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This review is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

GENTLE GADFLY Philip Mairet, Autobiographical and Other Papers, edited by C. H. Sisson (Carcanet) £7.95

To many members of the present generation the name of Philip Mairet, like that of Basil Bunting up to a decade ago, may be familiar primarily from the dedication to him of a book by a celebrated Modernist pioneer, in his case Eliot's Notes towards the Definition of Culture. Now Mairet the editor, philosopher, psychologist and, above all, tireless though unvociferous gadfly, is rescued from oblivion by this collection of autobiographical writings, essays and letters. It is a book made all the more remarkable for its inclusion of a correspondence between Eliot (who died in 1965, not 1963 as stated by the editor) and Mairet (1886-1975), though the collection suffers from the omission of any of Mairet's topical pronouncements as editor of the New English Weekly from 1934 to 1949.

The book is well worth its steep price as a paperback if only for the vigorous, 125-page 'Autobiographical Compilation', previously unpublished, which sheds valuable new light on such pre-1914 byways as C. R. Ashbee's Guild of Handicraft (currently the subject of revived attention with the publication of Fiona MacCarthy's new account of that lively neo-medieval commune in the Cotswolds). Mairet the autobiographer also offers some memorable insights into the dawning of a young man's awareness of the world and the nature of love, and the feelings of an acutely lucid man of conscience faced with the onset of a cataclysmic war. Granted, it is unfortunate that Mairet shows himself all too susceptible to the magnetism of 'psychic ...


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