6 FEBRUARY 1948, Page 20

Scholarship and Elegance

The Harp of Aeolus and Other Essays. By Geoffrey Grigson. (Routledge. 15s.)

OBSESSION with its historical or categorical meaning frequently mis- leads us, I think, with regard to the more subtle relevance and use of such a term as romantic. As with all complex ideas, there may well be grave uncertainty about the objective contents of what is called romanticism, and I think we shall find that such words are often used without any clear sense of the construction and reality of the pattern, rhythm or behaviour which is thus indicated. Whatever may be usually understood by " romance," the word has been extended in our times to cover a vast and intimidating peripheral obscurity con- cerning whose topography there is no valid agreement. None the less, I do not think Mr. Grigson will be displeased if I venture to describe him as one of the new romantics ; and I say " new " advisedly, for it seems to me clear that romance is a process, not a congealed historical entity, and equally clear that Mr. Grigson is not in sympathy with its transitional Victorian display. For romance, if it exists at all, must exist as a relation between forms which are temporarily conventional and a critical assessment. What is con- sidered romantic in one age is considered mawkish or laboured in another ; and I am sure that Mr. Grigson is the true representative, not of revived or nostalgic romanticism, but of those romantic ex- pressions and affinities which are peculiar to our own times.

It is pleasant to agree, unpleasant to disagree, with Mr. Grigson ; but, in reading the thirteen essays which are printed in this book, one is occasionally jolted into the postures of interrogation or defence. On the very first of his pages Mr. Grigson bestows a kick upon the Dictionary of National Biography—surely as unprovoked and as ungrateful as a kick at some elderly, benign and informative professor.

Mr. Grigson evokes the flimsy, whispering William Diaper, not so much a poet as a frail curiosity in the literary museum ; he pro- duces the anatomising horse-painter, Mr. Stubbs, known to most of us only by his glossy Phaeton ; he dextrously renovates the person and the works of Francis Danby ; he endeavours (too judicially) to reduce in analytical satire the Pre-Raphaelite ingredients ; he writes with affection of the uncouthly harmonious William Barnes ; he sum; manses Hardy, perhaps with a lack of caution, as one who was " complicated " but also " narrow " (what a queer image of com- pressed intricacy!) ; he has the frankness to speak of Constable as "a small man " who did not paint " the world's best landscape," what- ever Sir Alfred Munnings may think ; he fondles the melons and admires the green skies of Chirico ; he appraises the snoring, blanketed forms of Mr. Henry Moore ; and he demolishes the fragile and rickety foundations of our exiguous modern poetry with a succinct indictment which reminds one of certain pages by Macaulay in the Edinburgh Review. Sometimes he divagates ; but he divagates as a man of taste and elegance into the curious gardens and unfrequented groves of literature.

In all of these delightful essays Mr. Grigson shows himself to be a man of sharp and undivertible honesty, 'one having no truck with intellectual cant, as well as a true romantic and a scholar. That is why the babble-bubble of Mr. Dylan Thomas fills him with rational and auspicious fury. And as for the tin trumpets of a coterie fanfare or the solemn superlatives of a ruling Blue, Mr. Grigson is not impressed ; he is neither the dupe nor the purveyor of literary clap- trap. Listening to his own thrumming and harmonious Aeolian wires, Mr. Grigson says that he can " think himself back into the romantic mood." But this is not, with him or with anyone else, a matter of deliberate evocation, The very charming piece of elegant investigation which gives its title to the book, although its avowed purpose may be the dissection of artifice, only shows that Aeolian strings are a part of the poet's inward anatomy. So, too, the dark and lonely tree of death, Upas, exuding and exhaling poison, spreads eternally, whatever Mr. Grigson may say, a hardy perennial in the wild and arid regions of poetical despair.

These are magnificent essays. Their purpose is to display the relation between the mind of the artist and what is known as the external world, to analyse the subtle generative confluence of science and art, vision and observation. But we do not need the assurance of any formal design in writings which are so lucid, erudite and