[The following review first appeared in Review, eds. James O. Hoge and Hames L. West III (Charlottesville: University Press of Virgina, 1984, pp. 21-34.]
Paul J. Koshin. Typologies in England, 1650-1820. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982. xvii, 437 pp. 34 illustrations.
Herbert L. Sussman. Fact into Figure: Typology in Carlyle, Ruskin, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1979. xix, 158 pp. 40 illustrations.
Leslie Tannenbaum. Biblical Tradition in Blake's Early Prophecies: The Great Code of Art. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982. xiii, 373 pp.
Ever since William Madsen and Northrop Frye discovered the importance of biblical typology to the study of Milton more than two decades ago, literary scholars have paid increasing attention to the way secular English and American culture has drawn upon this interpretive method and its corollary views of symbolism. This scholarly interest in typological symbolism has produced some exciting results, particularly in seventeenth-century studies. The writings of Barbara K. Lewalski, for example, have introduced new readings of individual poems and also new conceptions of poetic genres and literary interrelations. As scholars and critics with widely differing interests begin to consider the impact of this exetical and symbolic mode upon secular culture, the question arises how best to define and study it. By now all of us have probably encountered books or essays in which the author, having heard of typology, simply applies generalized notions of it to whatever work is under consideration. Others, we know, automatically infer that typological practice in one age, say, that of Milton, must obtain in any other. Fortunately, the three books I shall discuss in this review all relate typology to secular culture with more critical and scholarly rigor than that, but their varying approaches nonetheless raise crucial issues about the scholarly investigation of a set of related phenomena that are particularly important to understanding the writings of Donne, Herbert, Milton, Dryden, Blake, Ruskin, Rossetti, and Browning and the paintings of Memling, Van Eyck, Michaelangelo, and the English Pre-Raphaelites.
Paul Korshin's approach is to formulate a major overview of biblical typology, its secularized extensions, and their effect upon literature between 1650 and 1820. "My focus, the Enlightenment," he tells us, "means that I shall study the second rise of typology, the period of its first great secularization, and the phenomena in intellectual history that bring about these changes" (p. 36). Typologies in England, 1650-1820 begins with an introduction concerning what Korshin terms "The Typological Propensity," by which he means the human tendency to seek signs and predictions of future events. A second brief chapter, "The Possibilities and Limits of Typology," sketches the history of this exegetical mode, though it does not define the orthodox or theological mode in any depth, and the following chapter on "Figural Change and the Survival of Typological Tradition" argues that although this symbolical mode came under attack in the period Korshin discusses, it survived in looser secularized forms because it provided "a logical imagistic system" (p. 65), "helped justify pagan symbolism," and "accorded so perfectly with the popular imagistic games of drawing parallels and making analogies" (p. 66). The next two chapters, "Typology as System" and "The Development of Abstracted Typology" examine the transference of structures originally derived from biblical interpretation to other, often secular, concerns, and with varying degrees of success the sixth through ninth chapters apply this general notion of abstracted typology to myth, satire, fiction, and prophecy. A final chapter on what he calls "The Typology of Everyday Life" stretches Korshin's notion of typology to its limit by arguing that many authors in secular genres attributed prefigurative qualities to many aspects of everyday life.
Korshin's volume provides a needed survey of a large body of difficult materials. Furthermore, his conception of abstracted typologies is a useful one, and he not only displays great ingenuity in seeking out the possible appearances of such secularized applications of biblical symbolism but he also perceives their complex relation to other patently nonreligious concerns. Drawing upon earlier students of typology, he is scrupulous about giving credit to them.
Although he succumbs to almost no fashionable jargon, Korshin has written what is essentially a structuralist approach to his subject, and his work displays the expected strengths and weaknesses of such a method. In other words. Typologies in England, 1650-1820 works best when handling broad movements, patterns, and structures and relating them to each other, but despite its length the volume often seems curiously undetailed and abstract. I must admit that my n actions here may well be a matter of taste or even prejudice, sin in my own work on the effects of scriptural typology upon secular Victorian culture I have chosen to examine both general conceptions of typology as symbolic and interpretive modes and also the specific ways in which exegetes, painters, and secular authors have employed them. My basic working assumption — which I suppose Professor Korshin, a student of the Augustan age, might term a Romantic prejudice in favor of particularity — is that acts of scholarly recover have best chance of success when one tests them by investigating specific examples in detail. In this kind of an endeavour, I would argue, one must define precisely what orthodox scriptural typology meant in a particular age before examining the process of abstraction and secularization. Next, one must examine specific uses of individual biblical types, such as the directions for the Levitical sacrifices or Moses leading the Israelites forth from Eygpt, and then determine how they become applied in abstracted or secularized forms.
As I understand it, biblical typology has several defining claims: (1) that the individual types are each divinely ordained, not only because God placed them in his Scriptures but also more importantly because he made them prefigure Christ and the Christian dispensation; (2) nonetheless, despite the fact that individual types, such as David or Joseph, bear the stamp of God, they have their own historicity and within human time they have just as much reality as the beings or phenomena they prefigure; (3) types always prefigure a later antitype, which is said therefore to fulfill or complete the type (one important point here is that types do not in any way cause the antitype — Moses, Joseph, and the scapegoat do not cause Christ — but rather types are signifying elements in a complex gospel schema or economy which God created to instruct fallen man); (4) strictly speaking, all types are situational, that is, Moses does not prefigure Christ but Moses leading the Israelites, the children of God, out of Eygptian slavery, guiding them through the desert, and giving them the moral law prefigures Christ's higher version of these actions. Authors secularize, abstract, or apply such biblical typology by manipulating any one of its essential elements, and perhaps the best means of charting such changes in this symbolic mode is by observing how its numerous elements vary.
Korshin, who concerns himself almost entirely with the predictive aspects of typology, pays little attention to any other, and he so concentrates upon loose or abstracted forms of typology, that he frequently empties the term of its imaginative force. For example, he argues that what have always been called stock or humor characters are properly considered typological because in a sense they predict how they will act later in the novel: "They are not so much prefigurative personages as they are predictive structures, a knowledge of which serves to foreshadow information about the novel to its audience. The character type, then, becomes a standard eighteenth-century fictive entity whose audience would probably understand without special authorial commentary. Such developments in the novel are a principal reason why abstracted typology flourished after 1700" (p. 114). I am not certain if one achieves anything of major critical value by so terming such forms of characterization "typological," and I am not sure precisely because, as other reviewers have pointed out, Typologies in England, 1650-1820 does not offer any new readings of the novels it discusses or markedly change the way we experience them. Barbara Lewalski's investigations of typology in Donne, Milton, and other major seventeenth-century poets lead directly to new ways of looking at their works and the relations between them. Korshin's elaborate discussions of abstracted and secularized typologies unfortunately do not seem to lead to any such major discoveries, revaluations, or connections. One of the reasons I often find this learned volume a bit diffuse lies in the fact that instances of specific types do not illustrate its many careful definitions and distinctions.
A second serious problem with Typologies in England, 1650- 1820 stems directly from its initial assumption that the history of typology from the Restoration onwards is essentially the history of its dissolution, abstraction, and secularization. Beginning from this premise, Korshin assumes that one does not have to look at the changes taking place in scriptural typology during this period. According to him, "in the middle of the seventeenth century in England, tyyology slowly began to change, to become secular in its applications, and to involve genres of literature other than the strictly religious" (p. 5). He is correct as far as he goes, but unfortunately he does not take into account the crucial fact that the evangelical revival which began in the 1770s produced another major revival of complex, sophisticated applications of scriptural typology, and this revival greatly complicates the phenomena he tries to analyze, not least because late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scriptural expositors and poets popularized new, yet orthodox, readings of individual types. For example, Moses striking the rock, which only becomes a particularly popular or commonplace type with the evangelical revival, frequently exchanges its traditional Pauline interpretation as a type of baptism for one as a type of the Crucifixion or of the believer's conversion experience. By ignoring the evangelical revival, which in some cases applied typology differently than did earlier exegetes, Korshin produces a very skewed picture of his subject. In tact, he resembles an observer who assiduously plots the effect of a stone dropped into a pond but has not noticed the impact of a second one: he accurately observes the splash made by the first Stone, after which he carefully traces the ever widening circles that ripple outward from its point of impact, but failing to notice the splash of a second stone, he does not take into account a second set of ripples which sometimes magnify and somes intefere with the first set. Up to a certain point, such an observer's charts possess exact accuracy, but as the second set of unnoticed ripples have their effect, his partial observations, which necessarily become less reliable, begin to attribute to one stimulus the effects created by the other.
Korshin's method does not derive from any ignorance of this later revival of orthodox typological exegetics. When Professor Korshin delivered his paper on extended typologies at the 1974 Princeton conference on typology and literature, he assumed that orthodox typology ceased with the end of the seventeenth century, but since that time numerous works pointing to very different conclusions have appeared, and he himself cites these works. Korshin, who scrupulously acknowledges the work of others, advises the reader about studies of nineteenth-century typology both in his notes and in the bibliographical essay which concludes his volume. Nonetheless, although he cites such works, he does not take them into account in any meaningful way and he holds to his original emphasis on abstracted typology in isolation from the later eighteenth- century revival of interest in typology.
Unfortunately, Korshin's dual emphasis upon the dissolution of biblical typology and broad structures leads him to see little need either to define this hermeneutic method precisely or to examine closely the changing interpretations of individual scriptural types. The shortcomings of his method appear with particular clarity when he comments upon Blake, whom he discusses in his chapter on typology and prophecy. Despite some interesting observations on the general subject of eighteenth- century attitudes towards prophecy, his chapter never manages to establish any more than that Blake employs various forms of abstracted typology. In contrast, Leslie Tannenbaum's Biblical Tradition in Blake's Early Prophecies: The Great Code of Art succeeds in showing how Blake reworked various scriptural modes in order to create a new kind of poetry, and it succeeds precisely both because it defines traditions with care and because it argues from a wealth of individual examples as well as from more general patterns.
According to Tannenbaum, "we cannot talk meaningfully about Blake and the Bible without talking about Blake and Biblical tradition" (p. ix), and since he rightly observes that an "adequate account of eighteenth-century hermeneutics, exegesis, and biblical criticism has yet to be written" (p. 8), he sets out to provide an excellent summary one in his first chapter, "Blake and Biblical Tradition." Succeeding chapters cover the more specific influence upon Blake's poetry of Old Testament prophecy, the figurative language of Scripture, and scriptural typology, after which he devotes clear, strongly argued individual chapters each to Blake's America, Europe, The Song of Los, The Book of Urizen, The Book of Ahania, and The Book of Los. Adding the results of his own sound research to the works of many earlier scholars and critics, Tannenbaum convincingly demonstrates that "Blake's canon was an intentional imaginative recreation of the Bible, conditioned by his recognition of traditional interpretations of Scripture and by his own reworking of those interpretations, his reading of the Bible 'in its infernal or diabolical sense,'" and therefore to understand what he was trying to do, one must first perceive that "much of the shape and meaning of Blake's work is determined not only by his borrowings from the Bible but also by his borrowings and deviations from traditional uses and interpretations of that book" (p. 3). By looking closely at the various late-eighteenth-century approaches to Scripture, Tannenbaum clearly demonstrates Blake's dependence upon tradition and then shows with admirable clarity how he manipulates it. Far too many critics of Blake either treat the poet as virtually sui generis or else place him too firmly and too exclusively in some particularly eccentric tradition. Tannenbaum, in contrast, strikes precisely the proper balance between tradition and the individual talent, and I know of no interpretation of Blake's works which strikes me as more convincing. By showing how Blake drew in great detail upon commonplace beliefs about the Bible and attitudes toward it, which he then combined with his own reinterpretation of Christ and Christianity, Tannenbaum manages to do two essential things. First, he firmly roots Blake in the context of contemporary thought. Second, he can demonstrate with precision just how Blake manipulates such commonplaces to create such unique poems.
Like Tannenbaum's study of Blake, Sussman's Fact into Figure argues that biblical typology and its extensions provide the clue to a body of English art and literature. Like Korshin's Typologies in England, 1650-1820j, Sussman's study of the role of this form of scriptural symbolism in Carlyle, Ruskin, and the Pre-Raphaelites begins with the assumption that one does not have to distinguish precisely among various forms of types. However, unlike Korshin, Sussman does not base his approach upon a stated theory about the development of such scriptural symbolism and its secularized analogues and influences. Furthermore, unlike Tannebaum, whose often brilliant interpretations of Blake depend upon his scholarly recovery of readings of individual types and passsages in the Bible commonly interpreted typologically, Sussman does not attempt to seek out the commonplace or traditional readings of individual types.
Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents (1850)
After a chapter which briefly sketches the role of typology in Carlyle and Ruskin, a second discusses Carlyle's Past and Present and Ruskin's Stones of Venice in terms of what Sussman calls figural history. Chapter 3, "The Brotherhood Aesthetic," argues that typology provides the basis of early Pre-Raphaelite art, and the fourth chapter, "Scripture as History," tests this hypothesis with reference to Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents and several of Rossetti's early works. "History as Scripture," which follows, discusses Pre-Raphaelite works which do not have explicitly religious subjects in terms of extended typology, and a long final chapter on "Literary Painting" examines the movement, by individual members of the Brotherhood, away from symbolic realism. An epilogue on The Scapegoat which claims that this work "epitomizes Brotherhood figuralism" closes the volume (p. 137).
Sussman's brief, well written study, which continually displays a perceptive, intelligent critic at work, has many virtues. Like several other recent authors, he performs an important act of scholarly recovery by suggesting some of the ways in which biblical typology informed form and content in Carlyle, Ruskin, and the Pre-Raphaelites. Similarly, he makes promising suggestions about the relation of Pre-Raphaelitism to early Victorian science and theories of scientific epistemology. Moreover, although the study of the Pre-Raphaelite painters requires a great deal of additional work with available primary materials (both visual works and manuscript materials) before one can arrive at a completely satisfactory overview, Sussman has obviously struck the right note. Finally, Fact and Figure certainly has the virtue of concision—it has less than 100 pages of text—and this very brevity makes it far more accessible than some mo ponderous volumes.
Unfortunately, it purchases such brevity at a rather high cost, for this work generally proceeds by assertion rather than proof, something particularly annoying when Sussman perceives a point of major importance but fails to substantiate it. For example, I suspect that his assertion that pre-Darwinian science had a major influence upon both Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites is correct and well worth investigating, but the two pages (pp. 3-4) devoted to this crucial subject only cite books published more than a decade after the beginning of Pre-Raphaelitism, and his later citation of statements by F. G. Stephens and W. M. Rossetti (pp. 35-36) raises more problems than it solves. Since Sussman's manner of proceeding in this matter is representative of his general approach, it deserves a brief look. It is representative because Sussman, a perceptive, imaginative critic, does an excellent job of perceiving often unexpected relations and connections, but he does not do nearly as well in testing his hypotheses. In this case he accurately perceives that Stephens and W. M. Rossetti, both of whom we may characterize as typically forward-looking Victorians, urged the importance of science and scientific observation as a guide to artistic styles. To what extent can one assume that their statements represent the Brotherhood position or even a Brotherhood position? I am not sure that I know how to answer that question, but other evidence clearly suggests that one cannot make easy assumptions about this matter. First of all, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William's brother and the founder of aesthetic Pre-Raphaelitism, never displayed much interest in either science or naturalistic styles of painting. Second, their published criticism demonstrates that W. I Rossetti and F. G. Stephens, who advanced a scientific naturalism as the appropriate style of painting for the nineteenth century, did not share Hunt, Millais, and Rossetti's early fascination with discovering or inventing a new pictorial symbolism. Furthermore, the evidence of Hunt's correspondence shows that when he had some control over Stephens's writings—as he did in William Holman Hunt and His Works, a pamphlet Stephens wrote for Gambart's exhibition of The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple — we can conclude that Hunt and Stephens agreed. Similarly, when Hunt informs a critic about his intentions in a work and then writes a letter thanking that critic for a published statement of these intentions — as he did with P. T. Palgrave in 1860—one can accept that the critic speaks for the artist more or less exactly. But when Stephens writes independently, he often demonstrates that his own conceptions of art do not necessarily match those of Hunt.
William Holman Hunt, The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple. City Art Gallery, Birmingham (1854-1860).
As this example suggests, Sussman sometimes creates problems for his thesis by his manner of handling evidence Occasionally these problems stem from his basic assumptions. For instance, he too easily assumes that pre-Darwinian science and Pre-Raphaelitism have much in common and does not bother to define his terms carefully or demonstrate Pre Raphaelite interest in such science.1 Similarly, he rather too easily assumes that Stephens and W. M. Rossetti speak for the practicing artists in the group. Another evidentiary problem stems from Sussman's similar failure to determine the degree to which a particular writer can represent some general position. For example, in the midst of a successful discussion of Millais's Autumn Leaves, he claims: "Contemporary critics recognized the painting as repudiating the figural methods of the Brotherhood and yet accepted it as working within another well- defined mode, describing this rejection of narrative line and moral content for emotional suggestiveness as following the manner of Giorgione" (p. 113). The only contemporary critics he cites are W. M. Rossetti and John Ruskin, both of whom were at this time still close supporters of the artist and hence cannot be taken to represent the state of contemporary critical opinion. In fact, the anonymous reviewer of the Art-Journal, which was certainly the most influential art periodical of the time, demonstrated that he took Millais's painting as yet another instance of inexplicable Pre-Raphaelite symbolism when he mockingly inquired: "In what vein of mystic poetry will the picture be read? The artist awaits the assignment of the usual lofty attributes. The work is got up for the new trans- cendentalism, its essences are intensity and simplicity, nd those who yield not to the penetration are insensible to Fine Art. . . . We are curious to learn the mystic interpretation that will be put upon this composition."2 The hostile critic's suggestion that Millais (and by implication the other Pre-Raphaelites) first painted their pictures and then waited for someone else to assign "lofty" meanings points to two matters of importance. First, at least some of the contemporary critics who had access to a wide audience did not perceive the change in Millais's art which Sussman himself so accurately defines. Second, at least some of these same critics saw Ruskin as the source of fraudulent readings of an art which did not and could not have them; in this particular case, the critic obviously responds to Ruskin's recent letters to the Times defending Hunt's work.
In addition, Sussman introduces unnecessary minor awkwardnesses in the art historical portions of his book by departing from standard procedure in the field. Some of these divergences from usual practice are simply odd, such as his calling William Holman Hunt only "Holman Hunt" and John Everett Millais "John E. Millais" when he presents the full names of these artists in his list of plates. Similarly, his failure to provide the media and dimensions of individual works, either in his captions or list of plates, strikes one as amateurish, in large part because such a procedure essentially equalizes all the works and thereby makes it difficult to determine those which artist and audience granted special attention. He creates yet another problem for the art historical reader by choosing the term figuralism to refer to typology and other symbolic modes. In art historical writings figural and figuralism refer to the use of the human figure as a subject for painting, and to use a conventional term in an unconventional sense without first warning the reader leads to unnecessary confusion.
Other problems arise because he has not taken previous work or available primary materials sufficiently into account. For example, making a point essential to his interpretation of the artist's early career, Sussman asserts that "Hunt, the most authentically religious of the group, came from a firmly Protestant, deeply puritancial background" (p. 34), and he claims that, like Ruskin and Carlyle, he grew up within a family of Bible readers. Neither statement is supported by Hunt's own assertion that he was raised as a freethinker and that when he arrived at "manhood I had read most of the easy skeptical books and was a contemptuous unbeliever in any spiritual principles — but the development of talent — and Shelley and Lord Byron with Keats were my modern heroes—all read by the light of materialism or sensualism."3 In fact. Hunt tells Ruskin in this same letter that Modern Painters "first arrested me in my downward course. It was the voice of God. I read this in rapture and it sowed some seed of shame." Although Sussman correct!' describes Hunt as "the most authentically religious of the group" (p. 34), the painter himself pointed out that he had no religious convictions when he began his career as Pre-Raphaelite Brother, and this fact has important consequences for any interpretation of Hunt's development. In the first place, it explains better than Sussman has done why the artist abandoned work on Christ and the Two Marys, a work which is also known as The Risen Christ with the Two Marys in the Garden of Joseph of Aramathea (1847—c 1900). Hunt, who makes clear that sincerity was essential to his conception of Pre-Raphaelitism, states in his memoirs that he put the painting aside because it did not match his sincerest beliefs. Sussman only remarks that Christ and the Two Marys suggests "that in 1847 Hunt had not shed the Raphaelite manner" (p. 52) — in fact the style owes more to the Venetians — and from this assertion I assume that he believes Hunt gave it up because it did not match his artistic credo.
William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World. Keble College, Oxford.
A second, far more significant consequence follows when one recognizes that Hunt did not begin his Pre-Raphaelite career as a believer in Christianity, for one can no longer assume, as does Sussman, that works before The Light of the World have religious, much less typological, intentions. As I have suggested elsewhere, although Hunt found himself greatly attracted to the idea of symbolic realism which he encountered both in Ruskin's writings and in the works of the Early Netherlandish painters, his lack of sincere belief prevented him from employing biblical typology as the basis of such an artistic program until after 1853. Sincerely concerned to discover or create a new form of pictorial symbolism suited to the nineteenth century, he, like other members of the Pre- Raphaelite circle including Ford Madox Brown, turned to Hogarthian methods. Such a recognition also does much to explain both the nature of Hunt's iconological program in A Converted British family sheltering a Christian Priest from the Persecution of the Druids (1850) and why he did not cite the presence of types in this work when he described it to his patron, banker, and friend, the devout High Churchman, Thomas Combe of Oxford — someone who would readily have sympathized with such typological method.
Nonetheless, despite an abundance of such errors and problems. Fact into Figure provides an interesting, suggestive brief look at the influence of this symbolic mode upon a major movement in Victorian art and literature. The volumes by Korshin and Tannenbaum, on the other hand, make far more ambitious attempts to examine the effect of typological symbolism. Korshin has provided us with an important, if somewhat unbalanced, picture of eighteenth-century abstracted typologies, while Tannenbaum, who succeeds brilliantly in setting Blake within various exegetical traditions, has written a work which can stand as a model of how such investigations should be undertaken.
1. Sussman's interesting connection of pre-Darwinian science and early Pre-Raphaelite attitudes suggests that one might well investigate the influence upon the young artists of contemporary scientific draftsmanship and illustration. One focus of such an investigation could be John Lucas Tupper 1823?-1879), a member of the Pre-Raphaelite circle who contributed to The Germ. A lifelong friend of Hunt and Stephens, he earned a living as an anatomical draftsman at Guy's Hospital, London, while trying to make his vay as a sculptor; from 1856 until his death fourteen years later, Tupper, a pioneer in art education, served as a drawing master at Rugby School.
2. "The Royal Academy. Exhibition the Eighty-Eighth: 1856," Art-Journal 8 (1856): 171.
3. Hunt's letter of 6 November 1880, which is in the possession of Cornell University, appears in George P. Landow, '"Your Good Influence on Me': The Correspondence of John Ruskin and William Holman Hunt," Bulletin of he John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 59 (1976-1977): 377. [full text in the Victorian Web.]
Last modified 13 July 2012