Excerpt from Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 1890, Vol. 5
It is always wise to eliminate the personal equation from our judgments of literature as Of other things that nearly concern us. But what is so subtle, so elusive, so inapprehensible as this... folle a'u logz's 5' Are we to be suspicious of a book's good char acter in proportion as it appeals more vividly to our own private consciousness and experience? How are we to know to how many it may making the same appeal? Is there no resource, then, but to go back humbly to the old quad semper, quad ubz'que, quad a5 omnz'aus, and to accept nothing as orthodox literature on which the elder centuries have not laid their couse crating hands? The truth is, perhaps, that in reading ancient literature many elements of false judgment, partly involved in the personal equation, are inoperative, or seem to be so, which, when we read a more nearly neighboring literature, it is wellnigh impossible to neutralize. Did not a part of matthew arnold's preference for the verses of homer, with the thunder-roll of which he sent poor old Thuroldusdab'out his business, spring from a secret persuasion of their more noble harmony, their more ear-bewitching canorousness? And yet he no doubt recited those verses in a fashion which would have disqualified them as barbarously for the ear of an ancient Greek as if they had been borrowed of Thoroldus himself. DO we not see here the personal fallacy's eartip? I fancy if we could call up the old jongleur and bid him sing to us, accompanied by his az'elle, we should find in his verses a plaintive and not unimpressive melody such as so strangely moves one in the untutored song of the Tuscan peasant heard afar across the sunsteeped fields with its prolonged fondling of the assonants. There is no question about what is supreme in literature. The difference between what is best and what is next best is immense; it is felt instino tively; It Is a difference not of degree but of kind. And yet may we not without lese-majesty say of books what ferdinand says of women.
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