Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Jacobean and Caroline Criticism > Milton
  Reynolds’s Mythomystes The aesthetics of Hobbes  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

XI. Jacobean and Caroline Criticism.

§ 6. Milton.

The critical position of Milton, who began to write about this time, has been defined by himself. In the treatise Of Education (1644), he commits himself unequivocally to the tradition of “that sublime art” which is taught “in Aristotle’s Poetics, in Horace, and the Italian commentaries of Caste vetro, Tasso, Mazzoni, and others”; and to the tradition of renascence criticism he remained faithful throughout his life. In the preface to Samson Agonistes (1671), this attitude remains unmodified except by an occasional touch of puritan conscience; even the somewhat earlier attack on rime he inherited from Trissino and Tolomei. In the judgment of literature, he has little to offer save a venomous onslaught on Hall’s satires (referring, especially, to the cacophonous “pace of the verse” and to the “poorness and frigidity” of the imagery), and contemptuous allusions to Sidney’s Arcadia and Shakespeare’s Richard III. But his conception of the imagination as that which alone makes literature vital, his veneration for the poet’s consecrated office, his passionate defence of literary freedom, his ideas concerning the spiritual unity of poetry and religion, were heritages which he passed on to the critics of the following age; and, indirectly at least, he helped to fructify not only poetry but criticism as well, through the agency of such men as Edward Phillips, Dennis and the two Wartons.   11
  Bacon, as we have seen, gave poetry a definite place in a scheme of the arts and sciences; he referred it to the imagination, and used this term to explain the idealising process by which poetry transforms the materials of life into forms of art. But he did not attempt to analyse this process, or to explain the sources and mutual relations of the various functions of the mind. This is the peculiar work of Hobbes. The critics of the sixteenth century had dealt with literature as an external phenomenon; they isolated the work of art from its position in space and time, and from its relation to the mind which created it. This generalisation does not imply that the historical sense did not make itself felt in some literary controversies, or that such words as “wit,” “fancy,” “imagination” and the like do not occasionally and casually occur in criticism; the Spanish critic Rengifo, for example, asserts a vehement imagination, furor poeticus and agudeza de ingenio to be essentials of the poet. But such words as these are casual and unreasoned; they are not analysed; they remain, one might say, abstract virtues of the poet, and are not brought into fundamental relation with the work of art itself. The concrete work is tested in vacuo, and the critic is concerned with its unity, probability, regularity, harmony and the like. The seventeenth century first attempted to deal accurately with the relation between the creative mind and the work of art; it began to analyse the content of such terms as “wit,” “fancy” and “taste.” Hobbes is here a pioneer; he left an impress on critical terminology, and his psychology became the ground-work of restoration criticism. The relation of Descartes to French classicism suggests the position of Hobbes in Stewart England.   12

  Reynolds’s Mythomystes The aesthetics of Hobbes  
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