T.S. Eliot, Dante, and the European Tradition: An International Symposium
January 19th - 25th , 2008
  Promoted by:
Romualdo Del Bianco Foundation
Palazzo Coppini Via del Giglio, 10
50123 – Florence (Italy)


Author : Mr. Paul Douglass

T.S. Eliot’s European Tradition: The Roles of Dante Alighieri and Matthew Arnold.

T.S. Eliot’s debt to Matthew Arnold has been widely recognized. Arnold’s special influence is perhaps foundational to Eliot’s definition of the critical act, for he follows Arnold in defining criticism as "a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world" (from “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time"). Arnold thought that criticism should keep “aloof from what is called 'the practical view of things'; by resolutely following the law of its own nature, which is to be a free play of the mind on all subjects which it touches” (ibid.). Eliot carried the torch for this view, and thus influenced the most powerful critical movement of the twentieth century: the so-called “New Criticism.” More importantly, for the purposes of this presentation, Eliot follows Arnold in believing that the future of criticism will be Anglo-European. As Arnold wrote, “[T]he criticism I am really concerned with [. . .] is a criticism which regards Europe as being, for intellectual and spiritual purposes, one great confederation, bound to joint action and working to a common result; and whose members have, for their proper outfit, a knowledge of Greek, Roman, and Eastern antiquity, and of one another” (ibid.). Arnold relies on Anglo-European ownership of the classical past (through the ownership of the artifacts and texts of antiquity). Eliot follows Arnold in staking claim to Dante as the nexus point around which he hopes an Anglo-European critical and artistic confederacy may be built. Dante comes to symbolize Eliot’s dream of the restoration of an imagined unity of culture.

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