restricted access On a Recent Piece of Criticism
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602 ] On a Recent Piece of Criticism1 Purpose, 10 (Apr/June 1938) 90-94 It is often said that the standards of literary criticism are lower than they used to be. I think that criticism, like poetry, is healthier at the top than it was a generation ago, but that there is a wider gap between the best and the second-best. If the standards of the best are higher, those of the secondbest – week-to-week journalism – have sunk. Whispers often circulate about the lack of disinterestedness on the part of reviewers, about cabals and private motives, about the pliancy of periodicals in the interest of advertising revenue, and so on. Such scandals, if and when they are justified, are serious enough: but to my mind they present the less depressing aspect. If we could maintain that the trouble with journalistic criticism was simply that it is all in the wrong hands, that would imply at least that we had only to turn the rascals out, and replace them with honest men, and all would be well. But what if the honest men are incompetent critics too? What if they are not so much “bad critics,” as frequently people who do not know what the function of criticism is, and who, whether they praise or condemn, do so withoutrelevance ?Themenaceisnotsomuchpublicimmorality,asarelaxation of intelligence on the part of the half-educated, writing hurriedly for the quarter-educated. The danger of debilitated criticism does not come from any one direction: it is all about us, with the decline of the standards of higher education in the background; and it is something which we have all consciously to resist, if we are not to be guilty of writing the kind of criticism I have in mind. Such considerations are given immediate point by a short essay by Mr. G. W. Stonier in the last number of Purpose, entitled “The Mystery of Ezra Pound.”2 It is an article which I commend for study to young critics. Mr. Stonier is, I believe, an honest critic; I have the impression that he has done some good work – I know that several years ago he wrote an intelligent review of my translation of Anabase, in which he made some useful suggestionsofwhichIhavesubsequentlytakenadvantage .3 Iamnot,onthepresent occasion, discussing Mr. Stonier, but a particular article by Mr. Stonier. (This is a very subtle critical distinction.) I have read through the article several times; and it says just one thing: that Mr. Stonier does not like [ 603 On a Recent Piece of Criticism Mr. Pound’s poetry. There is no harm in that, except that he need not have taken six pages to make just one remark; but what is dangerous is, that to the hasty reader Mr. Stonier may seem to have given reasons for his dislike . To me, it is occasion for distress that a reputable critic should dismiss in six pages of pert frivolity an author who, at the very least, has given thirtyodd years of close study to his art, and who, at the very least, occupies a high place in the poetical history of a generation. Mr. Stonier begins by asking, in effect, what has happened to Pound between 1908 and 1937?4 This is an interesting question, which Mr. Stonier has not succeeded in answering either profoundly or lucidly. Something is bound to happen to any intelligent man in twenty-nine years; and what happens to a man of importance in the literary world is of public interest. But after a brief sketch of the early aesthete – “a pointed beard, exile daintily hieratic” [21] – Mr. Stonier merely complains that Pound has become a mystery: apparently for the reason that he lives in Italy. “That there are two Pounds no one, of course, would deny,” says Mr. Stonier. It is rash to deny a statement which one does not understand, but why should we accept this assumption until we know what is meant by it? As near as I can get to a meaning, it is this: that there is an early “Browning-cum-imagist” Pound, producing work which is rather like a rough outline for Eliot to fill in; and that this is the Pound that Eliot has “seen and encouraged” [22]. Some evidence for this is found in the fact that Eliot, in his introduction to Pound’s Selected Poems, has quoted only from the early Pound.5 And I think that Mr. Stonier means that there is a later Pound of...


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