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This article is taken from PN Review 39, Volume 11 Number 1, July - August 1984.

A Latin Head and an English Heart Henry Gifford

When proposing this theme for my tribute to C. H. Sisson I sketched it for the Editor as the contrast between the poet's 'resolute Englishness' and the Latin spread of his interests, seen particularly in the translations. Only when reading the prose again did I realize that Michael Schmidt had already referred to him, in the Introduction to The Avoidance of Literature, as 'so resolutely English a writer'. The phrase must have been lodged in my memory, and it is very apt. Sisson is English to a highly conscious degree, and from the very first has known where he stands, and maintained the position with great firmness. As a young man in the new Nazi Germany, where he had gone with a postgraduate scholarship, he counted himself 'an Englishman whose country was threatened by attack', rather than 'an adherent of Right or Left'. He was fortunate in finding himself very young: the critical stance, the public views have not changed in essentials, and their consistency is matched not surprisingly by a close integration of the poetry that began ten years later, in a stream broadening out powerfully during the first decade of his retirement from the Civil Service.

In the essay from which I have just quoted - it is entitled 'Looking Back on Maurras', and we must return to Maurras below - he says: 'I belonged I supposed to one of the lower middle classes, those barely distinguishable people who - perhaps because I have belonged ...


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