English Literary Criticism: The Medieval Phase

English Literary Criticism: The Medieval Phase

English Literary Criticism: The Medieval Phase

English Literary Criticism: The Medieval Phase

Excerpt

This volume is in some sort a continuation of the plan outlined in an earlier work, Literary Criticism in Antiquity, in which an attempt was made to recall the views on literature and literary theory current in ancient Greece and Rome. A narrower and less promising field is here explored, that of medieval England. In it, it may at once be said, to look for original and lasting contributions to literary theory, or for illuminating appreciations of literary works themselves, would be alike unavailing and fruitless. What, however, will be found is a running commentary on literature, made up of a few definite studies together with a number of occasional remarks scattered throughout works of various kinds; and as evidences of a growing literary consciousness, which found expression in theorising and in attempts at forming judgments, this material is not without its significance. Representing as it does the first attempts to deal with literary questions in England, it marks the beginnings of English critical activities, forms an integral part of the native critical tradition, and thus constitutes a chapter in the history of English criticism which cannot well be omitted from a survey of that development as a whole. In short, its significance is that which is attached to all beginnings; as Roger Bacon (quoting Cicero) points out in another connexion, difficile . . . est aliquem scire pauca nisi cui nota sunt pleraque aut omnia.

In the pages that follow, an attempt has been made to sketch in outline this first phase of the critical development. And in the survey are included the main efforts made by writers of English origin to further literary interests by varied discussions of literary matters not necessarily confined to the vernacular. The movement in its earlier stages formed part of a larger European movement, against the background of which the English contribution is best appreciated; and attempts have therefore been made to provide in some measure the necessary historical setting. At the same time, intended though this theorising was for educated circles not confined to English shores, treating also of expression in a medium other than that of the vernacular, it has nevertheless a definite bearing on English intellectual life; and, as such, its full significance only emerges when viewed also in its relation to native activities. Certain aspects of the subject, those bound up . . .

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