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390 LETTERS IN CANADA Abraham Cowley, The Civil War, edited by Allan Pritchard. University of Toronto Press, x, 196, $10.00 Professor Allan Pritchard of the University of Toronto has edited a large addition to the Cowley canon, an 'epic' in three books on the early phases of the war, which the poet lived through at Oxford, the king's headquarters . Most of the first book was printed in 1679, twelve years after his death, and reprinted several times in the eighteenth century and in the modern editions of Crosart and Waller. But two manuscripts of the whole turned up a few years ago, and the present complete edition 'is based primarily upon the more authoritative of these two copies.' Thus it enlarges and corrects the known text of Book I and 'provides for the first time a text of Books II and III, more than two-thirds of the poem.' Cowley left it unfinished; as he said in the preface to his Poems of 1656, his story reached 'the first Battel of Newbury, where the succeeding misfortunes of the party stopt the work.' It broke off with a sorrowing eulogy of his friend Lord Falkland, a man famous in his own day and ever since, who was killed at Newbury on 20 September 1643. It would of course have been impossible for Cowley to publish, before 1660, a work which celebrated the sacred Royalist cause and its expected triumph and execrated its adversaries. And, though he lived until 1667, the poem had lost whatever historical value its fierce partisanship had allowed. As the editor further remarks, Cowley might well have thought that it would not add lustre to his high poetical reputation. The Civil War has probably more interest as an historical and personal document than as a poem, since Davideis - in which Cowley incorporated bits of the unpublished work - more than satisfies any readers who are curious about his capacity for a neo-classical epic. The mixture of motifs from Virgil, Lucan, et aJ. (including Spenser and Crashaw) with the contents of Royalist newspapers and pamphlets has emotional and rhetorical force but not many compelling attractions. While Professor Pritchard is well aware that the poem is no masterpiece, he lavishes upon is as much wide and precise learning as if it were; the newly found work is rightly presented with indefatigable thoroughness. (The only slips I observe are two obvious misprints and another apparent one: 'absolution' for 'absolutism,' p 31 n29.) The full and succinct introduction (pp 3-69) deals with 'The Survival of the Suppressed Poem,' 'Circumstances of Composition,' 'History and Propaganda,' 'Literary Tradition,' 'The Civil War and Cowley's Later Writings,' 'The Text' (with an appendix of variants in Book I); and explanatory notes are abundant (pp 127-78). There is also an appendix on a version of 'To the Duke of Buckingham,' HUMANITIES 391 from the same MS source as the epic. Altogether, it would be hard to think of any relevant question, large or small, which the editor has not raised and answered. Whether or not the scholarly reader perseveres through the poem, it and the commentary light up one side of the poet and the war in all their heated immediacy. ( DOUGLAS BUSH) R.S. Ridgway, Voltaire and Sensibility. McGill-Queen's University Press, vii, 298, $12.50 Recent years have seen a number of studies which have contributed to a gradual change in our general 'image' of the eighteenth century. Not that the hroad outlines drawn by the masters of nineteenth-century history and criticism are in danger of being effaced, or fundamentally altered - they are too solidly established for that - but, rather, they are being modified by significant details drawn from evidence previously either passed over, insufficiently appreciated, or even unknown. The great advantage of the telling detail added to the general portrait is that it tends to redress a certain imbalance that results from oversimplification so apt to lead to a stereotyped image, if not a caricature, of the true original. The disadvantage is that the detail must be accompanied by many others before it can have its fullest effect on our perception, which the master stroke, precisely because of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 390-391
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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