Are you ready? This one (the A competition) is HARD. Only thirty people attempted, and of the thirty, three submitted their apologies. You are being given a sum dependent on your literary knowledge, so the more adventurous amongst you might wish to have a try before you look at the answer. The setter is Frank Sidgwick. Sidgwick, whose first outing as a judge this was, was well-known as a light-versifier, a parodist, and as a publisher – he is Sidgwick of Sidgwick and Jackson, now absorbed by Macmillan, and a firm who published Rupert Brooke (you wonder if the fact that they both went to Rugby had anything to do with it). Sidwick’s parody of ‘Summer is icumen in’ is often re-printed (unfairly, less frequently than Pound’s, which is arguably inferior) as are other pieces he wrote under the quiet tag, F.S.
I have to admit that this is the best competition so far, from my point of view. It’s a quiz crossed with a competition. Nowadays we can use machines to search all of these. In 1932, you would have needed a well-read and questioning mind. I think I would have only got b) and c).
I should have got the bean-rows, maybe: they’re Yeats and ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ (some competitors are docked because they can’t spell the Isle or call the poem only ‘The Lake’). That would be 9 (‘Nine bean-rows would I have there, a hive for the honey-bee’). I think I would have arrived at the 42 boxes – they’re what The Baker intends to take and fails to take (the number appears in the illustration) in Carroll’s ‘The Hunting of the Snark’:
There was one who was famed for the number of things
He forgot when he entered the ship:
His umbrella, his watch, all his jewels and rings,
And the clothes he had bought for the trip.
With his name painted clearly on each:
But, since he omitted to mention the fact,
They were all left behind on the beach.
He had seven coats on when he came,
With three pairs of boots — but the worst of it was,
He had wholly forgotten his name.
c) Thrice the brindled cat hath mewed – I’ve taught Macbeth too often to forget that
d) This time you have to know your Rossetti (some competitors ticked off for mis-spelling that, too!) His poem, first written and published in 1850, ‘The Blessed Damozel’ – it was revised and re-published three times – contains the stanza
“We two,” she said, “will seek the groves
Where the lady Mary is,
With her five handmaidens, whose names
Are five sweet symphonies,
Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,
Margaret and Rosalys.
Rossetti also painted, between 1871 and 1873, a painting of the same name (the only occasion when he wrote a poem first, and a painting to accompany it afterwards – there are instances of the reverse).
e) Where did the Duke stand? I think I would have been thinking of Measure for Measure, in which case I might have wasted a lot of time. This is a ‘Brain of Britain’ quiz question. The source is Tennyson, and his elegy on The Duke of Wellington, one of his earlier and most dreadful laureate poems, but one that is perpetually reprinted (it was received, according to the historian Christopher Hibbert, with all-round disdain at the time). However, here we are in 1932, and expected to spot these lines:
O good gray head which all men knew,
O voice from which their omens all men drew,
O iron nerve to true occasion true,
O fall’n at length that tower of strength
Which stood four-square to all the winds that blew!
Some competitors fell at this hurdle, too, and failed to square the four up to sixteen …
f) ‘the number of Voices’! Well, you’d have to know your Wordsworth, and recall his 1807 poem, possibly with the worst title ever given to a piece of verse, ‘Thought Of A Briton On The Subjugation Of Switzerland’ (France had overrun it in 1802).
TWO Voices are there; one is of the sea,
One of the mountains; each a mighty Voice:
In both from age to age thou didst rejoice,
They were thy chosen music, Liberty!
There came a Tyrant, and with holy glee
Thou fought’st against him; but hast vainly striven:
Thou from thy Alpine holds at length art driven,
Where not a torrent murmurs heard by thee.
Of one deep bliss thine ear hath been bereft:
Then cleave, O cleave to that which still is left;
For, high-souled Maid, what sorrow would it be
That Mountain floods should thunder as before,
And Ocean bellow from his rocky shore,
And neither awful Voice be heard by thee!
The winning entry has a couple of alternatives as we shall see. However, is this not a dangerous clue? Anyone heard of Robert Service’s poem here? That would have messed up the maths – and been perfectly feasible since the penultimate number is divisible by three as well as two.
g) We will now have arrived at a number, and the answer will be the number of ways of doing something. And the answer being, as you will see, 69, the reference is to a Kipling poem published in three magazines on New Year’s Eve, 1892, originally untitled or (in one journal, Jerome K. Jerome’s The Idler, ‘Primum Tempus’), but afterwards reprinted as ‘In The Neolithic Age’. The sentiment is that there is no right way of making poetry (Kipling held back from criticising others as an article of faith):
Here’s my wisdom for your use, as I learned it when the moose
And the reindeer roamed where Paris roars to-night:—
“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
Two winners are selected by Sidgwick, partly because they present the answer so tidily One competitor, Majolica, had had a shot at sending the answer in, in verse (good tactic) but blew it by giving the Bellman instead of the Baker from ‘The Hunting of the Snark’. The winners are both new to the competition: Jan Hennor, and Margaret A. Macalister. Among the commended entrants is another new name, H.C. Escreet, who was a Home Office civil servant, Henrietta Caroline Escreet (1879-1970), born in London, died in Hastings, but to be found inspecting factories in Manchester in the 1911 census, and the author of a history of Blackheath School (presumably her alma mater) as well as pamphlets on the church and other matters. In 1933, she is named in Hansard as the civil servant who sits on the panel appointing prison governors.
Here are the winning pair:
But there is more torture in store in the B competition. Sidgwick wants a conversation bewteen the daughters of The Miller, The Baker, The Bailiff and The Horseleech. Sidgwick was a well-read folk-lorist, but he must have thrown his audience here (he had, as we shall see). I know who The Baker’s Daughter is – Ophelia says that ‘The owl is the baker’s daughter’ in her mad scene, but the others would have flown over my head. (Sidgwick would, by the way, have accepted Miss Bunn as the answer, as in ‘Happy Families’). The daughters of the Horseleech apparently fazed only two entrants, however, and it’s a biblical reference. Since I suspect very few of you of being regular readers of Proverbs, let me direct you to Chapter 30, verse 15, where you will find “The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, ‘Give, Give …” Looking a bit further into the volumes of biblical scholarship that track this line, there are learned arguments about whether there are two or three daughters (there is a variant version), or even four (what follows doesn’t make sense), or possibly that it’s a mistranslation. Suffice it that the daughters are probably symbolic of cupidity and much, much worse. I’m not sure Solomon knew for certain what he was on about here.
The Bailiff’s daughter comes from Islington, and is the subject of the Child ballad, no. 105 – here. You can hear it sung here. This brings us to the one that mystified most people, and it’s oddly enough from an early Tennyson poem, to be found here. I think there is a counter-argument: there is a miller’s daughter in The Reeve’s Tale, by Chaucer. There, just showing off.
Many big names – Little Billee, W. Hodgson Burnet – are commended but only one entrant, another newbie, is judged to understand all four and have them say something appropriate. She is called Margaret Cohen: