If Stevie Smith (1902-70) wasn't the reincarnation of Edward Lear, whoever was? The seemingly artless sing-song ditty/verse that is built upon an impish but devastating naturalism. The accompanying line drawings. The sweet personal amiability in strange coexistence with thematic terror. All these qualities--in both the prose and poetry--are at long last being seen by many as something more than a spinster's eccentricity, than a melancholic's charm. And this superbly edited new gathering of her work provides abundant evidence for a more serious estimation of the Smith canon. Here, for instance, is the wonderful story ""Sunday at Home"": ""Greta was lying in bed and thinking about hell and crying and thinking that hell is the continuation of policy."" Here, too, are the essays. In defense of suburbs: ""Life in the suburb is richer at the lower levels. At these levels the people are not selfconscious at all, they are at liberty to be as eccentric as they please, they do not know that they are eccentric."" On poetry: ""All the poems Poetry writes may be called 'Heaven, a Detail,' or ""Hell, a Detail.'"" A piece on cats (""There is something about the limitless inability of a beast to meet us on human ground, that cannot but pique, and by pique attract""), remarkable pieces on the seductiveness of being tired (and its ultimate corollary, death), on Christianity--about which Smith was very skeptical. And book reviews, including especially shrewd words on Simone Well: "". . . a learned yet feverish intelligence driven by a relentless will and working death upon the luckless body that was its host. At the same time one sees a generous girl, a cocksure girl anxious to put the world right and know the world's pain by enduring it. . . ."" Plus--from previously uncollected poems--such lines as: ""Marriage I think/For women/Is the best of opiates/It kills the thoughts/That think about the thoughts,/It is the best of opiates.' In all: a remarkable trove of Smith's unmatchable wit and openness and nerve--grand for enthusiasts, but just as fine for newcomers.