Always dicey to give a competitor the chance to judge, as Lester Ralph wordily points out. ‘My personal problem is not simplified by the fact that in the apparently painless throes that gave birth to our new rendezvous, some dozen of us have been, for the first time, in epistolary touch, and from that dozen, such critical conscience as is mine has forced upon me the selection of three for prizes.’ I don’t think L.R. is going to get invited back with arch-eyebrow prose like this. (I can’t recall any of the competitors with whom I have been in epistolary, electronic or ‘other’ touch ever getting the chance to judge a competition, although Joyce Johnson claimed it was still going on in the 1960s.)
You will remember that Ralph has given his mates the chance to do a Tamburlaine with a press baron standing in for the tyrant. After a lot of humming and hahing – it’s catching – he goes for one A.S.O., whom I am going to file under ‘O’, with this quite impressive piece of Marlowe pastiche, although what it isn’t, is funny. Here is the first clear two-guinea winner:
Now to the empyreal heav’n my fame ascends,
And Jove himself doth own my empery:
Ne’er peasant sees Orion’s light but knows
The wonders and the glories of my press.
Now speeds across the deep my Chronicle
Swifter than the flight of winged Pegasus,
To Russian steppes and sun-parc’d plains of Ind,
To Thule’s ice-encircled headlands drear,
And lonely islands of the Western seas.
I turn the fate of empires with a word;
And kings and mighty senators shrink back
And flee my fierce and venomous reproof.
Now doth the Muse herself yield up her throne:
And Orpheus, at the music of my words,
Lays down his lyre and leaves the silent woods.
Kings, prelates, senators and dukes
Fling wide their doors at mention of my name,
And earls must rise perforce and give me place.
I am the judge and sovran lord of men:
On me the world doth lean as on a staff.
You have to admit it’s pretty good, but a bit stuck in the pentameter rhythm, I think. I’d like to be able to say there was a particular press magnate in mind, but the News Chronicle, owned by the Cadbury family at the time, was essentially liberal (and took an anti-Franco line with the editor it acquired in 1936 – Gerald Barry …). So it’s an all-purpose Beavermere or Rotherbrook. In second place we find ‘Valimus‘, who is, we already know, one of the epistolary correspondents, since he’s yet another one of the signatories of that letter from issue 1.
Hold thee – and should not Bamburlaine be proud,
To whom the trees yield up their resin’d gall,
Black slave to make a million cringing slaves?
At his command the crashing engines trace
Line upon line the changeless writ of doom.
This man aspired to govern: now he lies
Blasted by one brief colun of my scorn;
And from the heights this party hurtles down
Ev’n to the lowest hell of impotence.
If thou canst wield a pen, know Bamburlaine
Will use thy puny weapon to his ends,
And take the raptur’d ink of ages gone
To shout his praise in prouder ink than theirs;
Or write himself, to mark a frantic day,
What scarce the eternal years would dare efface.
And think, when in thy heart thou dream’st of kings,
Or, dazzled by the tinsel of a crown,
Thou clamberest up thy way to palaces
That Bamburlaine doth hold more glittering sway
To crush thee down, or lift thee past thy dreams.
Now to part B, with its really mystifying idea about cutting and trimming bits of the Hatter, Dormouse and Alice. Although I haven’t a clue what Lester Ralph had in mind, our man – I assume a man – Seacape is up for the second week. He turns in a very good Carroll parody on such a flimsy premise, and is well worth the single guinea it gains him. With one bound, Seacape is at this point the most successful competitor ever. (He has some surprises for us, but you’ll have to wait a few weeks.)
The Hatter turned suddenly to Alice.
“When is the longest day?” he asked.
Alice reflected a moment. “Why, that was three days ago.”
“I thought so,” he said. “Then today is Shorter Day. Fetch me the scissors!”
“You mean Quarter Day,” corrected Alice, in a slightly superior tone.
“No, I don’t. I mean Shorter Day. Don’t contradict!”
“Whatever is Shorter Day?” asked Alice, rather more humbly.
“The day for shortening things, silly,” said the Dormouse, waking up again. “Your hair, for instance.”
“Or the Dormouse’s tail,” put in Alice hastily.
“Or the March Hare’s ears,” added the Hatter. “You’ve heard about fore-shortening, I suppose?”
“Er-yes,” said Alice, who was beginning to wonder what it all meant.
“Well, this would be three-shortening,” he went on triumphantly. “One less, so you’ll all save by it.”
Alice was now quite bewildered. “But I should lose my hair, the Dormouse his tail, and the March Hare his ears.”
“If we lose what we save and save what we lose, we are all the same as before,” said the Dormouse, still half-asleep.
“I knew it,” the Hatter muttered, taking out his watch. “The cows are late home again.”
Pretty good: especially the penultimate line. But Doris Elles is not far behind.
“Just the afternoon for a cut at something,” said the Hatter.
“I don’t quite see why,” said Alice.
“You’re not supposed to,” said the Hatter. “Whoever heard of anyone seeing Why?”
“Anyway, I’m not going to have my hair cut,” “The March Hare won’t have his ears chopped either. And I think the Dormouse has got a darling tail.”
“So do I,” squeaked the Dormouse.
“Why, the March Hare wouldn’t look a bit the same -”
“Why should he?” asked the Hatter. “Dear me, your hair’s in the butter again. You really mustn’t bring it in here.” He wiped the butter on the Dormouse and put it in his pocket.
“Darling tail,” murmured the Dormouse.
“Just think how much better it will be for my hats when people fit them,” said the Hatter.
“Well I’m quite sure none of your hats would ever do for me,” said Alice.
“Of course not,” said the Hatter. “Whoever heard of a hat doing for anyone? Or did you?”
“Well, no,” said Alice; “perhaps – ”
“Then that proves it,” said the Hatter; “and we can start at once.” He took a knife and fork from his pocket and began polishing them on his necktie …
Not bad, but actually one sentence would have done quite well in Competition 1B: “He wiped the butter on the Dormouse and put it in his pocket.”