Denis Donoghue

Denis Donoghue teaches English, Irish and American literature at New York University. His recent books include Words Alone: The Poet T.S. Eliot (2000) and The American Classics (2005).

Is it always my fault? T.S. Eliot

Denis Donoghue, 25 January 2007

In 1929, in his essay on Dante, T.S. Eliot wrote:

But the question of what Dante ‘believed’ is always relevant. It would not matter, if the world were divided between those persons who are capable of taking poetry simply for what it is and those who cannot take it at all; if so, there would be no need to talk about this question to the former and no use in talking about it to the...

On 15 February 1902, James Joyce, aged 20, read a paper on James Clarence Mangan to the Literary and Historical Society of what is now University College, Dublin. It was a brash performance. Joyce spoke as if he were introducing an unknown poet, and chose to ignore the facts that there were several collections of Mangan’s poems at large and that his life and work had been extensively...

Untouched by Eliot: Jon Stallworthy

Denis Donoghue, 4 March 1999

‘Why should the parent of one or two legitimate poems make a public display of the illegitimate offspring of his apprentice years?’ Jon Stallworthy asks in the afterword to Singing School. His short answer is: ‘because, to the best of my knowledge, no one else has done so, and the schooling of poets seems a potentially rewarding subject.’ The longer answer is that ‘in the early chapters of their autobiographies, Coleridge, Hardy, Yeats, Sassoon, Graves, Day Lewis, Spender and MacNeice have a good deal to say about the external circumstances of their family lives, but little about their internal or “writerly” lives.’ That is true, though some of these poets have left us evidence of their methods of composition, which we can interpret. Yeats left not only the Autobiographies, the Memoirs and personal poems, but drafts of many poems, and these have enabled scholars to study his artistic processes, as Stallworthy did in Between the Lines.‘

I’ve been comparing Daniel Karlin’s anthology here and there with other anthologies of English verse of the same period (Victoria’s reign 1837-1901) and of the 19th century as a whole. His major precursors are Quiller-Couch, Yeats, Auden, George MacBeth, Christopher Ricks and Ian Fletcher. I don’t intend a Shopper’s Guide, but I’ll start with two small complaints. Unlike Fletcher, Karlin doesn’t give explanatory notes, except for a few dialect words and phrases in foreign languages. Reading Davidson’s ‘Thirty Bob a Week,’ you have to know or guess what a hunks is. Fletcher tells you it’s a ‘miser’:‘

The Gunman

Denis Donoghue, 27 November 1997

I made my first visit to Belfast when I was almost 11, late in 1939. The war had just started, and Italy had joined Germany in aggression. My father was the sergeant-in-charge of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Warren point, Co. Down and he was instructed to arrest all enemy aliens in the town and convey them for internment to Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast. The only alien we had was an Italian who ran the fish and chip shop in the Square. He had anglicised his name to Tony Malocca. My father hired a car and a driver for the great occasion, and brought me along for the ride, letting me sit up front while he sat beside Tony in the back. We drove the forty-five miles or so to Belfast and stopped at the big gate outside the jail. My father told me to sit where I was till he had completed his business with Tony. From that day to this, I have thought of Belfast as a jail surrounded by drab, cold streets. The fact that my sister May has lived congenially enough in Belfast for many years has not altered my impression of the city. I visited her a few months ago and found it as grim as it was in 1939. But my experience of it, I concede, is limited. I stayed away from Belfast during the Troubles. I know it’s thought to be a friendly place by nature and on principle. But I’m a Dublin man by avocation, though not by right of birth.

Leases of Lifelessness

Denis Donoghue, 7 October 1993

Near to death in Malone Dies, Malone says: ‘I wonder what my last words will be, written, the others do not endure, but vanish, into thin air.’ Beckett’s Dying Words is not a study of Beckett’s dying words if he said any, or of Malone’s. It is about words spoken or written in the vicinity of death, responsive to a conviction of their own death – a death which does not abort the possibility of a little further life before the body is coffined. It is a study of the death-in-life-and-life-in-death of language. Many of the words are quoted from Beckett’s fiction, but in several passages Ricks nearly forgets Beckett, and fixes his attention on Philip Larkin, Hardy, Swift, Coleridge, Sydney Smith, Christina Rossetti or another. I can’t believe that he chose to deliver these Clarendon Lectures as a hodge-podge. It it is more probable that he observed the impressionism that Beckett ascribed to Proust: ‘By his impressionism I mean his non-logical statement of phenomena in the order and exactitude of their perception, before they have been distorted into intelligibility in order to be farced into a chain of cause and effect.’ Ricks’s book is not enchained to cause and effect or to any other discursive process: he says things as he thinks of them and makes flourishes in the air, whirling daisy-chains of perception.’

On the white strand

Denis Donoghue, 4 April 1991

Jack Yeats’s paintings are much admired and, it appears, universally loved. I recall a large show of them a few years ago at the National Gallery in Dublin. I have rarely seen people looking at paintings with such evident pleasure. Admittedly, the show was in Dublin, and Yeats is deemed to be Ireland’s greatest painter, so those who stood before the choice paintings were prejudiced in their favour. Besides, the Ireland that appears in those paintings is long gone, and while few of us cry out for its recovery, we are touched by its residual signs. Most of the famous paintings were done between the turn of the century and, say, 1950: these include Memory Harbour, The County of Mayo, The Priest, The Cake Cart at the Races, A Daughter of the Circus, Clonskea, The Liffey, Swim, In the Tram, The Bar, The Donkey Show, A Fair Day, Mayo, Islandbridge Regatta, Crossing the Metal Bridge, The Quiet Man and The Harvest Moon. A favourite of mine is an earlier work, a watercolour, Not Pretty but Useful, of a boxer sitting in his corner.

What can the matter be?

Denis Donoghue, 5 April 1990

‘We feel in England that we have treated you rather unfairly,’ Haines says to Stephen Dedalus in the first chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses: ‘it seems history is to blame.’ But he doesn’t say which history. The history that accounts for the sporadic but endless killings in Northern Ireland begins no later than 24 December 1601, when Lord Mountjoy’s forces defeated Hugh O’Neill’s at the battle of Kinsale. After the ‘flight of the earls’ to the Continent in 1607 the way was clear for the confiscation of land throughout the country. There was a particular plan for the North. In 1610 the English and Scots Privy Councils started the Plantation of Ulster, an arrangement by which settlers were established on the best land in the northern counties of Ireland. These settlers – or ‘undertakers’, as they were called – started arriving in September: they were to build towns and fortify them, making them the centres of trade. As a case in point, the walls of Derry were completed in 1618. Catholics, ‘a threatening majority’, as Roy Foster describes them in Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (1988), were not allowed to live in the town, so they clustered in the Bogside beyond the walls.’

This is the first of two volumes in which Alan Heuser is making a selection of Louis MacNeice’s occasional writings. The first is mainly his reviews of Classical and modern literature; the second will bring together his fugitive pieces on philosophy, history, travel and autobiography. The currently renewed interest in MacNeice arises from two considerations: one, that he deserves better than to be regarded as merely one of Auden’s acolytes; two, that he may be seen as precursor to the young poets in Northern Ireland who have been making a stir, if not a Renaissance, since 1968. The first reason is cogent. MacNeice’s work didn’t issue from Auden’s overcoat; it is time to remove it from the simplifications of literary history and acknowledge that he had his own voice. The second reason is dubious. I agree with Thomas Kinsella’s view, in his Introduction to The New Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1986), that a ‘Northern Ireland Renaissance’ is ‘largely a journalistic entity’. Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, John Montague, Paul Muldoon, Seamus Deane, Michael Longley and their colleagues are from the North, and they are poets: but they are individual poets, not a school. They are not even two rival schools, though some of them have started fabricating a split, presumably in the hope of establishing that there are real forces at war.

Gentlemen Travellers

Denis Donoghue, 18 December 1986

‘I am assuming,’ Paul Fussell said in Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars (1980), ‘that travel is now impossible and that tourism is all we have left.’ To be a traveller, you have to move about alone, eschew standard procedures, avoid the commonplace of maps, and hold yourself ready for adventure. The tourist class was invented by Thomas Cook when he assembled an excursion to the Paris Exposition in 1855. Tourists change their places in groups, live as comfortably as possible, take pleasure in gregariousness, obey injunctions, keep to the main roads, and fulfil plans made by tour-promoters in advance. The appurtenances of a tourist include passports and visas, travellers’ cheques, Michelin and other guidebooks, pills to prevent sea-sickness or air-fright, and phrase-books in rare cases of need. Cameras are customary, but not essential. Movie-cameras may be used, but natives sometimes resent them.


Denis Donoghue, 6 November 1986

This is a gathering of David Lodge’s easy pieces: they are footnotes, shouldernotes and headnotes to the formal work in fiction and literary criticism he has published in the past twenty years. The book is in two parts. The first, ‘Personal and Descriptive’, includes a memoir of his first year in America, mostly a travel-year, 1964-65; his report on the turbulence at Berkeley in 1969; a trip to Poland in 1981; memories of a Catholic childhood; how he came to read Joyce; an introduction to his novel Small World; and his account of going to a Shakin’ Stevens concert in Birmingham. The second part is mostly reviews: of Norman Mailer’s The Prisoner of Sex, The Complete Uncollected Short Stories of J.D. Salinger, a book about the ‘Catholic sensibility’ of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Blake Morrison’s The Movement, Martin Amis’s Success, Tony Tanner’s Adultery in the Novel, Graham Greene’s Ways of Escape, Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons, the Oxford American Dictionary, two books – by Dan Jacobson and Robert Alter – on Biblical narrative, Robertson Davies’s The Rebel Angels, William Golding’s The Paper Men, Peter Brooks’s Reading for the Plot, and John Updike’s Hugging the Shore. There are also essays on Ring Lardner, on D.H. Lawrence, and on Structuralism, which Lodge as late as 1980 regarded as ‘the most significant intellectual movement of our time’.’

Was Swift a monster?

Denis Donoghue, 5 June 1986

The main problem for David Nokes or for any other biographer of Swift is that the agenda has already been prescribed. Within a few years of Swift’s death in 1745, questions were raised which are still the standard issues. What kind of man wrote the fourth Voyage of Gulliver’s Travels? Did his imagination give him away? ‘In painting Yahoos he becomes one himself,’ according to the Earl of Orrery’s Remarks on the Life and Writings of Dr Jonathan Swift (1752). ‘Being born amongst men and, of consequence, piqued by many and peevish at more, he has blasphemed a nature a little lower than that of angels and assumed by far higher than they,’ according to Edward Young’s Conjectures on Original Composition (1759). In short, was Swift a monster, as Samuel Johnson nearly said: ‘The greatest difficulty that occurs, in analysing his character, is to discover by what depravity of intellect he took delight in revolving ideas from which almost every other mind shrinks with disgust.’ Sixty years after Johnson, Thackeray still revolved the same motif. As for the moral of Gulliver’s Travels, he said: ‘I think it horrible, shameful, unmanly, blasphemous; and giant and great as this Dean is, I say we should hoot him.’

Now that the main ideas at large in the 18th century have been elaborately described, students of the period have been resorting to more oblique procedures. In 1968, in The Counterfeiters, Hugh Kenner turned 18th-century ideas into systems, and derived a comedy of entrapment from the spectacle of men coping somehow with systems designed to suit other people. Install a man in an ill-fitting system, and you may witness that discrepancy between the organic and the mechanical which Bergson regarded as the provocation of comedy. Kenner probably got the hint from Wyndham Lewis: if so, it is explicable that his account of Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe makes them seem like Monstre Gai and Malign Fiesta, respectively. In The Great Cat Massacre (1984) Robert Darnton described a night in Paris in the late 1730s when two apprentice printers went on the hunt for cats and staged a mock-trial before hanging them, to the raucous delight of their apprentice colleagues: the episode, as Darnton tells it, was an instance of elaborately vengeful symbolism in which workers taunted their bourgeois masters, mocked middle-class sexuality, and enjoyed Rabelaisian carnival on the margin of a society they resented. The moral of the story doesn’t seem as dramatic as the massacre of the cats, but street-history is bound to show disproportion between actions and their social meaning.

Ten Poets

Denis Donoghue, 7 November 1985

One of Donald Davie’s early poems, and one of his strongest, is ‘Pushkin: A Didactic Poem’, from Brides of Reason (1955). As in Davie’s ‘Dream Forest’, Pushkin is taken as a model, a poet

Keach and Shelley

Denis Donoghue, 19 September 1985

His is a fine book, but I wish Mr Keach had supplied a more explicit context for it. Apart from saying that Shelley’s language hasn’t been adequately described, he relies on the reader to know how the critical debate stands. He assumes too much, so I’ll mention some of the matters he takes for granted.

Raiding Joyce

Denis Donoghue, 18 April 1985

Patience is a mark of the classic, according to Frank Kermode. ‘King Lear, underlying a thousand dispositions, subsists in change, prevails, by being patient of interpretation.’ It follows that a work of art is not a classic if it insists, apparently, on being read in one way. By that criterion, Ulysses would appear to be a classic. Joyce relentlessly explicated it, and gave his fans the authorised version of its structure, but the user’s manual doesn’t limit the ways in which the book may be read. Nothing said about Ulysses seems to spoil it. But Finnegans Wake lacks this imperturbability: it seems to demand to be read in one way, and nobody knows what the way is. Obstinate rather than patient, it holds out against every effort of good will. Nothing Joyce said about it is much help.

Just a smack at Grigson

Denis Donoghue, 7 March 1985

Geoffrey Grigson’s best poem, and the type of his best poetry, is ‘His Swans’. Evidently and justly, he thinks well enough of it to put it in the Faber Book of Reflective Verse as his sole exhibit:

Venisti tandem

Denis Donoghue, 7 February 1985

A year or two ago, Geoffrey Hartman urged literary critics to declare their independence. They should not regard criticism as an activity secondary to the literature it addressed, but as an art in its own right. Think of Pater, Valéry, Blanchot. Hartman’s advice seemed bad to me, and I preferred to abide by T.S. Eliot’s assumption that the aim of criticism should be ‘the elucidation of works of art and the correction of taste’. But I have to admit that the matters of current interest to critics are miles away from the current practice of poets. Critics worry – or declare, often in high spirits, that they are worried – about the disability of language, about representation and its discontents, the crisis of meaning and value to which Post-Modernism is supposed to be a desperate response: but the poetry I read shows no sign of distress on those scores. Poets are writing under different assumptions: that language, whatever its difficulty, is good enough for the job, that the belatedness and indeterminacy of sentences are nobody’s problem but the critic’s. These poets take it nearly for granted that you can make sense by making connections, one experience with another, and that the main problem is to find a style of being present in the poem. The teller is in the tale, and the artistic effort is to make sure that his presence there is neither assertive nor apologetic. A preoccupied sense of crisis is not obligatory.’

Plain English

Denis Donoghue, 20 December 1984

Orwell took little care of his manuscripts. He didn’t anticipate that collectors of such things would pay real money for them, and that universities would think it a privilege to turn a writer’s bits and pieces into an archive. The typescript used in the printing of Nineteen Eighty-Four is in the Orwell Archive at University College London. There are also preliminary drafts of the novel – pages of handwritten and typewritten material, with corrections and additions – which correspond to a little less than half of the published text: 44 per cent, according to Peter Davison’s estimate. These have now been published in an opulent edition: the right-hand pages of the book give a full-size photograph of the material, the left-hand pages contain Professor Davison’s transcription, laboriously deciphered, the cancellings in nearly every case recovered. Orwell’s typescript is given in roman, his manuscript in italic script. The book is far too big to be held in the hand; it is for consultation on a large desk, the pages to be turned with due appreciation of the craft of editor and printer. The work of printing and binding was done in Italy by Imago Publishing Ltd, Thame.’

Making sense

Denis Donoghue, 4 October 1984

In ‘A Wave’, the title-poem of his new collection, John Ashbery says, among many other things:

Joyce’s Ulysses was published on his 40th birthday, 2 February 1922, in a limited edition of 1000 numbered copies. The text was full of misprints, as Joyce irritatedly knew. As late as November, he had been tinkering with the last chapters, getting further detail from Dublin – ‘Is it possible for an ordinary person to climb over the area railings of No 7 Eccles Street, either from the path or the steps, lower himself down from the lowest part of the railings till his feet are within 2 feet or 3 of the ground and drop unhurt?’ he wrote to his Aunt Josephine – and the galleys were demanding attention he couldn’t give them. On 6 November he complained to Harriet Shaw Weaver that ‘working as I do amid piles of notes at a table in a hotel I cannot possibly do this mechanical part with my wretched eye and a half.’ He evidently decided that he couldn’t do much about the printer’s errors in time for the birthday, but he hoped they would be corrected ‘in future editions’.

Morgan to his Friends

Denis Donoghue, 2 August 1984

On 10 February 1915 E.M. Forster visited D.H. and Frieda Lawrence at Greatham. The visit went off reasonably well, by the standards appropriate to those participants. The men, according to Forster, ‘had a two hours walk in the glorious country’ between Greatham and Arundel. Lawrence told Forster ‘all about his people – drunken father, sister who married a tailor, etc: most gay and friendly, with breaks to look at birds, catkins, etc. Last night we painted pill boxes … ’ and an editorial note explains that these were bee boxes, used for transporting live bees. But the conversation was evidently more searching than Forster’s account suggests. Nearly seven years later, Lawrence writing from Taos assured Forster that ‘Yes, I think of you – of your saying to me, on top of the downs in Sussex – “How do you know I’m not dead?” ’–

Anger and Dismay

Denis Donoghue, 19 July 1984

A few weeks ago I gave a lecture at Reading, to a Conference of Higher Education Teachers of English. My visit was brief, but long enough to reinforce my sense that teaching English has become a heavy duty. It seems to be a long drag before you get to the point of reading any literature. In the olden days a critic speaking to that Conference would have talked about a poem or a novel. I recall F.W. Bateson talking about ‘Westron Wind, when wilt thou blow’: we all assumed that this was the kind of thing we should be doing in class. Bateson went pretty directly to the poem; he didn’t examine the referential claims of language, the validity of literature as an institution, the university as an instrument of power, the authority of a literary canon, male domination in English grammar, the alleged speciousness of logocentrism, or the several theories of hermeneutics. We knew, having read Bateson’s books, that he had political attitudes: he didn’t regard linguistic acts as pure or ideologically disinterested. But he didn’t think he had to keep clearing the ground or clearing himself before coming to ‘Westron Wind’. There were, indeed, arguments at those conferences, but they were about critical methods. L.C. Knights gave us a lecture which might have been called – and perhaps was – ‘How many children has Lady Macbeth now?’ But he took enough intellectual lore for granted to get pretty quickly to Hamlet or Coriolanus. If Bateson or Knights had been lecturing to the Conference at Reading, I don’t think they would have reached a poem or a play: political entanglements, disguised as theoretical issues, would have kept them back from it.–


Denis Donoghue, 21 June 1984

One of Anthony Thwaite’s poems, ‘Tell it slant’, swerves from Emily Dickinson’s line ‘Tell all the Truth but tell it slant’ to settle upon an aesthetic procedure she would have been too nervous to enunciate:


Denis Donoghue, 2 February 1984

I’ll talk mostly about Towards 2000, so I should give a brief account of Writing in Society and Radical Earnestness to begin with. Radical Earnestness is a brisk survey of a ‘tradition of thought’, a ‘mode of feeling’, which Fred Inglis identifies as English and, in a vague sense, socialist. The tradition is characterised by ‘a habit of recourse to concrete examples in argument, a calm refusal of formal metaphysics, an unexamined criticism of “over-abstraction” (which means other people’s abstractions), and a general preference for non-systematised or pluralist theories of political life’. The writers Inglis presents under this rubric are William Morris, T.H. Green, John Maynard Keynes, R.G. Collingwood, F.R. Leavis, George Orwell, Adrian Stokes, Tony Crosland – as he calls him – Richard Titmuss, Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, John Berger, E.P. Thompson and Isaiah Berlin. If you need a stereotype of the English socialist, you may as well take this one as any other, though it’s hard to do any worthwhile thinking so long as you burden yourself with such a thing. I infer from Inglis’s reference to ‘the chic notation of the Parisian deconstructionists’ and from a footnote citing Jacques Derrida’s Grammatology that radical earnestness is what he claims for the Englishness of his English socialist tradition, a quality of mind or character consistent with a national commitment to roast beef.–

Golden Boy

Denis Donoghue, 22 December 1983

Auden’s reputation couldn’t have got off to a faster start. In January 1930 Eliot printed ‘Paid on Both Sides’ in the Criterion, and let it be known that he thought its author an especially promising poet. In September 1930 Auden’s Poems came out. ‘Dare I spot him as a winner?’ Naomi Mitchison asked in one of the earliest reviews. A few months later William Empson wrote at some length about ‘Paid on Both Sides’. He was impressed by Auden’s ability to make ‘psychoanalysis, surrealism, and all that’, all the irrationalist tendencies ‘which are so essential a part of the machinery of present-day thought’, take their place in ‘the normal and rational tragic form, and indeed what constitutes the tragic situation’. The play – Empson took it as that, not as the ‘charade’ Auden called it – had ‘the sort of completeness that makes a work seem to define the attitude of a generation’. This notion, that Auden was in straightforward possession of all the available forms of knowledge and lore and that he could speak to the issues they proposed, largely accounted for the reception of The Orators when it appeared in May 1932. By the end of that year, Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, Geoffrey Grigson, Michael Roberts, Bonamy Dobrée, John Hayward and Graham Greene had nominated Auden as the new voice. The six odes and the epilogue of The Orators, Greene said, justified Auden’s ‘being named in the same breath as Lawrence’.–

Rembrandt and Synge and Molly

Denis Donoghue, 1 December 1983

Synge’s origin was solidly Anglo-Irish, Protestant, upper-middle class: his father a well-got barrister, his mother the daughter of a Protestant parson in Schull, County Cork. Presumably it was a financial blow when his father died, but Synge was too young to feel a difference, and besides there was enough money coming from rented estates in Wicklow. The Synges were landlord-class, with the mentality that went with such privilege. As a young man, John thought himself some kind of radical in a vaguely European sense. In Ireland, he knew that the real issue was the ownership of land. In 1893 he canvassed against Gladstone’s second Home Rule Bill on the grounds that it would exacerbate the question of land and cause war between landowner and peasant. In Paris he joined Yeats and Maud Gonne in the Association Irlandaise and stayed in it as long as its talk sounded harmless, but when Maud’s journal L’Irlande Libre looked as if it would take the libre literally, he resigned from the association and told her he wouldn’t ‘get mixed up with a revolutionary and semi-military movement’. Years later, he accepted an invitation from the Manchester Guardian to write 12 articles on the impoverished areas of Galway and Mayo administered by the Congested Districts Board, but the articles, published in June-July 1905, were pretty innocuous. He wanted to see the local conditions improved, provided the peasants stayed as aesthetically winsome as they were: but he hated the few people who were comfortable enough to have acquired a double chin. Things should change: but not yet, O Lord, not yet. Synge’s political vision, in fact, didn’t amount to anything better than Yeats’s sickening ‘dream of the noble and the beggarman’. He hated the small towns, with their shopkeepers, as Yeats wrote, ‘fumbling in a greasy till’.

Ireland at Swim

Denis Donoghue, 21 April 1983

The Crane Bag is a magazine, published twice a year: each issue deals with one theme. In Irish legend, the crane bag contained the alphabet of knowledge. The bag belonged to Manannan, god of the sea: it was made from the skin of his wife Aoife, whom Manannan had transformed into a crane because she tried to steal his secret knowledge and communicate it to the world. It was believed that cranes formed the letters of the alphabet as they flew. The meaning of the letters was available only to the elect. When the first issue of The Crane Bag appeared in 1977, its editors brooded upon meanings, metaphors, occult notations, and the like. Only irrefutable evidence of editorial seriousness in the magazine as a whole set aside the question of vanity in its manifesto. The present book reprints the first ten issues: the themes are Art and Politics, a Sense of Nation, Mythology – a double issue, this – Tradition, Anglo-Irish Literature, the Irish Woman, the Northern Issue, Minorities in Ireland, and the Irish Language and Culture. I should report that the magazine, after an issue on Joyce and the Arts in Ireland, has now gone international with a Latin American issue and one on Socialism and Culture.

A University for Protestants

Denis Donoghue, 5 August 1982

In 1591 the Corporation of Dublin set aside as the site for a college the lands and dilapidated buildings of the Augustinian priory of All Hallows, which had been given to the city at the dissolution of the monasteries. A year later, on 3 March 1592, Queen Elizabeth issued a charter incorporating ‘the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity near Dublin’ as ‘the mother of a university’ with the aim of providing ‘education, training and instruction of youths and students in the arts and faculties … that they may be the better assisted in the study of the liberal arts and the cultivation of virtue and religion’. R.B. McDowell and D.A. Webb have written the history of that bizarre institution, Trinity College, from 1592 to 1952, the year in which Provost McConnell took up office and directed the College toward its present form. McDowell is a Senior Fellow of Trinity and a well-known historian. David Webb is a Fellow Emeritus of the College and Honorary Professor of Systematic Botany.

Romantic Ireland

Denis Donoghue, 4 February 1982

It is good to have the second volume of Sean O ‘Faolain’s short stories. The first brought together seven stories from Midsummer Night Madness (1932), 14 from A Purse of Coppers (1937), and 13 from Teresa, and Other Stories (1947). Now the second has ten stories from The Stories of Sean O’Faolain (1958), 11 from I remember! I remember! (1961), and ten from The Heat of the Sun (1966). In the Preface he wrote for the Penguin Stories of Sean O’Faolain (1970) he said that 30 stories were all he had to show, or all he was content to show, for more than thirty years of story-writing. One thinks, he said, of George Sand turning out volume after volume while never once neglecting a love affair, never missing one puff of her hookah. Well, no matter, O’Faolain has done many other things and written many other books besides his collections of stories. He has been, he is still, a man of letters, a novelist, biographer, autobiographer, historian, critic. But his short stories have a special place in the affections of those who care for good writing.

SIR: May I reply briefly to Peter McDonald (Letters, 21 May) and Edna Longley (Letters, 4 June) on the question of Louis MacNeice. I have never congratulated myself ‘on being more Irish than MacNeice’, or even adverted to the felicity alluded to. I’m not at all interested in Irishness (or Russianness or Americanness) if it is regarded as a metaphysical essence more or less inadequately...

An infelicity

6 February 1986

SIR: May I please remove an infelicity from my reference to Harold Rosenberg (LRB, 6 February)? In The Tradition of the New he referred to Crèvecoeur’s notion that ‘the American is a new man who acts on new principles: he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions.’ Rosenberg’s comment was: ‘Crèvecoeur’s mistake lay in assuming that every...

Plain English

20 December 1984

SIR: What I wrote about ‘plain English’ – my ‘first thousand words or so’, as Christopher Norris calls them (Letters, 24 January) – was my response to Peter Davison and Bernard Crick, not to Norris. His book reached me, as you know, some weeks later. In any case, I am pleased that he agrees with me on the rhetoric of Orwell’s style. My main disappointment with...

What is a pikestaff? Metaphor

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The Devilish God: T.S. Eliot

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Adam Phillips, 24 August 1995

In a contemporary review of The Renaissance in the Pall Mall Gazette, the critic Sidney Colvin wrote that ‘the book is not one for any beginner to turn to in search of...

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Literary Supplements

Karl Miller, 21 March 1991

Denis Donoghue has written a seductive book. Perhaps it could be said that he has spliced together two books, one of which is more seductive than the other. One of them narrates. The other...

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Green War

Patricia Craig, 19 February 1987

Wars and battles: these words, appearing prominently in the titles of two of the books under consideration, might give the impression that poetry, or criticism, or the criticism of poetry, is a...

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Claude Rawson, 4 March 1982

Denis Donoghue begins, a little self-indulgently, by reprinting six short BBC talks on ‘Words’. The excuse is that such radio talks offer a simple if incomplete model for...

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