Grumbles

C.K. Stead

  • Flaws in the Glass: A Self-Portrait by Patrick White
    Cape, 272 pp, £7.95, October 1981, ISBN 0 224 02924 X

Matthew Arnold worried that a literary reputation in England, unconfirmed by ‘the whole group of civilised nations’ (by which he meant Europe), might be merely provincial. At the same time he was pretty confident about which poets Europe ought, in due course, to favour. Wordsworth was admired at home but not abroad; and since Arnold was sure Wordsworth as a poet in English ranked second only to Shakespeare and Milton, and that among European poets of the 18th and 19th centuries only Goethe was superior, he anticipated a European recognition of Wordsworth which has never come. Arnold also liked to qualify and trim the literary verdicts which Europe had already handed down. Thus Byron had been overrated; and Goethe’s observations on Byron were manipulated by Arnold both to acknowledge a greatness and to set limits on it – a ‘splendid personality’ in poetry, but a slovenly artist and a childish intellect.

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