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The Theory of Poetry in England: Its Development in Doctrines and Ideas from the Sixteenth Century to the Nineteenth Century
     

The Theory of Poetry in England: Its Development in Doctrines and Ideas from the Sixteenth Century to the Nineteenth Century

by R. P. Cowl
 

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Mr. Cowl has attempted in this compact volume three things: 'to exhibit in selected documents the historical development of the general theory of poetry from the middle of the sixteenth century to the close of the nineteenth century'; 'to determine from authoritative sources the theoretical principles of the several schools of poetry and criticism'; and 'to

Overview

Mr. Cowl has attempted in this compact volume three things: 'to exhibit in selected documents the historical development of the general theory of poetry from the middle of the sixteenth century to the close of the nineteenth century'; 'to determine from authoritative sources the theoretical principles of the several schools of poetry and criticism'; and 'to present the arguments that have been advanced for or against controverted principles or doctrines.' The collection has been made with industry and) learning, and we have no doubt of its utility. But it must be pointed out that the rather ambitious programme above laid down cannot be adequately carried out in a book confined to the opinions of English critics. 'The historical development of the theory of poetry' cannot be 'exhibited' in English documents for the reason that important steps in it were taken on the continent, and owed their character to intellectual conditions there alone prevailing. Thus French classicism from the Pléiade to Boileau may be called a development without grave qualification, if we will; but English classicism from Sidney to Pope is rather a succession of detached or slightly connected tidal waves. Original criticism there has been in England in abundance; but in 'school' criticism, that which sets forth 'the theoretical principles' of this or the other branch of criticism, we have never been so rich as in those heretical adaptations of traditional theory to individual bent, which please our insular genius. Mr. Cowl's collection is mainly occupied with the conflict between the Neo-Classical and Romantic theories of poetry, which in a variety of phases and modifications runs through his three centuries. The extracts illustrating the beginning of the 'Romantic Revolt' - especially those from the still not very accessible writings of Hurd, Warton and Young, will no doubt be serviceable. The entire omission, on the other hand, of Shaftesbury and his individual and engaging presentation of the 'classicist' point of view is a serious lacuna. Shaftesbury is probably, when all is said, our most original thinker upon aesthetics before the nineteenth century, and he is still far from having received his due in England. In this and other points Mr. Cowl's book would have benefited from recent German studies in eighteenth-century aesthetics. And an older book, H. von Stein's Die Entstehung der neueren Ästhetik (1886), is still, to our thinking, in spite of more elaborate and diffuse successors, the ablest handling of its subject. Not to end on a note of disapproval, we observe the agreeable admission, here and there, among the more solemn debates and arguments, of a pointed obiter dictum from the essayists or novelists, such as Sterne's playful diatribe on 'the rules.' 'Great Apollo I if thou art in a giving humour, - give me - I ask no more, but one stroke of native humour, with a single stroke of thy own fire along with it - and send Mercury, with the rules and compasses, if he can be spared, with my compliments, to - no matter.'

- The Modern Language Review, Vol. 1 [1914]

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781517048365
Publisher:
CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date:
08/25/2015
Pages:
334
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

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