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This review is taken from PN Review 50, Volume 12 Number 6, July - August 1986.

RECOVERING POPE Maynard Mack, Alexander Pope, a Life (Yale) £15.95
Pope's Iliad, a Selection, edited by Felicity Rosslyn (Bristol Classical Press) £7.10

For whom does one write criticism? John Wilson, conducting a long defence of the Augustans in the 1845 volumes of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, addresses himself at one point to the young female reader. The young female reader! Was this vision of girls throughout the halls and vicarages of Britain who were just waiting for the right hint to put them on to Dryden and Pope, a mere fiction of Wilson's? Had Romanticism not deflected those young females long since into a more self-indulgent course, and Childe Harold won the day? Be that as it may, common readers in the 1840s, not yet totally bemused by the romantic movement, must have been ready for these articles, since they appeared in book form the following year in Philadelphia where, among others, the young female American reader could also peruse them. (Wilson's volume, oddly entitled Specimens of the British Critics, is now available, introduced by D. W. Hopkins, in the Delmar reprint series.) At his best - which is frequently - Wilson is able to write with confidence for his readership and just at the moment when Augustan literature was falling more and more out of favour. Another forty years and Matthew Arnold was closing the question, certain that poetry was conceived in the soul and not in the wits, demoting both Pope and Dryden to writers of versified prose. From then on, it would take Wilson's young female reader a long time to find her way back to such poets - ...

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