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This review is taken from PN Review 26, Volume 8 Number 6, July - August 1982.

BOOKMAKING A. D. Harvey, English Literature and the Great War with France: an anthology and commentary (Nold Jonson Books) £9.00
Eric Rothstein, Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Poetry 1660-1780, Volume 3 of 'The Routledge History of English Poetry (Routledge) £13.95

A. D. Harvey introduces his anthology with the rather negative statement that 'The wars of 1792-1815 had almost no significant impact on English literature.' This was so, he continues, because 'the intellectual and commercial bourgeoisie of the nation were by and large able to keep clear of military service altogether'. Thus, there were no Wilfred Owens forced into the carnage of these campaigns, and accordingly little war writing of literary merit was produced. One contemporary remarked that instead of war (or poetry), 'the fair sex and horses monopolised the chief part of my brother-officers' thoughts and ideas. The lieutenants were terrible lady-killers'. Dr Harvey cites another contemporary who was even cheered by the war's lack of interference with the serious business of literature: 'How awful the moment! yet here is a period of book writing, book collecting, and book reviewing.' Perhaps the relationship between suffering and creativity was not yet fully evolved.

Though often gauchely inartistic, the selections in this anthology-mostly scraps of reminiscence, diaries and the like, from seamen and soldiers of every rank-make terrifying reading. Dr Harvey wisely keeps his extracts short, so one is never allowed to become bored by pages of trundling prose. Instead, there are stirring accounts of battles at sea, with heads and legs being blown off, a meeting with drunken Russian soldiers, even an escape from a prison camp, entitled 'Colditz-1808 style'. The wittiest tale of all comes from a certain Samuel Bamford, Able Seaman, who, jumping ship at Tilbury, ...


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