the cradle of modernism


Every generous idea previously accepted was now despised and, in fact, blamed for failure to bring about the better world. Love, liberty, progress, the sovereign people, the brotherhood of man, and the oneness of spirit under a mysterious but manifest providence — these were now regarded as the vaporings of feeble minds or glib rhetoricians. What was true was hard matter and evil man, nothing else. Science confirmed the first of these sole realities, politics the other. Hence Realism and Materialism: “Things are in the saddle, / And ride mankind.”

Realism, moreover, was defined as the commonplace, the dull, dreary, sordid repetitious occurrences of daily life. They made anything other than soberness of word and feeling ridiculous. To be sure, the Romanticists had often felt despair; they were not fools — or blind. But their love of life was strong, and they were also gifted with the love of love; those among them who survived the debacle of 1848 kept their faith in humankind and felt it a duty to continue the fight for political freedom and social equality. Hugo, exiled on his Channel Island for eighteen years, was the chief spokesman for this “Nevertheless” attitude and thereby earned the contempt of the younger men who knew that ideas were “mere” ideas and worthless. He continued to love and worship nature; they, on the contrary, were possessed by the emotion that Roger Williams has described and analyzed in his book The Horror of Life and has shown by psychological and medical evidence to have been no affectation but fact.

more from The American Scholar here.