JMC : Philosophy of Literature / by Brother Azarias


THE aim of the present Essay is to embody in a united whole the laws and principles of literature in its most general relations. It is now sixteen years since the Essay was first presented to the public. In the kind reception then accorded the book by critics of nearly every shade of opinion, the Author has found encouragement to prepare this new edition. It runs upon the same lines of thought as the old edition. Parts have been revised, parts developed, and parts re-written, in the hope that the work will be found every way less unworthy of the subject.

There is one remark of an esteemed Reviewer upon which the Author would dwell. The late Dr. Orestes A. Brownson wrote, among many other complimentary things, upon the first appearance of the book: "We have been struck with the depth and justness of the Author's philosophical principles, which could, as we understand them, be borrowed from no school of philosophy generally accepted by Catholics or by non-catholics" (Brownson's Review, Oct., 1874, p. 561). Every earnest thinker must begin by breaking through the shackles of schools and systems. Philosophy is above schools and systems. None knew better than the great Brownson that he who commits himself to any school of thought -- any exclusive

System -- thereby so narrows the horizon of his intellectual vision, that he no longer sees things in themselves, but merely certain imperfect aspects of things. The primary and selfevident truths of our reason, from which start all philosophy and all knowledge, are not of this school or that; they simply are. Every teacher of literature, be the literature home or foreign, will perceive the benefit of placing his pupils upon this elevated vantage~ground from which to survey the various great authors and take their relative bearings.

-- NEW YORK, May 15, 1890.


PHILOSOPHY is the science of principles in their relations with things. It determines, weighs, examines, the validity of the fundamental principles upon which knowledge is based.

2. Every clearly-defined part of knowledge has elementary ideas upon which it is based, and without which it cannot exist They are its first principles. The philosophy of the subject deals with them. It has the first word, because its province is to determine what principles are primary for that subject and in what sense they are to be taken. It lays the foundation before building the superstructure. It has also the last word; for it must see that no material enters into the construction that the fundamental principles cannot support. Thus every department of knowledge has its philosophy.

3. The Philosophy of Literature has for its object to investigate the general relations of literature, as the expression of humanity, to the epochs in which society lives and moves, to thought, to language, to industry, art, science, and religion, as each is developed and expressed; and from these relations to deduce the laws that determine its variations, the fundamental principles upon which it is based, and the elements that constitute its literature.

4. Every science has a method and a principle; so also has every art. The principle determines the method. The method pursued in the Philosophy of Literature is this: Literature is defined in its most general aspects; its origin and functions are determined; then its general relations are dwelt upon; after which it is considered as influenced and as an influencing agency; and the spirit of rationalism that began to expand in the fifteenth, and became more general in the sixteenth century, is investigated in its main stem and chief branches, so far as it has affected literature. A theory of the beautiful equally app licable to art and letters is established; in its light the conservative element of literature is expressed; and it is shown that religion fosters and is the permanent basis of literary excellence. Some practical hints, based upon the theory and facts laid down, are given; the problem of intelligence is touched upon, and the morality of literature is discussed.

5. Literature is not read for the mere form's sake. The product of thought, it nourishes thought, which in its turn seeks expression and adds to literature. Thus, literature is the educator of thought But it may also be its ruin; and it actually becomes so when regarded exclusively as a matter of memory and imitation. These views are kept in mind throughout the present Essay.

6. The following truths are postulated:

I. That there is a God and a Divine revelation.

II. That man is made in the image and likeness of his Maker.

III. That his aspirations are satisfied only on the plane of the supernatural.

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