The Achievement of F. R. Leavis
G. Singh

THERE NO GREAT POETRY, there are only IS great poets, said John Sparrow, the late f Warden o All Souls, in his British Acadf emy lecture on “The Idea o Great Poetry” (1958). Looking back on Dr. F.R. Leavis’s life, achievement, and character, one can say that “there is no great criticism; there are only great critics.” Leavis was such a critic, just as Dr. Johnson, Coleridge, and Arnold were-a great critic who was, like great writers, according to Leavis himself, also a great man. His commitment to literature and literary criticism went far beyond what is merely professional or academic; it was f both moral and spiritual, a way o living as well as of thinking. He could have said with Henry James: “I urn damned critical-for it’s the only thing to be, and all else is damned humbug.” This explains the fervor, the intensity, and the depth and sincerity behind everything Leavis wrote or argued about. It was a commitf ment the nature o which both Leavis and his wife identified in their dedication o their Dickens book: “We dedicate this f f book to each other as proof ...o forty f years and more o daily collaboration in f living, university teaching, discussion o G. SINGH edited two posthumously p u b has lished volumes by I;: R. Leauis and three by Q. D. Leauis. He is also the author of F. R. Leavis: A Literary Biography (1995).
Modem Age

literature and the social and cultural context from which literature is born.” Such dedication is rare in any critic. In Leavis it was his second nature, something compulsive and overriding, so that criticism for him was, t o use T.S. Eliot’s words, “as inevitable as breathing.” Controversy dogged Leavis all his life, as it continues even after his death, but it did not distract him from his proper job as a critic. And even though he sometimes responded to it-‘‘I am used to being misrepresented, but I am not resigned to it”-it neither diminished his stature nor impaired his vision or authority as a critic. As the century draws to its close, in any objective and dispassionate stocktaking Leavis’s figure will be seen to emerge over and above any other twentiethcentury critic-leaving aside f the criticism o the three creative writers-Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, and T.S. Eliot. Already in his lifetime, Leavis’s critical revaluations, placings, and determinations-once regarded as heretical and revolutionary-had come to acquire orthodox currency. Establishing what conf stituted the majorness o the major writf ers o this century-Hardy and Yeats f (but only on the basis o not more than f half adozen poems o theirs), Pound (but f solely as the author o Hugh Selwyn Muuberley), the Joyce of Ulysses, D.H.
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Forster.S. not merely a fuller-bodied response. One aspect of the modern technologico-Benthamite civilization he lost no opportunity of castigating was the inordinate influence the mass media exercised. attacked not so much what he wrote. Leavis neither followed nor founded any theory or schoolof criticism. Eliot. f bloated reputations as the Joyce o Work in Progress. Henry James. not to ‘think about’ and judge but to ‘feel into’ or ‘become’-to realize a complex experience that is given in words. according t o him. Leavis comes very close.M. Lawrence: Novelist (1 953. o course. and would have fully agreed with T. that in criticism the only method is to be very intelligent-and. as what he was.” the ideal critic being the ideal reader. and at the same time-an inevitable corollarydebunking such. and “the journalistic f addiction o our intellectuals-and journalism (in one form or another). E. Leavis’s writings gave a new force. However. In his celf ebrated reply t o criticisms o his book Revaluation by Rene Wellek. that the “reading demanded by poetry is of a different kind from that demanded by a philosopher. f and took the interpretation and evaluaf tion o a poem. Snowthese were the tasks Leavis set himself as a critic. in some of his essays. From the outset-his own Ph. in principle.Lawrence.” “new criticism. Dickens the Novelist(l970. but a completer responsiveness”-a responsiveness that is incompatible with the judicial oneeye-on-thestandard-approach suggested by Dr. Virf ginia Woolf. at least to characterizing the way he read and analyzed poetry. Revaluation (1936). The Common Pursuit (1952). beyond scholastic exegesis on the one hand. The Great Tradition (1948). and The Living Principle (1975). “is now the menacing disease of university ‘English. and what h e stood for.together with Q. who chose to ignore o r misrepresent the critical revolution Leavis brought about through Scrutiny.” meant nothing more and nothing less to Leavis than criticism in practice-criticism achieved through analytical sublety.” f Practical examples o this kind of reading. the Pound of the Cantos. This brought about what one might f call the general anti-Leavis stance o the reviewers in newspapers and weekly periodicals.”’It is such intellectuals-or “intellectuals without intellect. developed the technique o reading a novel as a dramatic poem. H. Leavis). as well as the analysis of what is creative about its style and language. He was.D.P. if not t o defining or formulating his theory or method of criticism. thesis at Cambridge being on the relation of journalism to literature-Leavis was conscious of the difference not only between the two. In so doing h e was solely motivated by his belief in the value and importance of literary criticism no less than f in the value o creative writing itself-the two being essentially linked. of Fall 1998 . Day Lewis. and philosophy. Leavis might have added.” “practical criticism. They demand.” as h e would call them-who.” that “philosophy is abstract and poetry concrete. C. but also between the journalism of the Sunday papers and literary criticism properly so called. philology. as well as through his epoch-making booksNew Bearings in English Poetry (1932). Leavis tells f him that by the critic o poetry he understands “the complete reader. D. C .” and that “words in poetry invite us. analyzing and evaluating poetry are Leavis’s comments on Act I. and linguistics on the other. Auden. what he believed. D.” he noted. a new significance and a new relevance t o f literary criticism asa discipline o thought 398 and sensibility. very mature. Wellek‘s phrase: “your ‘norm’with which you measure every poet. delicacy and perceptiveness while reading a poem or a novel. against any theory or methodology. Scene VI. in reviewing Leavis’s books. Conrad. and. Terms such as “close criticism.

Lawrence’s Women in Love. on the “criticism of life. It can be read afresh every year with unaffected pleasure and new stimulus. Leavis invariably displays that masterly grip on the complexity o f the issues raised by aparticular novel.S. no inlet being perceptible. it always subserved a larger and more important scope-that of placing and evaluating the poem or the novel in question. D.H. Prelude.and 7’heSecretAgent.” If Dickens and George Eliot were the nineteenth-century s u c c e s s o r s of Modern Age Shakespeare. is considered to belong to “‘the living classics’. Macbeth’s speech which opens scene VI1 of Act I.’’Leavis analyzes the secret of the vigor and the weight of Johnson’s critical writings as residing in “a powerful mind and a profoundly serious nature. passages from Dunciad. Middlemarch. In criticizing other critics.Pound’s Hugh SelwynMauberley. Hard Times. also informs his essays on the classical English critics-Johnson. D. or dramatically enacted by a particular character-in other words. The promptings of true spontaneity-those. and Daniel Deronda. And this. In the field of the novel. Eliot.”society. and Little Dorrit.” “Byzantium.. which corroborates the truth of his own proposition that in the Victorian age “the poetic f strength o the language goes into the novel. Donne’s “The Sun Rising’’. Matthew Ar n o 1d ’s s o n n e t “Shakespear e”. Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo. Leavis’s celebrated critiques are based on the “close reading” of Dickens’s Dombey and Son. Lawrence).268).” and that “the great novelists are the successors of Shakespeare. The Europeans. Close analytical and evaluative criticism that determines the tone and the f substance o Leavis’s essays on the poets.. for instance.and Four Quartets. among other things.H.H. novelists. George Eliot’s Romola. and The Captain’s Doll.andin Italian-Montale’s Xenia. Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium. Hardy’s “After a Journey”. D. Leavis sifted what was historically important in their work from what is intrinsically and permanently so. too. Victory. and from Dickens to D. “compares the individual life to a mountain tarn that is fed from below. Ash Wednesday. analysis of style.S.H. is because o his disciplined literary and f critical sensitivity to the novelists’ cref ative use o the language. Matthew Arnold-or on modern critics such as Henry James.” and “AmongSchool Children”. and the Zeitgeist implicit in the novel-as a result of which his reading of the novels achieves a better criticism and a better history of the social and cultural milieu in which the novel f was written than any historian o that period. in contrast with Dryden’s.” Macbeth. which ‘it is the hardest thing in the world’ to learn how to draw from.Eliot’s The WasteLand. Lawrence. and Excursion as well as The Ruined Cottage. in which the creativity of an artist is manifested-come from the hidden source. The Rainbow. and What Maisie Knew. Lawrence was the twentiethcentury successor-Lawrence each of whose great novels is “a comprehensive and intensely ‘engaged’ study of modern civilization. for instance.. and evaluated it in terms of the criteria habitually embodied in his own criticism. language. Bk IV. 1. It is alive and life-giving. Coleridge. Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. the passage with which Milton’s description ofthe Garden of Eden closes (Paradise Lost.” and resulting from “bringing to bear at every point the ordered experi399 .” In tackling such novels Leavis’s own style and language attain that psychological and creative f sublety and perceptivity in the use o language that he attributes t o Lawrence. In such critiques. Eliot. and prose writers (from Milton to T.” However. and T. Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. Hopkins’s The Wreck of the Deutschland.and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Lawrence. and imagery was never undertaken by Leavis for its own sake. Johnson’s criticism. Leavis tells us.

“thereis nowhere in Coleridge anything more impressive to be found than this. “they are not the less limitations. he actually achieved in the field o literary criticism. and seriously disabling ones. and what.’ it is impossible not to recognize that we have to do with an extraordinarily distinguished mind in complete possession of its purpose and pursuing it with easy mastery-that.” argues how the latter expresses “an intention directly counter t o the tendency that finds its consummation in ‘Art for Art’s sake. It is. with his psychological inwardness. “Aestheticism was not a modf ern development: the nature o the trend from Keats through Tennyson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti was. so that. instead of saying with Eliot that Pater’s doctrine of “Art for Art’s sake” is the offspring of Arnold’s “criticism of life. even in the best places. according to Leavis. . for instance. As to Arnold’s “best-known tag” from this essay-“critif cism o life”-Leavis. as Leavis as a literary critic-cum-literary historian points out. represents the best that criticism can d o before Coleridge.” Leavis interprets Arnold’s “criticism of life” in a way that throws light on his own critical principles and criteria.” which Coleridge undoubtedly possessed. as Leavis points out. even in Arnold’s midcareer.” In chapter XIV of Biographia 400 Literaria. “what starts out as inthesynopsis ofBiographia Literaria-the disorderliness.” which. as. nothing of his deserves the classical status of Arnold’s best work-a judgement a t o d d s with T. as some o the passages Leavis quotes f to illustrate. in the “famous”opening. But it can besaid that Johnson.” In dealing with Matthew Arnold-in many respects the critic most akin to him-Leavis observes that when we read f Arnold’s classical essay “‘The Study o Poetry.” Coleridge’s “darling studies.ence o a lifetime. and in a sense the best. when. Nevertheless Coleridge had the capacity..” However. Leavis emphasizes the discrepancy between “a rarely gifted mind.” even though the essay “dates” in various ways. even though such limitations have their “positive correlatives. we are reading a great critic. “We make (Arnold insists) our major judgements about poetry by bringing t o b e a r the completest and profoundest sense of relative value that. Leavis arrives at an admirably balanced f view o Johnson’s achievement as a critic: “The subtlety of analysis that Coleridge. Fall 1998 . Leavis tells us. Arnold suggests that religion is going to be replaced by poetry. is to bring into criticism is not at Johnson’s command.S. with the rational vigour and the directf ness o its appeal to experience. in fact. his “metaphysics. as distinguished from his “philosophy of art.” In Coleridge’s own case. fall outside the range of the literary critic. Coleridge is seen to be at his best in his analytic evaluation and interf pretation o Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis and Lucrece.” In discussing Johnson’svirtues and limitations.”’ For. not unapparent to the critic who passed judgement on the Great Romantics. the lack of all organization or sustained develop ment: locally too. for “a kind of sensitive analytic penetration such as will hardly be found in any earlier critic. Eliot’s claiming Coleridge as “perhaps the greatest of English critics.” Why he could not bring this capacity to fruition is analyzed by Leavis in a way that demonstrates his own capacity for “sensitive analytic penetration” as well as for critical evaluation.” Equally penetrating f are Leavis’s comments on Johnson’s limitations.” his theoretical criticism.” And though he was “much more brilliantly gifted than Arnold. he fails t o bring his thoughts to a sharp edge and seems too content with easy expression. with his f gifts.” One limitation is Johnson’s “ c e n s u r e of Shakespeare’s indifference to poetic justice and Shakespeare’s general carelessness about the duty to instruct. poetry and facts of the mind.

“attitudes of disgust and fear and 401 . the author of Madame Bouary) is a default o f intelligence about life. one of disgust.” Hence the Leavisian exposition of what Arnold meant by the famous phrase “criticism of life” sums u p his own critical philosophy and valuation as well as the grounds for his belief that “thejudgements the literary critic is concerned with are judgements about life”and that the study of literature is the best means of improving one’s capacity for living-a belief that is central t o Leavis’s writings and to Scrutiny. we can focus f from our total experience o life (which includes literature). and possessed and practiced with notable success the more positive values he attributed to Arnold: “a belief in keeping in sensitive touch with the concrete and an accompanying gift for implicit definition-virtues that prove adequate to the sure and easy managef ment o matured argument and are. Arnold. and our judgement has intimate bearings on the most serious choices we have to make thereafter in our living. especially those concerning the theme of “morality” in art visa-vis Maupassant.”’ For Leavis. Eliot as a Critic”) is his sense of contemporaneitywith Eliot f and the particular kind o indebtedness on Leavis’s part that that entailed. and could not but bring home t o his readers that “there is no eliminating Modern Age and no escaping the appeal o life. and James from his critiques of Eliot (in “T.” Coming to Henry James-“a great Victorian Anglo-Saxon”-Leavis justifies his place among the classical critics by virtue of his essential value-judgements. presents a gentleman”. Coleridge. Yet. “irretrievably an Anglo-Saxon.” Hence James could f not help pointing out that Maupassant “never.S. according to Leavis. Johnson’s Vanity o f Human Wishes and London. occasioned in Hamlet by his mother”.” Nevertheless he found certain ideas. direct. in the score of values.” which constitutes its “intractability” for Eliot just as the “disgust” of Hamlet does. Hence. including the “Introductory Essay” on Dr.” could not but ask questions about the f value and significance o the perfectly done.”but also “decidedly f more o a critic than the Sainte-Beuve to whom he so deferred. Flaubert. profound and delicate treatment of sex. accounts for Leavis’s considering Arnold not only “compellingly alive.’ aided by the work judged. as we see them in Arnold. Johnson. Maupassant also considered art to be an absolute or ultimate. Leavis had nothing but praise for Eliot’s early essays. howf ever much one may suppose oneself to believe in the ultimateness or selfsufficiency o art. and valuations in those essays “put into currency by Eliot to be arbitrary. attitudes. his bracketing Measure forMeasure with Hamlet as an “‘artistic failure’ dealing with ‘intractable material. that the default o intellif gence in the artist as artist (uiz. Thus. and James.” Among other things which distinguish Leavis’s critiques of Dr. his reducing f the tragedy o Hamlet “to a matter of an ’ inexpressible emotional state.” For instance.” This. which he considered to be one of Eliot’s finf est-“in fact a model o critical writing. and Balzac. for all the defects and limitations Leavis found in Arnold’s The Study o f Poetryfor instance the lack o the “gift for conf sistency and definition”-Leavis was closer in spirit to Arnold than to Coleridge or Johnson. in part. Measure forMeasureis “awonderfully sure. Eliot’s fundamental defect as a critic is this negative attitude towards life. essentially those of a literary critic. A disciple of Flaubert. neither the sense of contemporaneity nor that of indebtedness prevented him from making searching criticisms of Eliot as critic. Eliot’s doctrine o f impersonality and o the separation in an f artist between “the man who suffers and the mind which creates”.that for all its populousness Balzac’s world struck him “as dauntingly empty.

that determines expression-tyrannically. and consequently a defeat of intelligence. . Eliot’s performance is judged t o be “consistently disastrous”. a master of English prose. exemplifies Eliot’s weakness in value judgement. novelists and writers. and.. Here are some examples: 402 In Shakespeare’s mature plays.. A disciplined limiting of contemplation to the endurable.itis the burden to be delivered. his considering David Garnett as a “significant writer. the kind of activity of inner response and discipline by f which we take possession o the created f work.. Which is what Arnold meant by saying. held with a passionate conviction and disinterested zeal. There is no such thing as neutral possession.” Leavis’s belief in the importance of critical value judgements was the inevitable consequence of his belief in significant art and how “it challenges us in the most disturbing and inescapable way to a radical pondering. became terrible necessities for him. that play a part o which h e is f not properly conscious.rejection..and their works-pronouncements which enable us to see them in a new light. And for Leavis the rightness and perceptiveness of one’s own valuejudgements is the hallmark of a literary critic. . is essentially the kind o activity that completes itself in full explicit value judgements. The pain with which his [Keats’s] heart aches (in “Ode to a Nightingale”) is not that of a moral maturity. in the Cantos.”’ It is such a belief. from a new angle. his dismissing Lawrence. belonged to a community and to a culture. if not a philosophy. but only in the way that he says it.we can’t help telling ourselves as we reflect on the nature of the power of his masterpiece. . The process. for that matter. of a disenchanted wisdom born of a steady contemplation of things as they are. He [Wordsworth]had. That i s Shakespeare’s greatness: the complete subjection-subjugation-of the medium to the uncompromising complex and delicate need that uses it.” All this. Hopkins embraces transience as a necessary condition of any grasp of the real. .that literature is to be judged as ‘criticism of life.his wit is metaphysical as well as Augustan.” and his sense of responsibility for human distress and his generously active sympathies had involved him in emotional disasters that threatened his hold on life. for instance. according to Leavis. as. awisdom to communicate.. like his art. o the grounds of our most imf portant determinations and choices. Pound says. a withdrawal to a reassuring environment.They portend f a radical failure o wholeness and coherence in him. and in a new perspective. and he can be at once polite and profound. “Any reading of a poem. Bunyan’s religion.” his stating that “he is not interested in what. Pope is as much the last poet of the seventeenth century as the first of the eighteenth. The Victorian-romantic addicts o beauty f and transience cherish the pang as a kind o religiose-poetic sanction for defeatism f in the face of an alien actual world-a d e featism offering itself as a spiritual superiority. the precise and urgent command from within.-and. And the man. . a culture that certainly could not be divined from his theology. too. consequently. a new profound realization. it is itself a luxury. How much of the fully achieved thing i s there in Yeats’s oeuure-what proportion Fall 1998 .His heart was far from “unoccupiedby sorrow of its own.. his backing Joyce and Wyndham Lewis.” Leavis tells us. that gave life and authority to Leavis’s key pronouncements on various poets.” f As a judge o modern poetry.. comes from the whole man.. his overestimate of Virginia Woolf. of a novel f as well-“involves an element o implicit valuation. Milton invented a medium the distinction of which is to have denied itself the life of the living language. and especiallyin thelaterplays.

H.. even at its most drastic and severe. behind what he manages to convey so succinctly. it did not follow that his critics. Eliot [in The Waste Land] attains a compression.By means of such references and quotations Mr. orders of experience. Leavis said: “The unanswerableness is the ‘cruelty’ and is what has wounded Snow... a compression approaching simultaneity-the co-presence in the mind of a number of different orientations.P. and linguistic methods and approaches had little use for one who firmly believed in Modem Age the “personal” nature of a judgement.” he would say.. For instance.” “A Broken Ap p o i nt ment . Snow.” Both in his books and in his Scrutiny reviews and articles.Mr.S. prove. A judgement.”“Aftera Journey. .of the wholly created poem that stands there unequivocally in its own right.. in their apparent looseness and carelessness. Lawrence says: “A critic must be emotionally alive in every fibre.” ” “ The rhythms [in Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberfey].. But if Leavis had no such animus accompanying his criticism. he would say. It would have been less ‘cruel’ if it had been accompanied. where he never achieved a full professorship and was made a Reader only in the last two years. “iseither personal or it is nothing. lay the force of his critical convictions rooted in firsthand experience and insight.. that is essential to his aim. Eliot] is as close to the contemporary world as any novelist could be. Leavis had much to say and he said it with characteristic force and frankness. Th e Se 1f Unseeing.” “DuringWind and Rain. as it is not.otherwise unattainable. in explaining the whole drift and ethos of his critical scope and procedure. “is never to commit oneself to any critical judgement that makes an impact-that is. you cannot take over someone else’s. and then morally very honest”-and what Pound says: “If a man is not ready t o take any risk for his ideas. concerning the charge of cruelty and the destructive “attack” against Sir C. Courage and integrity were the hallmarks of Leavis both as a critic and as a man who would have wholeheartedly endorsed both what D. f It is a tribute to Leavis’s powers o style as well as of critical thought and perception in their concreteness and concentratedness that such pithy comments can sum up with such dramatic aptness the merits and qualities of a particular poet or poem. too.. philosophical. Mr.. would be free from it-critics who did not so much 403 . intellectually capable and skilful in essential logic. Academic. are marvels of subtlety: “out of key with his times” is being said everywhere by strict rhythmic means. Pound‘s standing as a poet rests upon it.” No wonder this gave his critical reasoning and conclusions the air of dogmatic categoricalness. was never tainted by such an animus. selfsufficient? I have in mind the period of his work in which he challenges us to think of him as a major poet. never to say anything. but the Johnsonian phrase “not dogmatically but deliberately” served him.”“TheVoice. “The only way to escape misrepre sentation. The poet [T. Any real claim he [Thomas Hardy] may have to major status rests upon half a dozen poems alone: “Neutral Tones. and it rests securely. at once traditional and original.” As the numerous hurdles in his academic career at Cambridge. either his ideas are worth nothing o r he is worth nothing.[FourQuartets is a] tour-de-force of disciplined thinking.The whole [Hugh Selwyn Mauberley] is great poetry. And it seems to me that the proportion is not large. by the animus that impels the intention t o hurt. Pound’s regeneration of poetic idiom is more than a matter of using modern colloquial speech. too... But behind the efficacy of Leavis’s style and idiom. fundamental attitudes. Leavis did take many such risks.” Leavis’s criticism.

” “ramshackle use o language.” namely. he contemplated. and simplistically paraphrased ita paraphrase where the subtlety and f cogency o Leavis’s reasoning disappears and what remains is an inert. at anyrateof university quality. almost overnight.. in England.” “nervous f f f mannerisms o style. The proper standard can be maintained only if the students the university is required to deal with are-for the most part. o Hemingway as a great writer. “the nightmare of the intensification of what Matthew Arnold feared. and what he stood for.the more insidious becomes the menace to standards and the more potent and unashamed t h e animus against them. and showed his astonishment at American academics writing on novels from Jane Austen to D. Melville. Conrad.. Henry James.” Still another misrepresentation Leavis suffered from all his life concerned his English style.” One critic compared his f f English to “athird former’s translation o Cicero”.” he was accused o being f anti-American. what he had written.H. even though he had written with critical acumen and insight on Mark f Twain and T. interpreted f the general acceptance. So closely tied u p Leavis’s thought process is with his style that it is impossible Fall 1998 .” thereby debasing ”research.” Looking around as he saw the upsurge of the democratic mass university in the seventies he realized that already there was no redeeming it-there was no redeeming it because. Hawthorne. skeletal account of what Leavis was conveying. and.attack him. as well as about f “The Americanness o American Literature. Lawrence with “utter insensitiveness t o those refinements of perception. as misrepresent it.” against the unif versities “turning out hordes o ‘substandard’ would-be researchers.H. and when he sug404 gested that “neither democratic zeal nor egalitarian jealousies should be permitted to dismiss or discredit the fact that only alimited portion of any young adults is capable of profiting by. and James) “carryf ing with it the promise o a robust continuing life” and suggested that “in Jane Austen. For instance. the Ezra Pound o Hugh Selwyn Mauberley. ceased to believe in its own assumptions and recoils nihilistically from itself . And this because. Leavis prophetically foresaw.” The more you extend higher education. as he calls it. when h e protested against “the transition from quality to quantity in education. Dickens. H e was accused of being both elitist and anti-democratic. as he wrote just four years before his death. university education.S. Melville. He was frequently accused o “clumsiness o expression. and D. Eliot. “and especially in an age of technological aids and open universities . or enjoying. as a sign of f the collapse o standards.” A reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement quoted a long sentence from Leavis’s comment on Milton’s influence in the nineteenth century. another described it as “cokelike in its roughness and chill”. George Eliot. “the civilization it represents has. If standards are not maintained somewhere the whole community is let down. valuation and interest which imply the collaboratively created human reality they depend on. distinction. Lawrence we have the successors o f Shakespeare. voided of which the novelist’s theme becomes a mere opportunity for such gratuitousf ness o ‘interpretation’as the critic’s need to be original may prompt him (or her) to contrive. and still another blamed him for his “imprecise prose and bad temper.”and against the accelerating drift of Americanization leading us headlong towards the Comprehensive University.” where he referred to the “American c e n t r a1 tradition ” (Cooper . the danger of England becoming a greater Holland or a little America. among other things. Hawthorne.” Another misrepresentation concerned Leavis’s views on university education.

E. is not a virtue but a duty. It is f ironic that with all his “sensitizing familf iaritywith the subtleties o language. and D. It was so with Dr. Leavis’s reaction was: “I am not going t o attempt that kind of paraphrase for the American or any other reader. How could Leavis’s criticism. Johnson. of society. Leavis should be considered incapable of writing “good English. When Leavis’s book on Lawrencewas being published in America by Knopf.t o improve upon or modify his English without blunting the edge and losing the characteristic nuance of irony and the sophisticated subtlety of intellectual statement.” A critic of life as well as of literature. George Eliot.” as well as of university education. But so is fidelity to one’s own thought in all its subtlety and complexity. couched in a “ramshackle. There I stand and. as Luther said. if those who bought them could not easily make out what he was saying? Clarity of expression. and of what he called “certain menacing characteristics of our civilization. There is no important critic who did not have such a style-the personal quality and peculiarity of style reflecting the individuality and independence o his f mind and thought. pregnant.” Those who accused Leavis of the obscurity and incomprehensibility of his English should have asked themselves some very simple questions-and they. and the insight into the relations between abstract or generalising thought and the f concrete o human experience” acquired through a long and assiduous frequentation of such masters of prose as Dickens.” “convoluted. but then we need to find some other name for him and to call him more than a critic. while dismissing his Two Cultures? The Significance of C. Leavis may be said to have worn in this f century the mantle o Matthew Arnold. Snow (1962).R. and she says it would give no trouble to anyone who can read the book. Leavis (my severest critic). and it is so with Leavis whose place is surely with them-and not with the cultivators or lovers o elegant English.” Modem Age 405 . if his English had been so bad? And lastly how can one account for the success and f numerous reprints on both sides o the f Atlantic o his books.”as Dame Edith Sitwell. A. of course.E. Lawrence. the publisher’s “stylist” wrote to Leavis suggesting that he clarify a particular sentence in the book. have had the vast impact it had? How could he have been such an effective teacher and such a lively and arresting public lecturer? How could he have given to the English language.P. so many pithy. so that one can say of him what A.’ I tried the sentence on Q.” it is no doubt F. Coleridge. Housman said o Arnold after the latter’s f death: “He leaves men behind him to whom we cannot refuse the name of critic. and Matthew Arnold. Leavis only attacked Snow because he is famous and writes good English.S. Eliot included). more than any other twentiethcentury critic (T.D. did not.H. ‘I can no other. Housman said. and memorable critical maxims and formulations. except Ezra Pound. Leavis-a mind that inevitably creates its own individual style.” and “incomprehensible” English. as John the Baptist was called more than a prophet. clearly implied: “Dr. It’s like being asked f to have a different kind o mind and to f have written a different kind o book. If there is any critic in this century o whom it may be f said that his was “an individual mind.

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