Sunday, May 31, 2015

Classical Romanticism

Walter Pater has an interesting point, here, and one that I support: the division between "romantic" and "classical" might have a limited use in criticism, but not much value for those who create. It's possible to have a "romantic" curiosity about life and a love for the strange, while holding, at the same time, a "classical" respect for the beauty and force of self-discipline, of craftsmanship. When I reject the imprecision, the windiness, of Lovecraft or Harlan Ellison, the counter-examples I have in mind are those who mix romantic strangeness with classical control: Ambrose Bierce, George Sterling, Clark Ashton Smith, William Sansom, Avram Davidson (sometimes), along with any number of writers who work beyond the divisions of "romantic" and "classical."

Material for the artist, motives of inspiration, are not yet exhausted: our curious, complex, aspiring age still abounds in subjects for aesthetic manipulation by the literary as well as by other forms of art. For the literary art, at all events, the problem just now is, to induce order upon the contorted, proportionless accumulation of our knowledge and experience, our science and history, our hopes and disillusion, and, in effecting this, to do consciously what has been done hitherto for the most part too unconsciously, to write our English language as the Latins wrote theirs, as the French write, as scholars should write. Appealing, as he may, to precedent in this matter, the scholar will still remember that if 'the style is the man' it is also the age: that the nineteenth century too will be found to have had its style, justified by necessity -- a style very different, alike from the baldness of an impossible 'Queen Anne' revival, and an incorrect, incondite exuberance, after the mode of Elizabeth: that we can only return to either at the price of an impoverishment of form or matter, or both, although, an intellectually rich age such as ours being necessarily an eclectic one, we may well cultivate some of the excellences of literary types so different as those: that in literature as in other matters it is well to unite as many diverse elements as may be: that the individual writer or artist, certainly, is to be estimated by the number of graces he combines, and his power of interpenetrating them in a given work. To discriminate schools, of art, of literature, is, of course, part of the obvious business of literary criticism: but, in the work of literary production, it is easy to be overmuch occupied concerning them. For, in truth, the legitimate contention is, not of one age or school of literary art against another, but of all successive schools alike, against the stupidity which is dead to the substance, and the vulgarity which is dead to form.

-- From Appreciations, With An Essay On Style, by Walter Pater. Macmillan and Co, 1890.