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REVIEW ARTICLE England's Phoenix" D. H. Lawrence ended his article "Hymns in a Man's Life" with the remark: "Here is the clue to the ordinary Englishman-in the Nonconformist hymns." The remark calls attention to a fact in English culture which is too often in danger of being forgotten, or even of being deliberately overlooked (Lawrence, it should be stressed, wrote "ordinary Englishman," not "Englishman"); but it is also in itself a clue, the clue to a proper understanding of Lawrence. If we seize on it we shall not be surprised to discover him affirming elsewhere: "I was brought up on the Bible, and seem to have it in my bones.... I was sent to Sunday School and to Chapel, to Band of Hope and to Christian Endeavour, and was always having the Bible read at me or to me." Hymns, Chapel, Bible, Band of Hope-all that is needed now is to translate these into terms of society and the essential Lawrence is laid bare. And turning to Lawrence's "Autobiographical Sketch"-the first piece to be included by Anthony Beat in his useful selection of Lawrence's literary criticism, from which the two previous quotations have been takenwe find the translation effected: "I was born among the working classes and brought up among them." The tradition from which Lawrence sprang, radical and nonconformist, is outlined in these quotations; a tradition to which T. S. Eliot slightingly referred when he observed that we ought to see in Lawrence an ilIustration of "the crippling effect upon men of letters of not having been brought up in the environment of a living and central tradition." This remark, and others like it, bas so exasperated F. R. Leavis that in his recent study of Lawrence he falls to skirmishing with Eliot on every possible occasion. Eliot's attitude to Lawrence, however, was predetermined by the tradition he him· self adopted and bas so successfully propagated; a tradition, conservative and Anglo~Catholic, which maintains its exclusiveness by a deft use of the black~ ball. Milton, the most formidable candidate for honours, was black-balled until Eliot thought it safer to admit that "two~handed engine" into the club rather than to leave him any longer threatening at the door. This tradition is reaffirmed by Eliot in his latest collection of criticism, On Poets and Poetry; a collection that will not add to his reputation-but *See page 225 for bibliography of books discussed in this article. 216 ENGLAND'S PHOENIX 217 only because it is already too great to be augmented at this late hour. The collection supplements his earlier critical writing and extends its argumentmore than extends it. Eliot wonderfully refines his idea of tradition to the sharpness of a needle and places on the tip one angel-Virgil: the sole, the universal classic-a feat reminiscent of the Schoolman's more generous effort. Virgil's immobility is, of course, a help: the restlessness of Lawrence and his kind would have upset such extraordinary attempts at balance. In view of Eliot's attitude to Lawrence, the irony in the present literary situation is that Lawrence himself is being used to reinforce the efforts on foot to undermine Eliot's prestige. His criticism is being pitted against the other's; his story of St. Mawr against The Waste Land or The Cocktail Party. Why this reaction against Eliot, so sudden, so mounting? In part, no doubt, it is a fashionable, an inevitable, resistance to a reputation swollen till it has become oppressive; but it is also a belated recognition of the claims of the excluded, of those whose misfortune it has been to belong to the proscribed, the radical and nonconformist tradition. It is Eliot's misfortune to have fallen-to have played-into the hands of the academics. His poetry is a standing invitation to them to embark on exegesis, and his criticism, of the same cast, has given fashionable currency to their professional habits of mind. Never before have they had a live poet-a modern poet, the modern poet--on their side, and they have found that, stamped with his name, their most conservative opinions can pass. Not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 216-225
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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