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An "interesting" number of "Snippets. In an "inebriated" condition. Of course you see the place that the words in the right-hand column take in the scheme. The two varying uses of the word "lyric" need not be underlined for you, who know the Elizabethans and the Cavaliers; but perhaps I may say that he who tastes calix meus inebrians will not be in an "inebriated" condition.

It would be possible to extend these parallel columns almost to infinity; but I think the list is long enough for our purpose, and "Trench on Words" is a well-known handbook. But you see my right-hand column word, parallel with "Emotion"? You see I have written "Feelings," and I suggest that it will be convenient to speak of feelings when we mean the things of life, of society, of personal and private relationship, while we may reserve emotion for the influence produced in man by fine art.

Art must appeal to emotion, and sometimes, no doubt, with a shock; but it must always be to the emotion of the left-hand column, never to the "feelings" on the right hand. So you must never tell me that a book is fine art because it made you, or somebody else, cry; your tears are, emphatically, not evidence in the court of Fine Literature.

I daresay it may have struck you that the tests we have considered hitherto have been, in the main, popular tests. Three of these more literary criteria occur to me at the moment, and I believe we shall understand them and the position which they represent better if we take them, at first, at all events, in a mass. Had he escaped from the cave under the belly of a ram? Had he been in the world of one-eyed giants?

Were his friends in the habit of talking in hexameter verse? We may go on, of course, but is it worth while? We might have gone more sharply to work with this "fidelity" test: we might have said that poetry being, admittedly fine literature at its finest, and admittedly also being unfaithful to life as we know it both in matter and manner, that therefore the test breaks down at once.

If fine literature must be faithful to life, then "Kubla Khan" is not fine literature; which, I think we may say, is highly absurd. I daresay you think I have dealt rather crudely, in a somewhat materialistic spirit, with this criterion of "fidelity to life.

Of course if I were treating with the initiated, if I were commentating and not [35] arguing, I should handle the great masterpieces in a much more reverent manner. I mean that for those who possess the secret it skills not to bring in the Cyclops who for us is not a giant but a symbol ; we have only to bow down before the great music of such a poem as the Odyssey, recognising that by the very reason of its transcendent beauty, by the very fact that it trespasses far beyond the world of our daily lives, beyond "selection" and "reflection," it is also exalted above our understanding, that because its beauty is supreme, that therefore its beauty is largely beyond criticism.

For ourselves we do not need to prove its transcendence of life by this or that extraordinary incident; it is the whole spirit and essence and sound and colour of the song that affect us; and we know that the Odyssey surpassed the bounds of its own age and its own land just as much as it surpasses those of our time and our country.

You look as if you thought I were fighting with the vanquished, but let me tell you that great people have praised Homer because he depicted truthfully the men and manners of his time. But as I was saying, all this would be too subtle for the enemy, for the people who maintain that fine [36] literature is a faithful reflection of life, and think that Jane Austen touched the point of literary supremacy.

With them, as I said, we must be rough; we must ask: Did Sophocles describe the ordinary life of Athens in his day? No: very well, then; since the works of Sophocles are fine literature, it follows that some fine literature does not reflect ordinary life, and therefore that fidelity to nature is not the differentia of the highest art. I wonder whether I ought to caution you again against the ambiguity of language?

We are dealing easily enough with such words as "life" and "nature," and from what you know of my system you may perhaps have seen that I have been using these words as the people use them, as those use them who would say that "Vanity Fair" is a faithful presentation of life.

I thought you would understand this, but I may just mention in passing that words like "nature," "life" and "truth" or "fidelity" have also their esoteric values, that by way of example the truth of the scientist and the truth of the philosopher are two very different things.

So it may turn out by and bye that in the occult sense, "fidelity to life" is the [37] differentia of fine literature; that the aim of art is truth; that the artist continually mirrors nature in its eternal, essential forms; but for the present moment, it is understood, is it not, that these words have been used in their common, everyday popular significance? If I remember, the next test we have to analyse is that of artifice, often and improperly called art.

But I think we have already demolished this criterion. In distinguishing between art and artifice I pointed out that the latter merely signifies the adaptation of means to an end, and has no relation whatever with art properly so-called; it is simply the mental instrument with which man performs every task and every work of his daily life; it consists in the rejection of that which is unfit for the particular purpose in view, and in the acceptance and use of that which is fit for the desired end and likely to bring it about.

It concerns not creation but execution, and it is I need hardly say as indispensable to the author as are his pen and ink, and [38] I might almost say is as little concerned as these with the essence of his art.

Of course in works of the very highest genius we may declare that, in a sense, art has become all in all, that the necessary artifice has been interpenetrated with art, so that we can hardly distinguish in our minds between the idea and the realisation of it. In such cases, artifice has been lifted up and exalted into the heaven of art, and it remains artifice no longer; but in the view that we are considering it is merely the adaptation of means to an end, a clever choice of incident, the knack of putting in and leaving out.

The faculty may, as I said, be glorified and transfigured by genius, but every newspaper reporter must have more or less of it, and it is clear enough I think perhaps I may mention Wilkie Collins once more that in itself it cannot establish the claim of any book to be fine literature.

And lastly we have to deal with style; and here again I must have recourse to my distinctions. What is a good style? But if on the other hand style is to mean such a use and choice of words and phrases and cadences that the ear and the soul through the ear receive an impression of subtle but most beautiful music, if the sense and sound and colour of the words affect us with an almost inexplicable delight, then I say that while Idea is the soul, style is the glorified body of the very highest literary art.

Style, in short, is the last perfection of the very best in literature, it is the outward sign of the burning grace within. In the latter sense it is the form of fine literature, in the former sense it is the medium of all else that is expressed in words, from a bill of exchange upwards.

It seems to me, then, that we have considered one by one the alternative tests of fine literature which have been or may be proposed, and we have come to the conclusion that each and all are impossible. At any rate we have got our hypothesis, and you remember what stress Coleridge laid on the necessity of forming some hypothesis before entering on any investigation. And that, you remember, was one of the synonyms that I offered you for ecstasy; and so in a sense I expect that we shall have the evening paper close beside us all the way of our long voyage in quest of the lost Atlantis.

I recollect, now that you remind me, that I did lay down "Pickwick" v. Of course if I were giving a series of lectures I should "set a paper" after each one; but I expect you to content yourself with the suggestion, with the skeleton map, as it were.

A consummately clever photographer, certainly, a showman with a gift of amusing, interesting "patter" that is quite extraordinary, an artificer of very high merit.

But where will you find Ecstasy in Thackeray? Where is his adoration? You may search, I think, from one end of his books to the other, without finding any evidence that he realised the mystery of things; he was never for a moment aware of that shadowy double, that strange companion of man, who walks, as I said, foot to foot with each one of us, and yet his paces are in an unknown world.

And unless you have got any fresh arguments I think we decided last week that the book which lacks the sense of all this is not fine literature. I am always reading him, and I chose his "Vanity Fair" because it strikes me as such a supremely clever example of its class.

I suppose there is nothing more amusing than the society of a brilliant, observant man of the world. Well, Thackeray was brilliant and observant in excelsis, and besides that, he understood the artifice of story-telling, and he could write a terse, clean-cut English which was always sufficient for his [44] purpose.

He contrives the corporal overthrow of the Marquis of Steyne, he shows you that bald old nobleman sprawling on the floor, and the words that he uses are his brisk, willing, and capable servants. He has observation, and artifice, and "style" in that secondary sense which we distinguished from the real style; from those "melodies unheard" which I called I think rather picturesquely the glorified body of the highest literary art.

But these qualities, we found out, are not, separately or conjointly, the differentia of fine literature as we understand the term; and consequently, with all our admiration and all our interest we are compelled to place Thackeray in the lower form, simply because he is clearly and decisively lacking in that one essential quality of ecstasy, because he never leaves the street and the highroad to wander on the eternal hills, because he does not seem to be aware that such hills exist.

Of course I have only taken Thackeray as the representative of his class, and I chose him, as I remarked, because, for me, he is the most favourable representative of it. I am thinking, really, of the "plain man" whom we have engaged in so many forms, and of his "plain" [45] argument which comes to this—"for me a great book is a book that amuses me greatly and that I enjoy reading. Other people would, no doubt, have chosen other books; many would have selected Miss Austen, and I daresay they would have a good deal to say for their choice.

Undoubtedly there is a severity, a self-restraint, a fineness of observation, a delicacy of irony in "Pride and Prejudice" which are unmatched of their kind the Thackeray of the caricatures, of those queer woodblocks, comes out now and then in the books, and digression occasionally goes beyond due bounds ; but I named "Vanity Fair" because, personally, I find it more amusing than "Pride and Prejudice. You see, I think that the question of liking a book or not liking it has nothing whatever to do with the consideration of fine art.

But when we once leave the utterances of the eternal, universal human ecstasy, which we have agreed to call art, and descend to these lower levels that we are talking of now, it seems to me that the question of [47] liking or not liking counts for a good deal.

Not for everything, of course. We must still distinguish: between plots stupid or ingenious, between observation that is close and keen and observation that is vague and inaccurate, between artifice and the want of it, between sentences that are neatly constructed and mere slipshod. All these things naturally reckon in the account, but when they have been estimated and allowed their value, you will usually find that you are influenced still more by your mere liking or disliking of the subject-matter, and it seems to me quite legitimately.

For, if you look closely into the whole question, you will find that you are judging these secondary books as you judge of life, as you choose the scene of your holiday, as you read the newspaper.

One man may say that he prefers to talk to artists, another, quite legitimately, may love the society of brewers; you may think Norway perfection, I am going to Constantinople; A. It is not a question of art, but of taste, that is of individual humour and constitution; you frequent the company that suits you, you go to the place you like, you read [48] the news that happens to be most interesting from your special standpoint. Thackeray, more amusing than the conversation of Miss Elizabeth Bennett as reported by Miss Jane Austen; it seems to me that there is no more to be said.

Here is a speech on Bimetallism, given at great length, and let us presume with great accuracy; here is a short summary of Professor L. It often amuses me to hear people quarrelling about the rival "artistic merit" of books which have, in most cases, no artistic merits at all. Each of us is talking nonsense; there is no art in the question, which is purely a matter of individual taste.

The Stock Exchange column interests one man, while the latest football news absorbs the other. That is all. Of course, as I said, artifice counts for something: there is a pleasure in seeing the thing neatly done, and I suppose it is this pleasure that has secured Miss Austen her fervent admirers. It is a little difficult to treat this form of pleasure quite fairly; a musician perhaps would find it difficult to answer the question whether he would rather hear Palestrina badly rendered or Zingarelli executed to perfection.

In the latter case there would certainly be the charm of exquisite voices in perfect order and accord, though the music were nothing or worse than nothing; still, our musician might say, on the other hand, that Palestrina martyred [50] was better than Zingarelli triumphant. On the other hand I believe that the plot of "Jekyll and Hyde" would still have had some fascination, though it had been treated by the veriest dolt in letters.

But that is not a good example, since "Jekyll and Hyde" is certainly in its conception, though not in its execution, a work of fine art. Let us take the "Moonstone" again as an example; I believe then, that if the events related in it had caught our eyes in a brief newspaper paragraph they would still have interested.

It seems to me that, after all, this question of artifice, of "how the thing is done," comes under the same category as liking and disliking.

I mean it is largely a matter of the personal equation, about which no very strict laws can be laid down. It reminds me again of the way in which men choose their friends; one lays stress on pleasant manners, another on sterling goodness of character, a third on wit, a fourth on distinction of some kind; and argument is really voiceless. We read the "Odyssey" because we are supernatural, because we hear in it the echoes of the eternal song, because it symbolises for us certain amazing and beautiful things, because it is music; we read Miss Austen and Thackeray because we like to recognise the faces of our friends aptly reproduced, to see the external face of humanity so deftly mimicked, because we are natural.

And the great poem may be equated with the great church: each is made for beauty, the one is ecstasy in words, the other ecstasy in stone. Still, the essence of the church is beauty, ecstasy; of the sty utility, the safe keeping of pigs.

In her case you would have to substitute a neat Georgian house for "pig-sty" and then I think you would have a very fair proportion. But all that I wanted to do was to draw the line between things made for use, to occupy some definite place in relation to our common daily life; and things made by ecstasy and for ecstasy, things that are symbols, proclaiming the presence of the unknown world.

And I chose "Pickwick" as the antithesis to "Vanity Fair" deliberately. Thackeray in my private judgment is the chief of those who have provided interesting reading-matter; Dickens is by no means in the first rank of literary artists.

I think he is golden, but he is very largely alloyed with baser stuff, with indifferent metal, which was the product of his age, of his circumstances in life, of his own uncertain taste. Just contrast the atmosphere which surrounded the young Sophocles, with that in which the young Dickens flourished.

Both were men of genius, but one grew up in the City of the Violet Crown, the other in Camden Town and worse places, one was accustomed to breathe that "most pellucid air," the other inhaled [54] the "London particular. I am not going to analyze "Pickwick" any more than I analyzed "Vanity Fair," but of course you see that, in its conception, it is essentially one with the "Odyssey. You know not what may happen next; you are journeying through another world. Remember the Cyclops, remember the grotesque shapes that decorate the "Arabian Nights," remember the bizarre element, the almost wanton grotesquerie of many of the "Arthur" romances.

In all these cases as in "Pickwick" the same result is obtained; an overpowering impression of "strangeness," of remoteness, of withdrawal from the common ways of life. We are withdrawn from the common ways of life; and in that withdrawal is the beginning of ecstasy.


Arthur Machen

The house of his birth, opposite the Olde Bull Inn in The Square at Caerleon, is adjacent to the Priory Hotel and is today marked with a commemorative blue plaque. The beautiful landscape of Monmouthshire which he usually referred to by the name of the medieval Welsh kingdom, Gwent , with its associations of Celtic , Roman , and medieval history, made a powerful impression on him, and his love of it is at the heart of many of his works. Gwyn, of Llanfrechfa Rectory. Family poverty ruled out attendance at university, and Machen was sent to London, where he sat exams to attend medical school but failed to get in. Machen, however, showed literary promise, publishing in a long poem "Eleusinia" on the subject of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Hogg had introduced Machen to the writer and occultist A.




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