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This article is taken from PN Review 9, Volume 6 Number 1, September - October 1979.

Standards of Criticism Boris Ford

I first came across the name of Edgell Rickword at school when Denys Thompson, with whom I was studying English in the sixth form, suggested that I should look at some of the essays in Scrutinies I. I found a secondhand copy for 2/6d (the price is still there), and I can still remember the mixture of perplexity and agreement and stimulation with which I read D. H. Lawrence's essay on Galsworthy, Robert Graves on Kipling, Bertram Higgins on Galsworthy, Edwin Muir on Bennett. But the essay I enjoyed most was Edgell Rickword's on J. M. Barrie. Not that I had read Barrie myself at that time, though I had seen Peter Pan a few times; I now realize that I have never read him since, and re-reading Edgell Rickword's essay again I can see why:

The skill with which Barrie handles the half-human material he selects for use on the stage, to some extent dazzles the spectator into accepting a sleight of hand. It is only on drawing closer that a cotton thread becomes visible, running from the puppets' breeches to the showman's waistcoat; for it is Barrie's heart that pumps into them what vitality they possess. He loves them, and wants them to be loved so very much . . .

Since his characters are all so closely attached to himself, they must all swim in the sweet oily liquor of universal pathos which is his philosophy of life. It results ...

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