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Recent Studies in Nineteenth- Century English Literature · PDF fileRecent Studies in Nineteenth- Century English Literature ... Karl Kroeber's Romantic Narrative Art ... on Coleridge,

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  • Recent Studies in Nineteenth-

    Century English Literature JACK STILLINGER

    THE FOLLOWING pages offer a guide to the books in the field published in 1961, along with a handful that appeared in 1960 too late to be noticed in last year's review. As in the year before, the books deal mainly with single authors; an un- commonly high proportion treat subjects not recently written on. Though some of the books are obviously less valuable than the significant articles published during the year, for lack of space and time I have ignored the periodicals entirely. I would, however, at the outset welcome the new quarterly Studies in Romanticism, edited by David B. Green and published by the Graduate School of Boston University. Its maiden issue (Au- tumn 1961) opens with Morse Peckham's "Toward a Theory of Romanticism: II. Reconsiderations," a brilliant (if somewhat knottily compressed) MLA paper read at Philadelphia two years ago stressing above all the toughmindedness of Romanti- cism. To the Romantic, we are reminded toward the end, "noth- ing is so beautiful as fact, nor does anything offer such sweet bones to gnaw on as the empirical world itself, the only world we can know." More such emphasis is needed. For too long we have based our defining platitudes on second-rate poets and poems. Indeed, the most interesting current trend in criticism suggests that the two greatest poets of English Romanticism were, by the old standards, anti-Romantics.

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    Karl Kroeber's Romantic Narrative Art (University of Wis- consin Press, dated 1960 but published in 1961 [hereafter, where no date is given, the year of publication is 1961]) is a well- meaning "pioneer" exploration of the relationship of narrative mode to Romantic style. By the end of his three sections on "Balladry," "Stories of Imagination," and "Realistic Adventures'" (this last valuable for its discussion of the influence of the poets, Byron and Scott especially, on later nineteenth-century fiction), Mr. Kroeber has blurred nearly every distinction be-

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    tween the lyric, narrative, and dramatic modes, and, by in- cluding all poems within the narrative, has proved conclusively (though he does not claim so much in his "Summary of Con- clusions") that a relationship does exist between Romantic poetry and Romantic style. If the over-all result is unenlighten- ing, and the argument circular, with a heavy draft upon wisdom of the ancients ("History is an art," "Love is probably too com- plex an emotion to be experienced fully by the immature," "Art does not exist in a vacuum"), the book at least contains some detailed analysis of a handful of important poems.

    Mr. Kroeber is best at discussing the Romantics' assimilation and modification of the old ballads. A briefer but sharper ac- count of the same process occurs in the later chapters of Albert B. Friedman's The Ballad Revival: Studies in the Influence of Popular on Sophisticated Poetry (University of Chicago Press), an admirably documented work of tremendous breadth in both poetry and scholarship. Admittedly the attempt to include everyone from Tacitus to Brooks and Warren at times results in a mere listing of names and titles, but Mr. Friedman's sub- ject requires such sweep. Many more nineteenth-century writers are touched upon, but the dozen pages on Wordsworth and Coleridge (differentiating the kinds of ballads they imitated and defining the lyrical ballad along the lines of S. M. Par- rish's recent articles) and a page on Keats (treating the fusion of romance elements with the ballad in "La Belle Dame") :seem notably worthwhile additions to Mr. Kroeber's under- taking. The upshot is that someone, with Kroeber and Friedman before him, should attempt deeper coverage of the subject.

    The one general book on the Romantics, Harold Bloom's The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday), intended like Bernbaum's Guide of thirty years ago as a companion volume to an anthol- ogy of the poetry, offers the spectacle of high critical intelli- gence and native good sense confounded to an extent by bad methodology. Where Bernbaum extracted ideas-for example, Wordsworth's (actually Arthur Beatty's) "doctrine" of the three ages-Mr. Bloom pursues myths, as if Wordsworth had defined the poet as a man speaking to anthropologists; while neither provides complete truth, the more recent approach seems less useful and possibly duller. My eighteenth-century colleague in this department will have commented on the opening 119-page

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    chapter on Blake. Much of the remaining chapters (a major dis- cussion of Wordsworth, rather more perfunctory performances on Coleridge, Byron, and Keats, an examination of Shelley pleasingly less polemic than the author's earlier Shelley's Myth- making, and a final chapter on Beddoes, Clare, George Darley, "and others"-the "others," in one paragraph, is Thomas Wade) appears as variations on myths established in the first chapter; one comes finally to despise Blake as a constant intruder, and Blakean "Beulah land" recurs with the monotony of a foghorn.

    In The Recluse Wordsworth set a major theme, the wedding of "the discerning intellect of Man . . . to this goodly universe," and spoke of his "spousal verse / Of this great consummation." Though a few years ago F. W. Bateson seemed to dally with the metaphor ("With nobody left to love him, or to be loved by him, Wordsworth fell in love with nature"), it remained for Mr. Bloom to render it literally: "in a clear sense all the poetry of the Great Decade is erotic . . . with Wordsworth as the Bridegroom, Nature as the Bride." Alertly, Mr. Bloom finds many sexual passages in the poems, even "a muffled sexual element" in the boat-stealing episode; and it is this above all that mars his chapter, which, one may learn by sidestepping the apocalypses and epiphanies lurking at the top and bottom of nearly every page, expounds quite sanely the central Words- worthian notion of salvation through common perception and memory. The over-all view is, to my mind, unquestionably the right one: "The human glory of Wordsworth, which he be- queathed to Keats, is in this naturalistic celebration of the possi- bilities inherent in our condition, here and now."

    Bloom will have to do for Wordsworth. The year's only book devoted to the poet, John F. Danby's The Simple Wordsworth: Studies in the Poems, 1797-1807 (New York: Barnes and Noble), is actually a 1960 book, published in London by Rout- ledge and Kegan Paul. The title is of course ironic, for Mr. Danby's "simplicity" is a more-than-Brooksian complexity, though what it really is (beyond the placing of heavier reliance on the extrinsic relations of a poem, especially its relation to the reader's imagination) we are never very clearly told. The book has the merit of concentrating primarily on poems too frequently slighted-"The Idiot Boy," "Simon Lee," "The Thorn" (unhappily Mr. Danby ignores Parrish's explication), The White Doe-and the weakness of a certain rambling

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    quality along with breeziness of style. A main aim is to defend Wordsworth against "Wordsworthianism" (the study begins with Arnold and Mill). It is worth mentioning, since others beside Mr. Danby have recently written seemingly in vacuo, that James V. Logan's Wordsworthian Criticism: A Guide and Bibliography (Ohio State University Press) was reissued during the year.

    The publication of Coleridge's Collected Letters (four vol- umes so far) and Kathleen Coburn's edition of The Notebooks, of which Volume II (1804-08, Text and Notes in two sets of covers, as before) appeared during the year (New York: Pan- theon Books, for the Bollingen Foundation), has stimulated considerable critical activity. I have the impression that the journals are currently receiving three or four times as many contributions on Coleridge as on any other Romantic. One valuable product of this activity is Carl R. Woodring's Politics in the Poetry of Coleridge (University of Wisconsin Press), which, easily demonstrating that Coleridge was the most politi- cal-minded of the Romantics, focuses from beginning to end intently on the poems with the reasonable assumption that the "greatest poems can be better understood and more fittingly en- joyed . . . through awareness of the principal impulses and themes in the bulk of his verse." "The bulk of his verse" is the subject; if "The Ancient Mariner," "Christabel," and "Kubla Khan" as poems of escape do not figure prominently, the politi- cal concerns of the other poems form a substantial background against which to measure their escape. There are chapters on political events, Coleridge's political vocabulary, major ideas, Pantisocracy, principal genres (sonnet, "pop-up," ode, and play), and they are packed with information of all sorts (e.g., Cole- ridge's use of the errata table as a protection against prosecution for libel). Because it is well indexed, the study will be useful as a handbook beside the poems; but it is also one of the most readable works to appear on a Romantic in recent years. A similar volume on Wordsworth is in progress.

    James D. Boulger's Coleridge as Religious Thinker (Yale Uni- versity Press) is, as the author says of Aids to Reflection, "not an easy book to read or to understand." (There are, I should confess, times when Ipseity, Alterity, Personeity, Community, Distinctity, and the rest of Coleridge's terms after a while begin to sound to me like materials for Gilbert and Sullivan, and I

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    would gladly refer the reader to Newton P. Stallknecht's sympa- thetic review in the April 1962 JEGP.) Somewhat in the manner of Frances Blanshard's Portraits of Wordsworth, in which most of the portraits show Wordsworth older than sixty, this book may giv

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