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This review is taken from PN Review 47, Volume 12 Number 3, January - February 1986.

A MASTER OF LETTERS Robert Bernard Martin, With Friends Possessed: A Life of Edward FitzGerald (Faber & Faber) £17.50

An addiction to the work of Edward FitzGerald is perhaps unusual now. When Geoffrey Grigson reviewed the new edition of the Letters in the TLS in 1981, he seemed to be seething with indignation against the man, the 'languid, moneyed Suffolk poetaster and dilettante,' 'the amateur author of such flaccid abilities.' He did not deny the importance of the Rubaiyat, only wondered how the author 'came suddenly to write, and almost as suddenly to forget, a poem so extraordinary.' The letters he condemned as 'not intimate, valuably introspective, or more than slightly illustrative and informative.' Grigson's denunciations are those of a moralist - a role no less dangerous when the morality in question is that of the twentieth century than when it is that of the nineteenth century or of some more remote epoch. Indignation is an emotion which critics are usually better without, and Grigson is certainly not at his best on the subject of FitzGerald.

Professor Martin's approach to his subject is benign, in some respects almost excessively so, but it is an error on the right side. He starts by speaking of the 'affectionate disposition' which made FitzGerald 'loved by nearly everyone who knew him. In the century since his death,' he says, 'he has become one of those literary figures like Cowper, Lamb and Keats who are loved more than they are read.' We are on the borders of that corrupted literary/journalistic world in which authors are known as 'personalities' rather than as ...


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