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BAROQUE FORM IN ENGLISH LITERATURE ' Roy DANIELLS UNTIL recently the connotations of the word "baroque" have been almost without exception unpleasant. The New, EngliJh Dictionary defines it as, "irregularly shaped; whimsical, grotesque, odd" and in the examples of usage we find it coupled with terms like ·"absurd" and "frantic.'-' Littre, epitomizing a traditionally French hatred of the unbalanced, stigmatizes baroque as "d)une bizarrerie choquante." Roget brackets the term with "gaudy," "tawdry," "bedizened," and "flamboyant." The reason for all this is not far to seek. Baroque has meant, and for many people still means, nothing more than a questionable' style of architecture, that of the Seicento. Vituperation of this architecture began early: in the introduction to Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus (1717) we find a sample of that unmeasured scorn which was to be poured out on the baroque for the ,next two centuries: The Italians can no more now relish the Antique Simplicity) but are entirely employed in capricious Ornaments) which must at last end in the Gothick. For Proof of this Assertion. ] appeal to the Productions of the last Century. How affected and licentious are the Works of Bernini and Fontana~ How wildly extravagant are the designs of Boromini) who has endeavour'd to debauch mankind with his odd and chimerical Beauties, where the Parts are without Proportion, Solids without their ·true Bearing) Heaps of Materials without Strength) excessive Ornament without Grace, and the Whole without Symmetry? And what can be a stronger Argument, that this excellent Art is near lost in that Country, where such Absurdities meet with Applause? The contempt of eighteenth-century connoisseurs, under the influence of a revived .taste for the "classic," is at least intelligible; it is harder to see why the nineteenth century, exalting Gothic, had not _a kind word for baroque. The failure of Ruskin to recognize the style should, perhaps, be taken as a tribute to its innate subtlety and sophistication. I t has remained for our own generation to attempt to do cri tical justice to the graphic and plastic art developed by the con temporaries of Milton and the "metaphysicals ." It is to this present century, then, and particularly to the years since . the first Great War, that we must look for a saner evaluation of baroque. .A work such as M. S. Briggs's Baroque Architecture (1913) testifies to an awakening interest, and three books on baroque art by Sacheverell Sitwell between 1924 and 1931, though criticaJly vague, are moved by a spirit of new and genuine appreciation. More significant, perhaps, because occupied with a field in which the English genius is fully at home and scarcely to be rivalled) are the new evaluations of seventeenth-century poetry:' in particular , definitive editions by Grierson, Margoliouth, Martin, _ Miss Wade, and others, and that fresh analysis of "metaphysical" and allied verse to be found, typically, in T. S. Eliot. As an early example of the excellent 393 394 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY periodical articles which have served both to attest and to stimulate critical interest, one should mention a series of careful and scholarly paperS by M. W. Croll, culminating in 1929 in a study of the baroque style in prose. The baroque in English poetry has been admirably criticized by Mario Praz (Secentismo ,e marinismo in Inghilterra), and by Austin vVarren. The greatest volume of cqmment is, c~aracteristically, in Gennan criticism, and here the disparities between poin ts of view set forth are surprising: the reader who dips cautiously into the numerous treatises will be discouraged to find at one turn that Latimer, Whitgift, and Hooker are swept into the ranks of English baroque and at another that Crashaw stands as the sole representative of the style. The purpose of these pages is to suggest that, whatever may be the outcome of attempts to settle the nature and scope of baroque and the validity of the kind of criticism implied by the use of the term, there remains a wide terrain where, equipped only with a tentative formulation of the qualities of baroque and urged by nothing more than his own interest in the varied shapes which the elusive breath of poetry inspires, the ordinary student...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 393-408
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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