Summer 1949 • Vol. XI No. 3 Nonfiction |

Johnson on the Metaphysicals

When we feel disposed to dismiss Johnson's views on the views Metaphysical poets as prejudice, we ought to consider whether we are not opposing one prejudice with another, of another kind, between which sensible compromise is difficult or even impossible. I see no way to refute Johnson's attack on the school of Donne short of setting up an abstract critical dialectic which would have little bearing upon how poetry is written in any age. I should like to marshal here a set of prejudices, of my own, as cogent as Johnson's, but that would be a feat beyond my capacity, as it would surely be beyond the reach of any critic less ignorant than myself. As a man of the first half of the 20th Century, I have no doubt as many prejudices as Johnson had, but I cannot be sure that I understand mine as well as he understood his. The first obstacle to our understanding of prejudice is the liberal dogma that it must not be entertained; prejudice has, with us, something of the private, the mantic, and

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