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This article is taken from PN Review 49, Volume 12 Number 5, May - June 1986.

Wyatt versus Surrey Dennis Keene


That Surrey 'comes in' merely as a foil to Wyatt, as a supplementary demonstration of Wyatt's isolated superiority, is a verdict that will astonish nobody today, though fifty years ago the 'voice of history' seemed to have spoken finally in giving the preference to Surrey as the early Tudor poet with some condescending mention of Wyatt as a precursor. This voice, however, was little more than an echo of the opinions of critics circa 1580, at a time when Surrey himself had ceased to matter and Wyatt had been forgotten. It has not and never had the authority that comes from vital concern: no life-decisions were involved in the relative placing of the two poets.
(H.A. Mason, Humanism and Poetry in the Early Tudor Period, 1959, p. 236)


The last sentence with its Leavisite cant about vital concern and life-decisions brands its author as an old Scrutiny man, and thus a person with concerns not invariably all that vital to people of other persuasions; but the claim that nobody would be astonished by this remarkable turnabout in Surrey's fortunes seems as true today as it was in the 1950s. There has, admittedly, been a definite falling off in the severity of the manner in which his poetry is treated, and I doubt if anyone now would write with the virulence which Mason employed in the above book; but the new tolerance arises from a recognition that the job has been done, and ...


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