“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)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for naming the people he was writing about. So often Chesterton alludes to people and events I have no hope of identifying a century later.


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