In Donna Nurse's review of Lise Bissonnette's Affairs of Art (April), T.S. Eliot and I. A. Richards are described as "two New Critics who, in the early decades of this century, considered the elevation of art to be a necessary consequence of the decline of religion." However, this view had already been clearly stated in 1880, in Matthew Arnold's often-quoted essay "The Study of Poetry". Arnold, who influenced Richards in his belief that poetry had the power to save, wrote, "More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us. .most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry."
It is not clear from the review whether the error originates with Lise Bissonnette or Donna Nurse, but whichever is the case, it is misleading to equate Eliot and Richards as propagators of the religion of art, since Eliot explicitly attacked Richards's Arnoldian views. In his Norton lectures (1932-33), Eliot wrote that "nothing in this world or the next is a substitute for anything else; and if you find that you must do without something, such as religious faith or philosophic belief, then you must just do without it."
J. Russell Perkin
Department of English
Saint Mary's University
Since "necessary" doesn't mean "desirable", I as copy editor did not and do not think that Donna Nurse was presenting Eliot as a propagator of the religion of art. Nor did she equate Eliot and Richards; she did associate them. Our readers are likely to know that Eliot was a Christian, and not someone who considered the decline of religion to be a good thing, in itself or in its various consequences.
In his essay "Arnold & Pater", in 1930, Eliot said, "When religion is in a flourishing state, when the whole mind of society is moderately healthy and in order, there is an easy and natural association between religion and art. Only when religion has been partly retired and confined, when an Arnold can sternly remind us that Culture is wider than Religion, do we get `religious art' and in due course `aesthetic religion'."
To say that nothing is a substitute for another thing is not to say that some people will not try to raise up something (often otherwise good) into an ersatz for something else. Eliot's attack on the Arnoldian view is an acknowledgement that people do attempt false substitutions. In the essay I just quoted, he uses phrases like "usurp the place of Religion" and "set up Culture in the place of Religion".
I do not mean just to chop logic; we thank Professor Perkin for elaborating on a brief reference to a serious matter.-G.O.
Michael Coren is, as always, an intelligent skeptic. But however clever his arguments, such as his dismissal of Oscar Wilde as a gay icon (March), there's always that unsavoury whiff of Political Agenda behind the iconoclasm, rather like a badly cleaned supermarket dumpster. This is what comes from staking out a position in spectral politics. Coren argues that because Wilde was ambivalent about his homosexuality he is no gay icon. I would think that his inner conflict is all too familiar to homosexuals and thus they would empathize with him as well as admire him for his bitchy verbal daring. But Coren's conservative agenda is his real point. I can't help but think he doesn't approve of gays iconizing Wilde so much as he disapproves of them having icons at all.
In the March issue, Norman Doidge's review of Elisabeth M. Raab's book And Peace Never Came, stresses how impressed he was with the attitude of appreciation demonstrated by Ms. Raab in her book.
I, too, want to express much appreciation for Mr. Doidge's writing. This review moved me in its own right: by its sensitivity to the subject, his appreciation for the book's qualities, his keen and perceptive analysis, and mostly the beautiful words he used to express them all.
I am as motivated to cherish this review as a piece of writing as I am to read Ms. Raab's book.