Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties

By Edmund Wilson | Go to book overview

GEORGE SAINTSBURY:
GOURMET AND GLUTTON

IT IS SOMETIMES SAID of entertaining writers that reading them is like eating peanuts. The literary criticism of George Saintsbury has for a long time had this effect on me. I cannot start one of his books, or even dip into one, without reading more than I meant to, and my appetite still carries me on even after the pleasure has cloyed. I have recently had this experience with the new reprint of The Peace of the Augustans in the World's Classics series, published by the Oxford Press. This Survey of Eighteenth Century Literature as a Place of Rest and Refreshment is in Saintsbury's later and more personal manner, but not so garrulous as the History of the French Novel, which came after it, and it would be, I should think, an ideal book with which to begin reading this author. Here you have at their best his easy handling of biography and history, his expert analysis of the technique of writing, his unexpected and witty allusions, his warm and luminous glow and his inexhaustible curiosity.

Reading The Peace of the Augustans, I came at last to realize that Saintsbury, besides being a great critic and scholar, was one of the best English writers of his time. The spell that he can cast in his more mature work is of a kind that is not common in literary criticism;

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