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THE ELOQUENT 'I'. Miss Webber's studies of seventeenth-century English prose offer models for other scholar> and raise many problems of major importance, some of which she herself goes far toward answering. In 1963 her Contrary Music: The Prose Style of John Donne was published and promptly awarded the Gauss Prize; two yean; ago, her Eloquent 'I' appeared, a far more ambitious work, which extends her subtle method of analysis to a wider and more complex field. In the first book, Miss Webber developed her own techniques for the analysis of 'style: relying largely on Leo Spitzer's example, with some borrowings from Morris Croll's method (though very little from his often confusing vocabulary). That book, in a masterly style of its own, attempted to account for Donne's various styles, as well as for the continuities between them which made his prose so utterly his. Miss Webber was concerned, to borrow from E.H. Gombrich, with the question of 'matching: of conventional mimesis - why this sort of sentence structure, this sort of diction, for this sort of work? She provided a remarkably sensitive set of reasons or justifications for Donne's having written what he did as he did. In The Eloquent 'I' the task she has set herself is much more demanding: she tests the hypothesis that, when writing about themselves, Anglican and Puritan prose writer> work in categorically different ways. Her proof-texts, Donne's Devotions and Bunyan's Grace Abounding, certainly offer convincing evidence of real difference between the two 'styles.' Generally speaking, according to Miss Webber, the Anglican expresses himself in the meditative mode, often writes obscurely, ambiguously, and symbolically; his 'I' is metamorphic and microcosmic, and often melancholy as well; he is anti-historical or a-historical , in the sense that he writes as of a timeless situation analogous to the noticeably cosmic dimension of his imagination. The Puritan, on the other hand, is active in his life, conscious of time and of his own times, presents himself as simply and visibly as possible, writes literally rather than symbolically, and wants to be taken serious in a world seen as hostile to him personally. In order not to be too diffuse, Miss Webber has examined her categories in the work of eight writers who to some extent wrote autobiographically about themselves. Some were frankly confessional, but all took themselves as the subject of their prose. The list of her authors is interesting - we might expect Donne, Browne, and Traherne among the Anglicans, but to include Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy as part of a loosely 'confessional' genre is asking for trouble (which, however, the canny Miss Webber avoids). On the puritan side are arrayed Milton, whom we would expect; Lilburne, who so far as I know has not been dealt with before as a literary writer, in spite of his popularity with students of history and political theory; and Richard Baxter. Attractive as Miss Webber's distinguishing chapter on Donne and Bunyan is, I should like to register my special admiration for the chapter> on Burton and Lilburne, wonderfully coherent pictures of these slippery characters. ""Joan Webber, The Eloquent '1': Studies in Seventeenth-Century Prose. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press 1968. Pp. xii, 298. $8.50 and worth every penny of it. THE ELOQUENT 'I' 81 This book is one of an increasing number devoted to the 'self-consciousness' of seventeenth-century figures, but Miss Webber's way of measuring and analysing this self-consciousness (Le., consciousness of 'self' and awareness of literary strategy) is quite different from the others I have seen: instead of beginning with large philosophical and cultural generalities, illustrated from many different kinds of sources, she works from the texts, which she dissects and reassembles in a remarkably agile way. She finds excellent ways to show her authors are like and unlike each other - Browne and Burton, for instance, coming from and referring their readers to a highly bookish culture, actually assimilate - taste, chew, digest - their sources in a manner quite alike, although the resulting prose is not similar. Though Donne, Bunyan, and T raherne rely heavily on Scripture, their modes of quotation and explication are not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 80-84
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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