This is a dog of a competition, thanks to the setter R. Ellis Roberts (although I can’t help recalling Kingsley Martin’s words about him – that he was the only writer whose work he loathed). For a start, has anyone heard of B.R.Haydon? No? They hadn’t in 1934 much either. He is Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846), best known as a painter – including a well-known painting of Wordsworth – but also as a diarist. There is a volume entitled ‘B.R.Haydon and his friends’ that you can find and download here. No disrespect to him, but a bit obscure to feature in a weekend competition. And the competition is pretty off-putting anyway.
‘In a recent book on Charles Lamb,’ starts Roberts – could be James Lewis May’s Charles Lamb: A Study (London, 1934) or Edmund Blunden’s Charles Lamb and his Contemporaries (Cambridge, 1933) but probably the former – ‘the author states that Lamb was the ordinary man in excelsis‘ and that ‘he exactly conforms to the ordinary man’s view of the Ordinary Man’. That is such a bad sentence that I am very reluctant to attribute to Blunden, whom I admire. Anyway … Entrants are asked to ‘comment upon’ (comment!!!) these judgments either (a) in an imaginary conversation between Keats, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Haydon and Blake (not finished yet), taking as a model “the famous passage in Haydon’s diary about Wordsworth, Lamb and the Collector of Stamps”. Bloody hell! Still, there is (b) invent comments on the judgments by Mary Lamb, Dorothy Wordsworth, Coleridge, George Dyer, Thackeray or Charles Lamb himself. You’re allowed 400 words, by the way, or ‘fragments from something longer’. This is a competition for the hard nuts. (I hadn’t heard of Dyer either. He was a classicist and poet (1755-1841).)
Roberts is surprised that the postbag is nearly empty. He blames the poor range of reading of the entrants. He expected people to attack the epithets in their droves, or even, whimsically to defend them. But a weekend competition is supposed to entertain the readers, not send them into a coma.
Still, you can’t say this isn’t educational. Wordsworth was ‘the Distributor of Stamps’ for Westmorland, – a post that consisted of supervising the collection of duties for all kinds of things – medicine, lace-dealing, pawnbroking, wills, insurance policies, stage-coaches (the list is very, very long, and he had a network of collectors). Effectively, Wordsworth was a civil servant. His boss (‘the Comptroller of Stamps’) was a man called Kingston and he did indeed have dinner with Wordsworth, Lamb and Keats, at Haydon’s house – where Wordsworth and Kingston were both subjected to some mockery for being officials. The date was December 28th 1817, and here is Haydon’s account. Prepare to split your sides.
It is plain not everyone had this hanging about in their book-case. The winners are Joan Jukes and Non Omnia (the latter described as a he, when described as a she on the previous occasion). This is Joan Jukes’ first win; but she has come close. I suspect she may be a Joan Godwin nee Nightingale from Dorset, whose mother was a Jukes, and that she was born in 1876, but I can’t be sure. What I do know is that she had short stories published in anthologies throughout the 1930s, and is anthologised in good company – e.g. (this one is from 1938)
She has also read her Haydon, to be fair.