Neoclassical Quotes

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There is a degree of emotional impact in the nature poetry of the eighteenth century which marks a shift in sensibility towards what came to be called 'the sublime'. The concept, from classical Greek, came to England through the French of Boileau, and reached its definitive explication in Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757-59). This is a key text of the times, displaying an emphasis on feelings and on imagination, which is almost the antithesis of the neoclassical insistence on form and reason. Burke's idea of the sublime goes beyond natural beauty (although the beauty of nature is very much a part of it) and goes into the realms of awe, or 'terror'. The sublime is, for Burke, 'productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling'. Terror, emotion, feeling: all these represent a break from the intellectual rigours of the Augustan age, and are in one sense a reaction against the new pressures of society and bourgeois concerns... The link between the sublime and terror is most clearly seen in the imaginative exaggeration of the Gothic novel - a form which concentrated on the fantastic, the macabre and the supernatural, with haunted castles, spectres from the grave and wild landscapes. It is significant that the term 'Gothic' originally had mediaeval connotations: this is the first of several ways of returning to pre-Renaissance themes and values which is to be found over the next hundred years or so. The novels of the 1760s to the 1790s, however, gave the term 'Gothic' the generic meaning of horror fantasy. The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole (son of the prime minister Sir Robert Walpole) was the first of this kind, and the sub-genre has flourished ever since... .. Like many texts of its times, Walpole's novel purported to be a translation of an ancient manuscript dating from the eleventh or twelfth century. There was a strange fashion for these mediaeval rediscoveries, Thomas Chatterton and James Macpherson (Ossian) being notable contributors to the trend. Whether this was a deliberate avoidance of boastful originality or an attempt to give the works involved some spurious historical validity is not clear. Peter Ackroyd's novel Chatterton (1987) examines the phenomenon.

Ronald Carter
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