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are the recognition of poetry as a thing of supreme value and importance, the consequent necessity of holding fast to the best poetry, the avoidance of the fallacies of the historical estimate and the personal estimate, and the employment of touchstones as the best means of determining what real poetry is. If this theory is right and if it can be applied fairly, it is evident, as with Poe's essay, that Arnold's particular judgments must be sound. The main critical question at issue, then, regards Arnold's theory.
With regard to his theory, two facts are evident. Unlike Poe's idea of poetry, which was restricted to beauty, this is substantially restricted to moral values: poetry is the rounder-out of all human activities; it is “the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge”; at its best it“will be found to have a power of forming, sustaining, and delighting us, as nothing else can.” Again there is, under this mainly moral view, the implication and assumption that there is a perfect “accent” or ideal of poetry which finds its nearest approximation in the quotations of the celebrated “touchstones.” It is in the light of this ideal, of course, that these quoted passages become touchstones. The main question of the value of Arnold's essay, aside from its being merely an expression of personal opinion, would relate to the substantiation of this ideal, of these touchstones, and the minor questions would relate to the testing of particular poets according to them.
Whatever one's findings might be on such a question as this, when applied also to other essays of Arnold, and on this point such critics as Mr. J. M. Robertson (Modern Humanists) and Mr. Swinburne (Miscellanies) have spoken in no uncertain terms, - there remains the historical question of the value of Arnold's criticism with regard to the awakening of interest in literature, to the increasing of our knowledge of foreign literature, to the eternally necessary plea for greater breadth and catholicity of judgment and taste. In these respects, at least, he is an important critic.
One thing has tended to obscure critical issues, of whatever sort, with Arnold. He is the master of a style of great order and lucidity, but of such pervasive assumption of superiority and finality of judgment that he either immensely attracts or very much repels readers, according to their tempera
His constant laying down of the law is very good for the sustaining of those who need the sustaining that the law supplies, but it sometimes annoys people who themselves prefer to enunciate the dogma, just as such severely final criticism finds little acceptance among people of an easier temperament. “Moriemini in peccatis vestris, ye shall die in your sins," if you don't believe as I do about morals and style, is hardly fair as a final argument about disputed points.
1. What is the occasion of Arnold's essay? Make an analysis of the main points of this essay with a view to showing the text or thesis and the illustration.
2. What does Arnold mean by such phrases as “conceive of poetry worth
,” “the high destinies of poetry," "a criticism of life.” (Cf. the essay on Wordsworth in Essays in Criticism : Second Series), “the best,” “the really excellent,” a “real estimate,” the “historical estimate,” “the personal estimate,” high poetic truth and seriousness, classic" and classical,”? “liquid” and “fluid,” “accent,” “the real Burns,” “laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty,” “the sound and unsound, or only half sound," "the true and untrue, or only half true”? What is implied in all these phrases with regard to Arnold's standards of criticism? What is implied in
such a sentence as this (p.: 273): “To trace the labour, the attempts, the weaknesses, the failures of a genuine classic, to acquaint one's self with his time and his life and his historical relationships, is mere literary dilettantism unless it has that clear sense and deeper enjoyment for its end?”
3. What demonstration is there for the implied principles in the foregoing quotation, either in history, in common consent, or in ethical and artistic theory? To what degree can estimates be other than “personal”? How far do Arnold's seem to you to be personal? Consult his life, with a view to seeing how far his temperament and training influenced his judgments and was responsible for his taste. On what principle does he choose his tests and “touchstones”? In these tests does he recognize different genres of literature, or is it clear that the epic and dramatic genres, from which all his “touchstones” are taken, were to him the highest type ? Compare his saying, with regard to Burns's bacchanalian poetry (p. 288): “There is something in it of bravado, something that makes us feel that we have not the man speaking to us in his real voice: something, therefore, poetically unsound.” Do Arnold's quotations seem to be predominantly grave? Why are such grave subjects necessarily of the highest quality ? Compare Poe on The Philosophy of Composition. Is the following a fair equation? “If we are thoroughly penetrated by their power, we shall find that we have acquired a sense enabling us, whatever poetry may be laid before us, to feel the degree in which a high poetical quality is present or wanting there ” (p. 277) = If we immerse ourselves in one sort of poetry, we shall be immersed in it, and shall be impervious to poetry of a different kind. If not fair, why?
4. Test by your own impressions of Ward's English Poets the truth of Arnold's assertions in the paragraph beginning “The idea of tracing historic origins," etc. (p. 273). On the face of the lines quoted on p. 275, is it fair to
we are in another world”? Are the lines quoted from Dryden and Pope, on p. 286, fair examples of the work of those poets? Compare Arnold's use of illustrative quotation in On Translating Homer.
5. What should you say of the justness and value of many of Arnold's cautions, such as, against one's being too much engrossed in the understanding and analysis of machinery to get the more important ideas? Or this: “Moreover the very occupation with an author, and the business of exhibiting him, disposes us to affirm and amplify his importance” (p. 274)? In what respects does Arnold's criticism in this essay seem to you to be valuable ? In what ways defective ?
6. Analyze the body of Arnold's critical work with a view to showing the material, the principles, and the sanctions which he expounded. Compare it in these respects with previous and contemporary criticism.
XIV. SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
The Biographia Literaria, from which the present selection is taken, the Lectures on Shakespeare (1811), and the Lectures on Literature and Literary Subjects (1818) contain what is most valuable of Coleridge's critical ideas. In general, in these works Coleridge made an appeal to a body of phenomena and used a critical method much in advance of his more dogmatic contemporaries, such as Jeffrey. The main principles on which he based his criticism were (1) a theory of poetry, deduced, not from authority, but from philosophy and, what were to him, the facts of language, logic, and psychology
(as he understood these matters); (2) a consideration of the actual phenomena as represented in the current vogue of an author, a complete, rather than a partial, view of an author's production, the purpose of the author as stated or revealed in an interpretation of his work, and an analysis of the qualities of his style; and (3) a feeling for what is good in poetry perhaps his ultimate test, and certainly a personal one.
The present selection well illustrates at least two of these principles. The desire to find a definition of poetry and to illustrate that definition by specific reference to Shakespeare's poems is habitual and characteristic of Coleridge's desire to find a satisfactory definition of poetry, not in verse, or in authority, or in history, but in terms of the innate nature of the medium. “Nothing, he says (p. 297), can permanently please which does not contain in itself the reason why it is so; and not otherwise.” In the illustrations from Venus and Adonis of the nature of poetical power, he deals, as it were, with the spiritual content of the poems as expressing itself in the sweetness of verse, the imagery, etc. The same method of criticism is to be observed in the famous enumeration of the characteristic defects and excellencies of Wordsworth (Biographia Literaria, XXII.) and the admirable qualities (there are no defects) of Shakespeare. Thus, again, using Venus and Adonis (Lectures of 1818; Collected Works, Vol. IV. pp. 46-50) as illustration, this time of Shakespeare's consummate power as a poet,
he made him out to be possessed of the following characteristics: deep feeling and exquisite sense for beauty, entire command of his feelings, impersonality of expression, affectionate love for natural objects, fancy, “the indwelling power of the imagination,” “endless activity of thought,” and “a most profound, energetic, and philosophic mind.” Evidently all these are spiritual categories; they are not, like De Quincey's catalogue of Shakespeare's values, matters of objective contribution, or, as in Poe, a matter of mechanically harmonious relation of parts to a subject of given beauty.
The other point is clearer. It has to do with the palpable fact of an author's vogue. In stating (p. 295) the fact of Wordsworth's popularity, Coleridge evidently makes use of an important, and too often neglected, sort of phe
(Cf. Bagehot on Dickens.) His subsequent criticism of Wordsworth is an attempt to find out why the fact should be so by reason of the nature of Wordsworth's poems.
It has been thought advisable to dwell at this length on the nature of Coleridge's criticism because his principles have become pervasive of much later criticism (cf. Mill: Coleridge in Dissertations and Discussions, Vol. II.). Compared with his contemporary Jeffrey, they indicate a wholly different tenor of mind and a far more enduring influence. They are alive to-day; whereas Jeffrey's method is usually sterile, brilliant though it be. Whether Coleridge borrowed his ideas or not need not be elaborated here (cf. J. M. Robertson: Coleridge in New Essays toward a Critical Method); we are simply dealing with the phenomena presented in his prose. Compared with his great predecessors he attached more importance to facts of the vogue and purpose of an author and to philosophy, analysis, and feeling. Thus there is with him greater relativity of treatment, a more flexible method, and, though he aimed at elaborate and ultimate truth, more impressionism.
The circumstances of the present selection so well explain themselves that little further comment is necessary. Wordsworth's important essay, which is the point of departure for Coleridge's criticism in this and the following
chapters of Biographia Literaria, was prefixed to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads, and should be read. It is to be had in any good edition of Wordsworth's complete works.
1. State Coleridge's fundamental idea of poetry, and show how this is borne out in the examination of Venus and Adonis. What are the “two cardinal points” of poetry according to Coleridge? Compare this idea of poetry with that of Poe, Arnold, and Shelley. What is the evidence in favor of it and of them?
2. Expound any critical principles or bases of judgment that you note in Coleridge's work.
XV. PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
The justly celebrated Defence of Poetry was originally written, as its title suggests, in a polemic vein, as an answer to Peacock’s The Four Ages of Poetry. In its published form, much of the controversial matter was cast out, and only one or two indications remain of its controversial nature. The essay as it stands is among the most eloquent expositions that exist of the ideal nature and essential value of poetry. Its chief distinction lies in the sincerity and enthusiasm of the author.
Like several other essays in this volume, as those of Bagehot and Pater, it is based on one of those fundamental distinctions here that between reason and imagination which Coleridge so frequently expounded, and which here serves as a point of departure. There are two main parts: (1) the nature of poetry, as something connate with man, and poetical expression; and (2) the effect of poetry upon mankind. This latter part, though even more eloquent than the former, is more rambling. The critical question at issue in both is a very fundamental one, and is practically the same as that which has been debated for many years between two opposed schools of ethics and philosophy, the intuitional and the utilitarian, and is to-day rife betwixt rationalists and pragmatists. Of the truth of Shelley's main thesis there is occasion for much discussion, but of his own vigour and sincerity there can be no question.
1. State Shelley's thesis in this essay. Show in detail the topićs which he treats. What is his criterion of the worth of various poets whom he mentions? What is his criterion for the determining good and bad poetry?,, What does he mean by such terms as “reason," "imagination,” “taste;” “the indestructible order," “universal," 'wit and humour,
,” “a story," "utility,” "a single condition of epic truth,” “the poet," "poetry" in its broad and in its restricted sense? What are the reasons for the superiority of poetry in its restricted sense over other forms of art? Why is Lear to be preferred to Agamemnon or Edipus Tyrannus ? Why were choruses in Greek drama of great poetical importance ?
2. What are the sanctions for Shelley's view of the idea and value of poetry? How is his generalization supported ?
3. Compare Shelley's idea of poetry, his method and his proofs, with those of Poe, Arnold, and Coleridge.
List of Books referred to in the Introduction and the Notes.
Essays in Criticism, Second Series. London and New York. 1888.
On Translating Homer. New York. 1883. Bagehot, Walter. Literary Studies. 2 vols. London and New York.
1891. Benson, A. C. Walter Pater. In the English Men of Letters. London
and New York. 1906. Besant, Walter. The Art of Fiction. Boston. 1884. Brewster, W. T. Representative Essays on the Theory of Style. New
Studies in Structure and Style. New York. 1896.
Paris. 1890. Carpenter, G. R. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In the Beacon
Biographies. Boston. 1901.
Modern English Prose (with W. T. Brewster). New York. 1904. Chesterton, G. K. Robert Browning. In the English Men of Letters.
Varied Types. New York. 1905.
III., Biographia Literaria. Vol. IV., Lectures on Shakespeare. Collins, J. C. Ephemera Critica. New York. 1902.
Jonathan Swift. London. 1893. Courthope, W. J. Life in Poetry, Law in Taste. 2 vols. London.
1901. Craik, H. The Life of Jonathan Swift. London. 1882. Cross, W. L. The Development of the English Novel. New York.
1899. De Quincey, T. Collected Works, ed. by David Masson. 14 vols.
1889, 1890. Vol. II., Literary Reminiscences. Vol. IV., Shake
speare. Dryden, see Ker. Erskine, J. The Elizabethan Lyric. New York. 1904. Forster, J._ The Life of Jonathan Swift. London. 1875. Gates, L. E. Selections from the Essays of Francis Jeffrey. Boston.
1894. Gayley, Ć. M., and Scott, F. N. An Introduction to the Materials and
Methods of Literary Criticism. Vol. I. Boston. 1897.