The later movement (…) was an antidote to nineteenth-century Naturalism, as the earlier had been an antidote to the neo-classicism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries : Symbolism corresponds to Romanticism, and is in fact an outgrowth from it. But whereas it was characteristic of the Romantics to seek experience for its own sake, to try the possibilities of life ; the Symbolists (…) carry on their experimentation in the field of literature alone ; and though they, too, are essentially explorers, explore only the possibilities of imagination and thought. And whereas the Romantic, in his individualism, had usually revolted against or defied that Society with which he felt himself at odds, the Symbolist has detached himself in indifference to it : he will cultivate his unique personal sensibility even beyond the point to which the Romantics did, but he will not assert his individual will – he will end by shifting the field of literature altogether (…) from an objective to a subjective world, form an experience shared with society to an experience savored in solitude.
Edmund Wilson, in Axel’s castle, A study of the imaginative literature of 1870-1930, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Editions, p17
It is difficult to understand certain of the things which have been happening lately in English literature without some knowledge of the Symbolist school. I believe, in fact, that if English and American criticism have sometimes shown themselves at a loss when confronted with the work of certain recent writers, it is partly because the work of these writers is the result of a literary revolution which occurred outside English literature. The case of the Romantic Movement was different : Wordsworth’s prefaces were English manifestoes ; Lockhart’s attack on Keats and Byron’s attack on Jeffrey were blows struck in an English civil war. But in spite of the Pre-Raphaelites, who were launched by an impulse somewhat similar to that of the Symbolists, and in spite of the English “aesthetics” and “decadents”, who for the most part imitated the French without very much originality, the battle of Symbolism has never been properly fought out in English. So that whereas French writers like Valery and Proust, who have grown out of the Symbolist movement, are well understood and appreciated by French literary criticism, the critics of the English-speaking countries have often seemed not to know how to deal with writers such as Eliot and Joyce. Even when these writers have brought back into English qualities which are natural to it and resources which it originally possessed, these elements have returned by way of France and have taken on the complexion of the French mind – critical, philosophical, much occupied with aesthetic theory and tending always to aim self-consciously at particular effects and to study scrupulously appropriate means.
Edmund Wilson, in Axel’s Castle, A study of the imaginative literature of 1870-1930, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Editions, p20
It was the tendency of Symbolism (…) to make poetry even more a matter of the sensations and emotions of the individual than had been the case with Romanticism : (…) making poetry so much a private concern of the poet’s that it turned out to be incommunicable to the reader.
Edmund Wilson, in A study of the imaginative literature of 1870-1930, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Editions, p17