Tuesday, May 24, 2022

'Its Mirth Is Boistrous'

The streets in downtown Annapolis between the Maryland State House and the U.S. Naval Academy are narrow and paved with brick. On Maryland Street, next to Galway Bay Irish Restaurant, where we had dinner Saturday night, is Old Fox Books, a small but carefully curated bookstore. I saw little junk on the shelves and the owner told me all of her books are digitally catalogued – a feat labor-intensive and much appreciated by serious readers. I was hoping to find a good sturdy hardback copy of my favorite Conrad, Nostromo, to replace the beat-up paperback I’ve had for years. No such luck.

However, I did find Literary Studies by Walter Bagehot, whose work I want to know better. This is the Everyman’s Library edition (1911; rev. 1950). In “Sterne and Thackery,” Bagehot makes it clear he’s not fond of the author of Tristram Shandy: “It is a great work of art, but of barbarous art. Its mirth is boisterous. It is provincial.” Well, . . .


I also found a nice first American edition of Literary Distractions (1958) by Msgr. Ronald Knox. Of him Matthew Walther wrote in First Things, with only modest exaggeration:


“The greatest writer of English prose in the last century, P. G. Wodehouse excepted, was not Lytton Strachey or Logan Pearsall Smith or the E. M. Forster of Pharos and Pharillon or Hugh Trevor-Roper. It was certainly not John Updike or William Faulkner, who did not always write English. It was not, alas, Evelyn Waugh. Nor, one is forced to admit, somewhat reluctantly, was it Dom David Knowles, the golden-voiced singing-master of monastic history. It is Msgr. Ronald Knox who must take the silver medal.”

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