This book forced itself on me while I was trying to write some thing else, and it probably still bears the marks of the reluctance with which a great part of it was composed. After completing a study of William Blake (Fearful Symmetry, 1947), I determined to apply the principles of literary symbolism and Biblical typology which I had learned from Blake to another poet, preferably one who had taken these principles from the critical theories of his own day, instead of working them out by himself as Blake did. I therefore began a study of Spenser's Faerie Queene, only to discover that in my beginning was my end. The introduction to Spenser became an introduction to the theory of allegory, and that theory obstinately adhered to a much larger theoretical structure. The basis of argument became more and more discursive, and less and less historical and Spenserian. I soon found myself entangled in those parts of criticism that have to do with such words as "myth," "symbol," "ritual," and "archetype," and my efforts to make sense of these words in various published articles met with enough interest to encourage me to proceed further along these lines. Eventually the theoretical and the practical aspects of the task I had begun completely separated. What is here offered is pure critical theory, and the omission of all specific criticism, even, in three of the four essays, of quotation, is deliberate. The present book seems to me, so far as I can judge at present, to need a complementary volume concerned with practical criticism, a sort of morphology of literary symbolism.
I am grateful to the J. S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for a Fellowship (1950-1951) which gave me leisure and freedom to deal with my Protean subject at the time when it stood in the greatest need of both.
I am also grateful to the Class of 1932 of Princeton University, and to the Committee of the Special Program in the Humanities at Princeton, for providing me with a most stimulating term of work, in the course of which a good deal of the present book took its final shape. This book contains the substance of the four public lectures delivered in Princeton in March 1954.
The "Polemical Introduction" is a revised version of "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,' University of Toronto Quarterly, October 1949, also reprinted in Our Sense of Identity, ed. Malcolm Ross, Toronto, 1954. The first essay is a revised and expanded version of "Towards a Theory of Cultural History," University of Toronto Quarterly, July 1953. The second essay incorporates the material of "Levels of Meaning in Literature," Kenyon Review, Spring 1950; of "Three Meanings of Symbolism," Yale French Studies No. 9 (1952); of "The Language of Poetry," Explorations 4 (Toronto, 1955); and of "The Archetypes of Literature," Kenyon Review, Winter 1951. The third essay contains the material of "The Argument of Comedy," English Institute Essays 1948, Columbia University Press, 1949; "Characterization in Shakespearean Comedy," Shakespeare Quarterly, July 1953; "Comic Myth in Shakespeare." Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada (Section II), June 1952; and of "The Nature of Satire," University of Toronto Quarterly, October 1944. The fourth essay contains the material of "Music in Poetry," University of Toronto Quarterly, January 1942; of "A Conspectus of Dramatic Genres," Kenyon Review, Autumn 1951; of "The Four Forms of Prose Fiction," Hudson Review, Winter 1950; and of "Myth as Information," Hudson Review, Summer 1954. I am greatly obliged to the courtesy of the editors of the above-mentioned periodicals, the Columbia University Press, and the Royal Society of Canada, for permission to reprint this material. I have also transplanted a few sentences from other articles and reviews of mine, all from the same periodicals, when they appeared to fit the present context.
For my further obligations, all that can be said here, and is not less true for being routine, is that many of the virtues of this book are due to others: the errors of fact, taste, logic, and proportion are poor things, but my own.
University of Toronto