The Sources of Chapman. An unsigned review of Études sur l’humanisme continental en Angleterre à la fin de la Renaissance by Franck L. Schoell
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30 ] The Sources of Chapman An unsigned review of Études sur l’humanisme continental en Angleterre à la fin de la Renaissance [Studies on Continental Humanism in England at the End of the Renaissance], by Franck L. Schoell Paris: Champion, 1926. Pp. vii + 268. The Times Literary Supplement, 1306 (10 Feb 1927) 88 The author of this essay is, we imagine, an American; but his book is an admirable example of the French scholarship which, in the École Normale, andinthesesofdoctorateandagregation,hascontributedsomuchinrecent years to the history of English literature, and indirectly and gradually, in consequence, to the criticism of English literature.1 The relation of literary criticism to scholarship is similar to that of philosophy to natural science. The development of science inevitably modifies philosophic theory, though it is not always easy to say either how or why. And as every philosophic system must be judged in relation to the state of science in its time, so most certainly must literary criticism be judged in relation to the scholarship of its time.2 The relativity of philosophy is known to every cabman; the relativity of literary criticism is not so generally recognized. We can no longer criticize Shakespeare as Coleridge did, for we know a great deal more than Coleridge knew about the Shakespeare canon; we can no longer criticize most of the other Elizabethans as Swinburne criticized them, for we have more information.3 Professor Schoell might have entitled his book “Studies in the Sources of George Chapman,” for it is with the borrowings of Chapman from seven or eight Continental scholars that the book is concerned .4 It is safe to say that this is a book which no student of Chapman can afford to neglect. But the book has a wider significance, which justifies Mr. Schoell in giving it a more comprehensive title; for it is a study in the intellectual origins of the Elizabethan mind. The book is admirably constructed, and stuffed with parallel passages from Chapman and his originals which carry conviction; it is admirable also in the restraint and sobriety of its generalizations, which never exceed [ 31 The Sources of Chapman the facts adduced. During the nineteenth century romantic conceptions, both of the “Middle Ages” and of the “Renaissance,” prevailed; these conceptions were promulgated, for their own ends, by writers so various as Hugo and Huysmans, Ruskin and Pater.5 In consequence, we are apt to think of the revival of Greek as one of the characteristics defining the Renaissance. And so, within definite limits, it was. We are apt to overlook the fact that Greek culture, compared with Roman culture, played a very small part in the Renaissance; that Greek drama was little read and less appreciated; that Ascham and Cheke,6 in England, have hardly any peers until the eighteenth century; and, particularly, that the Renaissance cannot be said to have understood Greek philosophy as well as the “Middle Ages” understood it. The last point has never been sufficiently insisted upon. The classical scholarship of the thirteenth century was infantile; it knew its Aristotle largely through Latin translations, and indeed through Latin translations from the Arabic, and it did not possess Aristotle complete. Nevertheless, it entered far more into the spirit of Aristotle than the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries entered into the spirit of Plato, in spite of their symposia.ThethirteenthcenturywasinterestedinthethoughtofAristotle; but the Renaissance was not, on the whole, interested in the thought of Plato. It was interested in itself, in an exuberant self-dramatization; the dramatic form and the emotionality of Plato suited its purpose.7 The “Platonism” of the Renaissance is, in fact, almost a burlesque of the Platonism of Plato. And George Chapman, a Platonist, the most erudite of the Elizabethan dramatists – not even excepting Jonson – for, of the two, Chapman was more of a Hellenist and Jonson more of a Latinist – is a particularly interesting example of English Renaissance learning united with English Renaissance poetic genius. Professor Schoell throws light on a great deal of the obscurity of Chapman – especially the obscurity of the poems – a great deal more light, in fact, than is thrown by Swinburne. For Swinburne (lacking the knowledge of sources) is content to speak of the “vigorous but unfixed and clouded intellect” of Chapman; to admit the “powerful mind,” the “intellectual energy”; and to imply that in Chapman a profound mind was struggling through great difficulties of expression.8 Mr. Schoell’s accurate display of sources confirms the belief, to which some of us were inclined...