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Set up and electrotyped. Published April, igii.

NorbJooD 3|re3S

J. S. Gushing Co. — Herwick & Smith Co.

Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.


These lectures by members of the Faculty of Columbia
University were delivered, with one exception, during the
academic year 1909-1910.

■ ^ I



I. Approaches to Literature . ..... I

By Brander Matthews, Professor of Dramatic Liter"+ure.


II. Semitic Literatures ........ 21

By Richard J. H. Gottheil, Professor of Rabbinical I^iterature
and the Semitic Languages.

III. The Literature of India and Persia .... 43

By A. V. W. Jackson, Professor of Indo-Iranian Languages.

IV. Chinese Literature ........ 67

By Friedrich Hirth, Professor of Chinese.


V. Greek Literature ........ 91

By Edward Delavan Perry, Jay Professor of Greek.

VI. Latin Literature ........ 115

By Nelson Glenn McCrea, Professor of Latin.


Vn. The Middle Ages 133

By William Witherle Lawrence, Associate Professor of English.

VIII. The Renaissance ........ 15.5

By Jefferson B. Fletcher, Professor of Comparative Literature.

IX. The Classical Rule 177

By John Erskine, Associate Professor of English.

X. The Romantic Emancipation ...... 203

By Curtis Hidden Page, sometime Adjunct Professor of the
Romance Languages and Literatures.


XL Italian Literature in the Eighteenth Century . . 219
By Carlo L. Speranza, Professor of Italian,



LErrrRE pa(.r

XII. Spanish Literature ........ 233

By Henry Alfred Todd, Professor of Romance Philology.

XIII. English Literature ........ 251

By Ashley H. Thorndike, Professor of English.

XIV. French Literature ........ 273

By Adolphe Cohn, Professor of the Romance Languages
and Literatures.

XV. German Literature ....... 291

By Calvin Thomas, Gebhard Professor of the Germanic
Lxnguages and Literatures.

XVI. Russian Literature 311

By J. A. Joffe, Lecturer on Slavonic Literature.

XVII. The Cosmopolitan Outlook ...... 333

By William P. Trent, Professor of English Literature.


XVIII. Literary Criticism ...,..,. 355

By J. E. Spiugarn, Professor of Comparative Literature.



2- ?)<hS(^
By Brander Matthews, Professor of Dramatic

Two winters ago Columbia University invited its teaching
staff, its students, and its friends to a series of lectures which
set forth the essential quality and the existing condition of
each of the several sciences, and to-day Columbia University
begins another series of lectures devoted to a single one of
the arts — the art of Literature. In the opening decade of
this twentieth century, when the triumphs of Science are
exultant on all sides of us, there would be a lack of propriety
in failing to acknowledge its power and its authority; and a
grosser failure would follow any attempt to set up Art as a
rival over against Science. Art and Science have each of
them their own field; they have each of them their own work
to do; and they are not competitors but colleagues in the
service of humanity, responding to different needs. Man
cannot live by Science alone, since Science does not feed
the soul; and it is Art which nourishes the heart of man.
Science does what it can ; and Art does what it must. Science
takes no thought of the individual; and individuality is the
essence of Art. Science seeks to be impersonal, and it is
ever struggling to cast out what it calls the personal equa-
tion. Art cherishes individuality and is what it is because
of the differences which distinguish one man from another;
and therefore the loftiest achievements of Art are the result
of the personal equation raised to its highest power.

Of all the liberal arts Literature is the oldest, as it is the
most immediate in its utility and the broadest in its appeal.
B 1


Better than any of its sisters is it fitted to fulfil the duty of
making man familiar with his fellows and of explaining him
to himself. It may be called the most significant of the arts,
because every one of us, before we can adjust ourselves to
the social order in which we have to live, must understand
the prejudices and desires of others, and also the opinions
these others hold about the world wherein we dwell. Litera-
ture alone can supply this understanding. The other arts
bring beauty into life and help to make it worth living; but
since mankind came down from the family tree of its arboreal
ancestors, it is Literature which has made life possible. It
is the swiftest and the surest aid to a wide understanding of
others and to a deep understanding of ourselves. It gives
us not only knowledge but wisdom; and thereby it helps to
free us from vain imaginings as to our own importance.
Ignorance is always conceited, since it never knows that it
knows nothing; and even knowledge may be puffed up on
occasion, since it knows that it knows many things; but
wisdom is devoid of illusion, since it knows how little it ever
can know.

The poet Blake declared that we never know enough un-
less we know more than enough; and who of us is ever likely
to attain to that altitude of comprehension? After all, even
the most protracted investigation of fact and the most inces-
sant meditation on truth must be circumscribed by the brief
radius of human knowledge. What are threescore years and
ten? What is a century even? And as time pulses by, ever
quickening its pace, we are often tempted to echo Lowell's
envious ejaculation, "What a lucky dog Methuselah was!
Nothing to know, and nine hundred years to learn it in!"

If Literature is the most venerable of the arts, and if it
is the most significant, it should be approached with the out-
ward signs of reverence. When we stand up here to discuss
it, to declare its importance and to consider its purpose, it
is fit that we robe ourselves in stately academic costume


and don gown and hood, that the noble theme may be dealt
with in all outward respect. Buffon was so possessed by
the dignity of letters that he put on his richest garb, with
lace ruffles and gem-studded sword, before he sat him down
at his desk to labor at his monumental work; and Machiavelli
also arrayed himself "in royal, courtly garments," and thus
worthily attired he made his ''entrance into the ancient
courts of the men of old."

But this lordly approach is not imperative, for Literature,
lofty as it may be at times, is not remote a^id austere. At
its best it is friendly and intimate. It is not for holidays
only and occasions of state; it is for everyday use. It is
not for the wise and the learned only, but for all sorts and
conditions of men. It provides the simple ballad and the
casual folk-tale that live by word of mouth, generation after
generation, on the lonely hillside; and it proffers also the
soul-searching tragedy which grips the masses in the densely
crowded city. It has its message for every one, old and
young, rich and poor, educated and ignorant; and it is su-
preme only as it succeeds in widening its invitation to include
us all. At one time it brings words of cheer to the weak
and the downhearted; and at another it stirs the strong
like the blare of the bugle. It has as many aspects as the
public has many minds. It is sometimes to be recovered
only by diligent scholarship out of the dust of the ages;
and it is sometimes to be discovered amid the fleeting words
lavishly poured out in the books of the hour, in the maga-
zines, and even in the daily journals. It may be born of a
chance occasion and yet be worthy to survive through the
long ages — the Gettysburg address, for example, and the

Literature is now what it was in the past, and it will be
in the future what it is now, infinitely various and unend-
ingly interesting. We can venture to project the curve of


its advance in the years to come only after we have grasped
what it is to-day; and we can perceive clearly its full mean-
ing in our own time only after we have acquainted ourselves
with its manifold manifestations in the centuries that are
gone. True it is that Literature is the result of individual
effort and that its sublimest achievements are due to single
genius; and yet it is racial also, and it is always stamped
with the seal of nationality, which is the sum total of myriads
of individuals. Literature is ever marked with the image
and superscription of the people whose ideas it expressed
and whose emotions it voiced. Races struggle upwards and
estabhsh themselves for a little while and then sink back
helpless; mighty empires rise and fall, one after another,
each believing itself to be destined to endure; and it is mainly
by the Literature they may chance to leave behind them
that they are rescued from oblivion. What do we really
know about Assyria and about Babylon? Where are the
cities of old time? Why is it that we can see Sparta only
vaguely, while Athens towers aloft in outline we all recognize?
The massive monuments of Egypt persist through thousands
of years, but the souls of the dwellers in the valley of the
Nile are not known to us as we know the souls of the Hebrews,
whom they took captive, and whose sacred books reveal to
us their uplifting aspirations and their unattained ideals.
We can extract not a httle Ught from the laws of Rome, but
not so much as we can derive from the lighter writings of
the Latins; and the code which is known as the novels of Jus-
tinian does not afford us as much illumination as the realistic
fiction of Petronius. The many ruins of Rome are restored
for us and peopled again with Hving men and women, only
when we read the speeches of Cicero, the lyrics of Horace,
and the letters of Pliny.

It is not in the barren annals of a nation that we can most
readily discover the soul of a race. Rather is it in those
lesser works of the several arts in which the men of old


revealed themselves unconsciously and yet amply. The
records of the historians and the codes of the lawgivers are
assuredly not to be neglected, but they are not more signifi-
cant than the unpretending efforts of forgotten artists, the
painters of the Greek vases, for instance, and the molders of
the Tanagra figurines. The idyls of Theocritus are not less
illuminating than the orations of Demosthenes or the trage-
dies of ^schylus.

^ Literature is precious for its own sake, but it has ever an
added value from the light it cannot help casting on the
manners and customs which disclose the indurated charac-
teristics of a people. The unmistakable flavor of the Middle
Ages lurks in the etherialized lyrics of the German minne-
singers no less than in the more mimdane fabUaux of the
French satirists. We cannot open a book, even if it shelters
only evanescent fiction, aiming solely to amuse an idle hour,
without opening also a window on a civilization unlike any
other; and he would be a traveler of marvelous ability who
could make us as intimately acquainted with the simple
rustics of the Black Forest, with the primitive peasants of
Sicily, or with the deserted spinsters of New England, as we
find ourselves after we have read a volume or two by Auer-
bach, by Verga, or by Miss Wilkins. Some of us there are
who love Literature all the more because it can catch for
us this local color, fixed once for all, and because it can pre-
serve for us this flavor of the soil, this intimate essence of a
special place and of a special period.

"The real fiterature of an epoch," Renan declared, "is
that which paints and expresses it," and such is the real Lit-
erature of a race also. Perhaps the epoch is most completely
painted and expressed when the author is interpreting the
life that is seething about him, dealing directly with what he
knows best, as Plautus has preserved for us the very aroma
of the teeming tenements of the Latin metropoUs, as Moliere
has limned for us the "best society" of France under Louis


XIV, and as Mark Twain has set before us the simple ways
of the Mississippi river-folk. But, after all, this does not
matter much; and even if a writer is handling a theme re-
mote from his own experience, he is still painting his own
epoch and expressing his own race, although he may not be
aware of it. Whatever ineffectual effort he may make, no
man can step off his shadow. However violently he seeks to
escape, he is held fast by his heredity and his environment.
"Hamlet" is a tale of Denmark, "Romeo and Juhet" is a tale
of Italy, and "Julius Caesar" is a tale of ancient Rome; but
Shakspere himself was an Elizabethan EngUshman, and
these tragic masterpieces of his were possible only in the
sceptered isle set in the silver sea in the spacious days of the
Virgin Queen. Racine borrowed his stories from Euripides,
and he persuaded himself that he had been able to make
Greek drama hve again; but his "PhMre" and his "Andro-
maque" are French none the less, and they are stamped with
the date of the seventeenth century. So absolutely do they
belong to the period and to the place of their author that
Taine insisted that these tragedies of Racine could best be
performed in the court costumes and in the full-bottomed
wigs of the reign of Louis XIV, since only thus could they
completely justify themselves.

This intimate essence of nationahty is evident not only in
the thoughts that sustain the work of the artist and in the
emotions by which he moves us, it may be discovered also in
his style, in his use of words to phrase his thoughts and to
voice his emotion, in the pattern of his composition, and in
the rhythm of his sentences. The way in which he links
paragraph to paragraph may lead us back to his birthplace
and the stock from which he sprang. We can catch the ac-
cent of his ancestors in the rise and fall of his periods, and
sometimes it seems almost as though his many forefathers
were making use of him as their amanuensis.


Consider Shakspere and Bacon, and set them over against
each other. They were contemporary Enghshmen, aUke and
yet unhke, alert and intelHgent, energetic and wise, both of
them, yet with a different wisdom, masters of expression each
in his own fashion, and possessed of the interpreting imagi-
nation. When our attention is called to it, as Mr. Havelock
EHis has lately done, we cannot fail to find that Shakspere
''with his gay extravagance and redundancy, his essential
ideahsm, came of a people that had been changed in char-
acter from the surrounding stock by a Celtic infolding," and
that Bacon "with his instinctive gravity and temperance,
the suppressed ardor of his aspiring intellectual passion, his
temperamental naturalism, was rooted deep in that East
AngUan soil which he had never so much as visited."

To seek to seize these subtler differences, due not so much
to nationality as to provinciality, if the word may be thus
applied, is not to inquire too curiously, for it is to advance
in knowledge and to draw a little nearer to that secret of
genius, which must remain ever the inexplicable result of the
race, the individual, and the opportunity. There is not a
little significance in Mr. Ellis's suggestion that we can per-
ceive in the pages of Hawthorne "a glamor" of which "the
latent aptitude had been handed on by ancestors who dwelt
on the borders of Wales," whereas Renan came from a family
of commingled Gascon and Breton descent, so that "in the
very contour and melody of his style the ancient bards of
Brittany have joined hands with the tribe of Montaigne and
Brantome." It was Comte w^ho declared that "humanity is
always made up of more dead than living."

There is significance also in the fact that the most of the
major writers of Latin Literature were not Romans by birth
and that not a few of them were Spaniards, Seneca for one
and Martial for another. Petronius was possibly a Parisian,
and the mother of Boccaccio was probably a French woman.
It is to be noted also that Rutebceuf , Villon, Regnier, Scarron,


Moliere, Boileau, La Bruyere, Regnard, Voltaire, Beaumar-
chais, Beranger, and Labiche were all of them natives of Paris.
Who can dispute the deduction that certain of the dominant
characteristics of French literature may be due to the cir-
cumstance that so many of its leaders were bom in the streets
of the city by the Seine ? May not this be one of the causes
of that constant urbanity which is the distinguishing note
of the best French authors ?

That accompUshed scholar, the late Gaston Boissier, did
not hesitate to assert that he wrote not for his fellow-inves-
tigators, but for the general reader. This is what all French
authors have done when they have preserved the true Pari-
sian tradition. They have willingly renounced overt indi-
viduality and they have shrunk from a self-expression which
they could not transmit without the risk of shocking, or at
least of annoying, those to whom they were talking, pen in
hand. They accepted the wholesome restraints of the rules
of Art, which, as M. Faguet has maintained, "are all of them
counsels of perfection, allowing every exception which good
taste will justify, from which it results that the one important
rule is to have good taste." The value of good taste in Lit-
erature will be strikingly revealed to any one who comes
from the profitable pleasure of reading Boissier's "End of
Paganism," with its rich scholarship, its large and penetrating
wisdom, its gentle urbanity, and its ripe ease of style, to take
up Pater's "Plato and Platonism," thin and brittle in its
temper, artificial and affected in its manner, and, in a word,
self-conscious and berouged. Still may we hail France in
the words of the Scotchman Buchanan : —

"At tu, beata Gallia,
Salve, bonarum blanda nutrix artium."

There is ever profit in this effort to seize the potent influ-
ence of heredity and environment, even upon the genius who
may seem at first glance to be the least controlled in the


exuberance of his personality. We have grasped a true
talisman of artistic appreciation when we can compare the
practical common sense and the austere gravity of the Roman
with the inexhaustible curiosity and the open-minded intel-
ligence of the Greek, and when we contrast the restraining
social instinct of the French with the domineering energy
of the English, But however interesting may be this en-
deavor to perceive the race behind the individual, and to
force it to help explain him, there are other ways of seeking
an insight into Literature not less instructive.

We can confine our attention, if we please, to a chosen few
of the greatest writers, the men of an impregnable suprem-
acy. We can neglect the minor writings even of these
masters to center our affections on their acknowledged
masterpieces. We may turn aside from the authors indi-
vidually, however mighty they may be, and from their sev-
eral works, however impressive, to consider the successive
movements which one after the other have changed the
stream of Literature, turning it into new channels and sweep-
ing along almost every man of letters, powerless to with-
stand the current. We may perhaps prefer to abandon the
biographical aspects of Literature to investigate its bio-
logical aspects, and to study out the slow differentiation of
the several Uterary species, history from the oration, for
example, and the drama from the lyric. Or, finally, we may
find interest in tracing the growth of these critical theories
about literary art which have helped and which have hin-
dered the free expansion of the author's genius at one time
or at another. There are many different ways of penetrat-
ing within the open portals of Literature. All of them are
inviting; all of them will lead a student to a garden of de-
light; and which one of them a man may choose will depend
on his answer to the question whether he is more interested
in persons, or in things, or in ideas.

There is unfading joy in a lasting friendship with a great I


writer, whether it is Aristotle, "the master of all that know,"
or Sophocles, who " saw life steadily and saw it whole " ; Dante,
who "wandered through the realms of gloom," or Milton,
the "God-given organ-voice of England." Such a friendship
brings us close to a full mind and to a noble soul. And such a
friendship can be had only in return for loyal service, for a
« strenuous resolve to spare nothing needed for full apprecia-
tion of the master's genius. A friendly familiarity with an
author of cosmopolitan fame can be achieved only by wide
wanderings, to and fro, here and there, in the long centuries
in search of the predecessors whom he followed, the con-
temporaries to whom he addressed his message, and the suc-
cessors who followed the path he had been the first to tread.
Wisely selected, by an honest exercise of our own taste,
a single author may serve as a center of interest for the lov-
ing study of a lifetime. Lowell found that his profound
admiration for Dante pleasantly persuaded him to studies
and explorations of which he httle dreamed when he began.
A desire to understand Moliere will lead an admirer of that
foremost of comic dramatists to investigate the history of
comedy in Greece and Rome, in Spain and Italy, and to trace
out the enduring influence of the great French playwright on
the later comedy of France, England, and Germany; it -mil
also tempt him into unexpected by-paths, whereby he may
acquire information about topics seemingly as remote as the
Jesuit methods of education, as Gassendi's revival of the
atomic theories of Lucretius, and as the practice of medicine
in the seventeenth century.

Closely akin to this devotion to one of the mighty masters
of Literature is the concentration of our interest on a single
literary masterpiece. We may prefer to fill our ears with
"the surge and thunder of the Odyssey" or to recall the
interlinked tales "of the golden prime of good Haroun al
Raschid." We may find ample satisfaction in following the
footsteps of one or another of the largely conceived cos-


mopolitan characters, figures which have won favor far be-
yond the borders of their birthplace. Some of these heroic
strugglers Uve only in the language which they hsped at
first, while others have gone forth to wander from one land,
one literature, one art, that they may tarry awhile in other
lands, other literatures, and other arts.

After all his travels Ulysses abides with his own people;
the gaunt profile of Don Quixote still projects itseK against
the sharp hills of Spain, and Falstaff is at home only in the
little island where he blustered boldly and breezily. But
Faust is a seedling of one soil transplanted into another,
where he struck down deeper roots, only to tower aloft again
in the land of his origin. And Don Juan, the lyrical hero of
a mystical Spanish legend, touched at Italy, before he was
received in France, where he was transformed into the im-
placable portrait of "a great lord who is a wicked man."
And from the French drama "Don Juan" strayed into Enghsh
poetry and into German music; so Faust, born obscurely in
Germany, ventured out from English poetry into German
drama and into French music. It is well for the arts that there
is and always has been free trade in their raw materials, and
that no customhouse can take toll on the ideas which one
nation sends to another to be worked up into finished prod-
ucts. From race to race, from century to century, from art
to art, there is unceasing interchange of intellectual com-
modities; and no inspired statistician can strike the balance
of this international trade whereby men are enabled to
nourish their souls.

Nor are these brave figures the sole travelers whose wan-
derings we may trace from one literature to another, subdu-

Online LibraryColumbia UniversityLectures on literature → online text (page 1 of 34)