20 DECEMBER 1935, Page 32

ANNALS OF THE POETS By Chard Powers Smith Mr. Chard

Powers Smith justifies to his own satisfacticin this volume of desultory gOssip about the lives of the poets" (Scribner, 12s. (id.) by claiming that the intellectual superiority of men, as of apes, over the rest of the animal world lies in' their greater c„uriosity about themselsre.s;and their heighbOnis. " The hall-mark of our higher intelligenae," he remarks, is that we are " incorrigibly addicted to prying into our own and one another's affairs." Mr. Smith is certainly addicted to prying into other people's affairs, but it is difficult not to feel that it is simian rather than human character which one watches at work in his eager, unembarrassed pursuit of trivialities and the artless rapture with which he exposes what lie manages to catch. There is a charming innocence in the way in which he retells the familiar stories of Prior's chronic cough, of Dryden's purgings, of Byron's fondness for brushing his teeth, of the snake which Tennyson kept at Cambridge, of Cowper's attempts at suicide, and one can see, that it would be mere waste of breath to tell him that eccentricities which may have their interest in relation to lives presented as a whole lose all their significance when they are merely jotted down in isolation, with however confident an air of scientific research. Few of Mr. Smith's stories are new, but by no means all of them are true, and his uncritical acceptance of

many legends which have 'long been proved baseless makes his book dangerous as a work of reference. Anyone using it for this purpose would furthermore be well advised to check carefully the names of all persons and places, in the transcrip- tion of even the most familiar of which Mr. Smith has been guilty of some absurd though amusing errors.