So now I have embarked on The Common Pursuit, of which Leavis notes:
I take the title of this book from The Function of Criticism, one of those essays of Mr Eliot's which I most admire....—'The common pursuit of true judgment': that is how the critic should see his business, and what it should be for him. His perceptions and judgments are his, or they are nothing; but, whether or not he has consciously addressed himself to cooperative labour, they are inevitably collaborative. Collaboration may take the form of disagreement, and one is grateful to the critic whom one has found worth disagreeing with.
To-day, when the quality of the literary studies encouraged or permitted at the academic places of education has an obviously important bearing on the prospects of literary culture (that is, of humane culture generally), it is correspondingly important, and certainly not less important than it has been in less desperate times, to defend literature—to defend the classics and the literary tradition—against the academic mind.
[T]he essay in which [Tillyard] undertakes to confute my account of Milton's Grand Style by showing (with the support of Lascelles Abercrombie, William James, A.E. Housman, Gilbert Murray and Miss Maud Bodkin) that Milton is, or may be plausibly argued to be, remarkable for 'primitive feeling', or 'a richer share than Donne of those fundamental qualities of mind that appear to have immediate contact with the forces of life'—this essay begins: 'If you judged Shakespeare and Milton by the standards of Henry James and Virginia Woolf, there is no doubt that Shakespeare would fare the better.'
What does this mean? Perhaps by dint of questioning and suggestion some discussible proposition could be elicited from Dr Tillyard. But such a sentence (and the formula is repeated more than once in the book) couldn't have been written and left standing if the author hadn't been more concerned with the response he was relying on than the thought he supposed himself to be expressing.
The age in poetry was Tennyson's; and an age for which the ambition 'to bring English as near the Italian as possible' seems a natural and essentially poetic one, is an age in which the genius conscious enough to form a contrary ambition is likely to be very conscious and very contrary.
Bridges is a superb example of what education will do for one; his expectations—his taste, his sense of Form and his love of a 'continuous literary decorum'—were uncompromising, incorruptible and completely self-confident.... Decorum for Bridges had nothing like the Augustan correlations; it was a prim donnish conventionality. What, in fact, Bridges represents is essentially the academic mind, though with such confidence, completeness and conviction of authority as to constitute a truly memorable distinction.
It has been a long time since I read any of Gerard Manley Hopkins' prose. Leavis excerpts from the Letters. Hopkins writes to Bridges, "I always think however that your mind towards my verse is like mine towards Browning's: I greatly admire the touches and the details, but the general effect, the whole, offends me, I think it repulsive." And: "I do not like your calling Matthew Arnold Mr Kidglove Cocksure. I have more reason than you for disagreeing with him and thinking him very wrong, but nevertheless I am sure he is a rare genius and a great critic."
Perhaps anticipating Ezra Pound, Hopkins gives voice to the operating ethos of poets of our own day, capturing it entirely and precisely:
So also I cut myself off from the use of ere, o’er, wellnigh, what time, say not (for do not say), because, though dignified, they neither belong to nor could arise from, or be the elevation of, ordinary modern speech. For it seems to me that the poetical language of the age should be the current language heightened, to any degree heightened and unlike it, but not (I mean normally: passing freaks and graces are another thing) an obsolete one.
The Common Pursuit is a mixed bag: essays on poetry and prose intermixed. It culminates, purposefully, in an essay on poesy. I am into Swift now; as my whimsy takes me I may report further....
[Update December 11th: I posted this last quote of Hopkins on social media, saying "Hopkins (much in advance) nails the prevailing ethos of poets today exactly" and was promptly corrected: "It's a rare writer in verse in the US today that attempts to write 'the current language heightened.' Most of what is written today is either straight prose, really bad prose, or sillinesses." Touché. Point taken.]