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308 REVIEWS 1. Swinburne as Critic and Aesthetician Robert L. Peters. THE CROWNS OF APOLLO: A STUDY IN VICTORIAN CRITICISM AND AESTHETICS. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965. $8.50. Though Swinburne's critical essays make up no inconsiderable portion of his published works—comprising some 2200 pages of the Bonchurch edition according to my own rough count—they have been accorded scant attention. Studies of Swinburne have tended to cite his criticism only as it reveals his responses to the charges of obscenity levelled against his poetry or when it in some way directly illuminates that poetry. But Swinburne was very much in earnest as a critic, and was passionately, if at times too intemperately, dedicated to the defense of what he regarded as the proper aesthetic standards. The object of Mr. Peters' book is to set Swinburne's criticism before us in a way which will reveal its consistency and judiciousness. To this end the eight chapters are organized around such specific aspects of Swinburne's critical principles as his interest in and use of synasthesia, his devotion to the idea of "creative tension," and his rather fully developed concepts of the various kinds of artistic form. I am not sure that the resulting discursive presentation is the best way to awaken interest in the critical Swinburne—a carefully selected and fully annotated anthology of the best portions of his critical writings might have accomplished that purpose better, But one has no right to quarrel with a book because it is not another thing altogether, and what Mr, Peters sets out to do has been done well. Considerable thought has been given to making the volume as useful to the reader as possible. Conveniences abound. There are thirty clearly reproduced illustrations of works of art which drew comment from Swinburne--though some readers may find the reproductions themselves more interesting than Swinburne's evaluations, which generally lack the incisiveness of his literary criticism. The "Code of Short Titles, Abbreviations, and Dates" is most helpful, both as a check-list and as a means of providing a simplified documentation. The indexing is extensive and intelligently analytical (though unfortunately Blake's name has been omitted except in connection with the WILLIAM BLAKE indexed under Swinburne's works). Generalizations about Swinburne's aesthetic principles and critical dicta are supported by an abundance of examples, and his debts to such men as Blake and Coleridge are developed through careful analysis and illustrative quotation. Swinburne was admirable as a phrase-maker. To describe Wordsworth as regarding nature as "a vegetable fit to shred Into his pot and pare down like the outer leaves of a lettuce for didactic and culinary purposes" or to define Clough's weakness as a tendency to deal too much in "cobwebs of plea and counter-plea" and "jungles of argument and brakes of analysis" are, however unfair, pungently memorable. However, he rarely arrived at the striking insights into the nature of things which Blake, Arnold, or Pater, in their own ways, were at times capable of. Moreover, his aversion to formal systems deprived him of the means of grounding his aesthetic concepts in an imaginative structure which could give coherence and depth to his judgments. For instance, his concept of "gathering form" as one of the kinds of internal organization in a work of art remains, at least to me, merely a vague metaphor in the absence of any really substantive investigation by Swinburne into the relationship between form in art and form in the external world. 309 Nevertheless, even though Swinburne is not entirely satisfying as a critic, his critical essays merit the analysis Mr. Peters has devoted to them. His study is useful in reminding us that Swinburne wrote criticism not merely to relieve his spleen and answer his detractors. It also serves a purpose in demonstrating the vitality of Swinburne's interest in the whole range of literature and, to a lesser extent, in the painter's art. "Demoniac youth" he may have seemed in his more perverse poetry and splenetic prose, but there is sufficient sanity in his cri ticism. Finally, Mr. Peters' careful collation and close interpretation helps to demonstrate that at least...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 308-309
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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