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Reference

In his study of the function of poetry in the literary criticism of the Italian renaissance, Spingarn has shown[339] that the characteristic opinions reflect the ideas of Horace in his famous line,

  Aut prodesse volunt aut delectare poetae.

In England the Italian interpretations of the literary criticism of Greece and Rome made slow headway against the established traditions of the middle ages. In particular the vogue of allegory did not yield to the idea of the moral example transferred from rhetoric to poetic.

1. Allegory and Example in Rhetoric

In this essay I undertake to trace the influence of classical rhetoric on the criticisms of poetry published in England between 1553 and 1641. This influence is most readily recognized in the use by English renaissance writers on literary criticism of the terminology of classical rhetoric. But the rhetorical terminology in most cases carried with it rhetorical thinking, traces of whose influence persist in criticism of poetry to the present day.

By definition the renaissance was primarily a literary and scholarly movement derived from the literature of classical antiquity. Thus the historical, philosophical, pedagogical, and dramatic literatures of the renaissance cannot be accurately understood except in the light of the Greek and Roman authors whose writings inspired them. To this general rule the literary criticism of the renaissance is no exception. The interpretation of the critical terms used by the literary critics of the English renaissance must depend largely on the classical tradition.

1. DEVELOPMENT OF THE ROMAN LITERATURE.—Latin literature, at first rude, and, for five centuries, unable to reach any high excellence, was, as we have seen, gradually developed by the example and tendency of the Greek mind, which moulded Roman civilization anew. The earliest Latin poets, historians, and grammarians were Greeks. The metre which was brought to such perfection by the Latin poets was formed from the Greek, and the Latin language more and more assimilated to the Hellenic tongue.

1. THE EFFECT OF INTOLERANCE ON LETTERS.—The central point in Spanish history is the capture of Granada. During nearly eight centuries before that event, the Christians of Spain were occupied with conflicts that developed extraordinary energies, till the whole land was filled to overflowing with a power which had hardly yet been felt in Europe. But no sooner was the last Moorish fortress yielded up, than this accumulated flood broke loose and threatened to overspread the best portions of the civilized world.

1. THE SAXONIC AND SWISS SCHOOLS.—In contrast to the barrenness of the last period, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries present us with a brilliant constellation of writers in every department of letters, whose works form an era in the intellectual development of Germany unsurpassed in many respects by any other in the history of literature. Gottsched and Bodmer each succeeded in establishing schools of poetry which exerted great influence on the literary taste of the country.

In the period of the Vedas the religion of the Hindus was founded on the simple worship of Nature. But the Pantheism of this age was gradually superseded by the worship of the one Brahm, from which, according to this belief, the soul emanated, and to which it seeks to return. Brahm is an impersonality, the sum of all nature, the germ of all that is. Existence has no purpose, the world is wholly evil, and all good persons should desire to be taken out of it and to return to Brahm.

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