Image provided by: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, Lincoln, NE
About Hesperian student / (Lincoln [Neb.]) 1872-1885 | View Entire Issue (Dec. 10, 1886)
The recent presentation of a Greek play at the Academy of
Music in New York city is from a literary standpoint an event
of unusual importance. Plays of this kind have often within
the last few years, been enacted by the students of colleges
and universities, but they were generally regarded as belong
ing more partcnlarly to such institutions and weic therefore of
less interest to the outside world. The present instance.how
evcr, was an eflort to popularize Greek Drama, to present it
before a mixed audience and to place it as nearly as possible
on a level with the works of modern dramatists.
The play chosen was a comedy of Aristophanes, '-The
Achamians," the scene being laid at Athens during the Pelo
poncsian War. It had been presented some months before
by the students of the University of Pennsylvania with such
marked success that they were induced to make the present
venture. Probably few plays could have been selected which
would throw light on a more important period. The
aim of those who had the matter in hand was to present the
play with all its proper accompaniaments and to make it as
realistic as possible- Thus the stage was arranged so as to
cxibit types of Grecian architecture, and one of the scenes
represents a session of the Ekklesia. A play of this kind
will not only leave a more lasting impression
bat will afford a clearer conception of the real
civilization at Athens than any idea which books
as books can give. To have witnessed such a performance
for a single evening u.uld probably be of more value to the
student than days of cramming on the same subject. The
faculty and students of the University of Pennsylvania have
conferred a benefit upon themselves and the public in the pre
sentation 01 this play, and it is to be hoped that their effort
will not be the last of its kind. A more general movement
of the same nature would tend to remove the well-grounded
prejudice against the modern theatre, and to make that insti
tution more of an educator than it is at present. Forthrough
the theatre, which exerted such a marked influence upon the
civilization of the Greeks, and through the plays which they
patronized, much that is valuable may be learned of the life
and character of this most fascinating people of antiquity.
To admire is delightful. To admire wisely is welL But
to admire unwisely is not well, however delightful. Those
who admire Mr. Edwin Arnold's poetry admire unwisely."
Such is the thesis of Mr. Win. Cleaver Wilkinson, defended
in a little book whose name. "Edwin Arnold as a Poetizer
and a Paganizcr," betrays its character.
Accustomed to connect value in books with price, one meets
a revelation in the lists of books now offered to the public in
the cheaper libraries. They contain not only some of the
choicest standard works, but newer writings equally interest.
ing and of no small ability. Nor do they, as formerly, con
tain only lighter literature; but works of genuine merit and
true literary value find a place. Among this latter class is
the work of Mr. Wilkinson. The motive for the writing was
found, the author confesses, not so much in the character of
Edwin Arnold's works as in the reception given to these works
by the reading public, and their general effect, "quite out of
proportion to any significance attaching to the poems by vir
tue of their own intrinsic character." That the poems of Mr.
Arnold have received notice, and exert an influence thus out
of proportion to their real character, even the unskilled may
perceive, and nowhere to my knowledge has this exaggerated
influence been more happily characterized than in the words
of Mr Wilkinson, " l"bere has entered the general mind an
unconfessed, a half unconscious, but most shrewdly penetra
tive misgiving that perhaps, after all, Christianity has not of
right quite the exclusive claim, that it was previously sup
posed to possess, upon the attention and reverence of man
kind." Without venturing an opinion as to whether such an
cficct is wholly harmful or not, it is doubtful if it could be
better described in a single sentence. This exaggerated re
sult our critic ascribes to the fact that the poems of Mr. Ar
nold, and more especially The Light of Asia," were well
calculated to hit the transient whim of Occidental taste" for
But while ostensibly criticising Mr. Arnold and his writ
sings, Mr. Wilkinson has extended his work, as it is naturalhc
should, to a criticism of Mr. Arnold's subject, Budhism.The
latter part of the work evinces thorough investigation on Mr.
Wilkinson's part, and attains value as an ethical and philo
tophical discussion of Budhism; a value which commends it
so those who arc not content to fall into the general current of
thought about things, neither thinking nor caring why.
This critique had its inception in an examination and discus
ion of Mr. Arnold's work by Mr. Wilkinson and a friend. His
book is the expression of conclusions reached in that discus
sion, and that expression is so frank and honest; while severe
so good natured, that the sympathj of the reader is irresista
bly aroused. The author is evidently influenced by no petty
spite, but speaks the honest conviction of a man. He does
not seek to build up his own reputation on the ruins of Mr.
Arnold's notoriety, but speaks his mind against the work of
an author who is in the heydcy of his popularity, and thereby
runs the risk of being called old-fogyish and behind the times.
Mr. Wilkinson's style is simple and direct, his choice of words
excellent, and his reader cannot fail to grasp his meaning. He
manifestly has genuine critical genius.
Mr. Wilkinson's maxim is evidently "one thing at a time,"
and the logical divisions of his subject is a guarantee of the
good faith of the writer. Anyone may throw together an un
systematized mass of denunciation. Such statements do not
necessitate proof.becausc they arc incapable of being unravel
ed or subjected to searching tests. But the critic who care
fully centers the attention of his reader on each division of
his subject in tum, creates a necessity for proof, demonstrates
at least his good faith and wins our confidence.
In criticising the metric form of Mr. Arnold's verse and in
holding him up to the ridicule and laughter of the reader for
his crude and awkward versification, Mr. Wilkinson display s
no little temerity. It is a bold position for a writer to assume
in the face of such praise as Edwin Arnold has recehet f um
acknowledged authorities, as the Contemporary T - v and
AV10 Englander, ox from Oliver WTcndell Holmes in ,'nter
national Reviezo, but our doughty critic flaunts defiance in
the face of them all. With refreshing blunSnei he asserts
that the lack of genuineness in Mr. Arnold's work "is be
trayed in the undigested, confused, discordant character of
the conception on which his poems arc generally constructed"
and instances "The Three Roses," a minor poem by Mr. Ar
nold, which he treats with withering but laughable sar
casm. Certainly the reader may justly laugh when Mr. Wil
kinson drags forth as example of bad grammar the following:
"In all this earth there is not one.
So desolate and so undone
Who hath not rescue if they knew
A bcartcry goes the whole world through."
Or, to show how partial Mr. Arnold is to final accented 'er'
and ing,' these:
"Gaped on the sword plajvr and posturer,
"But they who watched the prince at prize-givMrf,"
"And in the wood they undivickv died,
BroaJ'sprezJtogideupon the free Hue road,"
Powered by Open ONI