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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The place of the personal estimate in the critical theories of certain nineteenth-century critics Bilsland, John Winstanley


The thesis covers the critical theories of eight English critics of the nineteenth century: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, De Quincey, Arnold, Pater, and Wilde. I have first defined the personal estimate as "that estimate of art in which the nature of the critic as an individual man has influenced his judgment.” I recognize that all criticism mast have something of the personal estimate in it, hut the true critic will, as much as possible, cleanse his criticism of it in order to reveal the nature of the work of art as in itself it really is. I have then analyzed the theories of Wordsworth and Coleridge in order to indicate that the basis on which they established Romantic criticism is one of personal emotion-first in the poet, and then in the reader and personal pleasure. In the theories of Lamb, Hazlitt, and De Quincey I have traced the development of impressionism in Romantic criticism, and the degree to which that impressionism leads these three men to a personal estimate of literature. In Arnold's theories I have analyzed his concept of poetry as a criticism of life, and indicated the way in which that concept leads Arnold to a recognition that although the critic must first feel the emotional effects of poetry, his ultimate aim must be to see the object as in itself it really is. I have then turned to the theories of Pater and suggested that although he bases his theories on impressions he recognizes that the experiencing of impressions alone is not the critic's sole aim: the critic must contemplate his impressions in order to arrive at a perception of the essence of a work, and, in the case of a great work of art, a perception of the ideals of life which it embodies. And I have last considered the theories of Wilde who also builds on impressions, but believes the end of criticism to be like poetry itself the communication of one man's emotional response, in this case the critic's response to a work of art: whether or not that response represents a balanced appreciation of the work itself does not matter. From the survey of the theories of these eight men I have arrived at the conclusion that all follow the right path when they recognize the importance of the personal response in criticism. Some, however, lose sight of their duty as critics when they allow their own experience of life to colour their response and offer a purely personal estimate of a work as criticism. The greatest of the eight - Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Arnold - recognize that in criticism we must see the poet's poem and not our own. Only by doing so can we arrive at a real estimate.

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