John Henry Newman.

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| Accessions; No. ^,2;/-*:-&- SMf No.___













To you, my dear William, I dedicate these miscella-
neous compositions, old and new, as to a true friend, dear
to me in your own person, and in your family, and in
the special claim which your brother Hurrell has upon
my memory ; as one, who, amid unusual trials of
friendship, has always been fair to me, never unkind ;
as one, who has followed the long course of controversy,
of which these Volumes are a* result and record, with
a large sympathy for those engaged in it, and a deep
sense of the responsibilities of religious inquiry, and the
sacredness of religious truth.

Whatever may be your judgment of portions of their
contents, which are not always in agreement with each
other, you will, I know, give them a ready welcome, when
offered to your acceptance as the expression, such as it
is, of the author's wish, in the best way he can, of con-
necting his name with yours.

I am, my dear William Froude,

Most affectionately yours,


August I, 1871.


THESE Essays, with the exception of the last, were
written while their author was Fellow of Oriel, and a
member of the Established Church. They are now
after many years republished, mainly for the following
reason :

He cannot destroy, what he has once put into print :
"Litera scripta manet." He might suppress it for a
time ; but, sooner or later, his power over it will cease.
And then, if it is either in its matter or its drift adapted
to benefit the cause, which it was intended to support
when it was given to the world, it will be republished in
spite of his later disavowal of it. In order to anticipate
the chance of its being thus used after his death, the
only way open to him is, while living, to show why it
has ceased to approve itself to his own judgment. If
he does as much as this, he may reasonably hope, that,
either no reprint of it will be made hereafter, or that the
reprint of his first thoughts will in fairness be allowed to
carry with it a reprint of his second. This, accordingly,
has been his attempt in the present edition of these
Essays, as far as they demand it of him ; and he is

viii Advertisement.

sanguine that he has been able to reduce what is un-
catholic in them, whether in argument or statement, to
the position of those " Difficultates " which figure in
dogmatic treatises of theology, and which are elaborately
drawn out, and set forth to best advantage, in order
that they may be the more carefully and satisfactorily

A further " difficulty," he is well aware, remains be-
hind. With the run of men, the mere fact that a doc-
trine is disputed, is a sufficient reason for considering it
disputable ; and the spectacle of two sides of a great
ecclesiastical question advocated with equal earnestness
by one and the same author, tends necessarily to
create in them a despondent, or liberalistic, or sceptical
habit of mind on the subject of religious truth altogether.
He is sorrowfully conscious that his course in life, and the
writings with which he has all along accompanied it, are
open to this reproach. He can but say for himself that
such a misfortune has been a necessity of his position ;
the position of a man, who, from various circumstances,
Jias been obliged through so many years to think aloud.
Who is there of us all, who would be pleased, or could
bear, to have all his thoughts, as current events elicited
them, contemporaneously put upon paper ? Yet this has
been the author's lot. However, he has touched upon
the subject, not to excuse himself, but in order that
these Volumes should go out to the world with such an
express recognition on his part of an evil, which he

Advertisement. ix

deeply feels to be incidental to them, as may serve as a
caution, and, if so be, a safeguard against it.

As to the text itself, his alterations of it have been
only of a literary nature, including among these such cor-
rections as are made with a view of giving force to his
particular arguments or statements, or of more exactly
bringing out the sense, in which at the time he intended
them. One passage, a quotation from Milton, apropos
of the times of Popes Gregory II. and III. (noted for
disavowal in his Essay of Development of Doctrine,
p. ix) has been now omitted, as sure to convey to the
general reader a sense stronger than that in which he
originally used it.

The first Essay was written in 1828,- for the London
Review; the second in 1835, for the Tracts for the
Times; the last in 1846, for the Dublin Review; the
rest for the British Critic, between 1837 and 1842.
They are arranged chronologically, except that, for the
convenience of the Volumes, Essays VIII. and IX. have
changed places.





NOTE ON ESSAY I. . / . . . -27




NOTE ON ESSAY III. . . . . .137


NOTE ON ESSAY IV. . . . . l8o










WE propose to offer some speculations of our own
on Greek Tragedy, and on Poetry in general, as
suggested by the doctrine of Aristotle on the subject.


Aristo.tle considers the excellence of a tragedy to
depend upon its plot and, since a tragedy, as such, is
obviously the exhibition of an action, no one can deny
his statement to be abstractedly true. Accordingly, he
directs his principal attention to the economy of the
fable ; determines its range of subjects, delineates its
proportions, traces its progress from a complication of
incidents to their just and satisfactory settlement, in-
vestigates the means of making a train of events striking
or affecting, and shows how the exhibition of character
may be made subservient to the purpose of the action.
His treatise is throughout interesting and valuable. It
is one thing, however, to form the beau ideal of a tragedy
on scientific principles ; another to point out the actual
beauty of a particular school of dramatic composition.
The Greek tragedians are not generally felicitous in the
construction of their plots. Aristotle, then, rather tells .


2 Poetry, with reference to Aristotle' } s Poetics.

us what Tragedy should be, than what Greek Tragedy
* really was. And this doubtless was the intention of the
philosopher. Since, however, the Greek drama has
obtained so extended and lasting a celebrity, and yet
its excellence does not fall under the strict rules of the
critical art, we have to inquire in what it consists.

That the charm of Greek Tragedy does not ordinarily
arise from scientific correctness of plot, is certain as a
matter of fact. Seldom does any great interest arise
from the action ; which, instead of being progressive and
sustained, is commonly either a mere necessary condition
of the drama, or a convenience for the introduction of
matter more important than itself. It is often stationary
often irregular sometimes either wants or outlives
the catastrophe. In the plays of ^Eschylus it is always
simple and inartificial ; in four out of the seven there is
hardly any plot at all ; and, though it is of more pro-
minent importance in those of Sophocles, yet even here
the QEdipus at Colonus is a mere series of incidents, and
the Ajax a union of two separate subjects ; while in the
Philoctetes, which is apparently busy, the circumstances
of the action are but slightly connected with the
denouement. The carelessness of Euripides in the con-
struction of his plots is well known. The action then
will be more justly viewed as the vehicle for introducing
the personages of the drama, than as the principal
object of the poet's art ; it is not in the plot, but in the
characters, sentiments, and diction, that the actual merit
and poetry of the composition are found. To show this
to the satisfaction of the reader, would require a minuter
investigation of details than our present purpose admits ;
yet a few instances in point may suggest others to the

For instance, in neither the QEdipus Coloneus nor the

Poetry, with reference to Aristotle's Poetics. 3

Philoctetes, the two most beautiful plays of Sophocles,
is the plot striking ; but how exquisite is the delineation
of the characters of Antigone and CEdipus, in the former
tragedy, particularly in their interview with Polynices,
and the various descriptions of the scene itself which the
Chorus furnishes ! In the Philoctetes, again, it is the
contrast between the worldly wisdom of Ulysses, the
inexperienced frankness of Neoptolemus, and the sim-
plicity of the afflicted Philoctetes, which constitutes the
principal charm of the drama. Or we may instance
the spirit and nature displayed in the grouping of the
characters in the Prometheus, which is almost without
action ; the stubborn enemy of the new dynasty of gods ;
Oceanus trimming, as an accomplished politician, with
the change of affairs ; the single-hearted and generous
Nereids ; and Hermes, the favourite and instrument of
the usurping potentate. So again, the beauties of the
Thebae are almost independent of the plot; it is the
Chorus which imparts grace and interest to the actionless
scene ; and the speech of Antigone at the end, one of
the most simply striking in any play, has, scientifically
speaking, no place in the tragedy, which should already
have been brought to its conclusion. Then again, amid
the multitude of the beauties of the irregular Euripides,
it would be obvious to notice the character of Alcestis,
and of Clytemnestra in the Electra ; the soliloquies
of Medea ; the picturesque situation of Ion, the minister
of the Pythian temple ; the opening scene of the Orestes ;
and the dialogues between Phaedra and her attendant in
the Hippolytus, and the old man and Antigone in the
Phcenissae ; passages nevertheless which are either un-
connected with the development of the plot, or of an
importance superior to it.

Thus the Greek drama, as a fact, was modelled on no

4 Poetry r , wzV>& reference to Aristotle* s Poetics.

scientific principle. It was a pure recreation of the
imagination, revelling without object or meaning beyond
its own exhibition. Gods, heroes, kings, and dames,
enter and retire : they may have a good reason for
appearing, they may have a very poor one ; whatever
it is, still we have no right to ask for it ; the question is
impertinent. Let us listen to their harmonious and
majestic language, to the voices of sorrow, joy, com-
passion, or religious emotion, to the animated odes of
the chorus. Why interrupt so transcendent a display
of poetical genius by inquiries degrading it to the level
of every-day events, and implying incompleteness in the
action till a catastrophe arrives ? The very spirit of
beauty breathes through every part of the composition.
We may liken the Greek drama to the music of the
Italian school ; in which the wonder is, how so much
richness of invention in detail can be accommodated to
a style so simple and uniform. Each is the development
of grace, fancy, pathos, and taste, in the respective media
of representation and sound.

However true then it may be, that one or two of the
most celebrated dramas answer to the requisitions of
Aristotle's doctrine, still, for the most part, Greek Tragedy
has its own distinct and peculiar praise, which must not
be lessened by . a criticism conducted on principles,
whether correct or not, still leading to excellence of
another character. This being as we hope shown, we
shall be still bolder, and proceed to question even the
sufficiency of the rules of Aristotle for the production
of dramas of the highest order. These rules, it would
appear, require a fable not merely natural and unaffected,
as a vehicle of more poetical matter, but one laboured
and complicated, as the sole legitimate channel of tragic
effect ; and thus tend to withdraw the mind of the poet

Poetry, with reference to Aristotle's Poetics. 5

from the spontaneous exhibition of pathos or imagi-
nation to a minute diligence in the formation of a

To explain our views on the subject, we will institute
a short comparison between three tragedies, the Aga-
memnon, the GEdipus, and the Bacchse, one of each of
the tragic poets, as to which, by reference to Aristotle's
principles, we think it will be found that the most
perfect in plot is not the most poetical.

1. Of these, the action of the CEdipus Tyrannus is
frequently instanced by the critic as a specimen of judg-
ment and skill in the selection and combination of the
incidents ; and in this point of view it is truly a masterly
composition. The clearness, precision, certainty, and
vigour with which the line of the action moves on to its
termination is admirable. The character of CEdipus,
too, is finely drawn, and identified with the development
of the action.

2. The Agamemnon of -^Eschylus presents us with
the slow and difficult birth of a portentous secret an
event of old written in the resolves of destiny, a crime
long meditated in the bosom of the human agents.
The Chorus here has an importance altogether wanting
in the Chorus of the CEdipus. They throw a pall of
ancestral honour over the bier of the hereditary monarch,
which would have been unbecoming in the case of the
upstart king of Thebes. Till the arrival of Agamemnon,
they occupy our attention, as the prophetic organ, not
commissioned indeed, but employed by heaven, to pro-
claim the impending horrors. Succeeding to the brief
intimation of the watcher who opens the play, they seem
oppressed with forebodings of woe and crime which

6 Poetry ', wzV^ reference to Aristotle's Poetics.

they can neither justify nor analyze. The expression
of their anxiety forms the stream in which the plot flows
everything, even news of joy, takes a colouring from
the depth of their gloom. On the arrival of the king,
they retire before Cassandra, a more regularly com-
missioned prophetess ; who, speaking first in figure, then
in plain terms, only ceases that we may hear the voice
of the betrayed monarch himself, informing us of the
striking of the fatal blow. Here, then, the very simplicity
of the fable constitutes its especial beauty. The death
of Agamemnon is intimated at first it is accomplished
at last ; throughout we find but the growing in volume
and intensity of one and the same note it is a working
up of one musical ground, by figure and imitation, into
the richness of combined harmony. But we look in
vain for the progressive and thickening incidents of the

3. The action of the Bacchae is also simple. It is the
history of the reception of the worship of Bacchus in
Thebes ; who, first depriving Pentheus of his reason, and
thereby drawing him on to his ruin, reveals his own
divinity. The interest of the scene arises from the
gradual process by which the derangement of the Theban
kin is effected, which is powerfully and originally de-
scribed. It would be comic, were it unconnected with
religion. As it is, it exhibits the grave irony of a god
triumphing over the impotent presumption of man, the
sport and terrible mischievousness of an insulted deity.
It is an exemplification of the adage, " Quern deus vult
perdere, prius dementat." So delicately balanced is the
action along the verge of the sublime and grotesque,
that it is both solemn and humorous, without violence to
the propriety of the composition : the mad fire of the
Chorus, the imbecile mirth of old Cadmus and Tiresias,

Poetry, with reference to Aristotle s Poetics. 7

.and the infatuation of Pentheus, who is ultimately in-
^.duced to dress himself in female garb to gain admit-
tance among the Bacchae, are made to harmonize
with the terrible catastrophe which concludes the life
of the intruder. Perhaps the victim's first discovery
of the disguised deity is the finest conception in this
splendid drama. His madness enables him to dis-
cern the emblematic horns on the head of Bacchus,
which were hid from him when in his sound mind ; yet
this discovery, instead of leading him to an acknowledg-
ment of the divinity, provides him only with matter for
a stupid and perplexed astonishment :

A Bull, thou seem'st to lead us ; on thy head
Horns have grown forth : wast heretofore a beast ?
For such thy semblance now.

This play is on the whole the most favourable speci-
men of the genius of Euripides not breathing the
sweet composure, the melodious fulness, the majesty
and grace of Sophocles ; nor rudely and overpoweringly
tragic as ^Eschylas ; but brilliant, versatile, imaginative,
as well as deeply pathetic. Here then are two dramas
of extreme poetical power, but deficient in skilfulness of
plot. Are they on that account to be rated below the
CEdipus, which, in spite of its many beauties, has not
even a share of the richness and sublimity of either ?


Aristotle, then, it must be allowed, treats dramatic
composition more as an exhibition of ingenious work-
manship, than as a free and unfettered effusion of genius.
The inferior poem may, on his principle, be the better
tragedy. He may indeed have intended solely to de-
lineate the outward framework most suitable to the re-
ception of the spirit of poetry, not to discuss the nature

8 Poetry, with reference to Aristotle* s Poetics.

of poetry itself. If so, it cannot be denied that, the
poetry being given equal in the two cases, the more per-
fect plot will merit the greater share of praise. And it
may seem to agree with this view of his meaning, that
he pronounces Euripides, in spite of the irregularity of
his plots, to be, after all, the most tragic of the Greek
dramatists, that is, inasmuch as he excels in his appeal
to those passions which the outward form of the drama
merely subserves. Still there is surely too much stress
laid by the philosopher upon the artificial part ; which,
after. all, leads to negative, more than to positive excel-
lence ; and should rather be the natural and, so to say,
unintentional result of the poet's feeling and imagina-
tion, than be separated from them as the direct object of
his care. Perhaps it is hardly fair to judge of Aristotle's
sentiments by the fragment of his work which has come
down to us. Yet as his natural taste led him to delight
in the explication of systems, and in those connected
views following upon his vigorous talent for thinking
through large subjects, we may be allowed to suspect
him of entertaining too cold and formal conceptions of
the nature of poetical composition, as if its beauties
were less subtile and delicate than they really are. A
word has power to convey a world of information to the
imagination, and to act as a spell upon the feelings ;
there is no need of sustained fiction, often no room for
it. The sudden inspiration, surely, of the blind CEdipus,
in the second play bearing his name, by which he is
enabled, " without a guide," to lead the way to his place
of death, in our judgment, produces more poetical effect
than all the skilful intricacy of the plot of the Tyrannus.
The latter excites an interest which scarcely lasts beyond
the first reading the former " decies repetita placebit."
Some confirmation of the judgment we have ventured

Poetry, with reference to Aristotti s Poetics. g

to pass on the greatest of analytical philosophers, is the
account he gives of the source of poetical pleasure ;
which he almost identifies with a . gratification of the
reasoning faculty, placing it in the satisfaction derived
from recognizing in fiction a resemblance to the realities
of life " The spectators are led to recognize and to syl-
logize what each thing is."

But as we have treated, rather unceremoniously, a de-
servedly high authority, we will try to compensate for
our rudeness by illustrating his general doctrine of the
nature of Poetry, which we hold to be most true and

Poetry, according to Aristotle, is a representation of h*+
the ideal Biography and history represent individual
characters and actual facts ; poetry, on the contrary, gene-
ralizing from the phenomenon of nature and life, supplies
us with pictures drawn, not after an existing pattern, but
after a creation of the mind. Fidelity is the primary
merit of biography and history ; the essence of poetry is
fiction. " Poesis nihil aliud st," says Bacon, " quam
historiae imitatio ad placitum." It delineates that per-
fection which the imagination suggests, and to which as
a limit the present system of Divine Providence actually
tends. Moreover, by confining the attention to one
series of events and scene of action, it bounds and
finishes off the confused luxuriance of real nature; while,
by a skilful adjustment of circumstances, it brings into
sight the connexion of cause and effect, completes the
dependence of the parts one on another, and harmonizes
the proportions of the whole. It is then but the type
and model of history or biography, if we may be allowed
the comparison, bearing some resemblance to the abstract

io Pee fry, with reference to Aristotle's Poetics.

mathematical formulae of physics,before they are modified
by the contingencies of atmosphere and friction. Hence,
while it recreates the imagination by the superhuman
loveliness of its views, it provides a solace for the mind
broken by the disappointments and sufferings of actual
life ; and becomes, moreover, the utterance of the inward
. emotions of a right moral feeling, seeking a purity and a
truth which this world will not give.

It follows that the poetical mind is one full of the
eternal forms of beauty and perfection ; these are its
material of thought, its instrument and medium of obser-
vation, these colour each object to which it directs its
view. It is called imaginative or creative, from the
originality and independence of its modes of thinking,
compared with the commonplace and matter-of-fact
conceptions of ordinary rninds, which are fettered down
to the particular and individual. At the same time it
feels a natural sympathy with everything great and
splendid in the physical and moral world ; and selecting
such from the mass of common phenomena, incorporates
them, as it were, into the substance of its own creations.
From living thus in a world of its own, it speaks the
language of dignity, emotion, and refinement. Figure
is its necessary medium of communication with man ;
for in the feebleness of ordinary words to express its
ideas, and in the absence of terms of abstract perfection,
the adoption of metaphorical language is the only poor
means allowed it for imparting to others its intense
feelings. A metrical garb has, in all languages, been
appropriated to poetry it is but the outward develop-
ment of the music and harmony within. The verse, far
from being a restraint on the true poet, is the suitable index
of his sense, and is adopted by his free and deliberate
choice. We shall presently show the applicability of our

Poetry i mtk reference to Aristotle s Poetics. 1 1

doctrine to the various departments of poetical compo-
sition ; first, however, it will be right to volunteer an ex-
planation which may save it from much misconception
and objection. Let not our notion be thought arbitrarily to
limit the number of poets, generally considered such. It
will be found to lower particular works, or parts of w^orks,
rather than the authors themselves ; sometimes to dis-
parage only the vehicle in which the poetry is conveyed.
There is an ambiguity in the word "poetry," which is taken
to signify both the gift itself, and the written compo-
sition which is the result of it. Thus there is an appa-
rent, but no real contradiction, in saying a poem may be
but partially poetical ; in some passages more so than
in others ; and sometimes not poetical at all. We only
maintain, not that the writers forfeit the name of poet
who fail at times to answer to our requisitions, but that
they are poets only so far forth, and inasmuch as they do

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanEssays, critical and historical → online text (page 1 of 33)