Books: Literary Conscience

THE EXPENSE OF GREATNESS—R. P. Blackmur—Arrow Editions ($3).

These 13 relentless, triple-chilled critical essays are not for easy readers. Critic Blackmur's key word is responsibility—the responsibility of a writer to be no less than excellent in both matter and manner. Always tortuously, often brilliantly, he applies his implacable test to great and near-great men: Hardy, Yeats, T. E. Lawrence, Melville, Henry Adams, Housman, Thomas Wolfe, others.

Melville, says steely Critic Blackmur, "habitually used words greatly," but was grievously limited to "putative statement" —to talking about dramatic intentions rather than embodying them. He was at...

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