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This article is taken from PN Review 88, Volume 19 Number 2, November - December 1992.

Dr Davie Kevin Jackson

THE COVER of Donald Davie's collection The Late Augustans: Longer Poems of the Later Eighteenth Century (Heinemann, 1958) carries a small monochrome portrait of Samuel Johnson. A dull or ignorant schoolboy, such as the ones I was trying to cram for GCEs in English at about the time I bought that anthology, might well have concluded that this middle-aged gentleman with the pale wig and the severe, sceptical expression was none other than Davie himself.

Now, since Articulate Energy, Purity of Diction in English Verse and Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor had been among the dozen or so most exciting and enlightening books I had read as an undergraduate, even I knew better than to make such an elementary howler. I'm not altogether sure, though, that it would have been so very foolish to mistake one of these English poets for the other: the physical resemblance may not be great, but the similarities of intellectual conduct and temperament can be striking.

At any rate, they certainly appeared striking to me when I first set out for Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee in 1980, in the Boswellian hope (among other things) of moving up from the ranks of thousands who had learned from Davie's books and into the lucky hundreds who had been taught by him face to face.

If the cover of The Late Augustans had established a subliminal connection for me between Davie and the Great Cham, that hint had been confirmed both ...


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