Criticism Of England In The Works Of Eliot

One of the greatest literary critics of England from the point of view of the quality and bulk of critical writings is Eliot. The five hundred and odd essays of him published in an occasional manner because articles and reviews had an influence that is far reaching on literary criticism in the country. His criticism can be termed as revolutionary that inverted the tradition of criticism of the whole English speaking work and as noted by John Hayward. He cannot think of a critic who has been discussed and read in such a wide manner in his own time of life; and not only in English, but in almost every language, except Russian.

Eliot’s Criticism

The early criticism of Eliot shows him as a critic-poet and poet critic with a deep concern to defend poetry against any standards that is framed for judging its quality of merit. As a poet-critic in his young age, he wrote polemical essays in order to clarify his objectives as an artist, relating these to the analyzed and scrupulously examined works of the tradition of the past and recommending the critical and creative activities of himself and those contemporaries, like Ezra Pound. By becoming a part of the literary scene in English in the late twenties and early thirties, Stephen Spender conveyed that Eliot was found writing essays of literature of great interest and placed them on par with discussion of general problems of politics, sociology, education and culture.

Escape from the Subjective Self

The first and foremost objective that runs through Eliot’s criticism is nothing but the attempt to escape from the subjective self into a world of objective values. George Watson said that Eliot offered it a new range of possibilities of rhetoric that confirmed it in its elevating contempt for processes of history and yet reshaped its notion of period through a handful of institutions which are brilliant. This double resonance of a poet and a critic is said to have given the name of Eliot its authority, its place in the function of English literary dictators that begins with Ben Johnson and carries through the nineteenth century with the careers of those poet-critic theologians.

Limitations of his criticism

As a critic Eliot has his own limitations. At times he assumes an attitude of a hanging-judge and often his criticism is accompanied by religious and personal prejudices that block an honest and impartial estimate. Though, he does not judge everyone by the similar standards. In his later essays the note of didacticism can be seen and with the passage of time his faculties of critical nature were exercised in an increasing manner on problems of society. Critics have also discovered limitations with his style as too full of reservations, doubt and qualifications. Though, such faults do not divert the greatness of Eliot as a critic. The criticism of Eliot has revolutionized the great writers of the past three centuries. The recognition of the greatness of the poets who are the author of Metaphysical poems of the 17th century leads to the revival of the Metaphysical in the 20th century. The credit for the renewed interest in the dramatists of Jacobean period goes to Eliot. The restoration of Dryden and other poets in the Augustan period to their due place is done by Eliot. The essays written by him on Dante aroused curiosity for the middle ages in the later period. The novelty in his statements which is hidden in sharp phrases arrests and startles attention.

According to Eliot’s viewpoint, the end of criticism is to bring readjustment among the old and the new. He conveys that from time to time it is convenient that some critic shall appear in the scene in order to review the past history of literature and set the poems and poets in a new order. Such critics are found rarely as besides the ability for judgment, they must also possess powerful liberty of mind for identifying and interpreting its own category and values of admiration for their generation. As conveyed by John Hayward: As Matthew Arnold was such a critic as were Dryden, Coleridge, Johnson before him; and such, in his own time, is Eliot himself.

The criticism of Eliot offers both reaction and reassessment to early writers. He mentioned himself as a classicist in literature. His crucial contribution is the reaction against humanism and romanticism which brought a classic revival in criticism and art. He rejected the view of the romantic poets in the perfectibility of the individual, gave stress to the doctrine of the original sin and also gave exposure to the futility of the faith of the romantics in the “Inner Voice”. Eliot conveys that instead of following his inner voice, a critic should follow the standards of objectivity and must conform to the tradition. A respect for order, a sense of tradition and authority is central to classicism of Eliot. He sought to correct the excesses of the intellectual and abstract school of criticism that is represented by Arnold. He also sought to elevate criticism to the level of science. In his logical attitude and in the attitude of objective nature, Eliot has resemblance to Aristotle in a close manner. A. G. George said that The theory of Eliot regarding in the impersonality of poetry is the greatest theory on the nature of the process after the romantic conception of poetry of Wordsworth.

Poetry was the medium of personality and expression of emotions for the romantics. In the past Wordsworth conveyed that poetry was an overflow of powerful emotions and its origin can be traced in the Emotions that are recollected in the tranquility. Eliot rejected this view and says that poetry is not a medium of personality and emotion but instead it is an attempt to escape from them. The poet is only an agent of catalyst that fuses emotions of varied nature into new wholes. He differentiated between the poet’s emotion and the emotion of the artist, and points out that the role of criticism is to turn attention from the poet to his poetry. The view of Eliot on the nature of process of poetry is revolutionary in an equal way. In the viewpoint of his, poetry is an organization and not an inspiration. The mind of the poet is similar to a vessel in which are stored numerous emotions, feelings and experiences. The process of poetry fuses these different emotions and experiences into new wholes. In “The Metaphysical Poets”, Eliot writes:When the mind of the poet is equipped in a perfect way for its work, it is amalgamating disparate experiences in a constant manner while the experience of the ordinary man is, irregular, chaotic and fragmentary.

Perfect poetry happens when there is unification of sensibility. The rational and the emotional, the critical and creative faculties must work in the manner of harmony to form great work of art. Critics stressed that the objective of poetry is either to give great pleasure or to teach in a moral way. Though, for Eliot a poem’s greatness is tested by the unity and order it imposes on the disparate and chaotic experiences of the poet. As Wimsatt and Brooks rightly conveyed that Since the 17th century, hardly had critical writing in English transposed in a resolute manner of poetic theory from the pleasure axis versus pain to that of unity versus multiplicityEliot designed various concepts of critical nature that gained currency in a wide manner and has an influence of broad nature on criticism. ‘Dissociation of sensibility’, ‘Objective correlative’ and ‘Unification of sensibility’ is few of the clichés of Eliot that is strongly debated by critics. His theory of impersonality of poetry, of tradition and his assertion on ‘a highly developed sense of fact’ tended to impart rationalism and catholicity to literary criticism. Thus it can be said that the influence of Eliot as a critic has been wide, constant, inspiring and fruitful. He has educated and corrected the taste of his readers and brought about a rethinking in regard to the function of poetry and the nature of the process of poetry. He gave new tools and new direction of criticism which is in the revival and reconsideration of English poetry of the past times.

Eliot made criticism of English literature look distinct, but not in a simple sense. He offered it a new range of possibilities of rhetoric in the process of confirming it in its elevating contempt for processes of history, and yet reshaped its concept of period by a handful of brilliant institutions.” His comments on the relation between drama and poetry and the nature of poetic drama have done much to bring about a revitalization of Poetic Drama in the present age. Matthew Arnold finds the meaning and sense of the past so that he might obtain guidance for the mankind’ future times but according to Eliot, the past and future are contained in the present itself. In the thought of Eliot time has relation to eternity and history to God. It is the firm conviction of Eliot that without the faith in God, no scheme for social improvement can function which originates from his doctrine of human nature.In the view of Arnold, anarchy can be resisted through culture but according to Eliot, even culture is only possible with faith.

A society without faith disintegrates and this fear of social insecurity and the analysis of its causes are perceived to be related in a close way to his essential outlook that the only freedom of man lies in discipline, both of social and personal. Thus, social criticism of Eliot leads to a philosophy of religious life with message that is formulated in a clear manner for the mankind. The special achievement of Eliot lies in that he had brought some system and order in the chaos of the modern intellectual and ideological nature. Through this achievement, he has allowed himself as well as his contemporaries to understand the situation of human in the present day.

In conclusion it may be conveyed that through his criticism of practical nature, Eliot has brought revaluation of the great names of literature of the past three centuries. The recognition by him of the greatness of Donne and the other metaphysical poets of the 17th century has led to the revival of metaphysical poetry in today’s time. The credit for the renewed interest in the metaphysical and dramatists in the Jacobean period goes to Eliot alone. Similarly, it is Eliot who restored Dryden and the other poets in the Augustan period to their place of rightfulness in the hierarchy of the English men of letters. In the viewpoint of Eliot, the end of criticism is to bring about a readjustment among the old and the new and his personal criticism performs this role to nicety. Modern critical method reaches its extreme of anti-romantic with his assertion that Sensitive appreciation and Honest Criticism is directed upon the poetry and not upon the poet. Eliot resisted the bias of the romantics regarding the emotional and the personal by his theory of impersonality in art.

Thus his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” is the manifesto of his critical creed which means a critic must follow standards of objectivity; instead of merely following his inner voice, he must conform to tradition i.e, a respect for order and authority, a sense of tradition is at the core of critical classicism of Eliot. Thus, his criticism is a corrective of the way-wardness and eccentricity of the present impressionistic school of Criticism.

01 April 2020
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