Competitions 20A and 20B: results

Robert Lynd now sets a sonnet in the style of Milton to be addressed to someone who has run off with the Speaker’s mace in the House of Commons. In our own time – okay, nearly four decades ago – this was a breach of parliamentary niceties most notoriously committed by Michael Heseltine. In 1976, as an opposition MP,  he seized the mace and waved it at a Red-Flag-singing group of Labour members who were celebrating victory on a vote relating to the nationalisation of aerospace and shipbuilding.

However, the mace was also in the news in 1930. Gateshead’s Labour MP, John Beckett, who had been in 1924 the youngest MP in parliament, objected to the suspension of the disputatious Fenner Brockway (then MP for Leyton East, and to live to be a centenarian). Beckett seized the mace and attempted to take it from the chamber, and was duly suspended himself (Beckett lost his seat in 1931, joined Mosley’s fascist party, and was imprisoned during World War II).

John Beckett

John Beckett

FennerBrockway

Fenner Brockway

Michael Heseltine

Michael Heseltine

Lynd is his usual playful self in his report: ‘It would be going too far to say that many of the sonnets which have been submitted to this Competition might have been written by Milton. It would be going too far, perhaps, to say that even one of them might have been written by Milton.’  One thing’s for sure: the competitors are not impressed by Beckett. A.D.M., Biddy, Gerald Leonard, W.B., Halcyon – all of them attempt to express some Miltonic fury. ‘Defiling the high symbol of our state/ With grin and caper like a clod-wit clown’ – which sounds a lot more like Shakespeare than Milton to me.

The winner is an entirely new name: J.W.Pepper. Here’s his effort – better for trying less hard to be serious:

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The second prize goes to another newbie: Miss C.M. Bowen, who gets ticked off for her comparatively weak last line:

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20B is an odd competition – to create a contents list of an imaginary ‘Post-Everything’ periodical, to be called ‘The Dustbin’. Lynd writes that most of the entrants, few in number, did not get the idea. But the winner did – that it was a spoof on experimental Gertrude-Stein-style writing. The winner was A.T. Chenhalls. What is extraordinary is that Chenhalls (his first name was Alfred) is another entrant who has a bit-part in a celebrated and disastrous incident which has never properly been solved. He was an accountant who worked for a number of actors, including Leslie Howard, the film star who readily signed up for anti-Nazi propaganda. He accompanied Howard (as his business manager) on a flight to Lisbon in June 1943, and was on board during the return. At the same time, Churchill had flown to North Africa, and there is a theory that Chenhalls was mistaken by spies for Churchill, to whom he was said to be similar (as Howard was also similar to Churchill’s assistant). The plane – Flight 777, handy for conspiracy theorists – was heavily targeted by eight Junkers aircraft and shot down, killing everyone on board. Churchill himself believed that the Germans had believed Chenhalls to be Churchill. A photo of Alfred Tregear Chenhalls survives from shortly before the flight:

Alfred T. Chenhalls

Alfred T. Chenhalls

Runner up to Chenhalls was the classicist Gilbert Highet, a winner in a competition (16B) a month earlier. Here are their entries:

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It would certainly seem that the readers of The Week-end Review, like the judges Wolfe, Squire, Lynd and Welby, amongst others, were firmly dismissive of all modernists – Joyce being a particular target, but Eliot (for ‘Dustbin’ read ‘Waste Land’) and Marinetti and Stein being further fodder for baiting.

There’s a 1956 Australian article, with pictures of Howard and Chenhalls, here, and another, with a longer description of Chenhalls, from a Tasmanian newspaper here.

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Competitions 16A and 16B: results

Not only has Gerald Bullett asked for Spenserian stanzas based on a folk tale, he has also asked for an essay with an upper limit of 300 words (an impossible luxury in these straitened times: I started in 1978, and I don’t think the word limit has ever exceeded 150, and has been as low as 100)  using John Earle’s aphoristic style (1628), and as if printed in a ‘modern’ and prurient Sunday newspaper. I have never heard of John Earle; but you may read him here. I wonder what the position was in 1930. Did the competitors do their homework? (It can be done. I thought I’d get through my life without reading Lawrence Durrell, but there was a competition in the late 1970s to turn Eliot into Durrell or vice versa, so I have read Durrell. A harder-earned £7, I cannot imagine.)

Anyway: Bullett is happy with neither. He didn’t mean entrants to write in Spenser’s style, just to use the form named after him; however, he did want the folk-rhyme to be a ‘metaphysical allegory’. When it came to Earle (a means of attacking the gutter press, to use a more modern term, something the Week-end Review writers had earned the right to do), however, he did want something in Earle’s style. However ‘sincere apologies’ are not in Bullett’s phrase-book (any more than they were when Raymond Mortimer or Julian Barnes were judges). Seacape is an unlucky loser, as is T.E. Casson, who must have begun – and he has more unhappiness in store – to need therapy for the number of times he has come close but gained no guinea.

The introduction to Bullett’s report is so grudging that even Valimus, who does get half-a-guinea, must have wondered whether to accept it. The winner (who has been waiting like Casson for a reward) is the pseudonymous Majolica:

Anon Sir Guyon counter’d as he far’d
An old decrepit woman all alone
With haske of eggs for market-day prepar’d,
Who shook and sneez’d, and weping made her mone;
And her olde legges that were but skin and bone,
She sought within her petticote to hide,
And ‘Lord have mercy on me’ did she groan,
‘I am not I, but who I be besyde,
Or in what unlykelyness, uneath may be descryde.’

Forwearied, by the way I layd me down,
And in my Kirtle did my feet enfold;
But lo, all starke, my sences in a swowne,
I wake, and am not I, and am a-colde,
Nor who I be, by no means may be told,
For when to meet me ran my littel hound,
As one bemused at what he doth behold
He bark’d and wayl’d, and gnarring lept around,
That I am none of I his wisdom doth expound.

This dearnely that mishappening bewayl’d
Hispania (for so the beldame hight)
Which, while she senceless lay, her coats curtayl’d,
And of her words and weeds despoyl’d her quite.
One Stout of harte and arm, a merry wight,
Had snipt the Kirtle of that ancient dame,
Nor mought she have agayne her antique might,
But with her vestiment, put off her fame,
And ‘I am none of I’ was still her fitt of shame.

MAJOLICA

Wheron sore laden with her merchandyse
Up til the toun on heavie steppes she wente,
Which ere she raught, as I wol yow devyse,
Upon the waye her litel fors was spent,
And sodainly dire weariness her hente
That al for failynge limbes she might not kepe
Her lonelie viage ne her ful intent,
Til on her droopyyng eye lids gan to crepe
As softe as quiet death the heavie lidded slepe.

Bifel that there a foul and witless loun
Stretcht on the cruell paument her espide,
Who cut her kirtel robe the knees aboun
And left her, on his palfreye for to ride
And don his other mischiefs far and wide.
So on a sodain was she ful awake
With biter colde, and “Lauk-a-mussie!” cryde
That al her limbes with pynching cramps did ake
And deathlie shivers so her tremblyng bones did shake.

O gentil Ouid, chroniler of chaunge,
Haue pitie of this poure and wretched wight!
What agonie of feares, what fantomes straunge
Her fraile and crazie senses did affright,
And stopt her eares, and blinded eek her sight,
So was she left with al her minde fordone,
And haples laye in sad and piteous plight
As she were thunder strook or turned to stone,
Nor knewe if she were she or els some other one!

Bisette with euil doutes and mazed with feares
She was as al her wits were stoln awaye,,
Nor coude the wantowne sorrowe of her teares
The Passyng Time with helying hande allaye.
Onlie she wepte, “O sad and woful daye,
Now graunte this teste of resoun may not faile:
If still mysefe am I, in happie playe
My gentil bound shall wagge his litel taile,
But if I be not I he shall bothe barke and waile.”

Which when she sayde, on weake unsteadie feet
Back to her wonyngre she assayed to goe,
And waited for her hound those steppes to grete
That at the lintel halted tired and slowe;
Yet he with rorying bowe and angrie wowe
Leped as a thief were knockyng at the dore,
That certes she could neuere tel nor knowe
If she were stille waht she had ben bifore,
And whose her wearie bodye was could know namore.

VALIMUS

Gilbert Highet

Now we have 16B: the two pastiches of Earle. The winner is Gilbert Highet, and he is singled out for special praise as having produced ‘perhaps the most perfectly finished work that has ever come to me for judgment in a Literary Competition’. This must have pleased Highet, at that time an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford (at the age of 25), having already achieved a master’s degree in Greek and Latin from Glasgow. He had also won a whole host of prestigious prizes in Scotland, as he was to continue to do in Oxford. He was also to become one of the most renowned classics professors in the USA – and played a significant role in profiling Nazi leaders, successfully predicting their actions by comparing them to Roman emperors.

Here’s his winner:

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The half-guinea goes to another young man who was destined for greater things – Stuart Piggott, later one of the key British archaeologists, and at this stage only 20 years old, but precocious enough to have published learned articles. In fact at almost the same time he was the tail-end charlie in Competition 16B, he was preparing a highly influential article on Neolithic pottery.

Stuart Piggott

Stuart Piggott

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