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Romantic permutations and combinations In England Essay

In any brief consideration of the implications for English romanticism of the five papers just presented, it is necessary to choose one method of treatment. I must disregard, therefore, international influences, a subject full of danger unless one has time to bolster each statement, and also comparisons and contrasts as such between individual writers or even, to any extent, between nations. I confine myself to a suggestion of the complexity of English romanticism, which seems to share in all the manifold characteristics of romanticism as a general European literary phenomenon and to manifest and combine them in ways of its own. But first I must say what I understand by romanticism.

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The student of English literature of the period commonly known as romantic is inclined to believe that his problcm is far less simple than that of the students of other literatures. English romanticism seems to be based on a less formulated revolutionary criticism than the French, to be less generally mystic and philosophical than the German, less preponderantly political and practical than the Italian, less highly national than the Spanish. This feeling is doubtless due in large part to greater ignorance of other literatures than of his own. But even though he may have no real right to regard himself as peculiarly clever at the game of literary jackstraws if he ever does succeed in picking out and laying in neat piles the tangled sticks of the English romantic period, the fact remains that the problem is far from simple. Can one speak, he asks in his despair, of English romanticism, even of an English romantic movement or period? Critics have answered, as did Professor Beers, by strictly limiting the meaning of romanticirm and rigorously excluding some of the major figures of the period—Wordsworth, for example, whom Beers calls “romantic neither in temper nor in choice of subject.”

On the other hand, there have been attempts at synthesis, endeavors to find the least common denominator, such as that of Professor Fairchild, stated and developed in The Romantic Quest2 and used as a basis for his paper. Yet even these definitions, when they do not seem forced in order to include, must exclude some writers of the period. Fourteen years ago Professor Lovejoy pointed out the difficulty of arriving at any synthetic definition and deplored the critical confusion resulting from the application of the same name to sometimes diametrically opposed tendencies.‘ He recommended as the most radical remedy that we cease to use the word romantic at all; the name of our group, however, indicates that we have not followed his advice. His second suggestion involved a semasiological study of the term and the use of the word in the plural rather than in the singular. He continued:

But the essential oi the second remedy is that each of these Romanticisms . . . should be resolved, by a more thorough and discerning analysis than is yet customary, into its elements—into the several ideas and aesthetic susceptibilities of which it is composed. Only after these fundamental thought-factors in it are clearly discriminated and fairly exhaustively enumerated, shall we be in a posi- tion to judge of the degree of its affinity with other complexes to which the same name has been applied, to see precisely what tacit preconceptions or controlling motives or explicit contentions were common to any two or more of them, and wherein they manifested distinct and divergent tendencies‘

Is this analysis what we have been engaged upon as a group these last two years? To some extent, yes, though undoubtedly none of us would assert that a twenty»minute paper offered scope for a very thorough or discerning analysis. Moreover, the discriminations have been made along national lines, and Professor Lovejoy pointed out that cleavages between romanticisms often cut across national boundaries and some sometimes even “directly through the person of one great writer.” It is evident that it is possible to speak with some measure of accuracy of a romanticism that is distinctively German or French or Italian or Spanish. Professor McKenzie referred to certain critics who denied that the term romantic could properly be applied to the period in Italian literature, so distinct was it from German romanticism.“ But whether wc can speak of an English romanticism is a question which I personally should be inclincd to answer in the negative.

It may be possible, however, if not to define English romanticism, at least to describe the activity of the writers of the romantic period. Like the Renaissance, this period was one of liberation, political, social, personal, intellectual, æsthetic: the imagination of the artist was free to explore, to enjoy, and to express every kind of human experience. C. H. IIerford wrote: “What, then, was Romanticism? Primarily . . . it was an extraordinary development of imaginative sensibility.” Although we may recognize that this statement is so elastic that it ceases to be a definition at all, can we do better than accept it as a description of what happened in England—perhaps throughout Europe—in the development from what we call classicism to what we call romanticism? Certainly it can be said to apply to no period that is primarily classical in attitude.

Certainly it does describe the alert, expanding, curious, sympathetic, excited spirit of the romantic period. It has, moreover, the merit—if it is a merit—of inclusiveness: it can apply to Crabbe as well as to Blake, to Jane Austen, even, as wcll as to Scott. Not only individual authors sought, as Professor Fairchild has shown,5 an imaginative fusion of opposites; the period itself married Heaven and Hell. Everything was interesting and moving, Crabbe’s thistle and Blake’s, Longbourn and the Isles of Greece, Miss Bates and Prometheus. There were not merely two contrary states of the Zeitgeist but many states, offering the possibility of innumerable permutations and combinations. There were many confiîcts within the period: Byron against Bowles, Byron against “Words words” and Brother Coleridge; Wordsworth against Keats the Pagan, Keats against the Polyphemes that disturb the grand sea of poetry, Keats against the magnanimity of Shelley. Perhaps other belligerents too may be admitted: Crabbe against the bards who, whether in classic pastoral or romantic idyll, would not paint the cot truly, JaneAusten against the Gothic novelists and those who over-endowed their heroines with sensibility.

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This inclusion of the realists in the romantic fold will not be acceptable to those in whose opinion romanticism is an endeavor to keep and to justify an illusioned view of life—an “intoxicated dreaming” that may decline and fall even into dadaism.’ If, however, we regard it as an ex- panding imaginative sensitiveness to new and ever new things, we must recognize that it may take the form of an increased awareness of the blue in the furnace fire as well as of the blue of Heaven or of the far hills, of the blue bugloss that “paints the sterile soil” as well as of the blue flower of infinite and unrealized longing. Some, at least, of the writers of the period were keeping their eyes on an actual, material object, were numbering the streaks of the tulip, describing the different shades in the verdure of the forest. Continental romanticism was not always pursuing an unattainable ideal: in Italy it applied itself to the practical purpose of national unity; in Spain to the patriotic use of local color and past history; in France to the formulation of a concrete critical theory. Professor Havens has pointed out that the realism of Balzac can easily be regarded as an outgrowth of the romanticism of Chateaubriand or Hugo.” Mr. Bergerhofi has recently called attention to the name objective romanticism, given to the work of Constant, Merimée, Stendhal, and Vitet.“ Even Mr. Lucas recognizes the presence of realism in the work of certain romanticists.” Irving Babbitt regarded realism and romanticism as two difi’erent aspects of naturalism, analytic or pessimistic and sentimental or optimistic.“ The realism of Crabbe or Austen, then, need not be regarded as a survival or a premature appearance. Classicism, romanticism, realism, the three points of Mr. Lucas’s triangle“—in England, at any rate, these were really part of one expanding movement in which both subjective and objective romanticists took part.

Indeed, if there is any one point on which all the writers of these papers agree, it is in the tendency to regard romanticism not as an absolute revolt against classicism (although it is perhaps more truly such in France than elsewhere), but as an outgrowth of it and as in its turn that out of which later movements grew; to see the whole history of literature not as a series of swings of a pendulum but as progress along a road—progress, we hope, perhaps even progress uphill! As a horse advances along a climbing road by zigzagging from side to side, so too may literary history. It is the same horse, however, and the same road, and the two sides are not radically different, although the view may not be the same.

From the romantic side of the road the view is varied: cottages and Gothic ruins, English villages and foreign cities, flat, even weed-choked
plains and mountain tops of vision, small celandines and yew trees beneath whose sable roof ghostly Shapes

May meet at noontide; Fear and trembling Hope;

Silence and Foresight; Death the Skeleton

And Time the Shadow.

The population too is varied. It is tempting to pursue the figure further, but it is too romantic! Let me return to the mathematical metaphor of my title.

In order to apply the formulae for permutations and combinations, it would be necessary to know what n stands for, that is, the number of individual characteristics of European romanticism. One difliculty in counting these characteristics lies in the fact that of the words used to name them some express a philosophical system, some a frame of mind, some a mode of treatment, some a kind of subject-matter, and so the first principle of analysis and subdivision is violated. One material aid to clarity in our thinking about romanticism would be a codification of its characteristics, so phrased that we might manipulate them as so many individuals of a kind. The difliculties of such a codification are great. It might be possible to express most of them in words that end in —ism, but there would still be difierences, as between an actual philosophy, like transcendentalism, a tendency to use a body of material as subject-matter, like mediaevalism, a social attitude, like humanitarianism. Moreover, some of these words—naturalism, for example—are used in slightly different senses in difl‘erent connections. It might be possible, on the basis of Herford’s description of romanticism, to make a list in terms of the objects of that extraordinarily developed sensibility. These objects, however, would soon be found to overlap.

Enthusiasm for the Middle Ages, the exotic, and the supernatural, for example, would be like three interlocking circles, with a certain area in common, but with a portion of the surface of each lying outside the circumferences of the other two. The Carlle of Olranto is mediaeval, exotic, and supernatural; The Siege of Corinth is exotic but neither mediæval nor supernatural. I leave the task for the future; its accomplishment at this point is not essential. For it is evident that, whatever the principle of codification, the list would still be very long. By recording the romantic characteristics mentioned in the five preceding papers, that is, such philosophies, attitudes, interests, and moods as do not wholly coincide with or seem to be merely subdivisions
of other characteristics, I have not been able to reduce the number below twenty.

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It is obvious that the permutations and combinations of these twenty elements are sufficiently numerous to throw the commentator into confusion. The possible permutations of twenty individual items, if I remember my mathematics correctly, are factorial 20, a number which I refuse to calculate. Nor is there any need to do so, for obviously not all the twenty are present at one time. But even supposing that on an average a romantic writer exhibits markedly any three of these characteristics—a highly conservative estimate—the number of permutations would be 20.19.18, or 6840! I choose to speak of permutations rather than combinations. Order is significant: if we take the three aspects of romanticism considered by Professor Fairchild, the arrangement naturalism—transcendentalism—medimvalism, which might be said to be Words worth, is not the same as transcendentalism—medimvalism—naturalism, which might be said to be Coleridge, or as naturalism—mediazvalism—transcendentalism, which might be said to be Keats. Even combinations would be formidable enough—1140 in number. But of course this problem can be solved by no such simple formula. Our hypothetical romanticist, surveying the field, may choose any number of interests, from one to twenty, in any arrangement. The figure work becomes too complicated.

More concrete evidence of the complexity of the situation might result from an attempt to take one of the English “romanticisms,” and, to quote Professor Lovcjoy, to “resolve it into its elements, into the several ideas and aesthetic susceptibilities of which it is composed.”“5 This procedure has been followed by certain scholars who have devoted entire books to the discussion of primitivism or of the Gothic novel“ and have brought down upon their heads the charge that they attempt to embrace the whole of romanticism under one heading. Yet it is very true that, once a student begins to investigate one of what Professor Lovejoy calls the “simpler, diversely combinable, intellectual and emotional components”17 of the larger complex, he discovers the importance of the phrase, divenely combinablc. Consider, for example, one of the very
simplest of those components, as far as England is concerned, nationalism, the interest in one’s own country.

I choose this romanticism because it is most nearly manageable in a brief space. It is comparatively short in duration, for it gives place, after the first generation of romantic writers has passed, to internationalism or cosmopolitanism; it is not by any means to be found in the work of
every writer of the period, nor does it ever take first place in any individual’s permutation of romantic characteristics; its elective affinities are not very numerous. Moreover, it is a characteristic which has at least been mentioned in the papers on French, German, Italian, and Spanish romanticism and has been no more than glanced at in that on the English movement. It cannot, however, be neglected, if only because of the work of Scott and Wordsworth.

As in other countries, so in England, it took the form of pride and interest in the national past, due to a sense of the national heritage. As a result of that interest, writers of the eighteenth century naturally endeavored to recreate the social and the literary past of England, Scotland, and Wales, a past that seemed not only worthy of pride but also delightfully picturesque. The ballad revival, the “forgeries” of Chatterton or Macpherson, the poems and novels of Walter Scott, the dramas of Thomson or Home, the patriotic songs of Cowper or Campbell, the antiquarian activity of Walpole, the scholarship of Tyrwhitt or Ritson, the critical studies of the Wartons or of Lamb and Hazlitt—all these, signs of one aspect of British national feeling, are also manifestations of an interest in the Middle Ages or mediævalism.

Nationalism, however, had other elective affinities perhaps more peculiarly British. It showed itself in a love of the contemporary country-side which was being discovered—or rediscovered—by the eighteenth century equivalent of the tripper, by the naturalist, and by the poet.

This enthusiasm for the simplicities and nobilities of rural England, its flowers and its trees, its birds and its domestic beasts, its Michaels and its Lucys, is a kind of national idealism which is closely allied to the love of nature and also to one phase of primitivism. The part which nature and unsophisticated man played in the poetry of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is too familiar to need illustration. Not only in the idyllic pictures of country life and landscape, but also in Gray’s substitution of the “village Hampden” for the “village Cato” and in Gay’s burlesque of the Shepherd’r Week (as also in his Beggar’s Opera), Englishmen and Scotchmen were in eflect expressing their feeling that the tight little island was good enough for them. It does not need the explicit statement of Burns’s

From scenes like these, old Scotia‘s grandeur springs,

or of Cowper’s

England, with all thy faults I love thee still,

to make it clear. The feeling rises to its height in Wordsworth; the love he bore to England cannot be separated from the love he bore to her
landscape and her people.

If so small, so quiet a romanticism, so minor a component of the greater complex, is thus diversely combinable with major components,
what must be true of the major components themselves? The figures of the permutations and combinations seem not so fabulous after all.

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Romantic permutations and combinations In England Essay
In any brief consideration of the implications for English romanticism of the five papers just presented, it is necessary to choose one method of treatment. I must disregard, therefore, international influences, a subject full of danger unless one has time to bolster each statement, and also comparisons and contrasts as such between individual writers or even, to any extent, between nations. I confine myself to a suggestion of the complexity of English romantic
2017-08-30 15:13:10
Romantic permutations and combinations In England Essay
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