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Art. 4.-BENEDETTO CROCE AS LITERARY CRITIC.
1. Estetica, come scienza dell'espressione e linguistica generale. Teoria e Storia (4ta Ediz., riveduta), da B.
Croce. Bari: Laterza, 1912. 2. La Critica. Rivista di Letteratura, Storia e Filosofia
diretta da B. Croce (1903–1920). Bari: Laterza [pub
lished bi-monthly). 3. La Critica Letteraria, questioni teoriche, da B. Croce.
Roma: Loescher, 1896. 4. Letteratura e Critica della Letteratura contemporanea
in Italia-Due Saggi, da B. Croce Bari : Laterza, 1908. ALTHOUGH the name of Benedetto Croce is probably by this time familiar to all English students of philosophy as that of one of the most vigorous and original of living thinkers, there is perhaps one aspect of his genius which has been as yet scarcely sufficiently appreciated in this country. We refer to his activities as a literary critic. Croce is an example of one of those rarest of all rare aves, a theoriser possessing at once the ability, the courage, and, we may add, the leisure to apply his own theories in practice; and, by the success with which he has for years been accomplishing this feat in the pages of his own monthly periodical La Critica,' it may safely be said that he greatly increases the claim of the principles he there adopts to be accepted as true. For we are all pragmatists enough amid the chaos of 'isms, among which it is at present our fate to live, to prefer a theory which experience has shown will work to one that is either too exaltedly ideal to endure being put to practical proof, or else breaks down at once when thus tested.
No one who has had frequent occasion to study the theories of philosophers upon Art and the productions of the so-called art-critics, can have failed to observe the mutual contempt in which these two classes of writers generally hold one another. Nor is this surprising. The philosopher's world is the abstract; the world of art is the concrete. The philosophers, even if they would, have not often the time to appreciate works of art at first hand, much less the ability themselves to create them; whereas the artist and the virtuoso in artcriticism rarely find the energy, even if they possess
which is unusual—the intellectual equipment, required to grapple seriously with abstract ideas. Coleridge is perhaps the only English critic on record—for Shelley was too much the poet—who united the highest speculative with the highest artistic abilities; yet, as is well known, he lacked the systematising spirit required to co-ordinate logically the fruits of his philosophic reflexion
-a defect which also characterised the mind of Plato. It is one of the main principles of the Crocean Æsthetic that 'the judicial activity which criticises and recognises the beautiful is identical with the artistic activity which produces it.' In other words, Taste and Imagination are one. If this be soand let it for the moment be admitted -then in Benedetto Croce we undoubtedly find united, as it were, two personalities, the artist and the philosopher.
It is interesting to note that, biographically speaking, the artist in Croce came first in time, just as in his philosophy we are taught that the artist must come first logically. In 1896, when he was thirty years old, long before he had formulated his own system of philosophy, he published an
essay under the title La Critica Letteraria,' in which the reader already perceives the mature critic and man of letters. In the former capacity
09 Croce apparently looked upon himself at that time as little more than a pupil of de Sanctis, whom he regarded with an affectionate enthusiasm ; and what he seems at
1 first to have contemplated was simply a reduction to systematic form of the dicta on art and the pregnant aesthetic judgments scattered in profusion through the works of that famous critic and historian of literature. The same essay, however, records its author's admiration of the 18th-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico, whose reputation as one of the most original thinkers known to history Croce has subsequently done so much to vindicate. It was from Vico that he derived the most characteristic feature of his own philosophy, just as it was de Sanctis who laid down for him the main lines of his critical theory. Croce concluded this early essay by demanding that a book should be written advocating, on the one hand, the banishment from art-criticism of a whole series of irrelevant concepts, the retainment of which merely creates confusion; on the other, the liberation of the two notions, Art and the Beautiful, from the
bonds in which they have been arbitrarily fettered by
This brings us to the second point to be noted. The term 'expression,' as employed in ordinary conversation, usually means to put an idea into words in the sense of communicating it to other people by uttering aloud or writing it down. According to Croce, expression must be thought of as wholly internal, a purely mental image, whatever its medium, whether words, colours, sounds, physical movements or marble. Language is the general term employed by Croce to cover all forms of artistic expression; for, so long as the image is thought of as retained in the mind, the need for the differentiation of the Arts by reference to the physical medium and technique
peculiar to each, does not arise. Art is essentially one and identical with language as thus defined. The image expressed is formed purely mentally, indivisible therefore into parts and at the same time undistinguished as real or unreal, simply because it is the primary activity of mind itself, mind in the state of experiencing or living the sensation, before, logically speaking, the intellect and the will have come into play. This is equivalent to asserting that the poet, painter, sculptor, or any other kind of artist must have, and as a matter of fact does have, the idea or conception of his work of art completely and definitely formed and finished (that is, expressed) in his head before he begins to put pen to paper, brush to canvas, or chisel to marble. And it is the image in his head which is the true work of art, not the recited poem, the painted picture, or the carved statue. Further, this image is not formed by the artist gradually or in sections; it springs into existence as a single indivisible whole. Whether it is the image of something really existing or is a mere hallucination the artist does not, because he cannot, know; all that matters to him is that he should see it clearly. Once it is clearly seen (fully expressed, that is to say) the artist is, as it were, notified of the fact by experiencing the feeling of pure ästhetic joy:
Joy that ne'er was given
This active feeling of joy is not to be identified with the æsthetic activity itself, nor does it result from it, as effect from cause. It merely accompanies it. It is the self-approval of the mind ästhetically employed at the moment when it has achieved the expression of the particular intuition it was seeking to attain.
The achievement of the expression-and this is the third point to be emphasised-is the creation of Beauty, Beauty being identical with successful expression or rather with expression simply, since unsuccessful expression is not expression at all. There can, therefore, be no degree in Beauty, which is always perfect, but only in ugliness, which is failure in expression and may vary from the merely slightly ugly to the extremely repulsive. Complete ugliness-which would, if it could exist, be
negation of expression-is a pure abstraction and impossible in the concrete.
As a corollary to all this it follows, among other things, that an artist cannot choose his subject; it comes to him; he is inspired with it, as we may say, which means that all subjects alike are potentially artistic. It follows, too, that no moral value whatever attaches to the artistic fact quâ artistic, for the will has not been engaged in its production; further, that Beauty consists in the form of art (and the form only), not in its content or in a combination of the two; and, finally, that works of art cannot be classified or referred for definition to any so-called Laws of Form, for each is unique and must be judged by its own standard and that alone,
*If a poet,' asks Mr A. C. Bradley in his well-known essay entitled 'Poetry for Poetry's Sake,'' already knew what he meant to say, why should he write the poem ? The poem would, in fact, already be written.' Yes, Croce would reply, that is precisely the case. So far as the poet himself is concerned, his task is achieved; the poem is as good as written, when once inwardly expressed. Yet he almost always wills to write it down for several compelling reasons, of which two are by far the most powerful. He wants to remember it himself for the sake of reproducing again at will the joy he experienced at its first creation; and secondly, he wants to communicate it to the world in general. These two motives are in most artists irresistible. The will to give them effect is, however, necessarily conditioned by the previous existence of the poem. The poet's device for executing this double purpose is to externalise his mental image by committing it to spoken or written words, to accomplish which he requires of course the necessary technical knowledge and skill. The very essence of Croce's theory of art is missed, however, by those who would identify the printed poem with the artistic fact itself. The poem printed to be read with the voice, the melody played to be heard by the ears, or the picture painted to be seen with the eyes, is not itself the work of art, but merely the physical or material stimulus for its reproduction mentally in the imagination of the reader, hearer, or observer as the case may be.