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A critical note on Eliot's classicism

Thomas Stearns Eliot is often called the English Aristotle. He is also called the Napoleon of English criticism. He finds that English criticism was in a chaotic situation. He wishes that English criticism should be ordered and disciplined. Eliot's classicism!! According to F.R. Leavis , Eliot has not only refined the conception and method of English criticism but also put into currency decisive reorganising and reorientating ideas and valuations. Actually, Eliot himself declared in 1928, he was a royalist in politics, an Anglo-Catholic in religion and a classicist in literature. But this declaration raised an immediate hue and cry. It obviously proves and establishes Eliot as a classicist in literature. The Romantic method of criticism seems to Eliot as a sort of haphazard and disordered criticism. Romantic criticism lacks order and discipline. Eliot is shocked at this and ventures to bring order in criticism. Romantic criticism does not adhere to any standard. It depends on the writer's personal or individual talent: But Eliot declares that criticism must be ordered and it must have a standard. Without a rudder, a ship may be wrecked. In the same manner, criticism can never be ordered or disciplined without a standard .Eliot as a classicist believes in the allegiance to a particular standard. He argues that a citizen has to pay his allegiance to his state. Similarly, a classicist must be alleged to a sound standard. Without a standard, no sound literature is produced. Uncontrolled emotions or impulses always produce chaotic literature. Eliot considers the whole European literature from Homer to the Modern Age as a single tradition literature . According to Eliot, a classicist must have historical sense. He must know about his antiquity and his contemporaneity. This historical sense is known as tradition. But the sense of tradition can never be achieved automatically or without any endeavour. It is achieved through hard labour. A good poet should study his own literary poets or writers. He should also study the poets and writers of the other lands. Though many people censure tradition, they can never avoid it. Sometimes many modern poets boastfully say that they know more than the ancient poets. Actually, they know what the ancient poets were. Moreover, even the most individual part of a writer's writing was touched more vigorously and more powerfully than the modern writer. So none can avid antiquity. We may cite an example in this connection. Shakespeare achieves many things from Homer, Seneca, Chaucer and even Thomas Kyd.

Eliot's theory of impersonality also establishes himself as a classicist. While giving his impersonal theory, Eliot has severely criticised Wordsworth's theory of poetry. Wordsworth defines poetry in the following way-- "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. "In this respect, Eliot argues that not the question of emotion but concentration of mind is a must in writing poetry. He believes that a poet's feelings will never come into his poems. It is not the expression of emotion but an escape from emotion. In order to analyse his theory of impersonality, Eliot has drawn an analogy. He compares the personality of a poet to a shred of platinum. In the reaction between sulphur dioxide and oxygen, platinum filament is used as a catalyst. After the reaction, sulpheurus acid is produced. But platinum remains unchanged. 

Moreover, no feature of platinum comes into the product. Again without platinum, this reaction cannot even go on. So the personality of a poet is like a catalyst. It will not be exposed through his writing. But his product will be nourished by it. But this theory invokes a volley of criticism. It is contradictory even with Eliot. According to his theory of 'unification of sensibility', it is said that thoughts and feelings should be fusioned together. Eliot does not regard Browning as a great poet as his poems do not have the unification of sensibility. Actually, it goes to the theory of 'dissociation of sensibility'. Thus Eliot himself fails to maintain his impersonal theory. In conclusion, we may say that Eliot's impersonal theory has limitations. Yet it proves him to be a classicist. His advocacy in favour of the sense of tradition may lend weight to the view that Eliot is a classicist. Actually, there is no poet-critic in England literature achieving a permanent seat among eminent Dryden, Johnson, Coleridge, Wordsworth and Matthew Arnold except Eliot. Eliot is obviously a prolific and voluminous classicist. But in some cases, he cannot surpass the boundary of romanticism.


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