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01729--classicism



Classicism is an attitude to literature that is guided by admiration of the qualities of formal balance, proportion, decorum, and restraint attributed to the major works of ancient Greek and Roman literature ('the classics') in preference to the irregularities of later vernacular literatures, and especially (since about 1800) to the artistic liberties proclaimed by romanticism. A classic is a work of the highest class, and has also been taken to mean a work suitable for study in school classes. During and since the renaissance, these overlapping meanings came to be applied to the writings of major Greek and Roman authors from Homer to Juvenal, which were regarded as unsurpassed models of excellence. The adjective classical, usually applied to this body of writings, has since been extended to outstandingly creative periods of other literatures: the 17th century may be regarded as the classical age of French literature, and the 19th century the classical period of the Western novel, while the finest fiction of the United States in the mid-19th century from Cooper to Twain was referred to by D. H. Lawrence as Classic American Literature (despite the opposition between 'classical' and 'romantic' views of art, a romantic work can now still be a classic). A classical style or approach to literary composition is usually one that imitates Greek or Roman models in subject-matter (e.g. Greek legends) or in form (by the adoption of GENRES like TRAGEDY, EPic, ODE, or verse SATIRE), or both. As a literary doctrine, classicism holds that the writer must be governed by rules, models, or conventions, rather than by wayward inspiration: in its most strictly codified form in the 17th and 18th centuries (see neoclassicism), it required the observance of rules derived from Aristotle's Poetics (4th century BCE) and Horace's Ars Poetica (c.20 BCE), principally those of decorum and the dramatic unities. The dominant tendency of French literature in the 17th and 18th centuries, classicism in a weaker form also characterized the augustan age in England; the later German classicism of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was distinguished by its exclusive interest in Greek models, as opposed to the Roman bias of French and English classicisms. After the end of the 18th century, 'classical' came to be contrasted with 'romantic' in an opposition of increasingly generalized terms embracing moods and attitudes as well as characteristics of actual works. While partisans of Romanticism associated the classical with the rigidly artificial and the romantic with the freely creative, the classicists condemned romantic self-expression as eccentric self-indulgence, in the name of classical sanity and order. The great German writer]. W. von Goethe summarized his conversion to classical principles by defining the classical as healthy, the romantic as sickly. Since then, literary classicism has often been less a matter of imitating Greek and Roman models than of resisting the claims of Romanticism and all that it may be thought to stand for (Protestantism, liberalism, democracy, anarchy): the critical doctrines of Matthew Arnold and more especially of T. S. Eliot are classicist in this sense of reacting against the Romantic principle of unrestrained self expression. 

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