Hulme From Flux To Stasis

As we might expect, Hulme's conception of literary tradition and history changed fundamentally when he exchanged his Bergsonism for classicism in 1911—1912. In his Bergsonian phase his views bear some similarity to Pound's; as a classicist he moves closer to Eliot's position. In the Bergson-influenced 'A Lecture on Modern Poetry' (1908), for example, he shares Pound's view that literary history is consciously made by the actions of individuals: 'changes do not come by a kind of natural progress of which the artist himself is unconscious', he writes, 'the new forms are deliberately introduced by people who detest the old ones'. But, unlike Pound, Hulme puts forward the orthodox Bergsonian view that everything is impermanent, in flux, and therefore he sees literary tradition as irrelevant to the modern poet; 'I am of course in favour of the complete destruction of all verse more than twenty years old' (1994: 50-51).

However, in 'Romanticism and Classicism' (c. 1911-1912), Hulme takes quite the opposite position on tradition: his classicism leads him to argue that 'man is an extraordinary fixed and limited animal whose nature is absolutely constant. It is only by tradition and organization that anything decent can be got out of him'. As a result Hulme now plays down the importance of both originality ('there is nothing particularly desirable about freshness per se. Works of art aren't eggs') and emotion: 'there is a general tendency to think that verse means little else than the expression of unsatisfied emotion' (1994: 61, 66, 70). Although there is a correspondence with Eliot's argument in 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' here, Hulme has much less to say about literary tradition than either Eliot or Pound. 'Romanticism and Classicism' was his last important essay on literature: from this point his attention turned to the visual arts and politics.

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