Lionel Johnson, Academy
20 September 1890, pp. 237-9
Lionel Johnson (1867-1902), the poet, went from Oxford to London in 1890 to establish himself in a literary career. During the early 1890s, he supported himself by writing book reviews for Academy and a number of other periodicals, bringing a well-furnished mind to the consideration of a number of topics.
Johnson reviews volumes I and II only of Sommer’s work, and much of his review, omitted here, concerns the text, the previous editions, and Sommer’s comments on Malory’s syntax. Vernon Lee, referred to below, was the pen name of Violet Paget, and the reference is to a comment in her book Euphorion: Studies of the Antique and the Medieval in the Renaissance (London, 1884). Her point there was that the passionate love of some troubadour lyrics had been considerably softened; she also referred to Malory’s version as ‘our expunged English “Morte”’.
It is difficult to exaggerate the services, and the wrongs, done to English literature by German scholars. On the one hand, there is such admirable work as that of Lessing. Nowhere have we a more just and subtile appreciation of Milton and of Shakspere than in the Laocoon and the Dramaturgie. On the other hand, there is no need to name those German scholars who have wandered from learning into pedantry; and who have found in English literature a field for the display of wild and precarious theories. A bad book of scholarship, by a German scholar, is the most signal case of that saying, ‘Corruptio optimi pessima’; so that it is with some misgiving that we approach a great and weighty edition of an English classic by a German editor and critic.