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114 LETIERS IN CANADA 1980 punctures the climactic outburst of sentiment as the heroine raises the contrite hero from his knees with 'A reprieve!A reprieve! A reprieve!'), he is especially severe on the play because he considers it sentimental. Critical theory, then, is not Bevis's strength. No useful, new critical vocabulary or concept emerges from his study. Nor are there many fresh insights into individual plays or playwrights. One noteworthy exception is his comparison of The School for Scandal and Congreve's comedies; another is his characterization of Georgian comedy as a form which deliberately deflates comic tension. In general, the play-by-play discussion of the major writers is a traditional descriptive survey in support of Bevis's historical argument, though not without considerable evaluative commentary. The result will change few opinions about the value of the plays, but should, one hopes, contribute greatly to an improved understanding of their place in the history of English comedy. (BRIAN CORMAN) j.R. de j. jackson. Poetry of the Romantic Period Routledge History of English Poetry, vol 4. Routledge & Kegan Paul. xvi, 334, $41.95 The Routledge History of English Poetry series is designed, says the general editor, to provide 'a fresh appraisal' and 'new critical history' of English poetry. Professor J.R. de J. Jackson, in designing his contribution to that series as 'a history of literary taste: neutralizes that larger aim. Far from offering a re-assessment, Jackson accepts established popular estimations and asks his reader to attend too strictly to the results of his cautious and reductive scholarship. The book is a striking example of the helplessness of a literary historian who is not first a literary critic. Jackson's specific concern is to 'throw fresh light on Romantic poetry as a whole' by placing still famous works against 'works of a similar kind fashionable at the time but now neglected.' He is occasionally enlightening when in the first thIee chapters he defines some prevailing fashions and conventions (the simple and artless, the gothic and fantastic, and the narrative and dramatic) and traces a few lines of influence. These chapters help to correct the false sense of isolated literary life propagated by modern anthologies. When, however, in the remaining six chapters he settles into often monotonous thematic readings of the 'major' poems, his organizing theses become more facile and opportunistic and the sense of background less dynamiC. As we approach the end of the book, the chapters lose cohesion and reach fewer conclusions. It is as if the author were rushed or simply lost interest as the work progressed. Also his contextual approach, while sometimes constructive, is too strict to prevent the evaluations (unavoidable in any discussion of fashion, taste, influence, and neglect) from being irresponsible. Most of the time Jackson accepts without question what has already been accepted by twentieth-century professional readers of Romantic poetry, for him a conveniently homogeneous body of opinion, referred to in such easy phrases as 'modern approval' and 'modern estimation.' The major exception to this critical dependence is his reluctance to accept even the sanctioned discriminations: for example, one cannot from his account detect any difference in value between The Prelude and The Excursion, or between Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Don Juan . Such tolerance with only some poems places Jackson in the indefensible and stifling position, too common among academics, of asserting that we can distinguish between those poems that are of the canon and those that are not, but that within the canon all judgment is impossible. When he is not condescending towards currently unfashionable poets (such as George Crabbe, arguably, I think, the most morally intelligent poet of the period, who is by Jackson dismissed as simply 'the best of the provincial poets: and whose greatest work, the 1812 Tales, gets only passing mention in a list of popular descriptive poems), he is overlooking what is inconvenient. This is particularly evident in his treatment of Wordsworth: when praising the free experimentation with metres at the end of the 1790s, he overlooks the flat-footed rhythms in many of the Lyrical Ballads;Wordsworth's frequent emphasis on solitude and his own religiously elect status ('My spirit, thus singled...


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