10 JULY 1964, Page 25

Oxford Century

IT is the most familiar areas of poetry that are the hardest to anthologise. A collection of nine- teenth-century English verse cannot in the nature of things aim at originality. Research and special knowledge can dig out much buried treasure in the centuries before the Restoration; but the Romantics and the Victorians are too near to Us and too thoroughly prospected. The compiler either contents himself with reprinting widely known classics, or, I am afraid it must be said, fills up with a good deal of fustian. The danger is, having done an obvious duty by the great Poets of the age, that space has to be found for the minor practitioners simply because they were there and a part of literary history. And minor Poets of the nineteenth century, unlike those of the seventeenth, for the most part do not either follow a generally available tradition or manage ,to find an individual voice. They generally sound Like muffled and distorted echoes of genius, rather than distinct small talents. This makes hard going for the picker-up of unconsidered


Mr. Hayward's collection in several ways re- flects the taste of the present day, and the ways in which it has changed since earlier nineteenth- century anthologies were published. More Gerard Manley Hopkins, more Gough in his i:eflective-satiric moods, more Hardy, more ex- ' tracts from long poems. There is a generous representation of Clare, who is evidently rising from his place as a rural curiosity to take his Proper station among the English poets. The long- , Ish poems are the anthologist's great problem in his period: Mr. Hayward has wisely included 'The Ancient Mariner' in extenso; less wisely Perhaps 'Bishop Blougram's Apology,' which entails the sacrifice of a good deal of character- istic and delightful Browning; and 'The Hunting 1 the Snark,' splendid as it is in its own way, L'ardly deserves its twenty pages.. One can always quarrel with an anthologist's Proportions, but here they have obviously been a 'tatter of careful thought. If some of the minor

versifiers had been totally excluded, the space could certainly have been filled with more re- warding poetry by the greater names. But maybe this would have defeated a historical purpose. I could have done with more Swinburne, rather different Matthew Arnold, some of Barnes's dialect poems, and none at all of Robert Stephen Hawker, Aubrey de Vere and Ebenezer Jones. And in a time so rich everyone is bound to deplore the absence of individual poems (Hopkins's 'Spring and Fall'? Browning's 'A Toccata of Galuppi's'?). A welcome innovation is the attempt to give the source of each poem. In many cases this cannot be really informa- tive—it does not help us much to learn that Keats's 'Lines to Fanny Brawne' occur in Poetical Works, 1898—but it does give an authority for the text so that at least we know what we are reading; which we certainly don't in some of our old well-loved anthologies.