Shaftesbury's theory of aesthetics in its relation to eighteenth century literary criticism




Miller, Myra Goode

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The study of the great writers of the past sometimes brings only stirrings of racial memories, and pangs of nostalgia for the old days, but the most inspiring effect comes when we succeed in establishing a communion with the spirit of the past. In these instances, we feel a contact with the living mind of man as he faced the problems of existence through centuries of struggle and effort. Under the spell of this communication the figures of literature step forth from the page, and become more real than flesh and blood. Nor is it always the major writers of a period who best interpret the distinguishing characteristics of thought of their age. Some important developments of thought have found their best representatives in those writers who are usually classed as minor figures. Such was the case in the transition period between Classicism and Romanticism. This period lasted almost a century, but the most representative writer was probably Lord Shaftesbury, who combined in one mind both classical and romantic tendencies. This study purposes to evaluate the theories of aesthetics that were advanced by Shaftesbury, and to trace through them the spirit of romanticism in his literary criticism. For the suggestion of this subject, I am very grateful to Dr. L. M. Ellison. I am also indebted to him for his aid in recreating the atmosphere of the eighteenth century, and for helping Shaftesbury emerge from the background. I am sure tha t I could never have completed my study without his er..encouraging interest. I wish to express my appreciation, also, to Miss Mamie Walker whose kindly advice has helped me over many difficult problems.


Shaftesbury, Theory of aesthetics