Literary Criticism of George Henry Lewes

Literary Criticism of George Henry Lewes

Literary Criticism of George Henry Lewes

Literary Criticism of George Henry Lewes

Excerpt

Emily Dickinson once remarked that "Fame is a fickle food upon a shifting plate." When George Henry Lewes died, Matthew Arnold and other eminent Victorians predicted that his fame would endure.Yet curiously enough, one of the most remarkable men of the nineteenth century, esteemed as philosopher, scientist, and critic, is today more readily identified as the writer who lived with George Eliot.He deserved more. Even in an age which produced such figures as Carlyle, Ruskin, Arnold, and Mill, Lewes was a rare enough phenomenon, a thinker equally at ease in the fields of science and literature, viewing them not as antagonistic but as complementary fields of inquiry in a complex and changing universe.

The cause of science in the nineteenth century had no more devoted champion. As its advocate, he belongs with Darwin, Huxley, Mill, Spencer, Bain, Wundt, Taine, and Comte.In histories of philosophy, Lewes is usually categorized as one of the Comtist positivists, but this is a misleading classification.He wrote an explication of Comte's theories in 1853 (Comte's Philosophy of the Sciences); he never lost his admiration for certain Comtean principles.But he was too original a thinker to remain a mere disciple, and he lost Comte's friendship because he criticized his later mystical doctrines.No dogmatist for any cause, Lewes never tired of attacking absolutist theories.His belief in the efficacy of the scientific-empirical position grew more confirmed as he grew older. At the early age of twenty, he wrote: "We arrive then at the conclusion that we can never know but relative truth, our only medium of knowledge being the senses, and this medium, with regard to all without us, being forever a false one; but being true to us, we may put confidence in it relatively." In one of his last volumes, Foundations of a Creed, he . . .

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