1829
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Poetry, with References to Aristotle's Poetics.

London Review.

Card. John Henry Newman


Spenser appears in a short catalogue of virtuous and godly poets in this early production of the Oxford Movement. John Henry Newman argues that "a right moral state of heart is the formal and scientific condition of a poetical mind" Critical Essays of the Early Nineteenth Century, ed. Raymond MacDonald Alden (1921) 320. Robert Burns and Lord Byron are discussed as problematic cases. Not seen.

W. Davenport Adams: "John Henry Newman, D.D. (b. 1801), has published, among other works, Parochial Sermons (1838-44); Sermons on Subjects of the Day (1844); The Theory of Religious Belief (1844); The Development of Christian Doctrine (1846); Loss and Gain: the Story of a Convert (1848); The Office and Work of Universities (1854-6); Sermons Preached on Various Occasions (1857); Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864); Poems (1868); The Grammar of Ssent (1870); and Mr. Gladstone's Expostulation (1875)" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 423.




Of course, then, we do not mean to imply that a poet must necessarily display virtuous and religious feeling; we are not speaking of the actual material of poetry, but its sources. A right moral state of heart is the formal and scientific condition of a poetical mind. Nor does it follow from our position that every poet must in fact be a man of consistent and practical principle; except so far as good feeling commonly produces or results from good practice. Burns was a man of inconsistent life; still, it is known, of much really sound principle at bottom. Thus his acknowledged poetical talent is in no wise inconsistent with the truth of our doctrine, which will refer the beauty which exists in his compositions to the remains of a virtuous and diviner nature within him. Nay, further than this, our theory holds good, even though it be shown that a depraved man may write a poem. As motives short of the purest lead to actions intrinsically good, so frames of mind short of virtuous will produce a partial and limited poetry. But even where this is instanced, the poetry of a vicious mind will be inconsistent and debased; that is, so far only poetry as the traces and shadows of holy truth still remain upon it. On the other hand, a right moral feeling places the mind in the very center of that circle from which all the rays have their origin and range; whereas minds otherwise placed command but a portion of the whole circuit of poetry. Allowing for human infirmity and the varieties of opinion, Milton, Spenser, Cowper, Wordsworth, and Southey may be considered, as far as their writings go, to approximate to this moral center.


[Alden (1921) 320-21]