An "Allusion Mark"


THE Contributor who discussed in the October number the advisability of devising an “ Allusion Mark ” wherewith to hint to the unwary reader that the writer is semiborrowing phrase or sentence from a previous and assumedly greater author, raises an interesting question, and raises it interestingly. But there are difficulties. He who would print the text, say of Milton’s Paradise Lost, with allusion marks would go near to obscuring the text with the marks. And by what sort of a mark should one hint that it is only by the aroma or by the rhythm of a phrase that one would appeal to the literary sense? With such the text of Tennyson would be thick. Quotation marks often annoy. Besides, they are reserved for verbatim repetition. The single inverted comma might suffice ; but even then the delicate writer would hesitate to point too overtly to a delicate allusion: a good cook conceals his flavors. Again, of what avail an allusion mark that pointed the unlearned nowhither ? For myself, when submitting a proof to a friend, I have sometimes scribbled on the margin the source of such allusion as I thought might escape detection, thus : Mem: Shelley; or Cf: Æschylus. But some writers’ styles are stiff with allusion ; allusion is woven into their very texture, — for Charles Lamb one would require a broad margin indeed. — After all, mathematica mathematicis scribuntur (the which to “ mark ” would surely be pedantry extreme) ; so, allusions are for the learned. The literary sense which is too obtuse to perceive will be helped by no mark, — and would certainly not verify the allusion, even if most carefully foot-noted. Surely we may follow precedent. Ruskin did not foul his pages with finger-posts to allusions, and perhaps no writer was either more particular about the appearance of his pages or more profuse of allusion. The artist paints for lovers of color; let the writer write for lovers of letters. [Who will require from me a mark explaining the allusion to belles lettres or to litterae humaniores ?]