Cornell University, where he taught for nearly 40 years, announced his death on Wednesday.
The change was expressed by several ruling images, or “constitutive metaphors,” as Professor Abrams called them, chiefly the mirror and the lamp.
With fluid ease, Professor Abrams distilled the arguments of philosophers and critics from ancient Greece onward as he delineated a radical shift in aesthetics in the early 19th century, set in motion by poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Abrams, who transformed the study of Romanticism with the critical histories “The Mirror and the Lamp” and “Natural Supernaturalism,” and who edited the first seven editions of “The Norton Anthology of English Literature,” a virtual Bible in literature survey courses, died on Tuesday in Ithaca, N. On its publication in 1953, “The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition” was greeted as an instant classic.
Romantic Literary Criticism English literary criticism of the Romantic era is most closely associated with the writings of William Wordsworth in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria (1817).
Modern critics disagree on whether the work of Wordsworth and Coleridge constituted a major break with the criticism of their predecessors or if it should more properly be characterized as a continuation of the aesthetic theories of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century German and English writers.The literary reviews of the early nineteenth century, most notably the Edinburgh Review and the Quarterly Review, participated in the formulation of critical theory as well.Although earlier reviews were little more than advertisements for the books being considered, or “thinly concealed puff for booksellers' wares,” in the words of Terry Eagleton, the change in reviewing style in the Romantic period was not much of an improvement.For neoclassical writers like Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson, writing in the 18th century, the essence of poetic creation was mimetic, or imitative. In a 2011 interview, the literary scholar Harold Bloom, who studied with Professor Abrams as an undergraduate, said that “The Mirror and the Lamp” was “a remarkable piece of critical and literary history that describes the transition from mimetic theories of representation to Romantic ideas of creation — what one might call mystical or visionary theories.”“It remains a perpetually useful book,” he said.In Shakespeare’s famous phrase, the poet held the mirror up to nature. Meyer Howard Abrams, known as Mike, was born on July 23, 1912, in Long Branch, N.“To Coleridge it seemed more like an issue between propriety and impropriety, congruity and incongruity.In effect he applied the classic norm of decorum,” according to Wimsatt and Brooks.However, because such norms and conventions were associated with rationality—the very target of most Romantic poetry—criticism needed to head in a different direction.It had to “corner for itself some of the creative energy of poetry itself, or shift to a quasi-philosophical meditation on the nature and consequences of the creative act,” according to Eagleton. Eliot reports, for example, that “Wordsworth wrote his Preface to defend his own manner of writing poetry, and Coleridge wrote the Biographia to defend Wordsworth's poetry, or in part he did.” Paul A.According to Eagleton: “Criticism was now explicitly, unabashedly political: the journals tended to select for review only those works on which they could loosely peg lengthy ideological pieces, and their literary judgements, [sic] buttressed by the authority of anonymity, were rigorously subordinated to their politics.” John O.Hayden reports that reviews were tainted not only by politics, but by “malicious allusions to the private lives of the authors,” and concedes that “the critical values of the reviewers were neither uniform nor well established.” Coleridge's unhappiness with the vicious, opinionated reviews in the periodicals prompted his attempt to devise a critical method that would supplant mere opinions with reviews based on a set of sound literary principles.