Anglo-American Antiphony: The Late Romanticism of Tennyson and Emerson

Anglo-American Antiphony: The Late Romanticism of Tennyson and Emerson

Anglo-American Antiphony: The Late Romanticism of Tennyson and Emerson

Anglo-American Antiphony: The Late Romanticism of Tennyson and Emerson

Synopsis

This is Richard Brantley's most wide-ranging and his most personal book. It connects the epistemology of John Locke to evangelical Christianity, showing how the late ("but not belated") Romanticism of Emerson's prose and Tennyson's In Memoriam A. H. H. exemplifies the period's trust in experience as the best means of knowing what is true. Interpreting their work in light of the eighteenth-century thought of John Wesley (founder of British Methodism) and Jonathan Edwards (leader of the American Great Awakening), Brantley composes a complex harmony of ideas, much as the antiphonal voices in a divided chancel choir rejoice in agreeable, yet complicated, song. With a willingness to risk the widest ramifications of his ideas, Brantley explores the creative tension between empiricism and evangelicalism, reaffirming the hopefulness of Romantic literature and of the Romantic writers who used their poetry and prose to examine issues of personal urgency. He seeks specific answers to the question of ultimate meaning in human existence, boldly asserting that the optimism of Tennyson and Emerson "makes so much sense for their social world that it may even make sense for today's individual-in-society". His method is relatively unsystematic, for he invokes Keats's "Negative Capability", the ability to rest with "uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason". While emphasizing this value amid multiple perspectives and cultures, Brantley, in this concluding volume of his historical-critical tetralogy, aspires to the condition of open mind and warm heart that he finds in Wesley, Edwards, Tennyson, and Emerson.

Excerpt

Despite (or because of) the tension and opposition between empiricism and evangelicalism, the one does not exist without the other's being actively present or dynamically near. With regard to art in particular as well as to culture in general, Friedrich von Schiller argues that Stofftrieb (material-drive) and Formtrieb (form-drive) cooperate to produce Spieltrieb (play-drive). Schiller concludes that "we have now been led to the notion of a reciprocal action between the two drives, reciprocal action of such a kind that the activity of the one gives rise to, and sets limits to, the activity of the other, and in which each in itself achieves its highest manifestation precisely by reason of the other being active." The dialectic / "reciprocal action" of empiricism and evangelicalism constitutes the Spieltrieb of In Memoriam. If the play of this elegy is not exactly seriousness or if the seriousness of the poem is not play, the yoke of the poem, nevertheless, is easy and the burden of the poem is light. In Memoriam regards bicultural philosophy/faith as both fully alternating and fully interdependent.

My approach differs from the perhaps too serious, perhaps too unplayful arguments for Tennyson's art as unified: "time and again," declares John R. Reed, Tennyson "exploited" a single moral design; his "awareness of doom," avers William R. Brashear, unequivocally integrates his work; and Tennyson, according to Ward Hellstrom, "consistently endorsed the choice of life over death and involvement over isolation." While I, too, regard Tennyson's art as sufficiently self-consistent, or at any rate well integrated, I seek, nevertheless, to cultivate nuances and to incorporate them into my own synoptic approach to In Memoriam, for I draw out the poem's synthesizing, antiphonal power of empiricism-cum-evangelicalism.

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