The Principle of Vision
George Henry Lewes
The following is excerpted from “The Principles of Success in Literature,” first appearing in the Fortnightly Review in 1865. Through this series that revisits 19th century authors, BriteLites invites discussion of topics that remain important to WordSmiths today.
i. Value of Insight and Personal Experience
All good Literature rests primarily on insight. All bad Literature rests upon imperfect insight, or upon imitation, which may be defined as seeing at second-hand.
There are men of clear insight who never become authors: some, because no sufficient solicitation from internal or external impulses makes them bend their energies to the task of giving literary expression to their thoughts; and some, because they lack the adequate powers of literary expression. But no man, be his telicity and facility of expression what they may, ever produces good Literature unless he sees for himself, and sees clearly. It is the very claim and purpose of Literature to show others what they failed to see. Unless a man sees this clearly for himself, how can he show it to others?
Literature delivers tidings of the world within and the world without. It tells of the facts which have been witnessed, reproduces the emotions which have been felt. It places before the reader symbols which represent the absent facts, or the relations of these to others facts; and by the vivid presentation of the symbols of emotion kindles the motive sympathy of readers. The art of selecting the fitting symbols and kindling, distinguishes the great writer from the great thinker.
This excerpt contains several items that merit discussion.
• All bad Literature rests upon … seeing at second-hand.
• No man … produces good Literature unless he sees for himself.
• It is the very claim and purpose of Literature to show others what they failed to see
Your thoughts are welcomed.
PG Limerics on this topic invited.