What is Touchstone Method? Discuss the Merits and Demerits of the Touchstone Method

What is Touchstone Method? Discuss the Merits and Demerits of the Touchstone Method

The" Touchstone Method" - introduced scientific objectivity to critical evaluation by providing comparison and analysis as the two primary tools for judging individual poets. Thus, Chaucer, Dryden, Pope, and Shelley fall short of the best, because they lack "high seriousness".

Arnold’s touchstone method is a comparative method of criticism. According to this method, in order to judge a poet’s work properly, a critic should compare it to the passages taken from works of great masters of poetry, and these passages should be applied as touchstones to other poetry. even a single line or selected quotation will serve the purpose. If the other work moves us in the same way as these lines and expressions do, then it is really a great job, otherwise not.

Another detail:

Literally ‘touchstone’ is such a stone on which gold is rubbed to test its quality. In literature the term 'touchstone method' was introduced by Matthew Arnold in his essay Study of Poetry, to denote the short but distinctive passages selected from the writings of the great poets of the past.

Arnold says that the great masters of the past are the suitable touchstones to test the quality of poems of the coming generations. He takes eleven lines ( three from Homer, three from Dante, three from Milton, and two from Shakespeare) which, according to him, ought to be used as touchstones to test the new poems. It uses the method of comparing and evaluating. The lines may be different but they have a common trait i.e the very high poetic quality.

Thus according to this method Chaucer, Dryden, Pope and Shelley fall short of the best because they lack high seriousness. According to Arnold, Homer, Sophocles, Dante, Milton, Goethe, and Wordsworth are the ideal poets. He puts Wordsworth on the front rank not for his poetry but for his criticism of life.

discuss the merits and demerits of the Touchstone Method

Introduction: Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) was a critical poet of the Victorian Period. He is considered to be the father of Modern Criticism. The method which is advocated by Arnold is known as the touch-stone method. According to Arnold, the term touchstone must be applicable for the purpose of judging and evaluating the standard of poets’ literary works whether they are classic or not. This method is recognized as the masterpiece of the critical essay “The Study of Poetry” (1880).

The scientific process of evaluation

Aristotle assigns excellent and high seriousness as one of the grand virtues of poetry. Here in the essay “The Study of Poetry”, Arnold cited some lines from Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton as touchstones for testing the high poetic quality. As the “Touchstone Method” introduces the scientific process for critical evaluation and judgment of individual poets, Chaucer, Dryden, Pope and Shelley fail to be the best poet or classics because they lack ‘high seriousness’. Even Shakespeare thinks too much for expression and little conception which is a slight flaw of Shakespeare but he is classic in accordance with Arnold. Actually, Arnold means to say that Chaucer, Dryden, Pope, and Shelley are genii but not classics.

The yardstick of finding ideal poets

As a result of the application of this method in his essay, the critic finds his ideal poets too. Homer and Sophocles are his ideal poets of ancient times. Dante and Milton have also been classics and he finds Goethe and Wordsworth as an ideal among the modernists. Arnold gives Wordsworth high rank not for his poetry but for his “Criticism of Life”.

The method of evaluation, not rejection

Arnold asserts that in order to judge a poet’s work properly a critic should compare, the poet’s literary work, to the passages of the classics. If the work has high seriousness or criticism of life, it will be recognized as a classical piece of writing and the poet must be included in the line of the classics. But it is also remembered that the literary work will not be rejected completely as we cannot reject Dryden, pope, and Shelley. To prove Arnold’s touchstone method, a few lines can be cited:
“And courage never to submit or yield
And what is else not to be overcome…………”
According to Arnold if we tact these few lines, they are enough even to save us from the fallacious estimate of poetry and to conduct us to real estimate.

Categorization of the poets

Arnold surveys the entire track of English poetry by comparing the passages of Homer and Shakespeare and divides the poets into sundry categories of the good and great and not so good and so great. We can summarize Arnold’s view that is recommended for the critic by him in the following sentences:
“It is important, therefore, to hold fast to this: that is at bottom a criticism of life: that a greatness of a poet lies in his powerful and beautiful application of ideas to life, and to the question, how to live”.

Criticism or demerits
The touch-stone method introduced and proved by Matthew Arnold is neither very safe nor very sane. There are a number of disagreements as to the method. According to the critics, this comparative method is not perfect to determine the proper estimate of poetry because the personal and historical estimates are neglected in the method. Besides the contemporary presentation of poetic writing is also neglected by the touch-stone method. According to Van Doren, most of his touch-stones of Arnold deal with pain and sad memories.

Conclusion: To sum up, it is asserted that the “Touchstone Method” is a landmark in the history of English Literature as it makes the poet thoughtful about the far-reaching effects of poetry, and as a result of this method the acceptance of poetry has been enhanced to the readers.

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