A Neglected Aspect of Chapman
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548 ] A Neglected Aspect of Chapman TSE delivered this unpublished lecture “A Neglected Aspect of Chapman” at Cambridge University on Saturday, 8 Nov 1924. In a letter of 21 May 1924, James Smith, English literary critic and president of the newly revived Cam Literary Club, invited TSE to speak to the club on “any subject connected with the Elizabethan drama” (L2 431). As late as 6 Nov TSE told Richard Aldington that the lecture was “still in very rough shape and I did not want to write it and I don’t want to read it and I don’t suppose that the Cambridge undergraduates will want to hear it” (L2 531). Shortly afterward he wrote to Virginia Woolf that, despite all of his labors, it proved “unworthy of subsequent publication” (L2 537). It did, however, dovetail with his creative efforts; on Nov 30 he told Ottoline Morrell, in reference to the recently published “Doris’s Dream Songs” (Chapbook, Nov 1924): “They are part of a longer sequence which I am doing – I laid down the principles of it in a paper I read at Cambridge, on Chapman, Dostoevski & Dante” (L2 546). He still hoped to revise and publish the essay in the Criterion; it was announced in a subscription flyer as “An Aspect of George Chapman” for the “next issue” (Apr 1925), where he ascribed its delay “owing to severe illness.” He later wrote regretfully in the preface to Essays on Elizabethan Drama (1956): “I did not, during that period of my life at which these essays were written, have occasion to write about the work of that very great poet and dramatist, George Chapman. It is too late now: to attempt to repair such a gap, after many years’ neglect, would be almost as futile as to attempt to remove the blemishes . . . in one’s early poems” (x). There is a first part to this paper which is still unwritten. This is one chapter in a whole book of Prolegomena to Elizabethan Literature which is still unwritten.1 My excuse for not having written the book is that there have been a great many other people, better equipped in many ways than I, who have not written it either. This book should be an examination of the sources and of the assumptions – the received ideas or categories – of the Renaissance. There was one man – one of your Cambridge men – who might have written this book, had he not been wiped out by a German Shell – and that was T. E. Hulme.2 This paper should have started by an examination of Chapman’s sources – the writers who influenced him – a sifting of what he borrowed in order to show you what was indubitably his own. What was merely borrowed from Stoic or other philosophy? What ideas, if any, had he actually lived into and made his own? The Elizabethans are often, individually, praised for [ 549 A Neglected Aspect of Chapman what they borrowed, or for what are mere commonplaces of the time; and their true originality as often, overlooked. [appended pencil insertion:] With Chapman then I must assume that we have examined his considerable learning, and identified his borrowings from Stoic philosophy. I assume that we have set aside all his clichés (not all of them his exclusive property) such as Man is a torch borne in the wind; a dream But of a shadow, summ’d with all his substance:3 Nothing is made of nought, of all things made, Their abstract being a dream but of a shade.4 I shall try to present you with a mind which is personal, in that it is not shared with other Elizabethans; and which could not possibly be derived directly from classical or pre-Christian culture; which is the combination of an individual temperament, capable of profound feeling with all the history and influences which were directed upon it at that particular moment of time. I cannot show by orderly steps of exclusion that it is not a classical borrowing, but I hope that you will agree, when you see it, that it is not classical. And I hope you will assist me by not regarding what is vaguely called the Renaissance as an independent epoch, separated from the “middle ages” as the “middle ages” themselves are supposed to be separated from the “classical world.” Please clear your minds of any prejudices which may have been planted there by Mr. Middleton Murry or Walter Pater – whose “Renaissance” can...