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night visiting the various circles of our metropolitan hell, and depart for Europe in the dawn. Suppose that he should make a strictly accurate narrative of all that he had seen. Well and good; it would be realistic, it would be true. But suppose he should call his narrative America. Then we should assuredly protest.
“You have not described America. Your picture lacks the most essential features."
He would reply:
“But isn't what I have said all true? I defy you to deny its truth. I defy you to point out errors or exaggerations. Everything that I described I saw with my own eyes."
All this we admit, but we refuse to accept it as a picture of America. Here is the cardinal error of realism. It selects one aspect of life, usually a physical aspect, for it is easy to arouse strained attention by physical detail, — and then insists that it has made a picture of life. The modern Parisian society drama, for example, cannot possibly be a true representation of French family and social life. Life is not only better than that; it is surely less monotonous, more complex. You cannot play a great symphony on one instrument, least of all on the triangle. The plays of Bernstein, Bataille, Hervieu, Donnay, Capus, Guinon, and others, brilliant in technical execution as they often are, really follow a monotonous convention of theatrical art rather than life itself. As an English critic has said, “The Parisian dramatists are living in an atmosphere of half-truths and shams, grubbing in the divorce courts and living upon the maintenance of social intrigue just as comfortably as any bully upon the earnings of a prostitute.” An admirable French critic, M. Henry Bordeaux, says of his contemporary playwrights, that they have ceased to represent men and women as they really are. This is not realism, he declares;
. it is a new style of false romanticism, where men and women are represented as though they possessed no moral sense – a romanticism sensual, worldly, and savage. Life is pictured as though there were no such things as daily tasks and daily duties. I
Shakespeare was an incorrigible romantic; yet there is more reality in his compositions than in all the realism of his great contemporary, Ben Jonson. Confidently and defiantly, Jonson set forth his play Every Man in His Humour as a model of what other plays should be; for, said he, it contains deeds and language such as men do use. So it does : but it falls far short of the reality reached by Shakespeare in that impossible tissue of absurd events which he carelessly called As You Like It. In his erudite and praiseworthy attempt to bring back the days of ancient Rome on the Elizabethan stage Jonson achieved a resurrection of the dead: Shakespeare, unembarrassed by learning and unhampered by a creed, achieved a resurrection of the living. Catiline and Sejanus talk like an old text; Brutus and Cassius talk like living men. For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
The form, the style, the setting, and the scenery of a work of art may determine whether it belongs to realism or romanticism; for realism and romanticism are affairs of time and space. Reality, however, by its very essence, is spiritual, and may be accompanied by a background that is contemporary, ancient, or purely mythical. An opera of the Italian school, where, after a tragic scene, the tenor and soprano hold hands, trip together to the footlights, and produce fluent roulades, may
be set in a drawing-room, with contemporary, realistic furniture. Compare La Traviata with the first act of Die Walküre, and see the difference between realism and reality. In the wildly romantic and mythical setting, the passion of love is intensely real; and as the storm ceases, the portal swings open, and the soft air of the moonlit spring night enters the room, the eternal reality of love makes its eternal appeal in a scene of almost intolerable beauty. Even so carefully realistic an opera as Louise does not seem for the moment any more real than these lovers in the spring moonlight, deep in the heart of the whispering forest.
A fixed creed, whether it be a creed of optimism, pessimism, realism, or romanticism, is a positive nuisance to an artist. Joseph Conrad, all of whose novels have the unmistakable air of reality, declares that the novelist should have no programme of any kind and no set rules. In a memorable phrase he cries, “Liberty of the imagination should be the most precious possession of a novelist.” Optimism may be an insult to the sufferings of humanity, but, says Mr. Conrad, pessimism is intellectual arrogance. He will have it that while the ultimate meaning of life — if there be one — is hidden from us, at all events this is a spectacular universe; and a man who has doubled the Horn and sailed through a typhoon on what was unintentionally a submarine vessel may be pardoned for insisting on this point of view. It is indeed a spectacular universe, which has resisted all the attempts of realistic novelists to make it dull. However sad or gay life may be, it affords an interesting spectacle. Perhaps this is one reason why all works of art that possess reality never fail to draw and hold attention.
Every critic ought to have a hospitable mind. His attitude toward art in general should be like that of an old-fashioned host at the door of a country inn, ready to welcome all guests except criminals. It is impossible to judge with any fairness a new poem, a new opera, a new picture, a new novel, if the critic have preconceived opinions as to what poetry, music, painting, and fiction should be. We are all such creatures of convention that the first impression made by reality in any form of art is sometimes a distinct shock, and we close the windows of our intelligence and draw the blinds that the fresh air and the new light may not enter in. Just as no form of art is so strange as life, so it may be the strangeness of reality in books, in pictures, and in music that makes our attitude one of resistance rather than of welcome.
Shortly after the appearance of Wordsworth's Resolution and Independence,
“There was a roaring in the wind all night,
The rain came heavily and fell in floods,"
some one read aloud the poem to an intelligent
She burst into tears, but, recovering herself, said shamefacedly, “After all, it isn't poetry.” When Pushkin, striking off the shackles of eighteenth-century conventions, published his first work, a Russian critic exclaimed, "For God's sake don't call this thing a poem !” These two poems seemed strange because they were so natural,