The Contributors' Club

FOR a trip to the country or the seaside, in warm weather, I know of no better literary companions than some of the one-volume Plays of Shakespeare, published in the Hudson, Rolfe, Clarendon Press, Rugby, or Collins “series.” You have a well-printed, trustworthy text, with all the annotation and furniture necessary for an intelligent enjoyment of the great poet, packed into the most convenient possible form. On a recent excursion of this kind, I put into my satchel the two parts of Henry the Fourth, recently issued by the Harpers, and making the seventeenth and eighteenth of Shakespeare’s plays edited by Mr. Rolfe. I enjoyed them exceedingly. There is no abatement in care, taste, or judgment, as this editor progresses with the work ;1 rather, it may be said, “vires acquirit eundo.” His conservative loyalty to the text of the old copies is, in general, so conspicuous and gratifying that I may be pardoned for noticing one passage in which the temptation to admit what is termed a plausible emendation has been too great for him.

In the glorious lines wherein Sir Richard Vernon extols the appearance of the Prince and his comrades, in 1 Henry IV., iv. i. 97, the old text reads as follows : —

“ All furnisht, all in Armes,
All plum’d like Estridges, that with the Winde
Bayted like Eagles, hauing lately bath’d.”

(Folio, 1623.)

It is notorious that the punctuation of the Folio is no guide whatever to the sense ; and here an editor is left to his judgment whether “ bayted ” attaches to the estridges or the eagles. Rowe decided for the eagles, and altered “ with” to wing, reading the passage thus : —

“All plum’d like estridges that wing the wind;
Baited like eagles having lately bath’d.”

This fascinating alteration has been adopted by Mr. Rolfe, and is the text of most modern editors; Mr. Dyce especially advocating it in an elaborate note. I have long been convinced that the Folio reading is not only correct, but is more expressive and forcible than any alteration; and, “ under leave of Brutus and the rest,” I should like here, as briefly as may be, to set down the reasons why.

It is undoubtedly true that to “ wing the wind ” is a very picturesque and pleasing image, and also that it has been used by some of our poets with reference to ostriches ; and still it may be very inappropriate in this passage of Shakespeare. For one reason, the crested cavaliers aforesaid were not at this time “ winging the wind,” but simply mustering in force preparatory to a start; and, for another, the streaming of an ostrich’s plumage, when struggling against or ruffled by the wind, presents a much more vivid image than when sailing before it in the same direction. Be that as it may, “all plum'd like estridges that with the wind bated ” plainly means, “that beat their wings, or struggled or contended against the wind.” The construction is regular enough, except for a little poetical inversion: “ with ” for against is well known to be legitimate in Shakespeare ; and that “ to bate,” in our poet’s day, meant to struggle with the wings, without onward motion, is clearly demonstrated by this sentence in a letter of Lord Bacon to Queen Elizabeth, A. D. 1600: “For now I am like a hawk that bates when I see occasion for service, but cannot fly because I am tied to another’s fist.” This branch of the simile, then, is perfect in itself; it is an allusion to the egregious pluming of the helmets of those days, as may be seen in many an old illumination ; and it has a contingent reference also to the Prince himself, the ostrich feather being the cognizance of the Prince of Wales.

Mr. Dyce remarks here that “ there are two distinct comparisons: first to ostriches, and second to eagles.” This is very true ; but both he and all those who adopt Rowe’s reading commit the important blunder of making the crested helmets of the Prince and his followers the antitype of both similes ; whereas these are absorbed by the simile of the ostriches, that of “ eagles having lately bath’d ” referring to a very different matter, namely, the exuberant life, vigor, and freshness of the young cavaliers.

This forms the second branch of the simile, which, now that it is relieved from “ bayted,” is also perfect, and has no necessary connection with the first, nor anything to do with ostriches or their plumage. It was unquestionably well known to the poet, as was long ago pointed out,2 that eagles were supposed to renew their youth and vigor by plunging in certain streams; and when he used the expression, “like eagles having lately bath'd,” a much deeper meaning was implied than that the birds merely washed their feathers, and dried them by ruffling them in the wind. In the Bestiare of Philippe de Thaun, edited by Mr. Wright for the Historical Society of London, the story of eagles seeking a certain fountain in the East, and, when plunged therein three times, having their youth and vigor renewed, is declared to be typical of baptism : —

“ E le rejuvener de I’egle e del plunger
Baptesme signifie en ceste mortel vie.”

(Line 1035.)

And the poet Spenser uses a somewhat different version of the same fable as a simile of the restoration to strength and vigor of the Red Cross Knight: —

“As Eagle fresh out of the ocean wave,
Where he hath left his plumes all hoarie gray,
And deckt himself with feathers youthly gay.”

(Faerie Queene, I. xi. 34.)

It seems to me to be superfluous to say more ; the unprejudiced reader must see that the original text of the passage is perfect in every particular. The simile is twofold : first as to the plumage of the helmets, and second as to the exuberant life and vigor of their wearers ; each having its separate comparison : —

“All plum’d like estridges that with the wind
Bated, — like eagles having lately bath’d.”

Dr. Johnson remarks that “ a more lively representation of young men ardent for enterprise perhaps no writer has ever given ; ” and surely, by adopting this explanation of the old text, the representation is doubled in interest, — the buoyant spirits, ardor, and freshness of the troops being comprehended with their brilliant appearance. It has been objected that, were this the correct interpretation, we should expect to find the verb in the present tense : “ like estridges that bate with the wind,” instead of “ bated.” There is some force in this, but not more than may well be answered by poetic license, especially as the rest of the passage is in the past: “ plum’d,” “ bath’d,” “ bated.” Any one, however, who thinks the objection insuperable is at liberty to adopt the ingenious reading, proposed recently by Professor Corson, of the Cornell University, of “ bate it ” instead of “ bated, — an indefinite usage of “it” that is common enough in our poet. Nearly a century ago, Mr. Malone suggested a similar alteration — “ vault it ” for “vaulted” — in a line a little farther down in the same passage, where the construction, by omission of the nominative pronoun, is slightly irregular: —

“ I saw young Harry, with his beaver on,
Rise from the ground like feather’d Mercury,
And vaulted with such ease into his seat
As if an angel dropp'd down from the clouds
To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus,” etc.

His conjecture, however, was not received into the text by any editor, not even into that of Mr. Malone’s own editions.

— Perhaps all languages are afflicted with too much of the pronoun “ he; ” ours certainly is. When two “ he’s ” get to playing hide-and-seek through a sentence, it is perplexing enough ; when three get at it, softening of the brain may result, if the sentence be a very long one. Here is a specimen of the double “ he,” from Wuthering Heights : “ Heathcliff, who grew more and more disinclined to society, had almost banished Earnshaw out of his apartment. Owing to an accident at the commencement of March, he became for some days a fixture in the kitchen. [ Who became a fixture? Ah, you see, you can’t tell, to save your life, if this is the first time you have seen that sentence.] His gun burst while out on the hills by himself [whereas, you know yourself that no gun ought to be allowed to be out on the hills by himself ] ; a splinter cut his arm, and he lost a good deal of blood before he could reach home. The consequence was that perforce he was condemned to the fireside and tranquillity till he made it up again.”

Of course you think, all the time, that it is Heathcliff who was wounded, for there is nothing to suggest that any other member of the family was hurt, except the gun ; but the truth is, Heathcliff was not hurt at all. Where the he-ing begins in the second sentence it refers to Earnshaw, and keeps on referring to him to the end. The most bewildering thing in our language, perhaps, is our “ he.” Sometimes it puts you on a wrong track, and keeps you there through half a chapter; sometimes it involves you so elaborately that you cease to feel any confidence as to which “ he,” of three or four, is meant; then your anchor drags, and you drift helplessly ashore.

If only unpracticed writers confused their “ he’s,” it would not be worth while to offer an amendment; but inasmuch as there is not an editor, or reporter, or author, now alive, who does not do it, nor dead, who has not done it, it does really seem desirable to make a suggestion, and watch and see how eagerly and enthusiastically and unanimously the scribbling craft will —not adopt it. This is the idea : When a “ he ” refers to the first person mentioned, let it be put in small capitals, HE ; when it refers to the second person mentioned, let it be put in italics, he; when it refers to the third person mentioned, let it be put in the ordinary letters,he. Thus: —

“Heathcliff had almost banished Earnshaw out of HIS apartment. Owing to an accident, he became a fixture. His gun burst while out on the hills by himself,”— putting the “ himself ” in that way if it means the gun; but if the man is meant, and not the gun, then we must write it, “ His gun burst while out on the hills by himself.”

Observe how crystal-clear this method makes that aggravating sentence. You don’t have to think, or puzzle, or reason, at all. The small capitals promptly inform you that Heathclilf had almost banished Earnshaw out of Heathcliff’s apartment,— not out of Earnshaw’s. And observe how instantly the italics inform you that it was Earnshaw, not Heathcliff, that met with the accident and became a fixture; and observe, also, how immediately and unerringly you can tell whether it was the gun that “ went out on the hills by himself,” or whether it was Earnshaw that “ went out on the hills by himself ” or whether it was Heathcliff that “ went out on the hills by HIMSELF.”

Two months ago I came upon a local item in a newspaper, where three ‘"he’s ” tried to travel through a long sentence, in civilian dress, — yes, and they went through, too, but in such a mixed condition that there was no telling “ t’ other from which ” while they were on the trip. I saved that curiosity, and here it is ; it is from a burglar’s testimony : —

“Haines took off his mask and gave it to Albert, who said he considered that he deserved well of the gang; and he gave his own to Brooks, because he said it would be best so; and he was satisfied, and made no further comment, so he and I retired, leaving the others to finish the job.”

I read this twelve or thirteen times, applying to it the highest powers of my mind; by that time the lower half of my brain was liquid, and remains so to this day, and the upper half was going fast. But I am not a person who relinquishes a purpose lightly ; and by analyzing that witness’s evidence for half a column below that confused sentence, I at last succeeded in identifying, separating, and classifying those several “ he’s.” I will now reproduce that sentence, and uniform the “ he’s ” according to my proposed system. You shall then see at a glance which person each “ he ” refers to: —

“ Haines took off HIS mask and gave it to Albert, who said he considered that HE deserved well of the gang; and he gave his own to Brooks, because he said it would be best so; and he was satisfied, and made no further comment, so he and I retired, leaving the others to finish the job.”

Without my system, you could not imagine it was Brooks who “ made no further comment,” for there is nothing to show that he has been commenting at all ; but that simple “ he,” in common Roman type, can refer only to the third person mentioned; consequently, we know it was Brooks. Yes, and the italicized “ he ” informs us, not that Brooks and I, or Haines and I, retired, but that Albert and I retired.

— The somewhat recent marriage of an eminent literary woman of England to a gentleman many years her junior adds another to the notable list of similar marriages between men and women of remarkable character, and which have proved to be unions of exceptional happiness. It is a commonly accepted assertion that a young man’s first love is generally awakened for a woman older than himself; a condition that is readily understood, and which belongs to the same category of feelings which inclines the serious-minded youth to the belief that the only really desirable women of his acquaintance are already married. That women of superior natures or superior talent are attracted to men younger than themselves for similar reasons cannot, of course, be true. But the subject, save for its illustrious examples, would hardly be worth talking about. Everybody remembers Dr. Johnson’s extravagant fondness for his wife, who was old enough to have been his mother when he married her, and who had neither a dower of beauty, of brains, nor of money. As devoted a husband, and one of altogether different type, was the present Lord Beaconsfield, and his wife was ten years his senior. It will be recalled that the first title offered him by his queen was, at his suggestion, conferred upon his wife, to whom, he declared, he owed all his success in life; and for her death he has never found consolation. Aaron Burr married a widow several years older than himself, a woman to whom he was passionately attached, and who was worthy of his highest admiration. Josephine was six years the senior of Bonaparte, and nothing of Josephine’s unhappiness, even according to Madame de Rémusat’s intimate observation, was produced by her seniority of years. Guizot, the French historian, if I rightly remember, married a woman a dozen years older than himself, and their marriage was of the happiest description. Madame de Staël when forty-four married a young French officer eighteen or nineteen years her junior. Rahel Varnhagen von Ense was thirteen years the senior of her husband, the illustrious German statesman and author, — both being persons of the highest qualities of mind and heart. Rahel was thirty-six and Varnhagen twenty-three when they first met, but they were not married until several years later, not until the young statesman had mingled in the most brilliant society of European capitals. But no woman ever pleased him as did Rahel; she was first, last, and everything to him so long as she lived. One of the foremost preachers of New York married at a mature age a lady greatly in advance of him in years, and it was a genuine love-match. Miss Thackeray and Mrs. Craik, the English novelists, married men several years their junior, and Margaret Fuller’s marriage is well remembered.

There are but a few instances noted, out of a long list of distinguished names, where marital happiness of the highest and most ideal sort has not resulted from unions in which the wife has been the senior in years; and it is a matter of speculation if the seniority of the wife instead of that of the husband, as now usually prevails, would not be an improvement upon the present custom. In Ireland it is as customary for the wife to be older than the husband as the reverse, and in no country does the seniority of the husband so generally prevail as in our own. Women are as young now at forty as they were twenty years ago at thirty, and men younger, perhaps. Eighteen is no longer so fascinating an age as thirty-three, which some French writer has said to be a woman’s most captivating age. That women grow old in appearance more rapidly than do men has been so often remarked as to be regarded as true; but experience and observation by no means confirm the statement, and with intelligent care of herself a woman ought, with her nature and position, to cajole youth into being her comrade well on into life, and never to part company with beauty. Diane de Poitiers claimed that she kept her child-like freshness of complexion by never bathing her face in anything but the softest of rain-water, while Ninon de L’Enclos, notorious as well as eminent, who was regarded a belle as well as a beauty at threescore and more, attributed the preservation of her youth to a “ tranquil spirit.”

— Probably the many admirers of Mr. Blackmore will rejoice in the possession of a new novel from his industrious pen. There are readers who, after making their way through Lorna Doone, Cripps the Carrier, and Erema, are still anxious for more entertainment of the same sort, and they are encouraged in their enthusiasm by being told that this author is really a great writer. Hence they may be congratulated on having offered them so long and so characteristic a novel as Mary Anerley.

The time of this story is the beginning of the present century, and the scene, as the title indicates, is Yorkshire. Mr. Blackmore has the habit of choosing remote times to write about; Lorna Doone, for instance, is a book that incessantly suggests comparison with Henry Esmond, and it is not Thackeray who is injured by the comparison. The present book has this advantage, that it is not written in imitation of a remote style ; but even without these fetters the story moves slowly, on account of Mr. Blackmore’s inveterate habit of saying everything that can be said. For tediousness he has no equal. He generally invents good plots, and these he unfolds with unwearying patience. To be sure, his mysteries are tolerably transparent: in Cripps the Carrier, the heroine’s hair is sent to her father in a bag which he supposed to contain potatoes, and he at once feels as sure that his child has been killed as if it was her head, and not her hair, that had been sent him. The reader, however, has no such misgivings ; he knows that a couple of hundred pages further on the girl will reappear, with her hair grown out again, and that villainy will meet with poetic justice. In Mary Anerley, an heir is missing and a child is cast ashore close by his father’s estates, so that his identity is at once made clear.

There are, however, so many more important things than a plot which go to the making of a novel that a certain artless transparency does no real harm. If the story is well told, if the people are life-like, if their words are natural and their actions probable, the plot becomes a secondary matter, and the reader cares more for the way the story is told than for the mere frame-work of incidents. This, of course, is the only thing of vital importance, and it is with regard to Mr. Blackmore’s method in this matter that I differ from his admirers. It must be acknowledged, however, that they are to be envied if they get real pleasure from reading him, for there are not too many novels that give real delight, and no words of mine will affect their opinion of Mr. Blackmore’s powers.

That Mary Anerley is long is plain enough to friends and foes; that it is unduly long is something about which opinions will differ. At any rate, Mr. Blackmore, so far as I can judge from outward signs, has nowhere made any attempt at compression. He describes everything with liberal fluency, and although it is not easy to give a brief example of long-windedness, here is one that may serve as an example of certain qualities of his style : “ From generation to generation, man, and beast, and house, and land, have gone on in succession here, replacing, following, renewing, repairing and being repaired, demanding and getting more support, with such judicious give-and-take, and thoroughly good understanding, that now in the August of this year, when Scargate Hall is full of care and afraid to cart a load of dung, Anerley farm is quite at ease, and in the very best of heart, man, and horse, and land, and crops, and the cock that crows the time of day. Nevertheless, no acre yet in Yorkshire, or in the whole wide world, has ever been so farmed or fenced as to exclude the step of change.” Certainly, compression is not the most marked quality of this style, and such examples show how the necessity of filling three volumes may sometimes lead a writer to put two adjectives wherever one would naturally come, and never to speak of a farm without enumerating everything grown or reared on it.

There is no need of making any more tedious quotations to prove the wearisomeness of the conversations. They show at times, to be sure, a gently trickling vein of humor, but the supply is so disproportionate to the number of square inches that there are vast sandy stretches, in which the comedy is no more than a kind of mannerism; and it is a mannerism which marks the writer instead of distinguishing the various characters.

Lorna Doone is commonly mentioned as the best of Blackmore’s novels, and the story is not without merit; the character of the heroine is well drawn, but as for the hero, who proses on forever, it is hard to speak of him with proper respect. He is as tiresome as Polonius would have been if he had undertaken, toward the end of his life, to write a manual of worldly wisdom. John Ridd, the alleged writer of his autobiography, is acknowledged to be not over-bright, and we have him being stupid, or rather long-winded, without a moment’s intermission, from the first page to the last.

In Mary Anerley we are said to have Mr. Blackmore at his best. Certainly, one finds all the qualities that have made the fortune of his other novels. Scenery is described on every page ; there is the same aversion to brevity — to state it mildly—that always marks this author, and the familiar gentle stream of humor. That a novel like this can by any stretch of language be called a masterpiece seems like the misuse of language. There is no literary sin so unpardonable as tediousness, and it would be hard to find a living writer whose mannerisms are so marked and so abundant as are Mr. Blackmore’s. He seems privileged to prose on without calling forth a word of reproof. He is, we are told, an artist. This opinion he apparently shares himself, and so we find, passim, bits like this : “ The maiden

looked well in a place like that, as indeed in almost any place; but now she especially set off the color of things, and was set off by them. For instance, how could the silver of the dew-cloud and golden weft of sunrise, playing through the dapples of a partly wooded glen, do better (in the matter of variety) than frame a pretty moving figure in a pink-checked frock, with a skirt of russet-murrey and a bright brown hat ? ” What are the “ dapples ” of a glen ? What is the “ weft of sun-rise ” ?

These, if faults at all, are slight faults. A more serious objection to the book is this : that it seems to be written from the outside. The reader has no appeal made on his sympathy for the men and women thus artistically described; he has, indeed, no powerful conviction of their existence. They come and go, and fight and make love, but they are no more than pawns whom Mr. Blackmore moves about on his decorated board. How definite a notion does one get, for instance, of Mary Anerley or of young Lyth ? His characters are too often only perambulating incidents.

To my thinking, Mr. Blackmore is a writer who does not deserve any great amount of attention, His novels are very fair as novels run ; it is only when they are picked out of their proper place and held before us for real works of genius that they demand consideration. Those who admire them will only detest those who denounce so amiable a writer, but the reader who finds all the critics throwing their hats in the air for a writer whom he and his friends find nearly unreadable deserves to have his side presented.

— When I noticed in the list of articles on the cover of the November Atlantic that there was something among the Club papers about Bad Rhymes, I turned with lively curiosity to see what your contributor had to say. I have myself suffered acutely from the evil he complains of, and have long wished to see it attacked by some sharp and able pen. So I said, “ Here is my man ! ” and eagerly cut the leaves, like slices of wisdom, for the anticipated feast.

I confess that I was disappointed. An advocate always injures his cause when he tries to prove too much. That is what your correspondent attempts. Rhymes were not invented to teach precise pronunciation ; and when he condemns the coupling of such words as history and mystery, because one such imperfect rhyme learned and repeated by a child “ may make him an incurably ‘ slovenly speaker,’ ” he is really charging a windmill. I don’t approve of Whittier’s rhyming dumb with home any more than I approve of his rhyming such words as war and saw ; and if your correspondent had given us a sensible sermon upon sins of that sort, of which some even of our best poets are guilty, I for one would have thanked him. He quotes these lines from The Bridge of Sighs, —

“ Mad from life’s history,
Glad to death’s mystery,”

and says, “ Perhaps it is for such crimes as this that Mr. Emerson excludes Hood from his Parnassus, — a remarkable case of poetical justice.” There are worse rhymes than this in The Bridge of Sighs; there are really unpardonable rhymes in that beautiful and pathetic poem, — forever beautiful and pathetic in spite of all blemishes : —

“Love by harsh evidence
Thrown from its eminence;
Even God’s providence
Seeming estranged.”

Alas! But what is this to Emerson ? He has excluded Hood from his Parnassus with much other good company,— with Swinburne, Halleck, the Cary sisters, the Rossettis, even Goldsmith and Poe ; but not for “ such crimes as this.” Look at his own unhappy rhymes. One of the most remarkable of Emerson’s poems, The Problem, begins —

“I like a church; I like a cowl;
I love a monarch of the soul.”

This is had enough ; though I don’t suppose any child — except, may be, a son of one of our esteemed adopted citizens — from often repeating those lines would ever get to say sowl for soul.

In Woodnotes occurs the very rhyme which your contributor ridicules in Shelley : —

“ Where feeds the moose, and walks the surly bear,
And up the tall mast runs the woodpecker.”

In Each and All we have —

“The sexton tolling his bell at noon
Deems not that great Napoleoon
Stops his horse,” etc.

That is a favorite poem of mine, and I have read or repeated those lines, I suppose, some hundreds of times, but I don’t remember that I was ever yet betrayed into speaking of Napoleoow in consequence.

“ That one thing is success,
Dear to the Eumenides.”
“ On Eastern hills I see their smokes,
Mixed with mist by distant lochs.”
“ Who bides at home, nor walks abroad,
Carries the eagles and masters the sword.”

This is Emerson ; one of our very greatest men, and certainly one of our finest poets, yet not free from roughness and imperfection in his verse. The idea of his excluding anybody from Parnassus on account of bad rhymes is chimerical.

As for history and mystery, in my opinion they are not bad rhymes at all. The o of the first and the e of the second are not simply “ unaccented ; ” they are obscure. I say the same of another pair of rhymes which your correspondent condemns in Shelley. Splendor and render are quite passable rhymes. The vowel sounds in the last syllables of these words are also obscure, and are pronounced so nearly alike by the best speakers that if there are any allowable imperfect rhymes in the language these are allowable. And that we must allow some imperfect rhymes, especially among those of two or more syllables, on account of the poverty of our language in that particular, both poets and critics are pretty generally agreed.

I know a man who does not say “splendor” (making the o obscure) like the rest of my acquaintances. He says “ splendör,” with the o as in nor. But he also says “ pictūre,” “ Christmas,” and “often.” I hate him.

  1. Aliquando dormitat. I find in my copy that some one has penciled an ugly-looking admiration point anent the note on page 149 of the Second Part: “ Usurpation. Metrically six syllables;” and a couple of still uglier ones anent that on page 141 of the First Part: “Rann (followed by Pope and others) gave,” etc. Pope had been in his grave nearly half a century when Rann’s edition was published.
  2. For this interesting elucidation I beg gratefully to acknowledge my indebtedness to a paper written by my learned friend, Mr. A. E. Brae, of Guernsey, England, and read before the Royal Society of Literature, London.