Richard Le Gallienne



Considerations suggested by Mr. Churton Collins' "Illustrations of Tennyson."


Literatur: Le Gallienne
Literatur: The Century Guild Hobby Horse

»   »   »
Texte zur Verlaine-Rezeption
Texte zur Mallarmé-Rezeption
Texte zur Theorie und Rezeption des Symbolismus


Mr. Churton Collins' "Illustrations of Tennyson" is a book, in many ways, of stimulating signifcance. It raises once more several artistic questions, which, treated abstractly, one might be willing to leave unanswered, but which, in association with so great a literary figure as Lord Tennyson, become portentously sensitive.

It compels us to think out the whole question of literary decadence. It sets us enquiring what is the authentic pleasure we should expect from art: how far that is dependent on learning, how far on temperament; and, as a corollary, suggests the same enquiry in regard to artistic criticism.

If, indeed, learning must be the important qualifcation for the answering of these questions, one might well hesitate to join issue with Mr. Churton Collins: for these "Illustrations" bear witness to an acquaintance with books, and a memory for their contents, such as that of the Magliabechis of old time.

But, in Mr. Collins' prodigious memory for passages exists for me the most signifcant criticism of his book. It suggests the wide difference between a commentator and a critic: the same difference on which Mr. Collins insists, and rightly insists, as distinguishing the "literary" from the "original" poet in his manipulation of old material. In the latter case, says Mr. Collins, what is borrowed "is not simply modified and adapted, but assimilated and transformed." Similarly, in the case of commentator and critic: the learning of one remains in its original form, exists as "passages" undigested as nails or needles, mechanically pigeon-holed, to be given out again as footnotes; in the other it has become "assimilated and transformed" into principles of artistic enjoyment. The ideal critic would probably be the man who remembered nothing, whose reading had all been worked up organically or rejected as waste; whereas the ideal commentator would be the man whose patient "tick-tack" methods were never troubled by any rosy touch of feeling or vision.

Of course one is speaking of the ideal, the impossible. [78] Without learning, or let us say memory, we would be obliged to forego the much appreciated discovery of modern criticism, the comparative method. Yet, with all proper respect to that method and to those who are suffciently accomplished to successfully practise it, it is in reality but a makeshift, and comes of the inequality of our powers of perception and our power of expression.

We find it impossible to express the finer shades of beauty by any final characterisation: we cannot say what this subtle quality is, but we can, by the aid of reading and memory, say what it is like, and so bring the reader some way towards what it is.

Criticism, ideally, is the perfect praise of perfect art: but, failing the perfect art, it must needs be a measurer of imperfection. And thus comes the impertinent question of degree into art, where properly it has no place.

The absolute naming of qualities, not the degree in which they are present or absent, is the function of criticism.

Of course, Mr. Collins is neither that great ideal critic, nor that little ideal commentator, but one must be pardoned for feeling that his excellences are more those of the commentator than the critic. Mr. Collins' reading has not been sufficiently "assimilated and transformed" into principles. His special gift would seem to be, as customary, the origin of his special defect. His pleasure in art would seem to be exactly that we would expect in an editor. He is continually laying stress on the pleasure of allusiveness in literature. It is for him, apparently, the greatest charm of Lord Tennyson's verse; and in his polemic on "The Study of English Literature" at the Universities, he says: — "That such poems as 'Lycidas' and the 'Progress of Poesy,' have been the delight of thousands, and will continue to be the delight of thousands, who have never opened a Greek and Latin classic is no doubt true, but it would be absurd to contend that their pleasure would not be increased tenfold had they been scholars."

Mr. Collins would seem to aim at exactitude in expression, and when he says "tenfold" he is not likely to mean only "two-fold." Even so, the significance of his statement remains unaffected. The pleasure which Mr. Collins derives from a work of art comes mainly — nine-tenths, to be precise [79] — from his ability, first to distinguish therein the separate component materials employed by the artist, and then to recall the various vicissitudes to which, in the long course of artistic usage, those materials have been subject: the pleasure that comes to him from the completed whole, the new form, the indestructible something which of these idle materials has made a living, beautiful, synthesis, in fact, the artist's own individual spirit — this pleasure is to Mr. Collins but as one-tenth.

Now, is the chief pleasure of a work of art to be sought in the accidental associations of its material?

The pleasure which comes of tracing such association of phrase and word, in watching what Mr. Pater calls their "refined usage," is, of course, a real and exciting one, but it is one quite apart from the æsthetic, or the spiritual, impression – is, in fact, a scientific pleasure, a pleasure of the "curiosity," and, surely, more like one than nine-tenths of the delight we should expect from a work of art.

It is of the essence of a piece of art that it is a whole. The first pleasure in it, therefore, must come from it as a whole. If it be of the essence of artistic creation that the artist should conceal his process, it is no less of the essence of æsthetic enjoyment that it should remain concealed.

It is, of course, obvious that cultured people do receive more pleasure from Lord Tennyson's poetry — not for the reason given by Mr. Collins, but for the reason that they receive the greatest pleasure from any poetry whatsoever, be it primitive or decadent. Such read Shakespeare and such read Tennyson for the joy of the same thing in each, the spiritual exaltation of beauty. Mr. Collins, and many others of us, talk of the "fathers of song," Homer, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, as though they were being sold by thousands on the railway bookstalls. As a matter of fact, who reads them save the cultured? who reads any poet save the cultured? "Cultured," not "learned," remember. To be a learned man is the "gift of fortune," but to be cultured "comes by nature." Culture is mainly a matter of temperament. A man is born cultured: that is, he is born with a certain sensitive fastidious constitution, which, Of course, reading refines, but which no reading can create. Culture, moreover, is a state of the whole constitution, whereas learning is mainly the exercise of one function, that of memory. [80] For some people learning is an unnecessary accomplishment, the acquirement of it a superstitious waste of energy. What matters it that one does not remember or even has never read certain great writers? Our one concern is to possess an organization open to great and refined impressions. Great writers are but means to that end, and reading but a part of that process the product of which is culture. If we could imagine our reading of Shakespeare having done all that it can for us, what matter if we straightway forget every line? He remains in us, remains in our more refined senses, our more quickened spirit. This is, of course, at once obvious and extreme, but the obvious and extreme are both at times necessary instruments of criticism, and certainly necessary when we are told that nine-tenths of the pleasure of poetry are lost to all but "the learned."

That allusiveness should be Mr. Collins' chief pleasure from poetry is somewhat paradoxical, for such pleasure is one of that very decadence with which Mr. Collins seems generally to have little sympathy. Art would seem to be interesting to him as a palimpsest is interesting, and he would seem to read one book for the sake of being reminded of others.

But what is decadence in literature? It seems largely to be confused with a decadence in the style of literature, which is not quite the same thing. Even that decadence is continually misunderstood — euphuism and quite proper organic refinements of style being continually confused with each other. Mr. Collins, and many others, continually assume that the mere exercise of conscious art in literature, the care for the unique word, the use of various literary means to literary ends, as alliteration and onomatopœia, constitute decadence. To say this is to be forced to the absurd conclusion that the nearer an instrument approaches perfection, the more it becomes adapted to the uses for which it is designed, the less its value. The only decadence in style are euphuism and its antithesis, slang. Mr. Collins writes, too, as though the old "original" poets sang like bird on bough the unpremeditated lay, with nothing of conscious artistic selection; yet we know that Chaucer took as much pains over his rhymes as any latter-day poetaster, and that, indeed, the French schools, which in some respects [81] he took as his models, were stylists to the last degree of affectation.

But decadence in literature is more than a question of style, nor is it, as some suppose, a question of theme. It is in the character of the treatment that we must seek it. In all great vital literature, the theme, great or small, is always considered in all its relations near and far and above all in relation to the sum total of things, to the infinite, as we phrase it; in decadent literature the relations, the due proportions, are ignored. One might say that decadence consists in the euphuistic expression of isolated observations. Thus disease, which is the favourite theme of décadents, does not in itself make for decadence: it is only when, as often, it is studied apart from its relations to health, to the great vital centre of things, that it is does so. Any point of View, seriously taken, which ignores the complete view, approaches decadence.

To notice only the picturesque effect of a beggar's rags, like Gautier; the colour-scheme of a tipster's nose, like Mr. Huysmans; to consider one's mother merely prismatically, like Mr. Whistler — these are examples of the decadent attitude.

At the bottom, decadence is merely limited thinking, often insane thinking.

When a subject is treated proportionally, though the style bear marks of euphuism, there can be no question of decadence. To speak of decadence, therefore, in connection with such poets as Virgil and Lord Tennyson, poets of noble epic aim, of high ordered thought, poets who see life steadily and see it whole, to say nothing of the dignity of their treatment, is mere anarchy.

Let us for a moment consider the broad characteristics of great literature. Broadly speaking, literature is a symbolic verbal expression of life. It must, to begin with, include all the primary conditions of life.

Now, through the whole of men's actions comes the interpenetrating sense of their being done beneath an illimitable sky, "under the sun." This sense of an all-including, over hanging infinite, is the invariable atmosphere of great literature (as, of course, of any great art): and this atmosphere is the province of the imagination.

[82] Again the pulse of life goes with a rhythm, which only the gods and the poets catch. Thence comes the characteristic of rhythm into literature, the poet expressing that human rhythm according to the music of his own nature.

Lastly, come the various forms and other expressions of life, having their counterpart in words. Here comes in the poet's selective sense to choose the words most fitting for the forms he wishes to express — "the unique word." But the unique word is not merely the word which is the same colour, shape and size as the object it must stand for, but the word which will also blend with the rhythm, and heighten the imaginative atmosphere of the whole work. Too many writers consider the unique word as one fragment of a mosaic, whereas it should rather be considered as a note of music, animated with their rhythm, and transfigured with their imagination.

Now it will be seen that the whole significance of this third and final condition to literature depends mainly on the other two. As the facts of life lie all about awaiting the poet, so lie the words. Both have been used countless times before in countless combinations. Whatever originality of effect the poet is to attain will depend on the spirit he breathes through these old forms. The mere fact of his using the old words, or up to a point the old methods, cannot detract from a manifest originality of result, any more than his employment of the world-old facts for which the words stand can do so. Whatever an original poet borrows he sets anew to the music of his own nature. An original nature may borrow much, but it can never owe.

Therefore, if this view of the several elements of literature be a correct one, inferences against a poet's originality based merely on his appropriation of the words and phrases, even the ideas, of other poets are vain in the face of work which gives us the sense of a new individuality, a temperament meeting the old things through a new experience. It is thus that the cry of plagiarism is generally so absurd, for all it can point to is the use once more of common property, the mere bricks with which all men build, or at the most bits of ornament taken from former creations. The charge is never made in regard to the essentials, the vital breath of poetry.

[83] It is thus that, to my mind, Mr. Collins' inferences against Lord Tennyson for his assimilation of the work of other poets, are not so much unjust as merely futile — not to dwell on the fact that many of the "illustrations" are obviously coincidences constrained to Mr. Collins' purpose.

All, it seems to me, that one has to ask as we read Lord Tennyson, or any other poet, simply is — Does this poetry give me the sense of a new personality, present as a new magic, of rhythm or what not, in the verse? If so, one need trouble no further, and we can with indifference watch the commentator, "like a demon-mole," burrowing his way in his little tunnels of learning beneath the text.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Century Guild Hobby Horse.
Bd. 7, 1892, Nr. 27, Juli, S. 77-83.


Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The Century Guild Hobby Horse   online







Literatur: Le Gallienne

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Bristow, Joseph (Hrsg.): The Fin-de-Siècle poem. English Literary Culture and the 1890s. Athens 2005.

Bristow, Joseph (Hrsg.): Extraordinary Aesthetes. Decadents, New Women, and Fin-de-Siècle Culture. Toronto 2023.

Creasy, Matthew: 'A sort of breviary': Arthur Symons, J. K. Huysmans and British Decadence / "Le bréviaire du mouvement décadent": Arthur Symons, J. K. Huysmans et le mouvement décadent en Grande-Bretagne. In: Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens 90 (Automne 2019).

Desmarais, Jane / Weir, David (Hrsg.): The Oxford Handbook of Decadence. Oxford 2022.

Freeman, Nick: Symons, Whistler: The Art of Seeing. In: Decadence and the Senses. Hrsg. von Jane Desmarais u. Alice Condé. Cambridge 2017, S. 15-31.

Hall, Jason D. u.a. (Hrsg.): Decadent Poetics. Literature and Form at the British Fin de Siècle. New York 2013 (= Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture).

Hanson, Ellis: Style at the fin de siècle: aestheticist, decadent, symbolist. In: Oscar Wilde in Context. Hrsg. von Kerry Powell u. Peter Raby. Cambridge u.a. 2013, S. 150-158.

Jump, John D. (Hrsg.): Tennyson. The Critical Heritage. London u.a. 1967 (= The Critical Heritage Series).

Stetz, Margaret D.: Richard Le Gallienne. A Jongleur Strayed into the Modern World. In: Literary and Cultural Alternatives to Modernism. Hrsg. von Kostas Boyiopoulos u.a. New York u. London 2019, S. 118-132.

Whittington-Egan, Richard / Smerdon, Geoffrey: The Quest of the Golden Boy. The Life and Letters of Richard Le Gallienne. London 1960.
S. 553-561: A Catalogue of the Writings of Richard Le Gallienne.



Literatur: The Century Guild Hobby Horse

Claes, Koenraad: The Late-Victorian Little Magazine. Edinburgh 2018.
Kap. 2: Mounting the (Century Guild) Hobby Horse.

Codell, Julie F.: The Century Guild Hobby Horse, 1884-1894. In: Victorian Periodicals Review 16.2 (1983), S. 43-53.

Evans, Stuart / Liddiard, Jean: Arts and Crafts Pioneers. The Hobby Horse Men and their Century Guild. London 2021.

Hart, Imogen: 'The Arts and Crafts Movement': The Century Guild Hobby Horse (1884–94), The Evergreen (1895–7), and The Acorn (1905–6). In: The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines. Hrsg. von Peter Brooker u.a. Bd. 1: Britain and Ireland 1880-1955. Oxford 2009, S. 120-141.



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer