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REVIEWS 1. A Scholarly Edition of FATHER AND SON Sir Edmund Gosse. FATHER AND SON. Ed. William Irvine. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, I965. Riverside Editions. $1.35. Mr. William Irvine and Houghton Mifflin Company are to be commended for publishing the first scholarly edition of Gosse's FATHER AND SON, which appeared anonymously in I9O7. The new editor annotates the text—a much needed service. Yet, perhaps disappointingly, the advanced scholar will find a minimum of stimulation. The survey type of introduction—which contains essays on both Philip and Edmund Gosse (father and son respectively) and which is at once biographical, bibliographical and critical—is suitable mainly for undergraduates who are learning about another eminent Victorian in crisis, as well as about his more eminent son whose resolution of his own religion-science conflict appears to have escaped the editor. In writing his dual-purpose introduction, Mr. Irvine asks two questions: what sort of a boy was the father Philip Gosse, and how did Edmund Gosse, deriving from a Puritan boyhood, come to write such recollections? To answer these questions, the author extends the narrative in FATHER AND SON both backward and forward. By extending it backward, he delineates the cultural setting of the youthful Philip Gosse. Relying on Edmund's LIFE OF PHILIP HENRY GÖSSE (1890), the essayist retells interestingly the story of young Philip as he rose to eminence as a zoologist and achieved national recognition by being admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society and by receiving the approbation of Darwin and Owen, Mr, Irvine also tells how, during the same period of scientific success, the young Gosse first became a Methodist and next a Plymouth Brother (the theology of the latter is based on an extreme form of Calvinism). Still extending the narrative backward, the author shows how nineteenth century science and Evangelical Purtianism, both of which greatly shaped the boyhood of Philip Gosse, eventually became his intellectual dilemma. Appropriately, Mr, Irvine explains the failure of the mid-Victorian's OMPHALOS, with its panacean approach and its thesis of miraculous creation derived from a literal interpretation of the Genesis story, and makes his predicament as a scientist even more pitiful by placing him the setting of the scientific accomplishments of James Hutton, Joseph Black, William Smith, Cuvier, Lyell, Darwin, and Wallace. By picturing Philip Gosse in both his boyhood and adult cultural environments, Mr. Irvine answers effectively his initial question, what sort of a boy was the father, and in addition measures adequately his intellect in manhood. To answer the second question, how could a Puritan-trained person come to write such a memoir, Mr. Irvine extends the narrative forward and studies Edmund Gosse from young manhood to his death in 1928. The measurement is not as impressive as that of the father. Shortly after the opening paragraph on the critic, the editor interprets Gosse's theology by denominating him a "cheerful agnostic," basing the conclusion on self-asserted affinities of the youthful critic for Swinburne, Huxley, Haeckel, and Matthew Arnold (pp. xxiii-xxiv). Patently, this is debatable, because of Gosse's placement of Arnold in the group; it is controvertible on the basis of the mature Gosse's eighteenth-century interest, his affinity for John Donne, the tragic and Christian elements in FATHER AND SON, and affiliation with the National Club (known to have had a Protestant-Christian bias). Heavy reliance (pp. xxxxxxiii ) on Osbert Sitwell's novelistic essays about Gosse weakens the biographical element. Acceptance as "justice" Virginia Woolf's pronouncement that Gosse was a superficial critic suggests a failure to recognize appreciably his system of criticism. Moreover, Mr. Irvine's conclusion that Gosse makes a case against Puritanism in FATHER AND SON to "justify his own worldly tolerance" (p. xxxviii) is not a satisfactory answer to his initial question, how could a Puritan-trained person evolve to a point that he could write such recollections; nor does it illuminate Gosse's artistry and intellect in the book; such illumination, one would think, ought to be the main object of the introduction. Nevertheless, Mr. Irvine's edition will contribute to the revival of interest in Gosse illustrated well in Linette Brugmans' CORRESPONDENCE OF GIDE...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 47-48
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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