F.R. Leavis (1895–1978) from Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (1933)
“High-brow” is an ominous addition to the English language. I have said earlier that culture has always been in minority keeping. But the minority now is made conscious, not merely of an uncongenial, but of a hostile environment. “Shakespeare,” I once heard Mr. Dover Wilson say, “was not a high-brow.” True: there were no “highbrows” in Shakespeare’s time. It was possible for Shakespeare to write plays that were at once popular drama and poetry that could be appreciated only by an educated minority. Hamlet appealed at a number of levels of response, from the highest downwards. The same is true of Paradise Lost, Clarissa, Tom Jones, Don Juan, The Return of the Native. The same is not true, Mr. George A. Birmingham might point out, of The Waste Land, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, Ulysses or To the Lighthouse. These works are read only by a very small specialised public and are beyond the reach of the vast majority of those who consider themselves educated. The age in which the finest creative talent tends to be employed in works of this kind is the age that has given currency to the term “high-brow.” But it would be as true to say that the attitude implicit in “high-brow” causes this use of talent as the converse. The minority is being cut off as never before from the powers that rule the world; and as Mr. George A. Birmingham and his friends succeed in refining and standardising and conferring authority upon “the taste of the bathos mplanted by nature in the literary judgments of man” (to use Matthew Arnold’s phrase), they will make it more and more inevitable that work expressing the finest consciousness of the age should be so specialised as to be accessible only to the minority.