Putting Pound Together

His schoolmates had nicknamed him “professor”; the only full-time job he ever held, four months as an instructor at a small midwestern college, had expired in a mild scandal, to be variously recalled. Yet he functioned most successfully as a pedagogue: “first and foremost a teacher and a campaigner,” in the testimonial of his sometime protégé T.S. Eliot.

Global Villagers

In 1949 the bicentennial of Goethe’s birth was celebrated by an international symposium at Aspen, Colorado. What other American man of letters at the time, if not Thornton Wilder, could have met so well that cosmopolitan occasion? His topic was the Goethean ideal of world literature, which he proceeded to …

The Alchemist Dramatist

The circumstance of having been preceded by Shakespeare was an inhibition, at least as much as an inspiration, to writers who came afterward, as some of them—like Goethe—have acknowledged. The situation must have been even more daunting for Ben Jonson, since he happened to be the most ambitious, articulate, strong-minded, …

The Great Good Place

This is an exceptionally substantial and suggestive work, generously conceived, vivaciously written, richly documented, aptly illustrated, and attractively produced. The subject matter is necessarily controversial through its nature; the authors do not shy away from expressing definite opinions of their own; and, besides, it is frequently characteristic of utopian discourse …

I. A. Richards (1893–1979)

When Ivor Richards was stricken with a terminal illness last spring, he was fulfilling a long, far-ranging, and exceptionally active career as a citizen of the world. During his eighty-seventh year he had been revisiting China, for him the beloved scene of educational ventures and recurrent interchanges many years before.

A Contest Between Conjurors

In the nostalgic evocations of his “autobiography revisited,” Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov neatly characterized the external pattern of his uprooted career as a Hegelian triad. Its thesis comprised the first two decades, indelibly Russian. Its antithesis, during a little more than the next twenty years, had been his postrevolutionary expatriation …

The Private Life of F.O. Matthiessen

When F.O. Matthiessen jumped to his death from a twelfth-story window of a Boston hotel on April 1, 1950, the shock reverberated far beyond his established orbit as a literary critic and Harvard professor. At the time there were other dramatic refusals to enter the second half of the twentieth …

Being Strong: Edmund Wilson’s Letters

The blurb on the jacket that characterizes the author as “this era’s greeatest man of letters” echoes an assumption which will not be challenged here. But what does that really mean? Most likely, an all-round competence in the various genres of literature. However, if he had been more successful than …

Faust: Still Striving and Straying

Forever striving and forever straying, the role of Faust has been adopted as a historic model for Western man. As an individual bent upon self-realization, and caught up in a devil’s bargain with technological forces, he was ideally cut out to be Spengler’s archetype for the modern mind. His black …