Basil Willey

I went to Oxford partly in order to hear one of Stefan Collini’s Ford Lectures, which was devoted to a deep and occasionally contemptuous analysis of Basil Willey’s Seventeenth-Century Background, which was first published in 1934 and still in print when I was a student in a Peregrine edition.   I was made to feel badly that I had enjoyed and admired his books, particularly the later Nineteenth-Century Studies, which I remember as a highly literate and wide-ranging introduction to the relationship between literature and the history of ideas.  At least I discovered this morning that Collini’s DNB entry on Willey is more sympathetic, although not without a sense that it was Willey who took Cambridge English in the direction of moralism.

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One thought on “Basil Willey

  1. For anyone like me reading English at Cambridge in the early 1960s, Basil Willey was essential reading : although not as trenchant and original as Leavis, his criticism, like Queenie Leavis’s, was shot through with a love and generosity that the great FR often could not manage.

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