a sort of cloistral refuge

by RM

Different classes of persons, at different times,make, of course, very various demands upon literature. Still, scholars, I suppose, and not only scholars, but all disinterested lovers of books, will always look to it, as to all other fineart, for a refuge, a sort of cloistral refuge, from a certain vulgarity in the actual world. A perfect, poem like Lycidas, a perfect fiction like Esmond, the perfect handling of a theory like Newman’s Idea of a University, has for them something of the uses of a religious ” retreat.” Here, then, with a view to the central need of a select few, those ” men of a finer thread ” who have formed and maintain the literary ideal, everything, every component element, will have undergone exact trial, and, above all, there will be no uncharacteristic or tarnished or vulgar decoration, permissible ornament being for the most part structural, or necessary. As the painter in his picture, so the artist in his book, aims at the production by honourable artifice of a peculiar atmosphere. ” The artist,” says Schiller, ” may be known rather by what he omits ” ; and in literature, too, the true artist may be best recognised by his tact of omission. For to the grave reader words too are grave ; and the ornamental word, the figure, the accessory form or colour or reference, is rarely content to die to thought precisely at the right moment, but will inevitably linger awhile, stirring a long ” brain-wave ” behind it of perhaps quite alien associations.