In September of 1944, W. H. Auden wrote for The New Republic a review of a book by Charles Norris Cochrane called Christianity and Classical Culture. His review began with this short paragraph: “Since the appearance of the first edition in 1040, I have read this book many times, and my conviction of its importance to the understanding not only of the epoch with which it is concerned, but also of our own, has increased with each rereading.”
There are several points here worthy of our consideration:
1) That a major literary figure, during perhaps the most prolific season of his career (as poet, essayist, and reviewer), would within four years read one particular book “many times”;
2) That anyone would within four years read one book “many times”;
3) That a major poet would be allowed to write long essay-reviews for The New Republic on topics outside his “area of specialization”;
4) That a book about the transition from a pagan classical culture to some kind of “Christendom” could be said to have deep relevance to a great world war occurring sixteen hundred years later;
5) That a major weekly magazine would run a review of a dense, scholarly book four years after its appearance, thereby implicitly acknowledging that (a) editors can sometimes miss important cultural events, (b) significantly demanding works of scholarship can take a while to make their presence properly felt, and (c) novelty isn’t everything: some intellectual achievements have long shelf-lives, and even weekly magazines need not be forbidden to acknowledge that.
Points worth considering, that’s all I’m saying.
P.S. Norris’s book remains a great one, and a lovely edition is now available from the Liberty Fund.