- A French Romantic. To the Editor of the TLS
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[ 275 A French Romantic To the Editor of the TLS Times Literary Supplement, 980 (28 Oct 1920) 703 Sir, – I hope that I am not too late in raising one or two questions suggested by the important article in your issue of September 30 entitled “A French Romantic.”1 I have been delayed by personal preoccupations; I am excused for writing now, if I am excused at all, by the importance of the subject, the interest of the article, and the fact that no other correspondent has anticipated me. I willingly concede the point, contested by Mr. Cyril Falls, that M. Maurras is a “romantic.”2 M. Maurras has been handled very competently by M. Julien Benda in an appendix to Belphegor.3 So much for M. Maurras. It is in attempting to apprehend your critic’s definitions of the terms “romanticism” and “classicism” that my intellect is confused and my serenity disturbed. We are told that Lamartine “floundered in romanticism” partly because “the sense of the mystery of things remained with him.”4 Later we learn that “Romanticism is an excess of emotion”; but we are not informed what balance can be struck between excess of emotion (which is surely a fault) and a sense of the mystery of things (which cannot be altogether a bad sense to have). The writer treats Romanticism on the whole with disapproval until he suddenly declares that the period of classical production in France was also “a great romantic period.” This period is not the seventeenth century, which is dismissed as a period of “formalism”: it is a period which is represented by the Cathedrals and by Jeanne d’Arc (but not, apparently, by Agnès Sorel).5 I should be interested to know how the “cathedrals” are more classical, or more romantic either, than Vézelay, St. Benoît-sur-Loire, or Périgueux; but that is not the point: the point is, what is meant by applying both terms to their elucidation?6 I suggest that the difficulties which veil most critics’ theories of Romanticism (and I include such writers as Pierre Lasserre and Irving Babbitt) are largely due to two errors.7 One is that the critic applies the same term “romantic” to epochs and to individual artists, not perceiving that it assumes a difference of meaning; and the other is that he assumes 1920 276 ] that the terms “romantic” and “classic” are mutually exclusive and even antithetical, without actually enforcing this exclusiveness in the examination of particular works of art. Another difficulty is that these writers do not always appear to distinguish between definitions and propositions. Again, your critic introduces unexpected terms which are not defined. I cite “intellectual and emotional integrity,” “spiritual purpose,” and “larger integration.” The alternatives are to elaborate a rigidly deductive system, or to employ the terms “romantic” and “classic” merely as convenient historical tags, never stretching their meaning beyond the acceptance of the intelligent reader. And it would perhaps be beneficial if we employed both terms as little as possible, if we even forgot these terms altogether, and looked steadily for the intelligence and sensibility which each work of art contains. I am, Sir, your obliged obedient servant, T. S. Eliot Notes 1. Basil de Sélincourt’s “A French Romantic,” a review of Albert Thibaudet’s Les Idées de Charles Maurras [The Ideas of Charles Maurras], TLS (30 Sept 1920), 625-26. 2. In the TLS of 7 Oct, British journalist Cyril Falls (1888-1971) wrote to contest Sélincourt’s criticism of Maurras in the review, arguing instead that Maurras is a “convinced classicist” who “has spent his life in combating romantic ethics and romantic aesthetics”(652). 3. In “Note J, The Romanticism of Reason,” an appendix to Belphégor: Essai sur l’esthétique de la présente société française [Belphégor: Essay on the Aesthetic of Contemporary French Society] (1918), French essayist and philosopher Julien Benda (1867-1956) suggests that Maurras’s enthusiastic and contemptuous manner makes him a romantic despite his defense of classicism. 4. Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), author of Méditations poétiques [Poetic Meditations] (1820). 5. Agnès Sorel (1422-50) was the official mistress of Charles VII, King of France, whose coronation in 1422 was influenced by the victorious battles fought by Jeanne d’Arc (ca. 1412-31) to free France from foreign rule. TSE likely saw Sorel’s ninth-century castle when he visited Loches on his two-week tour...