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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Frederic William Henry Myers (1843–1901)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
MUCH of what is most subtle and penetrative in contemporary English criticism is embodied in the writings of certain men of letters whose names are familiar only to a special and limited circle. Frederic W. H. Myers was one of those critics whose work, while not in any sense popular, obtained well-established recognition for its literary finish, and pre-eminently for its originality and suggestiveness. The complex forces of the end of the nineteenth century may not have been favorable to the production of creative genius, but they were favorable to the birth and growth of a sensitive critical spirit. Mr. Myers’s Modern and Classical Essays were the work of one to whom the revelations of science in all its branches were a source of enlightenment on subjects with which it would seem that science primarily had nothing to do. He was of the number of those who would wed the materialistic knowledge of the age to an idealism the more intense because it is denied the outlet of a definite religious faith. He would judge of literature, of personality, of the various phenomena of his own and of a past age, by the new lights of science,—and at the same time by the light that never was on sea or land. It is this combination of the idealistic with the exact spirit which gives to the essays of Mr. Myers their peculiar charm, and which fitted him to write with such exquisite appreciation of Marcus Aurelius and Virgil, of Rossetti and George Eliot. In his heart he has all the romance of a poet,—his desire to live by admiration, hope, and love, his sensitiveness to the beautiful, his passionate belief in the soul and its great destinies; but his brain ruled his heart with typical modern caution. In his efforts to reconcile these elements in his nature, Mr. Myers infused into his essays, whatever their subjects, the speculative thought of his generation concerning the unseen world and man’s relation to it; and especially of that great question of personal immortality, which forever haunts and forever baffles the minds of men. He was drawn naturally to a consideration of such men as Marcus Aurelius. The fitful dejection of the philosophic emperor, his resolve to learn and to endure, his hopeless hope, his calm in the face of the veil which cuts man off from the paradise of certainties, seemed to Mr. Myers to prefigure the attitude of the modern mind toward its mysterious environment. Yet he himself went beyond the negativity of Stoicism. He believed that love is the gateway to the unseen universe, being of those who, “while accepting to the full the methods and the results of science, will not yet surrender the ancient hopes of the race.”  1
  In ‘Modern Poets and Cosmic Law’ he traces the influence of Tennyson and Wordsworth on modern religious thought; a regenerating influence, because they have realized “with extraordinary intuition,” and promulgated “with commanding genius, the interpenetration of the spiritual and the material world.” Mr. Myers’s deep sympathy with Wordsworth was completely expressed in his luminous biography of the poet. His sympathy with George Eliot was less keen, or rather it is less that of the mind than of the heart. His depression in the presence of her hopelessness is well described in the essay of which she is the subject:—
          “I remember how, at Cambridge, I walked with her once in the Fellows’ Garden of Trinity, on an evening of rainy May; and she, stirred somewhat beyond her wont, and taking as her text the three words which have been used so often as the inspiring trumpet-calls of men,—the words God, Immortality, Duty,—pronounced with terrible earnestness how inconceivable was the first, how unbelievable the second, and yet how peremptory and absolute the third. Never, perhaps, have sterner accents affirmed the sovereignty of impersonal and unrecompensing law. I listened, and night fell; her grave, majestic countenance turned towards me like a Sibyl’s in the gloom; it was as though she withdrew from my grasp, one by one, the two scrolls of promise, and left me the third scroll only, awful with inevitable fates.”
  2
  Mr. Myers’s essays on ‘Science and a Future Life,’ on ‘Darwin and Agnosticism,’ on ‘Tennyson as a Prophet,’ on ‘A New Eirenicon,’ on ‘Modern Poets and Cosmic Law,’ are concerned chiefly with the modern answers to the old eternal problems. Even his essays on Mazzini, on George Sand, on Renan, and on the present political and social influences in France, are not without their background of philosophical contemplation of the end and aims of man. Mr. Myers’s conclusion of the whole matter is hopeful, sane, temperate. He is confident of the golden branch in the grove of cypress; confident that darkness must eventually become revelation. In his verse, which, while not of the first order, is melodious and graceful, he exhibits the same spiritual intuition. His value as a critic is largely the result of this recognition, based on no ephemeral conclusions, of the spiritual element in the destiny of man. Mr. Myers was born in 1843, in Duffield, England. He was the son of a clergyman of some note as a writer, and a brother of Ernest Myers, whose classical translations are of great literary excellence. Mr. Myers died at Rome, Italy, January 17, 1901. ‘Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death’ and ‘Fragments of Prose and Poetry’ were published posthumously.  3
 
 
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