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Matthew Bevis

Matthew Bevis teaches English at Keble College, Oxford. His next book, Wordsworth’s Fun, will be published later this year.

On Douglas Crase

Matthew Bevis, 25 November 2019

‘The most interesting book of first poems in many years’, Richard Howard proclaimed in 1981. James Merrill, John Hollander and John Ashbery spoke in similarly emphatic terms, while Anthony Hecht saluted an ‘extraordinarily fine’ debut and Harold Bloom hailed the arrival of a great original. ‘I think I speak for many,’ David Kalstone wrote, ‘in saying...

A.R. Ammons

Matthew Bevis, 7 March 2019

‘Well,​ Mr Ammons, it looks as if you really have something here.’ On receiving this verdict from the poet Josephine Miles in 1951, the young Ammons was taken aback: he’d expected ‘bad news’. Yet whatever the something was that Mr Ammons had, it remained hidden from view for some time. He brought out his first volume, Ommateum, with a vanity press in 1955, and,...

Barrett Browning

Matthew Bevis, 30 August 2018

Having reached​ the grand age of 14, Elizabeth Barrett peered back into the distant past. She recorded in her journal that, when she was nine, ‘works of imagination only afforded me gratification and I trod the delightful fields of fancy without any of those conscientious scruples which now always attend me when wasting time in frivolous pleasure.’ She is wiser now, but her...

Edward Lear

Matthew Bevis, 14 December 2017

When​ faced by admirers, Edward Lear was inclined to portray himself as a puzzle, or a trap:

‘How pleasant to know Mr Lear!’     Who has written such volumes of stuff! Some think him ill-tempered and queer,     But a few think him pleasant enough.

The first observation was originally made by somebody who did not know Mr Lear. As a truth...

Stevie Smith

Matthew Bevis, 27 July 2016

‘Could​ anything be better than to start off with a fine picture of a sailing ship on the rough sea coming suddenly alive and sucking in the children?’ Stevie Smith asked, reviewing C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 1952. She liked depictions of people who disappeared into the objects of their gaze; a couple of years earlier, her poem ‘Deeply...

Tóibín on Bishop

Matthew Bevis, 7 January 2016

‘Nobody knows​ … nobody knows.’ Elizabeth Bishop said her grandmother’s remark was the chorus of her childhood. ‘I often wondered what my grandmother knew that none of the rest of us knew and if she alone knew it, or if it was a total mystery that really nobody knew except perhaps God.’ She ventured to ask: ‘What do you know, Gammie, that we...

Lewis Carroll

Matthew Bevis, 15 July 2015

‘What​ do you suppose is the use of a child without any meaning?’ the Red Queen asks in Through the Looking-Glass. The child to whom this question was addressed was in little danger of becoming meaningless. ‘I’m very glad you like Alice,’ Charles Dodgson wrote to Margery Worthington in 1895, ‘but what wicked wicked sisters you have not to let you read it...

Robert Frost’s Letters

Matthew Bevis, 19 February 2015

‘Anybody​ want to Hear R. Frost on Anything?’ the poet asked Louis Untermeyer in 1916. Frost was 42 years old and believed he had an impressive list of lectures ‘in stock’. One of them was the ‘True Story of My Life’. It would begin with early signs of temerity and talent – ‘Stealing pigs from the stockyards in San Francisco. Learn to whistle...

Victorian Bloomsbury

Matthew Bevis, 4 July 2013

‘The test of poetry which professes to be modern’, Arthur Symons wrote in 1892, is ‘its capacity for dealing with London, with what one sees or might see there.’ And what the poets see is a transformation of the human face. In the country, ‘The face of every neighbour whom I met/Was as a volume to me,’ Wordsworth recalled in The Prelude, but neighbours were...

‘Treasure Island’

Matthew Bevis, 25 October 2012

John Singer Sargent’s ‘Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife’ (1885).

The first return to Treasure Island was made by Robert Louis Stevenson himself. Fourteen years after the novel was published, Longman’s Magazine published ‘The Persons of the Tale’, in which Captain Smollett and Long John Silver step out of the narrative after the 32nd chapter to have...

William Hazlitt

Matthew Bevis, 6 November 2008

There is a story that Hazlitt, having just been introduced to one of his idols, ventured an opinion on a mutual acquaintance: ‘This was the first observation I ever made to Coleridge, and he said it was a very just and striking one. I remember the leg of Welsh Mutton and the turnips on the table that day had the finest flavour imaginable.’ Hazlitt’s thoughts often turned to...

Parson Wordsworth

Colin Burrow, 4 July 2019

Wordsworth​ was the first poet I fell in love with as a teenager. My English teacher (who preferred Pope and Henry James) mocked me for my taste, reminding me of Shelley’s description of...

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Thomas Love Peacock

Thomas Keymer, 8 February 2018

Marilyn Butler​, whose Peacock Displayed was published in 1979, wasn’t the first to connect Peacock’s name with the showy wit of his satires. It started with Shelley, his friend...

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