English Romantic Hellenism

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 20936

Harry Levin (essay date 1931)

SOURCE: The Broken Column: A Study in Romantic Hellenism, Harvard University Press, 1931, pp. 29-76.

[In the excerpt that follows, Levin analyzes the characteristics of Romantic Hellenism and discusses the poetry of Byron, Shelley, and Keats as representative of various types of Romantic Hellenism.]

An Anatomy of Romantic Hellenism

Before we proceed on our quest for the amaranth flower, it may be well for us to fix firmly in mind the characteristics of romantic Hellenism. I shall therefore attempt, very briefly, to anatomize the subject in its successive stages. It begins, as I have indicated, in a complete distrust of the classics, which are associated with the neo-classical period of western European literature. Gradually Greece is dissociated from the rest and converted into an Arcadia for the romanticists. World-weary denizens of the drawing-rooms are ready to divide the world, with Schiller, into naïve and sentimental peoples, and to yearn for the primitive, simple, and idyllic society of the Greeks.

They proclaim that the world was young in those days, that the Greeks were the children of nature. "The mental culture of the Greeks was a finished education in the school of nature," we hear, in ringing falsetto, from the lecture platform of Herr Dr. Professor Schlegel. "Sie haben die Poetik der Freude ersinnen." Hereafter we shall not be surprised to learn that the masterpieces of Greek literature were the spontaneous outpourings of an artless and unsophisticated folk, who performed their greatest achievements for no other purpose than to express themselves. The Spartans followed their rigorous discipline, as Pater explains, so that they might become "a spectacle aesthetically interesting to the rest of Greece." The assumption is by no means uncommon today. M. Salomon Reinach, for example, seems to think that Atticism blossomed into "the unique and immortal flower of human genius" for no other purpose than to provide him with material for the opening chapters of his handbook on art.

It is but a step from the mythological attitude to the historical. The new historical attitude, instead of seeking the relationships between past and present, emphasizes their points of variance. The romanticists have discovered that the supposed simplicity of Greek life disagrees with their own experience of life. Rather than change their interpretation, they conclude that they are undergoing a phase of experience which the Greeks did not know. They have forgotten that Attic Greek and Ciceronian Latin were not dead languages to those who spoke them, that the Greeks did not look upon themselves as figures in a history book, that their sculptors did not chisel their statues for us to put in our museums. So the Greeks become a static people and life to them is, according to Browning, "an eternal petrification." They are not even allowed to have feelings; Herder, Winckelmann, and Schlegel all join arms against Lessing for suggesting that poor Philoctetes experienced any agony.

When Renan stood upon the Acropolis, in 1865, he felt the spirit of Greece as "a fresh, penetrating breeze from very far away." He saluted the goddess and went through a wavering litany, but in confessing his sins—as he says—he became enamored of them. "Une littérature qui, comme la tienne, serait saine de tout point, n'exciterait plus maintenant que l'ennui." Classic perfection bores him, so he embraces the romantic abyss. Indeed, many of the romanticists, in their distrust of perfection, seem to have done their utmost to escape from it.

This eternally rapt repose, on the one hand, and a self-consciously rampant voluptuousness, on the other, are contrasted by Nietzsche as the Apollonian and Dionysiac souls. His disciple Spengler, the provocative critic of history, sets up an Apollinian man as a symbol of the static Greek soul, and opposes to him the modern or Faustian man, a dynamic creature, who strives and strays, knows infinitesimal calculus, and loves Beethoven. It is difficult to keep from being misled by distorted comparisons and, at the same time, from disregarding the grain of truth in a strained distinction. Stevenson, in one of his New Poems, rebukes the "greenspectacled Wordsworth" for his sentimental evocation of youth. In his own youth, Stevenson recalls, he was an Indian (full of "feverish questionings" in the "widening well of space"); in his old age he will be a St. Francis. Meanwhile, between the extremes of life, he is a Greek,

White-robed among the sunshine and the statues
And the fair porticoes of carven marble—
Fond of olives and dry sherry,
Good tobacco and clever talk with my fellows,
Free from inordinate cravings.

From Schiller to Spengler, the romanticists show increasing dissatisfaction with the complacency which they find in the Greeks, and growing appreciation of the infinite longings which they discover in themselves. Victor Hugo, for whom traditional Greece lacks in color, is forced to turn to the oriental elements in modern Greece. The sentimental travellers have come across the modern Hellenes and tricked Greece out in a new nationalism and a colorful orientalism. At this point, romantic Hellenism coalesces with the romantic passion for liberty, and we have philhellenism.

A casual passage from Bryon's Curse of Minerva will aptly illustrate how many extraneous influences—nature, sentiment, oriental atmosphere, moonlight, and nationalism—have colored the romantic conception of Greece.

With cornice glimmering as the moonbeams play,
There the white column greets her grateful ray,
And bright around, with quivering beams beset,
Her emblem sparkles o'er the minaret:
The groves of olive scatter'd dark and wide,
Where meek Cephisus sheds his scanty tide,
The cypress saddening by the sacred mosque,
The gleaming turret of the gay kiosk,
And sad and sombre 'mid the holy calm,
Near Theseus' fane, yon solitary palm;
All, tinged with varied hues, arrest the eye;—
And dull were his that pass'd them heedless by.

Here, in some dozen lines, blended with appropriate emotions, we have the typical scenery of romantic Hellas. In our wanderings through this region, we shall be constantly stumbling upon crumbling columns, shattered pillars, and single solitary plinths. It might be estimated that, if all the broken columns that figure in this movement were collected and repaired, we should have a colonnade extending from the Victor Emmanuel II. Monument in Rome to the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, by way of the Madeleine in Paris.

Let us pass on to consider our stylites. Criticism which consists merely of facile generalizations and exhaustive tabulations is a thoroughly desiccating procedure. Let us keep our eyes on the object and not forget that we are concerned primarily with literary values. It is absurd to rake over a whole literature ruthlessly in an effort to destroy its fundamental doctrines, and then to admit, in conciliating tones, that nevertheless much of that literature may be very beautiful. It is just as foolish to insist that this incidental beauty is all that matters and that the ideas in question are of no importance. The very greatest literature has always contrived to put beautiful ideas into beautiful forms, and I believe that undue emphasis upon the one element or the other is responsible for the present aberrations of critical taste.

We shall find it most profitable to avoid abstractions or catalogues and to turn to the actual pages of romantic writers for illustrations of the ideas that we are following. The works of Byron, Shelley, and Keats present a body of poetry which is unified, full, and extraordinarily fruitful for an inquiry of this sort. The three poets are close contemporaries, if not good friends, and their paths meet—not in Greece, to be sure, but in Rome (now pardoned by the romanticists and set up as the museum of the world).

Their respective styles and backgrounds supplement each other, so that a comprehensive view of much that is typical in romantic poetry may be gained from studying them. Byron, for example, has much in common with the writers of the eighteenth century, Keats is often akin to the Elizabethans, while Shelley is the most purely romantic of the three. Byron, again, has important relations with the continent, Keats is very English, and Shelley has as little as possible to do with this earth. The philhellenism of Byron, the sentimental Hellenism of Shelley, and the more or less genuine naïveté of Keats invite comment. All three, it will be acknowledged, are typical romanticists and poets of approved worth.

The course of romantic Hellenism in England has not yet been explored or chronicled. The philologists of Germany and the literary historians of France have traced the broken column to its plinth, and recorded the development of nineteenth-century classicism in their respective countries, although, in many cases, they have neglected to examine the authenticity of its claims or to show its connexion with the romantic movement. Specimens might be culled from Hölderlin' s Hyperion or Lamartine's Mort de Socrate, from the life of Alfieri or the works of the Parnasse, to show the full flowering of Neo-Hellenism in its literary form on the continent.

We must hope that a capable critic will some day treat this important chapter of English intellectual history. His amply documented pages will remind us of the once famous travels of "Athenian" Stuart. They will explain the Greek façades in St. James's Square. They will gossip of bands of dilettanti, like the Hellenic Society, and pause to admire collections of virtu, like Lord Hamilton's ceramics. They will find evidence in unsuspected places. Few of us were aware that Oxford's poetry prize was awarded, according to the terms laid down by Sir Roger Newdigate in 1806, for "fifty lines and no more in recommendation of the ancient Greek and Roman remains of architecture, sculpture, and painting."

Meanwhile, for our purposes, Byron, Shelley, and Keats are very near the centre of romantic Hellenism in England. Their poetic forbears are singularly free from any vestiges of classicism—Wordsworth and Coleridge through conscious reaction, Burns and Blake through ignorance. Their poetic posterity has inherited its attitude toward Greece from the second romantic generation. Their near contemporary, Landor, may well stand aloof on this question, as he did on every other. On him Mr. Oliver Elton has pronounced the final word: "His Hellenics are not really like anything ancient or modern, except the rare imitations of themselves."

In one of the letters of William Beckford, that esoteric describes the mildly diabolical festivities that celebrated his coming-of-age:

On the left of the house rises a lofty steep mantled with tall oaks amongst which a temple of truly classical design discovers itself. This building (sacred to the Lares) presented a continued glow of saffron-coloured flame, and the throng assembled before it looked devilish by contrast.

I am afraid that we shall witness many such incongruous scenes and encounter many such contrasts. Let us take care that we neither do irreverence to the Lares nor view the devilish throng in too lurid a light.

The Isles of Greece

Byron, in some late verses, confides to us that his style is the romantic,

Which some call fine, and some call frantic;
While others are or would seem as sick
Of repetitions nicknamed Classic.
For my part all men must avow
Whatever I was, I'm classic now.

Both the finely frantic and the narrowly classic are distinctly discernible in his poetry. He may have repudiated the classical studies of his youth, but he never forgot them. The curriculum appears to have been thorough, if not sympathetic. Byron's early collections are full of translations and paraphrases from the Greek and Latin, evident relics of Harrow and Cambridge. And he has nothing but disgust for the student

Who, scarcely skill'd an English line to pen,
Seans Attic metres with a critic's ken.

The unfortunate result of this kind of schooling was a purely superficial familiarity with the classics. The very word "classic," in Byron, seems to be synonymous with "dull," and is applied to such writers as Hallam and Sheffield. "Attic wit" is no wit at all. Homer is never mentioned, except in astonishment that men should continue to be interested in those crude chronicles of obsolete battles. Byron's conception of Plato, like Shelley's, is colored by the Petrarchans, but, unlike Shelley, he has no patience with this airy Platonism.

The quality of his appreciation of classical art is indicated by his preferences—the Laocoön and the Apollo Belvidere. He had been brought up under a regimen of the most hollow and uninspired neo-classicism, to which the new, ameliorated views had not penetrated, and in his ardent reaction he was ready to damn the classics as "faint fictitious flames, pastoral passions and cold compositions of art." Under the circumstances, he counselled wisely in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers:

And you, associate bards! who snatch'd to light
Those gems too long withheld from modern sight;
Whose mingling taste combined to cull the wreath
Where Attic flowers Aonian odours breathe,
And all their renovated fragrance flung
To grace the beauties of your native tongue;
Now let those minds, that nobly could transfuse
The glorious spirit of the Grecian muse,
Though soft the echo, scorn a borrow'd tone:
Resign Achaia's lyre, and strike your own.

One of the principal difficulties in dealing with Byron is the fact that, at some time or other, he almost invariably contradicts every statement he makes. Thus we find the converse of this proposition:

Ye who seek finish'd models, never cease,
By day and night, to read the works of Greece.

The couplet is from a paraphrase of Horace, composed in spare moments snatched from English Bards. The ambidexterous poet was able to translate the nocturna versate with his right hand and to pen a denunciation of the Greekling poetasters with his left.

Byron is still, in many ways, a good Horatian. He is the sole champion of Dryden and Pope in his age, and a frequent assailant of the Lakists on grounds of which Dr. Johnson himself might have approved. His satires and many of the early pieces (An Occasional Prologue, for example) show him as the legitimate heir of the English Augustans. They have bequeathed to him much of the conventional frippery of eighteenth-century poetry. Yet Byron lacks the neat precision and subtle grace of Pope and his school; their kind of rhetoric seldom becomes profuse or expansive.

To understand this phase of Byron, we must remember that English poetry, after Gray, did not turn romantic overnight, but that the old satirical tradition continued into the nineteenth century, considerably inflated with poetic bombast and political bias. We must recall much occasional and journalistic verse, many forgotten album-pieces, and a great deal of oratorical poetry. Byron has a close kinship with parliamentary poets like Churchill, Frere, Gifford, and the writers of the Anti-Jacobin.

Just as in Byron's attitude toward the classics, so in his poetry itself there is an eternal warfare of heart and head. The witty and rationalistic Augustan strain is counter-pointed by an elegiac and introspective romantic mood. Like many fellow-poets, he kept a skull about, but this skull was useful as well as ornamental—Byron drank beer out of it. "Today I have boxed one hour," he notes in his diary for April 10, 1814, "written an ode to Napoleon Bonaparte, copied it, eaten six biscuits, drunk four bottles of soda water, and redde [sic] away the rest of my time." The very virility that drove him to rebel against a pallid classicism also saved him from a neurasthenic romanticism.

I've seen much finer women, ripe and real,
Than all the beauty of their stone ideal.

This is the strain that develops into many fine lyrics, full of lips and loves and last long fond farewells. It also develops into the very theatrical eastern tales and the not very theatrical dramas. For it was this Doppelgängerei, this curious dissociation of intellect and emotion, that enabled him to dramatize himself, to posture before the rest of the world in his life and poetry. It also made it impossible for him to penetrate beyond his own egoism and to look objectively upon life as a whole. So we have, in the dramas, feeble and unintelligent echoes of Faust, such as Manfred, a monologue on the heights.

Despite his youthful excursions into the spluttering and ejaculatory style of Ossian, and his admiration for the early romanticists, it is in his life and mood, rather than in his style, that Byron is romantic. His language is always concrete; he employs without compunction the standard poetic diction, well seasoned with colloquialisms and occasionally spiced with a dash of color; he is never as vulgar as Wordsworth, as vague as Shelley, or as fond of images as Keats. He retains a sense of form and recognizes

What Nature could, but would not, do,
And Beauty and Canova can.

But, abandoning more general considerations, we must seek "the land of the cypress and myrtle" and hearken to the Æolian strains. Byron occasionally follows the "self-torturing sophist, wild Rousseau," and discovers an idyllic Greece where everything is natural and expansive and beautiful. Thus he characterizes one of Don Juan's and Haidée's more intimate moments as "Half-naked, loving, natural, and Greek." Yet it was the North and Nature, he tells us, in The Island, that had taught him to adore these sublime southern scenes. The primitive Greeks, we learn from one of the freest passages in his free translation of the Ars Poetica, did not narrow their hearts with commerce, but were "given alone to arms and arts" in true aesthetic fashion. Like Juan, when he awoke to find Haidée addressing him, we cannot understand this kind of Greek, but it all sounds very beautiful.

Cold is the heart, fair Greece! that looks on thee,
Nor feels as lovers o'er the dust they loved,

sighs Childe Harold's companion, although Harold (heartless wretch) is able to depart without a tear. To the companion a little urn says more than a thousand homilies. He loves to linger by the Ilissus, amid the ruins of the temple of Zeus Olympius, in full view of the Acropolis, with a sepulchral urn before him, and, not far off, a skull from a neighboring burial-ground. How different this lonely figure from the pair that walked and talked there beneath the plane tree many centuries before—the youth Phædrus and the sage Socrates. What would they have thought of this soul-stricken stranger, posing before his solitary column?

Travel is a hereditary privilege of the Englishman, whether his invasions of the continent take the form of a grand tour, a sentimental journey, or a search for the picturesque. The sentimental traveller of the Regency was a great-grandson of the cosmopolite in the reign of the first George, but Childe Harold's wanderings had a new sort of restlessness that distinguished them from the ramblings of Jack Wilton or even Mr. Yorick and Dr. Syntax. Part of Byron's predilection for Greece was due to the fact that he was forever seeking appropriate settings for the continuous monologue of his life. Part was due to his characteristic nostalgia and weariness; he loved, he says, in The Siege of Corinth, to be among

Remnants of things that have pass'd away,
Fragments of stone, rear'd by creatures of clay!

So it was Rome that finally became the city of his soul. Greece, with its oriental traits, nourished his taste for the exotic, but Greece was so far away that his pilgrimage ended in Sehnsucht nach Italien. Rome had later associations which made it holy land, and a soft lunar haze blended its temples with its castles and palazzi. St. Peter's was the very height of sublimity. Rome's columns, in the light of the moon, were more eloquent than Tully. And nature was necessary to complete the spell, for Byron abhorred the Phidian peaks of museums and continually reviled Lord Elgin.

Art, glory, freedom fail, but Nature still is fair.

Yet Byron's landscapes are seldom complete without a ruin in the corner. The declaration, "I love not man the less, but Nature more," must be interpreted in the light of the poet's subjectivity; he was man, and nature was his mirror. In his verse the mountains, rivers, hills, and lakes always turn out to be Byron in disguise. Now and again we have a plea for pantheism that has in it true poetic insight, as in the fragment Aristomenes:

False or true, the dream
Was beautiful, which peopled every stream....

Most typical, however, is the Byron who hymns the beauty of Greece in its age of woe. He sings a mingled measure. Childe Harold identifies Hellas not only with the orient, but even with—of all places—Andalusia. His Romaic love songs are no more classical than his Hebrew Melodies are biblical. "Could I scale," he stipulates, in Beppo,

Parnassus, where the Muses sit inditing
Those pretty poems never known to fail,
How quickly would I print (the world delighting)
A Grecian, Syrian, or Assyrian tale;
And sell you, mix'd with western sentimentalism,
Some samples of the finest Orientalism!

Ultimately, Byron's philhellenism contributed to the success of the Greek Revolution in 1821-33, one of the most significant practical results of the romantic movement. Did he realize how far from ancient Hellas all this was? Again we have the Doppelgänger. For the sentimental poet, the modern Greeks, though degenerated into "craven, crawling slaves," were still the legitimate heirs of the ancient glory; there was "the same light in each eye." For the satirical letter-writer, they were "plausible rascals, with all the Turkish vices, but without their courage." The question is easily settled. It was already a settled question to Tacitus, who records Piso's rebuke to the romantic Hellenist, Germanicus, for honoring "non Atheniensis tot cladibus extinctos, sed conluviem illam nationum." The issue has more to do with Pan-Slavism than with any sort of classicism.

Greece had taken its place along with Byron's other Arcadias of liberty—Venice, Switzerland, America. It is a long way from the liberty of Milton to the liberty of Byron and Shelley. The romantic conception of liberty is temperamental rather than ethical. Attractive and indefinite phrases about liberty are too readily employed to lend a meaning and a philosophy to a libertine life. Periclean Athens had very little freedom in our modern sense. Byron's activities did not revive the old Hellas; they complicated the Near Eastern question.

Missolonghi was the final compromise that put an end to the quarrel between Byron's two selves. At last he had to leave his drawing-rooms and charming ladies for miserable huts and ragged rebels, and at last he became a romantic hero. Head followed heart into the Greek cause, and, although the experience may have been disagreeable to Byron, it left a theatrical tale to the world. The world, however, is better pleased with the compromise of his two selves in Byron's poetry, which gave us that masterpiece of romantic irony, Don Juan. In this ranging and chatty picaresque epic, we frankly accept the fact that the form is sprawling and the story subjective, because the raconteur is so amusing. A moral, a plot, or even an ending would be entirely irrelevant.

All irony is based on the relationship of the real and the ideal. With Byron, Heine, and Jean Paul, the disillusioning facts of life obtrude themselves upon the unrestrained flights of the poet's fancy. With Socrates, the contrast is between petty actualities and universal truths. Romantic irony vacillates from pole to pole without direction. Socratic irony is governed by standards, or at least by logic (Socrates occasionally exhibits an almost Shavian perversity). The Greek ironist never parodies himself. The romantic ironist delights in sharp antitheses. Hardly has the metallic ring of the pseudo-Alcaic ode to "The Isles of Greece" stopped echoing before the author resumes his leisurely manner:

Thus sung, or would, or could, or should have sung,
The modern Greek, in tolerable verse;
If not like Orpheus quite, when Greece was young
Yet in these times he might have done much worse:
His strain display'd some feeling—right or wrong;
And feeling, in a poet, is the source
Of others' feeling; but they are such liars,
And take all colours—like the hands of dyers.

Feeling, to be sure, had been brought back into poetry and life, but in the process control had been eliminated, and either is vain without the other. Byron was acutely aware that he was the puppet of his feelings. In the poem generally quoted as his last, he sounds a clarion call, not to Greece ("she is awake!"), but to his soul:

Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood! . . .

But there is a later fragment, a single stanza published in 1887 as Last Words on Greece:

What are to me those honours or renown
Past or to come, a new-born people's cry? ...
I am a fool of passion, and a frown
Of thine to me is as an adder's eye. . . .
Such is this maddening fascination grown,
So strong thy magic or so weak am I.

So Byron continued to play the rôle of the weary Titan, chained to his papier-mâché Caucasus by shackles of his own forging, with the tragic fire preying eternally on his heart.

The Poet Unbound

"As he wandered among the ruins made one with Nature in their decay, or gazed on the Praxitelean shapes that throng the Vatican, the Capitol, and the palaces of Rome, his soul imbibed forms of loveliness which became a portion of itself." The soul is Shelley's and the speaker is the second Mrs. Shelley, in one of the marginal dithyrambs with which she has lovingly glossed her husband's works. It will be our part to inquire whether the soul really assimilated the loveliness, or whether it simply projected itself upon all beautiful forms that came in its way. Or again, how far did Shelley's classical background affect his ideas, and how far did his ideas affect his classical background?

The Hellenism of Shelley is complicated by the fact that he had a deeper interest in Greek literature and a wider knowledge of it than any of his contemporaries. Most of his familiarity with the classics was acquired, as his wife records, after his early departure from Oxford and during his travels on the continent. The circumstance is highly significant. It means that Shelley did not have the opportunity to be repelled by the classical curriculum, that his approach to the classics was wayward and unacademic, and that his subsequent reading was influenced by his political and philosophical obsessions.

"The poetry of ancient Greece and Rome, and modern Italy, and our own country," he confesses, in the preface to The Revolt of Islam, "has been to me, like external nature, a passion and an enjoyment." (O soul of Sir John Cheke!) The collected poems include translations of Plato, Euripides, the Homeric Hymns, and the pastoral poets, among others. Some of them sound enough like Shelley to raise our suspicions. We turn, quite at random, to the rendering of Vergil's tenth Eclogue.

.. . the wild woods knew
His sufferings, and their echoes

is Shelley's version of the three simple Vergilian words, "respondent omnia silvæ."

To read Shelley is to become conscious of the vast distance between the modern poet and those ancients whom he continually evokes. He is a poet of the averted gaze; we never know for sure what he is writing about. Mary Shelley praises him for "discarding human interest and passion to revel in the fantastic ideas that his imagination suggested." "As to real flesh and blood," he wrote, to his friend Gisbourne, "you know that I do not deal in those articles." What are your wares, then, Mr. Shelley? Many will answer for the poet that he is a dealer in ideas, a philosopher. Professor Elton, for example, a stalwart champion, enshrines Shelley on high, with Plato on his right hand and Ruskin on his left.

The name of Plato has been shamelessly abused by twenty-odd centuries of poets and philosophers. As Shelley puts it, with unconscious aptness,

"Then Plato's words of light in thee and me
Lingered like moonlight."

Hellas has a lyric scene in which Christianity and Platonism are reconciled by the simple dramatic expedient of having Christ praise Plato. A more familiar kind of Platonizing ensues when Shelley invokes his "moth-like muse" in Epipsychidion. The result is more like a Petrarchan sequence than the Symposium. Emilia is "Spouse, Sister, Angel," but Shelley's love for her, like Tristan's for Isolde, goes beyond the sonneteers and seeks to consummate itself in annihilation. "I pant, I sink, I tremble, I expire."

Shelley does not deal in thoughts, but in "the shadow of the idol of a thought." He has the romantic wish to be infinite, so he seeks the mazes and mists of a vaporish philosophy. His idealism expresses moods instead of expounding ideas. In Prince Athanase, when he quotes the philosopher,

"The mind becomes that which it contemplates,"

we are tempted to recall the occasion on which he contemplated the wind ("Be thou me, impetuous one"), and to consider him eminently successful in becoming the object of his contemplation. For Shelley, to put it baldly, is all fire and air, without much fire.

If Shelley deals neither in flesh and blood nor in ideas, what—we rudely repeat—is his merchandise? Again the never-failing Mrs. Shelley has a ready answer. He had, she tells us, in her preface to the first 1839 edition of his poems, "the luxury of imagination, which sought nothing beyond itself (as a child burdens itself with spring flowers, thinking of no use beyond the enjoyment of gathering them)." Apparently the garden of poetry has become so overgrown that our later poets have only to linger in the shade of its trees, languidly culling poetic conventions and dallying with poetic devices.

Her husband preludes his Hellas with the announcement that "the subject, in its present state, is incapable of being treated otherwise than lyrically." But it is Shelley, as we have reason to believe, who is incapable of treating any subject otherwise than lyrically. This is undoubtedly true of his treatment of Greece. "The modern Greek," he claims, "is the descendant of those glorious beings whom the imagination almost refuses to figure to itself as belonging to our kind, and he inherits much of their sensibility, their rapidity of conception, their enthusiasm, and their courage."

We recognize the purest sentiments of romantic Hellenism—the identification of ancient and modern Greece, the isolation of ancient Greece as an Arcadia in "the world's golden dawn," and the purely romantic emotional coloring. They are to be expected from the man who found Priapus "quaint" and Pan "melancholy." By now these concepts are familiar, and perhaps tiresome, to us. We are chiefly interested in the essential quality which Shelley attributes to Greece and in his explanation of the golden age.

"If England were divided into forty republics, each equal in population and extent to Athens," he writes, in one of his introductions, "there is no reason to suppose but that, under institutions not more perfect than those of Athens, each would produce philosophers and poets equal to those who (if we except Shakespeare) have never been surpassed." Liberty, then, is the sole reason for this superiority of the ancient Greeks. "If not for Rome and Christianity," he informs a correspondent, "we should all have been Greeks—without their prejudices." Is liberty enough? Shelley reveals not only a superficial conception of liberty, but also a superficial conception of genius. An age of genius has seldom been an age of liberty. We are reminded of Chénier's couplet:

Les poètes anglais, trop fiers pour être esclaves,
Ont même de la raison rejeté les entraves.

An examination of the lyric drama Prometheus Unbound will serve to bring out many of the differences between classical tragedian and romantic lyricist. The lost tragedy of Æschylus was set apart in the catalogue because it dealt with gods rather than with men. To Fontenelle, Metastasio, and Voltaire it seemed a violation of the principles of taste. Shelley has forsaken both gods and men to concern himself with continents, spheres, and elements. Against a background of ravines and icy rocks in the Indian Caucasus, the protagonist calls in turn upon mountains, springs, and air, while "Asia waits in that far Indian vale."

The Prometheus of Greek drama, in his misery, invokes first the lands of the earth and finally the waves of the sea, but we must bear in mind that he is addressing the dwellers in those lands and that the personification of the ocean was a climax intended to impress Greek audiences with the dire extent of his woes. Æschylus has relieved the super-human argument by introducing Io and her very human plight. Even Power and Force show a crude characterization. The modern play has none of the cruelty of the ancient; where the classical Titan agonizes, the romantic Titan rhapsodizes. Although the modern poet has no more sympathy for his subject than the ancient poet, the duty of Æschylus is to perceive and acknowledge the necessary outcome of the struggle. Shelley rebels against the inevitable and, by refusing to recognize the common lot of man, casts off the ties that bind literature to life.

His preface not only points to Prometheus as the champion of mankind and to Zeus as its oppressor, but goes a step farther and identifies Prometheus with Satan, "the Hero of Paradise Lost." On this romantic diabolism, Shelley builds a labyrinth of pure allegory, with little immediate or symbolic significance. It is a compound of Plato and Godwin, Milton and Mist. The sense of necessity and the deep awe of the Prometheus Vinctus are dispelled. The mystical machinery is inconceivable, the action beyond human emotions (nay, even beyond the chain of cause and effect), and our interest languishes, save when revived by the grace or skill exhibited in a chorus.

It is not easy to follow the misty dramatis personas. The Earth is the daughter of Asia, who is the daughter of Oceanus. Somehow or other, the rebellious phantasm of Zeus abjures him. Eternity is rebuked and the Spirit of the Hour quotes Dante. No more abstract poetic language could be imagined than such a figure as "cancelled cycles." In the midst of this potpourri of abstractions, Shelley comes down in a machine and proclaims the Millennium, which is celebrated in a carnival of adjectives. He has progressed from the triumph of evil in The Revolt of Islam to the return of the golden age in Hellas.

This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.

But Shelley, after all, was a human being, and for that reason his Titanism is unconvincing. Milton and Æschylus succeeded in creating superhuman figures by drawing men on a vast scale. Shelley lacked the power of characterization (The Cenci reveals him as a wooden Webster), and so he sought to convince by imagery and allegory. Occasionally the contrast between his characters and the things which they symbolize becomes amusing; thus Asia instructs the Spirit of the Earth in what every young sphere ought to know:

Peace, wanton, thou art yet not old enough.
Think ye by gazing on each other's eyes
To multiply your lovely selves, and fill
With spherèd fires the interlunar air?

How fair these air-born shapes? You are nothing—we are tempted to say—but a pack of words. It takes only a single phrase to dethrone Jupiter and his dynasty. Symbolism carried beyond a certain stage loses all significance. See, then, how easy is it to have a man walk out on the stage and say, "I am Eternity!" Shelley discovered that it was no more trouble to write hymns on mountains and chasms than to write homilies on stones and brooks, thereby reducing Wordsworth to absurdity. In a passage like the following, he develops a veritable apotheosis of the "pathetic fallacy":

The tongueless Caverns of the craggy hills
Cried, "Misery!" then; the hollow Heaven replied,
"Misery!" and the Ocean's purple waves,
Climbing the land, howled to the lashing winds,
And the pale nations heard it, "Misery!"

When Shaftesbury defined the poet as "a second maker, a just Prometheus under Jove," he was heralding a host of romantic poets, with Byron at their head, who sought out lonely rocks and raged at the heavens. Yet Byron realized the inevitability of the Titan's fate and did not attempt to overthrow the order of things:

Like thee, Man is in part divine,
A troubled stream from a pure source;
And man in portions can foresee
His own funereal destiny;
His wretchedness and his resistance,
And his sad unallied existence.

Byron knew more of the world than Shelley, and had a sounder sense of human values. Still, he lacked the lighter touch of the younger poet. Byron's verse often sounds rhetorical and commonplace when compared with the smoothness and exquisite finish of Shelley's.

But Shelley lacked the elder poet's sense of humor. In his pseudo-Aristophanic comedy, Swellfoot the Tyrant, the chorus of swine grunts out such fanciful lines that the satire against George IV. and Castlereagh loses point. Now and again Shelley restrained this profusion and produced a poem of the true Greek epigrammatic quality, like the sonnet Ozymandias, so effective in its refusal to point a moral. Often, too, he found a becoming subject for his customarily atmospheric and evocative style, as in Adonais, one of the happiest examples of "reflective" poetry.

"Why, did you ever hear any people in clouds speak plain?" asks Mr. Bayes, in The Rehearsal "They must be all for flight of fancy, at its full range, without the least check or control upon it. When once you tie up spirits and people in clouds to speak plain, you spoil all." The present attitude toward Shelley resembles the viewpoint of Mr. Bayes. Shelley could not have been tied up and made to speak plain, but many of his admirers prefer him untied and in the clouds. They are apostles of what the French literary critics call lyrisme.

Lyricism is the practise of poetry for poetry's sake. Poetry originated before the days of writing, when men adapted their sayings to rhythm in order to make them memorable. Then it is developed to a high degree of art and performs a lofty function in the life of a people. But sooner or later there comes an Alexandrian period, when men feel that the normal possibilities of literature have been exhausted, and take to experimenting with novel forms and recherché emotions. Belles-lettres become a mere drawing-room accomplishment.

Lyricism is a very late stage in the history of poetry. It is a reaction against undue didacticism, against formalism of all sorts. The western civilization is more prone to it than the classic, because its melody is more obvious and because accent and rhyme often dictate the sentiment. When our critics read a poem which rhymes and scans and apparently has nothing to say, they speak of its lyricism. Human character and emotion have been fully exploited in narrative and drama, the lyricist feels; the only thing left for him to do is to summon up, in lyric snatches, vague moods, embellished by the approved poetic conventions. His art is suggestive and literary to the extreme. We have the impression that he is writing about poetry rather than life.

Byron, Shelley, and Keats can show us aspects which are typical of romantic poetry and quite foreign to the best classical poetry with which we are familiar. With Byron it is subjectivity; the author's personality is more important than his theme, and he is unable to look upon life objectively. With Shelley it is lyricism; he is interested in words for their own sake and substitutes moods for ideas. With Keats, as we shall see, it is imagism; the trappings of poetry are for him its chief charm, and his verse becomes a kind of decoration.

Beauty or Truth?

John Keats, who was killed off by one critique,
Just as he really promised something great,
If not intelligible, without Greek
Contrived to talk about the gods of late,
Much as they might have been supposed to speak.

Or, at least, that is what Byron has to say about it. Keats himself says (to Charles Cowden Clarke) that

.. . my thoughts were never free, and clear,
And little fit to please a classic ear.

Despite this confession, Keats has been pointed out as the most Grecian of modern poets. If he had been subjected to irregular verbs, perhaps his longing for Homer's wide demesne might have been tempered somewhat. Because he knew the classics at second hand, his attitude toward them is purely conventional. Thus we find pale reflections of the various phases of romantic Hellenism in his poems—the rocking-horse Pegasus of neo-classicism, the mythological echoes, the early Greeks unconsciously culling Time's sweet first fruits,

. . . with as sunburned looks
As may be read of in Arcadian books.

"I hope I have not in too late a day touched the beautiful mythology of Greece, and dulled its brightness," Keats writes, in the preface to Endymion. The mythology of Greece continues to shine, although it is not certain whether Keats has attained his pious hope in Endymion. Certainly he has attained it in the charming verses beginning, "I stood tiptoe upon a little hill," which present a delightful picture of the reveries of the romantic Hellenist. "Pan is no longer sought," complains the poet, in his fresh and vivid delineation of the hillside scene. Then there follows an evocation of several Greek myths suggested by the landscape, and the poet finally dedicates himself to the tale of Endymion. Such verses go far to justify the romantic conception of Greece or to suggest that there were Neo-Hellenists who held a wider and clearer outlook than their neo-classic predecessors.

But Keats' poetry abounds in a profusion very unlike the Greek. He was unable to sustain the statuesque style of Hyperion. The more characteristic Endymion is suffused with Spenser, and it betrays the touch of Archimago's wand. The poet longs for the moon, in four cantos. His Endymion is constantly falling into swoons, heretofore the peculiar privilege of men of feeling or the heroes of mediaeval romance. The poppies and lilies with which the poem is redolent are no Grecian flora. The style is Elizabethan, although Keats makes embellishment his raison d'être. He preferred to look back to the golden age in the literature of his own people, rather than to follow the classical tradition. He says little of Homer and a great deal about Chapman.

Keats is the laureate of bric-à-brac. "Lo, I must tell a tale of chivalry!" he announces. He must not, he will not, he cannot. He will simply talk about plumes and chargers and glittering trappings. St. Agnes ' Eve and the other tales show that his chief concern was with stage settings. Had he actually been an Elizabethan, he would have written masques instead of dramas. Images alone suffice, for Keats is in love with sense impressions. But it is wrong to call Keats a child of nature; he is really a connoisseur. He betrays at times an almost morbid delight in things physical, and his interest in nature is not marked by the wholesome pleasure of the sportsman, but by the wistful regret of the consumptive. It is conceivable that his Greeks should sleep in the grass, feed upon red apples and strawberries, catch nymphs, and even bite their white shoulders,—as they do in Sleep and Poetry,—but the dove-wings, the dancing-girls, the almond blossoms, and the cinnamon betray the connoisseur. It is the poor cockney from Moorfields who speaks.

When the poet is a voluptuary, it is natural that poetry should be treated as a narcotic. The poetry of Keats is heavy, sweet, languorous, and soporific. There is a sense of fatigue and romantic melancholy, a feeling that the scroll of mighty poets has been made up and rolled away. Everyone is tired in this tragic century. Newman felt a sense of "pain and weariness" which he found elsewhere only in the pages of Vergil. That is the strain of Tennyson's Lotus-Eaters and the sad, faint harmonies of Swinburne, who inherited Shelley's lyricism and Hellenism. The great end of poetry, for Keats, was "to soothe the cares, and lift the thoughts of man," but he was only successful in achieving the first of his aims.

When he comes to apostrophize the Grecian urn in terms of pure lyric speculation, Keats realizes that nothing in this life endures save what is crystallized by art into a work of beauty. The symbolism of the poem is indisputable. Sappho, however, would draw her distinctions with greater nicety. . . .

And that is not all ye need to know; ye need to know what is truth and what is beauty. Plato could not have quarrelled with the idea expressed in the Ode, but if he had read it in the light of Keats' other poems he would have rebuked Keats for exalting beauty of so purely sensuous a character. In another ode (the one addressed to Psyche) the poet speaks of his "soul" when he is really talking about his sensibility. The beauty of his work is ultimately achieved through the play of his fancy, which he ever allows to roam, rather than through the deliberations of that austerer faculty, the imagination. Lamia is apparently beautiful, but not true, and yet the poet will not recognize the reality and would embrace the serpent. "Græcum est, non potest legi." Poor Keats never learned Greek. . . .

Romanticism arose as a protest against the neo-classicism into which the humanistic tradition had frozen. But let us not make the mistake of judging romantic Hellenism from the neo-classical viewpoint. It is doubtful if the neo-classicists always had a sounder apprehension of the classics than their romantic Hellenist successors. It is very likely that they, too, often saw the reflected ideals of their own age in ancient Greece, when they adapted Homer for the drawing-rooms, made "Caton galant et Brutus damerei," and turned a hero of ancient tragedy—according to Dryden's taunt—into "Monsieur Hippolyte." Every young lady was a nymph, muses and lyres were the indispensable equipment of the poet, and writers put the pantheon in their pages. "Mes belles dames," was their query, "voulez-vous des éventails à la grecque?" Yet their appreciation of the classics developed to such a degree of nicety that La Harpe could attack Homer for violating classical taste and Chesterfield could sneer at the Homeric heroes as porters. Don Juan strays no farther from the Odyssey in one direction than Télêmaque does in the other.

The Greeks, unfortunately, were unable to have such a thing as a classical education. Subsequent civilization was able to codify their experience and to depend upon it for authority during the course of many centuries. The Greeks, perhaps for historical reasons, did not have our habit of turning back, at every step, to consult the past. It has been said that the Greek language was pure because the Greeks read and spoke no other. It may be that this principle can explain the clarity which we find in classical times and the confusion which we see, at present, in our own age. Whether or not that is true, we may be sure, when we look back to the past, that the Greeks were ever looking forward to the future; Pericles' funeral oration or the epitaphs at Marathon or Andromache's farewell to Hector should teach us that. Up to this late day, when we are depending more and more upon that vast tradition of our own which we have accumulated, and less and less upon our inheritance from the more remote past, each successive age has interpreted Hellas anew.

Timothy Webb (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: Introduction to English Romantic Hellenism: 1700-1824, edited by Timothy Webb, Manchester University Press and Barnes and Noble Books, 1982, p. 35.

[In the following essay, Webb traces the English rediscovery of interest in Greece from the eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, exploring both the influences and the impact of this renewed fascination on English culture and literature.]


In 1675 a French writer described his feelings on first seeing the city of Athens:

At the first sight of this Famous Town .. . I started immediately, and was taken with an universal shivering all over my Body. Nor was I Singular in my Commotion, we all of us stared, but could see nothing, our imaginations were too full of the Great Men which that City had produced.1

The sentimental traveller called himself de la Guilletière but his real name was Georges Guillet de Saint-George and, in spite of the vivid catalogue of physical symptoms, he had never been to Athens. His travels were fictional but his picture of the city was based on a variety of sources including eye-witness accounts provided by the French Capuchins who had settled in Athens. This curious gallimaufry of fact and fiction was reprinted several times and was regarded as authoritative by more than one unsuspecting scholar who had no opportunity of testing its veracity. Athènes ancienne et nouvelle marks the end of one phase of writing about Greece and heralds the beginning of another; the factual basis of de la Guilletière's account was soon to be tested in person by travellers of a more empirical temperament, while his emotional prostration at the sight of Athens was to be echoed in a variety of postures by a long succession of Romantic Hellenists.

Of course, as Dr Charles Perry was to point out nearly seventy years later, first-hand experience did not always guarantee accuracy of observation. The emotional impact of an encounter with the classical past sometimes distorted the vision.2 Travellers to Greece could rarely avoid the sigh of regret for the departed glories of the past or the strong tug of identification with the Greeks of the present day, miserably subservient to the tyranny of the Ottoman Empire. A century and a half of these responses was later to receive its most complete and most powerful expression in Byron's Childe Harold:

Fair Greece! sad relic of departed worth!
Immortal, though no more; though fallen, great!
Who now shall lead thy scatter'd children forth,
And long accustom'd bondage uncreate?


Yet the attractions of the landscape, the suggestiveness of ruins and the touching political plight of the Greeks were also to be held in balance by an increasing desire to discover the truth, a scientific curiosity to collect and assess the evidence of Greece both as it had been in the days of its glory and as it now was in the time of its sad decline.

In the year in which Athènes ancienne et nouvelle appeared, another Frenchman, Jacob Spon, and an Englishman, George Wheler, were touring Greece and the Levant and recording their impressions in some detail; in particular, they were able to present a first-hand account of Athens and to report on the Parthenon, part of which was to be destroyed in an explosion in 1687. Spon's book appeared between 1678 and 1680, Wheler's in 1682; together they provided the first extensive, authoritative description of modern Greece. Spon's account, in particular, became an important work of reference for later travellers and archaeologists. They were not without prejudices; Wheler offered an emotional dedication to Charles II, which looked over its shoulder at the Civil War and which helped to procure a knighthood for its author. Yet although they were not always objective, Spon was a doctor and antiquarian and Wheler a zoologist and botanist and they approached their subject with a curiosity not unallied to the spirit of scientific enquiry. The keynote was stuck by Wheler when he complained that previous travellers 'have perhaps seen it [Athens] only from Sea, through the wrong end of their Perspective-Glass'.4 Whatever the motes in their respective eyes, Spon and Wheler did make their own observations and their enquiries were not conditioned by the goals of a simple-minded search for the picturesque.

In their emphasis on the pragmatic, Spon and Wheler might be regarded as the originators of a new and influential approach to the understanding of Greece. Undoubtedly, the history of neo-classicism and of its close relation Romantic Hellenism was partly shaped by subjectivity, emotionalism and a predilection for lontani and the wrong end of the perspective-glass; but the eighteenth and early nineteenth-century view of Greece was also firmly grounded on the endeavours of travellers, archaeologists, cultural historians and scholars. Although Athens retained its potency as an ideal city of the mind 'Based on the crystàlline sea / Of thought and its eternity'5 and although neo-classical theory consistently propounded the virtues of ideal beauty, there was an increasing interest in discovering the reality of Greece both past and present.

This interest can be traced very clearly in the epoch-making Antiquities of Athens by James Stuart and Nicholas Revett (first vol. 1762, second vol. 1789, three other vols. to 1830): these beautifully-produced volumes which were sponsored by the aristocratic art-lovers of the Society of Dilettanti . . . provided the first adequately detailed and accurate visual record of Greek architectural remains at Athens and in Asia Minor.... Stuart and Revett were impelled not only by the desire to elevate Greece at the expense of Rome but also by their concern to establish the architectural and archaeological facts:

We have carefully examined as low as to the Foundation of every Building that we have copied, tho' to perform this, it was generally necessary to get a great quantity of earth and rubbish removed; an operation which was sometimes attended with very considerable expence.

When they found that they could not get an unobstructed view of the Tower of the Winds, they arranged to have an interfering building demolished and rebuilt after they had finished their investigation. Even the six engaging plates in the first volume which are based on the drawings of Stuart were conditioned by the pursuit of accuracy:

The Views were also finished on the spot; and in these, preferring Truth to every other consideration, I have taken none of the Liberties with which Painters are apt to indulge themselves, from a desire of rendering their representation of Places more agreeable to the Eye and better Pictures. Not an object is here embellished by strokes of Fancy.

This scrupulous exactitude exerted its influence on the Ionian Mission which was officially sponsored by the Society of Dilettanti and whose members were Revett, Richard Chandler and the artist William Pars. The Mission eventually resulted in the Ionian Antiquities (first vol. 1769, second vol. 1797) which, like the Antiquities of Athens, was elegant and influential ... . Like its predecessor, it helped to create a new taste for Grecian architecture and decoration which appealed to the aesthetic sensibility but which was founded on a scientific attention to fact. Together with the Antiquities of Athens it provided a detailed reservoir not only of architectural ideas but of the precise details and measurements of the elevations. The joint impact of these publications made its mark both on interior decoration and more gradually on architecture; some of the resulting buildings at first appeared exotically inappropriate to the English scene but by the early years of the nineteenth century the Greek style had been established as one of the dominant standards of architectural excellence.

Ionian Antiquities included a number of engravings from the sensitive watercolours of William Pars (the younger brother of Blake's drawing master) which removed the architectural remains from the scientific vacuum in which they were presented for architectural purposes and portrayed them as buildings in a landscape. While the linear purity of the designs and elevations was certainly inspiring to architects and neo-classical seekers after the pleasures of contour or outline, the engravings provided a balance by introducing the narrative, the human and the exotic. Without these softening influences, the Antiquities would be a work of almost abstract severity, an act of homage to intellectual beauty as well as to archaeographical and architectural exactitude. The contribution of Pars is to remind the reader or the student of architecture that the antiquities of Ionia were originally designed to interpenetrate with the landscapes and to draw attention to the present state of the buildings, many of which were ruined. Pars was obviously influenced by James Stuart who, for all his dedication to Nature and Truth as opposed to Fancy, introduced into his pictures some splashes of local colour and a number of figures, including members of his own party variously equipped with tape-measures and sketching materials.

If Ionian Antiquities maintains a balance between the imaginative and the scientific response, so does the individual work of its leading contributor, Richard Chandler ... . Chandler is not primarily concerned with the aesthetic delights of the picturesque or the exotic, or with the pleasurable sadness pursued by the sentimental traveller; instead, he exhibits an almost puritanical dedication to the correction of poetic misapprehensions. Athens, for example, has encouraged extravagant flights of the imagination from those who have never seen it .. . ; in deliberate contrast, Chandler asserts the supremacy of empirically tested reality and of local truth.

Similar corrections are made by other writers such as J. B. S. Morritt . .. , though sometimes in a different spirit and with different intentions. Many of the pioneering travellers had taken in Greece as part of their travels in the Levant (indeed a number of them had worked for the Levant Company or had been attached to the embassies at the Sublime Porte). As a result, the earlier narratives usually devoted more attention to wet Greece than to dry (or mainland) Greece. After the great artistic/archaeographic expeditions and towards the end of the eighteenth century, there was an increase in the number of travellers to the mainland; this was to culminate in the activities of the topographers in the early nineteenth century. One consequence was that the poets' evocations of the Golden Age could be set more clearly against the criteria of those who had actually travelled in Greece. On one occasion we even find a painter approaching Athens and matching the colours of the landscape and the buildings against the palettes of Poussin, Lodovico Caracci and Titian.6

The most celebrated of these later travellers was, of course, Lord Byron, whose first-hand experience of Greece and Asia Minor entitled him to the pleasures of correcting 'poetic geography'; the correction was given added piquancy because it provided an opportunity to find Wordsworth at fault both in his idealization of the 'still seclusion' of Turkish cemeteries and in his sense of place:

He says of Greece in the body of his book—that it is a land of
rivers—fertile plains—& sounding shores Under a cope of variegated sky

The rivers are dry half the year—the plains are barren—and shores still & tideless as the Mediterranean can make them—the Sky is anything but variegated—being for months & months—but "darkly—deeply—beautifully blue."

Here Byron is exhibiting his own predilection for fact while he gleefully accuses Wordsworth of substituting a soft and charming English pastoral for the vivid but harsher realities of the Greek landscape. Yet, although Byron generally employs his experiences of Greece to satisfy a highly personal need to deflate the falsely 'poetic' and the complacent, he also uses his knowledge to defend Pope's Homer against ignorant detractors. Having 'read it on the spot', he records authoritatively that 'there is a burst—and a lightness—and a glow—about the night in the Troad'.7 In such consultations of the realities, Byron is part of a tradition which goes back to the eighteenth-century travellers, to Antiquities of Athens and to its successors.

These travellers included poets as well as prose writers and students of history and manners. As a poet, Byron was in a position to draw, directly or indirectly, on the Greek experiences of predecessors such as William Falconer, W. R. Wright, Richard Polwhele and J. D. Carlyle. He had a particular regard for Falconer, a sailor who produced the first extensive treatment of modern Greece in English poetry. Byron admired Falconer because of 'the strength and reality of his poem'8 but, although the topographical passages of The Shipwreck (1762) are tinged with a precise evocativeness derived from genuine experience, they remain somewhat idealized. In contrast the success of the Greek passages in Childe Harold is based on Byron's ability to present a powerful and convincing picture of the present-day country set against glimpses and nostalgic intimations of its past. Byron's sentiment is kept in check by the sharpness and the authenticity of his observations, while the topographical descriptions of the traveller and the political reflections of the Philhellene are animated by the drive of the verse and the immediacy of the feeling. It was a balance achieved by few of his predecessors or his contemporaries in the tradition of Greek travel.


The search for truth also played an important part in the revaluation of Homer. Much of the early interpretation tended to isolate the poems both from social and cultural circumstances and from their geographical settings. Few scholars were personally familiar with the geography of the Iliad or of those sections of the Odyssey which are set in Greece. Gradually, a shift in thinking began to take place as it was recognized that Homer was the product of a specific environment and that a careful study of the Greek landscape and of those factors which had helped to produce him could throw much light both on the details and perhaps on the very nature of his poetry.

One of the first writers to make first-hand use of local evidence was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. . . . Writing to Alexander Pope from Adrianople in 1717 she noted that she was living 'in a place where Truth for once furnishes all the Ideas of Pastorall'. She had been reading the latest volume of Pope's translation and had been struck by the exact correspondences between certain descriptions in Homer and contemporary Turkish life. In a second letter Lady Mary reports on her visit to Troy in a manner which is commonsensical and robustly humorous but which remains susceptible to the spirit of place and the promptings of the historical imagination. Her respect for Homer is enhanced by her observations: 'While I view'd these celebrated Fields and Rivers, I admir'd the exact Geography of Homer, whom I had in my hand'. This letter was not published till 1763 but the tribute to Homer is significant; it marks the prelude to a fresh series of attempts to match the poem to the available facts, an investigation which perhaps reached its climax with Schliemann's excavations of Troy and Mycenae but which is still continuing today.

One of the most important contributions to the rediscovery of Homer in this period was made by Robert Wood. . . . Wood's travels in Greece and Asia Minor had convinced him that 'the Iliad has new beauties on the banks of the Scamander; and the Odyssey is most pleasing in the countries where Ulysses travelled and Homer sung'. Experience of the classical sites was a pleasure in itself but Wood recognized that its implications reached beyond the sentimental indulgences of the tourist and could sometimes 'help us to understand them [the poet or historian] better'. Little allowance is made for originality or poetic imagination: Wood's Essay on the Original Genius of Homer (1767) is based on the premise that Homer's poems are an accurate representation of reality. Unlike Le Bossu and many of the French critics, Wood sees the Iliad as a work without moral design; instead, it is 'an exact transcript' both geographically and in matters of history. Wood finds fault with Pope's translation because it ignores these facts and treats Homer's geographical precisions as if they were arbitrary adjectival decorations. His lengthy account of the geographical details of the Catalogue of Ships .. . is intended to show how Pope's poetical liberties have distorted and sometimes confused the particularities of Homeric geography; Wood acknowledges that some of these deviations can be attributed to the imperatives of the rhyme scheme but he insists that, for all its spirit, Pope's translation perverts the verisimilitude of the original.

Not everyone agreed: as late as 1808, Anna Seward observed that Pope's version of the Catalogue of Ships 'shows what genius and judgement can do with the most barren materials'. The Swan of Lichfield maintained that it was better to sin against truth than against beauty and she had no doubt that 'Pope's Homer was, as poetry, very superior to its Original . . .'.9 Yet, in spite of such firmly asserted preferences, there was a growing tendency to apply the criteria of verifiable reality. Homer was no longer regarded primarily as an allegorist or a master of mythological generalities but as a clear-eyed observer of the world around him. Writing in 1771 P.-A. Guys insisted on the value of reading Homer and the Greek poets on Greek soil where one can recover even the smallest details by using one's eyes—'C'est en Grèce qu'il faut relire l'Iliade & l'Odyssée . . .'; after a visit to Troy in the company of the Iliad, he responded enthusiastically: 'Quelle vérité! quelle énergie! quel choix dans toutes ses images!'10 Travelling in Greece in 1776 the Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier also attempted to relate the landscape to the Homeric poems; the result was a beautifully produced folio, the first volume of which appeared in 1782. A similar enlightenment came to Goethe, who never visited Greece but who discovered that the landscape of Magna Graecia brought Homer vividly to life. He told Herder:

A word about Homer. The scales have fallen from my eyes. His descriptions, his similes, etc., which to us seem merely poetic, are in fact utterly natural though drawn, of course, with an inner comprehension which takes one's breath away. Even when the events he narrates are fabulous and fictitious, they have a naturalness about them which I have never felt so strongly as in the presence of the settings he describes. Let me say briefly what I think about the ancient writers and us moderns. They represented things and persons as they are in themselves, we usually represent only their subjective effect . . . 11

Perhaps the most popular site for the student of Homer was the plain of Troy. Robert Wood had experienced some difficulty in identifying the site of the city and later visitors and classical scholars were not slow to put forward rival theories. Le Chevalier, Jacob Bryant, Gilbert Wakefield, James Dallaway, J. B. S. Morritt, William Francklin and Henry Hope among others all expressed their views before 1800; the early nineteenth century saw the productions of Edward Clarke, Edward Dodwell, J. Rennell and C. Maclaren, and of eminent topographers such as William Gell and William Leake. Some found fault with Homer, and Bryant even concluded that the Trojan War had not taken place and that the city of Troy had never existed. Bryant had never been to Troy and was firmly refuted by others who had. Among the believers was Lord Byron. For him, as for Robert Wood, Mary Wortley Montagu and others, one of the prime virtues of Homer was his veracity: ' . . . we do care about "the authenticity of the tale of Troy". I have stood upon that plain daily, for more than a month, in 1810; and, if any thing diminished my pleasure, it was that the blackguard Bryant had impugned its veracity . . . I still venerated the grand original as the truth of history (in the material facts) and of place. Otherwise, it would have given me no delight.'12

This gradual discovery of Homer's veracity makes an interesting counterpoint to the views of the eighteenth-century novelists. The novel was establishing itself at this time by creating its own identity and teleology; this involved an emphasis on realism as opposed to romance, and on contemporary relevance and immediacy rather than adherence to classical models. One result was an attempt to discredit the classics in general and Homer in particular. For instance, Daniel Defoe diagnosed a damaging lack of morality in classical literature: the siege of Troy was all for 'the Rescue of a Whore' and there was 'not a Moralist among the Greeks but Plutarch'. Homer was a superstitious wandering bard who had transformed the story of 'the Wars of the Greeks . . . from a Reality, into a meer Fiction . . .'.13

Henry Fielding's views were more complex. He admired classical literature and recognized that it still had its uses: as he explains in Tom Jones (xii. 1), the ancients are 'to be esteemed among us writers as so many wealthy squires, from whom we, the poor of Parnassus, claim an immemorial custom of taking whatever we can come at'. Homer was a particular favourite: Parson Adams's discourse on his virtues (Joseph Andrews, iii.2) is not uninfluenced by Fielding's own preferences. Fielding employs Homer as a model in Joseph Andrews, for structural and thematic purposes, while in Tom Jones he uses the epic both as a subject for burlesque and as a standard by which the action of the novel may be measured. Fielding began by equating Joseph Andrews with the Odyssey and Fénelon's Télémaque as opposed to the French romance (Preface to Joseph Andrews, 1742). By the time he came to write The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon (1755) he had completely reversed his position:

But in reality, the Odyssey, the Telemachus, and all of that kind, are to the voyage-writing I here intend, what romance is to true history, the former being the confounder and corrupter of the latter . . . (Preface).

However one may wish to qualify this statement by noting, for example, that it does not mention the Iliad and that the needs of a journal are different from those of a novel, it is clear that Fielding sides with Defoe in finding Homer wanting by the criteria of the historian and the realist.

Thirty years later, this point was developed by the novelist Clara Reeve in The Progress of Romance (1785) where she draws parallels between the Odyssey and the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor and declares that, in spite of her veneration for Homer, she finds little to choose between the two narratives. One of the speakers in the dialogue makes a claim which is disputed but never successfully controverted: 'Homer was the parent of Romance; where ever his works have been known, they have been imitated by the Poets and Romance writers.'14

Clearly, there were two ways of seeing Homer. For the novelists, he was a writer of outmoded romances, the product of a barbarous age which had little interest or relevance for the recorders and analysts of contemporary British society; for many poets, travellers and men of letters, he was not only the most meticulous of observers but the historian of a world which, though undoubtedly alien, was irresistibly attractive.


The fluctuating reputation of Homer is a useful index of changing (and sometimes conflicting) attitudes towards Greece and the classical past. The French scholars, critics and writers who engaged in the Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns devoted much of their energy to discussing his faults and virtues. Many of them showed a tendency to idealize Homer and to concentrate on the simplicity of heroic manners. Fénelon believed that 'Rien n'est si aimable que cette vie des premiers hommes';15 for him, as for Mme Anne Dacier, the simplicity of Homeric manners seemed to bring back the Golden Age. Fénelon's influential didactic romance Télémaque (1699 . . .) was designed to reproach his courtly contemporaries for their luxury and corruption by presenting an idealized narrative which distils a pastoral serenity from passages in the Odyssey, while Mme Dacier's view was based on an unfavourable contrast with her own times ('Pour moy, .. . je trouve ces temps anciens d'autant plus beaux, qu'ils ressemblent moins au nostre').16 The calmer episodes of the Odyssey provided the main imaginative stimulus for those who preferred to idealize the Homeric world; both the Iliad and the more violent incidents of the Odyssey were usually ignored or tactfully kept in the background. Conversely, those who found fault with Homer tended to concentrate on the Iliad and on the barbarity and uncouthness of its heroes and their language. Both sides acknowledged that Homer's society bore only the slightest resemblance to their own. One of the most significant effects of the Battle was to bring out more clearly the importance of understanding the true nature of that ancient society: the Battle 'emphasized uniqueness, difference, change, and development, not permanence or universality'.17

In English criticism an early example of the developing historical sense can be found in Pope's Preface . . . and Notes, in marked contrast to the translations themselves which tend to transmogrify Homer in conformity to the principles of Augustan taste. In the translations, the harsher or cruder or 'lower' aspects of Homeric life, language and style are either omitted or elevated by the use of elegant poetic diction so that they lose their capacity to shock or to arrest us by their strangeness. Pope's prose accounts of Homer are sympathetic and alert us to the cultural differences between Homeric society and his own, though this sense of difference sometimes leads him to emphasize the virtues of a pastoral way of life. Like Fénelon and Mme Dacier, he responds to the intimations of a Golden Age with an enthusiasm which may seem uncritical: 'There is a Pleasure in taking a View of that Simplicity in Opposition to the Luxury of succeeding Ages ... ' The Notes are marked by a tendency to allegorize but they also display a willingness to explain what may seem disturbingly alien to the modern reader. Pope's admiration for Homer leads him to acknowledge qualities which lie beyond the precincts of Augustan decorum. He also refuses to idealize the Homeric world by ignoring those features which are more brutal and less comfortably 'uncivilized':

Who can be so prejudiced in their Favour as to magnify the Felicity of those Ages, when a Spirit of Revenge and Cruelty, join'd with the practice of Rapine and Robbery, reign'd thro' the World, when no Mercy was shown but for the sake of Lucre, when the greatest Princes were put to the Sword, and their Wives and Daughters made Slaves and Concubines?

Pope's commentary is often revealing but it remains subsidiary to the translation. The historical approach was given a more continuous and extensive formulation in Thomas Blackwell's An Enquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer (1735 . . . ). According to Blackwell, the life of the wandering bard was 'the likest to the plentiful state of the Golden Age'. Blackwell's attractive representation of the bardic life was influential both among the Scottish primitivists, who detected parallels with Macpherson's Ossian (Macpherson himself translated the Iliad) and among the German critics. Blackwell's Homer was the product of the society he portrayed and for whom he performed—not the 'Inhabitants of a great luxurious City' but smaller groups not far removed from the nomadic, balanced between total barbarism and the more settled institutions associated with commercial prosperity. The Greeks 'lived naturally, and were governed by the natural Poise of the Passions, as it is settled in every human Breast'; their language was artless and unaffected, far removed from the verbal dexterities of more sophisticated societies. Blackwell insists on the naturalness of this society which he contrasts with the greenhouse artificialities of his own. Yet, although the whole trend of this argument would seem to align Blackwell with Fénelon and other seekers after the Golden Age, he is alert to the price exacted by the 'natural' and the primitive. If Homer had the advantage of living at a time when men's passions were close to the surface, he suffered the disadvantage of living in a violent and warlike society. If 'polishing diminishes a Language' and 'coops a Man up in a Corner', it also marks his separation from a society in which 'living by Plunder gave a Reputation for Spirit and Bravery'.

Blackwell's book derives much of its impetus from the contrast between the Greek way of life as portrayed by Homer and the life of contemporary Western Europe. His investigations were conducted from Aberdeen and based on the authority of his library but their implications were confirmed by more adventurous students. For example, Robert Wood (whose geographical findings we have already encountered) travelled both in Greece and the Near East and was able to record from personal experience the manners of the Arabs which so closely resembled those of the Homeric poems and which represented 'a perpetual and inexhaustible store of the aboriginal modes and customs of primeval life'. In listing the main features of these societies, he exposes not only their deficiencies and crudities according to the criteria of contemporary 'polite' society, but also their cruelty and violence and their cheap regard for women, for heterosexual love and for human life. If judged by the standards of Wood's own society, 'the courage of Achilles must appear brutal ferocity, and the wisdom of Ulysses low cunning'.

While Homer was being reinterpreted in the light of these new contexts, travel writers and missionaries were gradually working their way towards the science of comparative ethnology. The first stirrings can be traced back as far as the seventeenth century when a number of travellers (most of them missionaries) began to record their experiences in various parts of the world: among them were Richard Blome (America; 1687), Abraham Roger (India; 1670), Arnoldus Montanus (China and Japan; tr. 1670-1), Joannes Schefferus (Lapland; tr. 1674), Willem Bosman (Guinea; tr. 1705) and La Créquinière (India; tr. 1705). One of their main concerns was the savage customs and cult practices which they encountered and which as missionaries they were anxious to eradicate. Their accounts of these practices consistently invoke the ancient world by way of analogy: it was, says Frank E. Manuel, 'virtually impossible to examine a strange savage religion without noting disparities and conformities with what one knew about ancient paganism'.18

Such comparisons can be found, for example, in the letters and reports of Jesuit missionaries, most notably perhaps in the highly important account by Joseph François Lafitau of his experiences among the Iroquois (Moeurs des sauvages amériquains comparées aux moeurs des premiers temps (1724)). Lafitau's book was designed to destroy the atheistical notion that there were many primitive nations who had no religion at all, and no knowledge of divinity. For such purposes, the Iroquois and the ancient Greeks threw a revealing light on one another. The sacrifices, initiations and rituals of the Indians brought to mind what he had read about similar practices among the Pelasgians. For instance, the myth of the satyr was given a plausible origin in the Indian custom of wearing the skins and horns of animals; the connection was illustrated by an engraving which placed two satyrs between an ancient German and an American Indian. Here and elsewhere the illustrations represent the Indians in the posture of classical sculpture. When confronted with naked flesh, Europeans often tended to invoke the Greco-Roman tradition; long before Lafitau, the explorer Verrazzano had seen in the Indians an 'aria dolcie e suave imitando molto l'antico' (a judgement which was ironically qualified when the Indians abandoned their classical poses to eat him).19 The same artistic influences can be found in J. G. Forster's account of the inhabitants of Tahiti whom he observed on Cook's expedition to the South Seas. . . . In Lafitau's case the engravings conferred on his subjects a dignity and nobility which seems rather oddly to transcend those brutal tendencies which he acknowledged both in the Indians and the Homeric warriors ('Quoi de plus inhumain que les Héros de l'Iliade?')20

An even more illuminating perspective on the Greeks was advanced in an essay which appeared in the same year as Lafitau's book, the Discours sur l'origine des fables by Fontenelle. Like Lafitau, Fontenelle compared the ancient Greeks to the American Indians; the idea had occurred to him as early as 1680 and the essay had originally been written in the 1690s. He made a number of comparisons between the myths of the Greeks and the American Indians and concluded that the Greeks had once been as savage and uncivilized as the Indians were now. What distinguished Fontenelle's approach from that of Lafitau and other predecessors and contemporaries was his premise of a progressive paganism. Fontenelle was especially concerned to trace the origins of myth by examining the operations of the primitive mind; his examination was based not only on Homer and the Greek writers and on the reports of travellers but also on observations of peasants and children. Fontenelle concluded that the Homeric gods were crude, brutal and warlike because they reflected the minds of their creators. He did not idealize: his Greeks were neither love-lorn shepherds nor gentlemen in pastoral disguises.21

The gradual recognition of the less civilized aspects of the Homeric poems was partly responsible for the declining popularity of Pope's translation and the rediscovery by the Romantics of the virtues of George Chapman. Even as late as the Romantic period, Pope still had his champions and defenders (Byron combatively declared that the Pope version had 'more of the spirit of Homer than all the other translations . . . put together')22 but by the second half of the eighteenth century his translation seemed increasingly vulnerable to a variety of criticisms. Many critics found that their newly developed historical sense was offended by the way in which Pope had transformed the simplicity and natural vigour of the original into the fop-finery of a gentleman of the eighteenth century. Some, such as William Cowper, objected to Pope's tying the bells of rhyme round Homer's neck so that Pope's Homer resembled Homer just as Homer resembled himself when dead. 'I never', said Cowper, 'saw a copy so unlike the original.'23 Others, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, objected to Pope's poetic diction which, in their view, was intimately connected with his failure to observe even the most obvious natural phenomena.24 Yet other readers objected specifically that Pope had deprived the original of its primitive brutality. Lord Karnes complained that Pope considered it below the dignity of Achilles to 'act the butcher', forgetting that one of our greatest pleasures in reading Homer arises from his 'lively picture of ancient manners'.25 Charles Lamb expressed a similar point of view in a letter to his friend Charles Lloyd, who had attempted to translate some Homer. Lamb suspected that Lloyd's principles and turn of mind would lead him 'to civilize his [Homer's] phrases, and sometimes to half christen them'. The deficiencies in his work in progress were obvious:

What I seem to miss, and what certainly everybody misses in Pope, is a certain savage-like plainness of speaking in Achilles—a sort of indelicacy—the heroes in Homer are not half-civilised, they utter all the cruel, all the selfish, all the mean thoughts even of their nature, which it is the fashion of our great men to keep in.26

Taste had changed dramatically since Lord Chesterfield had told his son that 'Achilles, was both a brute and a scoundrel, and, consequently, an improper character for the hero of an epic poem' and had spoken disparagingly of 'the porter-like language of Homer's heroes . . .'.27

The dwindling popularity of Pope's Homer was balanced by a rise in the fortunes of George Chapman, whose translation was much less concerned with the 'milkiness of the best good manners' . . . and much more accommodating to the savage vitality of the original. Pope himself had acknowledged in Chapman a 'daring fiery Spirit that animates his Translation, which is something like what one might imagine Homer himself would have writ before he arriv'd to Years of Discretion' (Preface). That child-like forthrightness and animation must have recommended Chapman to the poets and critics of the Romantic age, who showed remarkable unanimity in their admiration for his poetic achievements. Coleridge: ' .. . it has no look, no air, of a translation. It is as truly an original poem as the Fairy Queen'. Lamb: 'Chapman gallops off with you his own free pace . . . (what Endless egression of phrases the Dog commands)!' and later: 'I shall die in the belief that he has improved upon Homer, in the Odyssey in particular . . .' Keats borrowed a copy from Haydon, and was inspired to write his famous sonnet when he first read Chapman in 1816. Shelley ordered Chapman's Homeric Hymns in 1818 and adopted several turns of phrase in his own translation of the Hymns. Even Blake had his own copy of Chapman. The main feature which everyone remarked about this extraordinary translator was that he was 'thoroughly invested and penetrated with the sacredness of the poetic character'.28 His poetic gifts compensated to all but the niggling few for the occasional harshness of his verse, for his interpolations, and for his frequent departures from the original Greek.


At the beginning of the eighteenth century the status of mythology was precarious. Under pressure from the growing tendency to value the factual and the verifiable, defenders of mythology often resorted to allegorical interpretation and claimed that the stories concealed significant moral truths; but this did not satisfy hardheaded interpreters such as Pierre Bayle who claimed that the Greek myths were literally true and whose interpretations were deliberately calculated to deflate. An English equivalent can be found in Daniel Defoe, whose version of the Prometheus myth involves a well-meaning but absent-minded astronomer who contracts consumption by staying out at night on Mount Caucasus.29 This bluntly reductive reading is not uncharacteristic of a number of English mythographers in the first half of the eighteenth century who approached the subject with heavy-handed rationality and deprived it of any imaginative appeal.

In spite of these pressures, classical mythology was still very much in evidence, especially in the earlier stages of the century. The main influences were still Roman: Virgil and Ovid were an important part of the mental furniture of the cultured man. The prestige of Ovid had declined since the Elizabethan period yet, as Douglas Bush records, 'every gentleman of letters translated parts of the Metamorphoses or the Heroides or the Ars Amatoria'.30 The classical gods could still be encountered regularly in the immensely popular Pantheon which Andrew Tooke had translated from the French of Fr F. A. Pomey in 1698 and which was to appear in twenty-three editions by 1771. The divinities received further publicity from Pope's friend Joseph Spence, whose Polymetis first appeared in 1747. . . . This detailed and didactic work attempted to examine the connections between Roman poetry and 'the remains of the antient artists': its emphasis on the picturesque qualities of Roman poetry accorded well with the taste of many of Spence's contemporaries. Outside literature, classical mythology exerted its influence in a variety of locations. One observer noted in 1756: 'While infidelity has expunged the Christian theology from our creed, taste has introduced the heathen mythology into our gardens';31 the gods could still be detected in paintings, in the details of interior decoration and occasionally even in church.

In poetry and in prose, classical mythology was a rich source of vitality for the mock-heroic; otherwise its vigour was greatly diminished and the purposes it served were mostly decorative or superficial. Poetry, in particular, was debilitated by the system of poetic diction which Lord Chesterfield explained in an approving letter to his son.32 This predilection for making 'translations of prose thoughts into poetic language', as Coleridge called it,33 usually involved a thin coating of mythological varnish and produced results which were often grotesquely inappropriate. The habit must still have been infectious when Coleridge was at school since his teacher delivered a vigorous denunciation of mythological periphrasis.34 It is easy to understand why William Blake could lament in 1783 the cessation of ancient melody in a poem which itself invokes the world of classical mythology as a beautiful but distant reality: 'The languid strings do scarcely move! / The sound is forc'd, the notes are few!'35

Not surprisingly, the novelists kept their distance. Daniel Defoe, who prided himself on his veracity and unassuming style, had no sympathy with the mythological method. Surveying the Thames from Hampton Court, he assures his readers: 'I shall sing you no Songs here of the River in the first Person of a Water Nymph, a Goddess, (and I know not what) according to the Humour of the ancient Poets.'36 Here Defoe is in reaction not only against topographical writers such as Camden and Drayton but against mythology and the deceptive delights of the pastoral setting which so often accompanied it. Fielding's mythological burlesques in Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones are affectionate but their potency is generated by forcing a gap between the sublimity of the diction and the inescapably mundane nature of the subject matter. (Byron was later to follow this example in Don Juan.) Nearly forty years after Fielding and sixty years after Defoe, Henry Mackenzie, author of The Man of Feeling, objected to the continuing recourse to mythology in terms which seem to anticipate Wordsworth's attack on Pope's poetical diction in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads: 'Another bad consequence of this servile imitation of the ancients .. . has been to prevent modern authors from studying nature as it is, from attempting to draw it as it really appears; and, instead of giving genuine descriptions, it leads them to give those only which are false and artificial.'37

In criticizing the prevalence of classical myth, the novelists were issuing a declaration of independence which helped to define the territory of the novel and to mark it off from the realm of poetry. Yet the shortcomings of classical mythology were equally evident to many poets. William Blake, for instance, provides a short and telling history of the subject in Plate 11 of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. His analysis owes an obvious debt to the eighteenth-century debates on polytheism, on the origins of religion and on the dangerous potency of priestly imposture. Directly or indirectly, Blake's ideas can be traced to the concerns of Bayle, Fontenelle, Hume, and Holbach in L'Enfer détruit (1769). Yet there is a crucial divergence in emphasis. Fontenelle, for example, was interested in the way in which Greek myths had taken root in the imagination with such tenacity that even contemporary Christians resorted to them continually in art and literature: 'Nothing proves better that imagination and reason hardly have converse with each other and things of which reason is completely disabused lose none of their attractions for the imagination.'38 It is at this point that Blake takes leave of the philosophers; where Fontenelle had regretted the failure of the reason to triumph over the imagination, the emphasis of Blake's compressed history is on the creative faculty of mind as opposed to the disabling constraints of system. Blake's own poetic career was to provide one of the most remarkable examples of one man's attempt to create a personal mythology of cosmic significance; his objection was not to the mythological method but to the unimaginative application of a prefabricated system of ciphers.

In a letter of 1802 Coleridge addresses himself to the same problem. Like Blake, he detects a dearth of imaginative involvement but, where Blake is partly concerned with the manipulation of power, Coleridge invokes those critical/psychological standards which were to be formulated so powerfully in Biographia Literaria:

It must occur to every Reader that the Greeks in their religious poems address always the Numina Loci, the Genii, the Dryads, the Naiads, &c &c—All natural objects were dead—mere hollow Statues—but there was a Godkin or Goddessling included in each—In the Hebrew Poetry you find nothing of this poor Stuff—as poor in genuine Imagination, as it is mean in Intellect—At best, it is but Fancy, or the aggregating Faculty of the mind—not Imagination, or the modifying, and co-adunating Faculty.39

Here, as in his criticism of Gray, and as in Wordsworth's Preface, there is a close connection between the use of an inherited mythology and the employment of a traditional poetic diction: both imply a failure to observe accurately and a crippling deficiency of the imagination. The social implications of adhering to classical mythology were also evident to the Romantic poets: in particular, the connections between the delusions of mythology and the complacencies of pastoral were examined by poets who knew the countryside at first hand. The Arcadian idyll, the image of the country as a garden populated by nymphs, shepherds and classical divinities, was just as offensive to George Crabbe as it had been to Daniel Defoe. Crabbe refuses to hide the 'real ills' of the 'poor laborious natives' in the 'tinsel trappings of poetic pride'; his aim is to 'paint the Cot, / As Truth will paint it, and as Bards will not' (The Village).40 Much of Wordsworth's poetry could be said to pursue the same goals; the insensitivity and selfishness of his own age may have caused him to think regretfully of pagan times when one might 'Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; / Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn' yet he too rejected the temptations of classical pastoral, and the rich mythology of his poetry is the product of his own imagination working on personal experience. Like Crabbe and Wordsworth, John Clare also rejected the conventions and chose instead 'A language that is ever green / That feelings unto all impart'.41

A number of writers were also exercized by an uneasy feeling that Greek mythology was the product of paganism and therefore unsuitable for the poetry of a Christian country. Several valiant scholars attempted to close the breach, working from the assumption that 'whenever there was any resemblance between classical and sacred literature the former had borrowed from the latter'.42 The results were often preposterously unhistorical: for instance, in Omeros Ebraios: sive historia Hebraeorum ab Homero conscripta (1704) Gerhard Croese claimed that the Iliad was a pagan version of Joshua's attack on Jericho and that the story of Odysseus was derived from the wanderings of the patriarchs. The gardens of Alcinous he equated with Eden, while Mars and Venus suggested Samson and Delilah, and the fall of Troy represented the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Fanciful theories such as this probably resulted from a desire to discover an underlying principle of unity, perhaps even a universal religion, behind the seeming heterogeneity of myth.

Many Christian writers were unimpressed. Joseph Spence advised in Polymetis that pagan mythology should be segregated from Christian truth in poetry to avoid the dangers of contamination. Coleridge and Wordsworth were much more sympathetic to the spirit of Greek poetry but, in the end, they too found that its religious implications were unacceptable, and its artistic achievements correspondingly limited. Clearly, they were both profoundly attracted by the beauty they found it necessary to reject. There are at least three passages in The Excursion (1804) and one in The Prelude where Wordsworth reveals his affection for Greek mythology and for its pastoral setting.43 One of the passages irritated Byron by its idealization of the Greek landscape and its susceptibility to the Mediterranean dream .. . ; much more important is its account of the workings of the mythological imagination:

And doubtless, sometimes, when the hair was shed
Upon the flowing stream, a thought arose
Of Life continuous, Being unimpaired;
That hath been, is, and where it was and is
There shall endure . . .


Wordsworth here acknowledges the creative origins of Greek mythology yet, for his own purposes, the pastoral 'pleasure-ground' was less inviting than the moors, mountains, headlands and hollow vales of his own bleaker northern landscape which 'seize / The heart with firmer grasp'. Finally, Wordsworth was repelled by 'the anthropomorphitism of the Pagan religion'.45

The drift of Coleridge's sympathies was not dissimilar. The lines he freely translated from Schiller for The Piccolomini (1800) evoke the world of Greek mythology with an almost wistful sense of loss:

The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of old religion,
The Power, the Beauty, and the Majesty,
That had their haunts in dale, or piny mountain,
Or forest by slow stream, or pebbly spring,
Or chasms and wat'ry depths; all those have vanished;
They live no longer in the faith of reason!

Yet Coleridge maintained that Greek poetry was inferior both to Hebrew poetry and to English because it lacked imaginative force. This point he often repeated, discriminating between the limitations of the Greek mythology and the infinite suggestiveness of the Christian:

The Greeks changed the ideas into finîtes, and these finîtes into anthropomorphi, or forms of men. Hence their religion, their poetry, nay, their very pictures, became statuesque. With them the form was the end. The reverse of this was the natural effect of Christianity; in which finîtes, even the human form, must, in order to satisfy the mind, be brought into connexion with, and be in fact symbolical of, the infinite; and must be considered in some enduring, however shadowy and indistinct, point of view, as the vehicle or representative of moral truth.46

It would appear that the seam of classical mythology had been exhausted and that poetry could expect no further enrichment from that source. Yet when Joseph Cottle pronounced in the Preface to the second edition of Alfred (1804) 'whoever in these times, founds a machinery on the mythology of the Greeks, will do so at his peril', he was not delivering an epitaph; perilous though the enterprise might be, Greek mythology was about to enjoy a rich poetic revival. In retrospect, it appears that, although it was much weakened, it had never really died even in the eighteenth century. The first stirrings of a new life can be identified in the work of Mark Akenside (1721-70) and William Collins (1721-59). Neither achieved major poetic significance yet both produced poetry which was traditional and inventive. Akenside acknowledged a debt to the Greek lyric poets in his shorter works while he based the Hymn to the Naiads (1746) on the model of Callimachus, whose hymns he admired for 'the mysterious solemnity with which they affect the mind'. Characteristically, Akenside experiences no Keatsian delight at the appearance of Bacchus and his pards who are dismissed in favour of the cool and unimpassioned serenities represented by the Naiads; yet, for all its restraint, his Hymn demonstrates the rich potential of Greek mythology. Collins shared Akenside's preference for the neo-classical; he even composed an ode to simplicity in which that poetic ideal appeared as 'a decent maid / In Attic robe arrayed'. His odes are abstract in conception yet they often exhibit a sensuousness, an imaginative power and an instinct for the suggestive and the undefined which transcends the limitations of their allegorical framework and which seems to look forward to the symbolic creations of the Romantics. Collins, like Akenside, finds his inspiration in Greece rather than in Rome—this gradual tilt of favour is an important feature of the second half of the eighteenth century.

It seems clear that the interest of Shelley and Keats in the possibilities of Greek mythology can be traced back in part at least to those eighteenth-century forebears. But there were other factors which helped directly or indirectly to create a favourable climate of thought for the production of Endymion, the two versions of Hyperion, ' Od e on a Grecian Urn', Prometheus Unbound, The Witch of Atlas, and many shorter poems and translations. One of these was the work of Thomas Taylor, who not only translated Plato and many of the Neoplatonists but who provided a key for the reading of symbolic narrative. . . . Plato's reputation had been depressed throughout the eighteenth century. In 1700 Matthieu Souverain had denounced him in Le Platonisme dévoilé, dismissing his doctrine because it was as 'absurd as the Theology of the Poets, and as unpolish'd as the Religion of the most superstitious vulgar' (English tr., 1700). Eighteenth-century rationalism found little to admire in what Monboddo described as 'the enthusiasm and mystic genius of Plato'.47 Taylor's rediscovery of Plato and the Platonic tradition marked the slow reemergence of a sense of the mysterious and the numinous which was to characterize the Romantic movement. It also heralded a shift from the frozen clarity of the eighteenth-century personification to the more suggestive connotations of the symbol. Although it was derided by many of his contemporaries, Taylor's work seems to be intuitively in touch with the direction which poetry was to take; in spite of his pedantry and his awkward style, he seems to have possessed some creative insight and his translations and essays were harbingers, if not necessarily promoters, of the symbolic narratives of the great Romantic poets.

The significance of Greek mythology was further underlined by the mythological handbooks of Lemprière (1788) and John Bell (1790), by William Godwin's book for children (published under the name of Edward Baldwin, 1806) and by interpretative works such as Richard Payne Knight's An Inquiry (1818). The two dictionaries are more objective and less opinionated than most of their predecessors in the art of interpretation; here, the nature of Greek mythology is accepted rather than attacked for its immorality or idolatry or explained away through various interpretative devices. Godwin's study displays a distinct sympathy with the Greek outlook, while Knight eludes the old-fashioned ethical emphases and devotes himself to unravelling cosmologica! and metaphysical symbols. The same period witnessed the growth of the rather speculative science of syncretic mythology which was based on the premise that 'beneath the seemingly disparate and heterogeneous elements of ancient universal mythicoreligious and historical traditions there lay a harmonious tradition'.48 George Eliot's Mr Casaubon was a late follower of this system; its best known exemplar was Jacob Bryant, who began to publish A New System; or, An Analysis of Ancient Mythology in 1774. Studies such as these were often absurdly fanciful or misguided yet they were part of a movement of thought which accorded significance and value to Greek mythology.

Greek influences also made themselves felt in the world of art: The Antiquities of Athens and Ionian Antiquities had helped to create a new interest in Greek design and architecture, while Winckelmann celebrated the achievements of Greek sculpture as the products of a happy climate and a favonian democracy. .. . A variety of illustrated books on Pompeii, Herculaneum, Paestum and Magna Graecia as well as on Greece itself continued to shift the balance of attention from Rome to Greece in spite of the resistance of Piranesi, Robert Adam, William Chambers and others. . . . The arrival in London of the Elgin Marbles confirmed the trend and provided tangible manifestations of the Greek spirit which had a profound effect on artists such as Haydon . . . and on his friend Keats. Greek pottery also emerged from obscurity through books and collections and through the artistic enterprise of Josiah Wedgwood and his protégé John Flaxman. . . .

Of course, Shelley and Keats came to discover Greek mythology by routes which were highly personal and which cannot be adequately accounted for in terms of this brief and general perspective. Yet their poetry was written in an age which abandoned the preconceptions of eighteenth-century poetry, preconceptions founded, as Leigh Hunt expressed it, on 'their gross mistake about what they called classical, which was Horace and the Latin breeding, instead of the elementary inspiration of Greece'.49 What liberated their imaginations was the discovery that mythology need not be merely decorative or superficial but that it could be used to investigate the deepest human concerns. Byron, who had little sympathy either for the implications of Greek mythology or for his social 'inferiors', observed condescendingly of Keats that he had 'without Greek / Contrived to talk about the Gods of late'.50 Francis Jeffrey was more understanding, and in an extremely perceptive essay in The Edinburgh Review for August 1820 acknowledged Keats's originality in his exploration of 'the loves and sorrows and perplexities' of mythological beings. As Jeffrey recognized, Greek mythology was no longer a fixed pantheon of marble postures but a point of entry to a world of moral and psychological significance. Endymion, Lamia and the two Hyperions go some way towards repairing that damaging dissociation of sensibility so precisely diagnosed by Coleridge: they combine the picturesque elements of Greek mythology with the 'inwardness or subjectivity, which principally and most fundamentally distinguishes all the classic from all the modern poetry'.51 In the case of Keats, Greek mythology was also closely associated with his own feeling for natural beauty (as in 'I stood tip-toe') and with his delight in the combination of mythological story and natural setting in the works of Claude, Poussin and his other favourite artists. The conjunction between myth and the beauties of nature also made its impact on Keats's friends and contemporaries: Hazlitt, Wordsworth and Leigh Hunt all recorded the attractions of what Hunt described as 'the fair forms and leafy luxuries of ancient imagination'.52

Shelley, too, was susceptible to these attractions and his later poetry is often centred on a pastoral world which owes much to his constant recourse to Greek literature as 'the only sure remedy' for diseases of the mind. Shelley's search for a New Jerusalem involves a return to the image of the Golden Age: he did not share the nostalgic resignation of friends like Peacock, Hunt and Thomas Jefferson Hogg to the death of the mythological faculty but found that Greek mythology and Greek literature afforded satisfying images both of what man had achieved in the past and of a potential which might yet be realized again. If Keats's use of Greek mythology in Hyperion is focused on the problems of poetry and on the harsh but necessary processes of evolution, Shelley's characteristic focus is often related to his political concerns and to his deep and much challenged allegiance to Hope. Shelley was interested in the past largely because of its implications for the future: 'What the Greeks were, was a reality, not a promise. And what we are and hope to be, is derived, as it were, from the influence and inspiration of these glorious generations.'53 Both Hellas and, particularly and outstandingly, Prometheus Unbound, take Aeschylus as their starting point and evolve into highly complex revisionary versions of their originals. Here Shelley is rescuing Greek literature from the confines of classicism and liberating the positive potential which is trapped within. Just as the Promethean trilogy had been used as a pretext for justifying the status quo, so Greek mythology had been wilfully misunderstood by Christian interpreters who had 'contrived to turn the wrecks of the Greek mythology, as well as the little they understood of their philosophy, to purposes of deformity and falsehood'.54

Shelley's affirmation of the power of mythology is both a refusal to accept the grim orthodoxies of Christianity with its degrading notion of eternal punishment in hell and an expression of the spirit of joy as manifested in the powers and forces of nature. This involves his translations from the Homeric Hymns, the crystalline neo-classical clarity of 'Arethusa', the sensuously realized dialectical balance of the Hymns of Pan and Apollo (intended for his wife's play Midas), the visionary invention of The Witch of Atlas and the Ionian island-paradise which marks the climax of Epipsychidion. Shelley also produced a number of poems in which the mythological imagination is allowed to work directly on the phenomena of the natural world without the intervening influence of a Greek original. Both 'Ode to the West Wind' and 'The Cloud' are freshly observed and both display a vivid use of mythological invention which has been informed by the example of Greek art and literature but which is never derivative or heavy-footed. Shelley's own desire to capture and to express 'the animation of delight' was reinforced and its achievement made possible by his sympathetic response to the joyous creativity of the Greeks. In contrast to a system centred on the image of a tyrannical and elderly father . . . , Shelley envisages a world informed by divinities who are young and beautiful and whose energy never deprives them of that serene poise and self-confidence which is aesthetically as well as morally pleasing. These poems give vital embodiment to 'the Religion of the Beautiful, the Religion of Joy' as Keats used to call it. Shelley would have been in sympathy with Keats's remarks to the painter Joseph Severn. 'Keats', said Severn, 'made me in love with the real living Spirit of the past.' '"It's an immortal youth", he would say, "just as there is no Now or Then for the Holy Ghost".'55


If mythology could give rise to such varying interpretations, so too could the record of Greek literature and history. The Greek tradition was used not only as an encouraging pretext for reform but as an endorsement and justification of the status quo. This might seem surprising to the modern reader who is likely to remember the enthusiastic support which the Greeks received from the English Philhellenes during the War of Independence, Shelley's prophetic anticipation of a Greek victory in Hellas, and Byron's death in the Greek cause at Missolonghi. Yet in England it was always clear that a love of the classics was not necessarily associated with a love of liberty or a desire for social equality. Certainly, a knowledge of the classics and of Greek in particular was often associated with feelings of superiority—see Lord Chesterfield's advice to his son on the social value of Greek56 and, eighty years later, the reactions of Lord Byron and the reviewers to Keats's attempt to revive Greek mythology without the advantages of a classical education.

The compliment could, of course, be reversed: although one of his contemporaries considered it a 'misfortune' for Samuel Richardson that 'he did not know the Antients',57 the novelist prized his originality and cultivated a freedom from tradition whose consequences were ethical as well as aesthetic. Richardson vehemently disapproved of the morality of classical literature and of the epic in particular: the Iliad and the Aeneid were largely responsible for 'the savage spirit that has actuated, from the earliest ages to this time, the fighting fellows, that, worse than lions or tigers, have ravaged the earth, and made it a field of blood'.58 Similar views can be found not only among the novelists, who may have connected the classics with a world of privilege and power from which they were excluded, but among poets of a radical persuasion. Blake, for example, identified the classics with military imperialism: 'The Classics! it is the Classics, & not Goths nor Monks, that Desolate Europe with Wars.'59

Some admirers of Greece seem to have combined their admiration with a dislike for the changing society in which they lived, finding in Greek literature either a refuge from unpleasant social and political realities or a justification of things as they were. Shelley's friends Peacock and Hogg both had recourse to Greek as an antidote. Peacock's response was less reactionary and more intelligently flexible than that of Hogg, as his novels show, but he too was somewhat susceptible to the allure of the pastoral idyll. A much more extreme interpreter of the Greek tradition was Thomas Taylor, the Platonist. His attempt to restore the lost philosophy of Greece may have helped the progress of poetry and may even have appealed to radical poets such as Shelley and Blake but Taylor himself was profoundly anti-democratic and his researches into Greek literature and philosophy only confirmed his prejudice. The main trend of his thinking emerges very clearly in a passage in the preface to his translation of Pausanias, which was printed in 1794 ... . Here the formal excellence of Greek style is set in counterpoint to those licences which have helped to cause the French Revolution: for Taylor the best safeguard against the horrors of anarchy was the cultivation of the classics. Perhaps it is no accident that John Flaxman, who helped to popularize Greek mythology through the neo-classical finesse of his engravings and of his designs for Wedgwood, was also out of sympathy with the Revolution.

If literature and philosophy could be so interpreted, it is only to be expected that Greek history would provide anti-democratic lessons for those who were anxious to find them. John Gillies, whose two-volume study appeared in 1786, expressed some admiration for Athens and its democracy but also pointed out 'the evils inherent in every form of Republican policy', an interpretation which was fittingly embellished by a dedication to George III ... . In his view, Britain had a more stable and desirable system because of the emphasis it placed on the 'lawful dominion of hereditary Kings'. There are times when his account of Athenian society seems to be directed at the political reformers of his own age. Gillies' history was soon translated into French and German but it was overshadowed by the larger achievement of William Mitford (1744-1827) whose history appeared in five volumes between 1784 and 1810. If Gillies preferred the stability of constitutional monarchy to the turbulence of democracy, Mitford earned the title of 'the Tory historian of Greece'. Byron, who did not approve of his habit of 'praising tyrants', granted him the ambivalent virtues of 'learning, labour, research, wrath, and partiality'.60 Mitford was certainly partial. The Athenian people he caricatured as a 'complex Nero' while in Macedon he discovered 'that popular attachment to the constitution and to the reigning family, the firmest support of political arrangement'. What Coleridge saw as his 'zeal against democratic government'61 became more attractive to many readers as the French Revolution took its troubled course: the parallel between Athens and revolutionary France could be used to potent effect.

Greek history, it would seem, was by no means a simple advertisement for the virtues of democracy. The historical record was ambiguous and, as with every other aspect of Greek civilization, a great deal depended on the eye of the interpreter. If Gillies and Mitford interpreted the history of Greek democracy as a terrible warning, more radical thinkers were eager to seize on its happier aspects. It is ironical that while Mitford employed Athens as a grim illustration of what was to be avoided, Thomas Paine used the same example to illuminate the value of democracy: 'We see more to admire, and less to condemn, in that great, extraordinary people, than in anything which history affords.'62

Yet the English concern with Greek liberty was centred not so much on the rights of man as on a sympathetic identification with the struggle to break free from Turkish rule. English travellers tended to lament the decline of Greek fortunes so vividly symbolized by the Turkish occupation of the Acropolis, where a mosque had been built inside the Parthenon, and to hope that one day the Greeks would regain their independence; there were many who considered this a distant possibility because the modern Greeks seemed to have sunk into an unattractive apathy. Although these feelings were often aroused by first-hand observation, the sympathetic impulse was frequently stimulated not by travel but by the reading of Greek history and literature and by a strong belief that Greece was the home not simply of democratic politics but of liberty itself. Not surprisingly, this theme can be detected at the height of the period of Philhellenism when, for example, a poem in the workers' newspaper Black Dwarf interprets Peterloo in terms of the struggle between Turks and Greeks: the crowds now become 'each helpless Greek' while the yeomanry are transformed into 'ye English Janizaries of the north' (1 December 1819). This attitude can be traced back throughout much of the eighteenth century. It appears in Samuel Johnson who was stirred by the philhellenic spirit when he revised his play Irene (produced in 1749) and developed the theme of conflict between Grecian liberty and Turkish tyranny. It is prominent in Thomson's Liberty, in Glover's Leonidas and in Collins's 'Ode to Liberty' but it can also be found in the poetry of Thomas Warton, of Gray and of Falconer, and in Sir William Young's The Spirit of Athens (1777). Glover's interest suggests some of the political complications of the subject: although he later composed The Athenaid (posthumously published in 1787) his fame was based on Leonidas (1737). This lengthy poem was directed against the administration of Sir Robert Walpole but its political message was linked with the celebration of the Spartan virtues and the endorsement of their value in the struggle for liberty. The emphasis is significant: although Athens was a regular focus of sympathetic interest, oligarchic Sparta was also much admired, not least because of its contribution to the struggle against the Persians. English supporters of the Greek claim for independence could hardly fail to be moved by the heroism of the Spartans: 'Of the three hundred give but three, / To make a new Thermopylae.'63 Sometimes the equation was altered so that the French rather than the Turks were identified with the Persians. A revival of interest in Leonidas may be traced to the Napoleonic threat: there were new editions in 1798 and 1804, a broadsheet of 1803 entitled The Briton 's Prayer (which was based on passages from Glover's poem) and a dramatized 'enlargement' of 1792.64 Classical history still had its uses.

In England, of course, an admiration for Sparta never fuelled a revolution as it seems to have done in France but the Spartan example remained very attractive, especially to the Whigs. This is probably symptomatic: the British tendency was to identify not with democratic Athens but with Greece as a whole in its struggle for liberty in which the Spartans had played a celebrated part. The positive values which could be deduced from the Greek example were elevated and rather generalized in their application. Perhaps the finest example is provided by an anecdote concerning the Earl of Granville told by Robert Wood in his book on Homer:

Being directed to wait upon his Lordship, a few days before he died, with the preliminary articles of the Treaty of Paris, I found him so languid, that I proposed postponing my business for another time; but he insisted that I should stay, saying, it could not prolong his life, to neglect his duty; and repeating the following passage, out of Sarpedon's speech [Iliad, xii. 310-28], he dwelled with particular emphasis on the third line, which recalled to his mind the distinguishing part he had taken in public affairs . . . His Lordship repeated the last word [let us go] several times with a calm and determinate resignation; and after a serious pause of some minutes, he desired to hear the treaty read . . .

Homer, it would seem could offer lessons in morality which raised him far above the status of the vigorous recorder of a primitive society and the celebrator of its heroes. It was precisely this quality of moral grandeur which caused William Pitt to recommend to his nephew the study of Homer (significantly coupled with Virgil):

You cannot read them too much: they are not only the two greatest poets, but they contain the finest lessons for your age to imbibe: lessons of honour, courage, disinterestedness, love of truth, command of temper, gentleness of behaviour, humanity, and in one word, virtue in its true signification.65

Such moral fervour might easily cause us to forget that, as we have seen, many writers were prepared to draw comparisons between the Homeric warriors and the American Indians which were not entirely flattering.

The contrast is emblematic. If Homer could be many things to many men, so too could the Greek example. The fascination of Romantic Hellenism is in its endless variety, in the scope which it offers for views which are often radically opposed. Throughout the eighteenth and in the early years of the nineteenth century the image of Greece was constantly refined, revised, refuted or reinterpreted: what we have briefly examined in this introduction is a complex and continuous process of redefinition. Greece provided a pretext for revolutionary politics and for rigid conservatism; it acted as an inhibiting example to writers and artists and as a liberating possibility; sometimes it stimulated, sometimes it provoked angry and dismissive reactions. Through all the changes, political and aesthetic, which mark this period of history, Greece remained a rich imaginative matrix either as an ideal toward which one might aspire or as a false example which must be repudiated: it was a mirror in which the age could see itself.


1An Account of a late Voyage to Athens, 1676, pp. 123-4.

2 Charles Perry, A View of the Levant, 1743, pp. 504-5.

3 II. lxxiii (11. 693-6).

4A Journey into Greece, 1682, p. 347. For the close connections between travel and scientific enquiry, see R. W. Frantz, The English Traveller and the Movement of Ideas 1660-1732, Lincoln, Nebr., 1934.

5 Shelley, Hellas, 11. 698-9.

6 'Extract of a Letter from an English Historical Painter at Rome', Annals of the Fine Arts, v (1820), 102-5.

7Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie E. Marchand, 1973-iv. 325. . . .

8The Works of Lord Byron: Letters and Journals, ed. R. E. Prothero, 1898-1901, v. 551.

9 E. V. Lucas, Charles Lamb and the Lloyds, 1898, pp. 190, 183.

10 P.-A. Guys, Voyage littéraire de la Grèce, Paris, 1771, ii. 56. Like Mary Wortley Montagu, to whose letters he refers (ii. 79), Guys compares contemporary customs and dress to those described in Homer and other classical writers.

11Italian Journey [1786-1788], tr. W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1970, p. 310.

12Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Marchand, viii.21-2. The phrase about 'authenticity' comes from Thomas Campbell's comment on the Oriental Eclogues of Collins; Bryant's book is obliquely referred to in Don Juan, IV.ci. For Troy, see SPENCER (Fair Greece, Sad Relic), pp. 203-5 and SPENCER ('Robert Wood and the Problem of Troy in the Eighteenth Century'), CLARKE, pp. 183-5.

13Essay upon Literature, 1726, pp. 118, 117; the final quotation is cited by Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel, 1957, p. 242, a study to which I am much indebted in this survey.

14 i.19.

15Lettre sur les occupations de l'Académie française, v, pp. 107, 50.

16L'Iliade d'Homère, Paris, 1711, i.xxvi.

17 FOERSTER, pp. 9-10 .

18 MANUEL, p. 16.

19 Hugh Honour, The New Golden Land: European Images of America from the Discoveries to the Present Time, 1976, p. 277.

20Moeurs des sauvages amériquains, Paris, ii.428. See Margaret T. Hodgen, Early Anthropology in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Philadelphia, Pa., 1964.

21 Cf. 'I have known the poet blamed for the insolent and abusive language which he puts into the mouths of his heroes, both in their assemblies and in the heat of battle: I then cast my eyes on children who approach much nearer to nature than ourselves, on the vulgar always in a state of childhood, on savages who are always the vulgar; and have observed in all these, that their anger constantly expresses itself in insolence and outrage, previous to producing any other effect.' Jean-Jacques Barthélemy, Les Voyages du jeune Anacharsis en Grèce, Paris, 1788; English. tr. by W. Beaumont, 2nd ed. 1794, i.109.

22Lady Blessington's Conversations of Lord Byron, ed. Ernest J. Lovell, Jr., Princeton, N.J., 1969, p. 141.

23 . . . Correspondence, ed. T. Wright, 1904, ii.404.

24 See Essay Supplementary to the Preface, The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, ed. W. J. B. Owen and J. Smyser, Oxford, 1974, ii.73-4; Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. George Watson, 1975, p. 22n.; Southey, review of Works of the English Poets, Quarterly Review, xii (1814) which includes this judgement: 'The astronomy in these lines would not appear more extraordinary to Dr. Herschell than the imagery to every person who has observed moonlight scenes' (87). For a detailed account of Romantic reactions to Pope, see Upali Amarasinghe, Dryden and Pope in the Early Nineteenth Century, Cambridge, 1962.

25Sketches of the History of Man, Edinburgh, 1778, i.366n., cited by FOERSTER, p. 44n.

26The Letters of Charles and Mary Anne Lamb, ed. Edwin W. Marrs, Jr., Ithaca, Cal., and London, 1975—, iii.17.

27The Letters of Philip Dormer Stanhope, ed. Bonamy Dobrée, 1932, iv.1306, 1610.

28 . . . Lamb, Letters, ed. Marrs, ii.82; The Letters of John Keats, 1814-21, ed. H. E. Rollins, Cambridge, Mass., 1958, ii.308, 326; see Timothy Webb (The Violet in the Crucible), pp. 137-40; Geoffrey Keynes, Blake Studies, Oxford, 1971, p. 161; Godwin quoted in Shelley Memorials, 3rd. ed. 1875, p. 47.

29Essay upon Literature, pp. 115-16.

30 BUSH (Mythology), p. 32.

31 Cited in James Sutherland, A Preface to Eighteenth Century Poetry [1949], repr. 1966, p. 142. Cf. Pluche's comment in MANUEL, p. 5.

32Letters, ed. Dobreé, ii. 362.

33Biographia Literaria, p. 10.

34Biographia Literaria, p. 4.

35 To the Muses'.

36A Tour thro ' the Whole Island of Great Britain, ed. G. D. H. Cole, 1927, i.l73.

37The Lounger, 37 (10 October 1785) cited in Sutherland, A Preface, p. 143.

38 Cited in MANUEL, p. 52.

39Collected Letters, ii.865-6.

40 i.39ff.

41 'Pastoral Poesy', 11. 13-14.

42 By Milton's time the idea was commonplace (see Paradise Regained, iv. 336 ff.). In his later years, Blake claimed that Greek art derived from the Cherubim of Solomon's temple (Complete Writings, ed. G. Keynes, 1966, pp. 565, 775).

43Excursion, iv.718-62, 847-87; vi.52-57; Prelude, viii.312ff. (1805-6), 173ff. (1850). See also Excursion, vii.728-40.

44 iv.718-62.

45 Preface of 1815, Prose Works, iii.34.

46Coleridge's Miscellaneous Criticism, ed. Thomas Middleton Raysor, 1936, p. 148....

47 Cited in CLARKE, p. 116n.

48 KUHN, p. 1094.

49 Preface to Foliage, Literary Criticism, ed. L. H. and C. W. Houthchens, Columbia University Press, New York and London, 1956, p. 130.

50Don Juan, XI. lx.

51Miscellaneous Criticism, p. 148.

52Literary Criticism, p. 135.

53Shelley's Prose, ed. David Lee Clark, Albuquerque, N. Mex., corr. ed., 1966, p. 219 (corrected). See, in particular, Peacock's 'Sir Calidore' (1818) and Hunt's Preface to Foliage (1818). For further discussion, see WEBB (The Violet in the Crucible), chapter II.

54Shelley's Prose, p. 274.

55 William Sharp, The Life and Letters of Joseph Severn, 1892, p. 29.

56Letters, ed. Dobrée, iii.1155.

57 See John Nichols, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, 1812-15, iv. 585.

58Selected Letters of Samuel Richardson, ed. John Carroll, Oxford, 1964, p. 134 (?late 1749).

59Complete Writings, ed. Geoffrey Keynes, 1966, p. 778.

60 Note to Don Juan, XII. 19.

61Miscellaneous Criticism, pp. 146-7.

62The Rights of Man [1792], Everyman ed., 1915, p. 177.

63 'The Isles of Greece', Don Juan, III. 86, stanza 7.

64 RAWSON, pp. 357-8.

65Correspondence of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, 1838, i.62-3.

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Representative Poetry


Historical Development Of English Romantic Hellenism