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Auden subtitles this a ""commonplace book,"" and so it is in form, one ""in which one records passages or matters to be especially remembered or referred to, with or without arrangement."" The content, however, is decidedly, and wonderfully, idiosyncratic. Auden is a mixture of eagle and magpie, so it is delightfully instructive to learn what such a rare bird has in his nest. The entries are grouped under such rubrics as Sin, Time, Numbers (Friendly and Perfect, or Irrational), Landscapes (Fens, Limestone, Basalt), Bishops, Bores, and Penis Rivalry; the favorite authors run from Augustine to Chesterton, Bettelheim and Lorenz to Mrs. Florence Aadland, whose gift to posterity is her genteel account of her daughter's affair with Errol Flynn (see Personal Hygiene). Auden's supremely catholic taste loves everything except the solemn, yet it would be foolish to think this very personal anthology has been frivolously assembled. It is, as Auden suggests, ""a sort of autobiography,"" and any critic worth his salt, sifting these collected aphorisms, proverbs, and what-nots, should be able to discern a mind sharp as granite, founded on a thoroughgoing classical education, yet tempered by all the peculiar realities of life and individual history. He pokes slyly at his narcissism, and quotes Malcolm de Chazal: ""A mirror has no heart but plenty of ideas."" He quotes Rozanov: ""Respect for the past must be pious, but not mad,"" and we take this as emblematic of his own middle way. In an age when culture has been so traduced by contemporary claptrap, it is a boon to come across something so luminous, civilized, and piquant.

Pub Date: June 26th, 1970
Publisher: Viking