- A Commentary (July 1924)
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[ 529 A Commentary1 The Criterion: A Quarterly Review, 2 (July 1924) 371-75 The Professor of Poetry in the University of Oxford It is somewhat late in the day to comment upon the inaugural lecture delivered by Professor Garrod on February 13, but the occasion is one which justifies retrospective comment.2 Mr. Garrod chose a difficult subject for himself: he chose to deal with the characteristics of contemporary poetry. He rightly refrained from illustrating by the use of names and quotations what he means by “contemporary poetry”; such precision might have been invidious, and would have been inappropriate. On the other hand, much of what he says loses its value from the fact that there is almost no statement which can be made of contemporary poetry as a whole. One must first define contemporary poetry by a list of the contemporary writers whom one believes to be poets, and this was impossible for Professor Garrod to do. In consequence we are at a loss, for example, when he says that “in our time, more than in any other, poetry and the study of poetry take their share in the formulation of the new and large demands for political and moral liberty.”3 This is a characteristic which we are unable to apply. But when Mr. Garrod turns to either more general or more definite observations he says many things which are agreeable to hear. He suggests tentatively that poetry might be made better by an increased attention to the theory of it, and we should only suggest, in return, that he might have made his sentence more dogmatic.4 He pays merited and appropriate tributes to Matthew Arnold and to Aristotle, and his remarks on the derivation of the philosophy of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley from Hartley are exactly of the sort that make historical criticism valuable.5 S. C. R. The Society for Cultural Relations between the Peoples of the British Commonwealth and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics has distributed a circular, inviting membership at a minimum subscription of five 1924 530 ] shillings a year.6 The circular explains the objects of the Society, which are four: (1) To collect and diffuse information in both countries on developments in Science, Education, Philosophy, Art, Literature and Social and Economic Life; (2) To organise lectures and an interchange of lecturers, conferences, exhibitions, etc., and to arrange for the publication and translation of papers and books; (3) To provide opportunities for social intercourse; (4) To take any action deemed desirable to forward the intellectual and technical progress of both peoples. The list of British supporters which is given includes many distinguished names. We have no doubt that these supporters are fully informed and satisfied concerning the origin and purpose of this society, but an ordinary member of the public receiving such a circular is entitled to ask certain questions. Is this society initiated under the auspices of the present Government of Russia? If so, what form does the government support take? We do not imply that a society of this kind is necessarily to be avoided when it is backed by a foreign Government. We only suggest that, if there is governmental backing, the public on which the benefits are to be conferred , is entitled to know the facts. For, however disinterested a society may be in its attempt to introduce a knowledge of foreign culture into England, a Government can never be expected to be wholly impartial in its choice of the material which it presents to a foreign audience. The circular in question suggests to an ignorant member of the public some remote possibility of government interest. For it states that “in science, in the achievements of literature and art, in the theories and practice of education, and in social work, the U.S.S.R. is showing constructive energy.” To an ignorant member of the public, the use of the title “U.S.S.R.” rather than “Russia” has rather an official sound. We should also be inclined to inquire what reciprocal benefits the U.S.S.R. is to receive in return for those it will bestow on Great Britain. It is proposed to include amongst these blessings a “conversazione” and an “Exhibition of Russian Posters and Leaflets for popularising Science and Health.” We would gladly contribute five shillings or more to the diffusion of English culture in Russia or in the States of the U.S.S.R., but we should prefer that our money...