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This review is taken from PN Review 89, Volume 19 Number 3, January - February 1993.

PROPRIETY John Henry Newman, Collected Poems and the Dream of Gerontius (Fisher Press) £6.99

The original dedication in the 1868 edition of Newman's Verses on Various Occasions raises the question 'whether, after all, the contents of the volume are of sufficient importance to make an acceptable offering' to the dedicatee.

The dedicatee was a lawyer and Newman notes the contrast between 'the poetical art and the science (sic) of law,' going on characteristically - and not without a touch of envy - to remark that the legal profession 'has its definitive authorities, its prescriptions, its precedents, and its principles, by which to determine the claim of its authors on public attention.' No such luck with poetry! But there is some luck for authors in the very lack of hard-and-fast rules, and it gives Newman a sort of right to publish 'effusions' which he had considered to be 'ephermeral' until he learned, from 'publications of the day', that some 'critics, and they strangers' to him thought well both of his compositions and of his 'power of composing'.

All this would be slightly ridiculous in a lesser man, and Newman certainly ought to have known better at the age of sixty-seven. But he has so many claims to attention as a prose-writer, with whatever degree of sympathy or lack of it one may view the various parts of his production, that one can only be grateful to the Fisher Press for making his verse accessible. Apart from 'The Dream of Gerontius', to which Elgar's music has given a currency it would ...


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