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WILLOWS FORGE AND OTHER POEMS
|The Plays. I.||17|
|The Plays. II.||35|
|The Novels. I.||52|
|The Novels. II.||69|
|Galsworthy the Artist||100|
A characteristic of every ageis its group of popular writers.These writers at once concentrateand give out the spirit of their age—theyare representative. Literature has manynames of pioneers and apostles, who wereahead of or out of sympathy with theirtimes, but these were never popular. Thepopular writer is essentially a man whoconforms to his period; it is true that hisconformity must have life and vigour, itmust have nothing in it of the echo or theslave, it may even be disguised rathertransparently as revolt—but whatever enterprisesand excursions he allows himself, heremembers that there are certain bases whichhe must keep, and to which after everyexpedition he must come back. These basesare either the conventional ideas of his time,10or the conventional methods of attackingthem—the two are for such purposes thesame.
So a glance at our most popular modernwriters ought to give us a clue as to thespirit of to-day. But here there is somethingbaffling—we find names as far apartas H. G. Wells and Florence Barclay, ArnoldBennett and Hall Caine. Surely the spiritof the age is not broad enough to includeboth Joseph Conrad and Marie Corelli.This brings us face to face with a moderncomplication: we have two publics. Thespread of education, with other causes, hasbrought into being a mob-public, and theapproved of the mob-public have a popularitywhich could hardly have been realisedtwo generations ago. The most popularwriter of to-day is he whose appeal is to theman in the street, and the largest sales aremade by those who are most successful incatering for this newly enfranchised reader—withwhom literature and art have nothitherto had much truck, but with whom11they will have to reckon more and more astime goes on.
There is, however, a public above thestreet, and this is large and importantenough to allow those who write for it tocall themselves popular. This public grantsits favour on grounds literary as well asemotional--it is not enough to stir its feelings,one must tickle its taste. It is fundamentallythe same as the mob in its ideas,but it is very different in its methods ofcriticism. The mob likes to see its prejudicesupheld, this public above the street—whichis the public that most writers of any“literary” aspiration supply—while holdingthe same prejudices as strongly at heart,rather enjoys seeing them overthrown onpaper. At the same time it demandsartistic quality, reality, and an occasionalshock. While not actually gourmet, it isfastidious in the matter of literary fare,and it is characteristically split up intocliques or smaller publics, each swearingby a particular writer, just as men who12are nice as to food swear by a particularrestaurant. There is a Wells public, differingslightly if not essentially from theBennett public; there is a Kipling public—withdemocratic foundations; there is aConrad public, and a Galsworthy public—andthe Galsworthy public is perhaps thesmallest of all.
Indeed Galsworthy can hardly be calleda “popular” writer. I am not using theword in a contemptuous sense, but to describea writer who is widely read. Galsworthywill never be widely read, for healienates two important sets of readers—thosewho insist that a book shall teachthem something, and those who with equalforce insist that it shall teach them nothing.He fails the first class because, while supplyingits demands, he does not satisfy theconditions it imposes. He undoubtedlyhas something to teach, but he avoids thedirect appeal, which is what the publicwants. Direct and open championship isthe only way of making a cause popular—let13us be broad-minded, by all means, butagreeing that “there may be something tosay on the other side” is very different fromfinding out what that something is, andsaying it. Also he is too sensitive, toomoderate, too well balanced to please the“improvement-above-all-things” reader,whose perceptions are not of the subtlest.
On the other hand, he puts himself out oftouch with those who do not want to betaught, because he undoubtedly has a propaganda,and is not an artist purely for art’ssake. Between himself and the numbers whowould unhesitatingly admire him as a manof letters he raises the barrier of ideas which,while too subtly expressed to satisfy those whoclamour for instruction, are quite decidedenough to cut off those who object to it.
Thus Galsworthy’s public is whittled downto those who either are in sympathy withhis aims and methods—and there must befew who understand both—or are able toswallow a small amount of propaganda forthe sake of art. He sets out to write14deliberately for no man—he does not recruithis readers, they are volunteers. Theycome to him from widely different camps,and concentrate in an admiration which isperhaps as full of reserves as its object.
He has deliberately rejected all public-snatchingtricks, revealing his personalityin his work alone, avoiding the light ofpopular curiosity and journalistic enterprise.He has treated his private life as hisown concern, not as a bait for readers. Ajudicious use of his own personality andprivate affairs is, broadly speaking, indispensableto the seeker after popularity.Galsworthy, by disliking this, has necessarilylimited his public to those who read himfor his work’s sake.
In the bare facts of his life that he choosesto give we shall find nothing so interestingas what we find in his books and plays.Born in 1867, at Coombe in Surrey, he waseducated at Harrow and at Oxford. He wascalled to the Bar in 1890, but practisedvery little.
15He has travelled a great deal, and widely—Americaand Egypt, Canada and theCape, British Columbia and Australia,Russia and the Fiji Islands. It was on thesailing ship which carried him from Adelaideto South Africa twenty-two years ago thathe made friends with a sailor who now, asJoseph Conrad, has a fame equal to Galsworthy’sown. It is remarkable that, inspite of these wide wanderings, his playsand novels should almost invariably havean English background. Seldom, if ever,does he go afield, and then it is only tosome place more or less known to everyone,such as Austria in Villa Rubein, The DarkFlower, and The Little Dream. He has never,like Conrad, given us the fruit of his voyagingson the far seas, or his tracks overRussian and Canadian plains.
Perhaps this may be due to the fact thatno matter how far he may have wandered,his roots are English. Though born inSurrey, he is a Devon man. Galsworthy isof course a well-known Devon name, and16for many years now he has lived in Devon,on the eastern rim of Dartmoor.
Again and again he gives Devon to us—thereis A Man of Devon, with its tenderfreshness of the Devon soil sweetening thestrength of Devon hardihood; there is A Bito’ Love, with its living and poetic conceptionof Place; and there is The Patrician, with allthe breadth of the moors in contrast withthe littleness of human passion and humanreasoning. Again, too, in Riding in Mist, wehave a picture of a mood of the Devon torswhich has seldom been equalled and neversurpassed. Also his Moods, Songs andDoggerels is full of the county, its scenery, itsmen and women, its dialect, its rains, its“heather gipsy” wind. Though Galsworthyis certainly not an interpreter of place, thoughhis great novels and plays deal with themysteries of human nature rather than withlocal subtleties—and the atmosphere he shedsover his work is general rather than particular,the spirit rather than the ghost—one feelsthat Devon is the background of his dreams.
Galsworthy takes his place inmodern literature chiefly by virtueof his plays. Criticism may to acertain extent damage him as a novelist,but the most searching critics cannot leavehim anything less than a great playwright.His talents are specially adapted to thedramatic form, which at the same time doesmuch to veil his weak points. His masteryof technique nowhere shows to greater advantagethan on the stage, nor has he betterscope for his true sense of situation; on theother hand, the stage is a legitimate fieldfor propaganda, and the occasional failureof the human interest in his work can bemade good by the ability of the actor.
For Galsworthy’s plays have the advantageof acting well—unlike much literary18drama, they are as effective on the stage asin the study; in fact, they gain by acting,because, as I said, he has a tendency nowand then to subordinate the human interestto the moral, and this the actor can makegood.
He stands midway between the purelyliterary and the purely popular playwright,and he also occupies middle ground betweendrama which is entirely for instructionand that which is for amusement only.Poles apart on one hand from the lightcomedies of H. H. Davies and SomersetMaugham, he has very little in commonwith stage preachers such as Shaw andBarker. More polished and more subtlethan Houghton, he is less clear-eyed andheroic than Masefield. Undoubtedly hismost striking quality as a dramatist is hissense of form