Edmund Wilson, Jr.
"T. S. Eliot and the
New Republic 41
(7 January 1925),
This small volume contains three essays on seventeenth-century poetry in Mr. Eliot's best vein. The discussion of English literature has suffered peculiarly from a lack of well-informed and independent criticism outside its official historians, who as a rule accept the same scheme of rankings and hand the same phrases on to one another. It was the great merit of George Moore's imaginary conversations with Edmund Gosse that they attempted to disturb this system. Mr. Moore, reading many celebrated English novels for the first time rather late in life, complained, as a novelist, that the actual artistic qualities of these works did not fit the conventional accounts of them; and Mr. Gosse, who had come to guard the treasures of English culture with almost as little over-exercise of the critical sense as the Beefeater who watches the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, was represented as rather hard put to it to make a satisfactory defense. So Mr. Eliot, who has the advantage over Mr. Moore of having studied his subject as thoroughly as any compiler of text books, becomes bored with the cliché reputations of the English poets: he is tired of hearing about Ben Jonson's “comedy of humors” and the “quaint conceits” of the “metaphysical” poets and the superlative lyric excellence of Wordsworth and Shelley. And he sets out to find what artistic realities are laid away in these parroted phrases.
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