Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), Andrew Lang, the Poet
(London: Oxford University Press, 1948), pp. 25-26:
There is a word, I think a foolish word, highly characteristic of the literary criticism of the present day; the word 'escapism'. It is used as a term of strong reprobation. The prisoner is accused of trying to escape from his concentration camp, in which it is his duty to think continually of slums, crime, the divorce court, the capitalist system, and the wages of washerwomen in Patagonia, and of having wasted his talents on such subjects as Paradise Lost and Prometheus Unbound, or even, in the worst cases, The Faerie Queene, or A Midsummer Night's Dream, or The Tempest. Judged by such a tribunal Lang would be lucky if he got off with imprisonment for life. He was always escaping; possibly escaping too often and too much, since, of course, every social being has a duty to his fellow citizens and must give some pretty constant thought to the material troubles of his society. But is there to be no escape, no holiday? And, when we do let our thoughts escape beyond the actual walls of our house or street, is it not a splendid boon that these great escapist poets have conferred on us by creating another world, in which the mind can be enabled to see a higher beauty, to have glimpses of greater nobility and joy, than are granted by the practical cares of every day? Nay, more. I will not ask whether the power of visiting that land of imagination does not give most men more strength for doing their daily duties; but does it not, in Matthew Arnold's words, provide us with a 'criticism of life' deeper and more piercing than that given by statistics and blue books? If we are to make a list of the great benefactors and interpreters of the human race, must we not find a place in it not only for statesmen and philanthropists, not only for the creators of Lear and Hamlet, the Iliad and the Agamemnon and the thirteenth chapter of Corinthians, but even to many of those who helped to make a world of lyrics and old ballads and fairy-tales?