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Experience in Late Modern British Literature

Experience in Late Modern British

I have often expressed my regret that Aristotle did not discuss the relation between poetic or universal meaning and particular meaning.

—Northrop Frye

Sage ich ein einzelnes Ding, so sage ich es vielmehr ebenso als ganz allgemeines, denn alle sind ein einzelnes Ding; und gleichfalls dieses Ding is alles, was man will.


[S]trictly considered, what is all knowledge . . . but recorded Experience and a product of History; of which, therefore, Reasoning and Belief, no less than Action and Passion, are essential materials?



Though gnomic elements abound, the western wisdom tradition, unlike the Vedic or Confucian, is fundamentally experiential. The Bible, no less than the Odyssey, tells a story. Both texts concern ordinary men, godlike men and a God or gods. Of the latter, says Jenny Strauss Clay, speaking of them as they appear in the Homeric Hymns, “Their actions, prerogatives and epiphanies can be called timeless—not, however, in the sense that they are beyond or outside time, but insofar as their unique manifestations are indistinguishable from their eternal ones.” We might recast the debate between particular and universal to include a middle term, the hero or demi-god, one that is both unique and eternal, both concrete and abstract, both special and general, both particular and universal. “Tell me, Muse,” Homer begins, in Lattimore’s version,

                                 of the man of many ways, who was driven
far journeys, after he had sacked Troy’s sacred citadel.
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea . . . .

Though “andra,” the first word of his original text, may indicate a human subject, Homer’s ritual narrative in fact mediates between man and god, a process in which the “godlike” Odysseus is central. His sacking of Troy’s sacred citadel predicts the historical overthrow of a sacred, hierarchical, singular order by a secular, democratic, multiple order. Odysseus is a man not of one path but many. Elsewhere called “polymetis,” of many minds, he is here called “polytropon,” of many turns. Western literature begins on the road, away from home (in Troy), or on a winding way back (to Greece). Odysseus is a man of many experiences, or of much Experience, to appropriate the term that Locke inscribes on his tabula rasa and defines as consisting of sensations (“Many were they whose cities he saw”), that Kant will reformulate as a mental construct (“many . . . whose minds he learned of”). His journey not chosen but fated, Odysseus is “driven” (“fato profugus,” as Vergil will say of Aeneas). Driven off course, “planchthe” (from a verb that means to seduce or lead astray), he is forced into “far journeys.” Homer is being metaphorical as well as literal: the man of many minds travels in many ways. Like Adam, he is our first Man of Experience, falling first from unity into duplicity, thence into multiplicity.

He suffers real physical pains, “algea,” but through his “thymos,” his spirit, they become his experience of the wide sea. Thus actual experience is transmuted into philosophical Experience, or, we might say more simply, sense experience eventuates in accumulated experience. “Of many people he saw the cities,” says Homer literally, thereby defining this hero of his geographical epic as the original universalist. The mention of “cities,” though, is curious, for we do not recall from the narrative of his wanderings that Odysseus visited many. Perhaps again Homer is being metaphorical: “cities” stand for the different civilizations that Odysseus experiences.

So, his hero is a wanderer—though less by inclination than by happen-stance. In Books 9-12 Odysseus offers us and the Phaeacians an account of his wanderings. The Odyssey is the first western narrative that includes within it another narrative, a tale which strikes us on reflection as both unreliable (a man with one eye in the midst of his forehead?) and deliberately allegorical (Circe changes Odysseus’ lustful companions into swine). Odysseus, as we know from other contradictory tales that he tells about himself, is a notorious fabricator. Is Homer not also a fabricator, and is not Odysseus’ experience somehow related to Homer’s? In an earlier essay I have suggested that Homer, like Odysseus, is composing a deliberate allegory. Dorothy Sayers, whom I quote there, defines the mode as “the interpretation of experience by means of images.” Is the Odyssey’s allegory, then, like Odysseus’ own, a proof that the Odyssey is experiential? Or is all literature experiential? How are we to limit, that is, define, experience?

At any rate, as we have seen, Homer is hardly naïve. Odysseus’ mendacious accounts of himself in Ithaca (see Books 13-16) ask us to consider whether stories are shaped by experience or experience by stories. As he brings his own story to its moral conclusion (in Books 17-24), Homer makes the implicit claim that, far from being the enemy of truth or knowledge, his fiction is their vehicle. With these points none could have been in more substantial agreement than Vergil, who in one sense merely recapitulates and thereby reinforces what Homer has said and done.

For in his Aeneas, Vergil embodies the experience not only of Odysseus but of Hector, Achilles, Paris and others; the experience not only of Troy but of Rome. He compounds in that figure not only personal and fictional but also historical and universal experience. As the source of all their experience he returns his audience to the Fall of Troy, much as Moses had returned his audience to the source of theirs in the Fall of Man. Both allegories culminate in tears, as visualized in Masaccio’s “Expulsion of Adam and Eve” or in Vergil’s “lacrimae rerum.” Both images are emblems of accumulated experience.

In the thirteen hundred years between Vergil’s Aeneid and Dante’s Comedy the literature of experience undergoes little development. The first person presence in late classical narrative vanishes, only to be revived by the Florentine, whose very different sort of sacred epic nonetheless, like the classical, offers us a collective experience of history within a deliberate allegorical program. No less than Odysseus, Dante’s hero—himself—is an Everyman figure. In his adventures, Auerbach remarks, “Human destiny and the history of the world became once more an object of direct and compelling experience, for in the great drama of salvation every man is present, acting and suffering; he is directly involved in everything that has happened and that happens each day.”

“Everything that has happened”—for the historian, at least, a demanding subject. As Carlyle, a student of Experience and a formidable historian, remarks: “The most gifted man can observe, still more can record, only the series of his own impressions: his observation, therefore, to say nothing of its other imperfections, must be successive, while the things done were simultaneous; the things done were not a series but a group.” At the beginning of the sixteenth century Dante’s great successor Ariosto will address this problem in fiction by interlacing his episodes so as to make them occur simultaneously. Meanwhile, his overarching conception liberates us from time and space, those coordinates of Kantian Experience, much as Dante’s cosmology had, based as it was on the conception of God. It will remain, however, for the later nineteenth century to define afresh the relation between experience and its ultimate concept, history, in a theory that I shall delay taking up in detail and here merely epitomize instead by quoting Emerson: “This human mind wrote history, and this must read it. The sphinx must solve her own riddle. If the whole of history is in one man, it is all to be explained from individual experience.” When we have finished with Romanticism and drawn some conclusions as to how its theory of history may have been affected by the philosophical Idealism set in motion by Kant, we shall be in a better position to say what must be said about experience and its relationship to history, that is, individual experience and its relationship to collective experience.

To return to Dante then: in one sense, and in keeping with Auerbach’s observation, he makes of something personal, something historical; of his own particularity, something universal—just as he transforms the actual Beatrice into the eternal Maria. In so doing he predicts the later grounding of western culture in individual experience. But in another sense he retains the older view, out of Aristotle by way of Aquinas, that the particular (Man) is but a part of the universal (God), that “unity,” as he tells us in the De Monarchia, is “the ground of goodness and multiplicity the ground of evil.” “We can see,” he later adds, “that to sin is to despair and abandon unity for multiplicity.” Homer, we recall, having summarized the multiplicity of Odysseus’ experience and praised his struggle to save not only his own life but the lives of his companions, turns immediately to summarize their tale of Original Sin: “Even so he could not save his companions, hard though / he strove to; they were destroyed by their own wild recklessness, / fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios, the Sun God, and he took away the day of their homecoming.” Dante knew Homer only through Vergil and other intermediaries, but he doubtless saw the parallel with Christian doctrine. A man of many paths himself, wandering in a dark wood, he sought the straight and narrow, if he too, driven by his own sin, was forced to divagate.

Within three centuries the Italian Renaissance had blossomed into a fullness of self-expression and individual consciousness that even Dante could not have foreseen. “I hold myself bound, as best I can,” says Castiglione, “to bend all my efforts to preserve this bright memory from human forgetfulness and, through my writing, to make it live for posterity.” Dante, though as intensely aware of the future as he was of the past, could hardly have imagined that either depended solely upon himself. In Castiglione’s sentence something new has entered western consciousness: the suggestion that we write to preserve, yea, to create, our experience. In one stroke of the pen our experience, paradoxically, has come to seem both dependent upon and yet more important than our writing. This will lead to a momentous development toward the end of the century, not in Italy but in Spain.

Like Vergil, the anonymous author of Lazarillo de Tormes invents a hero who sets out from home never to return. On the road he receives a moral education in the school of hard knocks. Unlike Aeneas, it is Lazarillo himself who records his tale, in extension of that Odyssean self-narration which Aeneas briefly imitates. The picaró’s self-authorship will redefine the foundations of western fiction, not to say theology. For we only have experience, implies the picaresque author, by writing about it. Lazarillo, setting out in adolescence from an already fatherless home, by eventually becoming an author creates the authority that he had lacked, one which he had sought in master, priest, God and other father substitutes. The very Figure of Experience, by recording his adventures he becomes the Master of Experience, an amalgam of life and art, of that Kantian Object and Subject which he anticipates. But in achieving this knowledge of experience he has also in a sense achieved the knowledge of God, the ultimate author. In this he predicts the Crisis of Faith.

As a literary staple the picaró recurs in succeeding centuries with increasing regularity, gradually replacing his classical heroic counterparts, until those philosopher-critics of Nature, Self and their interaction, Locke, Hume and Kant begin to make sense of his philosophical import. Not by accident are Defoe, Smollett and the inventors of the Bildungs- and Erziehungsroman simultaneously plying their trade. Eventually novelist and critic conspire to make the picaró respectable, as he and his narrative evolve into Entwicklungs- and Künstlerroman. Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man completes this process of introspection. Nor will its author return home, except in imagination.

In the same period another aspect of experience—expérience as the French call it—has risen to prominence: “experiment,” to translate the term a second way. For all the while that LeSage has been formalizing the principle of the picaró, Bacon has been defining the empirical principle of experimental science. Accumulated experience and experimental evidence go hand in hand. Why then does Kant choose to call his Experience Erfahrung? Because he is German, of course, but also because he has come to a new understanding: “Nur in der Erfahrung,” he says, “ist die Wahrheit.” (“Only in Experience may we find truth.”) Truth, then, is not in science but on the road. (Erfahrung comes from fahren, to travel.) Yet scientific truth is also known only when recorded, in a form that can be replicated experimentally. Accordingly, our new form of literature, which we sometimes call “experimental,” like science has as its ultimate objective the discovery of new realities, new principles, new worlds. Ours is a new age of discovery, in literature no less than in outer space and historical time. But before we arrive at the present, let us first turn to our principal subject, the literature of experience in late modern Britain.

“As the true method of knowledge is experiment,” says Blake, “the true faculty of knowing must be the faculty which experiences. This faculty,” he concludes, “I treat of.” In so saying, England’s most notorious visionary connects science with ordinary sense experience. If we look more carefully at his language, we notice that “method” has within it the metaphor of the road (meta = after; hodos = a road or way). If Blake seems to be on the road to empirical science, however, not so; “Man’s perceptions,” he asserts, “are not bounded by organs of perception; he perceives more than sense . . . can discover.” In connecting religious vision with experience, then, Blake in a sense has connected science with religion and so prophesied another modern development. As poet he composes Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, as well as songs of innocence and experience combined. “The Tyger,” his most famous lyric, exemplifies this fusion, which connects the religious innocence of his vision with his experience of the empirical world. His major prophetic books merely develop this tendency, setting the Mental Traveller on a road that, like Dante’s, connects Heaven and Hell to arrive finally at a new marriage, a New Jerusalem rebuilt “In England’s green and pleasant Land.”

Wordsworth and Blake, though in many ways divergent, share one great commonality: the principle of experience. Like Blake, Wordsworth “travelled among unknown men” (his, unlike Blake’s, actual), returned by way of “an English fire” to “the last green field,” a pastoral topos of personal reminiscence, a kind of Platonic anamnesis, since Wordsworth, like Blake, Milton, Spenser and many others before them, is heavily indebted to Plato. His experience is thus three-fold: actual experience, Kantian Experience, and a Platonized experience, different from Kant’s because it so heavily depends upon recollection. Plato had said that the actual world is derived from the ideal world. Wordsworth simply reverses Plato: the ideal world, he says, is derived from the actual. In practice, both doctrines are forms of Idealism. That Wordsworth thought of experience in this way is attested in a comment that he made about his own Immortality Ode: “There may be no harm,” he wrote to a friend, “in adverting here to particular feelings, or experiences of my own mind on which the structure of the poem partly rests.” Experience for Wordsworth is mental, he no less than Blake a “Mental Traveller.”

Save Keats, all the major English Romantics are Platonic. When he asks, “Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?” Wordsworth might be speaking on behalf of them all. For if not, as Blake, so minutely in a grain of sand, or, as Shelley, so airily as in the West Wind, Wordsworth in a field of daffodils, or more precisely in his own anamnesis of them, can see another world and its animating principle. Even the ambitions of The Prelude, that supposed epic of common experience, are defined by a vision of the absolute (I, ll. 261-266):

This is my lot; for either still I find
Some imperfection in the chosen theme;
Or see of absolute accomplishment
Much wanting, so much wanting, in myself
That I recoil or droop, and seek repose
In listlessness from vain perplexity . . . .

Like Blake’s, the lessons that Wordsworth learned from Nature are often universal, as those which he and his companion conned as they crossed the Simplon Pass (VI, ll. 544-548):

                                            With such a book
Before our eyes we could not chuse but read
Lessons of genuine brotherhood, the plain
And universal reason of mankind,
The truths of Young and Old.

Nature’s particulars are not so much the details of individual experience as the eternal symbols of a screed that speaks to the poet (VI, ll. 633 . . . 642):

As if a voice were in them . . . [they]
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Were all like workings of one mind, the feature
Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree,
Characters of the great Apocalypse,
The types and symbols of Eternity,
Of first and last, and midst, and without end.

It is not of course Plato pure and simple but a Christianized Plato who informs Wordsworth, as he had Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser, Milton and others before the Romantics arrived on the scene. But just as Plato has been reshaped by Christianity, so had Christian doctrine been reshaped by Plato. The relationship is reciprocal.

That Wordsworth’s vision of experience is Platonic is nowhere more explicitly stated than in his Prospectus to The Recluse, the grand plan for his magnum opus (ll. 1-9):

On Man, on Nature, and on Human Life,
Musing in solitude, I oft perceive
Fair trains of imagery before me rise,
Accompanied by feelings of delight
Pure, or with no unpleasing sadness mixed;
And I am conscious of affecting thoughts
And dear remembrances, whose presence soothes
Or elevates the Mind, intent to weigh
The good and evil of our mortal state.

The Christian doctrine of good and evil is invoked only after a pure state of Platonic Mind has been attained. “And if with this,” he continues (ll. 93-99),

I mix more lowly matter with the thing
Contemplated, describe the Mind and Man
Contemplating; and who, and what he was—
The transitory Being that beheld
This Vision; when and where, and how he lived;—
Be this labour useless.

The realm to which he aspires, simply put, is that of Plato’s Ideas, not Kant’s Erfahrung. Though his terminology and procedures may often be mistaken for those of German Idealism, he is less the poet of philosophical Experience that he has been represented as than the imperfect precursor of a Shelleyan Ideal.

I have quoted extensively from Wordsworth to support my contention. Coleridge we may consider more summarily. The idealism of his prose has been more frequently remarked upon than that of his verse. But “Frost at Midnight” exemplifies a mystic strain that intrudes upon his representation of experience. To his babe, cradled by his side asleep as the poet ruminates, he expresses the hope that “thou,” in distinction to himself and his own early experience, “shalt wander like a breeze / By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags / Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds.” In lines that follow thereon (ll. 58-62), the poet’s idealism becomes explicit:

                      so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.

“Great universal Teacher!” Coleridge adds, thereby implicitly connecting those antithetical but embracing principles—universal and particular, eternal and unique, immortal and mortal—without which the western poet seems incapable of grasping his experience. Again, Coleridge’s debt to a Platonized Christianity may be greater than his debt to Kant.

One might protest that, whereas “Frost at Midnight” is primarily a poem of actual experience, there are also in Coleridge’s oeuvre poems of philosophical Experience, such as “Dejection: An Ode.” But here too, overwriting the Kantian formulae, are mystic strains, both Platonic (“Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth / A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud / Enveloping the Earth” [ll.53-55]) and Christian (“Joy, Lady! is the spirit and the power, / Which wedding Nature to us gives in dower / A new Earth and a new Heaven” [ll.67-69]). Though one may argue that Coleridge has merely posed the Romantic problem (Self and Nature) and offered a Romantic solution (Romantic Joy), doctrinally the poem is shifted toward a different dispensation. In the mode of visionary experience, as in “Christabel,” “The Ancient Mariner” or “Kubla Khan,” Coleridge gives even freer reign to this Ideal. “A damsel with a dulcimer / In a vision once I saw,” he begins the last poem’s final stanza, whose final lines again compound Christian with Platonic vision.

Should we think this all merely a matter of poetic vision, Coleridge in his prose gives unequivocal proof of his belief in the Christian-Platonic ideal: “The fact therefore, that the mind of man in its own primary and constitutional forms represents the laws of nature, is a mystery which of itself should suffice to make us religious: for it is a problem of which God is the only solution, God, the one before all, and of all, and through all!” Against Coleridge’s theism we shall shortly return to pose Shelley’s atheism, but first we turn to Byron, whom Coleridge may well be characterizing when he says, “in its utmost abstraction and consequent state of reprobation, the Will becomes satanic pride and rebellious self-idolatry in the relations of the spirit to itself, and remorseless despotism relatively to others.”

Byron is half Satanic idealist, half satirical realist and thus avoids the philosophical terms of Experience which so preoccupy Wordsworth and Coleridge. What his poetry has that theirs (and Blake’s) lacks, is actual experience—imminent, dangerous, as yet not fully understood. Only Byron’s life is more thrilling than the open-ended adventures of Don Juan, or the mysterious crime of Manfred, both so palpably grounded in the poet’s own life.

“I am no Platonist,” Byron announces at the age of twenty-three. “I am nothing at all,” he adds, meaning thereby that he has no faith. But if he is no worshipper of Plato, he is nonetheless an emulator of the classic poets, retrogressively of Pope, Milton, Ariosto, Ovid and, as his vision deepens, Homer himself. At twenty-seven he calls Paradise Lost “the finest poetry that had ever been produced in this world.” His yet more telling ambivalence toward the Greek and Roman classics, as expressed in Don Juan, typifies the love-hate relationship of all classicists with their mighty predecessors. Unlike a Vergil, a Tasso or a Spenser, however, Byron claims to have broken free into pure experiential improvisation. “I have no plan,” he says famously. No plan, that is, except that by liberating himself from the classics he may overgo them. And yet he characteristically falls back upon them for the terms of his project: “My poem’s epic, and is meant to be / Divided in twelve books,” he proclaims proudly. As with Whitman, Ezra Pound and later open-ended experientialists, it is the classics—latterly Hindu and Confucian as well as Greek and Roman—that provide the impulse and the standard against which to measure their experiment. The experimentalist, like the experientialist, must start somewhere, for he is grounded, if only by the language that he inherits, in terms that precede his own experiment or experience.

“Tom has spit a leetle blood this afternoon,” says Keats of his dying younger brother, in a letter taken up mostly with a lazily even-handed weighing of the relative merits of Milton and Wordsworth. Is Keats really concerned with actual experience, or is he after all a poet of sleep and poetry, a poet’s poet, absorbed in his own Psyche, in the song of the Nightingale, in the static bliss of a Grecian Urn? All his major odes, we might say, are saturated with Melancholy and Indolence. A degraded allegorical figure called Autumn offers his most haunting image. Yeats thought of Keats as a schoolboy, his nose pressed against the window of a candy store. The longer narratives this reader finds unreadable; to him the poet’s reimmersion in decadent myth seems a dissolute indulgence in “a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts,” a triumph of the poet’s own questionable principle of “negative capability.”

Keats represents the underbelly of Shelley, whose personal moral decadence, in his dealings with Harriet, Mary and Claire, prepared a field ripe for Byron’s ploughing. We must not forget that Harriet, pregnant and desperate, drowned herself; that Clara and William, Shelley’s children by Mary, died of neglect in early childhood. Shelley’s death in an accident and Keats’ of tuberculosis are merely amoral details. The point is that neither poet of experience controlled his own experience nor in any sense died heroically in the face of it. Each was at least spared the shamblings in old age of a Wordsworth or Coleridge. But none of the four was about to embark on any grand Blakean vision, and Byron was probably right in dismissing the lot of them, including his friend Shelley, as “all in the wrong . . . upon a wrong revolutionary poetic system, or systems, not worth a damn in itself.”

That system fundamentally overestimates the value of feeling, beauty and imagination. “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination,” says Keats. “What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth.” Though more mature, Shelley’s thought is similarly flawed, both morally and esthetically: “The great secret of morals,” he says, “is Love; or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own.” It is “negative capability” all over again, and its flaw lies in its naïve idealism. “A man, to be greatly good,” he puffs, “must imagine intensely and comprehensively. The great instrument of moral good,” he concludes vaguely, “is the imagination.”

Thomas Carlyle, born the same year as Keats, is the last, and arguably the best, of the Romantic poets. Though his medium is prose, his French Revolution, as Macaulay was the first to observe, is the great English epic of the nineteenth century. Though poetically impassioned, his principal contribution is to reinstitute Thought in Poetry. By turns theologian, moralist, metaphysician and critic, he redefines God and the Imagination in terms of the Kantian duplex of Time and Space in a paragraph that might be regarded as an Ode to and against Experience:

That the Thought-forms, Space and Time, wherein once for all we are sent into this Earth to live, should condition and determine our whole Practical reasonings, conceptions, and imagings or imaginings, seems altogether fit, just and unavoidable. But that they should, furthermore, usurp such sway over pure spiritual meditation, and blind us to the wonder everywhere lying close on us, seems nowise so. Admit Space and Time to their due rank as Forms of Thought; nay even, if thou wilt, to their quite undue rank of Realities: and consider, then, with thyself how their thin disguises hide from us the brightest God-effulgences! Thus, were it not miraculous, could I stretch forth my hand and clutch the Sun? Yet thou seest me daily stretch forth my hand and therewith clutch many a thing, and swing it hither and thither. Art thou a grown baby, then, to fancy that the miracle lies in miles of distance, or in pounds avoirdupois of weight; and not to see that the true inexplicable God-revealing Miracle lies in this, that I can stretch forth my hand at all; that I have free Force to clutch aught therewith? Innumerable other of this sort are the deceptions, and wonder-hiding stupefactions, which Space practices on us.

“Still worse is it with regard to Time,” he adds. “Your grand antimagician and universal wonder-hider, is this same lying Time. . . .” Carlyle’s achievement here is nothing less than the reinvention of cosmological poetry, this Englishman the Hesiod as well as Homer of our post-Kantian world, whose basis has shifted within the century and a half since Milton from myth to history, from history to experience, from experience to science, thereby recapitulating the development of civilization. Progressively the western intellectual, moving retrogressively through its phases, attempts to come to terms with each: Descartes with science, Kant with experience, Carlyle with history, Frazer with myth. A giant among giants, Carlyle arrives at a synthesis of all four modes of thought. We shall focus here on his treatment of two alone: Experience and History.

“Examine History,” he says, “for it is ‘Philosophy teaching by Experience.’” No wonder, then, that Carlyle as historian must first come to terms with Experience, must himself become a philosopher. Unlike the principal Romantic poets, he has understood the untenabililty of Idealism (“pure spiritual meditation”), Platonic or Christian, in the brave new world. God must instead be reinvented out of the new Realities of Space and Time. Next, with the reach and grasp of his own hand as exemplum, he brings his meditation down to the individual, to individual experience. Individual experience accumulated, as in Wordsworth, becomes personal history. For Carlyle, the Experiential historian, the problem is how to get from personal to collective history. Perhaps, he suggests, the best way is by fiat:

“History,” he says, “as it lies at the root of all science, is also the first distinct product of man’s spiritual nature; his earliest expression of what is called Thought.” If the cosmos is defined by Space and Time, man is defined by History, a human scientific given. Henceforth, all thought will become historical, all disciplines framed within their own histories, as the great project of the later nineteenth-century now takes root. Science will become the history of science; philosophy, the history of philosophy; theology, the history of theology. For Newman, the history of theology comes to replace theology itself. As Carlyle has it: “Church History . . . did it speak wisely, would have momentous secrets to teach us; nay, in its highest degree, it were a sort of continued Holy Writ; our Sacred Books being, indeed, only a History of the primeval church, as it first arose in man’s soul, and symbolically embodied itself in his eternal life.” But the personal cannot be eliminated, even by fiat. Newman unconsciously reflects the problem when he says: “I mean to be simply personal and historical; I am not expounding Catholic doctrine.” Personal, or historical? Or both? Why not simply one or the other?

Because history is but experience writ large. Moreover, once we have taken the historian’s own role into account, we cannot return to objectivity. As with realism in art or certainty in science, we discover that objectivity is illusory. What then are we left with? Experience. In our self-absorption we have no choice but to redefine science, philosophy and theology as the science of experience, the philosophy of experience, the theology of experience, until God can only be captured from our own point of view. That He may have created this point of view is overlooked. If history, experientially reconceived, is our new God, experience, historically reconceived, is our new hero. It is that which mediates, like the demi-god, between particular and universal.

Experience summarizes the Romantic theme of Self and Nature, integrating its principal terms and providing a problematic basis, as we have seen, for history. Ever since we left Shelley behind, we have been slighting another important Romantic principle: the Imagination. As we turn to the novel we find that it makes its reappearance. For this quintessentially Romantic form is less a product of experience or history than of Coleridge’s esemplastic power, or of Tasso’s predictive meraviglia, our integrating sense of wonderment now turned narcissistically upon ourselves, on our self-regulating democratic society with its self-determining political and economic institutions.

Far from the objective mode implied by the labels employed to categorize its phases: historical, realistic, naturalistic, the novel is fundamentally subjective, locating nature within human process, in fact identifying it with human nature. In this essentially popular and secular form we lose the mystery of cosmology and the proportional view of the universe that it implies. In fact, once Experience, with change as its single constant principle, has captured our thought, even science cannot serve to anchor our universe. On this Carlyle puts the bravest of faces: “[C]ould you ever establish a Theory of the Universe that was entire, unimprovable, and which only need be got by heart,” he opines, “man then were spiritually defunct, the Species we now name Man had ceased to exist.” The novel, then, presents, by definition, only a partial picture—particular, not universal; is constantly in need of improvement—always unique, never eternal; and takes a notoriously unmemorizable form, at least as long as the species Man and his Imagination are to dominate art and art theory, criticism and the literature that it thrives upon. We shall return to reconsider these questions, as they recur in the thought of Ruskin, Arnold and Pater.

If Dickens, as the dominant Victorian figure in the form, represents the apotheosis of Romantic Imagination, if Scott in the Romance represents the inventor of our self-regarding view of History, if Jane Austen but holds up a mirror to improve our Manners, and if varieties of Realism, Naturalism and Expressionism can be assigned to Trollope, Hardy and the Brontës, what to make of George Eliot, the most serious of all Victorian novelists?

Called the most learned woman of the nineteenth century, she is not only novelist but thinker, social historian, theologian. Since the first two roles, but not the last, are often played by the modern novelist, let us pause to ask why Eliot is so concerned with God, with Biblical studies, with theological argument and everything else that goes to make up the Higher Criticism. The answer is simple, if its terms complex: she is engaged in the task of rewriting Paradise Lost and, behind it, the Biblical Genesis. For in Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch and Romola, to look no farther, she is redescribing Eden, the Fall of Man, the Expulsion and its aftermath. Science, History and Experience, however well-versed she is in all three, are insufficient terms for her complete understanding. Her undertaking requires a pre-existing myth, which she finds in Adam and Eve. She is the first English novelist to embody one that is so central to western civilization.

Why at this juncture, at this particular distance from Milton and Dante, in this agnostic climate? Surprisingly her practice has not been subjected to detailed critical scrutiny. Or perhaps not surprisingly: many of the most important relationships between nineteenth-century figures and their precursors or successors have been neglected. One thinks of Whitman’s relationship to Blake and to Pound, or of Dickens’ relationship to Cervantes and to later fiction. The same neglect is typical in our study of other ages of English letters: Shakespeare’s relationship to Spenser and to Milton, for example. And who, in the twentieth century, has continued the work of Middlemarch, the greatest English novel of the nineteenth century? Have we lost our taste for Adam and Eve, for Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained? If so, we have lost touch with perhaps our profoundest and most enduring myth.

Henry James wrote dismissively of Middlemarch, overemphasizing its portrait of a lady, underemphasizing its complexity, and ignoring its mythic element. Henry James himself never managed to write so substantial a novel. What did James believe in, what Eliot, what Milton? Milton believed in God, Eliot apparently in Milton and James in himself. George Eliot was only curious about Henry James (invited to her house, he reported that no one had ever been more eagerly received nor more eagerly dismissed). Eliot, on the other hand, was utterly absorbed in Milton and his material. Along with God and herself, she embodies him in the figure of Casaubon. Though also the archetypal old man who foolishly takes a young wife, this scholar of antiquity represents more than meets the eye, for Eliot, adept at the broad, popular effect, was a subtle allegorist as well. The Miltonic project that Casaubon fails to complete, even with Eliot’s surrogate, Dorothea, at his elbow, is titled The Key to All Mythologies, the key in question being the Bible. In addition to God and Milton, Casaubon represents Eliot’s father and that father-figure and lover, George Henry Lewes. But if we read Dorothea as Eve, Casaubon must be Adam, though only in the pre-lapsarian part of the story, the one in which Ladislaw plays Satan. After Casaubon’s death—the death of God, of Eliot’s father, of Milton, of the first Adam—Dorothea marries Ladislaw (Eve and Satan? Eve and the second Adam?) and lives happily ever after. Are they Saint and Sinner? Not only does Eliot name her heroine after one saint, she pointedly compares her to another, while Mrs. Cadwallader calls Ladislaw “Byronic.” Henry James, having never closed his Byron, understood this part; having failed to open his Goethe, he missed some other parallels. For Casaubon is a Faust figure doubling as God; Dorothea, his Gretchen; Ladislaw, his Mephistopheles (in her post-lapsarian good works Dorothea too is a Faust). And we have not even touched on the parallels with Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Bunyan to whom Eliot directs us in her epigraphs. Why, finally, this career-long obsession with Adam and Eve? Because George Eliot is Milton’s principal continuator in “the home epic.”

As it would be unthinkable to exclude Dostoevskii from a study of nineteenth-century Russian literature or Victor Hugo from a similar study of French, so Dickens must have a place, and a very important one, in any view of nineteenth-century English letters. He is, in my view, the most powerful English imagination since Shakespeare. The question is how he relates to the theme of experience. For it is not enough to say that his work is hugely autobiographical and therefore reflects his own experience; nor, that it is realistic and so reflects the experience of modern London. The work of a diarist would satisfy the first criterion; that of a journalist, the second. That he is popular does not count against him, any more than it counts against Shakespeare or Tennyson; that he makes his living as a professional writer puts him in the same category as Carlyle. Why, one might ask, should we take so seriously the work of the anonymous author of Lazarillo de Tormes but not that of Dickens? One had best admit that an airtight case for excluding him cannot be made. Nor is this a matter of personal taste. Great Expectations is one of my favorite novels, a marvelous entertainment, by turns hilarious and plangent, full of profound insight into human nature. But all in all it represents neither collective nor personal experience. The novel bears only incidentally upon history; what it derives from Dickens himself has been transmuted by imagination into another world. Though Dickens’ mind is not to be underestimated, he is neither philosophically cultivated nor inclined. In short, Great Expectations is a work of Romantic Imagination, whose aim is to probe “the Heart’s affections.” That he had little interest in Aristotle, Vergil, Dante or Kant does not count against him either but rather increases our admiration. For Dickens, by dint of his own capaciousness, has invented a human world that rivals theirs in scope, if not in finesse and meditated purpose. He has, however, precisely, invented it, and Invention is not Experience.

For the categorizer Thomas Hardy poses an even more difficult problem than Dickens. His Jude the Obscure, for example, has many features in common with the novels of George Eliot. And I have in mind features in addition to their provincial English settings, their backward glance at an earlier age, their use of dialect and other realistic devices. Like Eliot’s novels of Experience, Jude interweaves amidst its plot of passion and education systems of evocative symbols drawn from Christianity and the classical tradition. Hardy, who composed a long and systematic, if somewhat crude, philosophical poem, could not, like Dickens, have been unaware of the tradition of thinkers that we have frequently evoked. Naturalism itself, as we are told by those who favor the term, develops from concerns of Darwin, Marx and Spencer, and Hardy certainly knew them. How is it, then, that he too comes to be excluded from the literature of Experience? This time personal judgment enters the picture. For Hardy’s thought seems to me not reflective but instinctive, his theology limited to a cosmic irony, his world view the product of a passionate Romantic pessimism and limited by a lack of philosophical reflectiveness. Not surprisingly, he is a more popular figure than F. H. Bradley, but it is Bradley who is concerned with Experience, not Hardy.

We might here pause briefly to reconsider the terms “Romantic” and “Realistic.” Though their currency is entrenched and unavoidable, neither is very accurate nor readily definable. One might say the same of “Experiential,” but at least this term is philosophically justifiable. There is no philosophy of Romanticism or Realism. Since both bodies of literature—and this includes the whole high nineteenth-century European tradition—are encompassed by the phrase “literature of Experience,” I would suggest that it be allowed to replace “Romanticism,” “Realism,” and the equally problematic “Symbolism.”

Unlike Byron and Eliot, who through most of their lives were unmarried, Tennyson, like Milton, was thoroughly domesticated. Unlike the Romantic poets, he was genuinely popular, a poet of collective experience. To achieve an historical position among the Victorians he resituated himself in antecedent times, variously in the mythic Greece of Tithonus, the legendary Britain of Arthur, his own personal past, or a generalized past nostalgically circumscribed by conservative values and traditional culture. Whitman envied Tennyson his democratic appeal but failed fully to grasp the Poet Laureate’s shrewd insight: in matters of taste the People are anti-democratic. Tennyson appeals to them through his emotional reexperience of the past, sharing with them, as Vergil does with his audience, his own emotional response to a collective past that they by themselves are not capable of recovering. Again like Vergil, he addresses three audiences: his heroic predecessors, his contemporary world, and his future readers. Whitman speaks effectively only to the second and third of these—though the Vedic sages may still be listening.

Like George Eliot, Tennyson is a serious thinker, a vocation largely overlooked by his posthumous readers though not by his contemporary, James Stuart Mill. “Every great poet,” says Victoria’s leading philosopher (he is reviewing In Memoriam), “every poet who has extensively or permanently influenced mankind, has been a great thinker; has had a philosophy, though perhaps he did not call it by that name.” What is it that Tennyson is thinking about? About collective history in relation to his personal history, in short, about Experience in the sense that it comes to have for post-Romantic man, be he Hegel or Carlyle. I would argue that Tennyson is no less a thinker than they. For economy and convenience let us narrow our focus to a single work, “Ulysses,” and its treatment of our opening theme: the Homeric tradition of experience, which Tennyson, as we shall see, is both perpetuating and undoing.

In the concluding lines of “The Lotus Eaters,” a poem that precedes the principal object of our scrutiny, the poet writes:

                      slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labor in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.

Had we not the rest of the text we might wonder who was speaking. Odysseus, or Aeneas? A nineteenth-century English sailor, or Tennyson himself? The lines repay four separate recitations in which one imagines each of those figures speaking in turn. Yet all four are speaking at once, as is the reader.

From a little Homeric episode, which in 1832 he expands (with help from Spenser and Lucretius), in 1833 he turns to the whole of Homer, which he condenses (with help from Vergil and Shakespeare). Here he invents a prologue to Dante’s famous episode in Inferno 26. Having returned to his wife, a Hamlet-like Ulysses says, “I cannot rest from travel; I will drink life to the lees.” It was a poisoned cup, we recall, that killed Shakespeare’s Everyman and restlessness that did in Dante’s. But experience, like literature, is on-going; the past, all that he has “enjoyed greatly,” “suffered greatly,” Ulysses must leave behind, though its sensorium (“Much have I seen and known”) may be retained as Lockean experience. After further universalizing Homer’s epitome of Odysseus’ travels, Tennyson in a one line Kantian prelude to his own definition of experience, has Ulysses proclaim philosophically: “I am a part of all that I have met.” His hero then continues:

Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.

Not only is experience on-going, it is never complete. One might think of Ginés de Pasamonte’s comic response, upon being asked if he has finished his Life of Ginés de Pasamonte: “How could it be finished? I am still alive.” We laugh but then reflect: perhaps life is not, after all, susceptible of realization. Besides, if we know our experience only by writing about it, what of that experience that we have not yet written about? As Cervantes in his critique of the picaresque, so Tennyson in his meditation on Homer is breaking new ground. Moreover, we notice that Tennyson is speaking of “all experience.” So much for the whole enterprise! It is all unknowable, he implies.

Like the Esperantist, Tennyson has invented a basic English that makes him attractive to the non-native speaker, though, curiously, to the native speaker as well. His simplifications are especially noticeable in his monosyllabic lines: “How dull it is to pause, to make an end.” The experience of reading this line is akin to the experience of translating it into another language. We recall that “Ulysses” is a poem out of a Greek text by way of Latin and Italian texts projected on into English. Monosyllabic phrases are also important: “Life piled on life,” “When I am gone,” “He works his work, I mine,” “You and I are old.” Each phrase teeters on the edge of semantic ambiguity. Some of Tennyson’s best-remembered passages are also monosyllabic: “The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs,” or the poem’s final, cumulative injunction “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

What has this to do with universal experience? A great deal, for if we are not all writers, we are all readers, or at least verbalizers of our experience. If we take seriously these monosyllables: “life,” “death,” “fate,” “time,” “world,” “will,” “all,” they may tell us how Tennyson has thematized his poem, how it is, in short, that he “thinks.” They may also tell us how he wishes us to consider Experience, in relation, that is, to “life,” to “death,” to “fate,” and so on. Is Experience something that one may “hoard”? What is its relation to “work”? “That which we are, we are,” says the poet, in a sentence that might seem ridiculous if spoken by someone other than Tennyson. But now that we see how he thinks, we understand that he is pondering the relation between experience and existence. What does Ulysses mean, when he calls his mariners “Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me”? In the spirit of my thesis—that Tennyson’s work is interactive—instead of answering, I shall leave the reader to his own devices.

As in “Ulysses,” where he maintains a perspective both personal and historical, so in his own efforts at epic Tennyson balances the modern with the traditional. Both In Memoriam and Idylls of the King rest on earlier models: his Arthurian cycle, on Malory’s handling of the myth; his elegy, on Dante’s poem of experience. Both transpose the experience of Christ, as in Arthur “dead” but “come again: he cannot die,” as in the linkage of Arthur Hallam with the “strong Son of God.” Tennyson himself is less the poet of doubt than a doubting age had imagined, more the poet of a sublimated Christianity. Like Dante’s, his delineates the experience of despair, purgation and redemption. As in “Ulysses,” where Telemachus prepares to continue his father’s experience after the latter’s death, Tennyson expresses more literally his interest in experience beyond the grave. After we die, do we rejoin the past or do we move into an “untraveled world” of the future? Tennyson’s Ulysses contemplates further travel but also imagines a reunion with Achilles. As with Eliot and Carlyle before him, Tennyson returns experience to its mythic roots.

With Browning—for us, perhaps even more than for his contemporaries, the representative Victorian—we have a meeting of minds, an interweaving of the modes whereby the nineteenth-century grasped and reordered reality: Experience, Imagination, History. For though he is distant from the Romantics—in time, in culture, in place of residence—Browning is still of their party, a poet of Experience a fortiori, half a realist, half a sentimental idealist, and for which combination much beloved. Like the novelists at mid-century, he is essentially a poet of Imagination, recreating his Florentine painters, his Ferrarese Duke, his Bishop, his Sordello by means of an historiography that he shares with Flaubert, Tolstoi and George Eliot. No matter how meticulously they may have researched their subjects, however, neither they nor Browning are really historians.

Browning’s dramatic monologues, once set on their course, ride upon their own melting toward nothingness (like Frost’s homely ice-cube set atop the stove), expiring as their substance finally evaporates. One-time events—energetic, metamorphic—they still command our attention, precisely because, as performances, they could not be repeated. As we ourselves return to Florence, to his Renaissance masters, Browning’s poems continue to recede, as he intended, into a Shakespearean mist. They represent, in short, not history but a new amalgam, as different from Shakespeare as they are from our modern discipline, the history of art, some of whose features they nonetheless anticipate. For Pound, for Eliot, for Yeats, they held a permanent fascination and constituted a profounder influence than has generally been recognized, despite Pound’s effort at explaining his own indebtedness.

For Hegel art, like everything else, is inseparable from history. Less an influence upon Ruskin and Arnold than a figure whose thinking prefigures theirs, he nonetheless has things to say about our larger problem, the particular and the universal, which should be mentioned before we take up these later Victorians. To epitomize the second epigraph to this essay, we might say that for Hegel the only thing that is universal is everything. Though in epistemology he begins the shift away from Kant toward Subjective Idealism, his view of Experience is again all-embracing. In a general way he anticipates what Ruskin, Arnold and Pater, regarded collectively, in their view of Experience are heading toward.

This is not the place to review the general contours of the work of these late Victorian thinkers. Suffice it to say that the history of culture is for each crucial as a way of carrying forward the development of English thought about Experience. Each advances in his own way the general integration of Experience with history, Ruskin by making both more socially responsible, Arnold by broadening our comparative perspectives, Pater by finally dissolving altogether the borderline between the two processes. Each figure goes beyond Hegel in his integration of esthetics with the rest of human knowledge.

“What we have to do,” says Pater in his Conclusion to The Renaissance, “is to be forever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions, never acquiescing in a facile orthodoxy of Comte, or of Hegel, or of our own.” Pater not so much opposes philosophical theory as insists that we make use of it to grasp the meaning of life, to heighten our passion, to experience for experience’s sake. What, then, does he contribute—aside from a yet more expanded sense of its world-wide scope—to our understanding of experience? A sense, we might say, of its evanescence, of its intermittency, of its indeterminacy. In this he predicts the quantum physicist. “The whole scope of observation,” says Pater in his peroration, “is dwarfed into the narrow chamber of the human mind.” “Analysis,” he continues, as though having established a mental laboratory,

goes a step farther still and assures us that those impressions of the individual mind to which, for each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in perpetual flight; that each of them is limited by time, and that as time is infinitely divisible, each of them is infinitely divisible also; all that is actual in it being a single moment, gone while we try to apprehend it, of which it may ever be more truly said that it has ceased to be than that it is.

Having defined the Self as a “strange, perpetual weaving and unweaving,” Pater intuitively grasps the applicability of that figure to Nature itself, alertly warning us that experience itself is an endangered species. “Not the fruit of experience,” he says, departing from Hegel, “but experience itself is the end.” His position will influence many figures in the century that follows, none more directly than the Dandy.

After an age of political revolution there follows an age of social revolution; by the twentieth century a third revolution, the cultural, has worked its way into our consciousness. For prescient thinkers such as Alexis de Tocqueville, however, the third revolution was implicit in the second; for the avant-garde thinker, such as Beau Brummel, it was implicit in the first. Brummel is the first Dandy in the dignified modern sense, that is, of a man who creates his own culture, who creates himself out of his own manners. He is an apotheosis of Democratic Man. If we are all equal, not only politically and socially but culturally too, how is the artist to distinguish himself from the average person?

By the middle of the nineteenth century two eccentrics, Charles Baudelaire and Walter Whitman dandify themselves with the aim of establishing their own centrality. Both owe much to Byron. At times both adopt his dress, Baudelaire affecting the airs of the noble decadent, Whitman, in the same costume, the posture of the democratic, self-made man. Baudelaire takes urban evil as his theme (Les Fleurs du mal, 1857), Whitman, wholesome nature as his (Leaves of Grass, 1855). Between them they divide good and bad, two universal kinds of experience. In the English tradition, the most notable continuator of Brummel and Byron, of Baudelaire and Whitman is Walter Pater’s student, Oscar Wilde. In our dramatic argument he enters to answer the question, “How can one have experience without writing about it?” By making of oneself a work of art, Oscar replies. Dressing the part of an objet d’art, and on the strength alone of his reputation for wit, Wilde at the age of twenty-seven tours America, delivering at each stop his one lecture on the importance of home furnishing. “We spend our days looking for the secret of life,” reads its next to last sentence. “Well,” it concludes, “the secret of life is art!” Wilde has mastered Pater’s lesson.

He continued to write, though his dandified persona and verbal wit have proved more memorable than his verse or prose. His brilliant Importance of Being Earnest also teaches us exactly the opposite lesson: the importance of being something other than one’s Self, of being sincere in dismissing Sincerity. Significantly his best work is a play: for Wilde life was dramatic performance. In this he predicted Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Duchamp and Harry Crosby. The first of these created of himself the only image that rivals in universal appeal the image of Mickey Mouse; the second made of silence and inactivity modes of activity and expression that echo Rimbaud’s decision to quit writing at the age of nineteen. The third, living in the Paris of Picasso, achieved an artist’s reputation without becoming an artist. Each has had a myriad of followers. We must remember that not all Dandies are memorable. “Doing one’s own thing” has by now become standard procedure for Everyman.

On the threshold of the twentieth century, what had been a radical departure, the Literature of Experience, suddenly becomes an orthodoxy. All valid literature henceforth is assumed to be experiential. We catch a sense of this fossilization of the living creature in Conrad’s 1899 characterization of his own work of that year. “Heart of Darkness,” he says, “is experience too, but it is experience pushed a little . . . beyond the actual facts of the case.” That a more demotic “experience” has, in the theory of this hyperconscious practitioner of the point of view, replaced the more philosophical “Experience” is telling. For what is experience “pushed beyond the actual facts” but the novel again, that narrative of Romantic Imagination soon to become, if not already, standard literary fare.

Meanwhile, on the philosophical front, Yeats, though no philosopher himself, nonetheless rises to the challenge, as had Pater, of contributing to the discourse. Within a decade of Conrad, in a diary entry, he will ask, “Is not life the struggle of experience naked, unarmed, timid, but immortal against generalized thought?” His sentiment is again a popularization, here of the struggle of the first Romantic Idealists to overcome the orthodoxy of Enlightenment thought. In one sense Yeats is behind the times, but by flattering the general reader he leads him into the world of advanced ideas. Recapitulating the nineteenth-century enlargement of experience into history, he adds that “personal history in this is the inverse of the world’s history. We see all arts and societies passing from experience, that is to say, not what we call its ‘results,’ which are generalizations, but with its presence, its energy.” History, then, for Yeats, and contra Aristotle, is generalization; for him and his early Modernist colleagues, its revitalization, its rerendering as experience, will be the designated task. “All good art,” Yeats concludes, “is experience, all popular bad art generalization.” The volatile notion, taken hold, has solidified into doctrine.

In London during the early years of the century two Americans assume leadership of the Modernist program. Ezra Pound, taking his cue from Walter Pater, shows us how in practice to render history experiential and experience historical. His younger, more philosophical accomplice, T. S. Eliot, in his dissertation on F. H. Bradley, extends the high doctrine of Experience one step further. The problem he identifies as Kant’s first step, for once we have divided the world into Subject and Object, he observes, we can never return to a unified knowledge or experience. Kant, as a consequence of Hume’s skepticism, had already lost confidence that what we experience is the Thing-in-Itself and so had begun to concentrate on the categories that he felt determine our thinking and are somehow more real than reality. Bradley examines the Subjective Idealism of Hegel and Nietzsche only to wonder aloud whether anything like the Subject actually appears in our thought. He then goes back to question Kant’s categories, to ridicule the father of modern thought for saving us from superstition by creating yet more superstition. By the standard of Bradley, Pater is philosophically retrograde, his dream of a world really but Coleridge’s primary Imagination again, in the new guise of Subjective Idealism. Bradley sets out to deconstruct the very concept of the self.

In this Eliot follows him. Questioning the Romantic poets as well as their philosophical counterparts, he moves beyond Idealist epistemology to maintain that we may get at reality only through immediate experience, whose priority to Object and Subject he asserts. Dismissing Time as discontinuous and therefore illusory, he complements Bradley’s dissolution of the Subject with his own dissolution of the Object. In the process he does away with Self and Soul. The only philosophical move that remains is the Existentialist. Sartre proposes that we begin not with essence but with existence itself. We are still working out the problems of that proposition. Until we see more clearly where we have arrived, we cannot confidently apply this body of thought to the body of literature contemporaneous with its development. As yet we scarcely understand the import of Modernism, much less that of later movements.