Again, when you tell me that Harvard has the works, and that Young Harvard reads them, the news is of a kind to prompt me to fresh productiveness and higher. In England I am encouraged but by a few enthusiasts. I read in a critical review of some verses of mine the other day that I was 'a harlequin and a performer of antics'.11 am accustomed to that kind of writing, as our hustings orator is to the dead cat and the brickbat flung in his face-at which he smiles politely; and I too; but after many years of it my mind looks elsewhere. Adieu to you.—Most faithfully yours,
My fat landlady lent me a novel by George Meredith-Tragic Comedians', I was glad to receive it, for my admiration of his poetry, with which I was slightly acquainted, was very genuine indeed. 'Love in a Valley' is a beautiful poem, and the 'Nuptials of Attila', I read it in the New Quarterly Review years ago,2 is very pleasant in my mind, and it is a pleasure to recall its chanting rhythm, and lordly and sombre refrain —'Make the bed for Attila*. I expected, therefore, one of my old passionate delights from his novels. I was disappointed, painfully
disappointed. But before I say more concerning Mr Meredith, I will admit at once frankly and fearlessly, that I am not a competent critic, because emotionally I do not understand him, and all except an emotional understanding is worthless in art. I do not make this admission because I am intimidated by the weight and height of the critical authority with which I am overshadowed, but from a certain sense, of which I am as distinctly conscious, viz., that the author is, how shall I put it? the French would say 'quelqu'un', that expresses what I would say in English. I remember, too, that although a man may be able to understand anything, there must some modes of thoughts and attitudes of mind which we are so naturally antagonistic to, so entirely out of sympathy with, that we are in no true sense critics of them. Such are the thoughts that come to me when I read Mr George Meredith. I try to console myself with such reflections, and then I break out and cry passionately: jerks, wire, splintered wood. In Balzac, which I know by heart, in Shakespeare, which I have just begun to love, I find words deeply impregnated with the savour of life; but in George Meredith there is nothing but crackjaw sentences, empty and unpleasant in the mouth as sterile nuts. I could select hundreds of phrases which Mr Meredith would probably call epigrams, and I would defy anyone to say they were wise, graceful or witty. I do not know any book more tedious than The Tragic Comedians, more pretentious, more blatant; it struts and screams, stupid in all its gaud and absurdity as a cockatoo. More than fifty pages I could not read. How, I asked myself, could the man who wrote the 'Nuptials of Attila' write this? but my soul returned no answer, and I listened as one in a hollow mountain side. My opinion of George Meredith never ceases to puzzle me. He is of the north, I am of the south. Carlyle, Mr Robert Browning, and George Meredith are the three essentially northern writers; in them there is nothing of Latin sensuality and subtlety.