Selections from the Prose Works of Matthew Arnold

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Purchase of this book includes free trial access to where you can read more than a million books for free. This is an OCR edition with typos. Excerpt from book: II. LITERARY CRITICISM HEINRICH HEINE1 "I Know not if I deserve that a laurel-wreath should one day be laid on my coffin. Poetry, dearly as I have loved it, has always been to me but a divine plaything. I have never attached any great value to poetical fame ; and I trouble myself very little whether people praise my verses or blame them. But lay on my coffin a sward; for I was a brave soldier in the Liberation War of humanity." 2 Heine had his full share of love of fame, and cared quite as much as his brethren of the genus irri- tabile whether people praised his verses or blamed them. And he was very little of a hero. Posterity will certainly decorate his tomb with the emblem of the laurel rather than with the emblem of the sword. Still, for his contemporaries, for us, for the Europe of the present century, he is significant chiefly for the reason which he himself in the words just quoted assigns. He is significant because he was, if not preeminently a brave, yet a brilliant, a most effective soldier in the Liberation War of humanity. To ascertain the master-current in the literature of an epoch, and to distinguish this from all minor currents, is one of thecritic's highest functions; in discharging it he shows how far he possesses the most indispensable quality of his office, — justness of spirit. The living writer who has done most to make England acquainted with German authors, a man of genius, but to whom precisely this one quality of justness of spiritis perhaps wanting, — I mean Mr. Carlyle, — seems to me in the result of his labors on German literature to afford a proof how very necessary to the critic this quality is. Mr. Carlyle has spoken admirably of Goethe ; but then Goethe stands before all men's eyes, the manifest centre of German literature; and from this ...
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