"Literature is an avenue to glory ever open for
those ingenious men who are deprived of honors or of wealth."
These volumes—one of letters, the other heavily dependent on correspondence—document and analyze, respectively, episodes of American literary history that feature three brilliant personalities. These volumes will surely attract readers on that basis, for there is an element of celebrity, of controversy and gossip, attaching to the names of Allen Tate and Robert Lowell, and even to Andrew Lytle's name. Beyond that level, however, there is substance to be gleaned, and lessons learned. These volumes are in their different ways instructive, entertaining, and chastening. I find them above all both uplifting and deflating; for when I am not buoyed by their contents, I am cast down by comparisons with the literary scene of today.
The letters between Andrew Lytle and Allen Tate are in effect the body of over forty years (1927-1968) of literary and cultural comradeship. Their association as Agrarians, famously expressed in I'll Take My Stand (1930), is here documented expansively as a shared point of view rather than the particular political position that would be presently construed. That viewpoint distinguished Allen Tate (1899-1979) from most of his contemporaries, and it still distinguishes Andrew Lytle—perhaps...