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Reviews Seventeenth-Century Poetry and Politics DOUGLAS CHAMBERS Peter Davidson, editor. Poetry and Revolution: An AnthoiogLj ofBritish and Irish Verse 1625-1660 Oxford: Clarendon Press 1998.636. £45.00 David Norbrook. Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics 1627-1660 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1999. 509. £40.00 The history of seventeenth-century literature is more controverted than most in English literature. Long overshadowed by constitutional historians, this history traditionally canonized metaphysical poetry on the one hand and Milton on the other. Within the last three decades it has come to be the happy hunting ground of various literary agendas: cultural historians (Schama, Jardine), Marxist/New Historidst scholars (Hill, Thompson, Ginzburg, Greenblatt), rhetorical theoreticians (Foucault, Fish, Jardine), historians of science (Thomas, Hechsher, Koyre, Hunter), iconographers and emblematists (Strong, Bath, Wells-Cole), and most recently historians of the body (Porter, Merleau-Ponty, Scarry, Stafford). Both of the books under review also have a 'political agenda': on the one hand (Davidson) to extend the canon of mid-seventeenth-century verse and on the other (Norbrook) to insist on placing the republican culture of the-mid-century in its literary humanist context. Such reassessments ofconventional pieties and wisdoms are always welcome, not least when they come from intelligent (though quite different) scholarly positions. Given that Norbrook makes extensive use of poetry in the period he addresses, the two books have more in common than would first appear. Indeed, both Davidson and Norbrook acknowledge one another's support in their introductions. If there is a slight shrillness in the arguments of both scholars, however, this is partly the result of the perceived need I to revive old factions and follow an antique drum,' especially in Davidson's case. His lost culture of ancient Britain argument is even older than Bishop Corbet's lament for the lost fairies of England (1647); indeed it is as old as the lament for the endlessly recessive 'good old days.' This UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 69, NUMBER 3, SUMMER 2000 SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY POETRY AND POLITICS 717 sense of a lost England is especially appealing to apologists for marginal and subcultures . In the case of the Scots (whose poetry Davidson includes in his anthology) it has a kind of'will ye no come back again' pibroch quality that Stevenson captured wellin the figure of Alan BreckStewartin Kidnapped: glamorous butuntrustworthy. Equally, one might argue that to include with English poetry translated verse from Celtic cultures written in other languages than English is not to widen the net of 'British' but to reassert the English right to appropriate that culture. About one-sixth of the poems included in Davidson's anthology are from the Irish/Scots/ Welsh'excluded,' but there are other sorts of exclusion that ought also to be addressed. John Taylor ('the water poen, who makes a fugitive appearance in Shakespeare in Love, published verse in 1630 that is claimed as the falls et origo of English nonsense poetry, but he makes no appearance in Poetry and Revolution. Nor is there any of Phineas Fletcher's The Purple Island (1633): a poem now much cited by historians of the body as an innovative text, though it has medieval precedents. Even more astonishing is the exclusion of George Herbert's The Temple (1633). The last is the more bewildering, given Davidson's welcome attention to the poetry of spiritual circles, though it is odd that he includes the Tixall circle but makes no reference to Little Gidding or even Great Tew. The section titled 'Spiritual Poems and Prophecies' is one of the more interesting in the collection, though it is not entirely dear why Henry King's elegy on LadyStanhope is there and the one onhis wife in another section. Davidson's desire to replace the marginalized work of radicals, recusants, and other excluded voices in the context of their well-known 'Cavalier' contemporaries challenges the conventional canonical pieties of the period. His determination 'to enrich the context of the most familiar poems of the time and to present them freshly in at least an attempted replica of the original settings' is also welcome. And so is his publication of a great deal of poetry that is either printed...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 716-720
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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