Wordsworth & The Poetry of Sincerity. David Perkins, Harvard & O.U.P., 32s. 6d.
‘Sincerity’ is potentially the focus for an elaborate definition of what distinguishes ‘modern’ or post neo-classic culture from what preceded it. Most of the other key concepts—originality, romanticism, personality, inspiration, spontaneity etc—belong in the same cluster, and a number of the perennial critical debates (such as that on Intention) often depend on unrealized assumptions about sincerity—unrealized mainly because the idea is as much a moral as aesthetic one, as the word’s many debased contexts imply. This overlapping of ethical with theoretical zones obviously makes Wordsworth an attractive centre from which to explore the term—because of his historical moment and also because, as Perkins says, ‘he is a moving example of a man dominated by a moral ideal’. In fact the word does not stand up well under the treatment; a satisfactory discussion would need a much wider framework than Wordsworth offers and Perkins has tacitly to leave sincerity behind several times because important things to be said about the poet elude the grasp of the governing emphasis. Thus the book is best regarded as another critical ‘coverage’ of Wordsworth, and ‘sincerity’, pending sophisticated and probing redefinition, as one of the less useful items in the limited English critical vocabulary.
By this less ambitious standard, Perkins’ treatment of Wordsworth is more lucid than John Jones, less dogmatic than Bateson and certainly better than most of the other American contributions. For insight and stimulus on the English Romantics, however, it is relatively limp compared to Perkins’ own previous book, The Quest For Permanence.