|uncredited photo taken from Amanda French's blog|
Two details especially struck me when I read the highly alert, warm review by Christopher Ricks (in the New York Review of Books) of The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin, edited and with an introduction and commentary by Archie Burnett, published this year in New York by Farrar Straus & Giroux.
First is the pleasing way that when he comes to sum up the strengths of the new edition’s editor, Ricks draws - provocatively, one’s now forced to say, though it shouldn’t be so - upon the resounding phrase of T.S. Eliot's that gave F.R.Leavis the title of his collection of rebarbative essays The Common Pursuit, first published exactly 60 years ago. Ricks, still an old soldier in the theory wars, it would seem, writes:
‘[A]lthough editing asks critical acumen the editor’s job is rightly understood as not the issuing of critical pronouncements or appreciations but the provision of such information textual and contextual as makes possible the common pursuit of true judgment.’
Second - and this is in the fond and celebratory spirit of the whole very substantial review - here is Ricks on Larkin, using Larkin on an earlier, less well-known figure:
‘I’ve often found myself gratefully retorting upon Larkin the anecdote with which he honored the Dorset predecessor of Hardy William Barnes: Nor was his appeal limited to men of letters: “an old Domestic Servant” wrote to him in 1869 having found his poems among some books she was dusting: “Sir I shook hands with you in my heart and I laughed and cried by turns.” ’