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May 10, 1931 - Image 4

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1931-05-10

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75 t hingswhich should be given to."
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Walt Whitman insisted that "they
are few whose scale can measure
the unspeakable value to man of
literature." I. A. Richards startled
the critical world about 1925 by
publishing a book, The Principles
of Literary Criticism, which, taken
superficially, seemed to talk about
everything but literature and criti-
cism, but which managed to say
more precise things about the
"value to man of literature" than
any other book of its kind. Prim-
arily a scientist, Mr. Richards was
there preoccupied with dissolving
into lucid terms the ordinary claim
that literature is the record of the
best moments of the best minds in
history. Despite the variety of
topics which the difficulty of this
effort forced him to consider and
the cryptic character of his ex-
pression, his book is already, what
T. S. Eliot has called it, a "mile-
Since then, Mr. Richards has pub-
lished a short book Science 'and
Poetry. Of it, Mr. Eliot said in the
The book is notable not because
of providing the answer to any
question. Such questions as Mr.
Richards raises are usually not
answered; usually they are merely
superseded. But it will be a long
time before the questions of Mr.
Richards will be obsolete: in fact,
Mr. Richards has a peculiar gift
for anticipating the questions
which the next generations will
be putting to themselves. And the
question which he asks here is
one of the greatest moment; to
realize this and kindred questions
is almost to be unable thence-
forth to keep one's mind on any
others. . . . This book of -ninety-
six pages is, first of all, an en-
quiry into a new and unexplored
aspect of the Theory of Knowl-
edge: into the relation between
truth and belief, between ra-
tional and emotional assent. It is
an essay in The Grammar of
Belief; the first intimation that
there is a problem of different
types of belief. T touches on the
immense problem of the relation
of Belief to Ritual. It sketches a
psychological account of what
happens in the mind in the pro-
cess of appreciation of a poem. It
outlines, a theory of value. Inci-
dentally it contains much just
observation on the difference
between true poetry and false ...
and it has some penetrating and
highly valuable criticism of con-
temporary poetry. He has worried
and tantalized us, and we de-
mand a bigger book."
Mr. Richards was in that book re-
peating from the contemporary
angle and with more lucidity than
>Arnold (who never had the courage
to be positive about it) Arnold's
position in "Literature and Dogma"
that the saving energies of poetry,
in the peculiar detachment from
belief which poetry has, were the
last hope of a civilization so rapid-
ly losing all its traditional beliefs.
As Mr. Eliot remarked, the position,
in Mr. Richards' statement of it,
was "immense." In fact, since then,
the problem of the relation of
belief to poetry has been persistent-
ly discussed in America and Eng-
land (cf. the pages of the Criterion,

the Adelphi, the Symposium, the
interludes on it in Eliot's book on
Dante, in Middleton Murry's re-
cent book on Keats, etc). Mr. Rich-
ards little book has had that enor-
mous provocativeness character-
istic of all rich critical statement.
Meanwhile, he went about the
examination of one of his basic as-
sumptions: the assumption that
people can read poetry. With ad-
mirable h o n e s t y, he published
"Practical Criticism" which seem-
ed to show with distressing and
indisputable finality that his as-
sumption was invalid. His own
gathered data about Cambridge
students seemed to undermine his
whole position that poetry can be
widely influential. But out of that
data he was able to construct a
list of reasons why people can't
read poetry, and a consequent list
of indications as to how they may
learn. He believes, then, in the
perfectibility of the minds of the
reading public. And no contempor-
ary critic seems better equipped to
make that belief efficacious with-
out compromise. One can very plau-
I cihly nr +1-iat. f n t. r P bhar', r'n.-

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