A Commentary (July 1930)
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[ 141 A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 9 (July 1930) 587-90 The Place of Robert Bridges Whatever nomination be made to the Laureateship, which at our moment of writing is still vacant, the discussions in the press about the “logical” successor to Dr. Bridges imply a very positive tribute to the late Laureate. The journalistic flutter of curiosity over his successor owes its interest largely to the fact that Bridges, in his very different way, raised the Laureateship to a dignity which it had not had since the most triumphant days of Tennyson. Even Wordsworth, by the time he attained that honour, hardly added to its lustre.1 After Tennyson, Dr. Bridges did more than any incumbent to increase the distinction conferred upon him. And it is no disparagement of any possible successor, but merely a recognition of the late Laureate’s particular gifts and even limitations, to say that there is no one living who can occupy that office with so much grace as its late tenant. For indeed, his combination of gifts were exactly the right ones; and in this context the memory of the late Earl of Oxford and Asquith who nominated him, must also be honoured.2 There could have been no reason for Bridges’s nomination except that he was a poet. When he became Laureate he not only increased the eminence of the post, but at the same time raised and maintained the estimation of poetry as a dignified occupation even in the modern world. One feeling which we are sure all other practitioners of verse had for Bridges is the feeling of respect; and when so unanimous, that is a very fine feeling to inspire. There are living poets of every generation who are more popular; there are probably living poets who will be more read a century hence; but there is no poet of any generation who could so well have represented the dignity and difficulty of poetry. Some readers prefer his earlier lyrical verse to most of his later and more ambitious experimentation ; but whether this taste is later confirmed or not, it is certain that his “experimentation” has served a valuable purpose. It has helped to accustom readers of verse to a more liberal conception of verse technique, and to the notion that the development of technique is a serious and unceasing subject of study among verse writers; it has helped to protect other versifiers of less prestige, against the charge of being just “rebels” or Essays, Reviews, and Commentaries: 1930 142 ] “freaks”; or as a writer in The Morning Post some years ago nicely named them, “literary Bolsheviks.”3 Dr. Bridges, to his honour and to our benefit, was as much of a “crank” as anyone; even in his archaicisms he was an innovator ; the Yattendon Hymnal must not be forgotten, nor his interest in old music, in language reform, in younger poets, in many things that the ordinary Briton regards with suspicion; and even those poets who feel that they owe nothing to him directly, and who cannot join the chorus of praise over The Testament of Beauty, have reason to bless his memory.4 Reflexions on our Capitalist Press: Insurance and Circuses A recent event in the newspaper world seems to express a need much more urgent than that of a Poet Laureate: the need for a new newspaper peer. When the Daily Mail and the Daily Express are represented in the higher house, can a Labour Government justly allow the Daily Herald no voice in thatoverpopulatedandneverfilledChamber?5 WedonotsuggestViscount Lansbury; some more Zeus-like figure may be found than that jovial frequenter of swings, roundabouts and sand piles.6 But the circulation, now so proudly advertised, of the Herald, demands instantly at least a Baron.7 Possibly one solution would be the creation – for which the present government could take the whole credit – of a third chamber of superpeers, such peers to be elevated or degraded in rank according to the fluctuation of relative circulation; such provisional dignity being an additional incitement to givethepeoplewhatitwantsinthewayofinsurance,competitions,divorces, society weddings, aviation, football, serials, and interviews of Mr. Bernard Shaw with juvenile Hollywood stars. Fate of the Labour Party The complicity of all parties in the race to give the people what it wants, and to compromise on everything, has become a comedy not yet fully enjoyed. Thus Mr. Lansbury, hastily summoned from East London to visit the RomanWall,hasthewarmestsympathybothwiththeNationalPreservation Trust and with Mr. Wake whose aim is...