Sincerity In Literature -- By: Oscar W. Firkins

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 068:272 (Oct 1911)
Article: Sincerity In Literature
Author: Oscar W. Firkins


Sincerity In Literature

Oscar W. Firkins

In the literature of feeling, sincerity is the first of powers and graces; to obtain it and then to demonstrate it is one of the chief objects of that literature. Between feeling and form the interplay is constant and reciprocal: the emphasis shifts from one to the other. The retreat of feeling permits an increased attention to form, and the stress on form is relaxed as the emotion grows in energy and spontaneity. There is, accordingly, a degree of accomplishment which casts discredit on the genuineness of feeling. We doubt if the emotion in a sonnet is spontaneous, or if that in a rondel or sestina is real. We reason that strong feeling, even when unselfish, is self-engrossed, busy, primarily, with itself, and incapable of the labor, or rather of the interruption, implied in elaborate technique. Even if it achieved the sacrifice, we suspect that it would perish in the effort.

It is easy, however, to push reasoning of this kind too far. The objection to the sonnet or the rondel carries with it, initially at least, an objection to verse as such. The difficulties of versification in its simplest forms for most men in our day and perhaps for all men of an earlier time would make its use incompatible with the presence, or, at any rate, the maintenance, of any lively emotion in the craftsman. Common meter or the ballad measure would once have implied a degree of labor to which strong feeling could not, and would not, have

submitted. As practice induced skill, the attention was released from its enslavement to technique, and at last even strong feeling felt that it could spare the diminished effort now needed for the production of simple verse. There is clearly no reason why the process should not extend itself to more and more complications. The question is less one of complicated forms or elaboration as such than of difficulty; and less of difficulty, in the strict sense, than of effort. Any form is consistent with sincere and passionate feeling in the hands of an artist whose mastery of that form enables him to meet its demands without withdrawing any large measure of his power from higher objects. A sonnet carries with it a presumption of coldness and constraint; but that is no bar to its conveyance of the warmest and most impassioned feeling in the hands of metrists like Rossetti or Mrs. Browning, to whom the bonds of intricate verse are as small a matter as the green withes to the awakened Samson. The fact that the rondeau means the extinction of vitality for everybody else is no proof that it means anything of the kind for the supple and masterly gift of Mr. Austin Dobson. The truth is that it is not dexterity but the reverse, not the perfection, but the inadequacy, of ac...

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