Old and New Masters eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 226 pages of information about Old and New Masters.
“It was a new method,” he said, “as well as a new type I introduced—­that of Realizing instead of Idealizing.”  His claim has, at least, this truth in it:  he was the first artist to apply the realistic method to a world seething with ideas and with political and philosophical unrest.  His adoption of the realistic method, however, was the result of necessity no less than of choice.  He “simply did not know how to work otherwise,” as he said.  He had not the sort of imagination that can invent men and women easily.  He had always to draw from the life.  “I ought to confess,” he once wrote, “that I never attempted to create a type without having, not an idea, but a living person, in whom the various elements were harmonized together, to work from.  I have always needed some groundwork on which I could tread firmly.”

When one has praised Turgenev, however, for the beauty of his character and the beautiful truth of his art, one remembers that he, too, was human and therefore less than perfect.  His chief failing was, perhaps, that of all the great artists, he was the most lacking in exuberance.  That is why he began to be scorned in a world which rated exuberance higher than beauty or love or pity.  The world before the war was afraid above all things of losing vitality, and so it turned to contortionists of genius such as Dostoevsky, or lesser contortionists, like some of the Futurists, for fear restfulness should lead to death.  It would be foolish, I know, to pretend to sum up Dostoevsky as a contortionist; but he has that element in him.  Mr. Conrad suggests a certain vice of misshapenness in Dostoevsky when he praises the characters of Turgenev in comparison with his.  “All his creations, fortunate or unfortunate, oppressed and oppressors,” he says in his fine tribute to Turgenev in Mr. Garnett’s book, “are human beings, not strange beasts in a menagerie, or damned souls knocking themselves about in the stuffy darkness of mystical contradictions.”  That is well said.  On the other hand, it is only right to remember that, if Turgenev’s characters are human beings, they (at least the male characters) have a way of being curiously ineffectual human beings.  He understood the Hamlet in man almost too well.  From Rudin to the young revolutionist in Virgin Soil, who makes such a mess of his propaganda among the peasantry, how many of his characters are as remarkable for their weakness as their unsuccess!  Turgenev was probably conscious of this pessimism of imagination in regard to his fellow man—­at least, his Russian fellow man.  In On the Eve, when he wished to create a central character that would act as an appeal to his countrymen to “conquer their sluggishness, their weakness and apathy” (as Mr. Garnett puts it), he had to choose a Bulgarian, not a Russian, for his hero.  Mr. Garnett holds that the characterization of Insarov, the Bulgarian, in On the Eve, is a failure, and puts this down to the fact that Turgenev drew him, not from life,

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Old and New Masters from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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