Arthur Hugh Clough: The Critical Heritage

By Michael Thorpe | Go to book overview

54.

J. M. Robertson, ‘Clough’, New Essays Towards a Critical Method

1897

In the essay with which he opens his book John Mackinnon Robertson (1856-1933) declares his intention to make a contribution to the systematizing or ‘scientizing’ of ‘The Theory and Practice of Criticism’. He finds the influential criticism of Taine and Ste Beuve unduly subjective: he praises instead, while showing the bias of each, Hennequin’s La Critique Scientifique (1888) and Renouvier’s La Critique Philosophique (1889). Nevertheless, recognizing that subjectivity is inevitable and valuable, in critics as in writers, he exhorts the critic above all to know himself and to aim, as objectively as he can, to ‘confess’ openly to the reader his own temperamental characteristics and bias in thought and feeling. The critic, as Arnold and Lowell had done, can best approach just estimates by applying comparative standards and widening his outlook into as many fields as he can. The allround criticism may then comprise an ‘Aesthetic Analysis’, a ‘Psychologic Analysis’, and a ‘Sociological Analysis’.

Robertson notes in his Preface that in his study of Clough, ‘which claims for him a status and a kind of recognition that have not latterly been given him, I have attempted to relate the criticism of the writing, as is fitting, to a view of the organism and surroundings of the writer. ’ He also notes that his essay was actually written in 1887.

The essay has been printed entire here, with its lengthy survey of English novelists, because the whole is relevant to the particular comments on Clough and is also an unusual attempt in Victorian criticism at comparative judgment.

To some readers of the various appreciative criticisms which have been passed upon Arthur Hugh Clough, it must have seemed odd that the friendly writers should have so little to say of the poet’s measure of

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