eBooksRead.com books search new books
William Henry Hudson.

An introduction to the study of literature online

. (page 1 of 35)
Online LibraryWilliam Henry HudsonAn introduction to the study of literature → online text (page 1 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

AN INTRODUCTION TO
THE STUDY OF LITERATURE



' AN INTRODUCTION

TO THE

STUDY OF LITERATURE



BY / '

WILLIAM HENRY HUDSON

M

STAKF-LECTURER IN LITERATURE TO THE UNIVERSITY EXTENSION

BOARD OF THE UNIVERSITY OF LONDON

EDITOR OF "the ELIZABETHAN SHAKESPEARE"

GENERAL EDITOR OF " POETRY AND LIFE SERIES " ETC.



(I



k SECOND EDITION ENLARGED

I-



LONDON

GEORGE G. HARRAP & COMPANY

3 PORTSMOUTH STREET KINGSWAY W.C.
1913



aURNBULL AND SPEARS, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH



PN4S
Hns



PREFACE



THE aim of this book is to set forth, in the
simplest possible way, some of the questions
to be considered and the principles to be
kept in view in the systematic study of literature.
Despite the large and ever increasing number of works
which deal with special aspects of literature on the
historical and critical sides, I believe that there is still
a place for a compact and fairly comprehensive volume
of this kind. This faith may indeed be taken for
granted, as otherwise the book would not have been
written. I should, however, add that the utility of the
plan adopted in it has been established by practical
experience, since much of its substance has already
been used and tested in a course of lectures delivered
before University Extension audiences at the Municipal
Technical Institute, West Ham, and the Polytechnic,
Woolwich. The fact that these lectures were followed
with sustained interest, in the one case by upward of
500, in the other by over 100, listeners, of whom,
while many were engaged in teaching, the majority
were concerned with literature only as general readers,
encourages me to think that the same matter, put into
the form of a book, may projfe equally helpful to a
wider circle of students.

In the course itself, ample illustrations were provided
of every point considered. In reducing the contents

5

267709



6 THE STUDY OF LITERATUEE

of twenty-five lectures to meet the requirements of a
not too bulky volume, while adding a good deal that
could not well be included in them, I have been com-
pelled to omit quotations from and detailed analyses of
particular works. I must therefore ask the reader to
remember that this book is planned as a guide and
companion to his own study, and that, while I hope it
may be interesting and suggestive in itself, the value
of the things said in it must ultimately be sought in
their application.

It will be found that little place is given to questions
of abstract aesthetics. These, as well as all details of
a purely scholastic character, have been purposely
avoided, as my desire throughout has been to make
my volume of practical service to those students for
whom literature is primarily a means of enjoyment and
a help to life.

William Henry Hudson



NOTE TO THE SECOND EDITION

In the two and a half years since this book was published
much evidence has reached me from many quarters of its
practical usefulness both to students of literature and to
general readers. I am thus able to feel with satisfaction that
the objects for which it was written, as explained in the original
preface, have to some extent at least been attained. I have
seen no occasion to make any changes in the text for this new
edition ; but I have added an appendix, in which I have said
something more about the question of personality in literature,
have dealt more fully with the treatment of nature in poetry,
and have offered some suggestions for the study of the essay
and the short story as forms of literary art. I hope that the
value of the book may be increased by these additions.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

SOME WAYS OF STUDYING LITERATURE

I. The Nature and Elements of Literature, 9-16. II. Literature as an
Expression of Personality, 16-22. III. The Study of an Author—
The Chronological and Comparative Methods of Study, 22-27.

IV. Biography, its Abuse and Use in the Study of Literature, 27-33.

V. The Study of Style as an Index of Personality, 33-38.^-

CHAPTER II

SOME WAYS OF STUDYING LITERATURE (^concluded)

\. The Historical Study of Literature, 39-41. II. Literature as a Social
Product, 42-49. III. Taine's Formula of Literary Evolution — The
Sociological Aspect of Literature, 49-55. IV. The Comparative
Method in the Historical Study of Literature — The Inter-relations
of Literatures, 55-66. V. The Historical Study of Style, 66-72.

VI. The Study of Literary Technique, 72-81.

CHAPTER III

THE STUDY OF POETRY

I. The Nature and Elements of Poetry, 82-97. II. Poetry as an In-
terpretation of Life — Poetry and Science — Poetic Truth, 97-117.
III. Poetry as Revelation — Greatness in Poetry — Poetry and Philo-
sophy, 1 1 8- 1 25. IV. The Classification of Poetry, 125-150. V.
The Study of Poetic Form — Versification — Other Aspects of Poetic
Technique, 150-163. VI. The Study of Poetry and the Appreciation
of Poetry, 164- 167.

7



8 THE STUDY OF LITERATURE

CHAPTER IV

THE STUDY OF PROSE FICTION

I. The Novel and the Drama — Elements of Fiction, 168-172. II. Plot
in the Novel, 172-189. III. Characterisation, 189-198. IV. The
Relations of Plot and Character, 199-202. V. Dialogue, 202-205.
VI. Humour, Pathos, and Tragedy — The Painful Emotions in
Fiction, 206-209. VII. Social and Material Setting in Fiction —
The Historical Novel— The Use of Nature, 209-215. VIII. The
Novelist's Criticism of Life — Truth and Morality in Fiction—
Romance and Realism — The Moral Responsibilities of Fiction,
215-226.

CHAPTER V

THE STUDY OF THE DRAMA

I. Dependence of the Drama upon conditions of Stage-Representation,
227-241. II. Plot in the Drama, 241-245. III. Characterisation,
246-263. IV. The Natural Divisions of a Dramatic Plot, 263-288.
V. Some Features of Dramatic Design — Parallelism — Contrast —
Dramatic Irony — Concealment and Surprise, 288-306. VI. The
Different Types of Drama, 306-335. VII. The Drama as Criticism
of Life, 336-345-

CHAPTER VI

THE STUDY OF CRITICISM AND THE VALUATION OF
LITERATURE

I. The General Nature of Criticism — Its Abuse and Use, 346-355.
II. The Functions of Criticism — Inductive and Judicial Criticism,
355.374. III. The Study of Criticism as Literature — Personal
Aspects, 374-384. IV. Historic Aspects, 384-397. V. The Problem
of the Valuation of Literature, 398-421.



APPENDIX
L ON PERSONALITY IN LITERATURE
IL ON THE TREATMENT OF NATURE IN POETRY
III. THE STUDY OF THE ESSAY

iv. the study of the short story
Index ....



422-426
426-441
442-448
449-460

461-471



AN INTRODUCTION TO
THE STUDY OF LITERATURE

CHAPTER I

SOME WAYS OF STUDYING LITERATURE

I

HOWEVER loosely employed, the word litera-
ture commonly carries with it, alike in the
language of criticism and in that of every-
day intercourse, a clear suggestion of delimitation ; in
the one case as in the other a distinction is ^j^^tia
implied between books which in the literary Litera-
sense are books, and those which in the same *^® '
sense are not. But where is the boundary-line to be
drawn ? The moment that question is raised our diffi-
culties begin. In many instances there is, of course,
no room for discussion. We should all agree about
the place to which, for example, a railway guide or a
manual of cookery, Paradise Lost or Sartor Resartus
should respectively be assigned. But as we approach
the border-country from either side we pass into the
region of uncertainty ; and with this uncertainty the
controversy as to the exact definition of literature
commences. Shall we follow Charles Lamb who
(half humorously, it is true) narrowed the conception
of literature to such an extent that he excluded



TO THE STUDY OF LITERATUEE

the works of Hume, Gibbon, and Flavius Josephus,
together with directories, almanacks, and " draught-
boards bound and lettered on the back " ? Shall we
adopt the view of Hallam, who, under the general head
of literature, comprised jurisprudence, theology, and
medicine ? Or, if Lamb seems to err on the one
side and Hallam on the other, where between these
two extremes is any just mean to be found ? These
are questions to which no final answer has yet been
given, and it is fortunate therefore that they need not
detain us here. We shall get what for our purposes
should be an idea of literature at once sufficiently
broad and sufficiently accurate if we lay stress upon
two considerations. Literature is composed of those
books, and of those books only, which, in the first
place, by reason of their subject-matter and their mode
of treating it, are of general human interest ; and in
which, in the second place, the element of form and
the pleasure which form gives are to be regarded
as essential. A piece of literature differs from a
specialised treatise on astronomy, political economy,
philosophy, or even history, in part because it appeals,
not to a particular class of readers only, but to men and
women as men and women ; and in part because, while
the object of the treatise is simply to impart knowledge,
one ideal end of the piece of literature, whether it
also imparts knowledge or not, is to yield aesthetic
satisfaction by the manner in which it handles its theme.
The study of literature, as thus conceived, is as far
Literature ^^ possible removed both from the academic
and Life, formalism and from the dilettante trifling, with
one or other of which it has, in popular thought, been
too often associated. Why do we care for literature ?



WAYS OF STUDYING LITEEATUEE ii -^

We care for literature primarily on account of its deep ;

and lasting human significance. A great book grows"

directly out of life ; in reading it, we are brought into
large, close, and fresh relations with life ; and in that
fact lies the final explanation of its power. Literature >
is a vital record of what men have seen in life, what^
they have experienced of it, what they have thought
and felt about those aspects of it which have the most J
immediate and enduring interest for all of us. It is p-^
thus fundamentally an expression of life through the
medium of language. Such expression is fashioned
into the various forms of literary art, and these in
themselves will, in their proper place and time, enlist
the attention of the student. But it is important to
understand, to begin with, that literature lives by virtue
of the life which it embodies. By remembering this,
we shall be saved from the besetting danger of con-
founding the study of literature with the study of i
philology, rhetoric, and even literary technique. -^

To say that literature grows directly out of life is of

course to say that it is in life itself that we have

The Tm-
to seek the sources of literature, or, in other pulses

words, the impulses which have ^iven birth to j!®^^?

r ri . -T-1 literature,

the various forms of literary expression The

classification of literature, therefore, is not conventional
nor arbitrary. What we call the formal divisions of
literature must be translated into terms of life, if we
would understand how they originated, and what mean-
ing they still have for us.

The great impulses behind literature may, I think, ^
be grouped with accuracy enough for practical purposes
under four heads: (i) our desire for self-expression ;
(2) our interest in people and their doings ; (3) our



12 THE STUDY OF LITERATUEE

interest in the world of reality in which we live, and
in the world of imagination which we conjure into
existence ; and (4) our love of form as form. We
are strongly impelled to confide to others what we
think and feel ; hence the literature which directly
expresses the thoughts and feelings of the writer.
We are intensely interested in men and women, their
lives, motives, passions, relationships ; hence the
literature which deals with the great drama of human
life and action. We are fond of telling others about
the things we have seen or imagined ; hence the
literature of description. And, where the aesthetic
impulse is present at all, we take a special satisfaction
in the mere shaping of expression into forms of beauty ;
hence the very existence of literature as art. Man, as
we are often reminded, is a social animal ; and as he
is thus by the actual constitution of his nature unable
to keep his experiences, observations, ideas, emotions,
fancies, to himself, but is on the contrary under stress
of a constant desire to impart them to those about
him, the various forms of literature are to be regarded
as only so many channels which he has opened up for
himself for the discharge of his sociality through media
which in themselves testify to his paramount desire to
blend expression with artistic creation. Moreover,
these impulses behind literature explain not. only the
evolution of the various forms of literature, but also
our interest (for this is merely the reverse side of the
same matter) in such forms. If we are constrained to
make others the confidants of our thoughts and feel-
ings, experiences, observations, imaginings, we are glad
to listen while others tell us of theirs, especially when
we are aware that the range of their commerce with



WAYS OF STUDYING LITERATURE 13

life, the depth of their insight or passion, their power
of expression, or all these things combined, will render
their utterances of unusual interest and value ; while
our own delight in artistic beauty will make us readily
responsive to the beauty in which a master-artist
embodies what he has to say.

Of these four impulses, the last named, being a
factor common to all kinds of literature, may for the
moment be disregarded ; for purposes of classification
the other three alone count. Now, it is evident that
these three impulses continually merge together in
life. In describing what we have seen or imagined, N,
for example, we are almost certain to express a great
deal of our own^jthpught and feeling. ; and again, any
kind of narrative will be found almost necessarily to
involve more or less description. As these impulses
merge together in life, sd they will merge together in
literature, with the result that the different divisions
of literature which spring from them will inevitably over-
lap. We simply distinguish them one from another,
therefojre — the lyric poem from the epic, the drama
from the descriptive essay, and so on — as one or another
of the generative impulses seems to predominate. It
is in this way that we obtain a basis for classification.

It is, however, a basis only. To make our survey
even approximately complete, we must go ^^^
farther, and consider not only the impulses Themes of
which produce literature, but also the subjects ^^ ®^^ ^®'
with which it deals. These, being almost as varied
as life itself (for there is little in life which may not
be made a theme for literature), may at first sight
appear to defy any attempt to reduce them to
systematic statement. But — still having regard only



14 THE STUDY OF LITERATURE

to practical purposes — we may perhaps venture to
/ arrange them into five large groups : ( i ) the personal
experiences of the individual as individual — the things
which make up the sum-total of his private life, outer
and inner ; (2) the experiences of man as man — those
great common questions of life and death, sin and
destiny, God, man's relation with God, the hope of the
race here and hereafter, and the like — which transcend
the limits of the personal lot, and belong to the race
as a whole ; (3) the relations of the individual with his
fellows, or the entire social world, with all its activities
and problems ; (4) the external world of nature, and our
relations with this ; and (5) man's own efforts to create
\ and express under the various forms of literature and art.
Looking at literature in the light of this analysis, and
considering only the character of its subjects, we may
thus distinguish five classes of production : the literature
of purely personal experience ; of the common life of
man as man ; of the social world under all its different
aspects ; the literature which treats of nature ; and
the literature which treats of literature and art.

By combining the results of these two lines of
analysis, we get a fairly comprehensive scheme
c^Mifica- °^ classification, and one which, as will be
tionof seen, has the advantage of resting upon
tui?* natural foundations. We have, first, the
literature of self-expression, which includes the
different kinds of lyric poetry, the poetry of medita-
tion and argument, and the elegy ; the essay and
treatise where these are written from the personal
point of view ; and the literature of artistic and literary
criticism. We have, secondly, the literature in which
the writer, instead of going dpwn into himself, goes



WAYS OF STUDYING ITTEEATUEE 15

out of himself into the world of external human life
and activity ; and this includes history and biography,
the ballad and the epic, the romance in verse and
prose, the story in verse and prose, the novel and
the drama. And, thirdly, we have the literature of
description, not in itself a large or important division,
since description in literature is ordinarily associated
with, and for the most part subordinated to, the in-
terests of self-expression or narrative, but comprising
in the book of travel, and the descriptive essay and
poem, some fairly distinct minor forms of literary art. •

Thus the various forms of literary expression fall
into their places as natural results of common human
impulses working themselves out under the conditions
of art ; and when we remember the great principle
that a piece of literature appeals to us only when it '
calls into activity in us the same powers of sympathy
and imagination as went to its making, the interest
which such forms have for us is also explained.

It should further be noted, among the preliminaries
of our study, that in all these divisions certain
elements of composition are always present. Elements
There is in the first place, of course, the ?^ Litera- ^
elements furnished by life itself, which
constitute the raw material of any piece of literature —
poem, essay, drama, novel. Then there are the
elements contributed by the author in his fashioning
of such raw material into this or that form of literary
art. These may be roughly tabulated under four
heads. First, there is the intellectual element — the
thought which the writer brings to bear upon his
subject, and which he expresses in his work.
Secondly, there is the emotional element — the feel-



J



i6 THE STUDY OF LITERATUKE

ing (of whatever kind) which his subject arouses in
him, and which in turn he desires to stimulate in us.
Thirdly, there is the element of imagination (including
its lighter form which we call fancy), which is really
the faculty of strong and intense vision, and by the
exercise of which he quickens a similar power of
vision in ourselves. These elements combine to
furnish the substance and the life of literature. But
however rich may be the materials yielded by ex-
perience, however fresh and strong may be the
writer's thought, feeling, and imagination, in dealing
with them, another factor is wanting before his work
can be completed. The given matter has to be moulded
and fashioned in accordance with the principles of
order, symmetry, beauty, effectiveness ; and thus we
have a fourth element in literature — the technical
element, or the element of composition and style.

II

It has been necessary to touch upon these some-
what abstract considerations in order to clear the way
for what is to follow. We may now pass directly to
matters of more immediate importance to the student,
whose business is not with the theory of literature, but
with literature itself

If literature be at bottom an expression of life, and
if it be by virtue of the life which it expresses
^*®^**^® that it makes its special appeal, then the
pressicn of ultimate secret of its interest must be sought
Person- j^ j^^ essentially personal character. Litera-
ture, according to Matthew Arnold's much-
discussed definition, is a criticism of life ; but this can



WAYS OF STUDYING LITERATUKE 17

mean only that it is an interpretation of life as life
shapes itself in the mind of the interpreter. It is with
the critic or interpreter, therefore, that we have first to
do. The French epigram hits the mark — " Art is
life seen through a temperament," for the mirror which
the artist holds up to the world about him is of
necessity the mirror of his own personality. The
practical bearings of this fundamental truth must be
carefully noted.

A great book is born of the brain and heart of its
author ; he has put himself into its pages ; they partake
of his life, and are instinct with his individuality. It
is to the man in the book, therefore, that to begin with
we have to find our way. We have to get to know
him as an individual. To establish personal intercourse
with our books in a simple, direct, human way, should
thus be our primary and constant purpose. We want
first of all to become, not scholars, but good readers ;
and we can become good readers only when we make
our reading a matter of close and sympathetic com-
panionship. " Personal experience," it has been rightly
said, " is the basis of all real literature " ; and to enter
into such personal experience, and to share it, is
similarly the basis of all real literary culture. A great
book owes its greatness in the first instance to the
greatness of the personality which gave it life ; for
what we call genius is only another name for freshness
and originality of nature, with its resulting freshness
and originality of outlook upon the world, of insight,
and of thought. The mark of a really great book is
that it has something fresh and original to say, and
that it says this in a fresh and independent way. It ^
is the utterance of one who has himself been close to

B

/



1 8 THE STUDY OF LITERATURE

those aspects of life of which he speaks, who has
looked at them with his own eyes, who by the keen-
ness of his vision has seen more deeply into things,
and by the strength of his genius has apprehended
their meaning more powerfully than the common race
of men ; and who in addition has the artist's wonder-
ful faculty of making us see and feel with him. " A
good book," as Milton finely says in words which,
however hackneyed, can hardly be too often repeated,
" is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed
and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."
To throw open our whole nature to the quickening
influence of such a master-spirit, to let his life-blood
flow freely into our veins, is the preliminary step in
literary culture — the final secret of all profitable
reading.

It is important, then, that in all our dealings with
books we should distinguish between what Carlyle
calls the " genuine voices " and the mere " echoes " —
between the men who speak for themselves and those
who speak only on the report of others. " I have
read," wrote Charlotte Bronte of Lewes's Ranthorpe^
" a new book ; not a reprint, not a reflection of any
other book, but a new book." Charlotte Bronte
clearly recognised the distinction upon which we are
now insisting. We are not in the least obliged to
despise the echoes and the reprints, or to say hard
and contemptuous things of them, as is sometimes
done ; for provided they be good of their kind, they
have their place and usefulness. But to safeguard
ourselves against erroneous estimates, it is necessary
to keep well in mind the essential difference between
the literature which draws its life directly from



WAYS OF STUDYING LITEEATURE 19

personality and experience, and that which draws its
life mainly at second hand from contact with the
personality and experience of others. The literature
which, in Turgenev's phrase, " smells of literature," is
always to be classed below that which carries with it
the native savour of life itself; and it is not with the
bookish books of the world, no matter how great
their technical excellence, but with those which are
fullest of original vitality, that we are chiefly
concerned.

Involved in this, yet calling for separate emphasis,
is the great principle, first enunciated by ThePrin-
Plato, that the foundation of all good and cipieof
lasting work in literature is entire sincerity ^^^^ ^'
to oneself, to one's own experience of life, and to the
truth of things as one is privileged to see it — that
very quality of sincerity which was, it will be re-
membered, for Carlyle the essence of all heroic great-
ness. "Cest mot qui ai vecu" wrote Alfred de
Musset. The words may seem commonplace enough,



Online LibraryWilliam Henry HudsonAn introduction to the study of literature → online text (page 1 of 35)
Using the text of ebook An introduction to the study of literature by William Henry Hudson active link like:
read the ebook An introduction to the study of literature is obligatory.

Leave us your feedback | Links exchange | RSS feed 

Online library ebooksread.com © 2007-2014