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THE NEW AGE

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Previous Page  ...And yet, as Carlyle again insists (and he spoke from experience), there might be far worse evils than poverty in the lot of the man of letters. Worse infinitely was the sceptical and negative spirit of the eighteenth century; for literature in all ages must live by its ideas, or die from the want of them. And for the evils which democracy brings in its train will not compensation be found in the volume of life? If the results are not yet fully satisfactory, the reason may be that we have not yet learnt how to manage the forces which produce them. The poetry of Walt Whitman in America, the novels of Zola in France, and in England the sordid stories of the London streets, seem to be the work of men intellectually and artistically overburdened with their subject. But Dickens is a hopeful example of what may be done, and in the future men greater than he may make a yet greater use of their inexhaustible material. It is no light thing that the millions have now a place and an influence in literature, where a century ago only the thousands, and earlier still hardly more than hundreds had it. Here, no doubt, lies the task of the present and of the immediate future for literature as well as for politics. Goethe, with his usual insight, saw that only half the man could be developed unless he threw himself into the stream of life:

"Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille,
Sich ein Character in dem Strom der Welt."

Character is necessary no less than talent for the highest literature; and the stream of that life in which it must be fashioned flows now in the democratic channel.

In all this democratic movement we have entered upon the inheritance of the Revolution; but we have done so in an altered spirit. It is no longer the Revolution regarded as a "sacred manifestation," but the Revolution seen under the critical microscope. Principles which enthusiasts a hundred years ago regarded as self-evident, and their opponents as manifestly false, have proved to be eminently in need of interpretation. We have to ask how liberty can be reconciled with order, how far fraternity - is consistent with the stern law of universal competition, what of equality when we have allowed for the infinite diversity ...Next Page




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