Apart from Time and Country
It is impossible to pass final judgment on William Sharp's exploitation of his sense of place and to put it into historical perspective without first observing that a sympathetic response to the natural world is in some degree available as creative material to all artists. The power we all know in childhood of anthropomorphizing the external world and of seeing that world as an extension of what we only later and gradually come to know as our separate selves is, as one psychologist has pointed out, merely sustained longer by artists than by other men.1
Yet all artistic sensibility to nature is not the same. If it were, there would be absolutely no validity to distinctions among various artistic eras, distinctions which, contrary to the antihistorical view of the psychologist, are the commonplaces of literary and artistic historiography. Every artist in every era may reverberate to his natural surroundings, but the shape and application he gives to that response define his philosophic fraternity with men of his time. "Windsor Forest" is a long way, philosophically as well as geographically, from the romantic Alps.
A distance less large, but a distance nonetheless, divides the nature sensibility of Wordsworth and of D. H. Lawrence. This is apparent. But what was the process by which this subtler distinction evolved? What did the Victorians contribute to the shape and application of the artistic response to nature that significantly altered it? As a Victorian in whose work and character was compressed every aspect of the nature sensibility and sense of place among his contemporaries, William Sharp may assist in determining and defining that evolutionary link.
Sharp's sense of place was in great part a legacy he owned to romanticism, a legacy of which not he alone but his entire generation were beneficiaries. Much more than those generic artists of whom the psychologist speaks, romantics seemed to receive more freely and to reverberate more liberally to the suggestions offered by the natural world. If the psychological premise devised to explain all such responses is correct, then the romantic distinguished himself by exceeding ordinary men or indeed ordinary artists-in resisting the categorizing demanded by the adoption of a securely defined self. Perhaps his "agony" was the result of an unusually distasteful array of available roles in his society, none presenting him with an authentic and acceptable reflection of his own desires. Certainly the history coinciding with what we know in western culture as romanticism offers analogues for infinite dissatisfaction. Disruptions in religious, ethical, social, and political systems wrought their effect by making any thorough commitment to such systems less and less possible for the instinctively recalcitrant artist.
But such disruptions did not---could not---destroy the need for some such commitment, some such identification. The continuing need and the continuing search for identity characterize the romantic phase as much as does the generously sympathetic response to the outside world. The romantic could not disavow his instinctive psychological obligation to seek in some aspect of the reality around him a satisfactory reflection of himself. So demanding is this need that somewhere even the typical romantic conceded, if only partially or temporarily, and permitted a personal boundary to be drawn around him. The boundary was, more often than not, coterminous with the landscape on which he focused. Though Wordsworth's scenery may seem generically natural and his sensibility to nature broadly responsive, even he struck a limit. Partly it was a negative limit, antisocial in the simplest sense-a rejection of the city and its supposed obstacles to communion and self-reflection. But after the brief cosmopolitan excursions of his youth, Wordsworth drew an affirmative boundary too, which by and large described a particular half-gloomy, half-joyful English kind of landscape---watery, yet at its best not too sentimentally damp, variably cloudy, with a chance of sun, a chance of rain.
For a poet like Byron, the terrain might have been broader, but the climatic conditions were even more limited. Apart from the sunny divagations of his Don Juan, Byron's landscape was almost invariably cloudy and overcast, his moral horizon dark and befogged. And Shelley, though he renounced limits, in his very renunciation acknowledged their presence. He sought his volatile image in the wind, in a bird that was not a bird, in a man-god who was neither man nor god. Perhaps for this reason appreciation of Shelley is a touchstone of the romantic temperament. It is not surprising that Sharp preferred him to the other romantic poets: in the nearly quixotic attempt to push back limits he was thoroughly Shelley's successor. Wordsworth may, by contrast with Shelley, demonstrate the wisdom of taking a line of less resistance. In making his concession to a peculiarly English landscape of fact and feeling, he was implicitly conveying the knowledge that there is no total escape from identity, and the man who seeks it pays an enormous price, no matter how magniloquently his art may record the search.
In short, the romantic quest for freedom from traditionally imposed social roles was inevitably circumscribed. It became, in effect, a test of limits, regardless of how "illimitable" the seeker might try to make his vision. The Victorian period changed these conditions in only one significant respect, and that was but one of degree. To the concept of nation that had been formed a good deal earlier it gave a new and nearly overpowering emphasis as a boundary of man's cultural and emotional identity. The expansion that most characterized the epoch politically found its most sympathetic correspondence in the popular mind, but it was a source of "self" for many literary minds as well. It effected a cultural movement toward national identity that sustained itself practically unbroken until after the turn of the century.2 The subcurrent of reaction that steadily developed strength toward the end of the century did not fully establish itself until the First World War.
Sharp's life thoroughly described the locus of this cultural movement. He sought his personal identity in external nature by virtue of his romantic sympathy with it, but he also could not avoid the pressure to make such a search for personal identity a search for a correspondent configuration of race or nationality at a time when the external world itself was becoming increasingly categorized by nation and race. Modern history and political reality have, to a great extent, demanded the same of all men. For some, perhaps most, it is a demand that does not engage them in any visible conflicts. They accept their identity with their own familiar national society, as most Victorians did, without challenge or difficulty. But Sharp was one of those others whose dispositions respond to currents less obvious. He was a man made by nature extraordinarily sympathetic, and by history a striking exemplar of the continuing sense of displacement among modern artists, a displacement for which the exile has become the literary symbol, and for which nationalism may have been a necessary but nonetheless only temporary therapy. Urged by the circumstances of his early life, he uprooted himself from the natural and ordinary attachment to his own native place, his "home," an attachment that even at best could only have been half of an isotonic allegiance to Scottish culture and the English culture which had embraced it.
With an advancing technology of transportation conveniently assisting him in his flight, Sharp temporarily abandoned himself to a rebellious nomadism that negated his roots, and eventually made it impossible for him ever to restore a completely natural and comfortable identification with the home that ought to have been his. The society he encountered in London was itself artificial and rootless. It reflected an urbanization that was in great measure composed of the alienated poor, those who had deserted their identity with the soil to form a dispossessed class,3 and the alienated artists, those who had deserted their identity with English convention to form a bohemian coterie. Impelled by his own needs to espouse the city's muddled cosmopolitanism, Sharp was at the same time emotionally convulsed by the city's shapeless failure to provide a living community to which he could belong.
Given his own unsettled nature and the mistrust with which he regarded the settlements open to him, Sharp could find no satisfactory definition of himself. His quest thus remained a quest, episodic, filled with possibilities of pause, but no possibility of rest. The contrasts and oppositions of his experience provided a legitimate range within which to indulge the contrary impulses of his literary personality. His frustrated quest for limits ultimately represented itself as a quest for the illimitable; nothing less than that, or indeed more coherent than that, had revealed itself as an opportunity.
Sharp's sense of cultural exile was the expression, then, of a recalcitrant romanticism unwilling to commit itself to an English identity. But it was no isolated phenomenon. Some of the greatest writers of the period were spiritually or physically expatriated. Divided or uncertain loyalties informed their writing long before the crisis of the First World War liberated expatriates from their own diffusion and provided them with a rationale for fostering a community among themselves. Before exile was fashionable Victorians found means of revealing and disguising it at the same time.
Some of these emotional wanderers, like Samuel Butler, William Morris, and H. G. Wells, dreamed of utopias to satisfy their need for identity with place, Others, like Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, less optimistically visionary than the utopians, contracted their artistic sights and tended a small plot of earth where their belief in the basic interdependence of men could be dramatized on a microcosmic scale. Theirs was no mere regionalism or quest for local color, no simple social historian's concern with the curiosities of specific time and specific place. Rather they looked to these as reference points for all humanity. For them, as George Eliot put it, the "nightly heavens" of one's homestead were a means to "astronomy."4 Yeats was at one with her when he wrote that "all poetry should have a local habitation when at all possible," that "we should make poems on the familiar landscape we love," for he shared Eliot's sense of the ultimate purpose of that focus. "To the greatest poets," he said "everything they see has its relation to the national life, and through that to the universal and divine life; nothing is an isolated artistic moment; everything fulfills a purpose that is not its own."5 The artist's object was to seize the particular and to transcend it by turning it into symbol.
Sharp's literary efforts combined both these impulses; he sought utopia and microcosm, and in combining these quests he demonstrated their intimate psychological unity. But often, too, his work found another, simpler metaphor for spiritual exile, in the dislocated wanderings of his characters. Through this metaphor he recorded a continuing emotional and psychological process of search, in which any focus upon a specific place was no more than an interpolated pause. This process is also to be found in the work of his greater contemporaries, who took up where Childe Harold and Don Juan had left off long before. The wanderings of Henry James's characters were the physical counterpart of their tortured spiritual explorations, and their search for identity was inextricably linked with concepts of national character. The same is true of the people in Conrad's novels. The English tongue may have adopted him as he put it, but the English spirit did not. Proof lies in the very fragility of the sense of self possessed by his imperializing Englishmen---the inadequacy of their English character and rectitude to sustain an actual confrontation with man's interior jungle.6
All of these writers shared with one another, as they shared with Sharp, a feeling that paradoxically yet inevitably grew side by side with Victorian nationalism, a sense of the deep interrelatedness of human experience. They shared what Conrad termed "the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation-the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity . . . which binds men to each other and all mankind to the visible world."7
Later Victorian fiction in general exhibits a strong tendency to express consciousness in terms of place and to endorse through that means a philosophy of cosmic solidarity and an ethic of cosmic sympathy. Such a development began early though tentatively in the Victorian novel and continued with increasing momentum over the course of the second half of the century. One may see this process of evolution by examining the novels of Dickens, for example, where the use of travel is not essentially grounded in cosmopolitanism and where travel may even tend to secure the national self-love of the English characters---as, for instance, the experience of Italy seems to do for Little Dorrit. Meredith represents a considerable step beyond this mode; even in so early a novel as The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, Richard is found undergoing his great epiphany in the Rhine country. Further, George Eliot, despite the essentially microcosmic impulse behind her use of place, writes a novel like Daniel Deronda with a wide European base, and elsewhere---everywhere---composes with a consciousness of place and movement. A similar balance prevails in Hardy, whose itineraries are usually circumspect in the extreme, but in whose work, indeed because he starts from such minuscule compass points, another village is virtually equivalent to another planet. There can be no doubt, at least, that divagation plays a considerable part in the moral experience of his characters; Angel Clare's voyage may be wide and Tess's wanderings narrow, but they are equally educative; and however much a treadmill may be the gypsy life of Jude and Sue in Jude the Obscure, it is still symbolic of the emotional locus of their lives.
These novelists thus go far to confirming Mary McCarthy's judgment that since the novel is rooted in the journalism of its epoch, the novelist shares the journalist's strong bias, in this period a bias toward tourism. As a corollary to this truth, one might observe that the cosmopolitan imagination is to some extent dependent upon the mobility of the writer himself. Characteristically well-traveled in life and literature are lesser fiction writers, like Morris, Butler, Gissing, George Borrow, Kipling, Wells, and Stevenson, and larger ones like James and Conrad, in whom travel comes near to becoming what it distinctly is for Forster and Lawrence, the single most functional metaphor for consciousness.
But, to elucidate Sharp's position in this development, another point must be made. Conrad's "invincible conviction of solidarity" was a vision he reproduced through the exploitation of a stage both real and fabricated. It was real in the sense that the exotic and primitive world he used was actually there, and quite actually upon it were being played the dramas of national cupidity. Yet it was also a fantasy in the sense that it was so distant, so unfamiliar to the ordinary man who would read his novels, that it was quite fabricable, quite responsive to sensitive shaping to an artist's ends. "The problem was," he wrote in his preface to Within the Tides, "to make unfamiliar things credible."8 In doing so, he created an altar on which the Moloch of human division could himself be divided and sacrificed.
James did likewise. The drama of innocent America confronting a dissolute, if civil ancestry and attempting to resolve the discrepancy in its own moral identity was a drama that had not yet really happened---indeed may be said not yet to have happened---but it could be believed because it was so much hoped. So much hoped, in fact, that it is no surprise Sharp himself should have thought of America as an Eden where a new and believable community of men could be designed out of the materials that had seemed to decay in the old world.
If Sharp was like these men in seeking a foothold, a stage, upon which such symbolic dramas might be played, his failure to achieve like results is attributable to a less incisive sense of what gives literature its power. It is the result of his effort to fabricate a stage completely. The Celtic world-the only world he incorporated into his art to any significant extent-was, as he depicted it, virtually nonexistent. The drama of Druid against Christian might be capable of dimly reflecting more immediate cultural confrontations, but a dim reflection is after all nothing better than a dim reflection. Unlike his esthetic colleague William Morris, whose heroic fantasy The Wood Beyond the World made the proximity of real and ideal geography a source of profound tension and artistic excitement, Sharp shunned any effects that might have turned his own fantasies into more vivid reflections of real life. In the process he rejected one of the principal opportunities lying open to the artist of his time. Shaping itself out of the chaos of conflict between country and city was a new kind of stage on which the old Celt of dreams and visions, the mythmaker of the past, was encountering "the plumber and the artificial gardener," the industrialist, the citymaker of the present, and attempting, though not always realizing, an adjustment to a new and irreversible truth.
In rejecting this encounter, Sharp flinched from a wonderful if perilous challenge, one which even his Celtic contemporary Yeats eventually faced and made vital. Hardy's ability to confront the same challenge helped to give his last novel, Jude the Obscure, its strange and staggering power, and made it an immensely courageous foray into a modern jungle few of his own epoch and experience had even the courage to visualize.
There is no way to avoid seeing this failure in Sharp as a failure of artistic vision, though there is a way of pardoning him for it. It is clear that before the deep crises that shook the world after the turn of the century, few artists were able to mount a valid protest against man's trend toward mechanized loneliness and isolation amid the turbulent, self-engrossed "national life at its center," and to brave the conventions and prejudices constraining the reproduction of their mood of defiance in art. Certainly, even though his own protest did not come to artistic life, Sharp must be credited with never faltering before the engagement with national pride. Whenever he had the opportunity and the strength, he continued to eschew the limitations with which he had to temporize and to search for a community ever more expressive of his deep and abiding universal sympathies, and of the variety and upheaval that characterized the shape of the inner man. In this experimental penetration of the facades of superficial allegiances and identities-and even of superficial cosmopolitanism itself---he helped to foster what were in his own day, for the most part, unconventional and unpopular truths.
Artists who survived Sharp to live through the First World War shuddered from its shocks to national allegiances, but they endured them, for they had been in a true sense prepared by the cosmopolitan sympathies of Sharp's generation. They found, as Sharp had not found, a genuine community of distempered idealism among their fellow writers and a growing community of misgiving among their audiences. Sharp is divided from these men by the quality and temper of the convictions he fundamentally shares with them, his groping and diffident, theirs strong and certain. Thus, where Sharp chafes quietly at the barriers to international communion, Joyce rages furiously at the slovenly compromises men make in the name of national dignity. Sharp's thin dream of a new and transcendent Celtic spirit is separated by thrust as well as genius from Joyce's promised forging of the "uncreated conscience" of his race. The same principle of energetic conviction divides the outcast night-wanderers of Sharp's London from the clanless tribesmen of Joyce's Dublin, the homelessness of Sharp's "Children of To-morrow" from the sense of exile, and the formless and ever-forming allegiances of the Jew Leopold Bloom. The psychic drama Sharp hoped for and tried to shape and the doggedness of his research into "the geography of the mind" are the seedling versions of Joyce's expert and intrepid psychological scrutiny of the inner man. The articulated consciousnesses of Joyce's characters are full of symbols Sharp would have enthusiastically ratified, because they unite men rather than divide them.
The exploration of the geography of the mind and imagination that characterizes Joyce has much in common with T. S. Eliot's exploration of the "wasteland." An expatriate himself, Eliot exemplifies in his early work the dilemma imposed by shattered bonds and toppled mechanistic, mercantilistic, and militaristic supports for the human identity. One source of the aridity in "Cerontion," and a key to the riddle of international perversion in "The Wasteland," is the defeated hope of cultural intercommunion that Eliot felt as a young poet. To pursue Eliot through his later development is of course to trace a resurrection out of that despair and to discover a resolution that was bidden in the wasteland, waiting to be realized. Out of the broad catholicity of Eliot's cultural sympathies, the "fragments" from widely differing cultures which he "shored against his ruin," came the gradual fabrication of a new, transcendent community based upon a reconstituted Christian tradition.
Eliot's poetry is a body of work essentially dramatic, and it suggests the realization of Sharp's prophecy that modern literature would find its rejuvenation in a new kind of poetic drama. More than anything else, Sharp wanted the new drama to impose no obstacles to its universal reception, to be a stage from which a common idiom and vocabulary of truth might be spoken. That hopefully envisioned new stage was merely another symbolic expression of his desire for a place that could transcend all limits. Eliot's dramas do not entirely realize this hope, for they have a Christian boundary. But many of his poems are broadly and universally conceived peregrinations---with frequent use of geographical metaphor---through the geography of the soul.
Eliot's combination of the spirit of place with a sense of exile, and therefore with the compelling desire for a transcendent community, is only an extension of the combination that wholly characterized Sharp and partially characterized many writers of his generation, different as their work may otherwise be. That same combination provides a principle of unity among important later writers of extremely diverse philosophy and vision. D. H. Lawrence, whose own odyssey perhaps more closely than any other writer's resembles that of William Sharp, entitled the first chapter of his Studies in Classic American Literature "The Spirit of Place." Lawrence would have found Sharp incorrigibly "blue-eyed" and dream-minded, for Lawrence thought he could see through the clouds that enveloped the American "place" on which he chose to focus, and he debunked the myths with which Americans then surrounded and still surround themselves. Yet his vision shared a good deal with that of his less brilliant forerunner, and a few excerpts from Lawrence's book suggest the similarity of their intents. One can sense in Lawrence's tone that he had had and pushed away the same illusion that had moved Sharp, at least temporarily, to view America as a "fortunate Eden." Those who came to America, said Lawrence, "came largely to get away---that most simple of motives. To get way. Away from what? In the long run, away from themselves. Away from everything. That's why most people have come to America, and still do come. To get away from everything they are or have been. 'Henceforth be masterless."' Had Sharp been more self-conscious a student of his own motives, these might have been his own words.
From the vantage point of a man who has had the true revelation, Lawrence spoke with authority of the same sense of place---identity that had obsessed Sharp:
Lawrence's historical experience, which Sharp lacked, enabled him to build upon this view. With his infallible technique for making a new paragraph seem like a new chapter of Ecclesiastes, he turned his idea upon itself:
Lawrence's final statement needed this prologue, just as the "men" he envisioned in it had needed the prologue of William Sharp, perhaps countless William Sharps:
Though in other respects it is the antithesis of Lawrence's, the work of another novelist, E. M. Forster, shows how much the search for a new sense of "homeland" and a new "community of belief" invaded twentieth-century literature and how inevitably it accompanied the sense of place. Forster 's A Passage to India suggests how the writer after the First World War could give the spirit of place a broader field of play than that to which novelists like George Eliot and Thomas Hardy were limited. He demonstrates that for the later writer such comprehensiveness was acceptable, a ground sufficiently responsive to general feeling to provide a legitimate artistic foothold and to require no exercise of caution. Forster treats with familiarity, in other words, the kind of place that for Conrad's first audiences would still have been distant, strange, and exotic. He can thus confront the topography of India with an aplomb belying any claims that land might have to being exotic and faraway. If it is exotic in Forster's vision, it is so mainly by virtue of the grotesque contrasts it expresses within itself only secondarily by virtue of the diehard associations of mystery that the word "India" trails with it still, part of the legacy that created innumerable Sharps lumping camelback through the wildernesses of distant places to bring their half-manufactured excitement to color---and travel-hungry Victorians.
Echoes of Sharp's technique in making symbolic use of place can readily be found in Forster's. That technique is thoroughly illustrated by the Marabar Caves, but its scope is no better demonstrated than in what for all purposes is the philosophical center of this symmetrical novel, Fielding's pause in Italy on his return trip to England. Forster describes Fielding's realization of this movement in these terms: "The Mediterranean is the human norm. When men leave that exquisite lake, through the Bosphorus or the Pillars of Hercules, they approach the monstrous and extraordinary."10 The philosophizing that accompanies Forster's place descriptions is as naturally their result as any conclusion drawn from inductive reasoning or speculation, for its basis is symbolic.
Forster's earlier novel, Howards End, contains very explicit contact with the cosmopolitanism of Sharp's generation, though that point of contact was one of reaction rather than support. Forster seems to have feared a movement that, at the turn of the century, even disturbed some cosmopolitans-what Ethel Goddard, in discussing Fiona Macleod's anti-nationalism in 1904, described as "that vulgar indolence of cosmopolitanism which excuses its ignorance of the traditions of any one country by an affectation of admiration for all countries."11 This indolence, she assured her readers, was not Fiona Macleod's. But evidence that it existed in others is further provided by the animadversions in Howards End upon the leveling cosmopolitan spirit. Fear of such leveling was at the heart of Forster's assertion that Englishmen must return to being English, must look upon their land and love it, and not allow its distinctive character to be destroyed. Yet an examination of Howards End reveals Forster sharing another more essential mood of Sharp's cosmopolitanism, its transcendent nationalism. The cosmopolitanism Forster despised was represented for him by the same two forces for which Sharp had also found nothing but opprobrium: the spirit of urbanization and the spirit of imperialism. The "Imperial type," Forster wrote, "hopes to inherit the earth": It breeds as quickly as the yeoman and as soundly; strong is the temptation to acclaim it as a super-yeoman who carries his country's virtue overseas. But the Imperialist is not what he thinks or seems. He is a destroyer. He prepares the way for cosmopolitanism, and though his ambitions be fulfilled, the earth he inherits will be grey.
And the city?
Forster's similarity with Sharp at these points suggests that in a deeper sense he was unjustified in calling these leveling forces "cosmopolitan." His real purpose in Howards End was not to propogate a narrow nativism, but to locate the "binding force" of which he spoke in a living community. His was a nationalism as transcendent as any of Yeats or Fiona Macleod. His England too was a melting pot; it absorbed, it did not exclude. It was an earth that even the exiled Schlegels, whose father had laid down the sword and sought refuge from an arrogant imperialism, could inherit.
Thus the miniature universe of Howards End has, like the panorama of western civilization in A Passage to India, a purpose in common with the big world beyond it. With a sense for the power of place to mold lives that had been exploited by the writers whom Sharp treated in Literary Geography, and by Sharp himself in Silence Farm, Forster went a step beyond them. He fabricated a community conceived not as a mold into which lives are behavioristically forced, but rather as a liberating spiritual force, one which challenges the best in man, commands, in a sense, the love out of him. Howards End is, as a true homeland ought to be, a positive agent, through which the spirit of the universe seeking to unite and not to divide might work its will. The distance between this and A Passage to India is not really great.
In the later novel, Forster was only more courageously confronting the cosmopolitan challenge, in which "the binding force . . . must be entrusted to Love alone. May Love be equal to the task."
The unity the world seems to possess beneath its face of diversity has been arrived at by many different applications of the sense of symbolic place since William Sharp. Passage has been secured by means of Virginia Woolf's lighthouse or better still, the quietly self-effacing house of Mrs. Ramsey, subtly reiterating its own image through Woolf's delicate novel. It has been achieved through the nature-mysticism of Katherine Mansfield, the Spain, the Italy, the Paris of Hemingway, or the Yoknapatawpha County of Faulkner.
All of these are indebted to the Victorian sense of place that gave to the romantic spirit new shape and concreteness. This process of translation found its quintessential expression in William Sharp. His work reveals as though in summary of his era, that out of a sense of exile could emerge a dream of community, which, while borrowing partisan allegiances to place, did so only that it might go beyond them to contend the truth of the nonpartisanship of life.