Classicism and Romanticism. To the Editor of The Dublin Review
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[ 251 Classicism and Romanticism To the Editor of The Dublin Review The Dublin Review, 188 (Apr 1931) 313 Sir, – I have read with much interest the correspondence of Mr. Maritain and Mr. Belgion in your January issue.1 If I venture to intervene, it is not to correct any misstatement of my own views, as Mr. Maritain does not impute any to me. I dare say that I write primarily from the flattery of being mentioned so charmingly by Mr. Maritain, who should know very well my very high opinion of him; but secondarily, to cast doubt on two of his sentences.2 Mr. Maritain admits that “devant certains défenseurs des éternels principes classiques je trouve au romantisme des charmes enivrants” [135].3 This admission is robbed of its piquancy when it is perceived to be one which everyone may make. For he is contrasting, not classical theory with romantic theory, nor classical works with romantic works, but certain critics (I suppose) with certain poets. The comparison is not in kind. If he said that after reading La Harpe for half an hour he found inebriating charm in Verlaine no one would be likely to protest. And, on the other hand, I cannot conceive anyone finding such charm either in romanticism or in classicism ; whereas, if one finds it at all, one will probably find it in works of art of both types. I quite agree that the “dispute” between classicism and romanticism is périmée; but then it always was.4 The terms do not mean quite the same thing for any two people, or for any two decades; and they even shift their meaning for the same observer considering different ages and material. They are affected by every new work of art. Yet such apparently unsatisfactory terms have a way of being extraordinarily useful.5 I am, Sir, Your obedient servant, T. S. Eliot Notes 1. In “Art and Mr. Maritain” (Dublin Review, 87, Oct 1930, 201-15), Montgomery Belgion attacked Maritain’s neo-Thomist aesthetics, including a defense of classicism, as articulated in Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1931 252 ] Art et scolastique (1927) [Art and Scholasticism (1930)], concluding that “Mr. Maritain’s theory appears as but a variant of the great Romantic theory! . . . He is the apologist of what he professes to condemn” (214, 215). On 20 Oct 1930, Maritain wrote to the Dublin Review to express his belief that Romantic theory was a form of heresy; his letter, together with Belgion’s rejoinder reiterating his position, was published in the issue of Jan 1931 (134-36). 2. Following his remarks on defenders of classical principles who are intoxicated by romanticism, Maritain explains: “Que T. S. Eliot me pardonne, pour qui j’ai tant d’admiration et d’amitié. Il sait bien d’ailleurs que ce n’est pas à lui que je pense ici” [135]. [May T. S. Eliot forgive me, for whom I have so much admiration and friendship. He well knows besides that it’s not him I am thinking of here.] In his “Commentary” of Jan 1927, TSE introduced Maritain to readers of the Criterion: “In this number we present a new and unpublished essay by M. Jacques Maritain, the most conspicuous figure, and probably the most powerful force, in contemporary French philosophy” (3.3). The second part of Maritain’s essay “Poetry and Religion,” translated by TSE from Art et scolastique, was published in the Criterion for May 1927. 3. Trans: “before some defenders of the eternal classical principles I find in romanticism some intoxicating charms.” 4. périmée: out-of-date 5. On 9 Aug 1930, TSE wrote to I. A. Richards: “Another useful piece of scavenging would be to elucidate the whole pseudo-controversy of Humanism, and Romanticism and Classicism” (L5 285). TSE abandoned a long-running dispute with John Middleton Murry regarding the use of the terms Romanticism and Classicism after the publication of “Mr. Middleton Murry’s Synthesis” in the Criterion of Oct 1927 (3.271). ...