The TLS of 24 June, 2016 published an edited piece of Graves’ from 1958 under this title. As one might anticipate this is a fairly outspoken defense of serious reading. No allowances here for the leisure-time reading of the unwashed masses: “reading” means reading books which the uncompromising poet knows to be “good” books.
The author really weighs in. “Is one in a hundred [books] still worth reading?” “It is easy enough to blame the publishers for this gigantic fraud on the public,” though he’s later willing to give British publishers a grudging pat on the back as less trash-obsessed that their American counterparts. “Many boys and girls could not be made to read a book even by Act of Parliament.” “Books which have been boring to write are boring to read . . . British authors are on the whole dull dogs, and keep their pots boiling at a sadly low temperature” He later excepts Kingsley Amis and C. P. Snow from his trashing of the modern British author, allowing them alone to join the company of Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope. It’s nice to hear the old curmudgeon rant, but do we really want to hear this in an age where such elitist judgements have been buried in political correctness? One has to “make allowances” for someone who speaks like this, though of course in the olden days this was just the way things were. Having said that, I did enjoy reading the piece, and of course there’s part of you which likes to agree with him that the world’s going to hell in a handbasket. But one wonders why the TLS chose to republish this, far from Graves at his best. Do they have some grudge against the poor old guy?
I’ve always liked Robert Graves. I own two marginally different editions of his Selected Poems. Goodbye to all that, and the famous fiction of course: but mainly it was his lit crit and myth work. I splashed happily around in The White Goddess and The Greek Myths, but I was bowled over by The Crowning Privilege: Collected Essays on Poetry. Penguin did it in 1955 — but I can’t imagine I bought it before 1961, no doubt still new, costing an unbelievable four shillings, probably at Bowes & Bowes in Cambridge. It obviously wasn’t fast seller, as it appears never to have been reprinted, and unsurprisingly is now out of print. As you can see I’ve not lost my copy! Must read it again.
When I was an editor I once met Laura Riding, though by then she was calling herself Laura (Riding) Jackson — you’ve got to love those parens. I am ashamed to say I have very little memory of the meeting or of her, beyond the impression of disorderly hair, and a vague recollection that she was shopping some crack-pot manuscript by her recently deceased husband, Schuyler B. Jackson. Can it have been Rational Meaning? That seems to be his only published work, albeit jointly written with his energetic wife, and, no doubt — such was her cast of mind — muse.