Monboddo on poetry: a critical selection from unpublished MSS on poetry by James Burnett, Lord Monboddo
Part 1 Commentary An Introduction discusses the nature and subject-matter of Monboddo's printed works, and modern reaction to them, as well as identifying the principal task of the present thesis: an examination of Monboddo's views on poetry, and the presentation of an edited text of some of the principal MSS in which these views are expressed. Chapter 1 traces the genesis of an unpublished Volume VII of Monboddo's Of the Origin and Progress of Language, and infers its intended form from the MSS incorporated in Part 2. Chapter 2 examines and evaluates Monboddo's writings on aesthetics as contained in both the published works (Origin and Progress and Antient Metaphysics) and unpublished MSS. His opposition to the prevalent empiricist school, and to the inner sense theorists, is demonstrated. Unresolved tensions in Monboddo's own theory of poetic imitation are attributed to his espousal of incompatible Aristotelian and Platonic doctrines; Monboddo's rationalist theory of beauty, asserting it to consist in system, is analyzed, and his debt to Shaftesbury commented on. Monboddo's concessions to the cult of sensibility are noted, and the rationale by which he applies his aesthetics to literary criticism studied. Monboddo's relations with other critics, particularly Dr. Johnson, are documented. Chapter 3 assesses the state of prosodic theory at the time Monboddo wrote, then investigates his own view that modern scansion is a degenerate form of the classical; and places his views in context against those of his acquaintances. Chapter 4 assembles a collection of Monboddo's criticism of individual poets, drawn from his printed and MS writings. Homer is identified as the standard against which all modern poetry is to be measured. The entire medieval era Monboddo dismisses out of hand. Shakespeare's "barbarity" is censured, but his characters praised. Monboddo's informed and valuable criticism of both the style and content of Milton's poetry is examined in depth, and the prosodic licence of Monboddo's interpretation of Dryden's Alexander's Feast criticized. Shaftesbury Monboddo praises; Pope (although decadently Gallic in style) is esteemed as a satiric force, as is Swift; Fielding's use of epic devices, however, is censured. Thomson's Castle of Indolence and Armstrong's Art of Preserving Health are admired, and the works of "Ossian" considered as food for linguistic thought. Among dramatic works, Monboddo particularly approves of Home's Douglas. Part 2: Text and Notes Part 2 provides an edited text of six MSS of particular importance in shedding light on Monboddo's theory of poetry, his poetic criticism and the nature of Origin and Progress VII. An Apparatus Criticus records all textual alterations; Notes elucidate literary allusions, explicate difficult passages and provide miscellaneous points of information.