BY THE EARL OF LISTOWEL, PH.D.
George Allen & Unwin, London . 1933. 10s. 6d.
This book is one of those doctorate theses which their authors think worthy of publication. It is divided into two parts: Part I Historical; and Part II Critical and Constructive. The historical part is intended to bring up to date Bernard Bosanquet's elaborate work "The History of Aesthetics" and begins where Bosanquet's book ends. Certain philosophers like Fechner and Guyau already mentioned by Bosanquet are also included on the ground that they have not received adequate treatment from him.
As a continuation of Bosanquet's "History, this book naturally challenges comparison with its predecessor. It must be admitted that Bosanquet's turgid style and faulty arrangement do compare unfavourably with the Earl of Listowel's clarity of language and orderly marshaling of facts. But Bosanquet, in spite of his occasionally secondhand knowledge (as he frankly admits with regard to the Medieval and Hellenistic period), is a weighty historian, quite prodigal of details and laborious in analysis. The Earl of Listowel, on the contrary, is brief to the point of perfunctoriness. His book gives us, as it were, only small puffs and short draughts of contemporary winds of aesthetic doctrine. He neither traces historical influences nor works out logical implications but contents himself with merely giving the broad conclusions modern aestheticians have arrived at. Even in the longest chapter on what the author calls "the profoundest interpretation of the aesthetic experience, the theory of Einjuhlung, we are nowhere told that the theory in question is but an offshoot of the theory of " Eject". Croce and his followers have to them only a meager chapter of four and half pages. Santayana ought to be grateful for the three paragraphs devoted to him in view of the fact that Richards is dismissed in one only. Ruskin has been accorded eight closely printed pages in Bosanquet's work, whereas the presumably more 'adequate portrayal" of his ideas in this book runs to a page and a half. The two most revolutionary studies of aesthetics, Louis Grudin's "Primer of Aesthetics" (1933) and Arthur Sewell's "Psychology of Beauty" (1931), are not mentioned at all. The twofold division of theories into Subjective and Objective is also questionable, considering that there are borderland or neutral cases. And the Earl of Listowel is obliged to add eclecticism to the list of Subjective theories and to pigeon-hole middle-of-the-roaders like Alexander and Bosanquet.
The Earl of Listowel is himself an eclectic. In his criticisms he seems to think that every theory contains some truth, but none the whole truth. This eclectism is precisely what one would expect from a good historian with no preconceived theory up his sleeves. One who can impartially give the devil his due will also act on Moliere's precept to take the good where he can find it. The pity is that in his criticisms, too, the Earl of Listowel indulges in generalities and commonplaces. He never picks a single hole that has not been pierced through and through by the shafts of other men's criticism. He is even capable of irrelevancies like the jibe at Carrit's "stylistic brilliance". Like all eclectic theories, his own views are by no means novel. There is certainly nothing original in the conclusion that aesthetic experience is " a disinterested and harmonious contemplation of the form and content of individual objects." But then, an historian's business is not to show originality, but rather to trace origins .