IN this ribald and entertaining, albeit disrespectful opus Ernest Boyd sets out to fire the whiskers of several highly respected lit'ry gents of the classic English school, and in spite of the fact that a good deal of what he says is patently untrue, or at least misleading, it must be admitted that his theses are never anything but plausible. The best traditions of English letters seem to present to him an endless and enchanting vista of abstract crockery to be broken with loud pagan snorts and bellows, and while he not infrequently builds an elaborate argument of disproof where a simple "What of it?" would suffice, there is always that much more amusement for the occupants of the ringside seats.
For instance, to point out at some length the irony latent in the fact that Walt Whitman's fame exists solely among the "scholar swells" he despised, and that he is absolutely unknown to the commonality of man for whom he professed to write, or that the incredibly ornate pish-posh of Henry James is explained by his belief that legible and comprehensive language of any sort is very vulgar, just, for instance, as an editor of the Harvard Crimson believes that any news anybody could conceivably want to read is very vulgar and therefore unprintable, to point out these is to illuminate the obvious.
Mr. Boyd attempts to deal with accepted classical writers much as criticism deals with contemporary authors, not with the pretentious and usually spurious dignity of an academic vocabulary, but with the same sneezes and jeers that are accorded a ham novelist in the current prints. Milton, Byron and Whitman were not unacquainted with the critical raspberry in their lifetimes, and it is certain that the mere getting out of the rubber-tired hack and rolling them off to the cemetery did not rectify their deficiencies, render more agreeable their not infrequent dullness, nor sublimate their frowsy cliches into epigrams of the Roi Cooper Magrue order.
To point out that behind such preposterous euphemism as "He spoke as to cheek and chin of the joy of the mutational steel" when he might have said "He was clean shaven," Henry James concealed only a frustrated and mediocre intellect may be heresy to this day in the purlieus of Beacon Hill, but the fact remains and the judicious know it.
It does not appear that Mr. Boyd is trying to jazz up his critical reputation by mere wanton attacks upon the traditional esteem in which such worthies as Milton, Dickens and Poe are held. He merely points out that to the sane man the theme of "Paradise Lost" is so much moral and cosmic spinach, and that since Milton selected this subject because it was what he regarded as literal truth, not fiction, the poem, for all its beauties, smacks somewhat of futility, as must any thesis as devoid of any slightest biological probability. Mr. Boyd merely remarks that Poe's reputation as a souse did more to boost him into tardy fame than a dozen "Ravens" would have done and in so doing is but illustrating the fact that to the average fellow in his senses the capacities of a notorious tosspot are more entertaining than the carryings on of some halfwit blackbird escaped from a nearby bird fancier's shop.