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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Denton Jaques Snider (1841–1925)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
APPRECIATION of the Greek spirit by the modern generation may find expression in scrupulous scholarship, comprehending the literature of Greece in its philological aspect; or it may manifest itself as the very poetry of criticism—as a temper of mind which can reconstruct the old Greek world out of a line from Homer, or from a fragment of a temple. Mr. Denton J. Snider possesses to a high degree this imaginative appreciation of the golden world of Greece. His scholarship is subordinated to his fine sympathy with the never-dying soul of a great age.  1
  In his ‘Walk in Hellas,’ he describes a pedestrian tour through Greece, which he made alone. The journey was as much of the mind as of the body. It was not undertaken merely to see portions of the peninsula rarely visited by strangers. Its chief object was to recover the ancient classic time, partly by power of the imagination, partly by the aid of haunted spring and grove and ruin. It was to see Aristotle walking with his disciples on the slopes of Lycabettus; to see the Platæans filing through the brushwood of Mount Kotroni, to aid the Athenians on the plain of Marathon; to see the statues of Phidias emerge from the ancient quarries of Pentelic marble,—white, godlike forms of eternal youth; to see the sapphire skies beyond spotless temples to Diana; to remember Theocritus in the scent of the thyme; above all, to seek for Helen, the incarnation of the divine Greek beauty. “He is in pursuit of Helen; her above all human and divine personalities he desires to behold, even speak with face to face, and possibly to possess. But who is Helen? You are aware that on her account the Trojan War was fought; that all Greece, when she was stolen, mustered a vast armament, and heroically struggled ten years for her recovery; and did recover her and bring her back to her native land. Nor is the legend wanting that there in her Grecian home she is still just the blooming bride who was once led away by the youthful Menelaos to the shining palace of Sparta. So the wanderer is going to have his Iliad too—an Iliad not fought and sung, but walked and perchance dreamed, for the possession of Helen, the most beautiful woman of Greece; nay, the most beautiful woman of the world. There she stands in the soft moonlight of fable, statue-like, just before the entrance to the temple of history. Thither the cloudy image, rapidly growing more distinct and more persistent, beckons and points.”  2
  It is this dream of Helen the beautiful that Mr. Snider has in mind continually, on his pilgrimage through the enchanted country of which she is the personification. She is always in the purple distance, beckoning to him from the porch of a temple, from the green slope of some sacred mountain, from the azure of the sky, from the depths of some wild sea splendor. He follows this vision from Athens to Pentelicus, from Marathon to Marcopoulo, from Aulis to Thebes, from Chæroneia to Parnassus. His idealism reconstructs the world of Helen and her descendants; but his keen powers of observation take account also of the modern Greece through which he is passing. The charm of ‘A Walk in Hellas’ lies in this poetical union of the Greece of Helen with the Greece of King George. Mr. Snider’s journey through Greece was undertaken in 1877, when he was young enough to enjoy even its hardships. He was born January 9th, 1841, at Mount Gilead, Ohio. In 1862 he graduated at Oberlin College, and in 1867 became instructor in the St. Louis High School. Since 1887 he has been co-worker in the literary schools of Chicago, and in the kindergarten; also a peripatetic lecturer. He has published commentaries on what he terms “the literary Bibles,”—Shakespeare’s dramas, Goethe’s ‘Faust,’ Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy.’ These are concerned chiefly with the ethical and spiritual import of the masterpieces, and less with the usual subject of criticism, literary form. Mr. Snider recognizes what many critics overlook, that the greatest artist is the greatest moralist. In his commentary on Shakespeare he writes: “The all-pervading greatness of Shakespeare lies in his comprehension of the ethical order of the world;” his dramas are “the truest literary product of the time, because the most perfect and concrete presentation of realized rationality.” It is this recognition of a supreme truth which fits Mr. Snider to be an interpreter of Macbeth and Lear, of the Faust Legend and Dante’s Vision. In his commentary on Goethe’s ‘Faust,’ there is much subtle criticism. “Margaret has not intellect, at least not intellect unfolded into conscious reason: she has the rational principle within her, but in the form of feeling. She is not, therefore, the self-centered woman, the one who is able to meet Faust, the intellectual destroyer of her world. Such is the word of the great poet of the century on woman. The great philosopher of the century has said about the same thing:—
          “‘Man is the active, objective principle, woman is the passive, subjective; man is thought, woman is feeling; man clings to the Universal, woman to the Individual,—she can possess fancy, wit, culture, but not philosophy. If this be the finality of her, then she is and must remain a tragic character; or if she be saved, her salvation depends on her not meeting a Faust. Such probably has been her lot in the past: but the new woman assuredly must take possession of her intellectual birthright, and therein be all the more a woman; I say she will be able to meet a Faust on his own ground, and not only Faust, but Mephisto himself. We can see such a woman in training in our Western world; but Goethe never beheld her, Hegel never beheld her, never could behold her in that European life.’”
  3
  Mr. Snider has been a voluminous writer in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and education. He has also published several volumes of poems on classical subjects, which exhibit the same appreciation of the Greek spirit which illuminates ‘A Walk in Hellas.’ Among his miscellaneous writings are ‘World’s-Fair Studies,’ a novel of Western life; ‘The Freebargers’; ‘The State’ (1902); ‘Architecture’ (1905); and ‘A Tour in Europe’ (1907).  4
 
 
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