"My mother had a Tennyson; her present parallel would not possess Eliot or Auden." Sir Frederic J. Osborn
T he canon of English poetry since the Renaissance, as established by the High Victorian Francis Palgrave in his selections for The Golden Treasury ( 1861), had "a certain unity"; he divided his anthology "Of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language" into "Books of Shakespeare, Milton, Gray, and Wordsworth." If Palgrave had continued his canon into his own time, he would most certainly have added a "Book of Tennyson--the friend to whom his collection was dedicated. Palgrave's mid-nineteenth-century assumptions remained explicitly turn-of-the-century Romantic -- tradition defined as "natural growth," and canon understood on the basis of Shelley's Neoplatonic ideal of "'that great Poem which all poets, like the cooperating thoughts of one great mind, have built up since the beginning of the world.'" A hundred years later--by the time Palgrave's nineteenth-century selection had been supplemented by Philip Larkins's twentieth-century one in The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century Verse ( 1973)--another book had been added to the English canon that could be called the "Book of Hardy."
For the generation of poets like Larkin who came of age after World War II, it was Thomas Hardy, and not W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, or Ezra Pound, who seemed central--again--to the English canon. Between the world wars, the figures of the international Modernist movement, particularly Eliot through his essays, aggressively attempted to displace Hardy and the English tradition from the literary mainstream (a dis-