SHELLEY AND HIS
LEWIS CHARLES TATHAM, JR.
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMlENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FL.ORIDA
I wish to express my thanks to Professors Edwin C. Kirklanld
and Franlcis C. Haber, who served on mqy committee. To Professor
Alton C. Morris for his encouragement and advice during the
preparation of this dissertation and for his generous and friendly
treatment throughout mly period of attendance at Florida, I feel
the deepest gratitude.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDG;MENTS ........................ ii
I. INTIRODUCTION .. .. ... .. .. ... 1
II. THE REACTION AGAINST ROMANTICISM .. . ... 7
III. IRVINGC BABBITT .. .. .. .. .... .. 22
IV. PAUL EIRIERMO4RE ................ 49
V. T.E. HULEE .. .. ... ... .. .. .. 64
V.T.S. ELIOT .. .. .. .. . .... .. .. 87
VII. THE NEW CRITICS IN AMEICA .. .. . ..10
VIII. F.R. LEAVIS .. .. .. .. .. . .. ... 136
IX. THE DECLINE OF SHELLEY'S REPUTATION IN THE
?TWENTIETH CENTURY .. .. .. ... .. .. 146
BBLIO;RAPHY. ....................... 154
VITA. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .... 159
The case against Shelley's detractors was stated briefly and
cogently by Frederick Pottle in his article "The Case of Shelley."
Pottle, while acknowledging the desirability of having modern critics
employ modern standards, deplored their polemic and absolutist stance,
and found in them "a remarkable want of delicacy of touch in handling
Shelley."l He argued persuasively for an experiential method and an
aesthetic relativian, which would permit critics to respect a larger
range of poetry than their sensibilities might allow them to love. In
tracing the history of Shelley critician, Pottle noted a significant
distinction between modern depreciation and that of the past. During
Shelley' s lifetime and ever since, men have differed widely in their
estimation of his ideas. In every period some reputable critics have
doubted the soundness of his moral and theological position. But prior
to the appearance in England and America of a group of modern critics,
known today as the New Critics, Shelley's craftsmanship was not
seriously questioned. Critics like Leavis and Tate have attacked
Shelley on aesthetic grounds; and it is this kind of criticism, accord-
ing to Pottle, that has been most damaging to Shelley's reputation.
Pottle concludes that "a poet can withstand a good deal of attack on
the soundness of his ideas so long as a majority of the people who read
IPMLA, LEVII (September 1952), 605.
him find aesthetic value of a high order in his poetry."2 The modern
judgment of Shelley is not, he contends, exclusively valid: that is,
it does not destroy the validity of the serious criticism that preceded
it. Furthermore, modern critics, because they have an initial dislike
for the type of poetry that Shelley wrote, fail to give it the careful
reading that is required for true understanding. By providing readings
variant to those of Tate and Leavis, Pottle illustrates what he
believes to be the clumsiness and obtuseness of same modern critics in
their handling of Shelley.
Shelley's reputation has attracted the interest of other scholars.
N.I. White's The Unextinguished Hearth explores the reaction to
Shelley's poetry during his lifetime, and reveals that Shelley's con-
temporaries generally regarded him as having great poetic talent but
as being mistaken in his ideas. Sylvar Norman's Flight of the Skylark
traces Shelley's posthumous "life" in its effect on his friends and
relatives, and also examines the image builders of the second half of
the nineteenth century. The revelation by Miss Norman of the excessive
praise heaped on Shelley at this time is valuable for an understanding
of the reaction against Shelley in the twentieth century. She also
makes an important general observation about poetic reputations:
In the long run, as we have seen in the course of this
survey, it is the professional critics, the creative
writers, and the universities--backed by enlightened
publishers--who will mold and modify a reputation
Julia Power's Shelley in America in the Nineteenth Century examines
Bhelley's influence and his relation to American critical thought.
2Ibid. p. 599.
3Sylva Norman, Flight of the Skcylark (Norman, Okla., 1954), p. 288.
Carl R. Woodring's "Dip of the Skylark,"4 by bringing together in a
short essay the various issues on which Shelley has been attacked,
emphasizes the anxiety of critics to condemn him.
In addition to these studies that deal specifically with
Shelley's reputation, there are others that have some relevance to the
subject. Although scholars at first tended to ignore the New Critics'
disparagement of Shelley, they displayed an increasing interest in
combatting these attacks in the late 1940's and the 1950's; many
scholarly books and articles on Shelley reflect same concern about his
reputation. One such work is Richard Fogle's The Leagery of Keats and
Shelley. By a careful examination of imagery, Fogle demonstrates that
the New Critics' charge of abstractness against Shelley is not tenable.
In Contemporary Literary Scholarship he again discusses Shelley's
reputation and indicates that the subject deserves Further investiga-
tion. The scholar who has been most militant in rebutting the New
Critical position on Shelley is Harold Bloom, who studied under Pottle.
In Shelley's Mythmaking Bloan reveals the carelessness of Shelley's
detractors in their readings of his works.
Although Shelley and His Twentieth-Century Detractors will use
an approach different from that employed in any of the above works,
these studies have been of value in establishing a perspective of the
subject. Most important has been Pottle's "The Case of Shelley," for
its clarity in defining the issues. Much of what Pottle wrote--as
related to literary criticism generally as well as to Shelley--has a
continuing relevance. The direction of criticism since 1952 suggests
KXeat-Shelley Journal, IX (1960), 10-13.
far into the future: "The battle, though not over, is clearly won."
And he believed that dislike of Shelley would continue to be a feature
of the movement:
I do not, however, share the confident belief of many
of my colleagues that the anti-Shelleyanism of the
New Critics is a mere fad or fashion that will soon
pass away. .. It is clear to me that within fifty
years practically everybody will be saying about Shelley
what the New Critics are saying now. The disesteem of
Shelley is going to become general, and it may continue
for a century or more.7
Pottle's predictions need investigation in view of developments since
The subject of Shelley and his twentieth-century detractors
could be approached in a number of ways. The principal danger in such
a study is that, because of the wealth of material, it could easily
become a mass of ill-assorted facts. For the present study to be
coherent and meaningful, it has been necessary to choose a particular
focus and to exclude material which may in itself be valuable but
which has no relevance to the emphasis of this study. Shelley and His
Twentieth-Century Detractors addresses itself primarily to the
questions why did Shelley's reputation suffer a decline? To answer
the question adequately, it will be necessary to test the validity of
the criticism upon which the repudiation of Shelley was based. If the
critic's premises are dubious or his logic weak, an effort will be made
to discover the reasons for these faults. To arrive at a true under-
standing of critical trends it is often necessary to ask not only what
the critic believed but also why be needed to believe it.
'i'zbi., p. 601.
Shelle~y and His Twentieth-Century Detractors is not intended as
a "rehabilitation." Authors are "rehabilitated" by studies in which
the critic displays samne new insight into the poetry, an insight that
is meaningful to the critic's generation. In the present study, new
interpretations will be avoided because they would distract fran the
main line of arguent. To Shelley scholarship, this inquiry may be a
secondary contribution, insofar as it nmay lessen the burden of New
Critician upon the Shelley scholar. Th~e primary aim of this investiga-
tion, however, will be to make a contribution to the study of
criticism. The problem of shifting reputations is a perplexing one to
the twentieth-century scholar. It is hoped that this detailed study
of Shelley's reputation will contribute to a better understanding of
In the following chapters, the amount of attention devoted to
the various critics and ideas is determined by their value in revealing
the causes of anti-Shelleyan attitudes--and not by their general
value. Thus, a mediocre critic, Irving Babbitt, will be discussed at
length because of his importance in shaping anti-Shelleyan sentiments;
a superior critic, Cleanth Brooks, is to be discussed very briefly
because he was far more an inheritor than a creator of these
sentiments. Anti-Roma~nticism will be discussed extensively because
initially it was the movement that was repudiated, more than it was
the individual writers within that m~ovement. Chapter II will trace
arnti-Romantician fras its inception to its decline. The following
chapters will examine in greater detail the American and British critics
who contributed to the decline of Shelley's reputation.
THE REACTION AGAINST ROMIANTICISM
No single, explicit definition of "Romanticism" has proved adequate
to cover the range and diversity of the literary achievements of the
early nineteenth century English writers. A.O. Lovejoy, in his famous
essay "On the Discrimination of Romanticians,"l revealed the variety of
uses of the word and demonstrated rather conclusively that no single
universally acceptable definition would ever be possible. The term has
been used to apply to a certain quality in literature that has occurred
in varying degrees at various times throughout history. It has also been
applied to a period of literature, the dates most cannmonly given to the
period in English literature being 1798-1832. Much of the confusion in
the use of the term has arisen over the attempts to employ it to fit the
period and, at the same time, to fit the literary quality. There is no
Romantic dogma; there is no single concept peculiar to the Romantics and
believed in unanimously by them.
Fron the fact that "Romanticism" defies explicit definition, it
does not follow that the Romnantic Period is a purely arbitrary division.
At the end of the eighteenth and in the early years of the nineteenth
century, there indeed was a burst of energy and creativity and
experimentation. And one's reading of the Romantic poets suggests that
whatever disagreement may have existed on particular ideas, there is an
underlying cohesiveness, what Shelley in his ''Defence of Poetry" calls
1PMLA, XXXIX (June 1924), 229-253.
"the 3^-~.'t- < tolCr .?" "vt 'e literary declvelo?-;- '; was associated
wit' th soiL an. ''ti al, reoluton of th t mos seems inescap-
a 1 la .iosi p, howe e, isa rute n. a cutihor tle not
Two nsa ll have t0 'eliev in ithe social ` :s t.at ar
p~lae it are v o be cactivatel t are ~ e. WJri:oevrth and
:ampl w 'ote the1
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"The Eolian Harp," in which he submits to the way of Sara, "meek
daughter in the family of Christ," is unconvincing after the
imaginative flight that precedes it. It can be said that each of the
major Romantic poets is concerned with salvation, again using the term
broadly; and for none of them is the road to salvation the one indicated
by established religion. A non-theological religious preoccupation,
although not characteristic of all Romantic poetry by any means, is a
very prominent feature in the writing of this period.
To extend the negative side of this Romantic tendency, it may be
said that not just the church but institutions generally had less appeal
to the poets of this time. The Romantics' opposition to tradition and
to institutions has been highly exaggerated, but one unquestionable
tendency among them is toward a greater involvement with individual
solutions and a turning away from group action. "Expa~nsiveness" is a
quality frequently associated wlith Rananticism, and this expansiveness
stems fran the freeing--conscious or unconscious--from bonds that had
previously held man. This new freedom, it should be noted, was not an
unmixed blessing and did not necessarily lead to happiness or to an
optimistic outlook. Mlanfred is subject neither to man nor to super-
natural agent, but finds little joy in his liberty. WJordsworth in
"Ode to Duty" wishes to relinquish the freedom of action that he else-
Some very general tendencies of Romanticism have been mentioned.
The more specific attitudes that are commonly attributed to the Romantic
poets are elements within it, and the attributing them to the period
generally has caused confusion. For example, tenus like "anti-
intellectualism," "primitivism," "fantasy" have frequently been used to
disparage the Romantics. To display the limitations of these terms it
is necessary only to test them against a cross-section of Romantic
literature. The best definition of Romanticism is one that does not
contain within it any value judeplent.
"'Anti-Riomanticism"' is a term that provides similar difficulties,
and the same caution needs to be exercised in defining it. Although
anti-Romanticism has existed as long as Romanticism, the term, as used
here, refers to a development that took place in the first half of the
twentieth century. Anti-Romantician was a movement of same cohesiveness
in the years roughly between 1907, the publication of Lasserre's
Le Romantisme francais, and 1939, the outbreak of World Walr II. Among
anti-Romantics there existed a wide diversity of interests and beliefs.
As in the case of the term "Romanticism," the definition must be left
Although the differences among and wJithin the g~roupings--New
Rumanists, Leagists, and New Critics--are great, the anti-9omanticism,
their principal tie, can and should be treated as a single General
phenomenon. Just as conditions at the end of the eighteenth century
Gave rise to Romanticism, so conditions in the early twentieth century
gave rise to anti-R~omanticism. Although in this study mainly their
repudiation will be considered, New Humanism, Imaging, and New Criticimu
did, of course, make important positive achievements. Like the Romantic
Period, it was one of energy, creativity, and experimentation,
One significant difference in this movement of the twJentieth
century is that it was not a part of and did not presage any general
changes in Western attitudes. The Romantics participated in, and
contributed to, a new spirit. The liberalism and refone of the later
nineteenth century are a continuation of the attitudes of the early
years. The elevation of the individual and the consequent depression
of the institution, although varying according to time and place,
appear to remain dominant characteristics of our age. The Romantic
poetry definitely established a tradition that is continued in modified
form during the rest of the century. The anti-Romantics, on the other
hand, were a dissentinC; minority. Their reactionary position in
politics, religion, and morality was not a reflection of any widespread
development. At the most, their influence has been to lead some people
to qualify somewhat their positions. In literature, they have daninated
the scene, but do not appear to have established a tradition that is
workable for a group of talented successors. Only in literary criticism
can changes of same permanence be detected. All of this is not said
in order to disparage this twentieth-century movement. The relationship
of the artist to the public is quite different in this century. The
alienation of the artist from his potential public is a development that
evolved in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; it is one of those
large facts for wJhich no particular Group can be held responsible.
"Dissatisfaction" is a common characteristic of the anti-
Ranantics. The causes of the discontent vary. Reversing the Victorian
belief, they see a decline in civilization, or in same aspects of
civilization. They see mankind as having taken a wron6 turn at same
time in the past. For Hulme, the decline began with the Renaissance;
for Babbitt, with Rousseau; for Tate, with Descartes; for Eliot, with
the late seventeenth century. They agree in viewing the Romantics as
having contributed to this degeneration. This sence of a decline is
one of the most fundamental underlying biases of the anti-Romantics.
ITv iS a 1 iO 11~ .:"~~le m
iii o toiLdi~s~
:?rsnn' za~ apnre n".' their
.obf ren t' 1 **in~
8 C !'s
nro :1 r
understanding of the literary movement requires some examination of
the other facets of this larger development.
Politics, religion, and ethics figure prominently in the composi-
tion of the anti-Romantics. Politics was the primary motivation of
L'Action Francaise. In the following decades of the century, politics
decreases in importance but a reactionary or conservative attitude
continues to be a siGnificant ingredient in anti-Riomanticism. The
Necw Humanists, B~abbitt and More, devoted themselves primarily to
ethical matters, as did Ivor WJinters, althouh his most significant
contribution wras in the area of aesthetics. Religion figures prominently
in the thinking of Eliot, Tate and Hulme. Although Eliot and Tate
were the only prominent anti-Ramantics to make a firm commitment,
several of them resented what they regarded as the irreligion of the
Tracing the development of anti-Romanticism is analagous to
tracing that of Romanticism. Research in our time has uncovered all
sorts of portends of Romanticism throughout the eiCghteenth century.
Similarly, evidence that points toward the reaction against Romantician
could be gathered from back in the nineteenth century. For example,
MatthewI Arnold, although he is considered to have continlued and modified
the Romantic tradition, had reservations: ":The English poetry of the
first quarter of the century, wlith plenty of energy, plenty of creative
force, did not know enough. This makecs Byron so empty of matter,
Shelley so incoherent, WJordsworth even, profound as he is, yet so
wanting: in completness and variety."b This was wr~itten in 1865. Allso
in Dostoevsky can be seen a turning awaEy from the ideals associated
Matthewr Arnold, Essays in Criticism First Series (London, 1905z),
with Romanticism. He turns awa~y from the liberal tradition and uses,
for example, the character Stepan Trofinovich, a cowardly liberal, as
a butt for his ridicule. Concepts of Romanticism were carried to
absurd extremes in the later nineteenth century, and Dostoevsky was
especially concerned with exanining these extremes. For example,
Raskolnikov and Stavrogin are Romantics writ large. They carry freedom
to the point whr~ere everything is permissible. They lack an awareness
of human limits. Like Byron, Stavrogin cannot act on his emotions;
nothing has the power to excite him. Life is totally devoid of meaning
for him, and his excesses carry him to a criminality far beyond anything
we associate with the Byronic hero. For Raskolnikrov, salvation comes
only when he is able to recognize the limits of humanity. A third
example of pre-anti-Romanticism can be seen in the character of Kurtz in
Conrad's Heart of Darkness. "All Europe contributed to the making of
Kurtz."'7 He, too, ~a~s an extremist: he knewa no restraint. Conrad' s
description of him fits exactly Babbitt's definition of the naturalist:
"He is an emissary of pity, and science, and progress, and devil knows
Anti-Romanticism, then, was in the air in the last half of the
nineteenth century, but it was not until the twlentieth century that it
gained enough self-awareness to be considered a movement. Three men are
important in bringing the reaction against Ramanticism to a focus--a
Frenchman, Pierre Lasserre; an Englishman, T.E. Hulme; and an American,
Irving Babbitt. Just as in the case of Romanticism, the first impetus
7Joseph Conrad, Heart of D~arknless (Niew York, 1950), p. 88.
Iboid., p. 56.
came from the French. And just as Rousseau took an extreme position
which was later modified by the English, so Lasserre took an extreme
position that waEs softened by his successors in England and America.
L'Action Francaise was a right-wing political group that was
born out of the fear and uncertainty that existed at the end of the
nineteenth century. The French had not yet recovered from the stint
of defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, and a series of new events had
further shaken their faith in themselves. The Dreyfus Case had shocked
and divided the country; the army under Waldeck-Rousseau had been
discredited; the French had suffered a loss of prestige at Fashoda,
Casablanca, AGadir, and Algesiras. And these signs of weakness came at
a time when it was becaning increasingly evident that Fr~ench would
again have to face an ambitious and imperialistic Germany. L'Action
Francaise attracted Frenchmen who wanted a strong and united nation.
Initially it was just a nationalistic group, but under the leadership
of Charles Miaurras it became royalist, pro-Catholic, anti-Semite, and
anti-Prote stant .
It was Pierre Lasserre who conceived of the crusade of I'Action
Francaise as primarily a struggle against the teachings and ideals of
the French Romantics. His aversion to Romanticism is stated in
La Morale de Nietzsche, written in 1902:
Le Romantisne nait de l'enthousiasme provoque/ par les
id auxe vides mais grandioses de la philosophie servile
chez des homes dont c'est l'ardent et secret besoin
d'echapper, a tout prix, au sentiment de la decadence
qui, par eux, s'accomplit.9
gPierre Lasserre, La Morale de Flietzsche (Paris, 1902), p. 112.
His full-scale attack came in Le Romantisme francais in 1907. For
Lasserre, Romanticism was a monolith. It began with Rousseau and had
continued unchanged into the twentieth century. In his assumptions,
however, he fails to take into account differences that existed among
individual authors, and gives one-sided accounts of each personality
studied. He extracts those elements from each writer that serve to
further his condemnation and does not make the kind of balanced analysis
upon which a fair literary judenent must be based. For Lasserre,
Romanticism equalled liberalism, and liberalism equalled the kind of
revolt that is found in Rousseau and that informed the French Revolution.
He did not take into account the fact that there w~as no liberal ortho-
doxy to which all Romantic writers subscribed nor that individual
Romantic writers underwent changes in their commitments, shifting around
their beliefs among the various shades of liberalian and conservatism.
W~ilber F;rohock has called Le Romantisme francais a political pamphlet.
The underlying motivation wras the desire to arrive at a perspective of
contemporary conditions; as literary criticism or as history it has
little merit. In its wholesale attack it does more to distort than
to reveal the nineteenth century. Gaston Deschamp complained that
Lasserre, as a measure of public safety, wanted to suppress the whole
There are same quite unattractive features in L'Action Francaise.
The movement is marked by violence and intemperance; and, in a sense,
was a part of the very thing it attacked. It condemned the Romantics
for their lack of restraint; at the same time the members of L'Action
Franchise not only displayed a complete absence of restraint in
attacking Romanticism, liberalism, Jews, the university system, the
Government, and other facets of nineteenth-century life, but engaged
in street brawls, fought political duels, interrupted professors in
the Sorbonne, and served jail sentences. In the cause of national
strength, they threatened to bring to France the kind of catastrophe
that Hitler later brought to Germany. Lasserre wrrote: "~Jusqu'a la
restauration du pouvoir royal, le cri: a bas les juifsl est
consubstantiel a\ celui de: Vive la Francel"10 The Nazi Movement can
offer little more than L'A~ction Francaise in the way of racism, hatred,
To attach the whole stigmla of L'Action Francaise to anti-
Romanticism in general would be a grave injustice. It would mean using
the same weapon on the anti-Romantics that some of them have used in
condemning the Romantics. In a modified form, some of the more
unsavory notions are continued in Pound, Hulme, Wyndhamn Lew~is, and even
in Eliot. On the whole, however, the different social and political
conditions in England and America led to a lessened emphasis on the
reactionary aspects of anti-Romanticism. At the same time, traces of
the same kind of spirit that informed Lasserre can be detected in all
anti-Romanticism. Fredericke Pottle's experience in trying to determine
the basis of the dislike of Shelley is instructive. WJriting in 1952,
Because modern criticism is so polemical, it is not easy
to discover wha~t it really wJants to do with Shelley. One
distinguished modern practitioner of whomn I asked the
question told me wlith warmth that he wished Shelley to be
completely forgotten and as soon as possible; but; he
added that he k~new~ he was unfair.11
lO;ilber Molrrill Prohock, Pierre La~isserre: The Evolution of His
Critical Doctrines (Ann Arbor, 1937), p. 22.
1Fr-ederick Pottle, "The Case of Shelley," PMLA\, LXVII (September
1952), p. 599.
In reading anti-Romantic criticism, one is repeatedly made aware of an
underlying: irrational or non-ration~al basis. The desire to condemn--
or perhaps even a comapulsion to condemn--seems to exist prior to any
analysis that mary be made of Romantic poetry. The existence of this
pre-judgmnent is much more evident in the earlier anti-Romantics, wrho
may brush aside a. poet or a wJhole Group of poets in a phrase or two.
But even anone; later critics wsho Give far more detailed analyses--
Leavi~s, for extample--it would appear th-at judgment had been passed
before the detailed study was made. The fervor wJith which thle anti-
Romantic enters upon his task~ is difficult for a non-symnpathizer to
understand. Romantician seems to pose a threat; and the public safety,
as in the case of Lasserre, depends upon its demolition. Interestingly
enough, however much they may be in opposition on concepts, the anti-
Romantics have strong; affinities temperamentallyr with the Romantics.
Like Shelley, their prime target for criticism, they have a passion for
reforming: the w~orld.
After Lasserre's Le Romantisme francais anti-Romanticism split
into twro segm~ents, the American and the English versions. T.E. Hubse
is the man w~ho introduced anti-Romanticism to England, and the influence
of Lasserre and L'Action Francaise on him wans great. H~ulme had a wa~y
of appropriating ideas from others, and his views on Romanticism may be
described not unfairly as a transplanting of some, though not all, of
the French notions onto the EnGlish soil. The relationship between
Lassorre and Babbitt, who was the principal agent in bringing anti-
Romanticism to America, is far more complicated. The direction of
Babbitt's thinking wras established before the publication of Le Romalntisme
francais. In Literature and the American College, Babbitt had defined
those elements in contemporary civilization to which he objected--
the liberal humanitarian spirit and science, and he had devoted a
chapter to an attack on Rousseau. But the influence of Lasserre would
appear to be quite significant in Babbitt's later almost virtual
identification of contemporary evils with Rousseau and the Romantic
Movement. Although Babbitt expressed reservations about the extremism,
this characteristic of the Frenchman wJas probably an influence on
Babbitt's later works. Rousseau and Romanticism reflects very strongly
the Lasserre method of en bloc condemnation.
The two segments of anti-Romantician are combined in T.S. Eliot.
Eliot studied under Babbitt at Harvard and, despite at least one
fundamental disagreement with his mentor, acknowledged Babbitt's
continuing influence. Hulme's influence on Eliot, much of it ccaning;
indirectly through Ezra Pound, was even greater. Hulme's preoccupation
with religious dogma and writh aesthetic practice were closer to Eliot's
primary interests than was Babbitt's humanism. T.S. Eliot is the
pivotal figure in the whole twentieth-century anti-Romantic Mlovement.
Both the English and American streams flow through him, and no one has
exerted a greater influence on the criticism that has been written from
the 1920's on. England's most prominent Newr Critic, F.R. Leavis, has
played Paul to Eliot. Although he has brought modifications and added
ramifications, he has followed rather faithfully the paths indicated
by his master.
In America, the lines of influence are somewhat less obvious.
American critics have a prediliction for denying their ancestry. The
most strenuous in proclaiming his own uniqueness is Ivor Winters.
Among other modern critics, he expresses approval--and that a rather
qualified approval--only for Babbitt. He denies that Eliot is either
an anglo-catholic or a royalist or a classicist. He raises objections
to much of modern poetry and proclaims Adelaide Crapsey as one of the
major poets of our times. HowJever, when the argumentativeness and the
eccentricity are properly discounted, Winters would seem to be in the
main stream of contemporary criticism. Among the New Critics he
displays the closest ties with Babbitt, but his conservatism takes on
some of the characteristics of Eliot's, as for example in his more
sympathetic attitude toward religion. All of the American New Critics
have taken some pains to define their own positions and to point out
their disagreements wJith others, but underlying thel interesting and
inconclusive disputes over aesthetics there is an affinity of spirit
among them. Part of this tic is their dislike, in varying degrees, of
The shade of their anti-Romanticismrm ws, of course, determined by
conditions in .America. They had nothing so spectacular as the Dreyfurs
case, but there were other causes for fear and discontent. Thne
uncertainties of a boom-and-bust era, the growing strength of socialism,
and the special grievances of the Fugitives in their stand against
industrial democracy all contributed to the American brand of criticism.
A growing fear about the survival of letters in a world dominated by
science is an important development in the movement. At its start,
anti-Romanticism was associated with an attack on academism. Lasserre
w~as vitriolic in his condemnation of the French schools; Pound was
equally severe in deploring the uselessness of American universities.
The New Criticism is distinctive in that it involves a revolt against
academism largely from within the universities.
Although anti-Romantic sentiments have continued up to the
present time, it is difficult to consider anti-Romanticism as a.
movement after about 1939. The political dimension of the movement,
writh its Fascist overtones, could hardly survive the w~ar with Hitler.
While anti-Romanticism in its literary dimension is implicit in the
work of the N~ew Critics in the forties and fifties, they have said
little new on the subject, have tended to soften their attack, and have
emphasized more the positive side of their criticism. N~ew Criticism
as a movement succumbed in the early 1950's, partly from success and
partly from its inadequacy in covering; a wide enough range of
literature. Miany of its approaches and techniques have been adopted
widely in the universities; and, ironically, scholars have made use
of the New Critical machinery to re-discover the values of Romanticism.
pr 9 7 ~- a v
i : ""r)
others have recognized, Babbitt was a moralist; literature was for him
a means to an end, a source of evidence for his discourses on ethics.
Babbitt's anti-Romanticism can better be understood if at the
outset it is observed that he was deeply concerned with contemporary
problems and deeply disturbed over the course that civilization
appeared to be following. He believed that mankind had gone wrong on
first principles and that "our own time suffers in an almost unexampled
degree from a. lack of elevation.''l Although his best-known studies deal
with the past, the final aim of nearly all of them is an understanding
of the current malaise and its causes. And a number of his essays do
focus on contemporary life and reveal some of the conditions about which
he w~as apprehensive. As an academician he was unhappy about the develop-
ments he saw taking place in American education. He believed that the
quality of students and of studies had suffered from "the encroachments
of an equalitarian democracy"2 and that the standards of liberal education
were "being progressively undermined by the utilitarians and the
sentimentalists."3 He opposes John Dewey's ideas, pragmnatism, specializa-
tion, electives, and the encroachment of the physical sciences. He can
find nothing to admire in the literature and the writers of the time:
Dos Passos' Manhattan Transfer is "a literary nightmare";. Dreiser's
Ag American TraCgedy is "pedestrian" ; Sinclair Lewis and H.L. Mencken are
IIrving; Babbitt, On Being Creative (Boston and New York, 1932), p.
2Tbid., p. 224.
3Babbitt, Snanish Character and Other Essays (Boston and New
York, 1940), p. 266.
BRabbitt, On Beinr Creative, p. 223.
5lbid., p. 219.
"a part of the very malady they are assailing.'. He condemns the
humanitarian ideal, which is lacking in clear standards and consequently
affords no check to the greed that is prevalent in America: ". . it
seems possible to combine a perfect idealism with an orgy of unrestricted
cormmercialism."i Under the new morality, according to Babbitt, the
individual no longer accepts responsibility for his actions. He
concludes that the evil in America far outweighs the good:
...the most optimistic of us cannot help seeing some
signs of moral degeneracy. But are we not spending 75
million dollars a year on automobiles, with a fair
prospect of soon having successful airships? In view of
these glorious achievements, why be disquieted by the
increase in murders, in suicides, in insanity, in divorce,
by all the multiplying symptoms of some serious and
perhaps fatal one-sidedness in our civilization that is
bringing down on us its appropriate nemesis?8
If Babbitt saw good things in America, he did not write about them.
Because his view is so one-sided, he is not an accurate reporter of his
times. He is more of a moralist, a prophet who warns his countrymen of
His absorption with contemporary evils, along with his conception
of a declining culture, is an important key to the distortions in his
picture of Romanticism. "'To debate Rousseau is really to debate the
main issues of our contemporary life,"91 he writes; and in all of his
works he is debating contemporary issues and, as a result, never caues
6Ibid., p. 216.
7Ibid., p. 231.
Babbitt, Literature and the uAmerican College (Boston and New York,
1908), p. 64.
gBabbitt, Spanish Character, p. 225.
to grips with the totality of Romanticism. No doubt he begins with
certain valid insights: he observes that humanitarianism is an ideal
that may be perverted and, indeed, serve as a mantle for base actions;
he notes that liberty may easily degenerate into license. In seeing
some connection between these ideals and the Romantic Period, he is
right; he is also right in finding portents of the decline of the ideals
in some of the more extreme statements of Rousseau and the Romantics.
In Literature and the American College, which both Paul Elmer More and
T.S. Eliot have called his best work, he advances these ideas with less
dogmatism and extremism than in his later works and, thus, makes some
valuable observations. But when he elevates his insights into a
gigantic and overpowering system, his works--whatever their immediate
value to his contemporaries--lack permanent validity; they distort more
than they reveal. He siaplifies historical causality to the point of
absurdity. Twrentieth-century America w~as not created by Rousseau and the
Romantics alone, but by a complex of social, economic, political, and
intellectual forces. Nor was Babbitt right in condemning an ideal on
the basis of what a later Generation did to it. In the course of time
all ideals seem to Go through a process of "trivialization" and
perversion. Thus if Babbitt's reasoning about Romantician were carried
to its logical conclusion, all ideals would have to be condemned. In
his lator work Babbitt does not examine Romanticism for its own sake but
for its use to him in support of a thesis. This approach to so large and
complex a phenomenon precludes a just appraisal.
Babbitt is unfair to the period as a consequence of his bad
historical method; he is unfair to individual authors by his use of
en bloc condemnation. This second criticism he anticipates:
My method indeed is open in one respect to grave
misunderstanding. From the fact that I am constantly
citing passages from this or that author and condemning
the tendency for which these passages stand, the reader
will perhaps be led to infer a total condemnation of
the authors so quoted. But the inference may be very
incorrect. I am not trying to give rounded estimates
of individuals--delightful and legitimate as that type
of criticism is--but to trace main currents as a part
of my search for a set of principles to oppose to
naturalism. I call attention for example to the
Rousseauistic and primitivistic elements in Wordsworth
but do not assert that this is the whole truth about
Wordsworth. One's view as to the philosophical value
of Rousseauism must, however, weigh heavily in a total
judgment of Wordsworth.10
If Babbitt had indeed followed the practice he sets forth in this
passage, he would be less open to attack; if he had consistently made
it clear that he was merely condemning some tendencies in the thinking
of some men, his argument would be more acceptable. But in fact such
qualifications are quite rare in Babbitt's writing. He usually speaks
in absolutes, and his indictment both of the movement and of the
individual men within the movement is thorough-going. "The total
tendency of the Occident at present is away from rather than towaFrds
civilization he says; and he characteristically treats the
Romanticist as a distinct species of mankind, who is not just partially
misguided but who has gone w~rong on first principles. He engages in a
circular reasoning about Romanticism: he makes admittedly one-sided
judgments of individual authors, combines these judgments to arrive at
a total condemnation of Romanticism, then blames the individuals for
10Babbitt, Rousseau and Romanticism (Boston, 1919), pp. xvi-xvii.
11Ibid., p. x.
being Romantics. Two instances of circular reasoning occur in the
above quotation. In reference to the phrase--"to trace main currents
as a part of my search for a set of principles to oppose to naturalism"--
it should be pointed out that the "main currents" he speaks of are the
currents of naturalism. To his statement that "the philosophic value
of Rousseauism must .. weigh heavily in a total judgment of WJordsworth,"
it may be objected that it is Wordsworth's philosophy itself, not
Rousseauism, that should weigh heavily in a judgment of him. It may be
further argued that Babbitt's failure to make rounded estimates of
individuals disqualifies him from making an over-all judgment of the
movement, for Romanticism (which in Babbitt's writings is synonymous
with "Rousseauism," "emotional naturalism," and "primitivian") is the
combined ideas and works of the authors of the period.
Babbitt devotes a chapter of Rousseau and Romanticism to defining
"Romantic" and contrasting it with "Classic." In his definition he
relies heavily on the etymology of the wrord and on its application to
literature written prior to the Romantic Period of the nineteenth century.
Thus he says:
In general a thing is romantic when, as Aristotle
would say, it is wonderful rather than probable; in
other words, when it violates the normal sequence of
cause and effect in favor of adventure . .. A thing
is romantic when it is strange, unexpected, intense,
superlative, extreme, unique, etc.12
To support this definition he presents a very learned discussion, in
which he quotes authorities from a variety of countries and ages. But
his erudition, except insofar as it satisfies his own desire for a
1Ibid., p. 4.
pejorative meaning of the word, is wasted because he is attempting to
force a connection that does not exist--or, at least, does not have the
degree of closeness that he assumes. His definition provides an
accurate description of medieval romances, and he assumes an affinity
of spirit between these works and wrritings of the nineteenth century.
Certainly the mere fact that the same term is applied to these two
periods in literature proves nothing. Words change in meaning--sometimes
very radically, as can be seen, for example, in the distinction between
the medieval and the modern meanings of "realism." Babbitt does concede
a superficial difference between the two periods:
This pursuit of strangeness and adventure will be found
to predoninate in all types of romanticism. The type
of romanticia,m however, which came in toward the end
of the eighteenth century did not, even wJhen professedly
mediaeval, s-imply revert to the older types. It wsas
primarily not a romanticism of thought or of action, the
type we have encountered thus far, but a romanticism of
The reservation, though in itself true, in no way advances Babbitt's
main argument. The definition of medieval romance can be accepted as
applicable to nineteenth-century poetry only if sufficient evidence is
presented fran an examination of specific qualities in the two
literatures. The medieval romance displays a delight in strangeness for
its own sake; thirty-foot giants, dragons, and heroes with superhuman
power are cannon ingredients. WJhat affinity can be found between this
literature and, for example, Wordsworth's Prelude with its search for
meaning and purpose in life through a careful examination of the poet's
experiences; or Shelley's Pramethe~us Unbound with its study of the
failure of the ideals of the French Revolution and of institutionalized
Christianity and its concern with the regeneration of man through love,
1Ibid., p. 31.
forgiveness, and fortitude; or B~yron's Don Juan with its special comic
vision of a world of sham and hypocrisy? W~ith the exception of a few
works, the Romantic poets display no inclination to write about events
that were interesting merely because of their eccentricity. Wordsworth,
in his Preface, condemns extravagant and sensational literature and
indicates that his purpose is to write about "the essential passions of
the heart." Even among those Romantic works that do exploit the element
of wonder, there is a fundamental difference from medieval romance.
Coloridge expresses his belief that a poem may take liberties with surface
reality but must reflect moral truth. Thus "The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner" involves, "strangeness and adventure," but also deals with the
universal theme of salvation. Of those works upon which the greatness
of the Romantic Period depends, only a small number involve fantastic
situations, and the be st of the se-- "Christabel" and "Lamia," for example--
have underlying themes which are neither strange nor improbable. The
"strangeness" that Babbitt finds in the two literatures seems to be
nothing more than the notion that both violate "the normal sequence of
cause and effect"; in other words, Babbitt disagrees with the Romantic
vision of reality. If so, then the issue can be debated sensibly only
by pointing out the falsity of the Romantic view; and to attach the
deficiencies of medieval romance upon Romantic poetry is a species of
To point out the inadequacy of Babbitt's definition does not in
itself, however, result in the collapse of his entire position against
Romanticism: many of the issues he raises may be debated without reference
to this definition. In Rousseau and Romanticism he attacks the movement
on a number of fronts: the Romantics' conceptions of original genius,
imagination, love, and nature, their irony, their real and ideal morality.
This study wIill not attempt to confront each of these issues separately
but will, instead, concentrate on the one which seems to be central to
all of them--emotionalism. Babbitt believed that the Romantics through
their excessive regard for feeling had abandoned all controls:
The romantic .. is simply drifting with the stream.
For feeling not only shifts from man to man, it is
continually shifting in the same man; so that morality
becomes a matter of mood, and romanticism here as else-
whfere might be defined as the despotism of mood.14
That this emotionalism is at the heart of Babbitt's conception of
Romanticism is attested to by Keith P. McKean:
WJhen one loses control, he is apt to show an "infinite
craving," a "wild emotion," the "!confusion of the
sensuous and the spiritual," or the "glorification of
temperament" in a wlilful riot of expansive desires.
Romanticism is a single word for all these vicious
tendencies . .. Rom~anticism is an attack on judgment,
decorum, and the law of measure.15
Babbitt's propensity to speak in absolutes is nowhere more evident than
in his discussion of Romantic emotion. In reading Babbitt, one is led
to feel that a generation of writers had suddenly gone berserk. In
this attack, Babbitt is presenting an extreme statement of an error
that w~as prevalent in his time and one that has lingered on. This
error, a creation of the later nineteenth and early tw~entieth-century
critics, is the belief that reason and emotion can be sharply divided
and that the Neo-classics and Romantics respectively fit exactly into
these two categories. The critics against whom Babbitt was reacting
14Ibid., p. 161.
15Keith F. MlcKean, The M~oral ie~asure of Literatur (Denver, 1961),
were those pro-Romantics who conceived of poetry as an expression of
pure emotion and who thought that the proper response to poetry was a
luxuriating in emotion. The reason-emotion dichotomy may have been
originally a useful distinction between tendencies of Neo-classic and
Romantic writers, but when raised to the level of absolute categories
and, when used to abuse one or the other of these literary periods, it
has had a pernicious influence on critical studies. The exaggeration
was probably assisted by the advance of the natural sciences. As
science came increasingly to be conceived of as the way of knowledge,
poetry was defended on the basis of its emotional impact. In the
twentieth century, critics like John Crowe Ransom, by insisting on the
importance of intellectual content, have fostered a more balanced view
Babbitt's belief in the emotional excesses of the Romantics
appears, then, to have been grounded in misconceptions of his own
times. When he turned to the Romantic writers he did indeed find a
wealth of evidence to support his prejudgment. But the case that he
constructs against the Romantics is more a matter of his determination
and of the methods he employs than it is of any just appraisal. He
sifts through the Romanties for any hints of emotionalism; enthusiasm,
feeling, emotion, and related terms are danger signals to him and are
used as further proof of his case, often without much regard for the
context in which they occur. Any evidence that the Romanties may
occasionally have used their minds is discounted by him. A typical
example of Babbitt's reasoning is found in his discussion of Wordsworth's
famous definition of poetry:
E~motionalimm as a substitute for thought is implied,
indeed, in Wordsworth's definition of poetry as
'a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.' To
be sure, Wordsworth adds that the poet should be a
man who 'has thought long and deeply,' but read a
line or two further and you will find that, following
Hartleyan psychology, he looks upon our thoughts
themselves as only 'the representatives of all our
Babbitt is a lawyer wrho displays considerable ingenuity in
arguing his case. A good critic, however, should be a judge who strives
for some degree of impartiality. A more detached and comprehensive view
of Romanticism than Babbitt's does not reveal a period that is a
morass of emotionalism. Neither in the. poetic theory nor in the
practice does his charge apply. The distinction that the Romantics
make is between imagination and reason, not between emotion and reason.
By reason they referred to the analytical powers of the mind; according
to the Romantics, the over-emphasis of these powers by eighteenth-
century thinkers had led to a narrow view of the world. By imagination
they meant the shaping power and the synthesizing capabilities of man;
imagination, far from precluding the intellect, involved the exercise
of man's total faculties in confronting life. But Babbitt refuses to
take the Romantics at their word:
With the elimination of the ethical element from the
soul of art the result is an imagination that is free
to wander wild with the emancipated emotions. The
result is likely to be art in which a lively aesthetic
perceptiveness is not subordinated to any whole ....17
The expression "ethical element" appears to be the key to this passage.
Babbitt's reasoning, although difficult to untangle, seems to involve
16Babbitt, On Beinn Creative, p. 61.
17lBabbitt, Rousseu and Romanticism, p. 206.
a double non-sequitur, which might be translated as follows: since
the Romantics sometimes opposed custom and institutions, they lacked
an ethical concern; if they lacked ethics, they were unreasoning
emotionalists. In another place Babbitt asserts that "there is no
such thing as romantic morality."l8 Although he insists frequently
that he is not a traditionalist, he seems in his discussion of the
Romantics always to identify morality with conventional behavior. But
the Romantics--notably in their opposition to convention--had a very
profound moral concern. They believed that the conventional treatment
of workers, Irish, Catholics, and other oppressed groups was immoral.
The only basis for a tenable argument against them would be evidence to
demonstrate that they were mistaken and that conditions on the Continent
and in the England of George III were not in need of reform. Babbitt
attempts no such argument. Neither is Babbitt's second connection--
between this supposed lack of ethics and emotion--tenable. Even if the
Romantics were mistaken in their morality, it does not follow necessarily
that they also gave up all their reasoning powers and became wild
emotionalists. A man does not automatically become an unreasoning
creature just because his views on morality do not accord with Babbitt's.
The interest of the Romantics in the primitive and in a state of
nature is to Babbitt one of the strongest indications of their emotional
and unreasoned approach to life. He frequently refers to them as
"primitivists" and asserts that nature means to them "the spontaneous
play of impulse and temperament,"19 the opposite of reason. He regards
1Dbid., p. 217.
Ibid., p. 39.
Rousseau and the Romantics as the first who ever took the Arcadian dream
seriously, and he taxes them for their Arcadian reveries, which involve
falling "into sheer unreality."20 He sees Romanticism as being permeated
with these attitudes:
The whmole movement is filled with the praise of ignorance
and of those who still enjoy its inappreciable advantages--
the savage, the peasant, and above all, the child.21
Babbitt's statement hits squarely the more trivial and debased versions
of the state-of-nature theme. Just as every age has its owJn bits of
nonsense, the late eighteenth century had its popular notions about the
noble savage, ideas which were a corruption of same of Rousseau's most
spectacular concepts. But Babbitt does not discriminate between the
popular notions and the conceptions of the great poets. By excerpting
passages from the poets, he attempts to prove that their ideas are not
valid and are indeed merely "the praise of ignorance." The method
predetermines the result: poetry cannot survive his process of
extraction. A fair evaluation of an idea in poetry must be based on the
totality of the idea as it occurs in individual poems. Thus to provide
a complete answer to Babbitt's sweeping charge would involve the study
of all of those poems in which the theme of the primitive occurs. Here
it will suffice to make a few comments about the English poet against
whom the charge is primarily aimed--William Wordsworth.
Wordsw~orth did indeed have an interest in primitive types--and
especially the child. He found in them a wJholoness, a harmony with
nature, an unconcern for problems that plague the adult intelligence.
20bid., p. 376.
21Ibid., p. 378.
They lack the adult's awareness of death; they are not subject to fits
of depression that arise from conte~mPlating the evils of the future.
As a consequence they knowJ a deep joy that the adult can no longer
fully experience. Wordsworth deals with the universal issue of man's
alienation, of the evils that accompany the blessings of self-awareness.
Far from being a mere propagandist for ignorance, Wordsworth is attempt-
ing to explore some of the most fundamental and perplexing problems of
human existence. To the charge that he fell "into sheer unreality,"
the best answer is a careful reading of Book Eighth of The Prelude,
which describes the manner in which he was led to a love of: man through
the love of nature. He displays a clear perception of the idealizing
process; he knows of the imperfections of the shepherds that he admires,
and be has made the conscious choice of freeing himself, as far as
possible, from the triviality and meanness in life. The Prelude is not
about shepherds, but about Wlordsw~orth; it does not praise ignorance, but
celebrates the imagination.
Babbitt's Criticism of Shelley
Neither Wordsworth nor Shelley appears to have been an important
factor in the genesis of Babbitt's anti-Romanticism. Trained in the
classical languages, Babbitt was assigned, not according to his wishes,
to teach modern Romance languages. His conviction that mankind had gone
wrong on first principles then probably received its first Unmportant
historical support from his reading of French writers, Rousseau being
the most significant of these. His dislike of the English Romantics
appears to have been colored by the strong, antipathy he felt toward
Rousseau a~nd the nineteenth-century French authors,
His first published reference to Shelley, in Literature and the
American College (1908), is somewhat tentative:
It may, however, appear some day how much the
great romantic leaders, Shelley for example, suffered
from the absence of just what Lessing called criticism.
Men may then grow weary of a genius and originality that
are at bottom only an outpouring of undisciplined
This passage indicates the hypothesis upon which he founded his later
full-scale attack on Shelley: the focal point of his criticism always
remains the "outpouring of undisciplined emotion." In The New Laoco'dn
(1910), he mentions Shelley four times in a somewhat incidental manner
but with a suggestion of his later attitude; his statement that "the
Rousseauistic temperament was far more marked in Shelley than in Keats"23
foreshadows his future position. But it is not until Rousscau and
Romantician (1919) that he makes a significant attack on Shelley. In
this work Babbitt sees the principal evils of the Western world as
stemming from the doctrines of Rousseau, and he regards Shelley as the
chief exponent of Rousseau's ideas in E~ngland.
Babbitt's criticism of Shelley in Rousseau and Ramnanticism is
marked by the shortcomnings that have already been noted in his general
handling; of Romanticism. Furthermore, because he discussed so many
wrriters and surveyed such large areas of human thought, his knowledge
of specific authors, Shelley among them, is often inadequate.
Among the tenets of criticism Babbitt has made of Shelley, five
paramount weaknesses are apparent: Babbitt's improper use of biography as
a basis for judgments about poetry; his use of the conclusions of other
Babbitt, Literature and the American College (Boston and NJew
York, 1908), p. 224. --
23Ba~bbitt, The N~ew Laocoo~n (Boston and New York, 1910), p. 113n.
critics without testing these conclusions by his own reading; his out-
of-context quotations which distort the general drift of the work in
question and his occasional misinterpretation of quotations themselves;
his failure to meet a work of literature on its own terms--either by
srmueggling into it ideas that are not there or by judging it according to
standards that are not applicable to the particular work; his condemna-
tion of one author by associating him with another author without having
satisfactorily established the connection.
An important segment of his criticism of Shelley is based on his
disapproval of the poet's private life. He pictures Shelley as a mind-
less, ineffectual demon who generally misused his talent for handling
words. He moves freely from the poet's works to his life and frequently
uses Shelley's behavior as a basis for condemning his poetry. Shelley's
wcakr grasp of reality, Babbitt's major charge against him, is defined
in terms of his life and, therefore, is assumed to be fully applicable
to his poetry. For example, "Epipsychidion" is discarded as "mere
Arcadian dreamingn216 because Shelley the man was unable to fix for long
on any woman as his ideal. Indeed, Shelley's relation w\ith wamen--
Harriet, Mlary, Elizabeth Hitchener, D~ailia, and Jane Williams--is the
principal evidence that Babbitt uses to prove his inability to confront
Babbitt wras following an established practice. From the start,
Shelley criticism focused on his morals and behavior, and it is only
very recently that his works have received much treatment as art rather
Babbitt, Rousseau and Roman~ticism, p. 228.
':ran shaLy as th~e ( "'on of de mented or inspired man. Further-
more, Be .itt's vork is not strictly a literary study, but rather a
r in .and. at iituds n which makes use of literature as evidence.
1've 6"h :ts are us1 to suppl excamples t~hat are it,li:e .
e'bl loose~ the -c
.h .'o or~ia c
cacre oQ bl. Bil andc criticismn, however,
utilityp of(1'6o.a:sal of 1 trature.
e o-ime:d .of ou t times h-as been the
Sb' :i~ -0d 1- arr-en, for etxaple
aIrve som~e "ical value, but o on to
Cru to ascribe to it or speeci ic. '1
b' .' 7hI a. evidence can b1.-
e1 valua lon. 9 PO ;' er tll- a toed
ri""is thorou .iyf .1~... if it
i raph!'cael truthful~ness, corr s-
'? :!on? or ft ` atS ?1
sr value r2 iT.. vol~Umes of
vr povtri tr 1 adolescente and
Te---ent.Lr 1 ) "' ious veTSO Wrif Ch
S' ien u of this. s
"' is ne t er a cr C nor a better 1 -
:ste t~ e relations wsith his
as ~ I:me IE.>re thinr k, thatz
c teterswich, .. o
._L fl O~ i. . r exists; the
I,tlt so- l clor 5nc are *oa 0: e
:te", o: ned ~ be .
-~~ia~acors, tho ositon
, a i;
e, C or
i~~lle ~ -' sh~~
iv Ci '1",
Or z tr
s4 c:l .ra
1:lll iuti jrcn, I o Litera Ire (~ York,
Because of the dimensions of his subject, it is to be expected
that Babbitt would rely on the judgments of other critics on individual
writers; and such a practice is not in itself to be condemned. What is
objectionable in Babbitt's use of secondary sources is his expansion of
statements to serve purposes quite different fran what was originally
intended--without grounding his discussion on his own reading of the
work of literature. For example, he quotes Oliver Elton on The Revolt
of Islam: "If we let the reason sleep and are content to watch a
succession of dissolving views, the poem is seen at once to overflowJ
with beauty."26 Babbitt uses this statement as a basis for character-
izing The Revolt of Isla as "art in which lively aesthetic perceptive-
ness is not subordinated to any wJhole, art that is unstructured, however
it may abound in vivid and picturesque details."2 Elton is suggesting
a way of reading the poem; and although Babbitt's inference is under-
standable, Elton is not saying much about the nature of the poem itself.
A sound critical judgment has been made by neither Elton nor Babbitt.
A recent study, based on a careful reading of the poem, records its
weaknesses but does not indicate that it is "unstructured"; F.L. Jones,
in speaking of Canto I, says:
The symbolical pattern .. can thus be clarified if
we are willing to admit that Shelley himself was a bit
confused and inconsistent. Since there is a precedent for
believing that his own intentions were not always perspicuous
to himself, and since the non-symbolic use of the Woman and
her mysterious disappearance can be explained in terms of
Shelley's own inclinations and practices, it seems sensible
to interpret his symbolism as a. consistent pattern except
for these minor deviations.2U
26Babbitt, Rousseau and Romanticism, p. 20G.
28F.L. Jones, "Canto I of The Revolt of Islan," Keats-Shelley
Journal, IX (1960), 33.
Babbitt illustrates, in his judgment of The Revolt of Islam, one of
the most significant causes of anti-Shelleyan attitudes among twentieth-
century readers. The reaction often appears to have been caused less
by Shelley's works themselves than by pro-Shelleyan critics. At the
beginning of the century, not only had a mode of literature been
exhausted, but a mode of criticism was also reaching the end of its
usefulness. Oliver Elton, although certainly an able critic, is not
free from the weakness that abound's in the criticism of the time. In
his comment on The Revolt of Islam, he recommends that the poem be
approached in a semi-comotose state. Later criticism, although in
danger of going to the opposite extreme of over-intellectualism, is
right in demanding that a poem be able to survive the exercise of the
awakened faculties. Elton was out of step with the twentieth century.
The reputation of a poet depends, for one thing, on the existence of
critics who can present him in terms that are acceptable to their
Another characteristic of Babbitt's criticism is the out-of-
context quotation. For example, he uses as an illustration of the
"Romantic Cult of Intoxication" Shelley's statement that "nought is
but that it feels itself to be." Since he misquotes the line, he was
probably working, fron memory, but whatever the cause may be, he
completely misconstrues Shelley's meaning. Babbitt grasps upon the
word "feels" and believes that he has another piece of evidence in his
prosecution of the undisciplined Romantic poets. But if the line is
read along with a few lines preceding it, the word takes on quite
... this Whole
Of suns, and worlds, and men, and beasts, and flowers
With all the silent or tempestuous workings
By which they have been, are, or cease to be,
Is but a vision;--all that it inherits
Are motes of a xick eye, bubbles and dreams;
Thought is its cradle and its grave, nor less
The Future and the Past are idle shadows
Of thought's eternal flight--they have no being:
Nought is but that which feels itself to be.
(Hellas, 11. 776-785)
"Feels," then, is a verb functioning to express the same idea as
"thought": in the preceding lines, Shelley is stating a position
similar to that of Berkeley, and "Romantic Intoxication"' is quite
beside the point. Glaring mistakes such as this one are not common
in Babbitt's writing, but he constantly uses the brief quotation as
if it were adequate to epitomize Shelley's thought. Stripped of the
qualifications that may have been included elsewhere in the poem, or
in other poems by the author, these quotations serve to distort his
The work of Shelley's that Babbitt devotes the most attention to
is Prometheus Unbound. He speaks of its "flimsiness .. as a solution
of the problem of evil."
Shelley .. puts the blame for evil on society.
"Prometheus Unbound," in which he has developed his
conception, is, judged as a play, only an ethereal
melodrama. The unaccountable collapse of Zeus, a
monster of unalloyed and unmotivated badness, is
followed by the gushing forth in man of an equally
unalloyed and unmotivated goodness.29
In this statement, Babbitt reveals his unwillingness to meet the play
on its own terms. Like Paul Elmer More, he seems to regard Prometheus
Babbitt, Rousseau and Rmannticism, p. 189.
Unbound as merely a revision of Queen Mab. By critics who disagree
with Shelley's political views, Queen Mab has often been used as an
instrument to discredit his works generally. But to do so is to ignore
the development both in Shelley's thought and in his poetic powers.
Queen Mab is a poem that in places is obviously didactic; seven years
later, in the preface to Prometheus Unbound, Shelley states: "Didactic
poetry is my abhorrence." Despite Shelley's disclaimer, Babbitt insists
on treating the play as didactic. He is able to do so only by viewing
the play also as a very simple allegory, with the characters serving
as counters: Prometheus as mankind, Jupiter as society, etc. Such an
approach yields a rather superficial reading.
Whether or not the play is allegory is a question that has been
frequently argued. Newton I. White attempted to settle the matter in
his article, "Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, or Every Main His Own
Allegorist," in 1925. He objected to the use of the word "allegory" to
mean "the general representative value of all great art" instead of "a
real machinery of definite parallel values." He speaks of "the recognized
and indisputable fact that the poem as a whole does represent the
struggle of humanity against oppression" and says that "the confusion
appears only when subsequent critics have tried to elaborate the meaning
of the poem by working out an allegorical mechanism for it."30 Among
recent commentators, Harold Bloom insists that the play is myth, not
allegory; and Eilton Wilson says that it is allegorical, but not
allegory. Scholars are Generally agreed today that Prometheus Unbound
is not a strict allegory; to call the play myth, following Scudder,
30PMILA, XL (M~arch 1925), 180.
White, and Bloom, has the advantage of eliminating some of the mis-
understandings that have previously existed.
A more careful and sympathetic reading of the play than Babbitt
gave it does not reveal the naive conception of evil that he and others
find expressed in it. It may be surmised that because the play presents
certain inherent difficulties for the reader and because Babbitt was
convinced that it wras merely a repetition of Queen Miab, he failed to
give it the attention that it requires. Although both works are
concerned with tyranny, Prometheus Unbound is at a great remove from
the strident cries against "kings, priests, and statesmenl.~ Shelley's
view of evil in the play is not at all simple. The ultimate origin of
evil, Shelley indicates, is beyond man's comprehension: "The deep truth
is imageless." Even in the more intediate causes, Shelley does not
explicitly put all the blame on society; the individual man's complicity
is indicated in Prometheus's statement, "0er all things but thyself I
gave thee power." (I, 1. 273) That Shelley did' not believe that a
mere destruction of institutions would regenerate mankind is indicated
by his honest confrontation of the failure of the French Revolution.
His conclusion was not unlike Coleridge's: "The Sensual and the Dark
rebel in vain." ("France: an Ode," 1. 85) Only by some inner change
could the world be reformed. What Babbitt means by "'the unaccountable
collapse of Zeus" is not clear. Shelley accounts for Jupiter's fall by
Prometheus's self-reformation, by his expiation of hatred and reveng~e-
fulness signalized by his repudiation of the curse. Babbitt's complaints
about the lack of motivation and the unalloyed quality of good and evil
are examples of his refusal to judge the play on its own grounds. Had
Prometheus and Jupiter been men, he would have been justified in
objecting to the distribution of good and evil, but they are gods. The
supposed lack of preparation for Jupiter's downfall is a question of
dramatic effectiveness, but Babbitt illicitly makes it one of moral
truth. In Prometheus Unbound, Shelley chose to focus on the moment of
Prometheus's redemption, not on some period in the previous three-
thousand years, which would reveal minutely the changes that took place
in his character. If one is willing to admit the possibility of an
unelioration of the human condition, then thirty centuries of suffering
and increase in wisdom must be considered as some motivation.
Babbitt also objects to the "attempts to make a wise man of
Shelley," and compares him unfavorably with Aeschylus:
The "Promnetheus Bound" has the informing ethical imagination
that the "Prometheus Unbound" lacks, and so in its total
structure belongs to an entirely different order of art.
Shelley, indeed, had admirable details .. But to
suppose that revery of this kind has anything to do with
the faith of Plato and Christ, is to fall from illusion into
Wle may doubt whether if Shelley had lived longer he
would ever have risen above emotional sophistry and become
more ethical in the quality of his imagination.. .
Shelley is poetical, but with a taint of sophistry or sham
Babbitt's charge of emotionalism against the Romantic period has already
been discussed; a few additional remarks on the application of this
charge against Shelley are appropriate. Babbitt appears to read most
of Shelley's poetry on a superficial, literal level; he seems to be
unaware of any symbolic significance in it. But this reading of Shelley
as a mere Arcadian dreamer has been seriously challenged by the scholar-
ship that has been done on him from the 1930's on. carl Grabo, who
31Babbitt, Rousseau and Romnanticism, pp. 359-360.
initiated the answer to the attack in The MIagic Plant (1936), claims
if ever a man lived the intellectual life and was less
the victim of unreason and blind emotion, it was Shelley
....Shelley' s was a poetic mind but also a philosophic
mind, realizing that ideal of the poet-philosopher which
he most admired in the great minds of the past.32
Grabo supports his claim by his studies of the scientific and Platonic
elements in Shelley's writing. Subsequent studies such as those done
by Baker, Cameron, Wilson, and Bloomn have disposed of Babbitt's charge
of emotionalism. Disagreements, of course, still arise over the
quality of Shelley's ethical imagination and his wisdom, but to deny
him these attributes is no longer defensible.
The final fault to be discussed in Babbitt's critician of Shelley
is his use of guilt by association. A characteristic method of Babbitt
is to condemn a writer on the basis of a one-sided appraisal and then,
without firmly establishing the influence, condemn a second writer for
all of the sins of the first. According; to Babbitt, all the Romantics,
and especially Shelley, share in the Guilt of Rousseau. Babbitt writes,
"Shelley is himself the perfect example of the nympholept. In this
respect as in others, however, he merely continues Rousseau."33 But the
claim of such an extensive influence requires same documentation fran
the works of the two authors. For example, Shelley's remark on "Essay
on Christianity" deserves consideration:
32carl Grabo, The Magic Plant (Cha~pel Hill, 1936), p. vii.
33Babbitt, Rousseau and Romnantician, p. 227.
Nothing can well be more remote from truth . .. than it
were best for man that he should abandon all his acquire-
ments in physical and intellectual science and depend on
the spontaneous productions of N~ature for his subsistence
....Rousseau certainly did not mean to persuade the
immense population of his country to abandon all the arts
of life, destroy their habitations and their temples and
become inhabitants of the w~oods. He addressed the most
enlightened of his compatriots, and endeavored to persuade
them to set the example of a pure and simple life, by
placing in the strongest point of view his conceptions of
the calamitous and diseased aspect which, overgrown as it
is with the vices of sensuality and selfishness, is
exhibited by civilized society.34
Shelley here is not interpreting Rousseau at all in the wJay Babbitt
did, as a primitivist, and this piece of evidence alone requires some
modification of the charge of "Rousseauism," in the sense that Babbitt
used the word. Furthermore, Shelley at times expressed serious doubts
about Rousseau's philosophy, most notably in The Triumph of Life. To
the speaker in this poem, Rousseau looks like "an old root which grew/
To strange distortions out of the hillside." (11. 182-183) With "holes
he vainly sought to hide, L;which?7 were or had been eyes." (1. 187)
The figure states:
And if the spark with which heaven let my spirit
Had been with purer nutriment supplied,
Corruption would not now thus much inherit
Of what was once Rousseau,
Shelley was not simply a follower of Rousseau and WordswJorth in the
worship of nature. And the attitude expressed in The Triumph of Life
does not involve a complete reversal of his earlier position because
he had expressed a distrust of natural religion six years before in
Shelley, "Essay on Christianity," The Complete Works of Shelley
vi, ed. Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck (Necw York and London, 1965),
In his treatment of Shelley and the other Romantics, Babbitt seems
unwilling to permit then any differences of opinion. He regards Rousseau
as having had an all-pervasive influence on them and is hesitant in
giving them any credit for thinking on their own, for modifying the
ideas of Rousseau, or for rejecting any of the ideas in Rousseau. But
such a conclusion must be predicated on the assumption that they wrere
untouched by the great events that took place between his time and
theirs. Such was not the case: the Romantics were profoundly affected
by the French Revolution and its aftermath. They were involved in a
searching re-evaluation of the legacy of ideas from the eighteenth
century, and they display no uniformity in their response to the events
of their times. Babbitt's formula that Shelley equals Wordsworth equals
Rousseau is not true.
In Rousseau and Romanticism, Babbitt writes:
The most disreputable aspect of human nature .. is
its proneness to look for scapegoats; and my chief
objection to the movement I have been studying is that
perhaps more than any other in history it has encouraged
the evasion of moral responsibility and the setting up
An examination of Babbitt's criticism of Shelley may lead one to wonder
if the above statement does not apply with special force to Babbitt's
own work. Certainly there appears to be an evasion of critical
responsibility in his handling of Shelley: much of his critician does
not involve a direct confrontation of the works of the poet, and the
analysis that he does provide reflects refusal on his part to give
an objective reading to the works. Although Babbitt discusses Shelley
far more extensively in Rousseau and Romanticism than in his earlier
work, he reveals no new insights, but only a mass of evidence to support
35Babbitt, Rousseau and Romanticism, p. 390.
his first description of Shelley as a poet "of an originality and
genius that are at bottom only an outpouring of undisciplined
In Babbitt can be seen a fundamental contradiction. He feared
excessive emotion and advocated moderation and judgmrent; yet his own
passion to warn his fellow men of the error of their ways seemed
always to deter him from making clear judgments. Babbitt was a man of
formidable intellect and of considerable erudition. He writes
eloquently and persuasively; he displays great ingenuity in argument.
Yet his arguments will not stand up under careful examination; they
are a tissue of false or inadequate logical connections, What is most
interesting, and perhaps most significant, about Babbitt is the passion
that drove him to his wrong conclusions. He had a deep sense of a
decline in civilization, and he felt himself called upon to arrest
this decline. In his efforts to accomplish this end, critical
judgment and historical truth were sacrificed.
PAUL ELMER MORE
In Paces from an Oxford Dia y, Paul Elmer More wrote:
In a critical moment of my life I was thrown by
unforeseen circumstances into contact with one who
altered the whole current of my being, and to whom I
owe an incalculable debt. Without his aid, or if
that influence had fallen at any other time, I should
probably have succumbed to the most unwholesome traits
of my temperament.1
This decisive influence on More's thinking is Irving Babbitt's. Although
More was the better literary critic and was, perhaps, a more subtle
thinker generally, Babbitt was, by More's admission, the dominant person-
ality. On the issue of Romanticism, Babbitt led the way; and More, only
by a considerable adjustment in his ideas, came to share the sentiments
of his friend. In their approach to Romanticism, however, some
significant differences can be noted.
The thought and writings of Babbitt, on the one hand, exhibit
a massive consistency. No real evolution can be discerned in his
thinking; rather, his later works involve an elaboration and a
refinement of attitudes arrived at early in life. Sanething very
fundamental in his temperament made him an opponent of Romanticism.
More, in contrast, showo~s considerable development in his thinking.
Robert M. Davies has suggested seven distinct stages in his evolving
thought.2 As a young man, More was a thorough-going Romantic. His
1Section XXXI, quoted by Robert M. Davies, The Humanism of Paul
E~lmer More (Newr York, 1958), p. 29.
2Davies, The H~umanism of Paul Elmer Mlore, p. 11.
turn to ''hun~~~med-m was in t'n na tre of a conversion; and, like the
r .li-i .- convert : ho 'corcives it his duty to warn others about sin,
Miore felt i:; his re n-a .:"llity to reveal to others the dangers of
Riomant cism. Fe Tn however, less a :2 10 and less extreme in his
stitue a1 0 0' ..l. iim than wras ^e11 itt.
.tr 'sc sae r.-:;ity for the? en bloc condemnation that
is cha terisi o. La~ser re and Bazbbitt, he did greater justice to
the n. . c writers in his ; ~:.L A zunt of the differences .- .1.>
them. i7 0it' s toir ar ori-ni on the T- asis of i ias; thus
_,rsmfor rl., contains 'clpters on such topics
as "Romartie Ge~nius,'' 'lomaLntic I ," and rnr. .cian and a .ture."
irnlo or; .to to -'.. 11 t~ions; and, despite
oecsio;21 i a c, hi booLs 've the reaer the impression
thl eosdcal 1 iPLi" eise in "he ileil and ,tit .rs of the
iiS :8. ore' "s ,rn, or ~ani on the basis of individual
an hers, en lot~vorr: to I e ut ditni .' -' characteristics in each
a htior. Ire~l, he entrasi Iowsiorth's stabilityi and moral
rvren 1 ith (dh fne imtec of 11 s revolutionary
I~romantb icica. 103 fi: tat -i i r"aujlt; in Shelle~ is an essential.
f1:-enecse, in Flrdswer n, : tinede usion.' While Mlore' s
coe0uin ar .x sto, h mto des not lead to so
r~ssent tri a in itt's works. This does not
n~~,n fitY ire i. rl Cron a i ral~i et a tit d e that *Tides his
Sof -ihe ti ~~iv .. -" ; s are not quite so
Ir, .: 5a I --: V ( '- to and w York,
apparent, his attacks more indirect and, at times, more insidious. For
example, in the first part of his essay on Wordsworth, he concedes the
assured position of the poet's greater works, but by the time he has
fully exposed WJordsworth's weakness--"a lack of native vitality"--he
has undercut his initial concessions
Although More at times displays a better insight into the evolution
of ideas than does Babbitt, same of his interpretations of intellectual
history are highly dubious. For example, whereas Babbitt exaggerates
the affinity between Romanticism and the Middle Ages, More goes a step
further and traces Ramanticism back to Alexandria, viewing its birth as
the merging of "the Occidental sense of the Ego.. . with the Oriental
sense of vastness and vagueness, of infinity as akin to the mere escape
fran limitation." He observes that this spirit almost disappears at
thaes in the period between the early Christian era and the eighteenth
century. It was only after naturalism had weakened the authority of
Christianity and of the classics that this impulse revived in full force.
Mlore states that the spirit at work in men like Rousseau, Blake, and the
Schlegels is "essentially akin to that spirit which appears so remote
and exotic in ancient Alexandria."7 He concludes that "looking at its
wild sources, one can understand why Goethe curtly called Romanticism
disease and Classicism health." More's reasoning involves tremendous
over-simplification and a cavalier disregard of historical causality.
He seems to assume the existence of a "spirit" which is strangely
5Ibid., pp. 44-48.
bIbid., VIII, 26.
7Ibid., p. 31.
8Ibid., p. 28.
independent of the conditions of the time and of the development of
thought over nineteen centuries--a "spirit" which has maintained a
purity and integrity and which rather mysteriously burst forth in the
eighteenth century. This theory reveals mainly the anxiety of More to
discredit Romanticism; it enables him to attach to Romanticism the
disrepute of the Alexandtrian School. But the connection serves to
obfuscate the issue: Alexandrianism is thought of primarily as effete
and over-refined; and, while these adjectives may be applicable to the
twilight of Romanticism, they are highly inappropriate to the Romantic
Period proper. Furthermore, w~hat More picks-out as the quality ccannon
to Romanticism and Alexandrianism--the pursuit of the limitless--is
fundamentally one way of expressing the old issues of man's pride and of
his freedom and restraint, and does not provide a mark that distinguishes
these twoe periods from any other periods in Western thought.
Where More's grasp of history is superior to Babbitt's is in the
acknowlfedgmnent of a difference in the Romanticism of the early and late
nineteenth century. In its literary dimension, it would appear that
the initial impulse of anti-Romanticisn was a reaction against the
decadent form of Romantician that existed in the latter part of the
century. While Babbitt concentrates his attack on the great Romantic
writers and does not make any distinction between them and their
progeny, More was, as a consequence of his closer acquaintance with the
English writers of the late nineteenth century, capable of observing
differences. In his early years, he had been intoxicated by Pater, and
his conversion involved the repudiation of Pater, in particular. He
came to discover that whatt Pater really stood for was in the last
analysis false and dangerous."g His essay on Pater perhaps comes
closest to revealing exactly what Miore was reacting against:
Paterism might without great injustice be defined as
the quintessential spirit of Oxford emptied of the
wholesome intrusions of the world--its pride of
isolation reduced to sterile self-absorption, its
enchantment of beauty alembicated into a faint
Epicureanism, its discipline of learning changed
into a voluptuous economy of sensations, its golden
calm stagnated into languid elegance.10
More speaks of the "stream of that kind of thing that trickles
clammily through the nineteenth century' ;ll and he says that the
later works of Fiona MacLeod come fragn "the same failing well from
which in its abundance those poets Ltjordsworth, Shelley and Keatg7
drew their sturdier dreams of pantheism." He calls this "the twrilight
and not the dawn of a great movement."l2 Mlore devoted considerable
attention to the inferior wr~iters of the late nineteenth century; and,
while he could be severe in his treatment of Wordsworth and Shelley,
he frequently displays an awareness of the distinction between
Romanticism and the dregs of Romanticisn.
One of the most striking differences between the two leading
New Humanists was in their religious attitudes. -Babbitt called himself
an ethical positivist and asserted that his humanism was quite
independent of religion. In his later wrriting he displayed a willingness
to enlist the support of religion in the struggle against naturalism,
,but it would appear to be an alliance for convenience rather than a
gIb~id., p. 83.
10Ibid., p. 108.
Ilb~i~d., p. 126.
12Ibid., p. 141.
fine commitment. According to More, Babbitt's real feelings toward
religion were far more antagonistic than is revealed in his writing.
M~ore, although undergoing many shifts in his beliefs, seems to have
had always a need for religion--a need which led him to seek various
substitutes for it and which ultimately led him back to Christianity.
He describes his development as "a great circle": "MZy end is close to
where I began; for I was born, so to speak, a theologian."l3 Unlike
T.E. Hulme, however, this religious inclination had only a minor effect
in shaping his anti-Romanticism. He did not reject Romanticism, like
Hulme, because it was "spilt religion"; but, like Babbitt, because it
presented a false view of human nature. To Hulme, what was most valuable
in religion was the dogma. More opposes the absolutist position,
notably in The Demon of the Absolute, and attempts to steer a middle
course between absolutism and complete relativism. His eventual turn-
ing to the Church of England was not of the same magnitude as T.S.
Eliot's embracing of that faith. Eliot made a commitment specifically
to Christianity; More, on the other hand, sought an answer to "that
restless longing of the heart for that which the world cannot give,...
that reaching out after the invisible things of the spirit."l4 His
choice of Christianity--rather than, say, Buddhism--seems to have been
due more to the accident of birth than to any firm intellectual
13More,, Pages from an Oxford Diary, Sect. V, quoted by Davies,
lk4re,, The See tical Approach to Religion (Princeton, 1934),
More's Critician of Shelley
More's opinion of Shelley is quite similar to Babbitt's; and
since More's major attack, which appears in Shelburne Essays VI~I',
anticipates by nine years Babbitt's attack in Rousseau and Romanticism,
it seems likely that despite Babbitt's greater over-all influence, More
was the principal agent in shaping the New Humanist position on this
particular poet. More's attack is harsh. He concedes a potential to
Shelley, but finds that even his best works are marred by an essential
falseness. Shelley is not even a good minor poet; he is, in terms of
his productions, simply a bad poet. He brings his argument to a
conclusion, calculated to silence all dissenters, by accusing any reader
who appreciates Shelley of inferior taste:
There is nothing, mutually exclusive in the complete
enjoyment of both Milton and Crabbe; it is at least
questionable whether the same man can heartily admire
both Milton and Shelley.15
The principal areas of More's attack are: Shelley's admirers;
his life; his age; the aesthetic deficiencies of his lyrics. Over a
third of More's essay on Shelley is concerned with Shelley's admirers;
significantly, no other aspect of the subject is given such full treat-
ment. He reveals the inconsistencies in such critician as Vida Scudder's
introduction to her edition of Prometheus Unbouind, Arthur Symon's
Romantic Movement, and A. Clutton-Brock's Shelley: The Man and the Poet.
More complains about the "extraordinary contradiction which dogs all
such critics."16 Clutton-Brock, for example, insists that the author of
15Mlore, Shelburne Essays VII, 26.
16Ibid. p. 17.
Prometheus Unbound is an intellectual poet, but admits that the drama
lacks causality and that the characters drift about aimlessly. Regarding
The Revolt of Islam, Clutton-Brock opines that "in its very absurdity
it shows the character of Shelley's mind."l7 More ridicules Miss
Scudder's discussion of Prom~etheus Unbound:
The poem as a whole is "a work of resplendent insight,"
yet its interpretation of evil--that is, the very
heart of its theme--is "hopelessly superficial."l8
More is unquestionably right in his exposure of the flimsiness of some
of the Shelleyan criticism of his time. It is a criticism that does
not demand intellectual integrity in poetry. It is based on an approach
to poetry that involves a suspension of the reasoning faculty and a
luxuriating in "a kind of elusive, yet rapturous, emanation of hope
devoid of specific content."l9 The music and the intoxication were
w~hat appealed to late nineteenth-century readers of Shelley; they did
not require other qualities, and too hastily assumed that Shelley was
deficient in them. Insofar as he contributed to the discrediting of
this kind of criticism, M~ore deserves causendation.
The weakness of Miore's evaluation evidences itself in equating
the response of readers to the poetry itself. To expose the glaring
contradictions found in Shelleyan criticism does not necessarily reveal
anything about Shelley's poetry, and the adequacy of this critician is
a matter to which M~ore gave too little attention. A tracing of the
17Ibid., p. 4.
18Ibid., p. 3.
19Ibid., p. 18.
history of taste suggests that each generation has its limitations.
These limitations are perhaps nowhere more evident than when admiration
turns into idolatry, which involves an increase in intensity and a
corresponding decrease in scope. In the case of Shelley, his most
ardent supporters in the nineteenth cen-tury had a highly restricted
view of him, and their view tended to infect that of less wholehearted
Shelleyans like Clutton-Brock and Miss Scudder. More, in turn, bases
his criticism of a number of Shelley's works on his reaction to these
commentators, and thus a narrow view of Shelley is perpetuated. For
example, he concludes that
With a child-like credulity almost inconceivable he
accepted the current doctrine that mankind is naturally
and inherently virtuous, needing only the deliverance
from some outwardly applied oppression to spring back to
its essential perfection.20
Hle does not quote a single line from Shelley to document this sweeping
conclusion, nor is there any other evidence of its being based on a
direct study of Shelley's works. He might have considered Prometheus's
expulsion of the evil within him or the picture of evil presented in
The Triumph of Life.
Mlore is not so denunciatory of Shelley the man as are some other
anti-Romantics--T.S. Eliot, for example. He does not see Shelley as a
blackguard; he takes cognizance of the "many acts of instinctive
generosity"2 that ennoble his life. He regards Shelley's chief
weakness--overweening self-trust--as a fault of the age. With More it
was a fault, however, of such an insidious nature that it tended to
counteract all of his virtues and to leave him "in the final test.. .
Ibid., p. 7.
Thid., p. 8.
almost inhuman."22 M:0re is especially censorious of Shelley's self-
deception in idealizing friends and of his repudiation of them when he
discovered that they fell short of his ideal. More calls Shelley's
friendship with Elizabeth Hitchener "the classic example (classic as
being so perfect an expression of a trait common to all the Rousselian
tribe)."23 He further criticizes Shelley for his unfeeling attitude
and self-righteousness at the time of Harriet's death. From the
knowledge that is available at the present time on Shelley's life, it
is not possible to exonerate him fully from such charges. There were
signal failures in his relations with other people --particularly with
women. The most recent account of the situation between Shelley and
Harriet--Harriet Shelley: Five LonZ Years--places greater blame on
Shelley than More does. Shelley's absorption in the ideal and his need
to feel himself in the right led him at times to be blind to reality.
However, the anti-Riomantics, More among them, in their reaction against
the Shelley idolaters w~ho saw nothing in him but purity and perfection,
place an undue emphasis on his faults. No man cases out well in a
judgment based almost exclusively on his failures. A fair estimate of
his character must take into account his Good qualities; certainly the
testimony of those of his contemporaries who knewr him best hardly gives
the picture of a man who wc~as "almost inhuman."
WJhile Babbitt puts together critician of life and of works rather
indiscriminately, More attempts to show the relevance of his biographical
commentary to his assessment of the author's productions. In the case
22Iid., ~p. 9.
23rtbid., p. 15.
of Shelley, he maintains that the same force can be seen at wJork in
his conduct as in his writing. In both, Shelley displayed "a child-like
credulity" about man's essential goodness. As has already been
suggested, such an interpretation of the poetry is the result of an
inadequate reading. It may be added that the conclusions that Shelley
was led to in his poetry wrere sanetimes quite different from those he
was led to in ordering his own life. For example, Alastor records the
failure of the poet to sustain his hold on the ideal; he is destroyed
by his inability to come to terms with flesh and blood. In other words,
Alastor is a dramatic statement of the very fact that More accuses
Shelley of not knowing. The preface that Shelley affixed to the poem
provides striking evidence of -the discrepancy that may exist between
the conclusions that an author may be led to in the medium of poetry and
the conclusions that he would otherwise like to make. The poem deals
with a man's self-destruction; the preface, in a sense, tries to subvert
the intention of the poem by insisting on the superiority of this man.
To a lesser extent, "Epipsychidion" too deals with the failure to
establish an ideal relationship. By the power of words it attempts to
attain this perfect alliance; but success is momentary, as is acknow-
ledged in the lines:
The wc~inged words on which my soul would pierce
Into the blight of Love's rare Universe,
Are chains of lead around its flight of fire--
And he concludes that what he seeks is not to be found here but
"beyond the grave." (1. 598)
Mlore regards Shelley as a, genius by nature who wras meant to
utter rare truths but who was marred "by the obliquity of Time."24
24Tbid., p. 5.
He was tainted by the false doctrines that were in vogue in the early
nineteenth century. The particular attitude that More singles out for
attack is "enthusiasm." He quotes Shelley's statement in the preface
to The Revolt of Islam: "It is the business of the poet to communicate
to others the pleasure and the enthusiasm .. ."25 He uses this
assertion as a basis for making a connection between seventeenth-century
enthusiasm and Romanticism. He notes that in the eighteenth century
this enthusiasm was generally repudiated, even by John Wesley. But
Shelley and other Romantics, in More's opinion, failed to learn the
lesson, and fully embraced this detested attitude. Although less far-
fetched than his Alexandrianism-Romanticism equation, this is another
of those tenuous connections which serve More well in his condemnation
of Romnanticism but which also provide further obstacles to any under-
standing of the true nature of the movement. To its opponents in the
eighteenth century, "enthusiasm" meant unreasonedd emotion," and More
assumes that it had the same meaning for Shelley, which it most
certainly did not. In the context of the statement, it is clear that
by "enthusiasm" Shelley simply means "arousing of interest." Both More
and Babbitt were conservatives in linguistics; they appear to have
resented changes in the meanings of words, and they did not take
sufficient cognizance of changes where they had occurred. A greater
willingness to treat terms on the basis of their meanings to a particular
age would have allowed men like Babbitt and More to deal with the past
in a far more illuminating fashion.
In a small section in the latter part of his essay, More directly
confronts the poetry of Shelley. He begins with praise:
25Ihid., p. 13.
Of Shelley, taken merely as the author of a
group of lyrics, brief in comnpass, but exquisite
in melody and feeling, quite another account
might be Given than this I: am writing. Here.....
bis Genius suffers no let or thwarting.26
But in his characteristic manner, More proceeds to "expose" the
falseness and perversity that is to be found even in the best of
Shelley--"faults which throwr a suspicion of obliquity or vanity upon
the very sources of the artist's inspiration."27 It is difficult to
see how Miore's censure can be reconciled with the praise he previously
accords Shelley; indeed Mlore, wrho complains about the contradictions in
the criticism of A. Clutton-Brock and Vida Scudder, does not appear to
be completely consistent himself.
More criticizes "Ode to the WJest Wind" for unmelodiouss
conclusions." Shelley does not adhere to the inherent laws of the
terza rima in the manner of Dante and other Italian writers. "The
rhymes," he asserts, "hangC as an impertinence instead of a support."28
Although Babbitt and More looked with some disfavor on the eighteenth-
century bondage to rules, they almost automatically responded with
distrust to innovation. Edmund Wilson has remarked upon More's aversion
to all things modern: "I cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that
Mr. More's primary objection is to having anyone, either in science or
in art, find out anything now~.. . :'9 The exception More takes to
26Ib~id., p. 22.
27Ibid., p. 26.
28Ibid., p. 24.
29Edlmund Wilson, "Notes on Babbitt and More," Critique of
HIumanlism, edited by C. Hartley Grattan (New York, 19~30)pp. 56-57, 59-60.
"Ode to the W~est Wind" is of the same order. A fruitful borrowing of
literary forms seldom occurs without introducing some modifications.
Shelley's handling of terza rima is hardly more revolutionary than the
use of enjambment in couplets. Besides, movement is of the very
essence of this poem and Shelley's carrying over of meaning beyond the
end of the rhymes would appear to be quite deliberate and not, as More
claims, the result of his inability to discipline himself.
More uses Stanza forty-five of Adonais to illustrate the "essential
falseness" in Shelley. He finds the expression "far in the Unapparent"
vapid, and the line "oblivion as they rose shrank like a thing reproved"
inane.30 Unless one's aesthetic response is the same as More's, it is
difficult to appreciate just what his objection to these two lines is.
The phrase, "far in the Unapparent" would appear to accord very well
with Shelley's Platonic view. It is not clear whether More is
objecting to this view of reality or to the adequacy of the words to
express it. The second line makes use of personification, a device
used with some frequency by Shelley in this poem. Unless More intends
to condemn personification per se, it is difficult to see why this
line strikes a false note in the poem. Except to a reader who is
predisposed to accept More's judgment against Shelley, his charge of
essential falseness is unconvincing. He bases his case on two lines,
and even on these two lines he is not sufficiently explicit in stating
30More, Shelburne Essays VII, 23.
All in all, More's criticism of Shelley is less unacceptable
than Babbitt's. More does not make such constant use of massive
generalizations that act like a steam roller to flatten out poetic
reputations. Much of his criticism is, however, somewhat wide of the
mark. He devotes too little attention to Shelley's poetry itself, and
wrhen he does focus on a poem his remarks are superficial and
inadequately supported. Although he attempts to display the relevance
of biographical material, in fact he falls into the familiar fallacy
of judging a man's art by his life. He is most impressive in his
argument w~hen he attacks the pro-Shelleyan criticism of his contem-
pararies, and herein is an important key to his anti-Ramantic positiori:
Shelley and other early nineteenth-century writers stand, in a sense,
as surrogates; More's real enemies were the critics and writers of the
In 1907, the year Lasserre published Le Romantisme francais, T.E.
Rulme returned to London from his travels in Canada and on the Continent.
Within the next two years he had established himself as the leader of a
group of artists, writers, and thinkers who constituted London's avant-
garde. Until 1914, when he entered the army, his influence in shaping
the course of poetry, aesthetics, and criticism was phenomenal. Although
he published over sixty articles on art, poetry, philosophy, and
politics, it was mainly by his brilliant conversation that he impressed
his ideas on his contemporaries; and his posthumous influence has been
achieved principally through the expression of his thought and the
application of his theory by men like Pound, Eliot, and their successors.
Hulme, judged solely on the basis of his writings, does not appear
as impressive a figure today as he did to his own generation. He was
considered highly original; but most of his ideas were, in fact,
borrowed from Continental thinkers--notably Bergson, Worringer, Lasserre,
and Pascal. Considered outside the context of his thmes, some of his
theories now seem rather hollow, if not simply false as, for example,
his defense of militarism because it fosters heroic and aristocratic
virtues; his advocacy of a poetry that is deliberately trivial; his
lumping together of all philosophy and literature from the beginning of
the Renaissance to the twentieth century. Hulme, who was a student of
mathematics at Cambridge, had a predisposition for symmetry in thought.
He had a fondness for dichotomnies and for absolute categories: "There
are two kinds of art, Geometric and vital, absolutely distinct in kind
from one another" ,1 and he described the distinction between the Middle
Alges and the Renaissance as fundamentallyy nothing but the difference
between these two conceptions of man Linherent evil and inherent
goodness/.n2 Over-simplification and thraldom to formulas have been
noted as weaknesses in Babbitt's writing. Hulme, if anything, is more
susceptible to these faults. He is seen in the most favorable light if
he is regarded as a propagandist and if his writings are seen not as
carefully worked-out theories but as manifestoes.
The importance of Hulme can be understood only in reference to
the cultural climate in which he lived. Ezra Pound wrote, "A few of
the brightest lads have a vague idea that something is a bit wrong, and
no one quite knows the answer."3 Among some of the more talented
literary men in the early twentieth century there wr~as great uncertainty.
"The question was still: where do we go from Swinburne?--and the
answer appeared to be, nowhere." Thus Eliot described the situation.
Nearly all of the poetry being wrritten in England was in the Romantic
mode, and Rananticism had definitely run its course. The need for new
modes of expression and for a new rationale wras of greater urgency then
than at the end of the eighteenth century. More than ever before was
1T.E. Hulme, Speculations (London, 1924), p. 77.
2rbid., p. 50.
3Ezra Pound, Polite Essays (Norfolk, Conn., 1937), p. 9.
4T.S. Eliot, "Ezra Pound," An Examination of Ezra Pound ed.
Peter Russell (Norfolk, Conn., 1950j), p. 25.
the serious artist threatened with a loss of position in society. The
success of science was leading men to question the value of the arts,
and the literature that did prevail catered to the popular stereotyped
taste. Behind, and adding force to, the doubts of the literary men were
the more general doubts of the time. The Victorian belief in progress
had lost its glow. The assurance of the British in their empire had
suffered a blow by the Boer War, and the empire was now under the
oninous threat of German expansionism. A prophet was needed. That
Hulme occupied this sort of position is averred by W.E. Collins:
We are beginning to realize fully what a supreme loss
Hulme was to our generation. Not the poet so much as
the philosopher and critic. More intelligently than we
did, he felt our feelings and understood our responses
to life and art; when we were still confused and baffled
he spoke out with conviction with the voice of prophesy.5
The assurance and the dogmatism of Hulme were exactly what the ag~e
required. To those wrho questioned whether the modern age had not cast
off too much of religion and who wished to find respectability for
their half-expressed yearnings, IHulme's words must have been reassuring:
I hold, quite coldly and intellectually as it were, that
the way of thinking about the world of man, the conception
of sin and the categories which ultimately make up the
religious attitude, are the true categories and the right
way of thinking 6
In addition to bringing a much-needed masculine quality to the
thought of his time, Hulme accurately assessed the current condition
and predicted the future of literature. Romanticism, he maintained,
had been fully exploited and this convention wras now exhausted. Until
5W.E. Collins, "Beyond Humanism," Sewance Review, XXXVIII (July
1930), pp. 338-339.
qHulme, 09. cit., p. 112.
a new technique and convention were discovered, there would be no new
efflorescence of poetry; and he predicted a classical revival. While
his definition of "classical" may be questioned, his description of
the new poetry is accurate in several respects.7
The very qualities that made Hulme so important a figure in his
own time, however, militate against the permanent value of his thought.
After due credit is given to him for exerting a healthy influence on
his contemporaries, it must be observed that his thinking was generally
quite superficial. Exccept for the French writers who shaped his
philosophy, he had too little respect for the ideas of other men. With-
out much examination, he contemptuously dismissed the writings of authors
toward whom he felt an antagonism. His hostility toward Romanticism
was especially strong; consequently the picture he presented of it was
a gross caricature--a more over-simplified and unfair representation
than that given by the New Humanists. With as great an arrogance as
Babbitt's, if not greater, but without the erudition of Babbitt, he
espoused the extreme anti-Romantic position.
Rananticism had for Hulme political, religious, philosophic, and
aesthetic implications. He felt that a rather exact correspondence
existed on all of these levels and that Romnanticism therefore could be
treated as a monolith. For convenience of discussion, however, his
argument may be divided into three major issues: he objected to
the liberalism of the Romantics and to the basis for their political
views, a belief in man's innate goodness; he regarded their
7He states that the classical view is "absolutely identical with
the normal religious attitude." Classical verse "never flies away into
the circumambient Gas"; in it is always found "a holding back, a reserva-
tion." He predicted that the new verse would be "cheerful, dry and
sophisticated." (Speculations, pp. 117, 120, 137)
religious position as unsound because it lacked a theological
foundation; he considered their poetry unsatisfactory on aesthetic
grounds, principally because it w~as weak in precise imagery.
In Speculations Hulme first defines Romanticism in its political
signification. He states that he is using the word in "a perfectly
precise and limited sense"--that is, in conformity with the practice
of Mlaurras, Lasserre, and the other writers associated with L'Action
Francaise.V These men, Hulme points out, see Romanticism as the cause
of the Revolution and hate it because of their hatred of the Revolution.
Despite his spirited denunciation of liberalism, Hulme does not
enunciate a coherent political philosophy to oppose it. He calls
himself "'a certain kind of Tory";g but, in view of his sympathy with
the French extremists and his advocacy of heroic values and
authoritarianism, he might more appropriately be labeled an embryonic
fascist. Alun R. Jones comments on Hulme's defense of militarism in
an exchange of letters with Bertrand Russell:
The whole episode throws a harsh and unfavorable light on
Hulme's political thinking by showing his defence of the
intrinsic excellence of war as a unique opportunity to
develop and maintain those heroic absolutes which he never
defines but which have become historically associated with
Fascism .. indeed, it is difficult to feel sympathetic
toward political theories, the practical result of which
have been so damaging to civilised standards and values.
Hulme's politics, like those of many of his friends, are
anathema to those who believe that in spite of everything
he might say about Original Sin and the Idea of Progress,
man has gained something from four hundred years of
civilisation. H~ulme's dissatisfaction with Romanticism
is not altogether sufficient reason for returning to the
ignorance and tyranny of the Mliddle Ages.10
gIbid., p. 112.
10Alun R. Jones, The Life and Opinions of T.E. H~ulme (Boston, 1960),
In Speculations Hulme is not so much concerned with the effects
of liberalism as he is with the fallacious view of man upon which it
is based. He states that the foundation of Romanticism and the
Revolution w~as Rousseau's doctrine of man's essential goodness and of
his infinite possibilities. Contrasted to this Romantic position is,
according to Hulme, the classical viewl that "'man is an extraordinarily
fixed and limited animal whose nature is absolutely constant."ll That
they held a naive belief in man's goodness is probably the most common
complaint made against the Romantics; Hulme's distinction lies in his
finding this concept the sole basis of Romanticism. The charge is, of
course, not without same substance. From Rousseau's noble savage to
the Victorians' Progress, no doubt the native goodness of man and its
correlate, the evil of society and custom, were often exaggerated. But,
like Babbitt in his attack on "primitivismn," the anti-Romantics discussed
the idea in tenns of its most trivial expression. Differences among
the Romantics wiere not given sufficient consideration, nor w~as an effort
made to penetrate belowJ the surface of the idea.
H~ulme is especially Guilty of forcing ideas indiscriminately into
adnixtures. His political attack on the Romantics involves the bringing
together of four elements: Ramanticism, liberalism, the belief in man's
essential goodness, and the belief in man's perfectibility. IAmong the
English Romantic poets, Shelley comes closest to fitting into the four
categories, but even in his case qualifications need to be made.
Byron was a Romantic and a liberal, but not a believer in man's goodness
or in perfectibility. The evil in man was one of B~yron's central
ILHulme, oP. cit., p. 115.
preoccupations; Arimanes, the Power of Darkness, exerted the predaninant
influence over man.12 Despite his involvement in liberal causes, Byron
had far too dim a view of human nature to entertain for long any Utopian
notions. Coleridge wras a Romantic, but during most of his adult life
he was not a liberal nor did he believe in man's innate goodness and
perf ectib ility. He became one of the most articulate spokesmen for
conservatism in nineteenth-century England, and his estimate of the
goodness in the mass of mank~ind--"the Sensual and the Dark,"l3 "the
poor loveless ever-anxious crowd"l4--was not high. Each of the other
Romantic poets deviates from Hulme's formula in a different way.
Another weakness in Hulme's argument is his assumption that the
Romantics were dominated by abstract principles far more than they in
fact were. Perception and conception are mixed in varying proportions
in the productions of poets, but the poet is distinguished by his more
perceptual approach to reality than, say, the philosopher. To suppose
an idee fixe in a poet on which all else depends is tantamount to
saying that he is no poet at all. The Romantics were not simply
propagandists for the Revolution or for Rousseauism; they were poets
and consequently had visions of reality that cannot in fairness be
reduced to one or two leading principles.
Hulme's alternative to liberalism is not very satisfactory: he
asserts that "it is only by tradition and organisation that anything
13"France: An Ode," 1. 85.
14"Dejection: An Ode," 1. 52.
decent can be Got out of him Ean/7."l5 Although it is not at all clear
what Hulme means by "tradition,"l at times he favors the adoption of
certain medieval values, which to the twentieth century are not living
traditions. And two of the most potent traditions of the times--
liberalism and Romanticism--he wanted abolished. Although he leans
toward authoritarianism, he does not ever make an explicit statement
about the kind of organization he would prefer for mank~ind. He may have
felt that he need not make positive suggestions in that he had won the
case against liberalian once he announced that man is not basically
good. But liberalism involves much more than this Rousseauistic
doctrine; the doctrine is indeed irrelevant to many of the issues of
liberalism. Be man good or evil, he still must choose his political
institutions; and, even if Hulme's concept of man's baseness be
accepted, it does not necessarily follow that the best system is for a
fewr evil men to tyrannize over all other evil men.
Hulme's disagreement wJith the Romantics on religious grounds over-
laps his political objections: he opposed Rousseau's concept of man's
goodness with his own belief in original sin. This tenet is central to
his thinking. His sense of man's susceptibility to evil and his conse-
quent conviction that human endeavor is futile are attitudes that had a
pervasive influence in shaping his philosophy. Rather than starting from
an orthodox position, he appears to have begun with a pessimistic view
of man and then to have supported this viewI with the authority of
Hulme's definition of Romanticism as "spilt religion" is one of
his most significant contributions to the discussion of the subject.
15Hulme, of cit., p. 116.
You don't believe in Glod, so you be-in to believe that
man is a god. You don't believe in Hecaven, so you --ini
to believe in heaven on earth. In other :0- , -you pet
romantician. The concepts that ar2e ri -ht and proper in
their own sphere are spread over, and so mess up, a) 1 'r~
and blur the eclar outlines of human experience. It is
like pouring a pot of treacle over the dinner table.
Romanticism then, and this is the best definition I can
ive of it, is s-pilt relirion.16
The basic insight is cexellent: Romanticism is rel: 'on without the
container of t::eolory. The justice of :calkru '. Romnanticisn on this
basis, however, is debatable. ?.0 reliit iu.: issue is a crucial one i-
the controversy over Romanticism, and it; is an issue on wrh ch, pe:', ,
men should only at'e!rv' to 'inie their differences and not expect to
find ar~re-mcrnt. IfT one concurs w~i h Hulme in e v' rie to c~yplm,
the repudiation of Romantcic ideas--thoua~ -t not necessarily o Romantic
poetry--follows almost as a matter of course. But his position is
open to question on a nur =sr of Cgrounds--oritical, historical, s 1
First of all, IHlmre i `. : that poe' Ia subot i- rle < to
swamcLL'J. outside itself. ;II of the more si 7nif~i ant le 0..: on
criticism that has boon lic. .l in the tw~entie-th century is; that
literature must be ju" 1 by literary s andatrds, the most Ucv
teachers of this lesson ".;I..' :been Hulme's sucn o rs, the r, Crftes
A lite ature that is required ao support a la L .u~r se of eli s
veryr rapidly to -- vt at~es, :--s a criticism that demandrs or~thodox;3r eanil
falls into a~bsurditcy. 0'~ e:arsple, t.l notionr thad iir icar, writers
must reflect in their i've-k dl e American dc -r '.~ie sLirl 1
Van Wyckr Brook~s to find 1: Jatmes us: '.' -. ". '<:ce the
1 Ii.,p 18
Mlarxists that writers contribute to the founding of a classless society
leads to critical chaos--in which often the inferior writers are praised
and the best wrriters condemned. Hulme's critician was not developed as
far as the Miarxists'; but a similar shackling= of criticism is the
inevitable result of his requirement that literature follow his partic-
ular religious convictions. It is not enough to say that, because
Romanticism is based on the wrrong theological foundation, it is confused
and it falsifies human experience. The confusions and the falsification
must be demonstrated in the poetry itself.
Hulme's religious stand involves a defiance or an ignorance of
history. In any examination of the development of religion, little
justification can be found for tbo supremacy that he gives to dogma.
The relation between religious spirit and religious dogma is complex.
TIhe spirit cases first; the dogma arises later and is the means of
sustaining the religion; at the same time, dogna appears always to work
somewrhat at cross purposes i~t~h the initial spirit of the religion and
tends to subvert the beliefs of its founder. Blake's Orc-Urizen cycle
is an examination of this paradox. Dostoevsky makes a fine dramatic
statement of it in "The Grand Inquisitor," in which Christ must be
killed a second thee in order for "Christianity" to survive. Sound
thinking on the subject of dogma in religion must lead to a recognition
of its complexities. In comparison to the subtle understanding that
Blake and Dostoevsky bring to the matter, Hulme's thought is rather
primitive. He states that whereas most people will at best put up with
the dogma to get the sentiment, he may be wrilling: to tolerate the senti-
ment in order to Get the dio7na.17 HIe seems to prefer, however, to got
17rbidt., p. 33.
rid of the sentiment altogether. It is difficult to conceive of a
religion lasting very long on the strength of dogma alone. Furthermore,
Hulme does not take into account the kind of cycles that religions
follow. A new religion, or a new spirit in an old religion, generally
involves some revolt against doepma. When the movement is successful it
is followed by a new dogmla or a modification of the old. In the course
of Christianity, the successive revolts have led men further and further
from the dogmla. During the M~iddle Ages the Catholic church had the
flexibility that allowed it to keep most revolts from breaking outside
its own framework. The Protestant Reformation goes outside the Catholic
framework but stays within the frame of Christianity. ~Deism goes out-
side of Christianity but stays within monotheisn. Romanticism is in
part an effort to recapture same of the religious spirit that is left
out of the mechanistic beliefs of the Deists. In this ever-widening
circle, it becomes increasingly difficult for dogm~a to survive, and
without dogma it is difficult for religion to continue as a real force
in men's lives. Some Protestant churches have attempted to retain
strength by reducing dogma. in varying degrees--at the extreme liberal
position, almost to the vanishing point. But they confront a continuing
dilemmar. Without same dogmna to sustain them between those periods of
Great religious awareness, their religious function tends to decay. On
the other hand, the development of W~estern thought over centuries seems
to militate against a strongly dogmantic position. Romnanticism during
the nineteenth century fulfilled same of the religious needs of men.
But lacking any explicit creed or unified myt~hologjy, the religious force
of Romanticism became increasingly attenuated. ~Hubse was right in
recognizing the need for dogma, but he does no more than call attention
to the modern predicament. He does nothing toward finding a solution.
In addition to its lack of historical justification, Hulme's
religious position has other and more fundamental weaknesses. Alun
Jones consents on his lack of faith:
The starting point for the religious attitude as
Hulme understands it is always the kind of discussion
that you find in Pascal, the subject of which may
be summarised as the vanity of human wishes. "The
insufficiency of human enjoyments" led ul~me, as it
has led many others, to the belief that life was to
be endured not enjoyed and it is this attitude which
he shares with Pascal and Dr. Johnson, with whom he
liked to associate himself, which he calls religious.
And yet although it is a state of mind which is likely
to lead to religion it is not in itself religious and
Hulme's belief in the futility of existence, his con-
viction of the arrogance of the humanist attitude and
his conception of the absolute power of God's divinity,
were not religious unless completed by faith and in
Hulme's case there is little evidence to suggest that
Not only does the cold intellectuality of his stand make it something
less than religious, but his dogma itself is curiously incomplete.
Although Hulme speaks about the categories of religion, only two tenets
are evidenced in his writing: the transcendence of God and original sin.
In insisting on the absolute discontinuity between God and man, he is
following only one half of W~estern tradition. As A.O. L~ovejoy has so
ably demonstrated in The Great Chain of Being, Christianity has throuGh-
out most of its history maintained belief both in a transcendent God
and in an immanent God. However contradictory it may appear, the
staultaneous holding of these two beliefs seems to be part of the very
nature of Christianity. Therefore, Hubse's conception of God, which he
appears to have regarded as orthodox, was in fact one that is only
occasionally found in Christianity. His belief in original sin,
1Jones, p. cit., p. 12.
because it is not placed within the context of Christian myrtholog~y, is
an emaciated version of the orthodox doctrine. Significance is brought
to the idea of original sin by the concepts of God's grace, submission
to God, and salvation. Since these concepts are not included in ~Hulme's
dogma, his belief in original sin seems little more than a conviction
that his pessimistic view of the world has the sanction of divine
Although discussions of Hulme generally center on his absolute
positions, it should be noted that in same of his writing he adopts the
position of an extreme relativist. He describes man's thought as a
gossamer wreb spread between the few facts man knows. He contends that
man often mistakes this web for reality.19 He proposed to wrrite what
he would call "a critique of satisfaction," the thesis of which would
be that man's beliefs are in themselves without significance--that they
are not based on truth but on whatever is satisfying to the particular
man. Ironically, this critique of satisfaction is a weapon which has
few easier targets than Hubme himself. Since he never provides much of
an argument in support of his beliefs in original sin and the trans-
cendence of God, it can be said that he believed in them mainly because
it was satisfying for him to do so. Herbert Road says that the work
with which Hulme waIs mainly preoccupied in his later years was one to
be entitled Cinders. The notes for this work, published in Speculations,
indicate clearly the direction the work would have taken. Hulme views
the objective world as a chaos, a cinder-heap. He sees the world as a
:plurality in which there is no cannon purpose. He believes that the
discovery of absolute truth is an impossibility and that what men claim
19Hudlme, og. ci.J., p. 217.
as truth "are in the end only amplifications of man's appetites."20
The closest that men cane to truth is in compromise. "All clear-cut
ideas," he states, "turn out to be wrrong."21 H~ulme never explains how
his nihilian in Cinders is to be reconciled wr~ith his "religion." Had
he lived he might have arrived at a solution like that of the religious
existentialist, who, after recognizing that the world is absurd, takes
the leap of faith, an action which he admits has no rational basis.
Hulne's insistence on the absolute discontinuity of God and man would
allow him to see the world as a cinder-heap and still, maintain a belief
in God. The problem is that in his published works he exhibits no
faith; in fact, he justifies his religion on intellectual grounds.
Cinders denies the ability of the intellect to discover truth; thus it
would logically follow that Hulme had destroyed the basis for his
The element of extreme scepticism to be found in H~ulme, and in
his successors too, deserves far more attention than it has generally
been given. The absolutist tendencies in Hulme, Pound, Eliot, and the
New Critics are perhaps more prominent; but these tendencies can not
be fully understood or properly judged unless it is recognized how much
they are interwoven writh tendencies that are ex:act~ly the opposite.
Frederick Bat~eson, in an article generally appreciative of the NJew
Critics, has accurately singled out "irresponsibility" as their major
weakne ss .22 This irresponsibility would appear to be a consequence of
20Ibid., p. 217.
21Tbid., p. 225.
22F.W. Bateson, "The Punction of Criticism at the Present Time,"
Essays in Critician, III (Ja~nuary 1953), pp. 1-27.
this strain of scepticism. In Hulme and his successors, unlike Babbitt
and More, there can be detected an element of play. One does not know
how seriously to take some of their statements. They seem purposely
to exa~gerate and to make assertions in part for the sensation that
they may create. They do not always ain scrupulously for the truth.
This ingredient may be partially explained by their desire to stir up
the stagnant waters of literature and criticism. It may also be
partially explained by the fact that, unlike most critics in previous
centuries, they lacked the faith in man's ability to discover truth.
In his criticism of the Romantics, HIulme devotes more attention to
matters that are specifically aesthetic in nature than do Babbitt and
M~ore. Babbitt's concern is almost wholly with ideas, while M~ore's
discussions of poetic qualities often seem like dutiful additions to
his treatment of ideas. Hulme, although making no effort to segregate
art and belief, does display a lively interest in aesthetic values. A
fair judgment of his efforts in this field should distinguish between
the permanent validity of his assertions and the effect of these
assertions in bringing a, new direction to literature. Although most
of his pronouncements now seen, at best, half-truths, it must be
acknowledged that they exerted a healthy influence on contemporary
literature and critician. Alun Jones calls him
a pioneer wrho helped to clear the frontiers of twentieth-
century consciousness . .. In aesthetics, modern art
has completely vindicated his predictions . .. Whether
by Genius or happy accident, he is related to the achieve-
ment of the first half of the century in much the sane way 2
as Coleridge is related to the first half of the nineteenth.
23Jones, p. cit., p. 13.
Not all commentators on Hulme, however, accord him so high a position.
Michael Roberts, for example, regards Ezra Pound as the real leader of
the new movement in poetry and says that
Hulme is putting forward a programme rather than a theory;
he is an apologist rather than a critic .. useful to
some artists .. a buffer to deaden hostile criticism
....but the protection of the artist's self-confidence
is not the only purpose of a theory of aesthetics.24
But, while disagreements exist concerning the extent of his influence,
it is generally acknowrledged that he had an invigorating effect upon
contemporary letters. The permanent validity of his literary theory is
It is on the subject of imagery that 'hubme made his most notable
contribution to aesthetics. He states that in poetry "the great aim is
accurate, precise and definite description"25 and that "images in verse
are not mere decoration, but the very essence of an intuitive language."26
He asserts that "each wlord must be an image seen, not a counter."27
Hulme's elevation of imagery is at the expense of other elements of
poetry, intellectual content in particular. He contends that if a poem
has "real zest" in it, it makes no difference what the subject is:
"It doesn't matter if it wcere a lady's shoe or the starry heavens,"28
24Michael Roberts, T.E. Hulme (London, 1938), p. 213.
25Hulme, 02. cit., p. 132.
26T-bid. p. 135.
2Hulme, Further Speculations (Lincoln-, 1962), p. 79.
28Hulme, Speculations, p. 137.
Hulme and the other poets of the Imagist movement endeavor to eliminate
the cogitative element in their poetry so that the images receive
undivided attention. Eulme chooses fancy as "the necessary weapon"29 of
the new poets and thus indicates his disfavor of elevated subjects for
The extreme position that Hu`lme took on the subject of imagery
can be fully appreciated only in terms of the poetry of his day. Popular
poetry wJas undistinguished in both style and content. Although often in
the tradition of Byron and Shelley, it captured little more than the
surface of the works of the great Romantics. It pretended to profoundity
of content by the frequency writh which it referred to the infinite and
by its insistent moralizing;; its inanity was partially concealed by its
vague diction and vapid imagery. In comparison with poetry of this
nature, a work that had nothing more than precise imagery wJas a distinct
improvement. In his war against the nonviable Romantic tradition in
literature, Hulme's attack in the area of ieagery was probably just
right. However, in the long view his single-minded emphasis on imagery
provides an extremely inadequate aesthetic. A rigid application of his
criteria might, for example, result in one of Ezra Pound's lesser poems
being ranked higher than one of the great sonnets of Shakespeare or
Milton. Obviously, excellences other than sharp images may be discovered
in poetry. Niichael Roberts suggests that confusion arises in Hulme's
criticism because "be keeps talking like a painter" and has converted
"his own indifference to music, and his preference for visual imagery,
into a theory of poetry.n'30 Hulme's detestation of everything Romantie,
3ORoberts, cy. cit., p. 215.
with which he associated lyrical poetry, may also have been a factor in
his disparagement of lyricism in poetry. One large gap, in his aesthetic
is a result of his disregard of sound; another is a result of his
disregard of intellectual content. Attention to imagery alone leads to
nothing beyond technical comspetence; what separates great poetry from
the merely good is the insight, the vision that the poet brings to his
workr. Hulme's aesthetic by itself could lead only to the interesting
experiments of the early Imagists. To the lessons of Hubse it wams
necessary to add a special vision of the world like Eliot's before
great poetry could be produced.
Hulme's Criticism of Shelley
Hulme wras a. theorist, not a, practical critic. Consequently, he
wrote no extensive criticism of Shelley's work; in fact, in his writing
he mentions Shelley only a fewI times in passing. But despite the
paucity of his specific pronouncements on Shelley, Hulme occupies a
very important position in the anti-Shelleyan movement. His General
views on literature provide a large part of the foundation for later
attacks on Shelley; Alan Tate's condemnation, in particular, reveals the
strong influence of HIulme's generalizations. It is not accidental that
Hulme's weapons were used by the Newl Critics against Shelley more than
against any other Romantic poet; his strictures are indeed more
applicable to Shelley. It does not necessarily follow, however, that
Hubse developed his anti-Romanticism primarily from a reading of Shelley.
A more likely explanation is that he was reacting against third-rate
contemporary poets, many of whomn were Shelley idolaters and who wrote
a debased version of Shelley's style.
In his writing, however, H~ulme does not draw a distinction
between Shelley and his imitators. Like Ir-ving Babbitt, he shows a
fondness for unqualified statements and usually treats early and late
nineteenth-century Romanticism as one uniformly-evil phenomenon. On
the other hand, he at times reveals, as does Paul Elmer More, an under-
standing of the evolutionary process in literary modes. Thus he speaks
of "the lyrical impulse which has attained completion, and I think once
and forever, in Tennyson, Shelley and K~eats."31 In another place he
A particular convention or attitude in art has a strict
analogy to the phenomena of organic life. It growJs old
and decays . .. All the possible tunes get played on
it and then it is exhausted; moreover its best period
is its youngest.32
Had Hulme applied the understanding that he displays in this passage
to his whole treatment of Shelley and Romanticism, his conclusions,
though less spectacular, would have been more valid.
Hulme's objections to Romanticism on political and religious
grounds were influential in shaping later anti-Shelleyan attitudes; but
his censure of Romanticism for aesthetic shortcomings was more important
in that it provided the basis for the criticism that has been most
damaging to Shelley's reputation. Hulme regarded Romantic poetry, with
the exception of some of the works of Keats, as lacking in the quality
he most admired--"accurate, precise and definite description."l33
31Hulme, Further Speculations, p. 72.
32Hulme, Speculations, p. 121.
33Ibid., p~. 132.
This deficiency he associates with their incessant longing for the
The essence of poetry to most people is that it must
lead them to a beyond of same kind. Verse strictly
confined to the earthly and the definite (Keats is
full of it) might seem to them to be excellent wrriting,
excellent craftsmanship, but not poetry. So much has
romantician debauched us, that, without some form of
vagueness, we deny the highest.3
The most frequently repeated charge against Shelley is that his poetry
is vague and lacking in concreteness. Richard Fogle has answered the
charge in The Imagery of Keats and Shelley. By a systematic examina-
tion of the imagery of the two poets, he demonstrates that, contrary
to popular opinion, Ebelley makes more use of imagery with a sensuous
appeal than Keats does. While degree of sensuous appeal cannot be
measured but must be detennined subjectively, Fogle's study does prove
that flat accusations of abstraction and vagueness in Shelley's poetry
are unfounded. Furthermore, Hulme and his followers have exaggerated
the importance of concreteness and underrated the importance of
abstraction. Mlichael Roberts cornsents on the danger of either extreme:
To try to make poetry out of nothing but abstraction
is to risk dullness . .. but there is a dullness
too in the poem that is nothing but sensuous imagery
or nothing but music. The problem is to keep all three
components alive .. .35
It may be added that there is no single standard by which to determine
the proportion of each component, wide variations occur among equally
good poems. A poem should be judged in its totality and by the success
3\bid., p. 127.
35Roberts, oy. cit., p. 220.
with which the elements have been combined to accomplish its particular
intent. Although discussion may center on structural elements, a
critic's real quarrel with a poem often goes back to a basic lack of
sympathy writh its intent; the aesthetic disapproval is a natural
extension of the philosophic disagreement. This relationship can be
seen in Hulne's statement that "the romantic attitude seems to
crystallise in verse round metaphors of flight."36 He come to object
to these metaphors because he believes that the view of life they
reflect is false.
Hulme's criticism of the pitch of Romantic poetry may be seen as
a basis for subsequent critics' complaint of dhrillness in Shelley's
...in romantic verse you move at a certain pitch
which you know, man being what he is, to be a little
The expression "man being wrhat he is" suggests that again philosophic
considerations are behind the aesthetic judgment. To Hulme, wrho saw
man as "an extraordinarily fixed and limited animal whose nature is
absolutely constant,n3 Demogorgon's final speech in Prometheus Unbound,
for example, must indeed have seemed "a little highJ falutin." The
shrillness that later critics detect in Shelley's poetry is a result of
the fact that they are attuned to hear things in the wray Hulme was: that
is, they share his pessimistic attitude. Frederick Pottle characterizes
36Hulme, _speculations, p. 119.
37Ibid., p. 120
this attitude by a metaphor of catastrophe:
The present Generation is a shipwreccked generation. It
has come ashore on a desert island with very little
baggage and with few tools. Life on this desert island
is possible, but only as men are vigilant, strong, self-
reliant, and courageous. Self-pity is dangerous. The
most that can be hoped for is so little above bare
survival that any person wrho reminds the men on the
island of the easier life they enjoyed before the ship-
wreck, or w~ho draws goloing pictures of a better day in
store for the island in the far-distant future, will be
The critic who is interested in determining the permanent value of
Shelley's wrorks must concern himself not only with the supposed hiCh-
pitched quality of his wlritine but also with the world viewr on which
this charge is based. The rather narrow~, gloomyr vision of the world
that many artists and intellectuals held in the first half of the
twJentieth century is perhaps no more accurate than the hopeful attitude
held by some nineteenth-century wrriters. Besides, Shelley wras regarded
by his late nineteenth-century admirers as being more uniformly
optimistic than be really was, and it is against this one-sided view of
Shelley-that Hulme and other were reacting.
Other Hulmean strictures against Romanticism that later came to
be applied primarily to Shelley are self-pity and sentimentality. He
objects "to the sloppiness which doesn't consider that a poem is a poem
unless it is moaning or wJhining: about something or other~."kO He, showJs
a fondnecss for terms like "slush," "slop," and "damp" to describe
Romanticism; and the poetry that he advocated for the future w~ill be
33Frederick Pottle, "The Case of Shelley," PMLAn, UKVII (September
1952), p. 600.
irOulme, Sp~eculations, p. 1261.
"cheerful, dry, and sophisticated."lll In using words like "sloppiness"
Hulme is attacking, the excessive sentimentalitty of the Romantics; he
does not appear to be accusing them of shoddy wrorkmanship, in the sense
that they failed to accomplish what they set out to do. He simply
believed that they were doing the wr~ong thing. Somne of the Newl Critics,
on the other hand, have considered Shelley a bungling craftsman. This
charge is the only new one that they introduced; and even in making it
they may have felt that they had HuLme's authority behind them because
of his reference to the "sloppiness" of Romantic poetry.
In his critician of Romanticism, Hulme did much of the groundwJork
for the later detractors of Shelley. He introduced to England the
political offensive which w~as opened by L'Action Francaise and which,
though less frequently discussed later in the century, lingered as an
underlying motive for anti-Romanticism. His clear definition of his
religious differences with the Romantics had a significant influence on
later critics. And, most important, he provided a basis for the
aesthetic attack which became the principal instrument in bringing about
the General decline in Shelley's reputation.
41Ibid., p. 137.
T.S. Eliot is generally regarded as the most important critic in
the first half of the twentieth century. The expressions he employed,
such as "objective correlative" and "dissociation of sensibility," have
become critical commonplaces; his admirations and dislikes in literature
have had an enormous influence in shaping contemporary taste; he played
a key role in shifting the emphasis in criticism to an examination of
the poem itself. To the anti-Romantic movement, however, he added few
ideas that werre new; instead, his importance lies in the general
acceptance that he brought to ideas already formulated. Whereas Hulme's
influence wr~as limited by early death and by his failure to publish books
and wr~hereas B~abbitt's influence was limited by the doubts aroused by his
excessive zeal, Eliot enjoyed a reputation unequalled by any other
contemporary man of letters. His statements have been eagerly examined
by his admirers, and at times his casual remarks have been elevated into
dogma. Even for those wrho have disagreed with him, he has often been
the standard by which they defined their own positions. Although anti-
Romanticism waLs probably an inevitable development, it may be doubted
that it would have achieved the prominence it has had without the
authority of T.S. Eliot behind it.
Eliot is the central figure in the anti-Romantic movement not only
because his influence radiates to later critics but also because earlier
influences converge in him. H~ulme, More and Babbitt contributed to
the development of his attitudes. Eliot's views on politics, religion,
and aesthetics were strikingly similar to those of T.E. Hulme, though
modified by his superior learning anid more refined nature. Eliot
acknowledged his debt to Babbitt and predicted that it "should be more
obvious to posterity than to our contemporaries." He has said that
Babbitt's "ideas are permanently with one, as a measurement and test of
one's own" and that, by his "intellectual passion," Babbitt brought his
pupils to dislike the things he disliked.1 Eliot's aversion to
Romanticism, then, appears to have been formed in his classes at Harvard
The man whom Eliot regarded as his most important guide, however,
was Ezra Pound, il miglior fabbro and the man wrho wrote "the best
contemporary criticism of its kind."2 Pound occupies a unique position
in the reaction against Romanticism: though not himself a true anti-
Romantic, he contributed to the development of attitudes and concepts
that were significant in the anti-Romanticism of other critics. In this
discussion of Eliot, attention wrill also be given to Pound, because of
the special illumination he provides.
The most compelling cause for T.S. Eliot's anti-Romanticism was
his involvement in a poetic revolution. Prior to Eliot's migration to
England, T.E. IHulme had attacked the Romantic mode, which he regarded
as no longer viable, and had revealed the need for new~ modes of
IT.S. Eliot, "Irving Babbitt," Irving Babbitt: M~an and Teacher,
ed. Fredrick Manchester and Odell Shepard New York, 1941), p. 104.
~Ezra Pound, Literary Essays, ed. with an introduction by T.S.
Eliot (Norfolk, Conn., 195~54), p. x.
expression. Ezra Pound, a member of Hulme's literary circle, shared
the belief that poetry must move in a new direction and, although his
antipathies wJere not identical with ~Hulme's, w~as also engaged in
attacking the status pguo. T.S. Eliot wras quickly caught up in this
mood that HIulme and Pound had been instrumental in creating; in retro-
spect, he pictures the situation as a literary wasteland: "The question
was still: where do we go from Swinburne?--and the answer appeared to
be, nowJhere."3 From its inception, the movement wras infused with the
feeling that the old must be destroyed in order for the new to flourish.
In the attack on established literary conventions, these new poets saw
a parallel between themselves and the early Ranantics. In defense of
Pound, Eliot says:
As for the reputations he has attacked, we must recall
the reaction against the Augustan Age initiated by the
Lake Poets . .. the real point of attack is the
idolatry of a great artist by unintelligent or tics,
and his Unitation by uninspired practitioners.
The twentieth-century reaction did indeed have a motivation similar to
that of the Romantic poets against the Augustans, but wacs more self-
conscious. In the twentieth century men have been more aware of the
inevitability of literary cycles and have been more active in defending
Eliot had a very clear awareness of the part criticism could play
in the success of the poetic revolution; and, while it would be absurd
to regard Eliot's criticism as mere propaganda, it is a mistake to
ignore the element of propaganda that it includes. One, but by no means
the only, motivation for his statements against the Ranantics was his
3Eliot, "Ezra Pound," An Examination of Ezra Pound, ed. Peter
Russell (N~orfolk, Conn., 195-67, p. 25.
Pound, oP. cit., p. xi.
desire to cultivate an audience for a different kind of poetry. His
purposes are most fully revealed in remarks he made about Pound's
criticism. He praises Pound's critical statements because they were
"salutary" at the moment, although they "would be ridiculous if taken
as final estimates."5 He justifies such a position, in another essay,
by drawing a distinction between the scholar's interest, which is in
the permanent, and the practitioner's, which is in the immediate:
The scholar can teach us where we should bestow our
admiration, and respect: the practitioner should be
able .. to make an old masterpiece actual, give
it contemporary importance, and persuade his audience
that it is interesting, exciting, enjoyable, and arctive.6
Although their first interest may have been the encouragement and
public acceptance of a new poetry, Pound and Eliot also came to feel
that they were performing an educative purpose. They wished to revitalize
the study of literature. Pound speaks of "the putridity of University
Education," which suffers from a "total lack of direction" and from a
disregard of the general intellectual life of the country.7 In particular,
he was annoyed by the dullness that he had found in literature courses:
"Gloom and solemnity are entirely out of place in even the most rigorous
study of an art originally intended to make glad the heart of man."0
Pound and Eliot felt that in literary studies, as well as in writing,
there wJas stagnation; and their attacks on established reputations were
5Ibid., p. xii.
6Eliot, On Poetr and Poets (New York, 1957), p. 166.
rPound, The ABC of Reading (N~orfolk, Conn., 1934), p. 8.
Ibid., p. 13.
part of the effort to end this stagnation. The desire to bring new
life to literary discussion is a significant motive behind much of
anti-Romantician. Eliot's special. distinction in this regard is the
clarity with which he perceived what he was doing:
A great writer can have, at a particular time, a
pernicious or merely deadening influence; and this
influence can be most effectively attacked by pointing
out those faults which ought not to be copied, and
those virtues any emulation of which is anachronistic.
Pound's disparagement of Nilton, for instance, was, I
am convinced, most salutary twenty or thirty years ago;
I still agree with him against the academic admirers of
Milton, though to me it seems that the situation has
Both Pound and Eliot attempt to startle people out of their complacency
by what Eliot has called "compensatory exaggerations."l0 The intention
is far more apparent in Pound: he calls Milton "donkey-eared"ll and
speaks of his drivellingg imbecility"l2 and "the abominable dogbiscuit"l3
of his rhetoric; he says that Dryden was "by nature a lunk-head"-;16t he
calls Blake "dippy Williamn"l5 and wordsworth "a silly old sheep.nl6
gPound, Literary Essays, pp. xi-xii.
10Ibid., p. 8.
11bid, p. 72.
13rbid., p. 210.
Ibid., p. 70.
15Tbid, p. 72.
16bid., p. 277.
When Eliot makes an equally preposterous statement--for example,
"...there may be a good deal to be said for Romanticism in life,
there is no place for it in letters."17--he speaks in a different tone,
and readers are apt to miss the point.
Eliot's opposition to Romanticism cannot, however be explained
merely in terms of his strategy for introducing a new poetry and for
reforming the public taste. He was indeed unsympathetic to Romanticism
for a number of reasons. In his essays nearly all of the main ideas of
Hulme and Babbitt find expression. But Eliot is far less consistent
and systematic and gives less prominence to anti-Romanticism. Occasion-
ally he makes massive generalizations, as in this echo of Babbitt:
...the only cure for Romanticism is to analyse it.
What is permanent and good in Romanticism is curiosity
...a curiosity which recognizes that any life, if
accurately and profoundly penetrated, is interesting
and always strange. Romanticism is a short cut to the
strangeness without the reality, and it leads its
disciples only back upon themselves.18
But Eliot had a deeper involvement than Babbitt in literature for its
own sake; consequently, en bloc condemnations occur much less frequently
in his works. Pound, who had not studied under Babbitt, opposed not
only judging by periods but also talking about authors as a whole. He
attributed the latter vice to critical laziness and says: "To talk in
any other way demands an acquaintance with the work of an author, a
price few conversationalists care to pay, ma chel"l9 Pound may have
17Eliot, The Sacred Wood (London, 1934), p. 31.
19Pound, Make It New (New Haven; 1935)r .P 263-264.
served to moderate the influence of Babbitt on Eliot. In later years
Eliot followed a course rather different from Babbitt's. Babbitt
immersed himself more and more in Romantician and thereby strengthened
his hatred against it; Eliot ignored nineteenth-century literature and
became more tolerant of it.
Furthermore, Eliot seems to have become distrustful of the
comprehensive meaning that Babbitt gave to the word "Romantic." He
calls "IClassic" and "'Romantic" "a pair of terms belonging to literary
politics"20 and, in another place, says that romanticismm and classicism
are not matters with which creative writers can afford to bother over-
much, or with which they do, as a rule, in practice greatly concern
themselves."21 But, although Eliot does not use the tena "Romantic"
very often, it is relatively easy to identify those issues that led
him to say: .. their philosophy of life came to seem to me flimsy,
their religious foundations insecure."22 The most important of these
issues are their disregard of tradition, the political liberalism of
Shelley and others, their unorthodox religious views, their dissociation
Although "Tradition and the Individual Talent" does not attack
Romantician by name, it is directed against ideas that are characteristic
of the nineteenth century. The essay is based on hints taken from
Babbitt, but Eliot has enlarged, enriched, and given a more positive
20Eliot, What Is a Classic (London, 1945), p. 8.
21Eliot, After Strange Gods (New York, 1934), p. 26.
2Eliot, On Poetry and Poets, .23
emphasis to the ideas of his former teacher. Eliot opposes the
exaggerated importance that had been placed on the personality of the
poet and on the uniqueness of his creations. He insists on the
primcey of tradition in poetic productions and on the need for the
poet to develop a consciousness of the past. Poetry, he points out,
is "an expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life
in the Ipoem and not in the history of the poet."23 In contrast to glood
poetry stand those works which seek for new human emotions to express.
In this highly significant essay, Eliot attacks notions that had been
carried to an extreme. The cult of personality can easily became
oppressive; originality degenerates into eccentricity; spontaneity can
be used as a mantle to cover any number of sins. After nearly a century
and a half of glorifying original genius, it was time for the other
side of the poet's composition to be recognized--his dependence upon
tradition. Eliot makes a classic statement of this other side in
"Tradition and the Individual Talent."
In attacking the cult of originality Eliot does, however, indulge
in compensatory exaggeration. His famous analogy of the poet to a
shred of platinum, which acts as a catalyst in the formation of
sulfurous acid, underrates the importance of individuality and person-
ality to poetry. Carried to its logical conclusion, it would mean
that, just as oxygen and sulfur dioxide always form into sulfurous
acid, all poems must be exactly alike. A fully satisfactory definition
of the relationship between the poet and his works must take into
account both the debt to tradition and the shaping force of the poet.
23Eliot, The Sacred Wood, p. 15.
But Eliot was writing for the men of a particular generation and he
told them what they needed to know.
One of the virtues of "Tradition and the Individual Talent" is
that it deals with ideas without forcing any connection between these
ideas and a particular group of writers. In other essays, however, he
reveals that he identifies lack of tradition with the Romantics. He
also appears to equate an absence of tradition with ignorance, in the
same way that Babbitt associated a lack of ethics with unreasoned
emotionalism. He quotes Arnold approvingly:
"...the English poetry of the first quarter of this
century, with plenty of energy, plenty of creative force,
did not know enough. This makes Byron so empty of matter,
Shelley so incoherent, Wordsworth, even, profound as he is,
yet so wanting in completeness and variety." This judgment
of the Romantic Generation has not, so far as I know, ever
been successfully controverted; and it has not, so far as
I know, ever made much impression on popular opinion.24
Whatever Arnold may have meant by the statement, Eliot's approval of
it appears, in the light of other assertions, to be based on his
assumption that the Romantics lacked an adequate sense of tradition.
Eliot believed that the poet must "write not merely with his own
generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the
literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the litera-
ture of his own country has a staultaneous existence and composes a
simultaneous order."25 Although this historical sense may have been
important to Eliot himself as a poet, it is unsatisfactory as a standard
by which to measure poets generally. An examination of poets of
Ibid., p. xii.
25Ibid., p. 49.
established reputation does not reveal any close correlation between
erudition and artistic powers. Wordsworth, for example, was not a man
of much learning, yet a major poet; Eliot, a man of' considerable
learning and a major poet; Gray, a very learned man and a minor poet.
Closely related to Eliot's attitude on tradition were his
political views. Eliot does not, like Babbitt, treat Riomanticism and
liberalism as identical. In his attacks on Romantic ideas, he is
usually quite general; he speaks of the ideas of nineteenth-century
writers as being "flimsy" and of Shelley's as being "adlole scent. "
Political issues appear to be part of his objection, especially to
Shelley, whose views are diametrically opposed to Eliot's. No major
poet is more closely associated with liberalism than Shelley. Eliot
says of liberalism:
By destroying traditional social habits of the people,
by dissolving their natural collective consciousness
into individual constituents, by licen;'ncr the opinions
of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for
education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom,
the upstart rather than the qualified, by fosterin a
notion of getting on to which the alternative is a
hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for what
is its own negation.26
Eliot's attitude toward liberalism is essentially the same as that
expressed by Babbitt in Literature and the American College. In this
book, whiich Eliot regarded as Babbitt's best, Babbitt focuses less
attention on historical causality and more on contemporary conditions
than in Rousseau and Romantician. Th1e principal difference between
Eliot's and Babbitt's thinking is the greater emphasis that the poet
places on tradition. Eliot's tradition is, however, a paradox: the
26Eiot, Th1e Idea of a Christian Society (N~ew York, IfhO), p. 13.