an traxcl, much less communication.rnFord was not uncritical of Rossetti et Co., except, perhaps forrnChristina, whom he regarded as a saint. Looking back to theirrngeneration, he blamed them for leading English poets astray.rnRossctti’s ‘The Blessed Damozel had the effect of “the numbingrnblow of a sandbag,” in convincing writers that “writing was arnmatter of digging for obsolete words with which to express ideasrnforever dead and gone.” Ford’s obsession with plain languagernwas his answer to the artifice of the decadents, but he also realizedrnthat his own generation of writers, however much thevrnmight improve upon their elders, could neer be the “mountains”rnthat Ilardv and Conrad were, simplv because they werernnot as loftv. Welcoming each stvlistic inno’ation and newrneccentricity, he still looked back in awe at the tcrrifving giantsrnof the previous ccnturv. The new age was marked b cer kindrnof acKancc in comfort and decenc, and vet, in his 1911 memoirrnlemories and Impressions, he could not avoid the elegiacrnnote:rnWe are unifving and unifving and unifving. We are standardizingrnourselves and we arc doing awa with eervthingrnthat is outstanding.. .. We are nraking a greatrnman little people more cheerful and more bearable inrntheir material circumstances. We arc knocking for thernselect few the fla’or of the finer things out of life. Andrnthe finer the flavor the longer we take to get used to it.rnSo that that is going, and mam, manv, man- little pleasuresrnare coming. Whether vou like it or whether ()u dornnot depends solclv on vourself.rnThe note of humble skepticism at the end is tpical of Ford,rnwho as a Christian did not presume to declare what was bestrnfor other people. Welcoming all the liberal and progressivernchanges, including women’s suffrage, which seemed to makernlife more bearable for ordinarv people, his ow n cast of mind wasrnaristocratic and even feudal. His greatest heroes are personsrnborn into the wrong time and determined to live by an archaicrncode of honor that is shared b’ no one. hi Parade’s Knd Tictjensrnis abused and humiliated b^ a wife whom he continues to honorrnwith chialrous love, and he allows an intellectual and socialrninferior to claim credit for his ow n work. (Tom Last in Waugh’srnA i hindful of Dust might be read as a comic parodv.) I lis FifthrnQueen, Katharine Floward, refuses to lie or ]5olitic even for thernold religion; she despises both the reaetionarv Bishop Gardnerrnand the timorous reformer. Archbishop Cranmer; she loves thernking but would rather be his mistress than be partv to a divorce;rnand she faithfulh serves the Princess Marv, who alternately despisesrnher and puts her life in danger; she loathes the men whornwould scre her interests, and she respects Thomas Cromwellrnfor his single-minded devotion to King and Country, while vetrnhating him for his persecution of Catholics.rnFord was no sentimental reaetionarv, and he refused to blindrnhimself cither to the ‘irtucs of his own ccntur’ or to the iccs ofrnthe pre ions one. But the moral and spiritual decline he sensedrne en before the Great War, which is so often credited with demoralizingrnthe upper classes of Britain and France, has proceededrninexorably. The periodic episodes of moral rearmamentrnin the 193()’s and 1950’s were mere breathing-spacesrndictated b’ circumstances like war and depression. So manyrnyears after Ford’s death, we are tempted to look back nostalgicalK’rnat recent periods that seem bright and sunny in comparisonrnw ith these drab das, and there are times when I begin tornget wistful for the halcvon vcars of Jimmv Carter.rnThere is nothing less useful or more perilous than short-termrnnostalgia, because the generation of our fathers is more irrevocablrngone and less relevant to our life than the age of Dante.rnWe ma well be heading into a period of pett provincialismrnand blood’ endctta, when we shall need Dante as our guide asrnbadly as he needed Vergil, but the quiet life of nuclear familiesrnin the suburbs, laughing at / Love Lucy, going godlessly tornchurch, joining the PTA and Boy Scouts to make the world arnbetter place for other people’s children—that world is gone forever,rnand with it is gone the middle-brow literature of the oldrnNew Yorker and the Book of the Month Club. There is no massrnreadership for new Martjuands or Chandlers, whose placesrnhave been taken b- Tom Clancv, Stephen King, and Dean R.rnKoontz, “writers” whose one trick is the abilit’ to titillaternwithout entertaining.rnThe erv people who complain so loudK about the pornographicrnart funded b’ the NEA go home at night to watch televisionrnprograms whose immorality would haw horrified D.LI.rnLawrence and to curl up with books whose stle would havernembarrassed a schoolboy addicted to penny dreadfuls. It cannotrnbe pornography per se that offends so manv Republicans,rnor even the misappropriation of their money, so much as it isrnart itself, the erv possibility that there is a dimension of lifernthey cannot enter or appreciate, blinded and blunted, as theyrnare, by their exclusive devotion to the second-best things in lifernthat onh nioncv can bu. I do not know which group is morerndisgusting, the spaved and neutered pets of the NEA or thernsanctimonious philistincs who haxe set themselves up asrnguardians of public morality.rnFor the most part, great works of literature arc not created byrngeniuses living in isolation. That is the great Romantic fallacy,rntheir response to the development of commercial publishingrnand mass literature, and each new generation of Englishrnpoets, with a few exceptions like Tennyson and Frost, strove torndistance itself from an increasingly brutalized public. Ford wasrnright to condemn the preciosity of the prc-Raphaelites andrndecadents, and his argument can be applied to his fax)riternmodern writers, James, Pound, and Eliot. But a serious writer isrnin the position of the worth’ and honorable woman who hasrnbeen jilted for a strumpet. She is tempted to mope, to adopt anrnausterit that seems to sa, “I never rcalK wanted him or anyrnman. N’linc is too fine a nature to endure the coarseness ofrnphysical love.”rnThe tendenev to see artists as isolated geniuses is doubly unfortunate,rnfirst, in tempting us to see signs of hope in the emergencernof rare talents—like Eliot, Pound, and Hemingway afterrnthe Great War—and second, in blinding us to the truth thatrngreat art is almost always the expression of a wider community.rnA reading public or audience is the baseline that sets limits onrnthe elevation of literarv and artistic accomplishment. Geniusesrnarise in response to their communitv, and it is no accident thatrnbetween Vergil and Dante stretch 14 centuries in which therernarc many pleasant hills and valleys but none of the mountainrntops that onl- rise from the high plains of a national public.rnThe Iliad is nothing more than the common culture of thernGreeks turned into art. A lesser people has to content itselfrnwith Barbara Allen, and Anglo-American literature would notrnhave attempted to reach the level it did had there been nornreading public whose taste was schooled on Vergil and Horace,rnalthough there are probably not more than a half dozen lyricrnJUNE 1995/11rnrnrn