By similar methods, it seems to us, the critics might even now relieve humanity from the oncoming host of spirits that threatens to overwhelm us. They find it useless to tell creative writers how hideous and mis-begotten their productions are—how deeply tainted with erotics, neurotics, hysteria, consumption, or fatty degeneration. Either the writers do not listen, or they reply, “Thank you, but neurotics and degeneracy are in the fashion, and we like them.” Let the critics change their method by widely extending their action. Let them insist upon quality, and show beforehand what quality means. Let them rise from the position of reviewers, and apply to the general thought of the world that critical power of which Matthew Arnold was thinking when he wrote:
“The best spiritual work of criticism is to keep man from self-satisfaction which is retarding and vulgarising, to lead him towards perfection by making his mind dwell upon what is excellent in itself, and the absolute beauty and fitness of things.”
Such criticism, if persisted in by all critics for a generation, would act as so wholesome and tonic a course of Eugenic instruction, would so strongly insist upon quality, and so widely diffuse an unconscious fastidiousness of selection, that the locust cloud of phantoms which now darken the zenith might be dissipated, and again we should behold the sky which is the home of stars. For we may safely suppose that excellence will never be super-abundant, nor quality be found in hordes. No one can tell how fine, how fit, and few the children of our creative artists might then become. But, as in prophetic vision, we can picture the rarity of their beauty, and when they come knocking at our door, we will share with them the spiritual food that they demand from our brains, and give them a drink of our brief and irrevocable time.
THE MEDICINE OF THE MIND