Frank Sidgwick sets a competition which was actually set again earlier this year (2014) in New Statesman. The idea is to take a proverb, and add a rider to it. An American agricultural journal had actually remarked that ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness, but as far as cows are concerned, cleanliness should come first’. The recent NS competition gave its entrants free rein, more stimulating that Sidgwick’s stipulating (but okay, not insisting on) three well-known adages by the same writer: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear; what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; Heaven helps those who help themselves.
Nearly fifty entrants, but many cheerily missed out that dull insistence ‘by the same writer’. In other words, folks, farming jokes called for. Only fourteen were left at this stage. Several were eliminated for writing bad American. Having kyboshed his own competition, Sidgwick is left only with the option of divvying up the two and a half guineas so that James Hall gets one, and three others (Phiz, M.C.Trench and T.E. Casson) carry off half a guinea.
More than fifty entrants have a bash at the B competition – to make a single heroic couplet out of Walter Savage Landor’s quatrain:
This is a well-known whole poem from the first half of the nineteenth century, but one suspects that Dirce is not so well-known – she was killed by her niece’s sons, by being tied to a bull’s horns. My question is, why turn it into a couplet? Oh well. Several competitors said it couldn’t be done.
Sidgwick, who is nothing if not a rigmaroler, discusses whether is right to use a word from the poem as a rhyme word, and eventually stops fretting giving out just one guinea to a very fortunate Charles G. Box (since it is a poor effort!), although it’s first win, and he’s come close: