for a moment the position of literature among the fine
arts, and some of the qualities inherent in literature
which make it a fine art.
what do we mean by the fine arts? In what do they consist?
What characteristics do have they in common by which
we may distinguish them? We may say, theoretically,
that art is nothing more nor less than the result of
man's attempt to give expression to his thoughts, his
aspirations, his hopes and fears, in forms of beauty.
We may say, briefly, that art is the manifestation of
the human spirit. But everything we do is to some extent
expressive. Our acts, our looks, our gestures, the tones
of our voice, may all be said to be expressive in that
they convey to others some impression about ourselves.
An advertising sign on the fence is a form of expression,
in that is serves to convey information from the proprietor
to the public. Indeed, nothing that man does can be
wholy without expression. How, therefore, can we distinguish
these forms of expression which are worthy to be termed
the fine arts?
I say to you that a+b equals c, or that 2+2 equals 4,
I am giving expression to a statement which appeals
at once to your reason. It requires only your mind to
appreciate the information. You don't care anything
about it. But if I say "the sailor and the hunter
have come home," that piece of information begins
to interest you. I begin to touch upon your emotions.
You fancy there is to be more of the story; you like
the sailor better than the hunter; or perhaps you wish
that the hunter had returned alone: at all events, your
sympathy is awake, and awaiting the development of the
story. It is no longer a pure and simple statement of
fact, such as we had at first in 2+2 equals 4. Now,
if I go further and quote you Robert Louis Stevenson's
is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill,
the result? We not only have our mind informed as before;
we not only have our emotions enlisted as before; we
have our senses appealed to as well. The statement already
had mental and spiritual qualities, and now there has
been added to these a physical equality, the equality
of beauty. These three qualities of truth, spirituality
and beauty, are the essential characteristics of all
the fine arts. And among all the achievements and activities
of mankind, no form of expression can be classed as
fine art unless each of these qualities is present.
And, also, any industry may at any moment rise to the
height of a fine art if the workman is given sufficient
freedom and has sufficient talent or genius. In that
case he will impress upon the work something of his
own personality; he will make it expressive of himself;
he will put into his work, reason and love and beauty.
He will make it appeal to our mind, our spirit and our
see then that these three distinguished characteristics
of art are representative of the threefold nature of
the artist. And these three qualities, inherent in every
work of art, implanted there by its human creator, a
reflected image of himself, will turn appeal to the
living trinity within ourselves. All art has charm;
it has what Rosetti called fundamental brain work: it
has emotion. To say the same thing and in another way,
art must make us satisfied and glad and content; it
must give us something to think about, something to
love, and something to recall with a thrill of pleasure.
is the province of art, of every art and every piece
of art, to influence us is in these three ways. And
any artist whose work is lacking in any one of those
directions is in so far as limited and imperfect creator.
then, is the result of man's attempt to express himself
adequately, with intelligence, with power and with charm.
But when we say that art is the embodiment of expression,
that does not mean that the expression is given necessarily
a permanent form. Some of the arts, such as architecture,
painting and sculpture are dependent on materials for
their embodiment. But their greater or less permanence
has nothing to do with their essential qualities. It
would not detract in the least from the excellence of
a painting if it were destroyed the minute it was finished.
Other arts, again, like music and dancing and acting,
are merely instantaneous, and have no permanence whatever;
they perish more quickly than the impulse which produced
them, except in so far as they can be preserved in the
memory and reproduced by imitation.
in order to arrest the perishable beauty of these instantaneous
arts, certain mechanical inventions have been devised
from time to time-the inventor of writing, of printing,
of photography, for example. And by their useful creations
of art, which must otherwise be lost to the world, may
be preserved and transmitted and multiplied for the
enjoyment of thousands. And the point I wish to emphasize
is, that music and literature are in precisely the same
case in this respect. Literature, like music, is dependent
on writing only as a means for its preservation. And
all its essential qualities, like those of music, are
perceived only when it is reproduced as modified sound.
And in Stevenson's lines, which we quoted a moment ago,
you remember that we found he had taken a simple statement
of fact, which contained truth and interest, and raised
it to the dignity of poetry, by adding a single quality-the
quality of beauty. His genius and knowledge of English
gave him the power of arranging a few words so that
they should not only interest us as they had done before,
but should enthral us with a new and added charm. That
charm was the charm of Sand.
to take another example, take this sentence: "So,
among the mountains by the winter sea, the sound of
battles rolled all day long." There is a statement
of fact, a bit of expression, which conveys information
and which has interest. But now listen to the same words
when Tennyson has added beauty to their thought and
all day long the sound of battle rolled
Among the mountains by the winter sea.
new beauty is purely a beauty of sound. Tennyson's taste
as an artist led him to perceive when these sixteen
words were so arranged as to produce their greatest
charm, their maximum effect upon us.
must conclude, therefore, that poetry, or literature,
is an oral art. And that aspect of it which appeals
to the ęsthetic sense, does so, and can only do so,
through the harmonious arrangement of melodious words.
I repeat, then, that it is the inherent characteristic
of art to be beautiful and to appeal to our sense of
beauty; and furthermore, that the only way literature
has of fulfilling this condition and becoming a
fine art, is by the beauty of the spoken word; I think
that we may very safely conclude that any composition
which fails in this test fails of being literature.
further, this relation between literature and speech
is not only a fundamental one, but its maintenance have
an important effect. Literature, as it were, only a
glorified form of speech, produced with greater care
and skill and forethought. The literature of the nation
is the quintessence of the speech of the nation. Think
for a moment what sometimes happens when any community
becomes detached from the current of civilization; when
it becomes isolated and narrow and self-centred; it
often happens that these impoverished communities deteriorate
rapidly, and that they show mental weakness, moral depravity,
physical debasement. Had their speech become as corrupt
and inefficient as themselves, you would not have expected
literature from such people.
the other hand think of the case of those nations which
have reached a high grade of civilization in the world's
history. They have always been nations which have bequeathed
to us valuable and significant treasures of literature
and the plastic arts. Indeed, we have no means of measuring
the greatness of a people except by the fine arts it
encourages and produces. For the fine arts, as we said,
are only the embodiment of men's aspirations and ideals.
The surpassing literature of Greece and Rome is a true
exponent of the degree of civilization at which they
had arrived. And it is, too, simply a record of their
speech. It were surely impossible that Greek poetry
should exhibit such qualities of perfection as they
do, unless the Greek tongue had first attained those
same perfect characteristics, those traits of power
and beauty and adequateness of expression.
we do not admit this and still profess to think there
is no relation between speech and literature, we are
driven by the force of logic to admit that Shakespeare's
plays might quite have well been written by some wise
old Chinese philosopher, who was a deaf mute and spent
his whole life in a hermit's cell. I am only repeating
in regard to letters what Mr. Dittmar said the other
day in regard to the drama-namely, that art can only
be improved as our own capacity for expression becomes
more widespread. Any art will flourish in a nation's
educated instinct for that art.
I could acquire a knowledge and use of language such
as Stephenson possessed, such as two or three people
of my acquaintance possess; if I could know the English
tongue with all its shades of meaning and subtle association;
if I could use it with readiness, with exactness, with
capriciousness, with feeling, and if, in addition to
this, I could acquire a beautiful and well-controlled
voice, such as one occasionally hears, so that after
I knew my words I could make use of them, I should in
that case not only be a better-educated man, but I should
have greater power. I should have given myself the rudiments
of a literary education (such as is nowhere provided
in our schools or colleges), and I should have fitted
myself as a citizen to be one of that intelligently
critical public, without which the fine arts cannot
flourish, cannot, indeed, exist. Moreover, I could fit
myself to be an intelligent and sympathetic, though
obscure, appreciator of the art of literature in no
other way than by these two means.
do not know how it may be with you, but I cannot recall
more than a half a dozen people among those I have ever
known who preserved this happy degree and kind of culture.
If, however, instead of being so rare, speech culture
were made prevalent; if such knowledge and power of
expression could be made universal, consider what a
public we should have! And think how impossible. A great
mass of our contemporary literature, with its barbarous
offenses against good taste, its ruthless disregard
of beauty, its atrocities against English speech-think
how impossible such a work would be. Do you think that
a widespread culture of our own language, a national
instinct for exact, flexible and pleasing speech, would
have no influence upon our literature? I find it difficult
to imagine such a perfected standard of diction as that,
and literary mediocrity existing in the same nation
at the same time.
bearing directly on the question, allow me to quote
a fragmentary poem by Richard Hovey, entitled:
GIFT OF ART
dreamed that a child was born; and at his birth
The Angel of the Word stood by the hearth
And spake to her that bare him: "Look without!
Behold the beauty of the Day, the shout
Of color to glad color, rocks and trees
And sun and sea and wind and sky! All these
Are God's expression, art-work of his hand,
Which men must love ere they may understand,
By which alone he speaks till they have grace
To hear his voice and look upon his face.
For first and last of all things in the heart
Of God as man the glory of his art.
What gift could God bestow or man beseech,
Save spirit unto spirit uttered speech?
Wisdom were not, for God himself could find
No way to reach the unresponsive mind,
Sweet Love were dead, and all the crowded skies
A loneliness and not a Paradise.
Teach the child language, mother.."
then, is the very brief statement of the bearing of
speech culture upon literature, as it appears to me;
and our investigation closes here. In conclusion, however,
I should like to guard against the implication of an
overestimate of the value of the fine arts and their
importance in life. If one insists on the vital necessity
for education in expression, it is not merely to the
end that the fine arts may flourish. For though the
fine arts are lovely and desirable in themselves, they
indicate the existence of something even more wonderful
and desirable-they indicate the presence of an instinct
for truth, an instinct for goodness, and an instinct
for beauty in the people which produced them. They reveal,
as I think we said before, the high degree of civilization
which that people had been fortunate enough to reach.
we give ourselves to the culture of expression, we shall
undoubtedly have greater art as a result of that education;
but its best result will be the effect upon ourselves;
for in the process of that culture, in calling forth
of the capacities which reveal themselves in art, we
shall be developing those powers which alone beautify
life, those qualities which alone enlighten and ennoble