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This article is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Vestiges 5: John Cleveland Adam Crothers
Cover of Verse of Cleveland's

Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John's College, Cambridge

In 1717, Thomas Baker's long-maintained refusal to accept the overthrow of James II saw him stripped of his St John's fellowship. The books he left to the College refer to Baker, in his hand, as socius ejectus, expelled fellow: there is bitter defiance in preserving for posterity one's disgrace.

Another Johnian, the poet John Cleveland, was beset by damage to his name, damage harder to defy owing to its being posthumous. The 1677 edition of Cleveland's poems, donated by Baker, places much attention upon the 'spurious' attributions that had previously 'usurped' the poet's reputation; annotating the volume elsewhere, Baker observes that the 'intrusted friends' credited with overseeing another edition are, suspiciously, 'not nam'd'.

The critics as well as the compilers were problematic. In 1668, a decade after Cleveland's death, Dryden suggested that catachresis, or 'Clevelandism', was the work of 'un mauvais buffon', and that 'we cannot read a verse of Cleveland's without making a face at it'; in 1779 Johnson would say of the metaphysicals more broadly that the 'modulation' of their poems 'was so imperfect that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables'.

The insistence upon greater self-discipline, however, has a fuzzy boundary with the demand for conformity. Perhaps, like Baker's, Cleveland's commitments were not to be undercut by popular expectations. His poetry's excess lashes out at the tedium he perceives around ...


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