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DUBLIN LETTERS: JOHN EGLINTON AND THE DIAL, 1921–1929 MARY E. BRYSON among the essays in John Eglinton’s Irish Literary Portraits (1935)1 are “Yeats and His Story” and “A. E. and His Story,” which both Wrst saw print as Eglinton’s contributions to The Dial magazine.2 Critical reception of the Portraits collection suggests the signiWcance of the nearly thirty Dial pieces Eglinton wrote as its Irish correspondent throughout the 1920s. The interest of the Dial pieces is not limited, however, to Eglinton’s literary criticism as such. Beginning with the premise that a tradition in Ireland had passed with the “passing of Kathleen ni Hoolihan,”3 Eglinton was often as much social historian as literary critic. For example, he analyzed the new voices in Irish literature—F. R. Higgins, Liam O’Flaherty, Eimar O’DuVy—as signaling an historic change in the Irish cultural scene, with a correlative change in the Irish psyche. The biographical-critical “portraits ” of established Revival writers also reXect this interest in the cultural context, as in this depiction of John Synge, in the “typical attitude of Anglo-Irish literature,” as Synge listened “through a chink in the Xoor . . . to the talk in the public room below . . . .” It was . . . essentially the observation of one cultivated people (the Anglo-Irish) of a race supposed for a long time to be naturally subject. the spirit of an agreeable hostess who delights her guests with scraps of the conversation below stairs (raising a laugh in which none joins in so heartily as the strangers from the other side of the Channel) persists even in Lady Gregory’s DUBLIN LETTERS: JOHN EGLINTON AND THE DIAL, 1921–1929 132 1 John Eglinton, Irish Literary Portraits, (London: Macmillan and Co, 1935). 2 This was the fourth incarnation of the magazine begun by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller in 1840. The Dial of the 1920s was a monthly established by Scofield Thayer and James Sibley Watson, who bought the fortnightly The Dial, for which Ernest Boyd had been Irish correspondent, in 1920. It ran until 1929. 3 “Dublin Letter,” Nov. 1921, 593. Except where confusion might occur, articles from The Dial will be cited parenthetically, thus: (Nov. 1921, 593). Kiltartan note-books, and in most of the plays which have made the fortune of the Abbey Theatre. (May 1926, 361) Eglinton’s perspective, while it originated in this same Anglo-Irish background , did so with a diVerence. He was acutely aware of the attitude, and wary of its bias. Eglinton began his Wrst “Dublin Letter” to The Dial with a glum warning to “American and English collectors of Anglo-Irish literature” that “the bulk of this literature is uncanonical”: “Irish nationality as interpreted by the writers of the ‘Literary Renascence’ is an ideal entity; the real Irish nation, though it may diVer as much from the romantic Ireland of story and song as did Queen Elizabeth personally from the Glorianna of her courtiers and poets, is Catholic Ireland . . .” (Mar. 1921, 332). That a body of literature to be “canonical” should take on the burden of interpreting the “nationality” of its origin may have seemed rather reactionary to Eglinton ’s peers at The Dial, probably the most avant-garde American magazine of its time. As such, it was a sounding board for radically new theories of literary criticism inclined to dismiss matters of origin—biographic or ethnic4 —a theory to emerge as the New Criticism. The Dial’s staV included a number of such critics who came to be associated with that movement as T. S. Eliot, I. A. Richards, Kenneth Burke. Eliot wrote the “London Letter ,” Ezra Pound, the “Paris Letters.” Into this company came the rather traditional, Wordsworthian Romantic John Eglinton (William K. Magee), an Irish critic-essayist and a member of the coterie of Revival writers, although often at odds with them. Ironically, he, himself, had opposed Revival leaders on this very issue of “nationality” when he argued in 1902 for the purging of Irish literature of this “impurity,” that is, the “getting rid of the notion that a writer is to think Wrst . . . of interpreting the nationality of his country and not simply of the burden...


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