“Hubbub in stone”

On my last morning on the Flemish coast, when I knew that in a few hours I should be in England, my eye fell upon one of the details of Gothic carving of which Flanders is full. . . It seemed to represent men bending themselves. . .to certain primary employments. Some seemed to be sailors tugging at ropes; others, I think, were reaping, others were energetically pouring something into something else. . . If there was one thing the early medievals liked it was representing people doing something. . . The Middle Ages is full of that spirit in all its monuments and manuscripts. . . [for] a mass of medieval carving seems actually a sort of bustle or hubbub in stone. Sometimes one cannot help feeling that the groups actually move and mix, and the whole front of a great cathedral has the hum of a huge hive.

– “The Little Birds Who Won’t Sing”, in On Lying in Bed.

[original source unknown (to The Hebdomadarian)]

Published in: on July 25, 2007 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Go to the doctrinaires”

In the fin de siecle atmosphere every one was crying out that literature should be free from all causes and all ethical creeds. Art was to produce only exquisite workmanship, and it was especially the note of those days to demand brilliant plays and brilliant short stories. And when they got them, they got them from a couple of moralists. The best short stories were written by a man [Rudyard Kipling] trying to preach Imperialism. The best plays were written by a man [George Bernard Shaw] trying to preach Socialism. All the art of the artists looked tiny and tedious beside the art which was a by-product of propaganda.

The reason, indeed, is very simple. A man cannot be wise enough to be a great artist without being wise enough to wish to be a philosopher. A man cannot have the energy to produce good art without having the energy to wish to pass beyond it. A small artist is content with art; a great artist is content with nothing except everything…

You may express the matter if you will by saying that if we want doctrines we go to the great artists. But it is clear from the psychology of the matter that this is not the true statement; the true statement is that when we want any art tolerably brisk and bold we have to go to the doctrinaires.

Heretics (1905).

(A tip of the hebdomadarian’s hat to
Mike Taylor for suggesting this excerpt.)

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 12:30 pm  Comments (1)  

“Let us blow trumpets”

Ritualism will always attract much of healthy humanity, merely because ritualism is emphatically wearing your heart upon your sleeve; that excellent practice. It says in essence, “Wear your heart upon your sleeve; wear it blazoned in crimson and embroidered in gold. Break out into songs and colours as lovers do. Let others pretend to an inhuman delicacy and a quite sophisticated silence. Let us cry out as children do when they have really found something. Let us blow trumpets and light candles before the thing that we have, to show at least that we have it. And let them keep a decorous silence and a moderate behaviour, let them raise a wall of stone and draw a veil of mystery across something that they have not got at all.”

The Illustrated London News, 28 July 1906.

Published in: on July 11, 2007 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Stage and Page

Why have we not a bold and brilliant school of adapters of plays whose business it is to turn them into novels? Am I really free to bring out in three volumes my fascinating psychological romance called “Othello; or, The Mystery of the Handkerchief”? Can I bring out a yellow-backed novel called “The Pound of Flesh; a Tale of Venetian Commerce”? In such a case I am not sure that the novels would be good novels, even if I wrote them. You would find that in a steady and careful prose narrative the reader would reject as coarse and incredible exactly those “properties” which on the stage are, indeed, quite proper: the necessary “business” of the ring, the dagger, the poisoned cup, the letter – in a word, the gross material symbol which is so constantly necessary to make things clear behind the footlights. Thus in a novel about Othello we should be irritated with the accidental importance of the handkerchief; it would remind us of an idiotic detective story. Thus in a novel founded on “The Merchant of Venice” the business of the pound of flesh would seem, not as it seems in the play, merely harsh and barbaric, but openly ludicrous and unthinkable.

The Illustrated London News, 30 June 1906.

Published in: on July 4, 2007 at 11:33 am  Comments (1)