Writing a roundup review of Ezra Pound’s Personae and Exultations in the London Daily News in 1909, R. E. Scott-James praises a poetry that shows “no eking out of thin sentiment.” This is a verse that “suggests virility in action combined with fierceness, eagerness, tenderness,” demonstrating an admirable capacity for “passionate conviction.” If, accordingly, Pound sometimes “writes out of an exuberance of incontinently struggling ideas,” the youthful poet eludes any censure by this measure: “exuberance,” it turns out, is the temperament Scott-James has established as the major category of value a year earlier in Modernism and Romance. He is now romancing a modernity of vital energy and optimistic progress in Pound, whose youth and New World background may suit him especially to the agenda of that critical book. In Pound’s early poems, Scott-James is finding the qualities of the literature that, in his critical conception, expresses best the temper of the new century.
Writing about the same poet in the same year in the English Review, Edward Thomas takes a different tack. “To say what this poet has not is not difficult; it will help to define him. He has no obvious grace, no sweetness, hardly any of the superficial good qualities of modern versifiers.” In a review that seeks at least – or at most – to be not uncomplimentary, Thomas offers a set of negative definitions to the positive qualities Scott-James appreciates in his account. These two reviews may be seen as oppositional complements. They reveal the qualities the two critics would unite in opposing, and they join as representatives of a consensus center in English literary culture at this moment.