ABSTRACT

Yvor Winters – in whom an erratic boldness of critical judgement is strikingly combined with an unembarrassed eagerness to lay bare the theoretical foundations of his work – is a critic to whom it is both tempting and easy to be unfair. Yet this temptation must be resisted, both because Winters is, as a critic, undeniably impressive, and because his a priori conception of criticism is interesting in its own right. We can, broadly (and crudely) speaking, elicit from Winters’s critical writings two ‘theses’. The first is most succinctly expressed in the essay on James, called ‘Maule’s Well’:

For practical purposes, the New England moral sense was merely an intensification of that of New York; like that of New York it derived ultimately from the pre-American Catholic discipline but unlike that of New York, or at least of English New York, it had experienced a Calvinistic interlude, which intensified it, notwithstanding the fact that such an interlude, rationally considered, ultimately did destroy it, but long afterward, by severing its connection with the one and only source of its nourishment, the Aristotelian ethical tradition, as embodied in the Catholic Church.1