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Eliot as a classicist in criticism

T.S. Eliot is considered to be the greatest critic of the age; he is the Napoleon of English Literature and has been compared with Aristotle. Leavis observed: "How many critics are there who have made any difference to one--improved one's apparatus, one's equipment, one's efficiency as reader? And he gives Eliot the place as one of the few in the whole history of literary criticism. He affirms that Eliot " has not only refined the conception and methods of criticism, he has put into currency decisive reorganising and reorientating ideas and valuations. "
Eliot as a classicist in criticism

Eliot's criticism has evoked a lot of criticism both for and against Eliot. Smith parks remarks:" In so far as the importance of a literary figure may be gauged by controversy centred about him, T.S.Eliot must be regarded as the outstanding writer of his half-century". Wimsatt also holds more or less the same view. He says that " when T.S.Eliot announced in 1928 that he was a Royalist in politics, an Anglo Catholic in religion and a Classicist in literature, the reaction was immediate and noisy. The revelation of his political and religious position elicited most of the cat-calls and solemn protests, but his profession of classicism drew its share too, mingled with expressions of honest bewilderment ".

" In English Literature as well as English criticism there is a sound division between classicism and romanticism. Classicism follows the principle of allegiance to Greek and Roman writers; romanticism on the other hand believes in individual liberty and as individual liberty is ingrained in English character, classicism in England can have no standing whatever. Classicism aims at order and beauty. Eliot also wants order in Criticism but he finds that English criticism is "no better than a Sunday park of contending and contentious orators, who have not even arrived at the articulation of their differences". The end of criticism being 'the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste', here, one would suppose, was a place for quite cooperative labour', with each critic endeavouring to compose his difference with as many of his fellows as possible, in the common pursuit of true judgement. George Watson writers:

Eliot made English criticism look different, but in no simple sense. He offered it a new range of rhetorical possibilities, confirmed it in its increasing contempt for historical processes, and yet reshaped its notion of period by a handful of brilliant intuitions. It is not to be expected that so except and professional an observer of poetry should allow his achievement to be more nearly classified than this."

"Eliot a true classicist like Aristotle and does not follow the Neo-classicist. His theory of impersonal poetry may be criticised as unpractical but is true that the untrammelled emotions can bring about only chaotic literature. Though he has vehemently condemned the romantic school of poetry and discarded idealism, humanism and every thing that glorified man, we can note that whatever he has written is a genuine over-flow of his heat. His critical ideas about the poets may sometimes be wrong but they are at least sincere and honest. The great example of this intellectual honesty lies in his revaluation of Milton, by shifting responsibility from him for setting in " dissociation of sensibility ".

Eliot believes that the right approach to criticism is the classical. 'Men, ' he says, 'cannot get on without giving allegiance to something outside themselves'. As the citizen has to give it to his government and the believer to his church, so the critic has to give it to same common criterion of rightness. But those who stand for individual liberty in art listen to their Inner Voice only. With no other guide than it they seek to 'interpret' an author or his work. But how to know that what it says is right. There is no external evidence to confirm it. The result often is that instead of facts about the author or the work, which he alone can prove what each really is, one is supplied with the critic's opinion or fancy: 'Instead of insight, you get a fiction'. Fact-finding therefore-elucidation and not mere interpretation-is the function of criticism. And this is best done when the critic has something outside himself to guider him some standard of perfection to judge a work by, based upon 'tradition and the accumulated wisdom of time'.

His approach has also to be similarly objective. To be able to put his finger right at the acts about a work, he must have first, a 'highly developed sense of fact' , such as will preclude the imposition of his own opinion on it. Secondly, 'he should have as his tools comparison and analysis' , the former to see among other things, how the work modifies past tradition and is itself modified by it, and the later to see it as it really is. 'And any book, any essay, any note.......which produces a fact even of the lowest order about a work of art is a better piece of work than nine-tenths of the most pretentious critical journalism, in journals or in books'.


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