Date of Award
Languages & Literature
Rev. R. V. Kavanaugh
Written over a ten year period, between 1896 and 1906, published for the most part in the periodicals the ACADEMY and the ATHENAEUM, the book reviews of Francis Thompson constitute a major portion of his prose works. A book review is by nature and purpose primarily a piece of journalism. The readers of the ACADEMY and the ATHENAEUM read his reviews not so much because of who wrote them but rather because of the author about whom they were written. Indeed, by far the greater part of the reviews were written to fill a contemporary demand for expert judgment on specific newly-published books. It is on this ground that we shall first determine the merits of Francis Thompson's reviews. The question is in what way and to what extent did Francis Thompson meet and fulfill the requirements and demands of book reviewers? To put It briefly: we shall treat of his book reviews as book reviews.
What does this book say, and how well is it said: these are the two questions to be answered by the reviewer. These questions, in turn, assume several qualities in the reviewer: 1 ) that the reviewer has sufficient knowledge and experience to grasp what the book in hand does say, 2 ) the reviewer can recognise good and bad poetry, good and bad prose, and can judge accordingly, 3 ) that the reviewer can express his judgment effectively.
It is to be expected that the poet would review primarily poets. This he did. Francis Thompson’s knowledge of English metrics and verse ran far into the practical realm of poetry. He knew what poetry could do— and what it couldn't, not only by reason of theory, but in the light of practical experience as well. He was, himself, a poet. "To judge of poets is only the faculty of poets; and not of all poets, but the best," writes Ben Jonson (1). This is most surely ture in the matter of appreciation by the critic of those qualities that most make a poem poetry. Any expert in the field of psychology with a minimum of experience as to the ways of poetic language might pass a competent judgment on the validity of the emotions portrayed in a poem. But unless the psychologist is also a poet his criticism will never have that appreciation of the poet as a poet. He will never be able to grasp, much less praise, those things about a poet that makes him a poet. He will always deal with the poet in terms of psychology, rather than in terms of poetry. It Is not his psychology, nor his metaphysics, nor his politics that sets a poet apart from other men— it is his poetry. And to write not merely competent criticism, but to write as well an appreciative criticism is best done perhaps by one who knows poetry from both ends. This much at least may be said: A man who has never tasted an apple cannot be said to be a thoroughly appreciative judge of the fruit of the apple tre, nor in the matter of poetry do we expect thoroughly appreciative criticism unless the critic has first experienced for himself the fruit of poetic inspiration.
Herum, John, "The Prose Of Francis Thompson: A Series Of Five Separate Studies" (1951). Languages and Literature Undergraduate Theses. 104.