Literary Sketches

Literary Sketches

Literary Sketches by H. S. Salt. Swan, Sonnenschein, Lowey and Co., London, 1888

Mr. Salt has republished, in a neat little volume, some of his literary essays and criticisms which have appeared during the last few years in the monthly magazines, and the book is worth buying to those who take please in an occasional quarter of an hour spent in literary society. Mr. Salt is an appreciative but not a keen critic; he seldom sparkles but he never bores. He appears to prefer criticising the authors whom he loves and for whom he has some amount of enthusiasm, rather than those of whom he might be tempted to say hard things, and, with perhaps one exception, none of the essays before us are written from a hostile point of view. The exception, if it be one, the article on The Tennysonian Philosophy, which appeared in the pages of this magazine in February, 1884, and even then Mr. Salt’s attack is strictly on the Laureates’ views, and not at all on the manner in which he expresses them; for the perfection of which he has nothing but the highest praise. Whilst agreeing generally with Mr. Salt’s estimate of Lord Tennyson’s philosophy, we are not quite sure that he is altogether fair in finding fault with him for making the nurse in The Children’s Hospital say that she could not serve in the wards if she did not believe in Christ. The ethical standpoint may not be the highest; but the fact remains that at the present moment many such women would give the same reason for their goodness and self-devotion, and in the fact lies Lord Tennyson’s justification. We differ entirely from Mr. Matthew Arnold and, we presume, from Mr Salt, on regarding poetry as a criticism rather than as a representation of life. Besides, this poem is dramatic in form—it is, indeed, what Mr. Browning would call a “dramatic monologue” and, theretore [sic], the views expressed by the characters must not necessarily be attributed to the poet. Few members of the Browning Society, we fancy, would care to see their master saddled with the opinions of Bishop Blougram. One of the most interesting and appreciative Essays is that on The Works of James Thomson—and we hope it will do something to make the poems of that writer more widely known; for although we cannot place him in the first rank of modern poets, he was a head and shoulders taller than any one in the second. The paper On certain Lyric Poets, and their critics, is an admirable and successful attempt to deal critically with that most mysterious and elusive entity Lyricism—of which the author says, “We can scarcely hope to define it successfully, for it is well-nigh indefinable; we can only appeal to the intuitive perception of those who can bear witness what a reality it has been to them. It is the charm of expressing by language something far more than what is conveyed by the mere meaning or the mere sound: the power of evoking an echo from the spiritual world, such as music can give us, or the clash of distant bells. It is the miracle of kindling by words that divine sympathy with the inarticulate voice of the elements, which we feel in the presence of the wind, the sea, the mountains.” This is very wise and very just as is also Mr. Salt’s contention that “prose has its lyrics as well as poetry” in support of which he quotes a supremely beautiful passage from Vilette. Someone has said of Mendelssohn that “he has not much to say but he says it like a gentleman.” Paraphasing [sic] the quotation we may sum up our notice of Mr. Salt’s volume by remarking that he has not much to say but he says it like a catholic and cultivated critic.

To-day, 1888

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