Features September 2022
The life & afterlife of “Festus”
On Philip James Bailey’s masterpiece.
Philip James Bailey’s Festus is the most popular poem most people have never heard of.1 An epic in twenty cantos about the end of time in the Faustian mode, it all but dominated literary conversation in the early Victorian period and was hugely influential on authors now widely revered. Early critical discussions of the poem were concerned not with the fact of its influence so much as the scope. F. B. Money-Coutts pleads, for example, in the periodical The Academy in 1901, that “not from any audience chamber ought this great, this conscientious prophet-poet to be dismissed without being fully heard” and that “Mr. Bailey’s life-work deserves, not an ephemeral comment, but a volume of earnest analysis.”
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