Ong begins this essay by exploring the background of the early English Renaissance. He notes the unusual amount of attention given to the works of Thomas More and comments that More's works have never been examined with as much precision as they are now. The next section looks at two studies, A Preface to The Faerie Queen by Graham Hough and William Nelson's The Poetry of Edmund Spenser. In A Preface to The Faerie Queen, Hough uses Spenser's idea of a dream, which is about epic form rather than about chivalry or the national scene, as his basic structure. In The Poetry of Edmund Spenser, Nelson examines Spenser's own poetic development and shows interest in structure as determined by specific themes not consciously controlled by Spenser.
Ong's third section looks into non-dramatic poetry and the importance of literary relationships between England, France, and the Low Countries. In the next section, Ong writes about the editing to Milton's work being done at Yale, and he also writes about the many works that have been influenced by Milton's style. This is followed by a discussion of Joan Webber's Contrary Music: The Prose Style of John Donne. Ong points out that Webber examines Donne's style and uses distinctions between Ciceronian and Senecan to show how Donne uses a mix of both of these styles rather than limiting himself to one or the other. Ong continues by writing about Joel Spingarn's A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance. Ong believes this book is a pioneering achievement, yet is also the reason for the lack of originality in Renaissance writing.
Finally, Ong delves into Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy (another essay by Ong which looks into McLuhan's work is "McLuhan as Teacher"). Ong points out that although The Gutenberg Galaxy has a "mosaic" quality, there are indications that Renaissance writings are central to its purpose. Ong concludes with one major question to be answered by readers: Where has good Renaissance writing been and where is it going?
Jon C. Lippert
University of Dayton