Studies of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English aesthetic theory: Bibliographical Comments

George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University

The Aesthetic and Critical Theories of John Ruskin

Ernest Lee Tuveson's The Imagination as a Means of Grace: Locke and the Aesthetics of Romanticism (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1960), p. 2, proposes that Locke's new model of the mind transferred "the 'locus of reality' [from the exterior world] to the perceiving mind," bringing with this acceptance of subjectivity new theories of knowledge and new attitudes toward relations of the mind to the exterior world. By focusing attention on formation of ideas within the mind, Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding promoted interest in psychological processes and occasioned the development of theories of the imagination and the moral sense. Whereas Tuveson is primarily concerned with the role of psychologies and theories of imagination which lead to romanticism, Marjorie Hope Nicolson treats the change in pre-romantic attitudes toward external nature. Her Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite (New York, 1963) demonstrates how the theological controversy surrounding Thomas Burnet's Sacred Theory of the Earth (1684) created modern awareness of external nature and led to a taste for the great and overpowering. We may observe the development of this taste for the massive and overpowering into theories of the sublime in Samuel Holt Monk's pioneering study on the subject, The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII-Century England (Ann Arbor Mich., 1960), in which he describes how seventeenth- and eighteenth-century aestheticians used Longinus's Peri Hupsous as a framework within which to consider the role of emotion in art.

Since the artist is thus isolated by the very quality which makes his work valuable to his audience, it will be necessary for the artist's work to be interpreted to, and often defended from, the mass of men for whom he creates. Such was the case with Turner, and such was the reason that Modern Painters was begun in 1843.


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