W. R. Hughes (aka Little Billee) returns. It’s well known, he says, that Thomas Gray polished and rejected a number of quatrains for his ‘Elegy’ [In A Country Churchyard]. Entrants have to come up with a quatrain that is not only in the style of Gray, but say where in the Elegy it will be interposed. Not easy. You can read Gray’s Elegy here.
Thomas Gray (1716-1771)
Reading the entries makes Hughes realise how good Gray is. Many of the regulars, says Hughes, cannot mange the scholarly reflection or the original turn of phrase in each oine – even the best WR rhymers. He uses Alice Herbert and Muriel Malvern as examples of two who wrote original poems, but not in the style of Gray. Guy Hadley is congratulated for reaching three lines out of the four; Chauve-Souris. Hilary and Evan John are commended, but repated reading (it’s clear Hughes took this very seriously indeed) leads him to give the prizes to George Van Raalte and Prudence. The verse is presented with the originals on either side (you get a sense that when competitors are judges, they are far more tense and formal about the process):
The B competition features the possibility of a pop at Peter Pan. It is heard that he has grown up: what would be Barrie’s description of the process and the man he has become?
Not many takers, and only one B prize handed out. The winner (Enid M. Norman) has the air of a pseudonym or even an anagram about it, so I guess it’s neither! (No second prize.)
Only one competition this week, but only because Sylvia Lynd’s extra winner has had to be held over. Gerald Bullett sets a really difficult competition (so difficult in fact, that I would quite enjoy having a go at it – there you are, an insight into the mind of a fanatical competitor). Suppose, suggests Bullett, that Swinburne and William Morris, over a bottle of wine, decide to elevate the status of ‘Jack and Jill’ to that of an Arthurian legend (yes, can see that happening), and do so using iambics – couplets, terza rima or blank verse – each in his characteristic manner, and in 8-12 lines each, at which point they abandon them and pass them to Tennyson for a mélange of both with a dash of his own style in 12 lines. The prizes are upped to two guineas, one guinea and half-a-guinea.
Phew. But then the readers were all still Swinburne fans, it seems to me. We would probably be asked to mix up (say) Plath and Hughes, and have it all re-written by Heaney. Or something similar. And we’d also have an extra week to do it.
Bullett says his judging is helped by the fact that most of the glazed eyes skated over ‘iambics’; Seacape and Lester Ralph come close; Tennyson is thought the easiest of the three; and the winner, by a whisker, is Yury, followed by Obispo, and George van Raalte (who is a bit dependent on the originals, and has made what I think is a tactical blunder in footnoting one poem).
A new judge, Alfred Wareing (a theatre producer of twenty-five years’ standing), asks for an account of what happened when Dr. Johnson negotiated the publication of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield with a publisher. Did he drive a hard bargain? (Goldsmith wrote the novel in 1762-3, but seems to have been unable to do anything with it, so summoned his friend to help. Johnson sold it for £60 to a publisher (‘bookseller’ would be the right term then) called Newbery, and after it had finally been printed in 1766, it went on to be one of the most popular novels of that century. There is a famous painting of Johnson reading the novel (with Goldsmith’s creditors waiting on the result, which you can see here). Johnson had already advanced Goldsmith money that morning, and Goldsmith had already spent it on Madeira.
It seems a curious kind of a competition to me, but there we are. The entrants are pulled up for failing to refer to Newbery, and also for suggesting that Johnson lacked integrity. T.E. Casson and Seacape are in the frame but the winners are Non Omnia and Muriel M. Malvern. The former wisely chooses Boswell.
The B competition asked – and this has been done much more recently – for new examples of rhyming slang. Four entrants suggested a George Bernard for a jaw (I like that – he punched him in the George Bernard), and, among the other selected suggestions were these, some of which seem deeply unfunny (and this is the pick of the bunch!):
The winners are L.V.Upward and George van Raalte (so all four winners this week are regulars).
Sylvia Lynd is back in the judge’s enclosure, and her first, very wordy instruction has asked for two soliloquies from a day at the races, the first from a gentleman who has fallen in the mud but backed three ‘places’ and three winners. The other is from a gentleman who has lunched well, kept tidy and warm, and lost. She admits it’s based on her own experience, and that winning keeps her warm, while being warm but losing is dreary. The entrants seem, she says, to have assumed that the loser leaves as happy as the winner. Not so, she insists. As a result, the winners are George van Raalte and E. Pater (a new name):
The second competition is for an epigram (shudder) on two snuff-boxes of Napoleon, one in the open air and one as a Roman emperor. This one bemuses me. Lynd is the first to divided the half-guinea prize so that there are two whacks of 5s 3d – but the winner is Seacape (ahead of Ciel, whose gender Lynd gets wrong, and the coming man, Little Billee).
E.M. – Max – Nicholson asks for silly season letters (it’s August 1931). This, or variants of it, is still a poular competition. It is a curious idea, that there is no political activity to speak of, and that therefore periodicals and newspapers must fill themselves with ridiculous news, but that’s what happens. As Nicholson notes, a good entry here meant not just an individual letter or slection of the same, but a sequence of letters. James Hall and P.S.Nicholson are each commended for sequences that start, in the latter’s case, with a rubber sponge on a toothpick being a good way of clearing the ear, to deafness, to the distance between Birmingham and Walsall,and thence to deaf-and-dumb hikers (I would have liked to have seen this entry, as it sounds better than the winners).
George van Raalte and W.Hodgson Burnet, both generally in the running, snaffle the two guineas and the half-guinea, ahead of Michael, who offers no surname, but is given a special prize of a guinea. (Michael is spoofing motoring magazines.)
For the B contest, Nicholson cites ‘It has been said that every book is in a sense a travel book’ as an insufferable remark, and asks for a set of six in the same mould, citing sources. As might have been guessed by the extra prize doled out in 84A, he isn’t impressed much by the entries, and allows only half-a-guinea to J. Ewing, who doesn’t seem to me to play by the rules (all general platitudes apart from the Tennyson). He rules out ‘Bow-wow’ on the basis that he or she has picked six from Canon Streeter’s Reality, which seems fair enough to me (i.e. choosing from one volume, and if you’d like to try Streeter’s book, it’s here. Streeter was a religious philosopher, a joint founder of ‘The Group’, the pre-war theological think-tank, as it were, and died in 1937 in an air-crash at the age of 62).
Platitudinous or what?
Martin Armstrong asks for epigrams reassuring a friend to whom the writer offers a mince pie before Christmas. (Giving mince pies, he explains, before Christmas, is said to be unlucky, a rumour which, if it got out, would bring sveral firms currently operating to bankruptcy. He does concede that it could be a mince pie given after the Christmas before.) But like Humbert Wolfe the previous week, he has nothing to offer but a reprimand for the poor quality of the offerings. In fact, he writes a poem for the edification of the entrants to whom he is considering giving nothing by way of guineas, half-guineas or even loose change:
He relents and allows George van Raalte and H.C.M. their rewards:
But the curmudgeon in the Armstrong heart is not finished yet. 43B was supposed to be filled with witty rhymed poems mentioning at least six Italian painters whose names had been Anglicised (e.g. Fra Filippo Lippi = Philip Blears). But he offers one more onslaught in verse, and declines to empty the WR coffers of anything:
Must try harder!
Back to translations. Francois Villon may have been sent up in the clerihew competition, but T. Earle Welby wanted a translation of these stanzas of his:
The competitors are complimented and castigated in equal measure, for doing well in parts, but skipping between the literal and the free. Our old friend T.E.Casson is again not quite in the winner’s enclosure, into whom the only person admitted is James Hall.
36B merely requires (though ‘a high standard’ is expected) competitors to produce a list of nouns and adjectives that have become inseparable. The spare cash freed up by restricting the number of winners in 36A allows veteran W. Hodgson Burnet to claim a spare half-a-guinea (and do you know, T.E. Casson just missed out on this as well!). The first two prizes go to H.C.M. and George van Raalte.
Welby is mock-stern in throwing out ‘isosceles triangle’, ‘varicose veins’, ‘mobled queen’ and the like. He notes an entry from a schoolboy R. Farrimond, which he says indicates that he will eventually win many competitions. We shall see.