5 DECEMBER 1952, Page 42

An "M.G." Collection

The Bedside " Guardian." Selected from the Manchester Guardian by Ivor Brown. (Collins. 12s. 6d.) THE decline of the essay is a trnism of current criticism, and it is easy for anyone of middle age, recalling the heydays of Birrell, Beerbohm, Chesterton, Belloc and Lynd, to accept it. Readers of the Spectator will allow at least one notable exception ; but one spectator doesn't make a crowd. The appearance of The Bedside" Guardian," how- ever, suggests that obsequies on the essay are premature. There is no wake in Lancashire. There the essay is alive and kicking, though it has changed its habits and its clothes and its tone of voice. A southerner who is only an irregular reader of the Manchester Guardian may perhaps be forgiven if he has missed this literary survival—or revival. He has been aware, of course, of the Guardian's liberality and political independence. He has recognised its peculiarly brilliant tradition of dramatic and musical criticism and its unique contribution to cricket in the person of Mr. Cardus. What the irregular reader had not realised was the wealth of miscellaneous prose which is inconspicuously packed round the news and political comment each day.

The Bedside "Guardian," which has been skilfully assembled from the pages of the paper in the past two years by one of the best prose-writers who graduated from it, is a revelation of unfamiliar talent. Apart from Mr. James Bone, Mr. Cardus, Mr. Alistair Cooke, Mr. Philip Hope-Wallace, Don Salvador de Madariaga and Professor Tawney, it cannot be said that any of the five-dozen cow tributors has a national reputation. Yet a large proportion of tile contents would qualify for inclusion in any" open " anthology. Where, perhaps, the characteristic Guardian essayist differs from his predecessors of the golden age is in the objectivity of his approach, The essayists of thirty years ago were personal in their choice of themes and Subjective in their treatment of them. The' were adellt at spinning words out of the air. Mr. Belloc, indeed, entitled ono of his volumes On Nothing. The Guardian essayist of today rang over a wide field of factual experience, often of a highly specialised sort. In this anthology there are informative, yet delightful, piece . on such varied topics as the sea-cow, peak-bagging, the last tram-ri.ds in London, the pink-footed goose, train-spotting, and the straY cartoon in France. The writers' prevailing spirit is one of untie ging social curiosity, factual exactness, a quizzical delight in the ordinary oddities. of life and a reluctance to strike an attitude. The voices are light, dry, mocking and urbane, like the voices of the New Yorker, with only a hint of the old Mancunian accent.