The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

III. Critical and Miscellaneous Prose

§ 12. Henley

The point where Dowden is weak is just that where Henley is peculiarly strong. No recent critic has been more boldly, and even defiantly, original; none has expressed himself in more striking phrases. Perhaps his greatest service, as a writer of prose, was that he taught the power of incisiveness to a generation which was prone to lose itself in words. His criticisms in Views and Reviews, alike in the section devoted to literature and in that devoted to art, are brief—vignettes rather than full-length portraits—but they are pregnant. He plunges at once in medias res, and expresses his views in such a way that, whether the reader agrees with him or differs from him, he can be in no doubt as to the meaning. Sometimes, his views are startling, and even demonstrably false, as when he declares that “the great First Cause of Romanticism was Napoleon”; sometimes, probably, they are inspired by a spirit of mischief or are drawn from him by the lure of alliteration. But, even when he is wrong-headed, Henley rarely fails to command respect and to provoke thought. At the worst, he is piquant. He was generous in his criticism of contemporaries—with exceptions. As regards writers just before his own time, he is enthusiastic about Dickens and Tennyson, but cold about Thackeray. Henley’s longer critical essays, which have been gathered together in the collected edition of his works, display the same characteristics. The most remarkable of them, unquestionably, is the brilliant essay originally contributed to The Centenary Burns. It is thorough in scholarship, it is admirably written, it has every gift save that of love.