Minor Poets of the Caroline Period - Vol. 1

Minor Poets of the Caroline Period - Vol. 1

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Minor Poets of the Caroline Period - Vol. 1

Minor Poets of the Caroline Period - Vol. 1

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A Great English critic, Mr. Matthew Arnold and a great French man of letters, Mérimée, though they might not agree in all points agreed in one--in disparaging and discountenancing the study of minor literature. Mr. Arnold's utterances on the subject (or some of them, for they are numerous and sometimes inconsistent) are probably well known to most readers of this book; of Mérimée's, his qualification of the praise which it was impossible for him to refuse to Ticknor History of Spanish Literature, with blame for the inclusion of the numerus, may serve as a sufficient example. Both are formidable antagonists: and Goethe, from whom it is not improbable that both derived at least support for their opinion, and who notoriously, in his later days at any rate, held it himself, will seem to most people, no doubt, an antagonist more formidable still. But one of the cardinal principles of literary as of other knight-errantry is that the adventurer is not to be too careful--if he is to be careful at all--of the number, or of the individual prowess and reputation, of his adversaries. The greater and the more they are, the greater his success if he triumphs, the less his discredit if he succumbs-- when his case is the right and theirs is the wrong. I have no doubt that in this respect Goethe and Mérimée and Mr. Arnold were wrong. It is not difficult to trace various causes of their error, the chief of which are that all three were in a certain sense disenchanted lovers of Romanticism; that Romanticism, as it was bound to do by mere filial piety, enjoined the study of all literature; and (further) that none of them bad any special bent towards literary history. Mr. Arnold regarded all history with an impartial dislike; Goethe probably did not find this kind scientific enough: and Mérimée, though no mean historical student in his own way, was a student of manners, of politics, of archaeology rather than of literature.

Yet there can be no doubt that from the point of view of literary history, and not from that point only, the neglect of minorities is a serious, and may be a fatal mistake. It is a mistake which used to prevail in the elder offspring of Clio herself; but in most of her family it has been long outgrown. There is even at the present day, perhaps, a danger of too much attention being paid to small things--the complaint is all but unanimous that the document is killing the historian. Literary history, however, is a very youthful member of the historical household: it is not, in any fully developed condition, much more than two hundred years old, and its classics are few and disputed. Most of those which could pretend to the . . .

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