English Verse Satire. An unsigned review of A Book of English Verse Satire, ed. A. G. Barnes
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790 ] English Verse Satire An unsigned review of A Book of English Verse Satire ed. A. G. Barnes London: Methuen, 1926. Pp. xix + 172. Times Literary Supplement, 1273 (24 June 1926) 429 To make a good anthology it is not enough to select good poems. It is necessary to have a plan, and a plan justified of literary criticism; and it is necessary to have a sense of proportion and order beyond one’s personal enthusiasms. A good anthology, of the special type, is proved by three results – it renews our acquaintance with verse which we have neglected, it reveals to us verse of which we were ignorant, and it exposes relationships where we did not suppose them to exist. A good anthology is a work of literary criticism in itself. Mr. Barnes’s anthology is fully justified. It is small – the text covers only 147 pages. The temptation to include specimens of every poet who has ever written satirical lines is one which Mr. Barnes has avoided; every one of the poets included may be said to have paid some attention to satire as a literary form. The book is arranged in chronological order, and begins with Donne and Hall. Though we think that a specimen of Marston might have been added, if only to show the superiority of both Donne and Hall, the principle is right: to date satire only from the period when English poets began consciously to emulate Persius and Juvenal.1 We are spared the selections from Langland, Skelton, and Dunbar, which would only confuse us, and which most anthology makers would have included. And in the last three centuries alone we may be grateful to Mr. Barnes for what he has left out as well as for what he has put in. There is nothing from Burns. That is right; the only way to form an anthology of satire is to follow the letter rather than the spirit. There are several of Burns’s poems which are, in the spirit, highly “satirical.” But the distinction between the “satirical” and “satire ” is one worth keeping; for the literary form of satire has its own spirit, as well as the satirical spirit which impels it; and this spirit of the form of satire, however violent, rough, or outspoken it may be, is essentially urbane and even urban. Even Crabbe, who is rightly represented in this collection, [ 791 English Verse Satire seems to belong only just within the confines of satire; his choice of country subjects makes him an anomaly. Mr. Barnes has so clearly recognized and faithfully obeyed the limitations that it is surprising to find how much good satire, in the strict sense, there is in English verse, and how much that is little known. The greatest satirists are included and represented by their best-known pieces – Dryden by Og and Doeg and MacFlecknoe, Pope by Atticus and the other most familiar selections – and these inclusions are of great value in helping us to estimate the unknown and unjudged by the known and undisputed.2 Dryden and Pope issue from the comparison with their greatness, if possible , more firmly established than ever; but the minor work – and this is a good test – shines with greater brilliance in their light. Few persons will take the trouble to become acquainted with Oldham or Churchill entire, though most have heard their names; Mr. Barnes’s selections give them their proper place.3 Still fewer have ever read The Rolliad and too few the delightful Anti-Jacobin of Canning and Frere.4 For these Mr. Barnes deserves special thanks. Such an anthology is itself a better definition of English satire than any that can be formulated. For instance, when we read a part of The Vanity of Human Wishes in this book, we feel without question that that mighty poem is indeed a “satire”; but to provide a definition of satire which should comprehend and define The Vanity of Human Wishes and MacFlecknoe without including other poems which are not “satires,” is extremely difficult . Mr. Barnes himself is rather hard put to it in his preface. He says tentatively “to define satire is never easy; but it covers most of the ground to say that it chastises follies and crimes by making them ridiculous” [x]. But does Johnson make follies and crimes “ridiculous”? And is not “ridiculous” too near to “ludicrous” to apply even to Juvenal? Ridiculous applies most justly, if anywhere to the victims of Pope; Dryden leaves...