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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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The term “Baroque” is today generally applied to the
literature of the seventeenth century. The transfer of
this term from the fine arts is, however, of rather recent
origin. The etymology of the word itself has been the
subject of a long debate. Two derivations have been
proposed: one from the Portuguese word barroco, a
jewelers' term for the irregular, odd-shaped pearl first
brought from Goa to Portugal in the sixteenth century,
and in the early eighteenth century used in French
as an adjective meaning “bizarre” or “odd”; and the
other, from baroco, the name of the fourth mode of
the second figure in the scholastic terminology of syl-
logisms. (“Every P is M, some S are not M, hence some
S are not P,” or to give an example: “Every fool is
stubborn, some people are not stubborn, hence some
people are not fools.”) This type of argument was early
felt to be sophistical: e.g., Luis Vives, in 1519, ridiculed
the Professors of the University of Paris as “sophists
in baroco and baralipton.” Montaigne (in Essais, Book
I, Ch. XXV) says C'est Barroco et Baralipton qui
rendent leurs supposts ainsi crottez et enfumez.
phrase ragioni barrochi can be documented in Italian
since 1570 and apparently the Italian barocco is
derived from it. In the eighteenth century the two
terms seem, independently of each other, to be applied
to the art and architecture of what the century felt
to be the “bad taste” of the preceding age. The third
edition of the Dictionnaire de l'Académie (1740) de-
fines “baroque” as irrégulier, bizarre, inégal while
the Dictionnaire de Trévoux (1771) speaks of un goût
baroque, où les règles des proportions ne sont pas
observées, où tout est représenté selon le caprice de
J. J. Rousseau in the Dictionnaire de Musique
(1768) states: il y a bien de l'apparence que ce terme
vient du Baroco des Logiciens
but apparently the
etymology from the jeweler's term has also played a
role. In Quatremère de Quincy's Dictionnaire his-
torique de l'architecture
(1783) baroque is defined as
une nuance du bizarre. Francesco Borromini and
Guarino Guarini are considered models of the baroque.
Francesco Milizia's Dizionario delle belle arti del
(1797) takes over this definition: Barocco è
il superlativo del bizzarro, l'eccesso del ridicolo.
Burckhardt stabilized its meaning in art history as
referring to what he considered the decadence of the
High Renaissance in the florid architecture of the
Counter-Reformation in Italy, Germany, and Spain.
Quite casually the term was transferred to literature,
first by Giosuè Carducci in a Prolusione in 1860, where
he refers to the Barocco dei secentisti (Opere, Edi-
zione Nazionale, Bologna [1941], V, 520) and in Spain,
when Menéndez y Pelayo, in Historia de las ideas


estéticas (1886) spoke of barroquismo literario of the
seventeenth century, in discussing a Portuguese critic
of the eighteenth century (Santander [1947], III, 488).
In the meantime Burckhardt's younger colleague at the
University of Basel, Friedrich Nietzsche, in Men-
schliches Allzumenschliches
(1878, Aphorism 144),
suggested that “the Baroque style arises every time at
the waning of every great art.” It chooses themes and
motifs of the highest dramatic tension, it indulges in
the eloquence of strong emotions and gestures, of the
ugly-sublime, of great masses, in general of quantity
as such, as it is announced in Michelangelo, the father
or grandfather of the Italian baroque artists. Nietzsche
sees a parallel in the present state of music alluding
to Richard Wagner and speaks of the frequent recur-
rence of a baroque style since the time of the Greeks,
in poetry, in eloquence, in prose style, in sculpture as
well as in architecture. This transfer to antiquity seems
to have been common. Nietzsche's foe, Ulrich Willamo-
witz-Moellendorf wrote about “ancient Baroque,” i.e.,
Hellenistic art, as early as 1881 and L. von Sybel, in
his Weltgeschichte der Kunst (1888) includes a chapter
on ancient Roman Baroque.

But Heinrich Wölfflin's Renaissance und Barock
(1888) is a real turning point in the history of the
term, not only because it gave a first thorough analysis
of the development of the style in Rome in apprecia-
tive terms, but also because it contains a few pages on
the possibility of applying the term to literature and
music (see pp. 83-85). Wölfflin suggests that the con-
trast between Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (1516) and Tas-
so's Gerusalemme liberata (1584) could be compared to
the distinction between Renaissance and baroque. In
Tasso he observed a heightening, an emphasis, a striving
for great conceptions absent in Ariosto. The images
are more unified, more sublime; there is less visual im-
agination (Anschauung) but much more mood ( Stim-
). Wölfflin's positive evaluation of baroque art
was soon followed by a proliferation of studies, partic-
ularly in Germany, by art historians such as Cornelius
Gurlitt, Alois Riegl, and Georg Dehio and in Italy by
Giulio Magni and Corrado Ricci, but Wölfflin's attempt
to transfer the term to literature remained for a long
time unheeded.

Occasional scattered usages of the term applied to
literature occur especially in the old Austro-Hungarian
Empire and in Italy where baroque art and architec-
ture are much in evidence. In 1893 a Polish scholar,
Edward Porȩbowicz, put the word “baroque” in the
title page of his monograph on a seventeenth-century
Polish poet, Andrzej Morsztyn (Cracow, 1893). A
well-known Italian essayist, Enrico Necioni, published
an essay “Barrochismo” in La Vita italiana nel seicento
(Milan, 1894) which, impressionistically, related the
arts and poetry of the age. In the introduction to a
reissue Gabriele D'Annunzio, oddly enough, referred
to it as “Del Barocco” (see Saggi critici di letteratura
Florence [1898]). In 1899 J. W. Nagl and
Jakob Zeigler devoted a long chapter of their Deutsch
österreichische Literaturgeschichte
to österreichische
Barocke und deutsche Renaissance-literatur.
the style is described (I, 656) as “decorative and sym-
bolic” and seen as an expression of the Counter-
Reformation. In 1914 a Danish scholar, Valdemar
Vedel, published a paper den digteriske Barokstil
omkring aar
1600 (in Edda, 2, 17-40) in which he
draws a close parallel between Rubens and French and
English poetic styles between 1550 and 1650.

Baroque literature is, like the art of Rubens, decora-
tive, colorful, emphatic. Vedel lists favorite themes and
words in literature which he considers applicable to
the art of Rubens: grand, high, flourish, red, flame,
horses, hunt, war, gold, the love of show, bombast,
mythological masquerade. But Vedel's article, probably
because it was written in Danish, was completely ig-
nored. Also Karl Borinski's treatment of the history of
conceptist theories (see below) in Spain (e.g., in Balta-
sar Gracián) and his sketch of the history of the term
in a learned book, Die Antike in Poetik und Kunsttheo-
with the subtitle for the first volume, Mittelalter,
Renaissance und Barock
(1914) does not reflect
Wölfflin's suggestions, though Borinski was his col-
league at the University of Munich.

All this was preparation for the enormous and sud-
den outburst of studies of the baroque and the use of
the term “baroque” for literature in Germany. In 1915
Wölfflin published a new book, Kunstgeschichtliche
in which Renaissance and baroque are
contrasted as the two main types of style and criteria
for their distinctions are worked out concretely. This
book made a tremendous impression on several Ger-
man literary historians struggling with the problem of
period style. It seemed to invite transfer to literary
history. In 1916, without mentioning Wölfflin, Fritz
Strich made a stylistic analysis of German seven-
teenth-century lyrical poetry which he called “ba-
roque” (in Abhandlungen zur deutschen Literatur-
geschichte: Festschrift für Franz Muncker,
Oskar Walzel in the same year claimed that Shake-
speare belonged to the baroque, applying one pair of
Wölfflin's fundamental concepts, “closed” and “open
form” to the contrast between Shakespeare and French
classical tragedy (“Shakespeares dramatische Bau-
kunst,” reprinted in Das Wortkunstwerk, 1926).

The enormous vogue of the term “baroque” outside
academic scholarship is however due to the sudden
interest in seventeenth-century German poetry after
the first World War. Several anthologies of seven-


teenth-century German poetry, called Die deutsche
or similar titles, were immensely successful
in the 1920's. Scholars discussed the hitherto neglected
literature in awe-struck terms, looking for its under-
lying philosophy. Arthur Hübscher was the inventor
of the slogan of the antithetische Lebensgefühl des
(in Euphorion, 22 [1924]) which has found
much favor and suggested a number of books which
all describe baroque in terms of one opposition or of
a number of oppositions. Herbert Cysarz's Die deutsche
(1924) was the first bold synthesis to
operate largely with the concept of a tension between
the classical form and the Christian ethos and sentiment
of baroque literature. Since then interest in the German
seventeenth century has risen steadily, and produced
a large literature permeated by the term “baroque.”
The reasons for its immense success are obvious: Ger-
mans after the first World War felt in sympathy with
the period of the Thirty Years War. Expressionism with
its turbulent, tense, and torn diction and tragic view
of the world seems to have been anticipated in an
earlier century dominated by a similar crepuscular
mood. The new understanding of the baroque was, no
doubt, often based on an unhistorical parallel but it
was also the expression of a genuine change of taste,
a sudden appreciation of an art despised before because
of its conventions, its supposedly tasteless metaphors,
its allegories, its morbid or sensual themes.

German scholars soon applied their newly found
criterion to other European literatures. Theophil
Spoerri was, in 1922, the first to carry out Wölfflin's
suggestions as to the difference between Ariosto and
Tasso in Renaissance und Barock bei Ariost und Tasso.
Versuch einer Anwendung Wölfflin'scher Kunstbe-
(Bern, 1922). Ariosto is shown by Wölfflin's
criteria to be Renaissance; Tasso, baroque. Marino and
the Marinists appeared baroque. Spain was also easily
assimilable, since “Gongorism”—the involved style of
Luis de Góngora (1561-1627)—and conceptism—a
style characterized by ingenious and precious conceits,
of which Francisco Quevedo (1580-1645) and Balta-
sar Gracián (1601-58) were the main represent-
atives—presented parallel phenomena which had
but to be christened “baroque.” But all other Spanish
literature, from Guevara in the early sixteenth century
to Calderón in the late seventeenth century, was soon
claimed as baroque. Wilhelm Michels in a paper on
“Barockstil in Shakespeare und Calderón” in the Revue
85 (1929) used the acknowledged baroque
characteristics of Calderón to argue that Shakespeare
also shows the same stylistic tendencies. There seems
to be only disagreement among the German writers
as to the status of Cervantes: Helmut Hatzfeld as early
as 1927 had spoken of Cervantes as Jesuitenbarock
in Don Quixote als Sprachkunstwerk (Leipzig [1927],
p. 287) and had argued that Cervantes' world view
is that of the Counter-Reformation. In a later paper,
“El predominio del espíritu español en las literaturas
del siglo XVII,” in Revista de Filología Hispánica (3
[1941], 9-23), Hatzfeld tried to show that Spain is
eternally, basically baroque and that it was historically
the radiating center of the baroque spirit in Europe.
The permanently Spanish features, which are also those
of baroque, were only temporarily overlaid by the
Renaissance. Ludwig Pfandl, however, limits baroque
to the seventeenth century and expressly exempts
Cervantes. (See Geschichte der spanischen National-
literatur in ihrer Blütezeit,
Freiburg im Breisgau [1929],
p. 289). Both Vossler and Spitzer, however, consider
even Lope de Vega baroque (in spite of Lope's objec-
tions to Góngora). (See Karl Vossler, Lope de Vega und
sein Zeitalter,
Munich [1932], pp. 89-105 especially;
Leo Spitzer, Die Literarisierung des Lebens in Lopes
Bonn [1932].)

French literature was also described by German
scholars in terms of the baroque. Neubert and Schürr
talked, at first somewhat hesitatingly, of baroque
undercurrents and features in seventeenth-century
France. (See V. Klemperer, H. Hatzfeld, F. Neubert,
Die romanischen Literaturen von der Renaissance bis
zur französischen Revolution,
[1928]; Friedrich Schürr, Barock, Klassizismus und
Rokoko in der französischen Literatur. Eine principielle
Leipzig [1928].) Schürr claimed Ra-
belais as early baroque and described the précieux, the
writers of the sprawling courtly novels and of bur-
lesques, as baroque, a style which was displaced by
the new classicism of Boileau, Molière, La Fontaine,
and Racine. Others advocated the view that these
French classics themselves are baroque. Leo Spitzer
endorses it with some qualifications. In a brilliant anal-
ysis of the style of Racine (“Klassische Dämpfung in
Racines Stil,” in Romanische Stil- und Literaturstudien,
Marburg [1931], I, 255n.), he has shown how Racine
always tones down baroque features, how Racine's
baroque is tame, subdued, classical. Though Hatzfeld
does not completely deny the obviously striking dis-
tinctions of French classicism, he is the one scholar
who most insistently claims all French classicism as
baroque. In an early paper, “Der Barockstil der religiö-
sen klassischen Lyrik in Frankreich” (Literaturwissen-
schaftliches Jahrbuch der Görresgesellschaft,
4 [1929],
30-60) he discusses the French religious poetry of the
seventeenth century, showing its similarity to Spanish
mysticism and its stylistic similarities to general ba-
roque. In a long piece in a Dutch review, “Die franzö-
sische Klassik in neuer Sicht. Klassik als Barock” (Tijd-
schrift voor Taal en Letteren,
23 [1935], 213-81) he


accumulated many observations to show that French
classicism is only a variant of baroque. French clas-
sicism has the same typically baroque tension of sensu-
ality and religion, the same morbidity, the same pathos
as Spanish baroque. Its form is similarly paradoxical
and antithetical, “open,” in Wölfflin's sense. The disci-
pline of French classicism is simply a universal charac-
teristic of the “rule over the passions,” furthered by
the Counter-Reformation everywhere.

English literature, even outside of the attempts to
claim Shakespeare as baroque, was also soon brought
in line. Friedrich Brie's Englische Rokokoepik (Munich,
1927) is the first attempt of this sort. There Pope's Rape
of the Lock
is analyzed as rococo, but in passing a
contrast to the baroque of Garth and Boileau is drawn.
F. W. Schirmer in several articles and in his Geschichte
der Englischen Literatur
(Halle, 1937) used the term
for the metaphysicals, Browne, Dryden, Otway, and
Lee, excluding Milton from the baroque expressly. This
was also the conclusion of Friedrich Wild in his “Zum
Problem des Barocks in der englischen Dichtung” (An-
59 [1935], 414-22), where he called even Ben
Jonson, Massinger, Ford, and Phineas Fletcher baroque.
The idea of an antithesis of sensualism and spiritualism
in English seventeenth-century poetry was in the
meantime developed by Werner P. Friederich's
“Spiritualismus und Sensualismus in der englischen
Barocklyrik,” in Wiener Beiträge, 57, Vienna (1932).

The view that all English seventeenth-century civi-
lization is baroque has been pushed farthest by Paul
Meissner in Die geisteswissenschaftlichen Grundlagen
des englischen Literaturbarocks
(Munich, 1934). He
includes also Milton and has devised a whole scheme
of contraries covering all activities and stages of the
English seventeenth century. In a piece which stresses
the Spanish influence in England, Hatzfeld goes so far
as to call Milton “the most Hispanized poet of the age,
who to the foreigner appears the most baroque” (Re-
vista de Filología Hispánica,
3 [1941], 22). Bernhard
Fehr finally has extended the frontiers of English ba-
roque by finding it in Thomson and Mallet and even
tracing it in the verse form of Wordsworth. (See “The
Antagonism of Forms in the Eighteenth Century,”
English Studies, 18 [1936], 115-21, 193-205, and 19
[1937], 1-13, 49-57.) Thus all literatures of Europe in
the seventeenth century (and in part of the sixteenth
century) are conceived by German scholars as a unified
baroque movement, e.g., in Schnürer's Katholische
Kirche und Kultur der Barockzeit
(Paderborn, 1937),
in Spain, and Portugal with Camões, in Italy, France,
Germany, and Austria, but also in Poland, Hungary,
and Yugoslavia.

The idea of a baroque age in literature was taken
up soon by scholars of other nationalities. In 1919 F.
Schmidt-Degener published a piece on “Rembrandt en
Vondel” (De Gids, 83 [1919], 222-75). A German trans-
lation by Alfred Pauli was published as Rembrandt und
der holländische Barock,
in Studien der Bibliothek
No. 9 (Leipzig, 1928), in which Rembrandt
is identified as an opponent of baroque taste, while
the poet Joost Van Den Vondel, Flemish by descent
and a convert to Catholicism, is presented as the typi-
cal representative of the European baroque. The au-
thor looks with distinct disfavor on the baroque, its
sensual mysticism, its externality, its verbalism in con-
trast to the truly Dutch (and at the same time universal)
art of Rembrandt. With Heinz Haerten, Vondel und
der deutsche Barock
(1934) found in Disquisitiones
Carolinae. Fontes et Acta Philologica et Historica
Th. Baader, 6, Nijmegen [1934]), the revaluation of
baroque has also triumphed in Holland. There Vondel
is claimed as the very summit of Northern, Teutonic
baroque. In general, seventeenth-century Dutch litera-
ture seems to be now described by the Dutch them-
selves as baroque.

The next country to succumb to the lure of the term
was Italy. Giulio Bertoni had reviewed Spoerri without
showing much interest, in the Giornale storico della
letteratura italiana
(81 [1923], 178-80); Lionello Ven-
turi early expounded Wölfflin in an article “Gli schemi
del Wölfflin,” in L'Esame (1 [1922], 3-10). But late
in 1924 Mario Praz finished a book, Secentismo e
Marinismo in Inghilterra
(Florence [1925], cf. pp. 94,
110n., 113), which, in its title, avoids the term baroque;
in its text, which is actually two monographs on Donne
and Crashaw respectively, it freely refers to baroque
in literature, and to the literary baroque in England.
Praz studied especially the contacts of Donne and
Crashaw with Italian and neo-Latin literature, and he
knew the work of Wölfflin.

In July 1925 Benedetto Croce read a paper in Zurich
on the concept of the baroque which was then pub-
lished in a German translation by Berthold Fenigstein
as Der Begriff des Barock. Die Gegenreformation. Zwei
(Zurich, 1925). It is practically identical with
Chapters 2 and 1 of Storia dell' Età barocca in Italia
(Bari, 1929). There he discusses the term without, it
seems, much consciousness of its newness in literature,
though he vigorously protests against many of the
current German theories, and pleads for a revival of
the original meaning of baroque as a kind of artistic
ugliness. Though Croce tried again and again to defend
his negative attitude to the baroque, he himself adopted
the term as a label for the Italy of the seventeenth
century. His largest book on the period, Storia dell'
Età barocca in Italia,
has the term on the title page.
After 1925 he discussed even his beloved Giambattista
Basile in terms of baroque. (See his introduction to


Basile's Lo Cunto de li Cunti, 2 vols., Bari [1925]. The
paper on Basile in Saggi sulla Letteratura Italiana del
Bari [1910] did not yet use the term. The
English translation by N. M. Penzer, introducing the
Pentamerone of Giambattista Basile, 2 vols., London
[1932], conflates the two pieces.) Baroque thus seems
victorious in Italy.

1927, the tercentenary of Góngora's death, estab-
lished the term in Spain. An anthology of Góngora
spoke of him as a baroque poet. (See Gerardo Diego,
ed., Antología poética en honor de Góngora, Madrid
[1927]. It was reviewed by Dámaso Alonso in Revista
de Occidente,
18 [1927], 396-401.) Dámaso Alonso
published an edition of the Soledades (Madrid [1927],
especially pages 31-32) which has a page on Góngora's
barroquismo with an express recognition of the novelty
of the term. In the same year, Ortega y Gasset, in
reviewing Alonso, called “Góngorism, Marinism, and
Euphuism merely forms of baroque.” “What is usually
called classical in poetry is actually baroque, e.g.,
Pindar who is just as difficult to understand as Gón-
gora.” (See “Góngora, 1627-1927,” in Espíritu de la
Madrid [1927], quoted from Ortega y Gasset,
Obras, Madrid [1943], II, 1108-09.) Another famous
Spanish scholar, Américo Castro, also began using the
term “baroque,” first for Tirso de Molina, but also for
Góngora and Quevedo.

France is the one major country which has resisted
longest, though there are a few exceptions. André
Koszul called Beaumont and Fletcher baroque in 1933,
and referred in his bibliography to some of the German
work. (See “Beaumont et Fletcher et le Baroque,” in
Cahiers du Sud, 10 [1933], 210-16.) A French student
of German literature, André Moret, wrote a good thesis
on the German baroque lyric, adopting the term as
a matter of course in Le Lyrisme baroque en Allemagne
(Lille, 1936). See also his “Vers une solution du
problème du baroque,” in Revue Germanique (38
[1937], 373-77). Gonzague de Reynold's Le XVIIe
Siècle: Le Classique et le Baroque
(Montreal, 1944),
however, is the first French book to make much of
the term. M. Reynold recognizes a conflict between
the baroque and the classic in seventeenth-century
France: the temperament of the time, its passion, and
its will seem to him baroque; Corneille, Tasso, and
Milton are called so, but the actual French classicists
appear as victors over something which endangered
their balance and poise. One should note that Gon-
zague de Reynold was a professor at Fribourg, where
Schnürer was his colleague, and that he taught for years
at the University of Bern, to which Strich had gone
from Munich. Most French literary historians, such as
Baldensperger, Lebègue, and Henri Peyre have raised
their voices vigorously against the application of the
term to French literature. (See Fernand Baldensperger,
“Pour une Révaluation littéraire du XVIIe siècle clas-
sique,” Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, 44
[1937], 1-15, especially 13-14; Raymond Lebègue,
Bulletin of the International Committee of Historical
9 [1937], 378; Henri Peyre, Le Classicisme
New York [1942], cf. pp. 181-83.) Then, on
the other hand, Marcel Raymond in a volume in honor
of Wölfflin tried to distinguish Renaissance and baroque
elements in Ronsard with subtle, though extremely
elusive, results. Madame Dominique Aury edited an
anthology of French baroque poets which elicited a
fine essay by Maurice Blanchot, entitled “Classique et
baroque dans la poésie de Ronsard,” which appeared
in Concinnitas: Festschrift für Heinrich Wölfflin (Basel,
1944). Other essays are those by Dominique Aury, Les
Poètes précieux et baroques du XVIIe siècle
1942), and by Maurice Blanchot, “Les poètes baroques
du XVIIe siècle,” in Faux Pas (Paris [1943], pp.

Not until the fifties did the term “baroque” take hold
in French literary history. The discovery by Alan
Boase, an Englishman, of Jean de Sponde, a late six-
teenth-century poet, the reprinting of the almost for-
gotten La Ceppède, and several anthologies of French
poetry, unearthing little-known poets between Ronsard
and Malherbe, established a consciousness that there
existed in France a fine poetic tradition which was
neither Renaissance nor classical, and can be best
described as baroque. In French scholarship Jean
Rousset's La Littérature de l'âge baroque en France
(Paris, 1953) and a new book by his teacher Marcel
Raymond, Baroque et renaissance poétique (1955)
finally carried conviction. Both Rousset and Raymond
use Wölfflin's categories as their starting point: Rousset
devises a new dichotomy: Circe and the Peacock, the
principle of metamorphosis and the principle of osten-
tation. Still, while the term and concept is used now
in France very freely, the French have resisted the
attempt to extend it to French classicism itself. A
careful account of the struggle between baroque and
classical elements in Racine is the work of an English-
man Philip Butler, entitled Classicisme et baroque dans
l'œuvre de Racine
(Paris, 1959).

Baroque as a literary term has also spread to the
Slavic countries with a Catholic past. It is used in
Poland widely for the Jesuit literature of the seven-
teenth century, and in Czechoslovakia there has been
a sudden interest in the half-buried Czech literature
of the Counter-Reformation which is now always called
baroque. The editions of baroque poets and sermons
and discussions became especially frequent in the early
thirties. There is also a small book by Václav Černý
(1937) which discusses the baroque in European poetry,


including in it even Milton and Bunyan. Julius Kleiner,
in Die polnische Literatur (Wildpark-Potsdam, 1929),
uses the term, e.g., of Casimir (Sarbiewski), the neo-
Latin poet, in studies and editions by J. Vašica (e.g.,
České literární baroko, Prague [1938], p. 15, V. Bitnar,
Zdeněk Kalista, F. X. Šalda, Arne Novák, etc.; Václav
Černý, O básnickém baroku, Prague [1937]). The term
is used in Hungarian literary history for the age of
Cardinal Pazmány (1570-1637), and by Yugoslavs to
characterize Ivan Gundulić (1588-1678) and his epic

In England and America the term, as applied to
literature, appeared late, much later than the revival
of interest in Donne and the metaphysical poets.
Herbert Grierson and T. S. Eliot do not use it. A rather
slight essay by Peter Burra, published in Farrago in
1930, is called “Baroque and Gothic Sentimentalism”
(reprinted privately, London, 1931), but uses the term
quite vaguely for periods of luxuriance as an alternative
for “Gothic.” The more concrete literary use seems
to come from Germany: J. E. Crawford Fitch published
in London a book on Angelus Silesius in 1932 which
uses the term occasionally, and in 1933, the philosopher
E. I. Watkin, a student of German Catholic literature,
discussed Crashaw as baroque, in a work entitled The
English Way: Studies in English Sanctity from St. Bede
to Newman,
edited by Maisie Ward (London [1933],
pp. 268-96). Watkins must have known the book by
Mario Praz, mentioned above. Crashaw is again, in
1934, the center of a study of the baroque by T. O.
Beachcroft in an article called “Crashaw and the Ba-
roque Style” (Criterion, 13 [1934], 407-25). In 1934 F.
W. Bateson published his little book, English Poetry
and the English Language
(Oxford [1934], pp. 76-77),
where he applied the term baroque even to Thomson,
Gray, and Collins. Since then the term baroque occurs
in English scholarship more frequently. F. P. Wilson
in Elizabethan and Jacobean (Oxford [1945], p. 26)
used it to characterize Jacobean in contrast to Eliza-
bethan literature, and E. M. W. Tillyard in John Milton,
Private Correspondences and Academic Exercises

(Cambridge [1932], xi) applied it in passing to Milton's
epistolary prose.

In English literary histories the term is today usually
confined to a few authors. Thus David Daiches, in his
Critical History of English Literature (London, 1960)
refers only to Giles Fletcher, to Sylvester's translation
of Du Bartas, and to Crashaw as being baroque. Miss
M. M. Mahood applies it to Milton and Odette de
Mourgues, in a book in English, Metaphysical, Baroque
and Précieux Poetry
(Oxford, 1953) uses it as a term
of disapproval limited to Crashaw. But on the whole,
in England, the term “metaphysical” has predomi-

In the United States, as early as 1929, Morris W.
Croll christened a very fine analytical paper on seven-
teenth-century prose style “baroque,” calling it “The
Baroque Style in Prose.” It appeared in Studies in
English Philology: A Miscellany in Honor of Frederick
edited by K. Malone and M. B. Ruud (Minne-
apolis [1929], pp. 427-56). It was reprinted with other
papers in Style, Rhetoric, and Rhythm (Princeton
[1966], pp. 207-33). Earlier, in several papers on the
history of prose style, he had called the same traits
of the anti-Ciceronian movement “Attic,” a rather
obscure and misleading term. Croll knew Wölfflin's
work and used his criteria, though very cautiously. In
the following year George Williamson, in his Donne
singled out Crashaw as “the most baroque
of the English metaphysicals,” and calls him a “true
representative of the European baroque poet, con-
trasting with Donne therein” (Cambridge, Mass.
[1930], pp. 116, 123). Williamson, of course, had read
Mario Praz. Since then Helen C. White in her Meta-
physical Poets
(New York [1936], pp. 84, 198-99, 247,
254, 306, 370, 380) used the term for Crashaw, and
Austin Warren's book on Crashaw has the subtitle: A
Study in Baroque Sensibility
(Baton Rouge, 1939).

Baroque, in the United States, has not caught on very
widely in academic literary scholarship. It is usually,
as in England, limited arbitrarily to a few authors: thus
Tucker Brooke uses “Baroque glory” as a label for
Donne's prose, and for Thomas Browne and Jeremy
Taylor in Albert C. Baugh, Literary History of England
(New York [1948], pp. 613-23). Douglas Bush calls the
younger Giles Fletcher's Christ's Victorie and Triumph
... (1610) “the chief monument of baroque devotional
poetry” but elsewhere insists that Crashaw is “the one
conspicuous English incarnation of the 'baroque' sensi-
bility.” The simplest definition of baroque is to him
“poetry like Crashaw's.” (See English Literature in the
Earlier Seventeenth Century,
Oxford [1945], pp. 86,
140-41, 362.) Two scholars, Imbrie Buffum in a book
on Agrippa d'Aubigné (1951) and in Studies in the
Baroque from Montaigne to Rotrou
(New Haven, 1957)
and Lowry Nelson, Jr., in Baroque Lyric Poetry (New
Haven, 1961) have made concrete analyses of French,
English, and Spanish poetry in order to arrive at new
characterizations of the baroque. More daringly Wylie
Sypher, in his Four Stages of Renaissance Style (Garden
City, N.Y., 1955) elaborated a parallel between Italian
painting and the history of English poetry in which
the baroque is represented by Milton and late baroque
by Dryden and Racine. Sypher analogizes often ex-
travagantly as does Roy Daniells. In Milton, Mannerism
and Baroque
(Toronto, 1963) Daniells tries to describe
Milton's development in terms of the change from
mannerism to baroque in the visual arts.


The term is also used for the echoes of English
seventeenth-century literature in America. Austin
Warren identified the newly discovered early eight-
eenth-century American poet, Edward Taylor, as Co-
lonial baroque. (See “Edward Taylor's Poetry: Colonial
Baroque,” Kenyon Review, 3 [1941], 355-71, reprinted
in Rage for Order, Chicago [1948], pp. 1-18.) Thus
baroque is widely used today in discussing literature.

This sketch of the spread of the term may have
suggested the varied status of baroque in the different
countries—its complete establishment in Germany, its
recent success in Italy and Spain, its slow penetration
into English and American scholarship, and its late
success in France. It is possible to account for these
differences. In Germany the term succeeded because
it found a vacuum: terms such as the first and second
Silesian school, which were used before, were obviously
inadequate. Baroque has become a laudatory term in
the fine arts and could easily be used for the literature
whose beauties were discovered during the change of
taste caused by expressionism. Furthermore, the gen-
eral revolt against positivistic methods in literary
scholarship enhanced interest in period terms. Discus-
sions as to the essence of the Renaissance, romanticism,
and baroque occupied German literary scholars tired
of the minutiae of research and eager for sweeping
generalizations. In Italy there had been long recog-
nized the phenomenon of Marinism and secentismo,
but baroque seemed a preferable substitute, as not
being associated with a single poet and as not a mere
century label. In Spain baroque has also superseded
góngorismo, culteranismo, conceptismo, as it is a more
general term, free from associations with a single style
or with some peculiar critical doctrine or technical
device. In France baroque was, at first, rejected, partly
because the old meaning of “bizarre” was still felt very
vividly, and partly because French classicism was a
distinct literary movement inimical to the ideals of
contemporary baroque movements in Spain and Italy.
Even Helmut Hatzfeld, who is no doubt right in stress-
ing some affinities with the general European Counter-
Reformation and some concrete influences of Spain on
French classicism, has to speak of the French “ Son-
” in “Die französische Klassik in neuer Sicht.
Klassik als Barock
,” (found in Tijdschrift voor Taal en
23 [1935], 222), a prefix which seems to
weaken his thesis considerably. The précieux, whatever
their affinities with Spain and Italy may have been,
are also clearly distinct in their lightness and secularity
from the heavier, predominantly religious art which
one associates with southern baroque. In England the
reluctance to adopt the term has somewhat similar
reasons: the memory of Ruskin's denunciations of
seventeenth-century taste seems to be lingering in
English minds, and this distaste cannot be corrected
by the sight of any considerable baroque architecture
in England. The term “metaphysical” is too well es-
tablished (though admittedly misleading), and today it
is too honorific to be regarded as in any serious need
of replacement. As for Milton, he seems too individual
and Protestant to be easily assimilated to baroque, still
associated in most minds with Jesuits and the Counter-
Reformation. Besides, the English seventeenth century
does not impress the historian as a unity: its earlier
part up to the closing of the theaters in 1642 is con-
stantly assimilated to the Elizabethan Age; its later part
from 1660 on has been annexed by the eighteenth
century. Even those who would sympathize with the
view that there is a continuity of artistic tradition from
Donne and Chapman to the last writings of Dryden
cannot overlook the very real social changes of the
civil wars, which brought with them a considerable
change of taste and general “intellectual climate.” In
the United States nothing hinders the spread of the

In analyzing the meanings of the term we must, first
of all, draw the important distinction between those
who use baroque as a term for a recurrent phenomenon
in all history and those who use it as a term for a
specific phenomenon in the historical process, fixed in
time and place. The first use belongs to a typology
of literature, the second to its history. Croce, Eugenio
d'Ors, and many Germans consider it a typological
term. Croce argues that the term should be returned
to its original meaning, “a form of artistic ugliness,”
and that the phenomenon can be observed among the
Silver Latin poets as well as in Marino or in D'An-
nunzio. Croce, however, abandoned this use and pre-
ferred to call baroque only “that artistic perversion,
dominated by a desire for the stupefying, which can
be observed in Europe from the last decades of the
sixteenth to the end of the seventeenth century” (Storia
dell' Età barocca in Italia,
pp. 32-33). In Germany,
Walzel used baroque as an alternative term for Gothic
and romanticism, assuming an underlying identity of
all these periods opposed to the other sequence of
classical antiquity, Renaissance, and neo-classicism.
This is found in his Gehalt und Gestalt im Kunstwerk
des Dichters
(Wildpark-Potsdam [1925], pp. 265ff.,
282ff.). Eugenio d'Ors called such pervasive stylistic
types “eons” and saw baroque as a historical category,
an idée-événement, a “constant” which recurs almost
everywhere. He draws up a table of the different
variants or subspecies of homo barocchus in Du Ba-
(Paris [1935], pp. 161ff.), where we find an ar-
chaic baroque, a Macedonian, an Alexandrian, a
Roman, a Buddhist, a Gothic, a Franciscan, a Manue-
lian (in Portugal), a Nordic, a Palladian (in Italy and


England), a Jesuit, a rococo, a romantic, a fin-de-siècle,
and some other varieties of baroque. In his view it
pervades all art history from the ruins of Baalbek to
the most recent modernism, all literature from Euri-
pides to Rimbaud, and all other cultural activities
including philosophy as well as the discoveries of
Harvey and Linné. Half of the world's history and
creations are baroque, all that are not purely classical.
The term thus used becomes so broad and vague when
cut off from its period moorings that it loses all useful-
ness for concrete literary study. The historian of litera-
ture will be interested far more in baroque as a term
for a definite period.

Even as a period term the chronological extension
of its use is most bafflingly various. In England it may
include Lyly, Milton, and even Gray and Collins. In
Germany it may include Fischart, Opitz, and even
Klopstock. In Italy, Tasso as well as Marino and Basile;
in Spain, Guevara, Cervantes, Góngora, and Quevedo
as well as Calderón; in France, Rabelais, Ronsard, Du
Bartas, the précieux, but also Racine and even Fénelon.
Two or even almost three centuries may be spanned;
or at the other extreme, the term may be limited to
a single author in English, Richard Crashaw, or to a
single style such as Marinism or Gongorism. The term
baroque seems, however, most acceptable if we have
in mind a general European movement whose conven-
tions and literary style can be described concretely and
whose chronological limits can be fixed narrowly, as
from the last decades of the sixteenth century to the
middle of the eighteenth century in a few countries.
Baroque points out that Sir Thomas Browne and
Donne, Góngora and Quevedo, Gryphius and Grim-
melshausen have something in common, both in one
national literature and all over Europe.