“I LOVE the great despisers,” said Nietzsche, “for they are the great adorers.” If my attitude towards Mr. Squire, Mr. MacCarthy and the other grandees of contemporary criticism appears to be lacking in respect, let me, at the outset, give as my explanation the fact that I happen to cherish good criticism and am grieved to see the art falling into disrepute. For no interested observer can fail to be impressed with the circumstance that the delicate process of literary criticism, in latterday hands, is fast becoming tarnished and stale. Gosse and Walkley, whatever their limitations, were the last of a noble line; passing from us, they left, so far as I can see, no inheritors of their tradition. This is a serious loss. For criticism, despite Whistler's scoffs, may be necessary if the arts are to exercise their maximum influence upon the mind of the nation. Art is an apocalypse; but without the intercession of the critic the artist, so far as the majority of mankind is concerned, is a Memnon casting his music upon the desert. Moreover, criticism, at its best, has an independent and quite precious value of its own. “The adventures of the soul among masterpieces”—the definition may be jejune, but it holds at least a kernel of truth. We are not, perhaps, considering the full implications of the phrase, an artistic nation. The fates have denied us that integrality, that great continuity of achievement which distinguishes the literature of, say, France and Russia. But we have had our moments. We can point to periods of an intense national flowering of the impulse. And if we can boast of no critic with the gesture, the amplitude of a Taine, “we have at least a perceptible if frequently broken lineage of good criticism. Dryden, Hazlitt, Coleridge, Gosse: these were, in the finest sense of the word, critics, men equipped with rich sensibilities and with minds that waxed radiant at the contact of literature: interpreters, illuminators, in whom criticism was itself a centre of creativity. And now?
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