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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Literary Heresy
By Edmond Henri Adolphe Schérer (1815–1889)
 
  “Here I stand. I cannot otherwise. God help me! Amen.”
LUTHER at the Diet of Worms.

I SHALL never cease to protest against the infatuations that in our day exercise a kind of tyranny in literature. To raise personal preferences to the dignity of a creed is not enough. A cult once established, a dogma once accepted,—no more freedom of analysis, no more independent criticism, no more permissible dissent: the order is to “admire like a beast.” Mental indolence is of course at the bottom of this fashion: it is easier to accept an opinion than to form one. But these habits of mind are an exceedingly curious study, for the reason that never has the tendency to slavish partisanship been more general, nor the despotism of ready-made judgments more absolute, than in these times of pretended emancipation and so-called individualism. Doubtless it is the same with enfranchised intelligence as with political rights: great efforts are made to secure them, and when they are secured we no longer care for their exercise.  1
  I will cite the cult of which Goethe is the object in Germany as an example of the propensity that I have in mind. This cult has all the characteristics of superstition. The Germans long since exhausted their critical acumen upon the Trinity; of the infallibility of the Church or the Holy Scriptures they have left standing not a stone: but they have overleaped themselves in the case of Goethe. They have made a seer, nay, a divinity, of him. His works have become, beyond the Rhine, the Bible of cultivated men: a Bible in twenty volumes, but a true Bible, treated with the superstitious care that befits the study of an inspired text. If we do not put all the writings of this author on the same plane, if we admit preferences, we thereby relinquish the idea that all are divine, that none of them may be rejected or deprecated, that we need penetrate only a little further to find depths in what looked flat, hidden meanings in what seemed commonplace or tedious.  2
  Instead of Goethe read Molière, and you will realize that France is not far from falling into the same habit as Germany. Among us, admiration for Molière is tending to that state of orthodoxy outside of which there is no salvation. We read little nowadays; we read badly, inattentively, without reflecting, without analyzing, without tasting.  3
 
 
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