Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview

and partly practical; spiritual because he had, whatever his faults, a scheme of spiritual values in their right order, and knew that Christmas was more important than Uncle George’s anecdotes; and practical because he had seen the great world of human beings, and knew that wherever a man wanders among men, in Flanders or France or Italy, he will find that the world largely consists of Uncle Georges. This imaginative patience is the thing that men want most in the modern Christmas, and if they wish to learn it I recommend them to read Chaucer.


50.

THOMAS STEARNS ELIOT, IS CHAUCER LESS SERIOUS THAN WORDSWORTH?

1933

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), poet and critic, was educated at the Universities of Harvard and Paris, and at Merton College, Oxford. His significance as a twentieth-century literary figure is such that any remarks he made must be of interest: it is clear that he accepts Chaucer as an important poet, and equally clear that Eliot, so intensely literalistic and Neoclassical a critic, and no doubt the last major figure in that line, has not a scrap of sympathy with or interest in Chaucer. His view of Dryden’s Chaucer may be contrasted with Housman’s (No. 51). This comment is reprinted from ‘The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism’ (1933), pp. 24, 40, 116-17, by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd, and Harvard University Press.

(p. 24) In England the critical force due to the new contrast between Latin and vernacular met, in the sixteenth century, with just the right degree of resistance. That is to say, for the age which is represented for us by Spenser and Shakespeare, the new forces stimulated the native genius and did not overwhelm it. The purpose of my second lecture will be to give to the criticism of this period the due which it does not seem to me to have received. In the next age, the great work of Dryden in criticism is, I think, that at the right moment he became conscious of the necessity of affirming the native element

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