A collection by a versatile man of letters; The Portable Edmund Wilson, edited by Lewis M. Dabney. New York: Viking-Penguin. 547 pp. $6.95 (paperback).

Here is a generous assortment of the literary criticism and other writings of the most versatile man of letters in our recent history. Editor Dabney rightly identifies Wilson's salient qualities as ''his ability to connect the spheres of art and politics, to mediate between modernism and the literature of the past'' - and presents nearly 30 selections that graphically show these qualities in action.

Several personal essays include memoirs of his family and their ''Old Stone House'' in upstate New York, praise of his Princeton teacher Christian Gauss, and a long account of his lifetime infatuation and friendship with Edna St. Vincent Millay. Indicative of Wilson's ''concern with social justice and responsibility'' are his sympathetic descriptions of the lives of coal miners and auto workers and his penetrating analysis of ''The Partnership of Marx and Engels.''

The best of the literary studies include his intuition of James Joyce as ''the great poet of a new phase of the human consciousness,'' his celebrated analysis of the ''psychic wound'' that made Dickens into a great ''dark'' novelist, and the masterly, wide-ranging essay on ''The Historical Interpretation of Literature.''

One of the best ''Portables'' yet; an invaluable book.

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