Main The triumph of Romanticism ; collected essays

The triumph of Romanticism ; collected essays

,
0 / 0
How much do you like this book?
What’s the quality of the file?
Download the book for quality assessment
What’s the quality of the downloaded files?
Year:
2019
Language:
english
File:
PDF, 15.59 MB
Download (pdf, 15.59 MB)
0 comments
 

You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
The Triumph of
t

ROMANTICISM

Collected Essays

by MORSE PECKHAM

isbn 0-87249-182-X

The Triumph of
ROMANTICISM
"The unhappy fact is that the language of
literary criticism is filled with unanalyzed
terms, and for the most part it consists merely
of pushing around worn-out verbal counters to
create pretty new patterns; and this kind of in¬
tellectually unsatisfactory and even pointless
activity will go on forever unless we put a stop
to it." This collection of Dr. Peckham's essays,
papers, and addresses, three of which are pub¬
lished here for the first time, is an attempt to
create for the study of literature a theoretical
foundation which the author feels does not
exist at present. Selections are presented in
three stages: Theory, Application, and Conse¬
quences.
"Theory" consists of four essays on Roman¬
ticism, which represent the author's original
thesis and his subsequent modifications and re¬
visions of it. Perhaps of most importance, he
posits the concept of "Negative Romanticism,"
the stage of alienation suffered by an individual
such as Byron.
The second part of the book, "Applications,"
applies his theories to various problems of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, extending
from Wordsworth's influence upon Constable,
and consequently upon the French Impression¬
ists, to the recent problems of the visual arts in
the 1960's, particularly Pop, Op, and Mini Art.
His conclusions may be debatable, even con¬
troversial, but they are never less than intrigu¬
ing. In "The Problem of the Nineteenth
Century," Dr. Peckham asserts, "Freud may
have been wrong when he stated that the death
wish is universal; it is hard to think that he was
mistaken when he found it in the nineteenth
century, or at least in the nineteenth-century
artist and intellectual." In "Darwinism and

PNLD3.P44

A030X 4^7□1

Date Due

mm

DEC 1

m

2*

197

U-i

The Triumph of

ROMANTICISM

The Triumph of

ROMANTICISM
Collected Essays

by MORSE PECKHAM

UNIVERSIT; Y OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS

Columbia, South Carolina

Copyright © 1970 UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA PRESS
Published in Columbia, S.C. by the
University of South Carolina Press, 1970
First Printing, August 1970
Second Printing, October 1971
International Standard Book Number: 0-87249-182-X
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 73-120574
Suggested Library of Congress classification furnished by
McKissick Memorial Library of the University of South Carolina:
PN603.P
Manufactured in the United States of America

Preface

| This collection of papers, essays, and addresses, about
two-thirds in bulk of what I have published, consists
of those pieces I think worth republishing. Reappearance is at
least in part justified by the fact that so many originally came
forth in journals of small circulation, some of which have by now
ceased to exist. I have made no attempt to revise these essays or
to make them consistent one with another. The few changes are
the result of house-styling and the sharp eye of a professional
editor. With much of what is presented here I no longer agree.
Though I think I was wrong then and right now, for all I know
I may have been right then and wrong now. At any rate, a num¬
ber of people have told me that they continue to find various es¬
says valuable which I no longer care for. Since they still seem
to be useful, I have included them. Usefulness is all I hope for.
To hope to be right in such matters as are discussed here would
be foolish. If any reader finds something useless, as practically
every reader will, I hope he will either forget it or attack it, pro¬
viding he thinks it worth the trouble. In the second essay pre¬
sented here, I myself attack much that I said in the first.
I have included after each title the date the essay was written
and in a footnote, when appropriate, the occasion for which it
was prepared. Thus I express my gratitude for those colleagues in
the profession who have trapped me into doing what otherwise
I probably would not have done.
Columbia, S.C.
December 29, 1969
v

Contents

J

I THEORY

1

Toward a Theory of Romanticism [1950]

3

21

Toward a Theory of Romanticism: II.
Reconsiderations [1960]

27

The Dilemma of a Century: The Four
Stages of Romanticism [1964]

36

Romanticism: The Present State of Theory [1965]

58

II APPLICATIONS

85

The Problem of the Nineteenth Century [1955]

87

2

/J

^

y
^
P

Constable and Wordsworth [1952]

105

The Place of Architecture in Nineteenth-Century
Romantic Culture [1966]

123

Can "Victorian" Have a Useful Meaning? [1967]

145

Hawthorne and Melville as European Authors [1966]

153

10 Darwinism and Darwinisticism [1959]

176

11 Aestheticism to Modernism: Fulfillment
or Revolution? [1967]

12 What Did Lady Windermere Learn? [1956]

202
226

13 The Current Crisis in the Arts:
Pop, Op, and Mini [1967]

III CONSEQUENCES

14 Art and Disorder [1966]
15 Art and Creativity:

76
"T

>

255

281
290

Discontinuity in Fiction: Persona, Narrator,
Scribe [1967]

318

Literary Interpretation as Conventionalized
Verbal Behavior [1967]

341
371

Is Poetry Self-Expression? [1953]

394

Metaphor: A Little Plain Speaking on
a Weary Subject [1962]

401

20
1

Q

Theory of Criticism [1967]

^

22
2^

253

Order and Disorder in Fiction [1966]

y

~f O

Proposal for Research [1966]

231

The Intentional? Fallacy? [1968]

421

On the Historical Interpretation of Literature [1969]

445

INDEX

451

'

‘

I THEORY

7
TOWARD
A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

[1950*]

C

an we hope for a theory of Romanticism? The answer, I be¬
lieve, is, yes. But before proceeding further, I must make
quite clear what it is that I propose to discuss.
First, although the word “Romanticism" refers to any number
of things, it has two primary referents: (1) a general and per¬
manent characteristic of mind, art, and personality, found in all
periods and in all cultures; (2) a specific historical movement in
art and ideas which occurred in Europe and America in the late
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I am concerned only
with the second of these two meanings. There may be a con¬
nection between the two, but I doubt it, and at any rate whatever
I have to say refers only to historical Romanticism.
Second, in this historical sense “Romanticism" as a revolution
in art and ideas is often considered to be only an expression of a
* Delivered before the English Graduate Club, University of Pennsylvania,
January, 1950. Reprinted by permission from PMLA, LXVI (March, 1951),
pp. 5-23. Copyright 1951 by the Modern Language Association of America.

3

4
THEORY

general redirection of European life which included also a political
revolution, an industrial revolution, and perhaps several others.
There may be a connection between the revolution in ideas and
the arts and the more or less contemporary revolutions in other
fields of human activities, but for the time being, at any rate, I
think it is wise to dissociate the Romanticism of ideas and art
from these other revolutions. Just as one of our greatest difficul¬
ties so far has arisen from assuming an identity between general
and historical Romanticism, so much of our difficulty in consider¬
ing the nature of historical Romanticism has come from assuming
its identity with all of the other more or less contemporary rev¬
olutions. Let us first isolate the historical Romanticism of ideas
and arts before we beg any questions about the nature of history.
For example, I think it is at present wiser to consider Romanticism
as one of the means then available for hindering or helping the
early nineteenth-century movement for political reform than it is
to assume that Romanticism and the desire for political reform
and its partial achievement are the same thing.
With these two distinctions in mind, I repeat. Can we hope for
a theory of the historical Romanticism of ideas and art? Such a
theory must be able to submit successfully to two tests. First, it
must show that Wordsworth and Byron, Goethe and Chateau¬
briand, were all part of a general European literary movement
which had its correspondences in the music, the painting, the
architecture, the philosophy, the theology, and the science of the
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Second, it must be
able to get us inside individual works of literature, art, and
thought: that is, to tell us not merely that the works are there,
to enable us not merely to classify them, but to deliver up to us
a key to individual works so that we can penetrate to the prin¬
ciples of their intellectual and aesthetic being. Can we hope for
such a theory? Dare we hope for such a theory? To this question
I answer, “Yes, we can." I feel that we have it almost within our
grasp—that one or two steps more and we shall have mastered
this highly perplexing literary problem.
Certainly there is no generally accepted theory of Romanticism
at the present time. Twenty years ago, and for more than twenty
years before that, the problem of Romanticism was debated pas-

TOWARD 5
A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

sionately, not least because of the redoubtable but utterly mis¬
directed attacks of Babbitt and More. In his Romanticism and
the Modern Ego (1943), Jacques Barzun has made a good col¬
lection of some of the definitions that have been more or less
widely used in the past fifty years: a return to the Middle Ages, a
love of the exotic, the revolt from reason, a vindication of the
individual, a liberation of the unconscious, a reaction against
scientific method, a revival of pantheism, a revival of idealism, a
revival of Catholicism, a rejection of artistic conventions, a re¬
turn to emotionalism, a return to nature—and so on. The utmost
confusion reigns in the whole field. In the past fifteen or twenty
years, most scholars have done one of two things. Either they
have given up hope for any sense to come out of this tangle and
have stoutly denied that there was such a movement, or, less
pessimistically, they have continued to use one or more concepts
or ideas—theories which they feel to be unsatisfactory yet which
they continue to employ because there is nothing better. Most
students are convinced that something happened to literature be¬
tween the death of Pope and the death of Coleridge, but not very
many are willing, when you question them sharply, to tell you
exactly what happened. The situation is all the more discouraging
in that it is generally conceded that Romanticism is a central
problem in literary history, and that if we have failed to solve
that problem, we can scarcely hope to solve any general problems
in literary history.
Too many scholars, then, will try either to avoid the term en¬
tirely, or failing that strategy—and it always fails—will isolate
some idea or literary effect and will say, "This is Romanticism."
Or such a scholar will use the term with the full knowledge that
the reader will recognize the difficulties involved and will char¬
itably permit him to beg the question. He will very rarely begin
with a theory of Romanticism and seek to place a particular poem
or author in relation to that theory or seek to use the theory in
unlocking a baffling and complex work, or even a simple one for
that matter. He will fit his ideas into whatever notion of Ro¬
manticism he may have, usually without specifying what it might
be, but very rarely, at least in public and in print, will he use a
considered theory of Romanticism as a starting point for his in-

6
THEORY

vestigations. It is a discouraging situation, but my purpose is to
suggest that it is not so discouraging as it appears.
In the last few years there have been signs that some scholars
at least are moving toward a common concept of Romanticism.
In 1943, Jacques Barzun spoke of Romanticism as a biological
revolution;1 and in 1949, he defined it as part of "the great rev¬
olution which drew the intellect of Europe . . . from the expecta¬
tion and desire of fixity into desire and expectation of change."2
Stallknecht, in his fascinating book on Wordsworth, Strange
Seas of Thought (1945), spoke of how Romanticism established
the sentiment of being in England and then, reversing his state¬
ment, suggested that the sentiment of being established Ro¬
manticism. In his admirable introduction to his edition of Sartor
Resartus (1937), C. Frederick Harrold—whose death has de¬
prived us of one of the most valuable of contemporary students
of Victorian literature—wrote of Carlyle's ideas about organicism
and dynamism. And in his and Templeman's excellent anthology
of Victorian prose (1938), there is an appendix "illustrative of
nineteenth-century conceptions of growth, development, evo¬
lution." But the most recent attempt to tackle the problem, the
best yet, though I think not entirely satisfactory, has been Rene
Wellek's two-part article "The Concept of Romanticism," pub¬
lished in 1949 in the first two issues of Comparative Literature.
There he offered three criteria of Romanticism: imagination for
the view of poetry, an organic concept of nature for the view of
the world, and symbol and myth for poetic style.
Wellek does establish to my mind three things in his arti¬
cle: first, that there was a European intellectual and artistic
movement with certain intellectual and artistic characteristics, a
movement properly known as Romanticism; second, that the
participators in that movement were quite conscious of their his¬
toric and revolutionary significance; and third, that the chief
reason for the current skepticism in America about a theory of
Romanticism was the publication in 1924 of Arthur O. Lovejoy's
1 Romanticism and the Modern Ego (New
2 "Romanticism: Definition of a Period,"
1949), 243.

York, 1943).
Magazine of Art, XLII (Nov.,

TOWARD

7

A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

famous article, "On the Discrimination of Romanticisms/'3 In
this article Lovejoy pointed out that the term is used in a fearful
variety of ways, and that no common concept can include them
all. Indeed, the growth of skepticism about any solid conclusions
on Romanticism does seem to begin—or at least start to become
very powerful and eventually dominant—with the publication of
that article. Wellek decries what he calls Lovejoy's excessive
nominalism and skepticism, and refuses to be satisfied with it.
He also puts in the same category of nominalism and skepti¬
cism Lovejoy's 1941 article, "The Meaning of Romanticism for
the Historian of Ideas."4 Here Lovejoy offered three criteria of
Romanticism, or rather the three basic ideas of Romanticism,
"heterogeneous, logically independent, and sometimes essentially
antithetic to one another in their implications." These ideas are
organicism, dynamism, and diversitarianism. Now in discussing
Lovejoy's 1941 paper, Wellek has made, I think, an error. He
seems to have confused the nature of the two articles, because,
apparently, he has forgotten about the last three chapters of The
Great Chain of Being (1936).5
Lovejoy's great book is a landmark of scholarship, and also for
scholarship. It is a book on which some of the most useful scholar¬
ship of our times has been based, and it is as useful to the teacher
who uses it with intelligence as it is to the scholar. Twenty-five
years from now, scholars of literature will look back on the publi¬
cation of The Great Chain of Being as a turning point in the devel¬
opment of literary scholarship; for it has been of astonishing
value in opening up to our understanding in quite unexpected
ways the literature of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth
3 PMLA, XXXIX, 229-53; republished in his Essays in the History of Ideas
(Baltimore, 1948).
4 JHI, II, 237-78.
5 Wellek's confusion, or apparent confusion, lies in his implication that
the "Romanticisms" Lovejoy discussed in 1924 are the same as the "Ro¬
mantic ideas" which in 1941 he called "heterogeneous, logically independent,
and sometimes essentially antithetic to one another in their implications."
As I read the 1941 article, I interpret the latter as these three: organicism,
dynamism, and diversitarianism. (See below. Section II of this essay.) These
are not the "Romanticisms" of 1924. (See the first paragraph of Wellek's
article, "The Concept of 'Romanticism' in Literary History," CL, I, 1.)

8
THEORY

centuries. But, so far as I know, almost no use has been made of
the last three chapters, especially of the last two, in explaining
Romanticism and Romantic works. It is a curious situation; for
these chapters contain the foundations for a theory of Roman¬
ticism which will do everything that such a theory must be able
to do—place works and authors in relation to each other and
illuminate individual works of art as they ought to be illuminated.
By ignoring (at least in his two papers) The Great Chain of
Being, Wellek concluded that the same kind of skepticism was
present in both Lovejoy's 1924 and 1941 articles. Actually The
Great Chain of Being is an answer to Lovejoy's 1924 article.
Without emphasizing the fact, Lovejoy did in 1933 and 1934,
when he delivered the lectures on which the book is based, what
in 1924 he said could not be done. To be brief, in 1936 he stated
simply that literary Romanticism was the manifestation of a
change in the way of thinking of European man, that since Plato
European man had been thinking according to one system of
thought—based on the attempted reconciliation of two pro¬
foundly different ideas about the nature of reality, both stem¬
ming from Plato—and that in the late eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries occidental thought took an entirely dif¬
ferent direction, as did occidental art. Furthermore, he says that
the change in the way the mind works was the most profound
change in the history of occidental thinking, and by implication
it involved a similar profound change in the methods and objects
of European art.

I
What I wish to do here is, first, to explain what these new ideas
of the late eighteenth century involved, to reconcile Wellek and
Lovejoy, and Lovejoy with himself, and to show the relevance of
certain other ideas about Romanticism I have mentioned; and
second, to make one addition to the theories of Lovejoy and
Wellek, an addition which I hope goes far toward clearing up an
essential problem which Lovejoy scarcely faced and with which
Wellek is unable to come to terms.
It is scarcely necessary to outline what The Great Chain of
Being implied. Yet I should like to reduce the concepts involved to

TOWARD

9

A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

what I think to be their essentials. Briefly, the shift in European
thought was a shift from conceiving the cosmos as a static mech¬
anism to conceiving it as a dynamic organism: static—in that all
the possibilities of reality were realized from the beginning of
things or were implicit from the beginning, and that these pos¬
sibilities were arranged in a complete series, a hierarchy from
God down to nothingness—including the literary possibilities
from epic to Horatian ode, or lyric; a mechanism—in that the
universe is a perfectly running machine, a watch usually. (A
machine is the most common metaphor of this metaphysic.) Al¬
most as important as these concepts was that of uniformitarianism, implicit both in staticism and in mechanism, whenever these
two are separated, as frequently happens. That is, everything that
change produces was to be conceived as a part to fit into the al¬
ready perfectly running machine; for all things conformed to
ideal patterns in the mind of God or in the nonmaterial ground
of phenomena.
If, in short, you conceive of the universe as a perfectly ordered
machine, you will assume that any imperfections you may notice
are really things you do not understand. You will think of every¬
thing in the universe as fitting perfectly into that machine. You
will think that immutable laws govern the formation of every
new part of that machine to ensure that it fits the machine's re¬
quirements. And, although with delightful inconsistency—as
Pope made his Essay on Man the basis of his satires6—you will
judge the success of any individual thing according to its ability
to fit into the workings of the machine, your inconsistency will
be concealed, for a time, by the influence of either original sin,
if you are an orthodox Christian, or the corruptions of civilization,
if you are a deist or a sentimentalist—not that there is much dif¬
ference. Your values will be perfection, changelessness, uniform¬
ity, rationalism.
Now this mighty, static metaphysic, which had governed
perilously the thoughts of men since the time of Plato, collapsed
of its own internal inconsistencies in the late eighteenth century
—or collapsed for some people. For most people it still remains
6 See n. 12, below.

10
THEORY

the unrealized base for most of their values—intellectual, moral,
social, aesthetic, and religious. But to the finer minds of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was no longer tenable.
There are a number of reasons why this should have been so.
The principal cause was that all its implications had been worked
out; they stood forth in all their naked inconsistency. It became
impossible to accept a theodicy based upon it. More and more,
thinkers began searching for a new system of explaining the
nature of reality and the duties of men.
I shall omit the development of the new idea. The grand out¬
lines have been magnificently sketched by Lovejoy, and the de¬
tails are steadily being filled in. Rather, I shall present the new
idea in its most radical form. Let us begin with the new metaphor.
The new metaphor is not a machine; it is an organism. It is a tree,
for example; and a tree is a good example, for a study of nine¬
teenth-century literature reveals the continual recurrence of that
image. Hence the new thought is organicism. Now the first quality
of an organism is that it is not something made, it is something
being made or growing. We have a philosophy of becoming, not
a philosophy of being. Furthermore, the relation of its com¬
ponent parts is not that of the parts of a machine which have
been made separately, i.e., separate entities in the mind of the
deity, but the relation of leaves to stem to trunk to root to earth.
Entities are an organic part of that which produced them. The
existence of each part is made possible only by the existence of
every other part. Relationships, not entities, are the object of
contemplation and study.
Moreover, an organism has the quality of life. It does not de¬
velop additively; it grows organically. The universe is alive. It
is not something made, a perfect machine; it grows. Therefore
change becomes a positive value, not a negative value; change is
not man's punishment, it is his opportunity. Anything that con¬
tinues to grow, or change qualitatively, is not perfect, can, per¬
haps, never be perfect. Perfection ceases to be a positive value.
Imperfection becomes a positive value. Since the universe is
changing and growing, there is consequently a positive and rad¬
ical intrusion of novelty into the world. That is, with the in¬
trusion of each novelty, the fundamental character of the uni-

TOWARD

11

A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

verse itself changes. We have a universe of emergents. If all these
things be true, it therefore follows that there are no pre-existent
patterns. Every work of art, for instance, creates a new pattern;
each one has its own aesthetic law. It may have resemblances
even in principle to previous works of art, but fundamentally it
is unique. Hence come two derivative ideas. First, diversitarianism, not uniformitarianism, becomes the principle of both cre¬
ation and criticism. The Romantics, for example, have been
accused of confusing the genres of poetry. Why shouldn't they?
The whole metaphysical foundation of the genres had been
abandoned, or for some authors had simply disappeared. The
second derivative is the idea of creative originality. True, the
idea of originality had existed before, but in a different sense.
Now the artist is original because he is the instrument whereby
a genuine novelty, an emergent, is introduced into the world, not
because he has come with the aid of genius a little closer to pre¬
viously existent pattern, natural and divine.
In its radical form, dynamic organicism results in the idea that
the history of the universe is the history of God creating himself.
Evil is at last accounted for, since the history of the universe—
God being imperfect to begin with—is the history of God,
whether transcendent or immanent, ridding himself, by the evo¬
lutionary process, of evil. Of course, from both the old and the
new philosophy, God could be omitted. Either can become a
materialism.
In a metaphysical nutshell, the older philosophy grounded it¬
self on the principle that nothing can come from nothing. The
newer philosophy grounded itself on the principle that something
can come from nothing, that an excess can come from a deficiency,
that nothing succeeds like excess.

II
I have presented these ideas in a radical form to make them as
clear as I can and to bring out in the strongest possible colors the
contrast between the old and new methods of thought. Now I
should like to apply them to Lovejoy and Wellek. Lovejoy stated
that the three new ideas of Romantic thought and art were or¬
ganicism, dynamism, and diversitarianism. He says that they are

12
THEORY

three separate and inconsistent ideas. I agree that they often ap¬
pear separately, but I am convinced that they are all related to
and derived from a basic or root metaphor, the organic metaphor
of the structure of the universe.7 Strictly speaking, organicism
includes dynamism, for an organism must grow or change qual¬
itatively, but I prefer to use the term "dynamic organicism" in
order to emphasize the importance of imperfection and change.
Diversitarianism, of course, is in these terms a positive value; for
the diversity of things and their uniqueness are proof of the con¬
stant intrusion of novelty in the past, the present, and the future.
Turning to Wellek and his three criteria, I have already in¬
cluded one, organicism; the other two are imagination and sym¬
bolism. Wellek means the creative imagination, and a little
thought will show that the idea of the creative imagination is
derived from dynamic organicism. If the universe is constantly in
the process of creating itself, the mind of man, his imaginative
power, is radically creative. The artist is that man with the power
of bringing new artistic concepts into reality, just as the philos¬
opher brings new ideas into reality. And the greatest man is the
philosopher-poet, who, supremely gifted, simultaneously does
both. Furthermore, the artist is the man who creates a symbol of
truth. He can think metaphorically, and if the world is an organic
structure only a statement with the organic complexity of the
work of art can create an adequate symbol of it. And is this not
the method of symbolism? In allegory, a symbolic unit preserves
its meaning when taken from its context. The Cave of Error is
the Cave of Error. There is a direct one-to-one relationship be¬
tween any unit in the world of phenomena and any unit in the
world of ideas. But in symbolism, a symbolic unit has power only
because of its relationships to everything else in the work of
art. Ahab has symbolical value because of the whale, and the
whale because of Ahab. In symbolism the interrelationships of
the symbolic units involved are equated with the interrelation7 I am alarmed at finding myself in disagreement with Lovejoy. Although
I think his three ideas are not heterogeneous, but homogeneous or at least
derived from a common root metaphor, the possibility that they really are
heterogeneous does not deprive them in the least of their value in under¬
standing Romanticism, nor does their possible heterogeneity have any effect
on my proposal which follows.

TOWARD 13
A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM
ships of a group of concepts. Let a series of 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., stand
for a series of ideas in the mind, and a similar series of a, b, c, d,
etc., stand for a series of things in the real world or in the world
of the concretizing imagination. Now in allegory, if "a" is a sym¬
bolic unit, it stands for "1," "b" for "2," and so on. Thus the
Dragon in the Faerie Queene, Canto i of Book I, stands for Error,
whether the Red Cross Knight is there or not, and the Knight, on
one level of interpretation, stands for Holiness, whether the
Dragon is there or not. But in symbolism, "a" or “b” or "c" has
no direct relation to "l" or "2" or “3". Rather, the interrelation¬
ships among the first three have symbolic reference to the inter¬
relationships among the second group of three. Moby-Dick has
symbolic power only because Ahab is hunting him; in fact, he
has symbolic power only because almost everything else in the
book has symbolic power as well.
The now current though probably not widely accepted critical
principle that a symbolic system is capable of an indefinite num¬
ber of equally valid interpretations is itself a Romantic idea, in
the sense that the work of art has no fixed or static meaning but
changes with the observer in a relationship between the two
which is both dialectical, or dynamic, and organic.
Thus we may conclude that Wellek's three criteria—organicism, imagination, and symbolism—are all derivable from the
basic metaphor or concept of dynamic organicism.
There is yet another profoundly important idea which I have
not so far mentioned, the idea of the unconscious mind, which
appears in Wordsworth, in Coleridge, in Carlyle, and indeed all
through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In 1830, in his
magnificent essay "Characteristics," Carlyle says that the two
big ideas of the century are dynamism and the unconscious mind.
The idea of the unconscious mind goes back to Hartley, to Kant,
to Leibniz, and is implicit in Locke. Indeed, it goes back to
any poet who seriously talks about a muse. But it appears in full
force only with the appearance of dynamic organicism. Best
known to the English Romantics in the mechanistic associationism of Hartley, it became a central part of their thought when
they made the mind radically creative. Heretofore the divine had
communicated with man either directly through revelation or

14
THEORY

indirectly through the evidence of his perfect universe. But with
God creating himself, with an imperfect but growing universe,
with the constant intrusion of novelty into the world, how can
there be any apprehension of truth? If reason is inadequate—
because it is fixed and because historically it has failed—the
truth can only be apprehended intuitively, imaginatively, spon¬
taneously, with the whole personality, from the deep sources of
the fountains that are within. The unconscious is really a pos¬
tulate to the creative imagination, and as such continues today
without the divine sanction as part of present-day critical theory.
It is that part of the mind through which novelty enters into the
personality and hence into the world in the form of art and ideas.
We today conceive of the unconscious spatially as inside and
beneath; the earlier Romantics conceived of it as outside and
above. We descend into the imagination; they rose into it. The
last method, of course, is the method of Transcendentalism.
Furthermore, as I shall shortly show, not only was the un¬
conscious taken over from Locke and Kant and Hartley and con¬
verted into something radically creative, it also became an
integral part of dynamic organicism because a number of the
early Romantics proved it, as it were, empirically, by their own
personal experience. It became to them proof of the validity of
the new way of thinking. Hence also Romantic subjectivism, the
artist watching his powers develop and novelty emerging from
his unconscious mind.
I What then is Romanticism? Whether philosophic, theologic, or
aesthetic, it is the revolution in the European mind against think¬
ing in terms of static mechanism and the redirection of the mind
to thinking in terms of dynamic organicism. Its values are change,
imperfection, growth, diversity, the creative imagination, the
unconscious, j

III
Perhaps the result of my remarks so far is to make a much
larger group of determined skeptics on the subject of Roman¬
ticism. The proof of the Martini is in the drinking, and in the
rest of what I have to say I hope to show not only that a group of
literary works can be related in terms of the ideas I have given

TOWARD 25
A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

but also that particular literary works can be genuinely illumi¬
nated by these ideas, can be given richer content, can be more
readily understood. And in addition I wish also to advance one
more concept, the only one indeed to which I lay any claim of
originality, for what I have already said is only an attempt to
reconcile various ideas about Romanticism which seemed to be
fairly close together and to develop them into some consistent
whole, on the basis of Lovejoy's statement that the coming of
Romanticism marked a great turn in the direction of European
thought. For instance, Barzun's "desire and expectation of
change" is an important part of my proposal; Stallknecht's "senti¬
ment of being," i.e., of a living universe, is right at the heart of
it; Harrold/s ideas of growth are equally central.8 Nevertheless,
the theory is still incomplete.
Dynamic organicism, manifested in literature in its fully de¬
veloped form, with all its main derivative ideas, I have called
"Radical Romanticism." To this term I should now like to add
"Positive Romanticism," as a term useful in describing men and
ideas and works of art in which dynamic organicism appears,
whether it be incomplete or fully developed. But by itself "Pos¬
itive Romanticism" for the purposes of understanding the Ro¬
mantic movement is not only frequently useless; it is often worse
than useless. It is often harmful. If some of my readers have been
muttering, "What about Byron?" they are quite right in doing so.
Positive Romanticism cannot explain Byron; Positive Romanti¬
cism is not enough. To it must be added the term "Negative Ro¬
manticism," and to that I now turn.9
8 An extremely interesting parallel, although later in time than the period
I am immediately concerned with, is Wiener's demonstration that American
pragmatism came out of the union of Mill's diversitarian and dynamic
dialectic with Darwin's theory of evolution. See Philip P. Wiener, Evolution
and the Founders of Pragmatism (Cambridge, Mass., 1949).
9 Wellek, for instance, says that Byron "does not share the romantic con¬
ception of imagination," or does so "only fitfully." He quotes Childe Harold,
Canto III, written and published in 1816, when Byron was temporarily
under Wordsworth's influence through Shelley. Byron's Romantic view of
nature as an organism with which man is unified organically by the imag¬
ination is equally fitful and limited to the period of Shelleyan influence.
Wellek's suggestion that Byron is a symbolist, depending as it does on
Wilson Knight's The Burning Oracle, is not very convincing. Knight strikes
me as a weak reed to lean upon, and Wellek himself calls Knight "ex-

16
THEORY

It may at first seem that I am here denying my basic aim of
reducing the multiplicity of theories of Romanticism to a single
theory, but this is not really so. Negative Romanticism is a neces¬
sary complement to Positive Romanticism, not a parallel or al¬
ternative to it, with which it must be reconciled. Briefly, Negative
Romanticism is the expression of the attitudes, the feelings, and
the ideas of a man who has left static mechanism but has not yet
arrived at a reintegration of his thought and art in terms of
dynamic organicism. I am here, of course, using a method of
analysis which is now so common that one inhales it with the
dust of our libraries, the method of analyzing the works of a man
in terms of his personal development. Before we study any artist,
we begin by establishing his canon and chronology. We begin,
that is, by assuming that there is a development in his art. I hope
I am not being merely tedious in pointing out that this method is
in itself a particular application of one of the main ideas derived
from dynamic organicism, or Positive Romanticism—the idea of
evolution in the nineteenth-century sense. But to show what I
mean by Negative Romanticism, therefore, and how it fits in
with positive Romanticism, and to show how the theory works in
practice, I shall discuss very briefly three works from the earlier
years of the Romantic movement: "The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner," The Prelude, and Sartor Resartus.10
Briefly, all three works are about spiritual death and rebirth,
or secular conversion. In its baldest form, such an experience
amounts to this: A man moves from a trust in the universe to a
travagant," certainly an understatement. In short, I think Wellek's three
categories of Romanticism are useless, or only very rarely useful, when
they are applied to Byron. So are Lovejoy's three Romantic ideas, for the
same reasons, of course. (See Wellek's second article, CL, I, 165 and 168.)
To be sure, Byron uses symbols; but he uses them compulsively, as everyone
else does, not as a conscious principle of literary organization and creation.
10 In what follows I shall offer an interpretation of "The Ancient Mariner"
which I worked out some years ago, but which is substantially that de¬
veloped from different points of view by Stallknecht, Maud Bodkin, and
various other critics. I shall also suggest that all three works are about the
same subjective experience. Stallknecht, so far as I know, is the only com¬
mentator who has pointed out—in his Strange Seas of Thought—that The
Prelude and "The Ancient Mariner" are about the same thing; and so far as
I know, no one has suggested that Sartor Resartus is concerned with the
same subject.

TOWARD

27

A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

period of doubt and despair of any meaning in the universe, and
then to a reaffirmation of faith in cosmic meaning and goodness,
or at least meaning. The transition from the first stage to the sec¬
ond we may call spiritual death; that from the second to the
third we may call spiritual rebirth.
Let us first consider The Prelude. The subtitle, not Words¬
worth's, is The Growth of a Poet's Mind. After Wordsworth had
started The Recluse, he found that in order to explain his ideas he
must first explain how he came to have them. This decision is in
itself a sign of Positive Romanticism. If you think in static terms,
you will, as Pope did in The Essay on Man, present the result of
a process of thought and experience. But if you find that you can¬
not explain your ideas except in terms of the process of how you
have arrived at them, your mind is working in a different way,
according to the principles of development and growth. The
central experience which Wordsworth describes is spiritual death
and rebirth. He began by having a complete faith in the principles
of the French Revolution as the deistic philosophes and consti¬
tutionalists explained it. Their basic political principle was that
we have only to restore to man his originally pure but now cor¬
rupt political organization and social contract, and a perfect so¬
ciety will necessarily result. Wordsworth accepted this as he also
accepted the sentimentality, most notably and fully expressed by
Shaftesbury, which was the eighteenth-century emotional ex¬
pression of faith in the perfection and goodness of the universe,
a sentimentalism which became more strident and absurd as its
basic theodicy became increasingly less acceptable. Any man who
is defending an idea in which he is emotionally involved will be¬
come more emotional and passionate in its defense as his op¬
ponent shows with increasing clarity that the idea is untenable.
The French Revolution, to Wordsworth, failed. It made men
worse instead of better, and from the creation of political and
intellectual freedom it turned to tyranny, slaughter, and im¬
perialist expansion. He saw that he had been misled by his
emotions into too facile an acceptance. It was then that he rejected
sentimentalism and brought all values before the bar of reason,
so that reason might sit in judgment. But reason also was not
enough. The boasted reason of the Enlightenment could neither

18
THEORY

explain the failure of the French Revolution nor provide a means
of acceptance. Then occurred his spiritual death. He had invested
heavily in emotion and in reason. Each had betrayed him. He was
spiritually bankrupt. Where was a means of acceptance? Moving
to Racedown, rejoining Dorothy, coming to know Coleridge, and
going to live near him at Nether Stowey, he reorganized all his
ideas, with Coleridge's and Dorothy's intellectual and emotional
help, and reaffirmed in new terms his faith in the goodness and
significance of the universe. He stood, he said, "in Nature's pres¬
ence a sensitive being, a creative soul"; that is, his creative power
was a "power like one of Nature's." Nature and the creative soul
maintain, he believed, an ennobling and enkindling interchange
of action. The voice of nature is a living voice. And there are
moods when that living voice can be heard, when "We see into
the life of things," when we feel "a sense sublime / Of some¬
thing far more deeply interfused;. . . / A motion and a spirit, that
impels / All thinking things, all objects of all thought, / And
rolls through all things."
The universe is alive, not dead; living and growing, not a per¬
fect machine; it speaks to us directly through the creative mind
and its senses. Its truth cannot be perceived from the "evidences
of nature," but only through the unconscious and creative mind.
And this is the point of the famous description of the ascent of
Mt. Snowdon, in the last book of The Prelude. Climbing through
the mist, Wordsworth comes to the top of the mountain. Around
and below him is a sea of clouds, with the moon shining over
all, clear, beautiful, and bright. But through a gap in the clouds
comes the roar of the waters in the valleys around the mountains.
Thus in the moon he beholds the emblem of a mind "That feeds
upon infinity, that broods / Over the dark abyss, intent to
hear / Its voices issuing forth to silent light / In one continuous
stream." This is his symbol of the unconscious mind, both of
man and of the universe, ultimately identical, both striving to
become as well as to be. He has by a profound experience proved
to himself the existence and the trustworthiness and the power of
the unconscious mind, of the life of the universe, of the continu¬
ous creative activity of the cosmos.
Let me add that he also, unfortunately I think, retained with-

TOWARD 19
A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

in his new attitudes a nostalgia for permanence, an ideal of eternal
perfection. Thus early do we have the compromise called Vic¬
torian. And this inconsistency was to prove his eventual undoing,
to cause his loss of creative power, comparatively speaking, and
to effect his return to a kind of revised Toryism, to a concept of
an organic society without dynamic power. But that is another
story, and I cannot go into it here.
Leaving chronological order aside, I turn now to Sartor
Resartus. The central chapters of Carlyle's work are "The Ever¬
lasting No," "The Centre of Indifference," and "The Everlasting
Yea." They obviously present a pattern of spiritual death and
rebirth. Carlyle, speaking of himself under the guise of Professor
Teufelsdrockh, tells us how he lost his religious belief. "The
loss of his religious faith was the loss of everything." "It is all a
grim Desert, this once-fair world of his." "Invisible yet im¬
penetrable walls divided me from all living; was there in the wide
world, any true bosom I could press trustfully to mine? No, there
was none. ... It was a strange isolation I then lived in. The uni¬
verse was all void of Life, of Purpose, of Volition, even of Hostil¬
ity; it was one huge dead immeasurable Steam-engine, rolling
on, in its dead indifference, to grind me limb from limb." "The
Universe had pealed its Everlasting No authoritatively through
all the recesses of his being." But in the moment of Baphometic
fire-baptism he stood up and cried out that he would not accept
that answer. This was not yet the moment of rebirth, but it was
the first step, the step of defiance and rebellion.
There follows the Centre of Indifference, of wandering grimly
across the face of Europe, of observing the absurdities and cruelty
and wickedness of mankind; he is a wanderer, a pilgrim without
any shrine to go to. And then one day, surrounded by a beautiful
landscape, in the midst of nature and the tenderness of the natural
piety of human beings, came a change. "The heavy dreams rolled
gradually away, and I awoke to a new Heaven and a new Earth.
. . . What is nature? Ha! Why do I not name thee god? Are not
thou the 'Living Garment of God'? The universe is not dead and
demoniacal, a charnel-house with spectres, but godlike and my
Father's." It is alive. Nature—as he tells us later in the book, in
the chapter called "Organic Filaments"—nature "is not com-

20
THEORY

pleted, but ever completing. . . . Mankind is a living movement,
in progress faster or slower." Here indeed is a Positive Roman¬
ticism so complete that it is almost a Radical Romanticism,
though Carlyle, like Wordsworth, retained an inconsistent static
principle in his thought. Like Wordsworth's, his nostalgia for a
static principle or static ground to the evolving universe was to
prove his undoing, but that again is another story.
In "The Ancient Mariner" Coleridge tells us of an experience
which is the same as that given by Wordsworth and Carlyle. The
mariner, on his journey around the world, or through life, violates
the faith of his fellow man by shooting the albatross, the one
thing alive in the world of ice and snow, always symbols of
spiritual coldness and death. His fellow mariners reject him,
marking him with the sign of his own guilt. From the world of
ice and snow they come to the world of fire and heat, again sym¬
bols of spiritual death, alienation, and suffering. The soul of the
mariner is won by Life-in-Death. He alone remains alive while
his fellow sailors, silently and with reproachful eyes, die around
him. As Carlyle put it, "it was a strange isolation I lived in then."
And Carlyle also uses the symbols of ice and fire to describe his
condition. Isolation, alienation, and guilt possess the soul of the
mariner. He is alone, in a burning and evil universe. "The very
deep did rot," and the slimy and evil water-snakes surround his
ship. And as he watches them in the moonlight he is suddenly
taken with their beauty, and "I blessed them unaware." From the
depths of the unconscious rose an impulse of affirmation, of love,
of acceptance. The albatross drops from his neck into the sea.
The symbol of guilt and alienation and despair vanishes. The
universe comes alive. It rains, and the rain is the water of life.
The wind blows; the breath of a living universe wafts the ship
across the ocean. The air is filled with voices and the sky is filled
with living light. The spirit of the land of ice and snow comes
to his aid. (As Carlyle put it, even in his most despairful moments
there was within him, unconsciously, a principle of faith and af¬
firmation.) Angels come into the bodies of the dead sailors and
work the ship. The whole universe comes to the mariner's aid,
and he completes his journey.
And thereafter, though he has been forgiven and reaccepted

TOWARD 21
A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

into man's life by the act of confession, there comes an impulse
to tell his story, the creative impulse of the poet rising power¬
fully from his unconscious mind. Poetry is conceived of as a
compulsive but creative act. In a sense Coleridge is more pro¬
found than either Wordsworth or Carlyle. He knows that, for a
Romantic, once alienated means always alienated. He cannot
join the wedding feast. Edwin Markham put it well:
He drew a circle that shut me out—
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout:
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
Though a man may create a synthesis that includes the ideas
of his fellow men, to those very men he will always be outside
the circle of accepted beliefs, even though he blesses all things
great and small.
At any rate we see here a highly radical Positive Romanticism.
It is the record of a process; it affirms the unconscious mind and
the creative imagination; it affirms the principle of the living uni¬
verse; it affirms diversitarianism; and it is a fully developed sym¬
bolism, an organic symbolism in which the shooting of the al¬
batross is without symbolic power unless it is thought of in terms
of the power and the interrelations of the various symbolic units.
These interpretations, to me at least, demonstrate the excel¬
lence of Lovejoy's three principles of Romanticism—organicism,
dynamism, and diversitarianism—to get us inside various works
of Romantic art and to show us the relationships that tie them
together into a single literary movement. And again to me, they
show that these ideas are not heterogeneous, independent ideas,
but closely associated ideas, all related to a central concept or
world metaphor.
And now to define Negative Romanticism. I have, of course,
taken the term from Carlyle's Everlasting No. As various in¬
dividuals, according to their natures, and their emotional and
intellectual depths, went through the transition from affirming
the meaning of the cosmos in terms of static mechanism to af¬
firming it in terms of dynamic organicism, they went through a

22
THEORY

period of doubt, of despair, of religious and social isolation, of
the separation of reason and creative power. It was a period dur¬
ing which they saw neither beauty nor goodness in the universe,
rioFany significance, nor any rationality, nor indeed any pfder
at all, not even an evil order. This is Negative Romanticism, the
preliminary to Positive Romanticism, the period of Sturm und
Drang. As the nineteenth century rolled on, the transition became
much easier, for the new ideas were much more widely available.
But for the early Romantics the new ideas had to be learned
through personal and painful experience. The typical symbols of
Negative Romanticism are individuals who are filled with guilt,
despair, and cosmic and social alienation. They are often pre¬
sented, for instance, as having committed some horrible and un¬
mentionable and unmentioned crime in the past. They are often
outcasts from men and God, and they are almost always wander¬
ers over the face of the earth. They are Harolds, they are Man¬
freds, they are Cains. They are heroes of such poems as Alastor.
But when they begin to get a little more insight into their position,
as they are forced to develop historical consciousness, as they
begin to seek the sources for their negation and guilt and alien¬
ation, they become Don Juans. That is, in Don Juan Byron sought
objectivity by means of satire, and set out to trace in his poem
the development of those attitudes that had resulted in himself.
As I said earlier. Positive Romanticism cannot explain Byron, but
Negative Romanticism can. Byron spent his life in the situation
of Wordsworth after the rejection of Godwin and before his move
to Racedown and Nether Stowey, of the Mariner alone on the
wide, wide sea, of Teufelsdrockh subject to the Everlasting No
and wandering through the Centre of Indifference.
It is the lack of this concept that involves Wellek's second
article and much of Barzun's book, for all their admirable in¬
sights, in certain difficulties, in such a foredoomed attempt to
find in figures who express Negative Romanticism and figures
who express Positive Romanticism a common and unifying ele¬
ment.11 Theirs is the same difficulty as that with which Auden
gets involved in The Enchafed Flood. It is true that both Positive
11 See, for example, n. 9, above.

TOWARD 23
A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

and Negative Romanticism often cause isolation of the per¬
sonality, but, as Coleridge of these three men alone realized.
Negative Romanticism causes isolation and despair because it
offers no cosmic explanations, while Positive Romanticism offers
cosmic explanations which are not shared by the society of which
one is a part. To Arnold, "Not a having and a resting, but a grow¬
ing and a becoming, is the character of perfection as culture con¬
ceives it." His ideas isolated him from Barbarians, Philistines,
and Populace; they were impressed but they did not follow; for
they could not comprehend, so far were his fundamental attitudes
separated from theirs. Picasso has in his painting expressed pro¬
foundly the results of the freedom that Romanticism has given
to the creative imagination, but he is detested by most people
who have seen his Cubist or post-Cubist paintings—as well as by
a great many who have not. He is at home in the universe, but
not in his society.12
12 This is perhaps the place to insert a word about pre-Romanticism, a
term which I would wholly abandon. Apparently it arose in the first place
from a naive application of Darwinian evolution to literary history. If the
great Romantics liked nature, any eighteenth-century enjoyment or praise
of nature became pre-Romanticism, in spite of the Horatian tradition of
neoclassicism. If the Romanticists liked emotion, any praise of emotion in
the eighteenth century was pre-Romantic, as if any age, including "The
Age of Reason," could be without emotional expression. In their youth
Wordsworth and Coleridge were sentimentalists; therefore sentimentalism
is Romantic. And so on. James R. Foster, in his recent History of the PreRomantic Novel in England (New York, 1949), has shown that sensibility
was the emotional expression of Deism, just as Lovejoy has demonstrated in
various books and articles that deism and neoclassicism were parallel. If
it seems odd that sentimentalism, "cosmic Toryism," and Deism are all ex¬
pressions of the same basic attitudes, it must be remembered that the eigh¬
teenth century was the period when the mechanistic and static theodicy
broke down from its own inconsistencies. Romanticism did not destroy its
predecessor. It came into existence to fill a void. As an example of the
difficulties eighteenth-century figures experienced in trying to hold their
world together, consider the problem of understanding how Pope's Essay on
Man could possibly be the foundation for his satires. Yet he was working
on both at the same time and apparently thought the Essay gave him ex¬
actly the foundation and justification for satire that he needed. But if
whatever is is right, why is it wrong that there should be such people and
such behavior as Pope satirizes in the Moral Essays, the imitated and origi¬
nal satires, and The Dunciad? It is the old problem of accounting for evil
in a world created by a perfect, omnipotent, and benevolent deity. I would
recommend the total abandonment of the term "pre-Romantic," and the

24
THEORY

/V
My proposal is now complete. This theory does, I firmly be¬
lieve, what such a theory must do. It gets us inside of various
works of art, and it shows the relevance of one work of art to
another. Consider Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. It builds to a
triumphant close. Unlike the symphonies of Haydn and most of
those of Mozart, its last movement, not its first or second, is the
most important and the most fully developed, for it is an affirma¬
tion which is the result of a tremendous struggle. Between the
third and fourth movements is a bridge passage which repeats
the rhythm and the harmonies of the opening theme, and the
whole work is developed from germinal themes, ideas from which
are derived the themes of subsequent movements. It is a sym¬
phony developmental and organic in construction. It is the record
of a process, of an experience. It is a symbol of the cosmos con¬
ceived of as dynamic organism.
The same insights can be extended to painting, to impression¬
ism, for example, with its evocation and record of a particular
moment; or to modern architecture, especially to the work of
Wright, with his lifelong search for an "organic architecture" of
substitution for it of some term such as "neo-classic disintegration." For
instance, to refer to Wellek once more, on the first page of his second article
he has this to say: "There was the 'Storm and Stress' movement in the
seventies which exactly parallels what today is elsewhere called 'pre¬
romanticism.'" In a widely used anthology. The Literature of England, by
G. B. Woods, H. A. Watt, and G. K. Anderson, first published in 1936, the
section called "The Approach to Romanticism" includes Thomson, Gray,
Collins, Cowper, Burns, and Blake; and in Ernest Bernbaum's Guide through
the Romantic Movement, another widely known and used work (I refer to
the first edition, published in 1930), the "Pre-Romantic Movement" in¬
cludes the following, among others: Shaftesbury, Winchilsea, Dyer, Thom¬
son, Richardson, Young, Blair, Akenside, Collins, the Wartons, Hartley,
Gray, Goldsmith, MacKenzie, Burns, Darwin, Blake, Godwin, and Radcliffe.
Some of these are "Storm and Stress"; others are quite plainly not. To lump
all of them together, as a great many teachers and writers do, is to obliterate
many highly important distinctions. To my mind, for some individuals neoclassicism disintegrated; thereupon what I call "Negative Romanticism," of
which "Storm and Stress" is a very important expression, for some individ¬
uals ensued. Then some individuals, initially a very few, moved into the
attitudes which I call "Positive Romanticism." As it is now used, "preRomanticism" confuses the first two of these three stages, just as "Roman¬
ticism" as it is now generally used confuses the second two and often all
three.

TOWARD

25

A THEORY OF ROMANTICISM

houses that are part of their sites, with living rooms and gardens
which interpenetrate. But I cannot here offer a full history of the
development of modern culture. Rather, I wish to make one final
suggestion, to issue a warning to anyone who may be taken with
these ideas enough to try to employ them.
Although Negative and then Positive Romanticism developed
by reaction out of the static-mechanistic-uniformitarian complex,
with its cosmic Toryism, its sentimentalism, and its Deism, they
were also superimposed upon it. At any point in nineteenth- or
twentieth-century culture it is possible to take a cross section and
find all three actively at work. The past 150 years or so must be
conceived as a dramatic struggle, sometimes directly between
Positive Romanticism and static, mechanistic thought, sometimes
three-cornered. It is a struggle between minds and within minds.
It is seen today in the profound disparity between what is some¬
times called high art and popular art; it is expressed in the typical
modern cultural phenomena of the avant-garde, which is as mod¬
ern as Wordsworth and Coleridge. It appeared in the struggle
over the “packing" of the Supreme Court and in the wearisome
but still vital quarrels about progressive education. It appears
in the antagonism between our relativistic critics and our absolutistic critics. It appears in the theological struggle between the
theology of such a man as Charles Raven13 and the proponents of
the "theology of crisis." A very pure Positive Romanticism is at
the heart of Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture-, her ideal of a
good society is organic, dynamic, and diversitarian. In short, the
history of ideas and the arts in the nineteenth and twentieth cen¬
turies is the history of the dramatic struggle among three oppos¬
ing forces: static mechanism. Negative Romanticism, and Positive
Romanticism. In this drama, to me the hero is dynamic and di¬
versitarian organicism, and I think Goethe and Beethoven and
Coleridge and the other founders of the still vital Romantic tra¬
dition—a tradition often repudiated by those who are at the very
heart of it, and understandably—have still much to say to us, are
not mere intellectual and aesthetic curiosities. Nevertheless, I
am aware that to many scholars and thinkers. Positive Roman13 Raven is both biologist and theologian. See his Science, Religion, and
the Future (Cambridge, England, and N. Y., 1943).

26
THEORY

ticism is the villain, responsible for all the ills of our century. The
drama may indeed turn out to be a tragedy, but if it does, it is
because static mechanism persists in staying alive.14
Of course, the fact that my attitude towards the continuing and
future usefulness of Positive Romanticism may not after all be
justified is not essential to my argument, or even germane to it. I
ask only that my readers take under serious consideration, and
test in their studies, in their reading, and in their classrooms the
theories about Romanticism which I have outlined. I trust that
many of them will find these ideas useful, even though they with¬
hold final assent.
14 The Romantic metaphysic does not necessarily involve optimism. That
is, although the world is growing in a better direction, the sum of evil may
still outweigh the sum of good. Nor does it necessarily involve progressivism. That is, the development from the simple to the complex may mean
development toward the better, or it may mean development toward the
worse, or it may simply mean development without either improvement or
degeneration. However, in the early part of the nineteenth century and gen¬
erally since then, it usually implies both optimism and progressivism. There
have been exceptions, however, of whom Eduard von Hartmann is one of the
most thoroughgoing, both in his pessimism and in his Positive Romanticism.
It must be noted that he has a technique of acceptance in the sense that he
discerns cosmic order and meaning, though he doesn't like it.

2
TOWARD A THEORY OF
ROMANTICISM: II. RECONSIDERATIONS

[I960*]

I

n March, 1951,1 published in PMLA "Toward a Theory of Ro¬
manticism."1 I am glad that I called it "Toward a Theory." To
summarize. Romanticism is a sharp break with the rationalizing
and sentimentalizing Enlightenment, expressed in a number of
works dramatizing spiritual death and rebirth. I distinguished be¬
tween Negative Romanticism—a stage in which the individual
was isolated by the loss of a meaningful relation to the universe
provided by a metaphysic of static mechanism of the Enlighten¬
ment and was thus alienated from his society—and Positive
Romanticism—a stage in which the individual was once more
related to the universe by acquiring a metaphysic of dynamic
organicism, but was still alienated from his society, which con* Delivered at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association,
December, 1960. Reprinted by permission from Studies in Romanticism, I
(Autumn, 1961), pp. 1-8. Copyright 1962 by the Trustees of Boston Uni¬
versity.
1 LXVI, 3-23; see pp. 3-26 of this volume.
27

28
THEORY

tinued to live on Enlightenment and pre-Enlightenment prin¬
ciples. I explained Romantic symbolism in organic terms. I
rejected the concept of pre-Romanticism. I asserted that the
cultural development of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
is properly to be regarded as a development of Romanticism, the
specific values of which I classified as "change, imperfection,
growth, diversity, the creative imagination, the unconscious."
Several years later, when I had arrived at the point of thinking
the whole thing purest nonsense, I set out to reconstruct the
theory. I felt that much was sound and worth salvaging, and to
an exposition of my current notions on this maddening subject
I shall now turn, only begging the reader to prefix mentally to
each sentence, "At the moment I find it useful to employ the
following proposition in thinking about Romanticism."
If order is perceived as structured into the empirical world—
natural and social—value (i.e., what is variously referred to as
"meaning" or "purpose") and identity are also thus seen. Con¬
sequently, the perception of order is felt to be interchangeable
with the perception of value, and the perception of both is ac¬
companied by the emergence of identity, perceived in terms of
a socially structured role. Nevertheless, because of the disparity
between an orientation and the data it is called upon to organize,
the individual, if he is to adapt successfully to his environment,
must perceive a disparity between the order affirmed by orienta¬
tion and his actual experience of randomness. In the Western
tradition there have been two primary pseudo-explanations for
this disparity. The first is the myth of paradise and the Fall. That
it is an emotionally and pragmatically satisfactory resolution is
evidenced by its continuing vitality. An environment such that
the orientation corresponds exactly with the experienced world
would be paradise, a place of pure order, pure value, and neverthreatened identity, that is, salvation. From this point of view
the reason for the Fall is of no importance. The possibilities for
explaining it are infinite. The important element is the contrast
between the prelapsarian state and the postlapsarian, between
perfect orientation and the world as we experience it. The Platonic

TOWARD A THEORY OF 29
ROMANTICISM: II. RECONSIDERATIONS

solution, at least after the Neo-Platonists had their way with it,
exhibits the same pattern, nonhistorically. A real world of pure
order and value is set against the experienced, shadowy, imitated
world, of disorder and little or no value. Thus the myth of the
Fall and the Neoplatonic epistemological myth can be perfectly
synthesized by containing time in eternity. The Middle Ages
were founded on a world hypothesis according to which the
world of space and time is disordered and of only partial and
occasional value, in which even perceived order can be used as a
temptation by Satan, the spirit that denies value; the moral task
is to maintain as much order and value as possible until death, or
the last judgment, when the individual would either re-enter
paradise, a world of total order, value, and salvation, or identity,
or be forever plunged into its opposite. Since such a scheme em¬
braced orientation and perception, order and disorder, good and
evil, in an all-embracing orientation, it exhibited remarkable
stability, and continues to do so.
However, the Renaissance brought out a different attitude; in
the older scheme the source of the order was revelation and the
means of its transmission was the Church, through its redemptive
power. The progressive organization and accumulation of knowl¬
edge in medieval science and philosophy led to a situation in
which some individuals began to believe that it was possible to
arrive at the vision of order outside of the Church, and even out¬
side of religion. The human mind, it was decided by a few, could
achieve the truth of revelation without the instrumentality of
ecclesiastical transmission and sanction. A revival of NeoPlatonism was the consequence, or rather the separation of
Neo-Platonism from its Judeo-Christian twin. Recent investiga¬
tions have shown the Neo-Platonic background of both Galileo
and Newton; and Descartes's decision to think through the world,
since order was thought of as discovered and not ascribed, and
value and identity as given, led, with the aid of Galileo and New¬
ton, to a wholly new orientation. The sensational results have
been admirably described and the roots investigated in the re¬
markable contributions to the history of science made in the past
ten years, and for the literary scholar in Marjorie Nicolson's

30
THEORY

Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the
Aesthetics of the Infinite2 and particularly in Ernest Tuveson's
The Imagination as a Means of Grace: Locke and the Aesthetics
of Romanticism.3 The new orientation was that this is not a fallen
world, nor a shadowy world, but that order and value are struc¬
tured into the perceived world, and that identity is given with
the existence of each biological human entity. Society is a natural
emergent, not the result of divine fiat. The disparity between the
orientation and the experience lies in the fact of our ignorance—
a notion easily demonstrated—not in the fact that we are faced
with a corrupt world. Man is naturally part of that order; the
moral task is to restore his originally perfect adaptation by ex¬
ploiting his civilization and knowledge. Since the natural order
grants perfect adaptation, what has been lost through ignorance
can be regained through knowledge. Or—and here was the rub
—since man is the product of nature, he is not in fact maladapted
at the present time. His task is to adapt himself morally and
emotionally to the order in which we now find ourselves. In either
case observable order assures that value is structured into the
universe. However, in the long run neither perspective offers any
means to make moral discriminations. Down one can be seen
Soame Jenyns, down the other, Robespierre. Rigorously inter¬
preted, whatever moral decision you make, you cannot be wrong;
you can only be ignorant. If you wish to persuade people that
they are in a perfect world, you are quite justified in your choice
of means, since by definition the ends, which will be arrived at
by a natural process, have order and value structured in them;
and De Sade's frustration emerges: it is impossible to peform an
unnatural act. Recent studies in Enlightenment pessimism have
shown that as the eighteenth century wore on, more and more
Enlightenment figures became aware of the difficulty. An im¬
portant consequence for students of literature was the steady
development in intensity and quantity of sentimentalism. Its
original source was the necessity to discharge the tension conse¬
quent upon the affirmation that the world is radiant with order
and value which any mind free from superstition, tyranny, and
2 (Ithaca, 1959).
3 (Berkeley, 1960).

TOWARD A THEORY OF

31

ROMANTICISM: II. RECONSIDERATIONS

priestcraft could arrive at for itself, and the inconsistent percep¬
tion that it is not. An aesthetic stimulus came to be valued for its
power to discharge that tension in tears and enthusiasm. Further,
the more the basic instability became apparent, the more necessity
there was to fall back upon an emotional affirmation of order,
value, and identity as qualities structured into the real world.
From this point of view Ossian was a typical late Enlightenment
phenomenon. The enthusiastic poet and the man of feeling domi¬
nated the scene. As Professor Tuveson has so well demonstrated.
Nature, through the exercise of the imagination, redeemed man.
If you wish, as many do, to use the term "Romanticism" to refer
to this Enlightenment and enthusiasm and sentimentalism and
natural redemption, I have no objection. One long tradition has
always called it Romanticism. But nothing could be more different
from what I am talking about when I use that word. When the
crash came, when a tiny minority of Enlightenment personalities,
themselves a cultural minority, saw through Enlightenment pre¬
tensions and saw that it is impossible to maintain them, and when
the Enlightenment was put to the test in the French Revolution
and its superficiality revealed, a major cultural break occurred.
The logical possibilities of identifying Nature with order and
value had been exhausted. If it is not true that order and value
once were in this world and no longer are, or that they are out¬
side the world, if it is not true that order and value are in the
world, where are they? They do not exist at all, cries in anguish
the Negative Romantic. But it is impossible for people at a high
level of culture and civilization to endure for long such total
disorientation. In such a situation was (and still is) any individual
who enters the Negative Romantic stage, unless he can turn back
to a pre-Enlightenment orientation or successfully repress his
doubts about the Enlightenment construct. If he can do neither,
he turns the world inside out.
Long ago George Herbert Mead said that Romanticism is
marked by the separation of the role from the self. With the col¬
lapse of the Enlightenment there also collapses the natural social
structure, and with it the possibility of playing a role. Hence the
social alienation which accompanies the cosmic isolation, or loss
of relatedness to the perceived world. The first step at reconstitut-

32
THEORY

ing value, then, is to strip bare the self, or, more accurately, to
invent the self, to conceptualize the sense of identity. To survive,
one asserts pure identity as the basic datum. As two recent studies
have pointed out, Schelling and Wordsworth attempted to assert
the self as real and the world as a symbol of value.4 Wordsworth
eventually regressed, for such a position is a compromise. To be
sure, there is all the difference between perceiving the world as
evidence of divine order and perceiving it as a symbol of divine
value, and finding order in the act of perception itself, but the
latter, or symbolic, perception is extremely unstable, since it
really asserts the existence of two sources of value and order, the
self and the world. Rather, the more stable solution is to perceive
the world as symbol of the self, and order and value as projected
upon the world by the self. I think Professor Tuveson is in error,
therefore, when he thinks of eighteenth-century Enlightenment
and enthusiastic “early Romanticism" as the predecessor of “high
Romanticism" (my Romanticism), which is its fulfillment. Rather,
my Romantics used the same words, but sang them to a different
tune. Imagination is a means of grace, to be sure, but Nature does
not redeem man. Rather, man, through the exercise of the imagi¬
nation, redeems Nature. Value enters the world through the self,
which is not supported by any perceptible social or cosmic order,
and the self projects upon the world an order which serves to
symbolize that self-generated value. To be sure, for a time, and
for some, the self was seen as the portal of the divine, a mytho¬
logical symbolization for the sense of value. This was the tran¬
scendental stage of Romanticism; but side by side, and eventually
superseding it, was a nonmetaphysical realization that the only
conceivable source of value was the necessity for the individual
self to create it in order to maintain itself. In short, the self does
not emerge through the perception of order and value in the
world; rather, order and value emerge from the perception of
the self. Nature is not the source of value, but the occasion for
projecting it.
Man therefore redeems the world; and since in the poet the
imagination is predominant, the poet is the primary source of
4 David Ferry, The Limits of Mortality (Middletown, Conn., 1960) and
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Wordsworth and Schelling (New Haven, 1960).

TOWARD A THEORY OF

33

ROMANTICISM: II. RECONSIDERATIONS

value—in traditional language, redemption. The Romantic poet
thus takes upon himself the role of Christ; he becomes Christ,
and he is himself his own redeemer and the model for the redemp¬
tion of mankind. Eventually this task of the artist is extended
to every human being. Further, if man is to redeem the world, it
is only this world which can be redeemed. After yielding up moral
questions in despair, because they are ultimately unsolvable by
the Enlightenment orientation, Wordsworth grasped both horns
of his dilemma. Nature is the source of both disturbance and
equilibrium, of disorientation and orientation. To see what a gulf
has here been crossed it is sufficient to call to mind that, to the
Enlightenment, Nature was the source of orientation only. Hence
the frequent marriages of heaven and hell in the Romantic tradi¬
tion. Kubla Khan's garden includes both. Here or nowhere we
find our home. Since it is this world which must be redeemed, the
first task of the Romantic is to face fully the horror, the brutality,
and the evil which before had been either thought away or dis¬
missed or regarded as either temporary or ultimately unreal. The
flower of value must be plucked not on the sunny mountaintop,
but in the very abyss. The worship of sorrow is divine. The world
must be redeemed, in its absurdity and ugliness, as well as in its
order and beauty. Hence Romanticism leads directly to the real¬
ism of Dickens and Balzac and so down to the present. It is the
Romantic's tradition that is really tough-minded. To him nothing
is so beautiful as fact, nor does anything offer such sweet bones
to gnaw on as the empirical world itself, the only world we can
know, for the self can only be symbolized, not known. And hence
the profoundest way to symbolize it is to recognize and assert its
existence in another; and this empathic assertion is the basis of
Romantic social morality.
From this fundamental percept of the self as the source of
order flows Romanticism's essentially antimetaphysical character.
With and without the aid of Kant, an orientation is now seen not
as a discovery but as a projection. Thus a metaphysical theory
is thought of as an instrument, not as a reality, not as something
in Nature, but as something imposed upon it. On the one hand
it is conceived as an instrument for symbolizing the self or value;
on the other it is thought of as an epistemological instrument.

34
THEORY

Further consequences flow from this. If an orientation is only
instrumentally, not constitutively, valid, it is useful only tem¬
porarily. But then value, identity, and order can be experienced
only temporarily, in moments of illumination, spots of time. Fur¬
ther, the Romantic knows from history, his own and man's, that
the great human temptation is to regard an orientation as final
and that succumbing leads to disaster, for Christianity and the
Enlightenment had ultimately collapsed. Consequently his moral
task is to break down an orientation once it has been fully real¬
ized. His only means is self-disorientation. Hence the judgment
often made that the Romantic values emotional disturbance for
its own sake. Not at all; he values it as a means to break down
an orientation which, as a human being, he is tempted to preserve
but, as a Romantic human being, he knows by definition is inade¬
quate. As Browning implied, the only failure is success. Hence
throughout the nineteenth century the use of drugs, alcohol, sex,
and Asiatic theologies as means of deliberately dislocating the
senses so that new worlds may emerge. Only with the break¬
through into modern art did the Romantic artist and thinker learn
how to break down an orientation without partially disintegrating
his personality.
From this perspective it is possible to develop a more adequate
explanation of the presence of dynamic organicism in the Ro¬
mantic tradition than the one I proposed several years ago. To
begin with, it is now apparent—and perhaps was then, though
not to me—that organicism is a product of the Enlightenment,
that the increasing dependence on the natural world was bound
to lead to conceiving the cosmos on the model of an organism
rather than of a machine, and did. Further, the values of diversity,
change, growth, and uniqueness, derived from organicism, are
mainly late Enlightenment values, though, to be sure, relatively
rare. From this point of view Herder, for example, appears as an
Enlightenment figure, not a Romantic one. The organic episode
in the development of Romanticism occurred partly because it
was in the culture and could be used to symbolize the subjective
experience of the Romantic personality, the emergence of the
self, partly because it was a novelty to many Romantics, who did
not realize its Enlightenment origins. Nevertheless, to the Ro-

TOWARD A THEORY OF

35

ROMANTICISM: II. RECONSIDERATIONS

mantic it is always an instrument, while to nineteenth-century
Enlightenment thinking it is constitutive. Although it was the
most important metaphysical episode in the history of Romanti¬
cism, it was abandoned, as all Romantic world hypotheses are
abandoned, for by definition they are inadequate; and this process
continues until Romanticism learns that it can do entirely with¬
out constitutive metaphysics and can use any metaphysic or
world hypothesis as a supreme fiction.
To conclude with a phrase from Wallace Stevens is, I think,
appropriate, for I still believe what I said years ago and what
is now, in fact, becoming almost a platitude, that modern art
is the triumph of Romanticism, that modern culture, in its vi¬
tal areas, is a Romantic culture, and that nothing has yet re¬
placed it. Since the logic of Romanticism is that contradictions
must be included in a single orientation, but without pseudo¬
reconciliations, Romanticism is a remarkably stable and fruitful
orientation. For the past 175 years the Romantic has been the
tough-minded man, determined to create value and project order
to make feasible the pure assertion of identity, determined to
assert identity in order to engage with reality simply because it is
there and because there is nothing else, and knowing eventually
that his orientations are adaptive instruments and that no orien¬
tation is or can be final. The Romantic artist does not escape from
reality; he escapes into it. We may expect that the present revival
of interest in nineteenth-century Romanticism among younger
scholars and artists will continue, for, as a consequence of the
current widespread breakdown of the Enlightenment tradition.
Romanticism is at last beginning to receive an adequate response.

3
THE DILEMMA OF A CENTURY:
THE FOUR STAGES OF ROMANTICISM

[1964*]

W

hen does the nineteenth century begin? It is much easier
to say than it used to be. The cultural leaders of the time
certainly knew when it had begun and what marked that begin¬
ning. It was only in the later nineteenth century and the first half
of the twentieth that the question became obscured by the quarrel
over the meaning of the term “Romanticism." That maddening
and confusing word still has a fearful variety of meanings, and
always will; but there is a growing agreement among cultural
historians to limit its historical sense to a period that began in the
late eighteenth century, when a small number of cultural leaders
throughout Europe almost simultaneously, but at first quite inde¬
pendently, began to feel that they had arrived at a way of viewing
the world which was profoundly different from any world view
that had ever appeared before. And they also felt that this new
* Reprinted by permission from Romanticism: The Culture of the Nine¬
teenth Century, ed. Morse Peckham, George Braziller, New York, 1965.
Copyright © 1965 by Morse Peckham.
36

THE DILEMMA OF A CENTURY:

37

THE FOUR STAGES OF ROMANTICISM

Weltanschauung (the Germans had to coin a new term to express
what they were experiencing) forced them to see everything—
philosophy, religion, the arts, history, politics, society—down an
entirely new perspective.
Men have always had world views, or metaphysics; it is im¬
possible to cross a crack in the sidewalk without a metaphysic.
But such metaphysics had been unconscious; that is, there had
been no language in which to discuss them. There were argu¬
ments about this or that view of the world as it affected some
aspect of human behavior; but these were arguments about
metaphysics as truths which described the character and struc¬
ture of the world. But the new way of thinking, the Romantic
way, looked at itself from right angles, saw itself creating a world
view because the very character of the mind's relation to the
world required it to have a metaphysic. At the same time, how¬
ever, there was a conviction, at first but faint though deeply
disturbing, that any world view told the mind nothing about the
world, but merely told it something about the mind. Any meta¬
physic was seen not as derived from the nature of the world but
rather as derived from the nature of the mind and projected onto
the world. A single step was taken, and all the world was changed.
All previous world views had assumed that the mind had access,
whether through revelation from God or from study of the world,
to the real nature and character, the true essence, of what was
not the mind; and this assumption was unconscious. Or, more
precisely, the assumptiveness of this assumption was not verbal¬
ized or, apparently, experienced. The new attitude was not a
simple assertion that we cannot know the world. Rather, it real¬
ized that we cannot know whether we know it or not. For all we
know, a metaphysic may be a reliable description of the world;
but there is no way to know that we know. For we are always
inside a metaphysical system; we can get outside of one system
only by gliding, whether we are aware of it or not, into another.
But the same position was arrived at in various ways, whether
it was put in philosophical terms or not. One of the best indica¬
tions of a profound cultural change is the emergence of new social
roles. From this point of view, the fact that Romanticism de¬
veloped a genuinely new social role is in itself almost sufficient

38

THEORY
evidence that the nineteenth century was experiencing a cultural
earthquake, a convulsion at the profoundest levels of being. By
itself, the new role, in all of its varieties, is enough to suggest
that no profounder change had occurred in human life since the
development of urbanism or ''civilization" in the fourth millen¬
nium b.c. The essence of the new role is that it was an anti-role
and that it was designed to symbolize the difference between
role and self. To play a role is to act according to the cultural
conventions of a particular category of situations. For men before
Romanticism, when one played a role there was, so to speak,
nothing of the personality left over. To be sure, there was "selfconsciousness," but it consisted merely of role rehearsal and
criticism of how well one had played or was playing the role. For
the vast majority of human beings in our cultural tradition, and
so far as I can tell, in all others, this is still the ongoing state of
affairs. But to the original tiny group of Romantics and to a
steadily growing portion of the population ever since, role-playing
did leave something over. So true was this that these men played
roles only for the sake of isolating what they called the self, the
sense of identity, the only subjectively perceived quality of ex¬
perience common to the playing of all roles. And this was pre¬
cisely analogous to the new attitude toward metaphysics. Roles
were seen not as modes of behavior derived from the natural
world, or dictated by a divine being, or inherent in man's relation
to his world, but as something that man imposes on the world,
something that serves only to carry out a given human intention,
something, therefore, with the character of a mask. Masks and
metaphysics—ultimately, they are identical. Man cannot live
without such masks, but the vital, the essential, quality of experi¬
ence came to be the realization of what the mask concealed. But
since that hidden element was inaccessible, it was necessary to
create an anti-role, a role that was different from all other roles
in that it could not be integrated into the social structure of inter¬
locking roles.
Today most people, even at the higher levels of culture, live
according to the metaphysics of the Enlightenment, which
reached its first climax of attempted realization in what a recent
historian has called the Age of Revolutions. The American and

THE DILEMMA OF A CENTURY: 39
THE FOUR STAGES OF ROMANTICISM

the French revolutions were simply the most conspicuous and
sensational examples of revolutionary attempts all over western
Europe. The Enlightenment can be reduced to one principle—the
adaptation of the organism to the environment is properly the
basis of all scientific and moral decisions; the aim was to make
every scientific decision a moral one, and every moral decision a
scientific one. Thus, it was thought, moral decisions can be
grounded upon the real structure of nature, and this of course
implied a metaphysic that asserted that the structure of the mind
was identical with the structure of nature. Because, however, of
man's ignorance and stupidity and his religious and political
tyranny, the structure of society was out of line. The revolu¬
tionary effort of the late eighteenth century was designed to
correct that fault, to line up mind, society, and nature into one
unitary system.
But at the same time there was a conservative Enlightenment,
best represented by Edmund Burke. He saw mind, society, and
nature as an organic system that had gradually developed, and
thus he saw the revolutionary effort as something that was bound
to damage and even destroy the exquisitely complex and delicate
interdependence of the three elements of reality. Reform, not
revolution, was the answer to the social difficulties of the times.
From the same metaphysic and with the same values of adaptational effort two diametrically opposed positions emerged; one
justified the slaughter of the rich and powerful; the other, the
suppression of the poor and weak. To a few men of the day
(Wordsworth, the English poet, for one), it became apparent that
some other force was at work in the mind. Not an unconscious
force—Burke's organicism included that—but some force, some
character of the human mind which called into doubt the fun¬
damental assumption of the Enlightenment: the isomorphism, or
structural identity, of mind and nature. No matter how cunningly
fitted together mind and nature might be, they were nevertheless
utterly different in their character. The structure of one was not
identical with the structure of the other. The mind could not
know nature. Society, then, was but an extension or instrument
of the mind, a means of adaptation. But that adaptation could not
be perfect, must always be, perhaps, very imperfect indeed. It

40

THEORY
was an adjustment of mind to nature, but it violated, for that
very reason, both. The role was a violation of the self.
What, then, was the self? How could it be defined? How could
it be talked about? What was the evidence for its existence? Since
the basic human desire was for structure, for order, or, to put it
in other terms, for meaning and the sense of value, the essence of
the self was precisely that desire. Meaning was not immanent in
nature, was not something that the mind found in the world; it
was something the mind imposed on the world. And for this
notion there was, in the experience of the pioneer Romantics, felt
evidence. For many of them the failure of the Enlightenment
metaphysic was revealed by the course of the French Revolution,
which shifted from Utopian liberation to tyrannous oppression,
without shifting its ground, without changing its metaphysic. Ul¬
timately there was no difference between the revolutionary and
the reactionary. This perception was like a new Fall of Man. The
world suddenly lost its value; life lost its meaning; the individual
no longer had a source for his sense of identity and a ground for
his desire for order and structure. Even before the French Rev¬
olution, a few individuals had had this experience. The nine¬
teenth century may almost be said to have begun with Goethe's
Sorrows of Young Werther.
Werther committed suicide, and his creator, Goethe, thought
he would lose his sanity. Rebirth, restoration, rediscovery of
value for these men came from within, came from, they felt, the
ultimate depths of the mind itself, from its very nature and
structure. At a stroke, mind was sundered from nature, subject
from object, the self from the role, which was seen at best as the
means of realizing the self and, at worst, as the instrument where¬
by nature violated the self. The Romantic experienced a sense of
profound isolation within the world and an equally terrifying
alienation from society. These two experiences, metaphysical
isolation and social alienation—they are of course two different
modes of the same perception—were the distinguishing signs of
the Romantic, and they are to this day. To symbolize that isola¬
tion and alienation, and simultaneously to assert the self as the
source of order, meaning, value, and identity, became one task
of the Romantic personality. To find a ground for value, identity.

THE DILEMMA OF A CENTURY: 41
THE FOUR STAGES OF ROMANTICISM

meaning, order became the other task. I believe that there were
four basic stages in the development of this second task. But it
will help to glance first at some of the solutions to the social sym¬
bolization of this task in what I have called the various kinds of
Romantic anti-role.
The first, though it is initially found in Werther, is generally
called the Byronic Hero. It is a way of symbolizing precisely that
utter loss of meaning and value which so many people experi¬
enced—and continue to experience—when the Enlightenment
collapsed. The Byronic hero appears in numerous forms—the
wanderer, the outcast, the Wandering Jew, the mysterious crim¬
inal whose crime is never explained. The normal development for
the emerging Romantic type in the nineteenth century was from
pre-Enlightenment Christianity to Enlightenment, and then to
the stage of the Byronic hero, a stage which can well be called
Negative Romanticism, for it negates all value and all meaning,
both within the bounds of the individual and outside of it. The
tremendous appeal of Byron's poems throughout Europe and
America shows how widespread was the feeling, even though few
understood the sources of the malaise which was responsible
for it. Jack London's Wolf Larsen is an early twentieth-century
instance.
The first stage of recovery and the first true or positive Ro¬
mantic anti-role is that of the Poet-Visionary. The word often
used at the time was "mystic," but what it represents is so pro¬
foundly different from traditional mysticism that it is evident that
the term was employed simply because no other word was avail¬
able. Indeed, it was hard to understand at the time that "mystic"
meant not much more than "incomprehensible." Actually it re¬
ferred to an effort to bridge the gap between subject and object,
between self and world, by a peculiar mode of perception which
enables one to, as Wordsworth put it, "see into the life of things."
Even Kant, in his aesthetic, had suggested that there is a mode
of perception which enables us to experience the Ding-an-sich,
the world-in-itself. It expresses the conviction that there is an
order and meaning immanent in the natural universe, even
though the understanding cannot reach it, even though we can¬
not say anything about it. It is the pure experience of value which

42
THEORY

arises from so intense an observation of the natural world that
all roles, all mental categories, disappear. It is the pure revelation
of truth, though what that truth is cannot be stated. And it was
felt to be the peculiar task and privilege of the poet, the artist, to
communicate that experience in the work of art. This is the source
of the tremendous valuation given to art in the Romantic tra¬
dition, of the redemptive character of art; for in the act of cre¬
ating the work of art, the artist both repeats and embodies, and
also makes possible for himself and others, the act of seeing
through and past, of dissolving, all purely human or role-playing
perceptions which mask the world, as the rational part of the mind
does, so that the value immanent in the self reaches out and
touches the value immanent in the world. This tradition still sur¬
vives, though in an extraordinarily desiccated form, in the most
modern aesthetics, and more vitally in such painters as Malevich
and Klee.
But even while this Visionary Artist was developing, another
anti-role was emerging, perhaps the most important of the vari¬
ous Romantic anti-roles: the Bohemian. Even today it is probably
impossible, and certainly very difficult, to become a genuinely
modern man—a Romantic of the twentieth century—without go¬
ing through Bohemianism. Paris is the classic locale of Bohemianism, but it actually started in Germany, or even, in a mild sort
of way, in England, with the experiments in living of Wordsworth
and Coleridge in the last decade of the eighteenth century. All
the essential ingredients of Bohemianism were as visible in the
first decade of that century as they are today. Perhaps the key
lies in the Bohemian's fascination with alcohol and drugs, for
these are the means of shifting and changing consciousness, of
putting the mind through permutations of perceptions which for
the square, who is always boxed in by his social role, are im¬
possible. Similar is the interest in sexual experimentation, in
nonbourgeois modes of living, in indifference to middle-class
standards of dress, furnishings, cleanliness; W. H. Auden warns
against people who bathe too often. And this interest in the
deliberate distortion of the senses and of the ways of relating to
society is closely related to the aims of the Visionary Artist.
Hence the Bohemian invariably makes art the center of his life.

THE DILEMMA OF A CENTURY: 43
THE FOUR STAGES OF ROMANTICISM

and the excuse for his deliberate offensiveness. And so he is con¬
stantly involved in unstable anti-institutions which reveal a new
and, of course, at last the true nature or task of painting or poetry
or music or philosophy. He publishes his manifestoes, his little
magazine; he starts his ephemeral publishing house. And then
he wanders off to a new little group or emerges as the dedicated
artist who cannot be bothered with even a minimal Bohemian
role.
The 1820's and the 1830's saw the emergence of two more anti¬
roles: the Virtuoso and the Dandy. It was Baudelaire who first
saw the true significance of the Dandy. But even so, the full mean¬
ing of this anti-role has rarely been realized. And less com¬
prehended is the anti-role of the Virtuoso. Yet the two greatest
painters of the twentieth century have realized magnificently the
essence of these two roles. Matisse gave the Dandy his full
freedom; and Picasso did the same great task for the Virtuoso.
Wallace Stevens has gone beyond them, for he is at once Dandy
and Virtuoso. Some light on the related nature of these two roles
can be gained from the realization that Stevens was both poet
and successful businessman, while Matisse and Picasso exploited
the business of being painters with a success that can make the
most hardheaded middle-class anti-Romantic businessman, with
his devotion to Enlightenment laissez-faire and free trade, blush
with shame and envy.
The Visionary Artist avoided role-playing; the Bohemian de¬
fied it; but the Virtuoso and the Dandy transcended it, the one
by fantastic mastery, the other by irony. Paganini was the first
great Virtuoso, and for decades the anti-role model and the ideal.
That he took something from the Byronic hero appears in the
legend that he had gained his mastery of the violin by selling his
soul to the devil, a Virtuoso theme that Thomas Mann uses in his
Doktor Faustus, a study of a great twentieth-century Virtuoso
composer. The Virtuoso explodes the role, then, from within. He
symbolizes the uniqueness of the self as the source of value by
transforming the role into a source of unimagined splendor, order,
power, and beauty. One such role exploded and transformed by
the Romantic type was that of traveler. The great English Ro¬
mantic Virtuoso traveler was Richard Burton, the translator of the

44

THEORY

Arabian Nights, who also extended the Virtuoso anti-role into
sexual experience. From the Virtuoso traveler emerged that most
remarkable Romantic manifestation, the mountain climber,
whose superhuman effort finally culminated in the conquest of
Mt. Everest. The essence of the Virtuoso, then, is the symbol¬
ization of the inadequacy of society to meet the demands of the
self, and this inadequacy the Virtuoso reveals by a superhuman
control and release of energy in an activity which, to the socially
adapted, can only be pointless. “Why did you climb Everest?"
"Because it was there." The word for the Virtuoso is "sublime."
The Dandy, on the other hand, transforms the role not by ex¬
cess but by irony. The role of the highest status in European so¬
ciety is that of the aristocratic gentleman of leisure. By willfully
playing this role better than those born and trained to it, the
Dandy reveals the pointlessness of the socially adapted. He makes
a mode of life designed to symbolize social status into a work of
art designed to symbolize nothing at all, or nothing that the
society values. It is an anti-role because it is purely gratuitous,
because, indeed, it is pure, utterly free from self-interest. He
erects play into a creed. But this, of course, ironically reveals
the triviality of society: the social type with the highest status
spends his life in play and pettiness. The Dandy, then, offers
perfection and elegance without content, without social function.
By stealing the clothes of society, he reveals its nakedness. But at
the same time he symbolizes his own demands for a greater ex¬
quisiteness and order and perfection than society can achieve.
And this explains the irritation of society with the dandy, its
efforts to deprive him of his value and his ironic authority, the
moral nastiness with which England relished the downfall of
Oscar Wilde.
One of the most perplexing qualities of the Romantic tradition
is its historicism, which is most obvious in its architecture. But
an examination of that reveals the historian as a final Romantic
anti-role. The capacity to respond to nineteenth-century archi¬
tecture, to penetrate through our modern notions of taste, is per¬
haps the ultimate test of whether one has truly grasped the spirit
of Romantic culture. It is by no means enough to say that nine¬
teenth-century architects imitated historical styles; for, in the

THE DILEMMA OF A CENTURY: 45
THE FOUR STAGES OF ROMANTICISM

first place, they did not imitate them. Rather, they manipulated
the historical styles with an extraordinary freedom and archi¬
tectural imagination. Even when, toward the end of the century,
they were less concerned with free fantasies on historical styles
than with designing according to the principles of those styles,
they were not imitating. Far from it. In an odd way, the bu