[Humanist] 27.508 being romantic

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Nov 5 07:44:24 CET 2013

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 27, No. 508.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Mon, 04 Nov 2013 07:03:38 +0000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: romantic notions

In both Geoffrey Rockwell's and Andrew Prescott's helpful and cautionary 
responses to my note on Dwight Eisenhower's view of research the word 
"romantic" carries the weight of criticism. I think the parting of 
company with these two friends and colleagues that I'd own to can be 
described as the difference between two senses of that word: first, 
mine, "that is told of in romances; fabled"; second, theirs, "fantastic, 
extravagant, quixotic; going beyond what is customary or practical. Of a 
person, personality, etc.: given to or characterized by such ideas; 
responsive to the promptings of imagination or fancy regardless of 
practicality" (OED, freely assembled). In other words, I think the 
difference is between a deep-rooted idealism and a feet-on-the-ground 
realism. I'm *very* glad my friends are realists, but I cannot help myself 
when it comes to research -- I'm a romantic.

Let me fight my corner a bit longer. I was not arguing or implying 
an argument that a once-upon-a-time of idyllic unfettered research 
conditions could be shown historically to have existed and so been lost. 
Perhaps it has, but I was not arguing that.I was not overlooking the fact 
that e.g. the enviably privileged environment of Bertrand Russell's 
Cambridge in the 1890s, which he describes so well in Portraits from
Memory, was solely for already privileged males, which would have 
excluded me on one count and my partner on both. I was speaking about 
where we set our sights, how high we set them. In a very different, far 
more cynical tone Machiavelli advises his reader,

> Let him act like the clever archers who, designing to hit the mark which
> yet appears too far distant, and knowing the limits to which the
> strength of their bow attains, take aim much higher than the mark, not
> to reach by their strength or arrow to so great a height, but to be able
> with the aid of so high an aim to hit the mark they wish to reach.
The Prince 2.6

I do wonder if a case could be made for a parallel between the histories 
of the terms "Victorian" and "romantic", that both began as badges of 
honour describing whole ways of life and thought, then became utterly 
pejorative. We have seen "Victorian" largely restored to honour, I would 
suppose. I have great hopes for "romantic".


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

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