Untitled Book Review

THE Leslie Stephen lecture delivered in May at Cambridge University by A. E. Housman is published with the title The Name and Nature of Poetry (Macmillan, $1.50). Impeccably graceful and elegant in form, the lecture is not very consequential taken as a whole. Much in it is finely and wittily said, and many dicta delivered with the chastened epigrammatic turn made familiar by the author’s poems. Mr. Housman fights a bout again in the long-vexed battle over the poetical claims of Dryden and Pope and the tradition of which they are the great exemplars; and he reasserts the view held in the nineteenth century, not departing from the verdict of Arnold. This is now the conservative view, I believe; once it was romantic, novel, and revolutionary. Mr. Housman defends it, as I think, soundly and with a fine edge of understanding. His illustrations of poetic style, his observations on diction and the citations by which he supports them, are especially valuable, and nearly every one is chosen with nicest discernment. But the concluding parts of his essay speak in favor of poetical madness, and suggest that to be a poet it is all but necessary to be divinely distracted, like Blake or Christopher Smart. Mr. Housman’s observations on the writing of his own poems will be read with interest; but some readers at least will desire to feel that an author is not his own best psychologist when he seeks to pierce the springs of his productive excitement.
If ill health was actually an accompaniment of Mr. Housman’s creational periods, we can only maintain with gratitude that the evidences of it are happily concealed in such stanzas of lasting perfection and strength as the ‘Epitaph on a Contemptible Army of Mercenaries.’