Edmund Spenser: An Essay on Renaissance Poetry

Edmund Spenser: An Essay on Renaissance Poetry

Edmund Spenser: An Essay on Renaissance Poetry

Edmund Spenser: An Essay on Renaissance Poetry

Excerpt

In the following chapters an attempt is made to arrive at some understanding of what a very important poet was trying to do and why he was trying to do that and not something else, of the reasons why his poems have their peculiar form and character. Some such understanding is necessary to any critic, whether his aim be judgment, as with Johnson, or philosophy, as with Arnold; nor is it useless even to those who, like Hazlitt, look upon criticism as the expression of a personal mood.

This implies historical study, and also the careful direction of that study. All the facts of an artist's life and surroundings are useful to the student who wishes to understand his work, for the circumstances and conditions within which that work was done naturally affect and modify even where they do not completely control it. We never can know all the facts: there always must be circumstances round the birth of any work of art unknown to anyone but the artist himself, and perhaps even ignored by him -- small material and physical accidents as well as moral and spiritual and emotional accidents, temporary, and insufficient to affect the general substance of his art, but for the time of their action efficient causes in the production and modification of the work in progress. Nor are all the facts, even if we knew . . .

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