Competitions 18A and 18B: results

For 18A, T.Earle Welby has come up with the idea of an English equivalent to Flaubert’s idea of a ‘Dictionnaire des Idees recues’. So he wants six ‘ ‘not necessarily consecutive’, and I like that ‘not necessarily’ – definitions, to be concerned with the sort of idea characteristic in 1930 (‘at least in the view of the Popular Press’).

For once everyone lets the side down, even Pibwob, who comes close. No-one is awarded a prize, and the whole mass of entrants is condemned for being either ‘straightforwardly abusive’ or offering ‘comment as a substitute’. Because there aren’t any examples given, it remains a bit hard to work out what Welby really wanted, and he duly blames himself. Ah well. No-one can say they didn’t have standards.

When it comes to 18B, epigrams are requested (in not more than eight lines of rhymed verse) for ‘liking Dr. Fell or any of his spiritual descendants’. Doctor Fell was John Fell, a seventeenth century churchman (Anglican Bishop of Oxford) who was a by-word for discipline, and was an obsessive martinet. He is commemorated in the rhyme that begins ‘I do not like thee, Doctor Fell’, allegedly composed by one Tom Brown as a translation of a Martial epigram, the translation being a punishment.


John Fell

Fell makes it as a bogeyman into the early chapters of ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, just after Jekyll’s friend Utterson first has a conversation with Hyde: 

Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to the lawyer with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice; all these were points against him, but not all of these together could explain the hitherto unknown disgust, loathing and fear with which Mr. Utterson regarded him.  “There must be something else,”  said the perplexed gentleman.  “There is something more, if I could find a name for it.  God bless me, the man seems hardly human!  Something troglodytic, shall we say? or can it be the old story of Dr. Fell? or is it the mere radiance of a foul soul that thus transpires through, and transfigures, its clay continent?  

Among the candidates chosen were Dean Inge, the Anglican churchman (1860-1954) whose view of the Anglican church was that it was the bulwark of the state, and who had a view that the poorer classes should accept poorer pay; Lord Rothermere (the kind of target perhaps anticipated by Welby); and the Bishop of Bath and Wells, then Rt. Rev. St John Basil Wynne Willson, and about whom I can find nothing perverse at all, other than that – !! – I’m actually connected to him via several marriages (I wasn’t expecting that!).

The winning entry (‘the best of a not very bright batch’, so Welby must have been particularly glum), is by Marion Peacock, who picks out William Arbuthnot Lane, a notable surgeon, who resigned from the BMA to be able to speak freely. To take just four ways in which he was ahead of his time, rightly or wromgly, he was an exponent of homeopathy; the most successful surgeon in curing cleft palate and hare-lip; an advocate of the removal of the colon; and also one of the first to suggest that nutrition was the key to the growing Western disease of cancer.  He was born in 1856 and died in 1943 aged 87 – but not of ill health. He was run over outside the Athenaeum Club during a blackout.

William Arbuthnot Lane

William Arbuthnot Lane

Here is Marion Peacock’s epigram:

I like you well, Arbuthnot Lane,
You take the trouble to explain
In English words, without pretence,
How to keep well by common sense.
Just common sense, you rub it in,
Aided by liquid paraffin,
No lane are you, but one we bless,
The great by-pass to happiness.

This is Marion Peacock’s third victory. I don’t know anything firm about her, but I suspect she is the same Marion Peacock whose poems appeared in editions of Argosy in the late 1940s (one of them a re-publication from New Statesman). Gerald Barry’s correspondence includes letters from her. She may also be the author of two collections of poems – ‘Poems and Songs’ in 1923 and ‘Quiet Ladies’ in 1926.  That said, this really isn’t a great poem, and the final pun is a little feeble …

Second prize goes to ‘N.B.’, and he or she simply goes for the Dr. Fell option.

No work of reference doth tell
A fact about thee, Doctor Fell.
‘Who Was Who’ and the D.N.B.
Reticent are regarding thee.
A modest silence doth enshrine
Thee and all others of thy Line.
Good luck, my friend – I wish them well
That did descend from thee – or fell!

Another dicey pun. As for Doctor Fell, his name is incidentally also appropriated by Hannibal Lecter.


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