Laughing at Poetry

Laughing at SwinburneIn the April 24th 1942 issue of John O’London’s Weekly can be found a perceptive view by the essayist Robert Lynd on the subject of risible poetry written by good poets. He takes his cue from an incident a century before when Thomas Wakley, the founder of the Lancet, stood up in the Commons to mock some puerile lines from ‘Louisa’ by the Poet Laureate, William Wordsworth.

Lynd then goes on to wonder whether ‘absurdities were so common in the older poets as they came in the period that followed the French Revolution. Shakespeare and Milton seem never to have descended to such unconscious ludicrousness as Wordsworth. I do not think that any of the older poets ever wrote a line that parodies itself so easily as Swinburne’s :–

Swallow, my sister: O Sister

     Swallow. 

‘One of Swinburne’s loveliest poems, ‘Before a Mirror ‘, Lynd continues, ‘begins with a verse of extraordinary nonsense –at least, containing extraordinary nonsense—and yet who can fail to be moved by it:– Continue reading

A Thousand Ways to earn in Living in 1888

1,000 ways to earn a living cover 001As most people know, 1888 was the year in which ‘Jack the Ripper’ committed his heinous crimes. It has been argued that the murderer was a trained surgeon , and under the heading ‘ Medicine’ in A Thousand Ways to Earn a Living ( Tit Bits Offices, 1888) we learn that a naval surgeon could earn from 11 – 17 shillings per day, while weekly pay for a police constable in London started at 28 shillings.

Predictably, the pay structure for members of the ‘oldest profession ‘is not included, although a typical’ lady of the night’ in the East End probably earned more in a week than would an average jobbing actress, whose wages as a ‘super’ in a theatre (the equivalent today of an Assistant Stage Manager) according to the Guide, would be between 10 and 15 shillings a week. Having worked herself up to the top of her profession, via elocution lessons and the inevitable casting couch, a budding Lily Langtry might earn as much as £30 or £40 a week. And all this before the era of Cinema and TV!

As for those who reported the murders and printed the newspapers, pay rates were also surprisingly good. A reporter on a London ‘ daily ‘ could earn anything from £3 to £7 a week, while a sub-editor’s pay might be between £5 and £16. However, a leader writer on a London paper could command £500 to £1,600 per annum and an editor from £500 to £2,000. Continue reading

Reviewers getting it wrong

 

Robert Frost picA Boy’s Will by Robert Frost, reviewed by C. R. Orage in The New Age , June 12th 1913.

‘He declares of his friends meeting with him after some years:-

They would not find me changed from him they knew—

Only more sure of all I thought was true (trew).

 

Evidently he dreamed no great dreams, believed in nothing beyond the will of a mortal boy to accomplish. Let him trot along “in the gloaming “, as he says, with his Mary, and rhyme “those is” with “roses”. As idle rubbish is published every day.’

Frost, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and now recognised as one of America’s greatest poets, was nearly forty when he published this debut collection, which was generally well received. Elsewhere in the same issue, Orage was equally harsh on Yeats, another great poet, who, though only nine years older than Frost, was already established as a leader of the Celtic Twilight movement. From his treatment of all but one of the other poetry and novels reviewed in this issue, Orage clearly despised pretentiousness, preciousness, poetical clichés, lovey-dovey verse, Georgianism, fancy and whimsy, Edwardian chicklit, and melodrama about marriages. The trouble is, Frost’s collection demonstrated none of these faults. Perhaps he just didn’t like Americans.

The only collection Orage approved of was Green Days and Blue Days by P. R. Chalmers—‘fifty or so ditties by a modern young man’, according to Orage. Chalmers, a banker by profession, wrote other ‘ditties‘ and also books on hunting. [R.M.Healey]

 

An attack on Oscar Wilde and Yeats

Yeats picFound, in the June 12, 1913 issue of a famous review is this scalding attack on two famous Irish writers.

In his “Oscar Wilde: a Critical Study “…Mr Ransome remarks that he cannot understand why the Oscar Wilde period (with Mr Yeats, I may add, as its tail-piece) was ever called decadent. Surely, it is either disingenuous or incompetent to fail in such an easy matter. The school was called decadent because it was decadent; and the decadence consisted in the usual feature of decadence, namely the elevation of the part above the whole in value. Pater, I verily believe, never had an idea in his life. In consequence he spent the whole of his energy in concealing the fact in his style. On his style he spent enormous pains as if he knew that he would live by that or nothing. That, I say– the over-attention to style—is decadence. Wilde again was never even a man of letters. Mr Ransome in my opinion utterly fails to present Wilde as he was –an Irish causeur and wit, a born blarney, a talker. In his conversation Wilde was as nearly natural as a self-conscious Irishman in England can possibly be ; that is, he talked to the English as if they were an exotic Frenchman, never by any chance, aiming at the truth, but aiming always at producing in us a pleasant gaping admiration of his cleverness. There are plenty of such Irishmen in England today, only their vogue is past and they no longer surprise us. Too clever for his intellect I called one of them a few weeks ago. Mr Ransome, however, takes Wilde seriously, if critically, as a writer, as a literary man. But as a writer, if you like, Wilde was a poseur. With a pen in his hand he was no longer Wilde but a sort of figure which I can only describe as Turveydrop on paper. He finicked among the words and phrases of the language as if he was playing court to them and was expecting a rebuff from the English genius at any moment. I never saw a page of Wilde that had not “ amateur “ in the vulgar sense written all over it , in vocabulary, in phraseology , and in construction. That also, when the writer is unaware of it, is decadence. It is not mastery of the language, but service under it, as under a mistress. And our language, thank goodness, hates the man who treats it as if it were the Lady of Shallot or Isolda. It is a queen, and its best courtiers are Prime Ministers. Continue reading

Frances Mundy-Castle: a neglected poet

Democrats Chapbook cover 001The identity of the ‘ quiet woman‘ who wrote A Democrat’s Chapbook (1942), a hundred page long commentary in free verse on the events of the Second World War up to the time when America joined the Allied forces, was only revealed when Anne Powell included two passages from it in her anthology of female war poetry, Shadows of War (1999 ). However, those who had read her volume of Georgian verse entitled Songs from the Sussex Downs ( 1915), a copy of which was found in the collection of Wilfred Owen, might have recognised the style as that of ‘Peggy Whitehouse’, whose Mary By the Sea also appeared under this name in 1946. All three books were the work of Mrs Frances Mundy –Castle (1875 – 1959).

Thanks to her son Alistair, we now know a little more about Mrs Mundy-Castle. We know, for instance, that she came from a wealthy family and that at the age of sixteen she published a volume of her poems. She then married Mr Mundy-Castle, who managed a local brickworks, and the family settled down at Cage Farm, an early eighteenth century house on the eastern outskirts of Tonbridge. Here she seems to have held a sort of salon for local writers and artists, among whom was the cult artist and writer Denton Welch, who lived a mile or so away and was friends with her daughter Rosemary. In his later years, according to his biographer, she was ‘a frequent target of his malicious humour ‘, despite the fact that it was she who had given him the idea of writing his first book. Continue reading

The Worst English Poets—number 4—Rev Edward Dalton

Jot 101 Worst poets cover 001The Rev Edward Dalton was a Victorian cleric and leading light in the Protestant Association. Here is an extract from his sublime effusion, ‘The Railway Journey’ (in The Sea, the Railway Journey and other Poems, London c1875)

The last friends part,

And off we start,

The engine pants and snorts and blows,

The carriage doorways slam and close,

The broad and ponderous wheels are rolled

By thick-set arms of iron mould,

While streaming from the sprouting side

The steam escapes in hissing tide.

Cranch, crunch, thud, rud, dubber-dub-rub.

Thudder, rubber, dub-dub-dub- a- rub-rub.

 

Startled at starting, for our nerves are weak,

We gasp for breath,

Grow pale as death,

As one long piercing, shrill, unearthly shriek

Rings thro’ ears, and stops the power to speak,

The cry of anguish, or vindictive yell

Of baffled imp, or vanquished fiend of hell,

The death-shriek of some monstrous beast,

We’ve smashed a million pigs at least.

Ah no! no sucking pig has lost a bristle,

The shriek was but the starting railway whistle,

Our speed increases as we rattle down

And reach the suburbs of the outer town;

And there, yes, there

On the look-our slope of the garden sward

I caught a glimpse of my darling Maude… Continue reading

Leavis’s ‘life enhancing’ piano shop

Leavis pianos pic 001Found in the May Week 1914 issue of the Cambridge student magazine Mandragora is this full page advert for the Regent Street piano shop run by Frank Leavis’s father Harry. Pianos figured very large in the lives of the Leavis family. Harry’s brother ran a piano shop in Mill Road and their father was a piano tuner in another part of the city. According to his biographer, Dr Leavis admired his father, apparently a cultured man, very much. It is not known whether Leavis, or his simian-faced wife, Queenie, played the piano.

Leavis was in his first year studying history at Emmanuel College when the advert appeared. When war broke out a few months later he signed up, but after a year was permitted to resume his studies at Cambridge—this time in the newly formed English department. Apart from short spells teaching at York, Wales and Bristol, Leavis spent his whole academic life in Cambridge, setting up home in Bulstrode Gardens–then an enclave of ‘thirties villas off the Madingley Road on the edge of the city, but now next door to both the Cavendish Laboratory and the Institute of Astronomy. How Leavis would have loathed this juxtaposition.

Interestingly, his dad’s piano shop lay almost opposite Downing College, where Leavis was to spend much of his time brain-washing vulnerable students. It is now a ‘Pizza Hut ‘fast food restaurant. He would have hated that too.

[Sent in by a loyal jotwatcher – opinions are his, although the tide seems to have turned against the Leavises this century. Take it or Leavis..]

Up and coming authors in 1895

William-Pett-RidgeFound in The Album for August 19th, 1895, are these encouraging words for aspiring fiction writers:-

Let no boy or girl, ambitious of literary fame, fear nowadays that they will be denied a hearing. The one thing necessary is merit—something to say and the power to say it. Granted so much, and industry, success is certain.

Take the case of two young men who have fought their way into success, and with whose careers I happen to be familiar. They are Mr W Pett Ridge (above) and Mr H. G. Wells. Neither had any influence; neither, when they began to write, had friends in the literary world; neither had the advantage of a ‘Varsity education; and yet these two young men have six books between them on the eve of publication. Moreover, the stories and articles and dialogue that make up these books having already appeared in serial form, these authors have already made incomes out of them which barristers or bank-clerks of the same age would consider exceedingly handsome.

How was it done? Just by choosing fresh subjects, by looking at those subjects with fresh eyes, and by having the gumption to know what journals those subjects would suit. Mr Pett Ridge is a London born and bred, and a Londoner who was blessed by nature with a most observant eye, great patience, and quite an abnormal sense of humour…Hardly a day passes but the writes a short story or a dialogue and hardly a night passes but his shrewd brown eyes peer into some corner of the London he knows as well as Mr Gladstone knows Downing Street…
Continue reading

C. K. Scott Moncrieff – The Ideal Translator

Found- a press cutting from The Bookman, March 1932 by one De V. Payen-Payne, a good evaluation of the life and work of C. K. Scott Moncrieff – in a review of a posthumous book by him. It may be a myth or an exaggeration but I heard that Scott-Moncrieff was working on his monumental Proust translation while on the staff at The Times and occasionally when he was stuck for the English mot juste (as it were) he would consult the entire office and everything came to a halt while the right word was found – world news be damned!

Edward_Stanley_Mercer_-_Charles_Kenneth_Scott-Moncrieff

Painting of Scott Moncrieff by E S Mercer

It is a moot point whether a mother or a wife or any near relative can write the ideal biography. Not that this book pretends to be a biography, although it contains many details that only a mother can give, and will prove invaluable when the ideal biographer appears, and Scott Moncrieff’s work is assessed critically and compared with the lit he led. Some may think that too much space has been given to his experiences in the War and to the letters that he wrote to his family and friends when on service. Since 1918 we have a large number of such accounts, and Scott Moncrieff’s adventures, although most creditable to himself, were not very different from those of many other intellectual men thrown into the cortex of combat. Others too may think that the postscript is too personal for inclusion. Instead of it, an index would have been a desirable adjustment.  Continue reading

Mary Fitt – life as a caravanserai

Found on the back of a 1946 green Penguin Death and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt this self-penned portrait of herself. Mary Fitt (1897-1959) is fairly well covered online, both under her real name Kathleen Freeman, and her pseudonym – under which she wrote classic late golden age detective fiction. As Kathleen 9710253386Freeman she wrote many books on Ancient Greece, Socrates, the Sophists etc, She lived near Cardiff with a friend Lilian Clopet also a writer – Lilian survived her by 30 years. There is a good bibliography of both writers at the University of Toronto site.  The piece on the back of the Penguin is charming and informative:

Asked for a biography, Mary Fitt says:

‘It is, I think, the writer of fiction who is interest to the public, not the person of whom the writer is a part. Therefore I do not propose to give details of where I was born, where educated, and so forth. In my character as Author, I was born some years later than myself, in that part of the world which lies between classical Greece and Elizabethan England.

‘In the present, the Author and I have identical interests. We live in the country, in what a friend recently described as “your Italian-blue house”. It is not Italian, but it is blue – sky-blue*. Our hobbies are – our hobby is – people, their pleasant or queer or sinister possibilities; for we have noticed that Character really is Destiny.

‘Such a hobby involves travelling; so we travel, but not as Author: people see authors coming and they “talk script”; we like to see and hear them as they are off the set, because what they then say and do is new.

‘My interests range over time and space. My greatest regret is that one day I too shall have to pack up and leave this caravanserai, which is so mad, so bad, and so wonderful.’ 

*Lark’s Rise, a house in St. Mellons.

Wilhelmina Stitch

WilhelminaFound a fine copy of Beacons in the Night (Methuen, 1934) by Wilhelmina Stitch. A small book of simple, unsophisticated poetry.   Wilhelmina Stitch achieved some popularity and sales in the first half of the 20th century. As a sentimental poet she was very much the Donovan to Patience Strong’s Dylan. She has no Wikipedia page unlike Ms Strong who has a lengthy and well tended entry. Some facts of her life are known and she turns up on a site Memorable Manitobans who have this to say:

Born at Cambridgeshire, England in 1888, daughter of I. W. Jacobs, she married E. Arakie Cohen while he was visiting England and returned with him to Winnipeg. They had one son, Ralph. After her husband’s death in 1919, she was forced to seek employment to support herself and her son. Her friends encouraged her to submit her writing for publication, which led to a successful career as a writer which continued to the time of her death. Writing under the pen names “Sheila Rand” or “Wilhelmina Stitch”, she had poetry and stories published in the Winnipeg Tribune and the Winnipeg Telegram. In time, she became, in the words an obituary, “one of the best-known women writers in the British Empire”.

While living in Winnipeg, she worked for, and became close friends with, university professor Reginald Buller. He believed that she had telepathic powers and carried out experiments, largely without success, to test them.

She later remarried to Scottish physician Frank K. Collie and moved with him to London, England where she died on 6 March 1936.

Much of her poetry has religious themes and much of it is in prose that rhymes, an odd slightly  kitsch style, like a precursor of rap:


BE OF GOOD CHEER

In the dumps, don’t know why. Cannot smile, want to cry. Mind distressed, awful blue. Felt like this, haven’t you? Not a single soul to care, life is more than I can bear, troubles seem to pick me out, faith’s misplaced by sullen doubt, hope is vanquished by a fear, can’t find comfort, can’t find cheer, heart is sore, awful blue -felt like this, haven’t you?… Lift that scowl, smile instead. Look! The sun is overhead. Didn’t notice it before. Not so blue, Not so sore… Life is sweet, found this true. Felt like this, haven’t you? Continue reading

The Writers’ and Artists’ Year-book 1923

 

Artists and writers yearbook 1923 001In the year in which the UK edition of The Waste Land was published, as well as novels by Lawrence, Wells and Huxley, comes this copy of The Writers and Artists Year-book. Evidently owned by a lady who wished to make money from her writing, the blank pages at the back of this book devoted to a record of contributions includes mostly household and beauty tips, such as ‘ Dangers in the Kitchen ‘ ,‘To Clean Hats ‘, ‘ My Great Grandmother’s Beauty Tips’, and ‘Adulterated or Not ‘, all of which were accepted. However, it seems as if this writer was also concerned with the role of women in society; she sent an article entitled ‘Women as Prison Wardresses’ to the Yorkshire Post, which though it was not published there, was re-sent to the Yorkshire Evening Post, where it appeared in May 1923 in the ‘Work for Woman’ series as ‘The Prison Wardress’. Other magazines to which she sent feature articles include Farm, Field and Fireside, Pearson’s and the Westminster Gazette.

Our freelance journalist also appears to have been interested in contributing verse. In the section covering ‘ Magazines and Journals’ she has underlined in pencil references to ‘ verse ‘ , ‘ humorous verse’ or ‘ poems’ in the Times (really?), the Prize, Lady’s World, Ideas, Humourist, Home Notes, Graphic, Colour, Chummy Book Annual, Children’s Companion, Boys’ Own Paper, among other periodicals. There are pencil marks next to the names of various American periodicals, too. Continue reading

George Sims and espionage

img_2750Found in a thriller by George Sims (1923 -1999) an interesting letter about the book. Sims was a successful and much admired dealer in rare books, something of a poet and a novelist with several of his books being about the book trade (bibliomysteries.) This book Who is Cato? (Macmillan, London 1981) actually has an art dealer, one William Marshall (rich but disillusioned), as its hero. He becomes involved in espionage through his connection to  ‘Intelligence’ in WW2 and finds himself working against the KGB many years later while on holiday in Majorca…

The letter from Sims to a woman friend, who ran a bookshop, is on headed notepaper from his cottage ‘Peacocks’ in Hurst, Berkshire. It reads:

Many thanks for your helpful cheering letter. I was glad to have it. Probably I’ve told you that when Cato was published we were in America and our daughter phoned to say that there had been a mysterious burglary at our cottage in which nothing was taken. When I came back I was puzzled as to how an entry was made into our cottage and my office; nothing was missing not even some £10 notes in the office drawer… exactly like the burglary which took place at William Marshall’s cottage near Hambleden!!

Obviously someone thought I knew more than I did. I was to blame as I had signed the official secrets document when I was at the SCU, and there was quite a deal of fact mixed with the fiction. Love George.

The S.CU. ‘Special Communications Units’ were outstations of S.I.S (‘Special Intelligence Services’) involved mostly with radio communications. They were disbanded in 1946. Sims, known to be irascible, appears quite philosophic about this incident. His books are collected, especially the bibliomysteries, also his excellent and still mouthwatering catalogues

500 Books with Interesting Inscriptions

img_2706Found – a 1982 book collector’s catalogue from George S Macmanus of Philadelphia 500 Books with Interesting Inscriptions. Mostly modern American and British literature, it has many direct signed presentation from the authors and  many association copies. There are the usual authors who are known to have signed a lot – Galsworthy, Masefield, John Drinkwater, Witter Bynner etc., but also uncommon signers like the great WW1 poet Isaac Rosenberg-  a copy of his play Moses signed shortly before his death, a modest condition copy at $2500. There are some inscriptions whose significance is hard to fathom- Norman Douglas’s In the Beginning inscribed by him to the effete (and highly collectable)  novelist Reginald Turner “To Reggie hoping he won’t follow Symira’s example in ‘every’ respect, from Norman Douglas.” Great condition $375. There are several Aldous Huxley 1920s novels inscribed to Anita Loos with minor condition problems in the $300 range and several Swinburne presentations at $1000 inscribed to the artist Burne-Jones. A decent buy at $1750  is George Orwells Eton leaving present. We have had dozens of these through over the years. Each boy was given a current smart cream-coloured edition of Poems by Thomas Gray. The presentation leaf reads: ‘Hunc Librum Erico A Blair’ and it is signed by the master ‘Cyrillus’ Alington. Potentially these ‘leaving present’ books exist for Cyril Connolly, Brian Howard, Aldous Huxley, Harold Acton, Henry Green and, possibly more valuable than even Orwell, Ian Fleming. Continue reading

The Old Codgers

s-l400Found – a cheap paperback called The Daily Mirror Old Codgers Little Black Book (Wolfe, London 1975.)  The book is billed as ‘100s of funny, curious and strange facts from the world famous Live Letters column…’ The Old Codgers  column, where readers wrote in to get answers on all manner of things, had begun in 1936, apparently the idea of the newspaper’s  proprietor Hugh (later Lord) Cudlipp. It finished in 1990 by which time The Mirror’s thrusting new editor Roy Greenslade considered its old fashioned and said it was “putting off the younger readers we are trying to attract.”

An article at the time in one of the broadsheets said that while the world went through ‘convulsive’ changes the Codgers remained in ‘a pre-war era redolent of flat caps, allotments,racing pigeons and Woodbine cigarettes…’ There was a bit of protest when it was axed but considering that the Codgers were receiving a 100 letters a day it was fairly muted. They often referred to their legendary Little Black Book that  claimed to contain ‘all information known to man.’ In the days of the web most of the questions that readers sent it could now be very quickly answered. Google is now ‘the little black book.’  The questions were often sent it to settle arguments ‘down the pub’. The most common question in the latter period of the Codgers was whether Stan Laurel was Clint Eastwood’s father. The Codgers research showed he was not. Below are two fairly typical Codgers answers to questions on  ‘Slippery Wednesday’ and the origin of the phrase ‘Mad as a hatter.’

‘Slippery Wednesday’ is another day that has stuck in older memories because of its dire conditions. A former horse carman recalled how he had to put sacks on his horses hooves and his own feet to get about, and that pedestrians were ‘going down like ninepins’, because of the ice. But he couldn’t remember the exact date, only that it was a Wednesday in the 1920s. We were able to tell him that it was December 21, 1927 when severe frost on overnight rain caused chaos in London and other parts of the country, resulting in thousands of street accidents.

‘Mad as a hatter’ dates from the days when hats were made of felt which was processed by having mercury rubbed over it. The unfortunate men who did the job got mercury poisoning which caused their limbs to shake and contorted their features so that they looked crazy.

Poets as plagiarists

 

clouston-pic-001The plagiarist today runs the risk of being sued by an artist, whether novelist, poet, composer or dramatist –or by the artist’s estate. However, in the case of poetry, it has always struck me how easy it must be for anyone entering a poetry competition to filch some particularly impressive lines from a forgotten slim volume or a short-lived little magazine. If the victim of the theft is dead there is only the slimmest possibility that the estate would discover it .

But when the theft is made from a comparatively obscure literary work many hundreds of years old and in another language the chances of the thief being detected in his or her lifetime are very thin indeed. Most literary thieves of this type are exposed many years after their own deaths. The whole issue is discussed in Literary Coincidences ( 1901) by W. A. Clouston, a folklorist and expert on oriental literature well qualified to address this matter.

One of the worst offenders seems to have been Lord Byron. In his Hebrew Melodies we find this first verse of ‘To a Lady Weeping ‘

‘I saw thee weep—the big bright tear

Came over that eye of blue;

And then methought it did appear

A violet dropping dew;’ Continue reading

Edward Thomas on Nietzsche

 

600px-edward_thomas_memorial_stone

Edward Thomas Memorial Stone near Steep

Found in the June 1909 issue of Bookman is a generally favourable review of M.A.Mugge’s Nietzsche: his life and work together with translations of the philologer-turned- philosopher’s various works.

Rather surprisingly, perhaps, the reviewer is the poet and miscellaneous writer, Edward Thomas, not known ( at least in his own writing ) as an admirer of the anti-Christian proponent of the ubermensch philosophy, though he was undoubtably, like Nietzsche, an anti-Nihilist.

Nietzsche’s distrust of historicism, and delight in the ‘ moment’ is echoed by Thomas, who sees the philosopher more as an ‘exquisitely sensitive  poet and man of culture ‘ than as a rationalist. When Nietzsche declares that “ one who cannot leave himself behind on the threshold of the moment and forget the past, who cannot stand on a single point, like a goddess of victory, without fear or giddiness, will never know what happiness is ‘, Thomas adds ‘ nor wisdom, nor beauty’.

Thomas goes on to say that when Nietzsche set up the Greeks as a model, he was choosing ‘ an utterly unhistoric people, knowing no tongue but their own ; and not only the Greek, but every man who achieves a great thought or act, he calls ‘unhistorical’, because in the power and the glory of the creative moment he forgets all that he knows, just as a beautiful living thing forgets all that makes it so in a beautiful attitude or gesture ‘. [RR]

From the classified ads in T.P.’s Weekly, July 11th 1914

t-s-eliotBachelor, in digs.,wishers to meet gentlemanly fellow of refined tastes, bank clerk for instance, who wants chum. Walks, cycle rides, physical exercises, theatres etc. Friendship desired. Confidences exchanged. (X2, 372)

Although T.S. Eliot was studying philosophy at Oxford in July 1914, he was probably lonely in his ‘digs ‘ and may have met a bank clerk who persuaded him that such fellows were sensitive and highly cultured. This could explain why, in 1917, he himself decided to join Lloyds Bank in London. However, it’s hard to visualize Prufrock taking up cycling and other physical exercise.

The Summer School of Patriotism—–An endeavour to organise the forces working for the renascence of patriotism in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, to be held at Bexhill-on-Sea, August 1st to September 12th. Stamp for full particulars, Organising Secretary, 6, Melbourne Road, Merton Park, London, S.W. (X2, 315).

A bit worrying, this. A call for patriotism in mid July 1914! Two weeks later Britain was at war with Germany. What were these armchair warriors planning to do in sunny Bexhill for six weeks? And why did the Secretary not volunteer his or her name? Still, never mind, the event was probably cancelled due to you know what. Continue reading

The neglect of prose

Found, in the issue of Today for March 1919, is this well argued plea by the acclaimed journalist Bernard Lintot for a greater appreciation of prose:

today-title-page-1919-001‘One of the most persistent of literary illusions is that the writing of prose is easier than the writing of verse. The contrary is the truth in both instances. Most of those who try can write passably good verse, and most of those who try fail to write passably good prose. Further there are far more triers at verse than at prose. Why? In the first place those who think they can write prose rarely pause to consider whether they are writing prose, because prose is popularly assumed to be all that writing which is not verse. In the second place verse writing is the more primitive, and therefore the most instinctive, and therefore, again, the easier form of literary expression. This, you may say, is mere theory. So it is. But, as theories go, it is none the worse for that, and as for facts, it is only necessary to point to the epidemic of verse-writing in full flux at this very moment. Never were there so many volumes of verse; never so many verse-writers, and those who succeed in bringing their composition to printing-point are in the minority of those who use or abuse metre and rhyme for the purpose of expression or amusement or vanity. The remarkable output of verse and poetry at the present moment is perhaps a little abnormal, but it certainly indicates a hitherto unsatisfied taste for this form of literary composition.

                                                         *     *     * 

The volumes are read, it is true, very largely by those who have written, are writing, or would like to write, verse, and the fact that many more of them (volumes, not readers ) are issued than volumes of prose, say genuine prose essays, novels or plays, proves that verse is more popular than prose. But, you object—and there is as much meaning in your ‘but’ as there was virtue in Touchstone’s ‘if’—what about the newspapers: are not they very prose of very prose, and popular? What, again about Sir Hall Caine and Mr Charles Garvice and Miss Ethel Dell and other novelists with high velocity circulations; do not these walk in the garden of prose? They do not, nor are newspapers found there. Those about to become popular abstain from prose as they would the plague. They angle with clichés and dazzle with jargon. They grow rich and famous, but they do not write prose, because, desiring success, and being good business folk, they know that the lovers of prose are so few as to be beneath commercial notice. Some of them couldn’t write prose if they tried, others resist a temptation that does not pay. Continue reading

In Honour of Mr. John Betjeman – Patrick Leigh Fermor

john-betjeman-statueFound- in a copy of Nip in the Air (John Murray 1974)  a book of poems by John Betjeman this affectionate parody by the esteemed travel writer Patrick (‘Paddy’) Leigh Fermor. It is probably from a magazine (pp 379-380), possibly The London Magazine but is not archived anywhere online. It is probably from the 1970s. It deserves a place in a completist Betjeman collection and in any future collection of Fermor’s complete oeuvre.

In Honour of Mr. John Betjeman – Patrick Leigh Fermor

Eagle-borne spread of the Authorised Version,

Beadles and bell ropes, pulpits and pews,

Sandwiches spread for a new excursion

And patum peperium under the yews!

 

Erastian peal of Established Church-bells!

(Cuckoo-chimes in Cistercian towers)

Bugloss and briny border our search. Bells

Toll the quarters and toll the hours.

 

Unscrew the thermos. Some village Hampden

Swells the sward. Fill the plastic cup

For toast to Brandon, to Scott and to Camden,

To dripstone and dogtooth, with bottoms up! Continue reading