By Neville Bra ybrooke
AUBREY DE VERF, by Sister M. P. Reilly (Clonmore and Reynolds, 18s.).
THIS is the first full-length biography of Aubrey de Vere
(1814-1902) to be published. Not a long book, it is exceptionally thorough; within less than 150 pages, it covers his life, friendships and works.
As a poet. essayist and critic he was not a major figure, but he seems to have met nearly all the major figures of his day: and not only was he able to criticise quite freely the poems and essays of Wordsworth, Tennyson and Longfellow, Coventry Patmore, the Brownings and Alice Meynell, but, what was more, he was able to remain on the best of terms with them A comparison perhaps could be drawn with Samuel Rogers; their I religious outlooks might differ and I yet both were equally splendid listeners: their talents lay in stimulating rather than creating opinions. De Vere knew intimately three Cardinals -Newman, Manning and
Herbert Vaughan. Moreover, iri their company, he was as acute an observer as a listener (the book is sub-titled "A Victorian Observer ") -although his observations were never really developed to the full.
Of Cardinal Manning, he wrote that "preaching . . to him . was simply thinking aloud." It is odd that when contrasting the two men he should have failed to relate this to Newman's description of style as "a thinking out into language." Again, to shift to another age, it is odd that his present biographer forgets to add T. S. Eliot's definition of sensibility as "a re-creation of thought into feeling." But such leaps, by which criticism is turned into a creative art, are as much beyond Sister Reilly as they were beyond de Vere.
The importance of men like de Vere, or the importance of books like this, lies in the fact that they help readers more easily to understand the Catholic Literary Revival. Sister Reilly is an extremely diligent researcher and her book fills a gap. Perhaps later she might turn to another Victorian Observer-Digby Mackworth Dolben, the religioue poet. who died in 1867. This is another gap that waits to be filled, and I cannot think of a writer after all her work on de Vere, better suited to the task than Sister Reilly.