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Critical Occasions
Dryden, Pope, Johnson, and the History of Criticism

by Philip Smallwood

LC 2010049050
ISBN-10: 0-404-64865-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-404-64865-7

AMS Studies in the Eighteenth Century, No. 65

“Smallwood (emer., Birmingham City Univ., UK) forcefully contends that 18th-century literary criticism cannot adequately be understood or appropriated by current methods of historicization. Drawing on the theories of R. G. Collingwood, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricouer, and Hayden White, the author argues that the relevant unit of critical history is not the history of dead ideas and schools but rather the critical occasion. Placing the criticism of John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Samuel Johnson in a dialogic historical context, Smallwood attempts to transform the contemporary understanding of 18th-century criticism and make it accessible to current practitioners. Instead of consigning past critics to the history of dogmas or schools, this approach emphasizes the pressing questions of practical criticism, and Smallwood analyzes how each critic solved such problems in passing rather than systematically. Thus, this ambitious book not only attempts to reread the work of several 18th-century critics but also to re-present their insights in a form that is usable by their contemporary successors. By recalling attention to the extra-rational aspects of criticism, Smallwood makes a significant contribution to its understanding in both the 18th and the 21st centuries. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty. ”

—C. S. Vilmar, Choice

Reprinted with permission from CHOICE http://www.cro2.org, copyright by the American Library Association.

Critical Occasions examines the relations between selected critical texts of Dryden, Pope, and Johnson, and the theoretical problems that arise in writing the history of the critical past. It is a book about three great Augustan critics and about the theory and philosophy of history in its application to criticism.

By detailed reengagement with critical writings by Dryden, Pope, and Johnson, Smallwood argues that their critical distinction has been denatured by the lingering historicism of specific narrative patterns that have prevailed in critical histories. As part of this process, these critics’ roles in defining their own and criticism’s “occasion”—its formally situated and distinctive response to literature—have also been obscured.

Emphasizing a dialogic definition of criticism that is often satiric, and not always generically confined to written texts, Smallwood argues that the procedures of the history of ideas and of contextual historicism have underpinned a teleology of the critical past and sustained a myth of discontinuity. Critical Occasions advocates a historical rethinking of seminal critical texts in their vital relation to the critical present, urging a stronger relation between thought about continuity and change and traditions of creative translation within the period itself.

About the Author
Philip Smallwood read English at Lincoln College, Oxford, and received his doctorate from King's College, London. He was Professor of English at Birmingham City University for many years and is presently Visiting Fellow in the Department of English at Bristol University. His earlier books include an edition of essays entitled Johnson Re-Visioned (2001), the monographs Reconstructing Criticism (2003) and Johnson’s Critical Presence (2004), together with editions of essays entitled Critical Pasts (2004), and Samuel Johnson after 300 Years (co-edited with Greg Clingham) (2009). Smallwood is also a co-editor (with David Boucher and Wendy James) of a volume of previously unpublished manuscripts from the 1920s and 1930s by the British philosopher R. G. Collingwood under the title The Philosophy of Enchantment (2005).


1.   Impossible Perspectives? Narratives of Eighteenth-Century Literary Criticism

2.   Critical Queens and Tyrants: Johnson’s Dryden, Thomas Rymer, and the French
     1. Dryden et al.
     2. French Criticism as Idea and Ideal
     3. Critical Restoration and Restoration Criticism

3.   Pope’s Essay on Criticism
     1. To “Value Still the True”: Pope’s Essay on Criticism and the Problem of History
     2. Not the History of Ideas: Laughter, Music, and Metaphor in Pope’s Definition of Criticism
     3. Pope’s Essay on Criticism and the Narration of the Critical Past

4.   Johnson, Shakespeare, and Milton’s Airy Beings: Voice, Vision, and Nation in
     Critical History
     1. Literary History, Theory, and the Minimization of Johnson
     2. Narratives Not Told

5.   Theoretical Afterword and Conclusion: Critical Historicism and the Limits of the Radical

Appendix 1: Critical History and Critical Translation: Rymer and the Versions of Rapin’s Réflexions Sur La Poëtique D’aristote: A Note on Texts

Appendix 2: Some European Translations of Pope’s Essay on Criticism



Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Critical occasions : Dryden, Pope, Johnson, and the history of criticism / Philip Smallwood.
     p. cm. — (AMS studies in the eighteenth century, ISSN 0196-6561 ; no. 65)
     Includes bibliographical references and index.
     ISBN 0-404-64865-7 (cloth : alk. paper)
     1. Criticism—Great Britain—History.
     2. Literature—History and criticism—Theory, etc.
     3. Dryden, John, 1631–1700—Knowledge—Literature.
     4. Pope, Alexander, 1688–1744—Knowledge—Literature.
     5. Johnson, Samuel, 1709–1784—Knowledge—Literature.
     I. Title.
PR63.S63 2011
801'.950941—dc22                                                       2010049050