Nov. 5, 1892. An Itinerary.
Besides the glorious exclusiveness of it, there is a solid advantage just now, in not being an aspirant for the Laureateship. You can go out into the wilderness for a week without troubling to leave an address. A week or so back I found with some difficulty a friend who even in his own judgment has no claim to the vacant office, and we set out together across Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Quantocks, by eccentric paths over the southern ranges of Wales to the Wye, and homewards by canoe between the autumn banks of that river. The motto of the voyage was Verlaine’s line–
“Et surtout ne parlons pas littérature”
–especially poetry. I think we felt inclined to congratulate each other after passing the Quantocks in heroic silence; but were content to read respect in each other’s eyes.
The Return to Literature.
On our way home we fell across a casual copy of the Globe newspaper, and picked up a scrap of information about the Blorenge, a mountain we had climbed three days before. It is (said the Globe) the only thing in the world that rhymes with orange. From this we inferred that the Laureate had not been elected during our wanderings, and that the Anglo-Saxon was still taking an interest in poetry. It was so.
Public Excursions in Verse.
The progress of this amusing epidemic may be traced in the Times. It started mildly and decorously with the death of a politician. The writer of Lord Sherbrooke’s obituary notice happened to remember and transcribe the rather flat epigram beginning–
“Here lie the bones of Robert Lowe,
Where he’s gone to I don’t know….”
with Lowe’s own Latin translation of the same. At once the Times was flooded with other versions by people who remembered the lines more or less imperfectly, who had clung each to his own version since childhood, who doubted if the epigram were originally written on Lord Sherbrooke, who had seen it on an eighteenth-century tombstone in several parts of England, and so on. London Correspondents took up the game and carried it into the provincial press. Then country clergymen bustled up and tried to recall the exact rendering; while others who had never heard of the epigram waxed emulous and produced translations of their own, with the Latin of which the local compositor made sport after his kind. For weeks there continued quite a pretty rivalry among these decaying scholars.
The gentle thunders of this controversy had scarcely died down when the Times quoted a four-lined epigram about Mr. Leech making a speech, and Mr. Parker making something darker that was dark enough without; and another respectable profession, which hitherto had remained cold, began to take fire and dispute with ardor. The Church, the Legislature, the Bar, were all excited by this time. They strained on the verge of surpassing feats, should the occasion be given. From men in this mood the occasion is rarely withheld. Lord Tennyson died. He had written at Cambridge a prize poem on Timbuctoo. Somebody else, at Cambridge or elsewhere, had also written about Timbuctoo and a Cassowary that ate a missionary with his this and his that and his hymn-book too. Who was this somebody? Did he write it at Cambridge (home of poets)? And what were the “trimmings,” as Mr. Job Trotter would say, with which the missionary was eaten?
Poetry was in the air by this time. It would seem that those treasures which the great Laureate had kept close were by his death unlocked and spread over England, even to the most unexpected corners. “All have got the seed,” and already a dozen gentlemen were busily growing the flower in the daily papers. It was not to be expected that our senators, barristers, stockbrokers, having proved their strength, would stop short at Timbuctoo and the Cassowary. Very soon a bold egregious wether jumped the fence into the Higher Criticism, and gave us a new and amazing interpretation of the culminating line in Crossing the Bar. The whole flock was quick upon his heels. “Allow me to remind the readers of your valuable paper that there are two kinds of pilot” is the sentence that now catches our eyes as we open the Times. And according to the Globe if you need a rhyme for orange you must use Blorenge. And the press exists to supply the real wants of the public.[A]