iDi at f< -/ 
present be stated in Jdlogmms-d? 4n~degrees Fahren-1 A 
heit. But the frank recognition of such values, 
as legitimate material for critical judgment, and 
the open-minded investigation of them, must ulti- 
mately evolve an adequate procedure, which shall 
take account not of one section only of a literary 
act, but of the entire act, arising out of a given 
n} social situation, focusing itself, say, in a single 
poem of a single writer, communicating itself to 
the mind of a single reader in a different social 
situation, and thence throughout that social situa- 
tion, modifying it both in obvious and in all but 
imperceptible ways. This view of literature as a 
living present activity, not the product of a past, 


social value. And the thoroughgoing acceptance 
of this view means to the criticism and to the 
creation of literature more than any of us can 
possibly imagine. 



If the value of literature is first and last a social ^\ 
value, any writing which serves the social ends of / 
literature must, in its degree, be accounted "gooc^x 
literature." The realm of good literature thus 
ceases to be an aristocratic preserve and becomes 
coextensive with all that is really literature. Even 
' * our trashy, ephemeral, modern writing, ' ' to which 
the old-fashioned critic's resounding scorn would 
deny all value, may, however crude and unpleasing 
to him, have something to offer those whose thought 
and feeling are still more elementary. 

But only if it be a sincere expression of the 
writer's mind. For wjt&out^ sincerity no writing 
can be good literature \ it cannot, irTEhe sociafsense, 
be literature^at ^r=dMua~caaflterTeit banknote is 
not really "mrrcrey. Literature, according to prem- 
ise, is the thinking or feeling together of the 
writer and the reader through the agency of the 
written word. If, however, the word does not con- 
vey the writer's real thought and feeling, the reader 
cannot think and feel with him by its means, but 
will simply entertain a thought or a feeling which 
the writer for some reason wishes him to entertain. 

The result of such pseudo-communication is, 
therefore, not to "level up" the reader with the 
writer, but to give the writer that advantage over 
the reader which his writing has, consciously or 
unconsciously, sought to gain. The process is as 
distinctly anti-social in its ends as the process of 
genuine communication is social. It is, properly 


speaking, not literature, but a commercial substi- 
tute for it, which the critic is bound to detect and 
to expose. 

Given the indispensable quality of sincerity, 
then, any writing may for certain people at a cer- 
tain stage of development^ be good literature. As 
to the other rhetorical virtues, simplicity, elegance, 
restraint, vividness, force and the rest, it cannot 
yet be affirmed in how far any or all of them impart 
to a book the power of quickening and deepening 
the reader's conscious life. Doubtless one day we 
shall have a "new rhetoric" which will attempt to 
estimate in social terms the literary value of these 
qualities. But these have to do with degrees of 
excellence, and the social standard has not yet been 
applied beyond the first critical categories. For 
the present we must be content merely to substi- 
tute for the old personal distinction between 
"good" literature and "poor," the new social dis- 
tinction, and to know that degrees of excellence 
must ultimately be recognized on this same basis. 
Since literature, though the greatest among us, is 
as one that serveth, it. can be measured only by 
this service, never by the external signs of editions 
de luxe or a place ' ' in every gentleman 's library. ' ' 

This social standard of criticism is the standard 
for which criticism throughout its long history has 
been searching, and for lack of which each type of 
criticism has been found inadequate. It is not a 
moral standard, in the narrow sense of the term; 


it is not an aesthetic standard in the superficial 
sense of the term: it is a social standard in the 
sense which deepens aesthetics and extends moral- 
ity, a sense best represented, perhaps, by the 
phrase "Art for Life's sake." 

Such a standard the criticism of two thousand 
years has slowly fashioned into crude and but half- 
apprehended form. For the criticism of the future 
remains the task of recognizing its unimagined 
implications, defining it more clearly, testing it at 
every point and applying it to the literature both 
of the past and of the present. 


No longer is the critic regarded as an oracle, 
enunciating infallible judgments of literature 1 by 
an easy comparison of any given book with cer- 
tain accredited models or by an equally mechani- 
cal application to it of rules delivered unto us by 
Aristotle. We know him rather as a reader like 
ourselves, dealing with literature as we all deal 
with it, only carrying the process somewhat fur- 
ther. His dealings with it may be infinitely labori- 
ous and prolonged, but we are sure that they can 
be fruitful for himself and for others only as they 
are rooted in genuine reading and tend to make 
it continually more intelligent, more sensitive, 
more actively cooperative with the writer. 

The critic's reading, then, like that of ordinary 
mortals, must be a process indefinitely progressive. 
It will continually arrive at valuations of particu- 
lar books and authors, but must never regard these 

i Mr. John Galsworthy, in Vague Thoughts about Art, 
plays "with a light pen" about this ancient superstition 
of the infallibility of the critic. ' ( I have not, ' ' he declares, 
' ' the firm soul of the critic. It is not my profession to know 
things for certain, and to make others feel that certainty. 
On the contrary I am often wrong a luxury no critic can 
afford. ' ' 


valuations as having, even for the critic himself, 
more than a present validity and a relative truth. 
His childish estimate of The Swiss Family Robin- 
son probably differs widely from his grown-up 
verdict upon it. But his second judgment is not 
necessarily a truer judgment than the first, nor 
the first than the second. Each opinion, if indeed 
it is not a mere parroting of other people's ideas, 
but honestly his own, is as "true" as the other 
and no truer ; since each precisely records the value 
of the book to him at a given stage in his develop- 

Each opinion thus becomes to him, not a final 
truth in which to rest, but a point of departure for 
further reading and criticism. Any reader's ulti- 
mate capacity to appreciate literature depends far 
less on what he may think of a given piece of writ- 
ing, than upon his really thinking something defi- 
nite about it ; for the recognition either of a book 's 
value or of its lack of value for him increases his 
power of reading the next book intelligently; and 
this perpetual progress is essential, while one start- 
ing point or another is relatively immaterial. That 
he should reach a "right" conclusion, so-called, 
about a particular piece of literature, is, then, no 
such weighty matter as previous criticism would 
have us believe. Social criticism would insist only 
that he should honestly reach such a conclusion 
as he can reach, and then make each conclusion a 
stepping-stone to some further judgment, either of 


this book or of another. Value thus inheres, not 
in the judgment itself, but in the whole process of 
arriving at it and proceeding from it that is, in 
the vital and continuous contact with literature 
which makes it literature indeed. 

This continuous personal reaction upon litera- 
ture, if supremely important for the critic, is no 
less essential to the general reader; and the critic 
can be of real use to such a reader, not by saving 
him all trouble of reading and of thinking about 
what he reads, but rather by furthering these activ- 
ities of his in every possible way. 

How the critic should proceed to this end is not 
at once evident, but it may perhaps appear more 
clearly once we have eliminated the time-honored 
method of imposing arbitrarily upon the reader the 
critic's opinions about books. On this point social 
criticism finds itself widely at variance with pre- 
vious theories. For generations the schoolboy has 
been taught that Paradise Lost is good literature 
because all great critics have so rated it. The 
troublesome question, how we shall determine who 
the great critics are, by what standard we are to 
judge their claim to decide these matters for us, 
has been placidly put aside by the reiterated 
declaration that, " after all," those best fitted to 
fix values in literature must do so and every reader 
must recognize the values thus fixed. 

This is the favorite and most persistent fallacy 
of criticism, but it is, none the less, a fallacy. 


Holding the critic 's opinions to be obligatory upon 
other readers is very like "fiat money" easy to 
issue but sometimes harder to realize upon. No 
power on earth can make a book really valuable to 
me if it is not so. Taking bodily over into my con- 
sciousness some critic's dictum that it is great 
literature gives it no fructifying power in my expe- 
rience. Such a dictum can serve me only in so far 
as I use it to challenge or to clarify my own critical 
activity, which may ultimately lead me to a con- 
clusion quite diverse. 

Because literature is nothing at all to any indi- 
vidual if it does not become his personal experience, 
the criticism of literature cannot, in any sense or to 
any degree, be vicarious. Literary judgments are 
as essentially individual as the standard on which 
these judgments are based is universal. "While it 
is true that a standard is no standard if it be not 
universal, it is equally true that a judgment is no 
judgment unless it is the culmination of an indi- 
vidual critical activity. 

If the benevolent authority of the critic cannot 
legislate value for other readers into the books 
he chances to prefer, on the same principle it is 
powerless to deprive of value all writings which he, 
by an individual or by a class standard, must 
grade as "poor." Though these writings may 
have for him and for those who have reached his 
stage of development no gift of more abounding 
life, they are not therefore necessarily incapable of 


bestowing this gift upon any other human crea- 
ture. From the social point of view a book which 
enables any person to see even a little more clearly 
than he has seen, to think more justly than he has 
thought, to feel more deeply than he has felt, 
thereby demonstrates its right to exist and to be , 

The critic's first duty is no doubt to be a good 
reader and thus to reach certain conclusions as to 
the value for him of the literature he reads. This 
duty has been abundantly recognized by all pre- 
vious theories of criticism. But a new command- 
ment has been given by social criticism, namely, 
that the critic, having reached these conclusions 
for himself, shall then hold them as essentially 
tentative and personal,, not only refusing stead- 
fastly to impose them upon other readers, but 
giving no sanction to their use by any reader as a 
substitute for his own critical activity. This is 
indeed a hard saying,, for the critic as well as for 
the reader; and it can be fulfilled by the critic 
only as he definitely acknowledges his primary 
obligation to help, not hinder, the reading of 

In admitting this obligation, however, the critic 
by no means abrogates all his powers and resigns 
all his responsibilities. As a matter of fact he 
gives up nothing that he ever really had. The 
critic who renounces every attempt to enforce his 
judgments of literature upon other people thereby 


parts only with the shadow, not with the sub- 
stance, of authority. Paradise Lost never really 
became great literature to any schoolboy, merely 
because some critic had asserted its claim to the 
title. Such an assertion may, indeed, help one who 
has never cared to read the poem or one who has 
read it without interest to find some value in it 
for himself, but this can happen only if, refusing 
to accept the critic 's dictum and to regard the case 
as by that dictum closed, he insists on submitting 
it to the test of an active-minded personal expe- 

To make his expressed judgments of books thus 
provocative of genuine reading rather than in any 
degree a substitute for it is the aim of the modern 
critic. And to incite to an act of genuine reading 
is a great service, since such reading, as we have 
seen, tends continually to disclose and to supply 
its own inadequacies. But the critic may offer 
further aid in making the reader more acutely 
conscious of the defects in his own reading and 
of the means of remedying these defects, by pre- 
senting before him in the concrete form of critical 
essays a full, rich, personal experience with litera- 

This full, rich, personal experience of literature 
may involve many distinct elements not only a 
lively first-hand impression of what is read, but 
a patient accumulation of all the facts which can / 
substantiate or refine this impression, a consciouik / 


recognition of whatever theories of literature or 
of particular types of literature may be involved, ... 
as well as a tentative judgment of the book in 
the light of these theories. The presentation \ 
to the reader of any or all of these elements 
should serve to stimulate and clarify his reactions 
to literature, should help to make him a better 

This, then, is the peculiar function of criticism, 
apart from its function as literature. Because the 
critic is a writer, he does, as Arnold declared, act 
as the middleman of ideas, disseminating through- 
out society "the best that is known and thought 
in the world," which might otherwise be inacces- 
sible to many people. He gives ideas publicity, 
makes them more widely available. But this, it 
must be remembered, is the office of literature in 
general, not of criticism in particular. 

Arnold's own definition of poetry as a "criti- 
cism of life" seems to justify the distinction that 
poetry (and thus perhaps all so-called "creative" 
literature) deals with "life," that is, with the 
writer's experience outside of books, as criticism 
deals with his experience in the field of literature. 
But this distinction is not clean-cut. The section 
of our experience which we call books so interpene- 
trates the section of our experience which we call 
"life" that a line of demarcation is extremely 
difficult to draw. "What the poet may have read 
infallibly enters into his poetry, as what the critic 


has known of life at first hand invariably condi- 
tions his reaction to books. 

The value of Arnold's definition perhaps lies 
rather in its suggestion of a unity of process under- 
lying the two apparently diverse literary pro- 
ducts, poetry and criticism. All literature, it 
would seem to say, communicates the writer's 
experience with something, a book, a woman, a 
scientific observation, the death of a dearly loved 
friend, a mountain peak at dawn, an abstract idea. 
It gives us, if you like, his "criticism" of that 
something, in the sense that poetry is a criticism 
of life. But this is only saying, after all, that 
poetry is literature, as Arnold's parallel statement 
that criticism distributes ideas throughout the 
social order declares only that criticism is also a 
form of literature. 

In so far, then, as he is a writer, like the novelist 
or the poet, the critic's function is, no doubt, to 
heighten the reader's conscious life by sharing his 
reactions with him. But as peculiarly a critic, his 
function is something more specific, namely, to 
heighten the reader's conscious life by increasing 
his capacity to read. 

And this means that, in the measure of his suc- 
cess, he makes literature count for more in the 
lives of individuals, hence for more in the social 
order. He does not, in his specific function as 
critic, create the power of literature, But only mul- 
tiplies it, by furthering the interaction of litera- 


ture with^soeiety. He studies this interaction at 
various points as a biologist studies the interplay 
of an organism with its environment; and takes 
what means he can devise to increase the efficiency 
of the process. 

One important means of increasing the efficiency 
of literature's interaction with society is to render 
this interaction more intelligent, better aware of 
its own ends. To promote in readers a truer con- 
ception of what literature is and does, thus becomes 
an essential part of the critic's work. A reader 
who understands the place of literature in the 
social economy cannot relegate it to the category 
either of private yachts or of ward politics, but 
must definitely take account of its relations to 

If he chance to be of the large class which 
prefers the current best seller to Henry Esmond 
or The Egoist, he need no longer apologize for his 
tastes to those who regard them as low. Once he 
clearly perceives the functional value of any genu- 
ine act of reading, with whatsoever book it may be 
connected, his dealing with the literature he can 
read in this way will cease to be a somewhat shame- 
faced playing with toys, and regain its rightful 
dignity, its whole-heartedness and, consequently, 
its power of development. 

Such a reader will not feel it necessary either 
to pretend to share other people's preferences for 
the classic writers or to scorn these writers as 


"high-brow." Recognizing the fact that the great 
literature of past ages, like the popular writing of 
the present, belongs to readers whose conscious / 
living it has power to quicken, and to such alone, 
he will not overlook the equally important truth 
that the real, that is, the social, value of literature 
depends primarily not on what is read, but on how 
it is read. He may thus venture to respect his 
own tastes, not, indeed, as representing any final 
attainment, but rather as the record of a constant 
advance in his powers of reading; and is thereby 
delivered both from the false shame and from the 
false pride which seem most effectually to bar this 

On the other hand, if our reader chance to be 
of those to whom the high qualities of our classic 
models are really precious, and who hold the demo- 
cratic theory of literature responsible for the loss 
of these qualities from the popular, machine-made, 
commercialized writing of the present day, his 
relations both to ancient and to modern literature 
may be rendered more intelligent by applying to 
each the social standard of values. Such an appli- 
cation should not only increase his toleration for 
the modern books he may not care to read, but 
also distinguish for him the legitimately popular 
from the wholly commercial writings in this class. 
And it will assuredly enable him to read his ancient 
favorites with a fuller appreciation, because he 


will thus have gained a richer sense of their actual 
relation to the social order of their own time. 

The censor of modern writing is often inclined 
to regard the critic's function at the present time 
as that of holding aloft a stainless banner of per- 
sonal taste and dragooning all the world to follow 
where it leads. Apparently such a view fails to 
recognize the issue as educational rather than 
militant. The critic cannot coerce. Books which 
a cultivated taste considers deplorable are bound 
to multiply without permission from him, so long 
as they are read. And they must continue to be 
read while readers remain below the level of feel- 
ing and of thought which these books represent. 

One practicable remedy, and only one, presents 
itself the gradual education of readers through 
the very reading which now interests and satisfies 
them. In the genuine act of reading, we have not 
only a starting-point, but a continuous method of 
education. For progress is the law of mental life. 
The human mind is a developing organism : under 
normal conditions it neither stands still nor retro- 
grades. Under such conditions, if the literature 
adapted to further its progress is at hand, it tends 
to seize upon this literature in preference to that 
which either fails to quicken or actually stultifies 

This fact has been repeatedly observed, where 
the experiment has been tried with individual 
readers or with a small group of them, as in settle- 


ment classes and in schools. The gradual dis- 
appearance, from situations so conditioned, of the 
books which are either palpably insincere or 
notably crude, at least suggests the possibility of 
making use of a similar procedure as a means of 
destroying over a wider area the demand for a 
type of literature which, though now socially 
useful, could not serve a more highly developed 

To bring into the field of an individual reader's 
attention at the psychological moment the book 
which will then yield him most increase of capacity, 
is not always given to the writer-critic; but the 
teacher-critic finds this a most important part of 
his office. So far as experiment has been made 
on the point, a right sequence of books seems to 
be of itself an incredibly powerful agent in devel- 
oping the reading-capacity of an individual. And 
if, in addition to this, teachers stand ready to 
further the reading-process by every other really 
efficient means, stimulating it by revealing some 
of its rich possibilities, defining it by bringing to 
light its social function and values, their students' 
progress from stage to stage must be even more 
rapid and assured. 

Such a conception of the critic's function does, 
as a matter of fact, underlie our modern teaching 
of literature in the schools. It is, however, in 
many cases so imperfectly grasped and applied, 
that books which students cannot honestly read are 


untimely forced upon them, thus sacrificing the 
development of reading-capacity to the mere form 
of ' ' doing ' ' such and such writers or works ; while 
the imposition of critical formulae, emanating from 
text-book or teacher, too often seems to render un- 
necessary the pupil's personal experience with the 
literature prescribed. An abiding sense of what 
the student's own criticism of literature means to 
him, however crude and unsatisfactory it may be 
to others, and of the teacher's primary obligation 
to further his vital contact with any literature that 
can carry him a step beyond his present capacity, 
would serve to redeem English teaching from 
formality and barrenness, while developing a gen- 
eration of readers who are bound to demand books 
on a constantly rising level of intelligence and 

The critic as teacher virtually chooses those 
whom he will teach by the progress he himself has 
made. And the critic as writer (whose office 
is equally, though less avowedly, preceptorial) 
chooses his readers by the same means. Those 
whose capacity to experience literature is fuller 
or finer than his will not care to listen to what he 
has to say ; while those whose capacity is far below 
his cannot grasp it. Only those approximately, 
but not quite, at his own level, can he serve. 

Having taken a step or two in advance of these, 
he constantly labors to close the gap between them 
by drawing the reader up to him. And so soon as 


he has done so, he must move beyond their common 
position, or the reader can no longer advance 
through him, but must find another helper. 

To each reader, then, his own critic, and this 
critic often for only a limited period in his devel- 
opment. For the function of the critic is no empty 
honor, but a genuine utility, serving the sole end 
of the reader's limitless progress. 

ThB-JermfiMfrriteT and teacher \)y utfr,moans co.Yjer 
all possible phases of the critic's social activity. 
This activity may be carried on in an English class- 
room or on a lecture-platform; its results may be 
published in a popular magazine or in a learned 
review; it may take the form of club- work at a 
social settlement or of a dramatic experiment such 
as Professor George P. Baker's "Workshop"; it 
may involve copying manuscripts in the British 
Museum or taking down, as Professor John A. 
Lomax has done, the songs of cowboys on the Texas 
plains; but in all these and in many other guises, 
it seeks always the same end, namely, to further 
the^aet&itjr^of literature) n nn ngrut of oooial 
progress: ~ And it reaches this end always by.-erie 

leans, by applying to every concrete problem 
presented to it the principle that literature is not 
alone a creature but also a creator of the society it 


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