Theme and form in the poetry of John Oldham
Mackin, Cooper Richerson
Doctor of Philosophy
Most studies of Oldham have been limited to examination of specific historical influences on a given poem, or group of poems. The two essays by Weldon Williams, for example, while they are interesting for their demonstration of the strong influence on the Satyrs upon the Jesuits of Jonson's Catiline (partially admitted by Oldham in his preface), do not deduce any real significance from this influence, either for Oldham, Jonson, or the poetic transition from the Renaissance to the Augustan period. Clark's comments are even less acceptable, for in his desire to make Oldham a whipping boy for Boileau, he is often led to questionable conclusions. Akin to Clark's injudicious remarks are such unsupported generalizations as K. M. P. Burton's, that "Oldham...made the mistake of thinking that ingenious invective was enough for satire. He had a great deal of vigor, but he lacked imagination and constructive power." The work of these two critics represents the state of Oldham scholarship in this century: on the one hand, there is the narrow study concerned with only a very limited part of Oldham's work, and on the other, there is the off-handed and often unfair generalization about his "vigor" or his "force" or his "vituperation." Neither answers what seems needed in our criticism of Restoration poetry---a thorough examination of the bulk of the Oldham canon, with the objective to illuminate his ability and, on occasion, his excellence as a poet.