Full text: Secession (Number one) (1)

knows what he is about, cultivates jealously his own 
propensities: each narrows the field to his own 
temperament and then digs as deeply as he can: 
each, unless he happens also to be a critic, is tempted 
to say that the subject matter which appeals to him 
is tjie best and even the only subject matter for the 
art he practices. We cannot quarrel with him. 
But the answer to the first question is the reverse 
of this. The critic works after the fact. The catholic 
spirit, which has surveyed the staggering diversity of 
literature vertically through the ages and horizontally 
across the nations, which has noted the quality of 
surprize which attaches to esthetic production, which 
is in touch with the astonishing experiments of modern 
writers, which has experienced good states of mind 
from absolutely contradictory subject matter, can make 
only one answer. The range of subject matter suitable 
for literature is unlimited. In art as in love, so de 
Gourmont said, everything is possible. To put restric 
tions on the range of subject matter is to be guilty 
of provincialism both of time and of place. 
Being human, the critic has his prejudices, of course. 
I, for example, am more interested by the psychological 
hesitations of the characters in a Henry James novel 
than I am by the slow thinking of the hill-folk in 
Knut Hamsum's Growth of the Soil. But that does not 
prevent the perception that Hamsum has fitted his 
diction to his dynamic realities, set his effects into 
relief and balance, and otherwise forced his rude ma- 
rerials into a significant esthetic organization. From 
that I can extract enjoyment although in a more 
moderate degree than if I had been of a temperament 
more responsive to his subject matter. The primary 
task of a critic is to make allowances for his preju 
dices, to examine the relation between a writer and 
his dynamic reality (subject matter), and to ascertain 
the quality of the state of mind induced by the pre 
cipitate of this relationship. Catholicity may be a vice 
for a poet or fiction writer: it is always a virtue for 
the critic. 
One poem of this number, In A Café by the pre 
cocious Will Bray, serves admirably to knot this dis 
cussion into an example. Although the Bible refers

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