Sunday, February 28, 2010

canon-making, in progress

[Lest we forget, here's Francis Jeffrey, the Helen Vendler of his day, writing in the Edinburgh Review in October 1829:]

The tuneful quartos of Southey are already little better than lumber: – and the rich melodies of Keats and Shelley, – and the fantastical emphasis of Wordsworth, – and the plebeian pathos of Crabbe, are melting fast from the field of our vision. The novels of Scott have put out his poetry. Even the splendid strains of Moore are fading into distance and dimness, except where they have been married to immortal music; and the blazing star of Byron himself is receding from its place of pride.... The two who have the longest withstood this rapid withering of the laurel, and with the least marks of decay on their branches, are [Samuel] Rogers and [Thomas] Campbell; neither of them, it may be remarked, voluminous writers, and both distinguished rather for the fine taste and consummate elegance of their writings, than for that fiery passion, and disdainful vehemence, which seemed for a time to be so much more in favour with the public.


plainwater said...

Ha! right there with him up until the end. Lovely.

Vance Maverick said...

From an article praising Felicia Hemans, I see.

Maybe most strikingly, he doesn't attempt to argue that e.g. Scott's novels eclipsed his poetry: he just tells us. Was he tracking their Amazon sales rankings, or what? Blowing smoke?

Mark Scroggins said...

Oh, don't make me get up & look at my Scott bios, Vance! Scott's poetic productions pretty much trailed off after his kinda unexpected success with Waverley. The novels following Waverley were incredible public successes, and by 1829 it'd been a looong time since he'd written a sustained narrative poem of the sort his early reputation had been built on, & he'd acknowledged being "The Author of Waverley" in 1827 -- so Jeffrey's assessment is pretty much on target, both from a sales & a "career curve" point of view.

Vance Maverick said...

[hope this isn't a repost]

Sorry, Mark, I definitely wasn't asking you to do my homework. Just surprised at the serene self-confidence of the claims, without even token substantiation in the text.

E. M. Selinger said...

I just passed this along to my curriculum committee--we can read it aloud the next time anyone weighs in about "making sure our students know the canon."