Critical Responsiveness: A Study of the Psychological Current in Later Eighteenth-Century Criticism

Critical Responsiveness: A Study of the Psychological Current in Later Eighteenth-Century Criticism

Critical Responsiveness: A Study of the Psychological Current in Later Eighteenth-Century Criticism

Critical Responsiveness: A Study of the Psychological Current in Later Eighteenth-Century Criticism

Excerpt

THERE WERE many literary critics in the eighteenth century who made some use of the psychology of their time. They did not form a group which can be identified by an allegiance to a particular man such as Hobbes or Locke, or to a place such as Aberdeen or Edinburgh, but they had in common one embracing principle of criticism: they believed that a critic must analyze the effect a work of art has on the minds and emotions of the audience. Most of them were not creative writers. Some were college professors, some clergymen, some doctors, and some merely men of letters, but they were all curious about what happens when a man reads a book. Their membership in the group can be detected only by recognizing in them this kind of interest; but since speculation about the form and quality of experience, sometimes in those days called the science of human nature, was one of the most popular exercises of the time among educated men, it is to be expected that the results will be various according to the amount of interest, skill, and knowledge of the critic. If the degree of interest in psychology were to be diagramed as a series of concentric circles, going outward from greatest to least, the innermost would contain a few names such as Kames and Alison, the second or third would include such as Blair and Drake, and others, and the outermost almost innumerable critics, Joseph Warton for example, who show in a sentence here and there some evidence of membership.

Naturally the use of psychology in criticism must be characterized by the practice of its best advocates. Among these, there are so many similarities in background, method, and ideas and so many references to one another, that in spite of numerous disagreements and divergences they can be considered members of a fairly coherent critical tradition. There is, for example, a strik-

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