'Thy Native Muse Regard!': The poetics of the sublime in late eighteenth-century Scotland

Maxwell Stuart, Laurence (2020) 'Thy Native Muse Regard!': The poetics of the sublime in late eighteenth-century Scotland. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2020MaxwellStuartMPhilR.pdf] PDF
Download (931kB)


The aim of this thesis is to uncover the transmission and development of the sublime throughout the work of the late eighteenth-century Scottish poets, James Macpherson, James Beattie, and Robert Burns. By first offering a modern definition of the sublime based on the meeting of the world, the mind, and the word, this thesis shall look to the sublime's idealisation within eighteenth-century British aesthetic thought, noting its contested, and abstract conceptualisation as 'the true sublime'. Chapter One shall be dedicated to acknowledging Scotland's role in shaping this aesthetic before addressing the problematic nature of the aesthetic ideal of a 'true sublime'. The argument shall then be made that following Edmund Burke's landmark treatise, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, which successfully offered the late eighteenth-century a clear taxonomy of the sublime with poetry as its highest expression, the subsequent poetry of Macpherson, Beattie, and Burns actualised this philosophical ideal of a 'true sublime' into a working, and examinable practice, a poetics of the sublime. Chapter Two shall discuss the rise of the 'Ossian phenomenon' of the 1760s, with constructive analysis of Macpherson's three sets of Ossian poems: Fragments of Ancient Poetry (1760), Fingal: An Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books (1761), and Temora: An Epic Poem in Eight Books. By discussing the development of the poetics of the sublime throughout each set of poems, this thesis shall contend that Ossian marks a pivotal moment in literary history for successfully realising the eighteenth-century's theory of the sublime through its poetic coordination of the classical models of the fragment and the epic paired with its decisively Scottish aspect in imagery and character. Chapter Three shall turn to the proceeding decade and the philosophy and poetry of James Beattie. The chapter shall acknowledge Beattie's position within the philosophical discourses of Marischal college during the Aberdonian Enlightenment before suggesting that his influential poem, The Minstrel (1771, 1774) presents a more substantial model of the sublime than found in such abstract discourses. The chapter shall note the progression in form from Macpherson whilst noting a similar engagement with the Scottish landscapes that inspire the texts. Central to this discussion of Beattie's Minstrel, will be his induction of the 'sublime moment', a crucial development for the poetics of the sublime centred on the subjective and creative experience of the poet. Chapter Four shall examine the work of Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns. In light of such developments from Macpherson and Beattie, this chapter shall note Burns’s position as inheritor of a poetics of the sublime that had been familiarised through its allegiance to the sublimity of Scotland and Scottish poesy. This chapter shall then examine Burns's role as innovator, with his characteristic use of form, language, and a pervading spirit of localism from which he achieves a distinct new 'Vision' of the sublime. The final chapter shall offer a summary of the progression of the poetics of the sublime throughout the work of Macpherson, Beattie, and Burns, whilst looking ahead to the Romantic period and the influential stature of each of these late eighteenth-century Scottish poets and their respective legacies.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: The sublime, poetics, Scottish Romanticism, aesthetics, eighteenth-century poetry, James Macpherson, Ossian, James Beattie, Robert Burns, Edmund Burke.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Scottish Literature
Supervisor's Name: Young, Doctor Ronnie and Carruthers, Professor Gerard
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Mr Laurence Maxwell Stuart
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-82137
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2021 10:54
Last Modified: 21 Apr 2021 11:01
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82137
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82137

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year