restricted access A Commentary (July 1934)
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[ 99 A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 13 (July 1934) 624-30 The aims of the English Association are set forth as follows: (a) To promote the due recognition of English as an essential element in the national education. (b) To discuss methods of teaching English and the correlation of School and University work. (c) To encourage and facilitate advanced study in English literature and language. (d) To unite all those who are interested in English studies; to bring teachers into contact with one another and with writers and readers who do not teach; and to induce those who are not themselves engaged in teaching to use their influence in the cause of English as a part of education. We may presume that it is to forward one or more of these aims that the English Association has published an anthology of “modern verse” entitled The Modern Muse.1 At first sight, these aims appear harmless enough, and even commendable . After a little reflection, considering the four points together, the suspicion creeps into our mind that one or two rather important questions have been begged. We should like, for instance, to make up our opinion as to what is the due “recognition of English,” before we commit ourselves to promoting it. We ought indeed to have some notion of what we mean by the “national education.” Who are the people who should be taught English, and what English, and how much should they be taught, and are they all to be taught the same things and in the same way? And if we aim to “discuss methods,” as we certainly should do, ought we not to aim also at coming to a conclusion? What is meant by “advanced study”? Who ought to pursue it, and why? And should we not have a fifth point: to “discuss” the relation of the study of English to other studies? The absence of these further questions from the agenda does not justify us in coming to any conclusion about the activities of the English Association; but it may perhaps justify us in asking the English Association Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1934 100 ] for some further justification of itself. The most remarkable achievement of the English Association hitherto has been two previous collections of verse, Poems of To-day, First Series and Second Series. The Association boasts that the first series has sold 350,000 copies; the second 132,000 copies . And it asserts, also on the jacket of the present volume, that Poems of To-day “has probably had the largest sale, both among the general public and in schools (italics ours), of any anthology of modern verse, not only in our lifetime but in the whole history of the publishing of anthologies.” An examination of these three ignoble compilations must lead us to ask the English Association to do something more than justify its existence. Such a request might be made of that comparatively inactive congregation, the Royal Society of Literature.2 But of the English Association we must ask whetheritcanshowanyreasonwhyitsmeddlingwithBritishandAmerican poetry should not be denounced. The prefatory matter to The Modern Muse is more moderate in tone than that of Poems of To-day, and does not contain such remarkable specimens of flamboyant bad writing. Nevertheless, it contrives to concentrate a notable amount of nonsense on one page. In each of the continents are vast numbers of persons whose mother tongue is English, and it is for the purpose of quickening among these peoples the sense of the greatness of their common heritage that this collection of contemporary poetry gathered from the four quarters of the globe has been made. [vii] What wandering mind could have conceived such a thought as that! The effect of this queer anthology upon the more lively minds among the “vast numbers” speaking various English dialects over the “globe,” should be to impress them with the prodigious quantity of junk which our “common heritage” is accumulating. And a phrase like “the four quarters of the globe” to appear in an official announcement of the English Association! The manifesto then strikes a note of profundity: Thepresentcenturyhasseeneventswhichhavedeeplyinfluencedhuman thought everywhere. The Great War and its consequences have shaken the world from end to end. Such experiences could not fail to find expression in poetry, and the interest in the present volume should be all the greater in that it illustrates these reactions among peoples living in lands far apart but speaking one language. [vii] [ 101 A Commentary...