Beatrice Webb and the “serious” artist
It is curious that one should be asked to rewrite Sidney's Defense of Poesy in the year of grace 1913. During the intervening centuries, and before them, other centres of civilization had decided that good art was a blessing and that bad art was criminal, and they had spent some time and thought in trying to find means whereby to distinguish the true art from the sham. But in England now, in the age of Gosse as in the age of Gosson we are asked if the arts are moral. We are asked to define the relation of the arts to economics, we are asked what position the arts are to hold in the ideal republic. And it is obviously the opinion of many people less objectionable than the Sydney [sic] Webbs that the arts had better not exist at all.
Ezra Pound, “The Serious Artist” (1913) 1
We'e been sitting in the Park and listening to the Band and having a terrific argument about Shaw. Leonard says we owe a great deal to Shaw. I say that he only influenced the outer fringe of morality. Leonard says that the shop girls wouldn't be listening to the Band with their young men if it weren't for Shaw. I say the human heart is touched only by the poets. Leonard says rot, I say damn. Then we go home. Leonard says I'm narrow. I say he's stunted. But don't you agree with me that the Edwardians, from 1895 to 1914, made a pretty poor show. By the Edwardians, I mean Shaw, Wells, Galsworthy, the Webbs, Arnold Bennett. We Georgians have our work cut out for us, you see. There's not a single living writer (English) I respect: so you see, I have to read the Russians: but here I must stop. I just throw this out for you to think about, under the trees. How does one come by one's morality? Surely by reading the poets. And we'e got no poets. Does that throw light on anything? Consider the Webbs That woman has the impertinence to say that I'm a-moral: the truth being that if Mrs. Webb had been a good woman, Mrs. Woolf would have been a better. Orphans is what I say we are — we Georgians — but I must stop.
Virginia Woolf, letter to Janet Case, 21 May 1922 (528) 2