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Romantic Poets, Critics, and Other Madmen

Romantic Poets, Critics, and Other Madmen

Charles Rosen

ISBN 9780674002029

Publication date: 04/10/2000

Few can match Charles Rosen's cultivation and discernment, whether as pianist, music historian, or critic. Here he gives us a performance of literary criticism as high art, a critical conjuring of the Romantic period by way of some of its central texts.

"What is the real business of the critic?" Rosen asks of George Bernard Shaw in one of his essays. It is a question he answers throughout this collection as he demonstrates and analyzes various critical approaches. In writing about the Romantic poets Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, William Cowper, and Friedrich Hölderlin, he examines the kind of criticism which attempts to uncover concealed code. He investigates the relationship between Romantic aesthetic theory and artworks, and explores the way Romantic art criticism has been practiced by critics from Friedrich Schlegel to Walter Benjamin. In essays on Honoré de Balzac, Robert Schumann, Gustave Flaubert, and others, he highlights the intersections between Romantic art and music; the artist's separation of life and artistic representations of it; and the significance of the established text.

With an apt comparison or a startling juxtaposition, Rosen opens whole worlds of insight, as in his linking of Caspar David Friedrich's landscape painting and Schumann's music, or in his review of the theory and musicology of Heinrich Schenker alongside the work of Roman Jakobson.

Throughout this volume we hear the voice of a shrewd aesthetic interpreter, performing the critic's task even as he redefines it in his sparkling fashion.


  • In the first of these essays, Charles Rosen is discussing whether there can be any such thing as a definitive edition of a work of modern literature...His essay takes in a new edition of La Comedie Humaine, Jerome J. McGann's edition of Byron's poetical works and two new books on Wordsworth, but has an even broader agenda than that: the distinction between a definitive edition of an ancient work--a matter of getting it right--and the multiple demands of modern ones, starting as early as Montaigne's marginal entries in his late-16th century essays, in which he observes that 'I am myself the matter of my book'...The piece, like its fellows, will delight the bookish, and the writing is always crisp, salted and peppered with throwaways like 'authors are often no worse than any one else at correcting their works.' That essay kicks off this collection of 10 written over the past 20 or so years...Mr. Rosen's attitude in the book is to see modern works of art, literature and music--by modern meaning that they date from the late-18th century or later--as moving rather than fixed targets...The essay on Walter Benjamin is the book's longest one and a tour de force...The discussion of the problematic nature of criticism and art history in the modern world goes to the heart of Mr. Rosen's critical outlook, first distinguishing between formalist and biographical or historical forms of criticism, then recombining them in the Benjaminesque notion of the work of art in history as a beauty-filled ruin...This [is a] volume of delights.

    —Colin Walters, Washington Times


  • Charles Rosen was a concert pianist, Professor of Music and Social Thought at the University of Chicago, and the author of numerous books, including The Classical Style, The Romantic Generation (Harvard), and Freedom and the Arts (Harvard).

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 0-11/16 x 5-9/16 x 8-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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