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Reviews George Herbert: The Critical Heritage, ed. CA. Patrides. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1 983. 390 pp. $37.95. by Helen Wilcox The Critical Heritage serves Herbert well. To gather together the history of a writer's reception, from urgent contemporary responses through to the nuances of twentiethcentury criticism, has always been an interesting scheme, but the fluctuations of Herbert's reputation form a particularly revealing story. The "heritage" is unusual, also, in that many of the reactions to Herbert do not come in conventional literary critical wrapping, but by means of poetic imitation, pious discussion, or biographical interpretation. This appears to worry the editor of the Herbert volume, Prof. CA. Patrides; he perhaps apologizes too frequently for the absence of a "surviving opinion" of The Temple which "values its poetry as poetry." (We might ask what the phrase means and whether literary criticism itself ever manages this feat.) It seems to me that Herbert's reputation is all the more complex and fascinating because his popularity touched upon so many loyalties across so wide a field of leadership. It is noi just a "critical" heritage, but one thread to be traced through a web of historical, devotional, and aesthetic developments over three centuries. However, it is to the credit of Prof. Patrides that his volume enables us to sample a wide range of readings of The Templo, in a balanced selection with sufficient annotations to allow each extract to speak for itself. His introduction to the collection as a whole is a lively and informative discussion of the shape of Herbert's reception, from the early years of Donne's "laboured" 51 Helen Wilcox praise, to Joseph Summers' judgment in 1954 that "Herbert is one of the best English lyric poets." Between these contrasting peaks lay a plateau of success in the seventeenth century, a trough of near-silence in the eighteenth, and the long climb back to recognition with Coleridge and Pickering in the early nineteenth century. Sensibly, Patrides chooses to supply the key texts in full: Walton's Life as the fullest expression of seventeenth-century interest in Herbert and "the one literary masterpiece" of his critical history; Coleridge and Emerson as spearheads of the nineteenth-century revival; and T.S. Eliot, inaugurating the twentieth-century critical response. Prof. Patrides rightly gives a great deal of space to the evidence of Herbert's considerable popularity in the firsteighty years after the publication of The Temple. In these early decades, Herbert was seen as "a true Poet," deserving to be "canonized" for the "goodnesse" contained in his "bare lines." To the Puritans he was a new Psalmist, a singer who addressed God "Like one that really believeth a God"; the Anglicans, meanwhile, took a distinctly proprietorial interest in Herbert's life and works. And as late as 1715, Herbert's poems were thought worthy of elaborate annotation by George Ryley in a commentary which, while it reveals that Herbert required "explaining and improving" to contemporary readers, nevertheless confirms that there were indeed readers who still "Desired a better acquaintance with the Divine Poet." Most eighteenth-century "acquaintance" with Herbert came, however, through the adaptations of lyrics from The Temple found in hymn collections by Wesley and others — adaptations expressive in themselves of a shift in devotional and critical taste. Overt commentary on Herbert during the century was rare and depressing: Herbert was regarded in 1 787 as "infinitely inferior to both Quarles and Crashaw." Coleridge had a lot of ground to make up, with his comments on Herbert's "delicious" poems; he was assisted, Patrides points out, by Ruskin, who perceived Herbert's pietyas an aesthetic principle. Once again Herbert began to be adopted by an era, and was adapted to fit the same: Patrides notes the appearance of Herbert the Victorian in the praise of his "exquisite art in combination with quaintness." The collection concludes with evidence of Herbert's "academic" acceptance in the early 52 BOOK REVIEWS twentieth century, ending with Austin Warren's resounding article of 1936 — a statement of confidence that Herbert's precise brilliance, his "close reasoning" and "amorous casuistry ," were no longer to be doubted. When presented with Prof...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 51-54
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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