Pleasing Myself by Frank Kermode Allen Lane $340 FRANK KERMODE IS one of Britain's most respected academics. Pleasing Myself contains essays he wrote for literary journals on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1990s. As each piece is self-contained, this is the sort of book that can be dipped into from time to time. There is an eclectic mix, not quite something for everyone, but when I struggled with an esoteric piece on obscure poets or modern art, I could find other material more to my taste. His essay on Shakespeare is particularly good - hardly surprising given that he wrote the best-seller Shakespeare's Language. He defends John Jones and his assertions in Shakespeare At Work. Kermode agrees with Jones that later versions of the plays were mostly revised by clumsier hands than the Bard's, but many of the changes were made by Shakespeare. For example, when censorship laws came into force in 1606 banning profanity on the stage, Shakespeare was forced to remove 52 oaths from Othello. In the process, he decided there were other parts of the text worth altering. Kermode sees nothing wrong with later revisions of published works and opposes the poetry purists who claim that retouching is sacrilege. He argues, in a review of Zachary Leader's book on the Romantic poets, Revision And Romantic Authorship, that if an author is unhappy with his 'original effusions' and wishes to give them a good paint job, that is his privilege. Wordsworth revised 'obsessively' as his youthful idealism faded with the passing years. Kermode commends Leader for praising the forgotten heroes, those publishers who had the thankless task of dealing with the Romantic brats and who had a positive influence on their work. Critics who ignore their contribution are under the 'Romantic illusion that the poet is a solitary genius'. Kermode is not an intellectual snob and has a sense of humour, which is just as well when it comes to reviewing The Foul And The Fragrant, much of which deals with the history of excrement. Attempting to defend the author, Alain Corbin, for spending so much time on the subject, he points out that before flush toilets and sewage systems, getting rid of this material from our cities was as big a problem as nuclear waste is today. Kermode is, if not unique, certainly in an elite club of critics, in that he often knows the people about whom he writes and occasionally drops in amusing anecdotes.?I? For example, when writing about the poet Henry Reed, he recalls getting tipsy with him in Seattle one afternoon and ending up in some filthy dive where they were approached by ladies of dubious repute. ' 'Surely they can tell I'm homosexual,' Reed said as if puzzled, though quite how they could be expected to do so was obscure to me.' Kermode is also sympathetic to the imperfections and foibles of so many great writers. He devotes two pieces to the poet and critic William Empson and discusses Empson's hatred of Christianity, which clouded his otherwise brilliant analysis of John Donne. Empson was convinced that even though Donne became a parson, famous for his sermons and devotional writings, he never really believed in the doctrines of the church. Kermode maintains that for all his faults, Empson's 'writings about Donne are labours of love, and have their own inwardness'.