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HE Course of Study, concise in the manner of catalogues, says, "A course in personal expression, aiming at fluency in focusing daily impressions, lectures on style, individual criticism." This leaves the reader in a questioning mood. "Do I focus my impressions—that is, if I am still plastic? Granting there is a mote of style in my work, is my style clarified? Can I be taught to write? Can anyone?"
Certainly such as Flaubert or Shakespeare, Browning, Chaucer or Marlowe were tutored in schools of their own making. Of these, one seems never to have elected structure or proportion, Marlowe. George Moore, a self-taught modern, has never achieved a style. While Marlowe gave to his "Tamberlaine" an exquisiteness of style-a kind of glorified versification, saturated with lines of beauty-yet the play is undramatic, without sequence or a climatic surge of plot. Shakespeare, Browning, Flaubert and even Chaucer, a little crudely, seem to have found a just proportion—a balance.
Each of these, who are named among the great, has found his medium for the expression of self in the interpretation of the stages of life about him. A great artist is said to be one who expresses great emotions. He must feel universally and speak convincingly of the trilogy-Love, Beauty, Death-none of which he wholly comprehends, all of which he interprets. Moreover, a great artist is critical of these emotions, as well, gracious in working them out in detail, yet never crowding the canvas. Therein his genius lies.
It is probable that the great artist, in the beginning, had the same difficulty that besets the first workings of Adolescent Youth, who seeks for expression to-day. Once A. Y. has something to express the problem becomes how to transmit ideas. Music, painting, clay, scientific research discarded, the pen, anxious and willing, runs dry in the wind of doubt. How is the start, seemingly automatic, to be made? Mr. Ford Matox Huefflin's advice
"to sit down in the back garden with pen, ink and paper, to put vine leaves in one's hair and to write" is at once consciously the pose of pseudo-art and inexpedient if the back garden prove a city park or is paved and hung with the family wash. To exhaust the day and part of the night, perhaps, as Flaubert, finishing a page or putting in a comma, and taking it out again, is not the way of twenty. Writers have felt the seemingly inexpressible and have committed it, through the medium of words, to the printed page. But-how?
So, at this point, A. Y. either gives up altogether and finds expression in golf-clubs or debating societies or white wine, or he turns bravely to read the work of great writers, to see how they have brought truth out of doubt. He does not read for amusement or philosophical thought, but for form. Directed by a lecture on style, he takes up Pater and Stevenson and Spencer, in turn. Pater, perhaps, receives attention first. Upon "Appreciations," "The Renaissance," perhaps "Marius," most the youthful enthusiasm is expended. "The eyelids are a little weary" is applied to the women about him and A. Y. is accused of being after the school of Oscar Wilde. To read Pater is to see the artificiality of Wilde and his following (if he still has one), and when his originality is traced to its source, his brilliance becomes banality. The embryonic writer finds his own. prose (which Stevenson says may approach poetry as near as possible provided it never suggests) is rhythmic, suggestive, artistic for being consciously well written. He speaks of a sunbeam as "a finger of the sunset," and tobacco ash is likened to "dead leaves on the floor of the forest after the winter snows have melted." He finds that style, in Pater's terms, is an overrefinement of sense, a shade within a shade of meaning, platinum dusty with pumice. With "eyelids a little weary" he takes up Stevenson. The author suddenly appears as a trickster. He becomes the nervous hands dressed in the garb of Punch and Judy, carrying on a puppet play. If he is a successful writer, it means that Punch and Judy seem to act of their own accord. The mob is not conscious of the hands. Stevenson claims that writing is a trick, convincing so long as the trick doesn't become obvious to the reader. The pattern is not of prime interest. The warp and the woof are subjected to analysis. A. Y. now
hunts for steel girders and the block of concrete beneath the satin panels of a pillar. He tries Pathetic Fallacy and the Sympathetic Landscape on his friends, to see if they work. He finds himself more artificial than the eminent Victorians themselves. Almost exhausted, he expends his remaining enthusiasm on Spencer. His garbled brain grasps only half meanings. Spencer cares nothing for conscious forms or mosaic style. The object is to express. Write what you have to say, if you have thought it out. It is then A. Y. recalls from his earlier reading, when he read for pleasure, advice of this sort. From "Jean Christophe" he remembers a paragraph:-"The writers of to-day waste their energy in describing human rarities, or cases that are common enough in the abnormal groups of men and women living on the fringe of society. Show the life of everyday to the men and women of everyday. Write the simple life of one of these simple men. Write it simply, as simply as its own unfolding. Waste no thought upon the word and the letter and the subtle, vain researches in which the force of the artist of to-day is turned to nought. You are addressing all men: use the language of all men. There are no words noble or vulgar; there is no style chaste or impure; there are only words and styles which say exactly what they have to say. Let the rhythm of your heart prevail in your writings! The style is the soul." From some unknown source A. Y. has copied in a note-book, "Putting words together is not writing, making fine sentences is not writing, elaborating striking plots is not writing, for of all the arts, Literature is the most exacting mistress. To write you must have learned something of the motives, the passions, the sorrows and joy that rack us humans. Then you must have your medium in control. Words are like little creatures that march and fight and sing. They are extra hands and feet. All the passions wait on them. Until you get this sense of the choiceness, the fragility, the power of words, you are not ready to transcribe your thoughts." So, again there are two vastly different theories of accomplishing the same end, though success is for those who combine and accept both. In Mr. Canby's recent novel, "Our House," Robert Roberts is forced "through all the processes of romantic and imaginative output which characterizes nebulous maturity. He makes an intensive study of lit
erary and philosophical matters." He learns facts, style, form. He cultivates his literary taste. But, it is in the experience of the life about him that his expression emerges from the adolescent and becomes a literary product.
As with Robert Roberts, reading, study, college courses, the literary production of a college and those who produce it, have little to teach the young writer. He finds himself in normality. Normality is a consciousness with none of "self" to hamper it. He observes externals instead of analyzing with an inner eye, as it were. He changes introspection for behavior of those around him. That change was the beginning of Psychology as a science. It is the first step toward "the great comprehensive soul" which must be within a great artist.
Nothing has been said of genius as an element of literary production. Genius is too rare in this age to talk about openly. It is a subject for closed doors. Genius is found in the great writers, for they are dead. In a living, aspiring writer it is enough to discover talent and direct it. If he has vision, his selection of detail and sense of proportion may be directed, if not by his own effort, by the careful supervision of another. In college the latter is called professor. Vision comes from within. No one can be taught to see. Consequently we may disregard the intellectually blind, but those who can feel and do feel must be directed. It is by means of “individual criticism" and through just such personal critics that writing courses are of benefit. In class-rooms and lectures, literary tastes may be developed, interest in reading directed to richer sources, daily assignments are a stimulus to continued and regular composition, supplanting the spasmodic production of "nebulous immaturity." But it is in the personal conference with the man who knows from his own experience, that the Adolescent Youth is cautioned against the pitfalls of originality-of l'art pour l'art. This is the beginning of his long striving toward a great simplicity.
Deduce this law. No one can be taught to write.
Harold L. Stark.
HE train stopped. There was nothing surprising in that, stopping had become almost chronic with this troop-train; it stopped at cities, it stopped at towns, at villages, at sidings. It stopped upon the smallest provocation, or even as at this time. upon apparently no provocation at all. There was no siding here, no village here, nothing here except a flat stretch of empty Silesian countryside basking very still and quiet under the lazy sun of a long afternoon in June. Hot, sleepy, lifeless. Ah, it was wearisome, this convoying of the Polish divisions to Warsaw! The war was over; the business was at an end and ought to have been wound up. These little squabbles and splutterings and impotent sizzlings and flare-ups persisting after the great conflagration was out and the ruins black and dead, that kept a man plodding back and forth across middle Germany were disgustingly tiresome. I was bored with the hot afternoon; bored and a trifle homesick. Silesia was very far indeed from the tall, redolent pines of my own native Georgia, and a man, especially a young man like myself, can be forgiven a little homesickness under the circumstances. Perhaps he can even be forgiven for reverting to the thought of one particular person waiting for him across the grey levels of the Atlantic.
"Fools!" exclaimed the French major who was my companion on the escort, thrusting his head in at the compartment window. "They've had a breakdown. Blunderheads! We'll be here all night." And he rolled out one of those sonorous French oaths beginning with sacré and ending in inarticulate references to pigs. The French major had a naturally energetic temper that even after four years of the endless delays and waitings of military life did not rest easy under the stoppages of the troop-train. He had no sympathy with things German, even the exhausted German rolling stock.
"I can't stand this," he said. "Let's go for a walk."
The Silesian sun was too hot to be attractive, but the train was unutterably tiresome. A stroll would do as well as anything, so
we went out.