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Home » , » What is historical sense? How is it important according to Eliot?
T.S. Eliot is the most influential poet and critic in the Modern Age. He expresses his notion of 'historical sense' in his revolutionary essay," Tradition and Individual Talent". He thinks that tradition depends on the complete realisation of historical sense. Tradition involves a historical sense which enables a poet to perceive the importance of past and present. The historical sense enables him to realism that the past is not something isolated from the present. It is a perception of the pastness of the past and its presentness too. It implies the presence of a collective mind. A man of historical sense feels that the whole literature of Europe from Homer down to his own day including the literature of his own country forms one continuous literary tradition.According to T.S. Eliot, tradition does not mean a blind adherence to the ways of previous generation or generations. This would be mere slavish imitation. It is a mere repetition of what has already been achieved. Novelty is better than repetition. Tradition in the sense of passive repetition is to be discouraged. It is a matter of much wider significance. Tradition in the true sense of the term cannot be inherited. It can only be obtained by hard labour. This labour is the labour of knowing the past writers. It is the critical labour of changing the good from the bad and knowing the good and useful. Tradition can be obtained only by those who have the historical sense. The historical sense involves a perception not only of the pastness of the past but also of its presence.Eliot realises that the past exists in the present. So the past and the present simultaneous order. This historical sense is the sense of the timeless and of the temporal together. It is this historical sense which makes a writer traditional. A writer with the sense of tradition is fully conscious of his own generation. He is completely aware of his place in the present. But he is also acutely conscious of his relationship with the writers of the past. In brief, sense of tradition implies recognition of the continuity of literature. It implies a critical judgement as to which of the writers of the past continue to signify in the present. The knowledge of these significant writers is obtained through a painstaking effort. Tradition represents the accumulated wisdom and experience of ages. So its knowledge is essential for really a great and noble achievement. Historical sense inspires a writer to develop the sense of tradition. This does not also mean that the poet should know only a few poets whom he admires. This is a sign of immaturity and inexperience. A poet should not be content merely to know some particular age or period which he likes. This may be pleasant and delightful. But it will not constitute a sense of tradition. A sense of tradition in the real sense means consciousness  of the main current which does not all flow invariably through the most distinguished reputations. The poet must possess the critical gift in ample measure. He must also realise that the main literary trends are not determined by the poets alone. Smaller poets are also significant. They are not to be ignored.Historical sense makes a man able to understand that art never improves. But its material is never the same. The mind of Europe may change. But this change does not mean that great writers like Shakespeare and Homer have grown outdated and lost their significance. The great works of art never lose their significance for there is no qualitative improvement in art. There may be refinement and development. But from the viewpoint of the artist, there is no improvement. We cannot say that Shakespeare is better and higher than Eliot. Their works are of different kinds. The material on which they worked was different.The work of a poet in the present is to be compared and contrasted with the works of the past. Thus it is to be judged by the standards of the poet. But this judgement does not mean determining good or bad. It does not mean deciding whether the present work is better than the work of the past. An author in the present is certainly not to be judged by the principles and standards of the past. The comparison is to be made for knowing the facts about the new work of art. It is made for the purposes of analysis. It is done for forming a better understanding of the new. Moreover, this comparison is reciprocal. The poet helps us understand the present throwing light on the past. In this way, we can idea of what is really individual and new. We can sift the tradition from individual elements in a given work of art.To conclude, we may say that Eliot's notion of historical sense in his famous essay, "Tradition and Individual Talent" has opened a horizon for the successive writers. Historical sense makes a writer traditional. It is necessary for literary appreciation and evaluation. It makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time and his own contemporaneity. So the consciousness of the past and present is crying need for a writer. Eliot shows that the past and the present are interrelated in the making and judging of a poem. Thus his theory of conformity between the past and the present is of greater importance.
Historical sense


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