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

FIRE-FIGHTING Henry Kirke White (1785-1806), Poems, Hymns & Prose Writings, edited by R. T. Beckwith (Latimer House, 131 Banbur Road, Oxford) £3

The bi-centenary of the birth of Kirke White can hardly be a major literary occasion. The Warden of Latimer House, who has edited this edition, does not pretend that it is. Kirke White died at the age of twenty-one; almost all his poems were written before he was nineteen and a half. He survives in a hymn, 'Oft in danger, oft in woe', in a version principally not his own work, but his verse is more interesting than this fate suggests, though hardly of the decisive interest which might be expected to give it any great currency now. There was a Muses' Library edition, and a very considerable number of earlier editions - apparently fifty or sixty - so White's work can hardly be said to have been overlooked. From a contemporary point of view, his position is far more desperate than that: the work is and long has been profoundly unfashionable. 'Yet it does not follow,' as Beckwith says, 'that the oblivion into which the reaction has now plunged him is any more deserved than the undiscriminating acclaim which was once his'.

The appearance of the present volume offers an opportunity, at a modest price, for readers interested in the state of literary play at the beginning of the last century to fill a gap in their knowledge. The editor has wisely included Southey's life of the poet, which has a sociological as well as a literary interest, for it illustrates vividly the difficulties a boy ...


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