Longinus dispensed with all these standards. He judged a work more by its essence than by its form. He advanced his theory of sublimity and insisted that the reader or hearer should be ‘carried away, transported and moved to ecstasy by the grandeur and the passion of the work’.
Scott-James calls Longinus “thefirst romantic critic ” because of his insistence on passion, ecstasy, transport, imagination, intensity and exaltation. These are the romantic traits breathed by Longinus in the aesthetic criticism of the Classical Age. In the words of Prof. Saintsbury. “Longinus has marked out grounds of criticism very far from those of the ancient period generally, further still from those which were occupied by any critic (except Dante) of the Middle Ages and classical revival, and close to, if not all cases overlapping the territory of the modern romantic criticism itself. ” Before Longinus, the Greek and Roman critics judged a work of art in accordance with the set rules, or considered it either from the pragmatic or the ethical stand-point.
We should be wary in observing that he was not a thorough romantic critic. He tempers romanticism ‘with what is sanest in classicism’. “For him,” says Scott-James, “classicism was touched with romance, but not darkened. His romanticism was sane and bright by dint of contact with the classical order.” He knew that emotion and passion should be within curb. They should not go with a green flag. They should be guided by some rules ‘Mere grandeur’, says he, ‘is exposed to danger when left without the control of reason and the ballast of scientific method. For the great passions need the curd as often as the spur.’ In this way it can be said that he is the first romantic critic who maintained his affiliations with classicism. Prof. Scott-James also says, “Though he was the first to expound the doctrines upon which romanticism rests, he turned, and tempered them with what is sanest in classicism. Whilst he pointed the way to the storm and fury of a romantic movement, set up the danger-posts, and reimposed the classic discipline. Though he was the first great critic to proclaim the efficacy of inspiration, he did not think that beauty comes like wind from heaven to fill the sails of the poet’s ship and drive it without effort across the sea.”
Longinus is a romantic critic in some other ways too. He opposed the classical view that not more than two metaphors at a time should be used in a work, especially because he was gifted with a genuine romantic temper. He was a romantic critic as Rhys Roberts says, “He is subjective rather than objective. He is an enthusiast rather than an analyst. He is better fitted to fire the young than to convince the maturely sceptical. He speaks rather of ‘transport or inspiration’ than of ‘purgation or universal’.
Prof. Atkins disagrees with Scott-James, and says that it is as an exponent of the genuine classical spirit that Longinus is perhaps best described, and not, as he has been called, the first romantic critic. The classical qualities of Longinus as a critic are quite obvious. He shows a great reverence for the ancient Greek models, for tradition, and advocates this imitation. He does not believe that a genius is a law unto himself. He wants to put some curb or restrain on wayward genius. He stands for fitness, correctness, selection and balance. He is blind to the “romance” in Homer’s Odyssey. He believes in rules and regulations. He stands for the use of a refined and cultivated poetic style.
Throughout, he is concerned mainly with ancient Greek models, “While his theory is solely based on the conception of art as the product of principles deducted from the practice of the past. ” Nor is this reverence for tradition the only classical element in his constitution. “He is classical also in the balance he maintains between genius and unimpassioned hard work, in his sense of the need for fitness, selection, and a fine adjustment of means to ends. ” So that it is as one of the last of the classical critics that he figures primarily in ancient critical history.
“But while this is true, it is true also that he anticipates much that is modern in critical works.” And this is shown by his concern with the-sense rather than with the form of literature, his understanding of the part played by the imagination and the feelings in work, his efforts at literary’ interpretation and appreciation, his widening outlook and the variety of his judicial methods, features which were to reappear only after the lapse of centuries.
He is, indeed, “the most modern of the ancient critics.” His chief claim to modernity rests on his conception of inspiration and ecstasy, especially on this sentence, “For it is not to persuasion but to ecstasy that passages of extraordinary genius carry the hearer.“
In fact, the fusion of the romantic, the classical and the modern strains in Longinus is the real key to his greatness, originality and relevance. He has an appeal to the romanticist as well as classicists, and also to some extent to the moderns. He was first to assert that “style is the man.”
POINTS TO REMEMBER
(Longinus as a Romantic Critic)
1. Scott-James, Saintsbury and other scholars have called Longinus the first romantic critic because of his aestheticism, his love for subjectivism, emphasis on emotion, fresh insights different from those of Aristotle and Plato; he rejected the ethical view-point and emphasis on rules of the classicists.
2. He is a romanticist in his theory of Sublimity as he recommends to judge a work of art on the basis of its power to carry away, transport and move to ecstasy by its grandeur and passion.
3. But not a thorough and pure romanticist; tempers romanticism, fuses romanticism, classicism and modernism together.
4. A classicist in curbing the licence of the artist; in his emphasis on order and grandeur of thought and language; he likes inspiration but does not ignore perspiration, a classicist because he shows great reverence for the ancients—the classicists—he stands for restrain, fitness, correctness, selection and balance. He is also a classicist in his balance between genius and unimpassioned hardwork.
5. A modern in his concern with the sense rather than with the form of literature, in his understanding of the part played by imagination, his efforts at literary interpretation and appreciation, in his widening outlook and the variety of his judicial methods, in his conception of inspiration and ecstasy.