The Romantic Reaction

Transcending the Divide

In the Afterword to the third edition of The Pilgrim's Regress, C.S. Lewis argued that Romanticism had acquired so many different meanings that it had become meaningless. "I would not now use this word . . . to describe anything," he complained, "for I now believe it to be a word of such varying senses that it has become useless and should be banished from our vocabulary." Pace Lewis, if we banished words because they have multifarious meanings or because their meanings are abused or debased by maladroit malapropism, we should soon find it impossible to say anything at all! Take the word love. Few words are more abused, yet few words are more necessary to an understanding of ourselves. John Lennon and Jesus Christ do not have the same thing in mind when they speak of love. One puts a flower in his hair and goes on an hallucinogenic trip to San Francisco; the Other wears a crown of thorns and goes to His death on Golgotha.

Of course, C.S. Lewis understood this—so well that he wrote a whole book on the subject. In The Four Loves, he sought to define love. And what is true of a word such as love is equally true of one such as Romanticism. If we are to advance in understanding, we must abandon the notion of abolishing the word and commence, instead, with defining our terms. Lewis, in spite of his protestations, understood this also, proceeding from his...

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