Saturday, December 04, 2004 +

On Lionel Trilling, 2

Joseph Epstein repeats a vulgar error when he says of Lionel Trilling that “as his fame grew, his prose grew more mandarin, ponderous, and qualified, and his intellectual windup could be so elaborate that his actual pitch, disappointingly, often did not seem to have much on it”—vulgar not because of its reference to baseball (which Jacques Barzun loves—Trilling preferred fishing), but because it echoes the common notion that in late Trilling there is too much manner for the matter. Mr. Epstein is also mistaken in saying that Trilling had “philosophical ambitions.”

Lionel Trilling’s ambitions were almost entirely literary. Critics still do not know Trilling. When they do they will discover that the style of Beyond Culture and Sincerity and Authenticity embody in a happy way what he had to give as a critic. That Trilling was not, in his heart, a critic is perhaps another matter.