1888 “At the Sign of the Ship”

January 1888 (Signed A. Lang.)

Opening lines: “When will people give up speculating about how poets are made? In an American review of the thirteenth edition of Mr. Stedman’s Victorian Poets, I see that Mr. Stedman has been making his own guesses. First let us congratulate this critic on his popularity. Thirteen editions of a book about literature, c’est inouï! It must be in the States, not here, one is afraid, that people are so fondly concerned about prose and verse.” (344)


  • An American review of the thirteenth edition of Mr. Stedman’s Victorian Poets—Lang amazed that in America there are thirteen editions of a book about literature; Stedman thinks English poets lack vigour and are too learned; Lang agrees with the first but not the second, raising Milton and Virgil; perhaps English poets too pedantic; Stedman thinks poets need to go through a heroic crisis to improve poetry; Lang says, “I do hope not! (344)
  • Lang doesn’t think American poetry currently better than English; does not believe that crises have improved American poetry, as the best of Longfellow, “all of Poe (necessarily)”, Whittier and Bryant antebellum. From Civil War only sees Lowell’s “noble Commemoration Ode, and Walt Whitman’s piece on the Death of Lincoln” as adding much to poetry (344–45).
  • “We do not know what conditions produce poetry” (345). Believes Byron, Shelley, Scott, Coleridge, and Keats would have been poets “revolutions or no revolutions” but posits that they may not have if one parent had married someone different. “The poet is born, not made, and we know not why he is born,” brothers and sisters not usually poets.
  • Mr. Louis Stevenson’s Memories and Portraits: Stevenson claims good writers almost always come from a school, notes that always kept two books in pocket in boyhood, one to read, one to write in, that Stevenson practiced his style. Lang knows of no one else who did this in boyhood [so he has not read or remembered Ben Franklin’s Autobiography]. (345–46)
  • Lang amazed by Stevenson’s sketch of someone they both knew (Robert Glasgow Brown): “What these eyes saw was—something very different” (346)
  • Lang surprised by Stevenson’s remarks on Fielding and Scott seeming not to have ever loved (from their writings) in his essay “Falling in Love” which Lang read in “the new pretty pocket editions of Mr. Stevenson’s Virginibus Puerisque” (originally published in 1881), believes Fielding was never “out of [love],” and claims of Scott, “Thirty-four years is a good long time to be in love; and I doubt not that Scott was in love for forty (ob. 1832). (346–47)
  • “The Year of Grace,” lyric poem by Violet Hunt. (347)
  • Biographies running too long; Darwin’s “in three vasty tomes, which must contain nearly as much type as his original works”; “newspapers easily put the plums of a biography into three columns”; delighted, however “to hear of a scientific character who can enjoy being chaffed by a bishop” and briefly discusses Darwin’s view on metaphysical questions (347)
  • “The Broidered Bodice,” translated from Old French by Graham R. Tomson, with the French given below (348–49)
  • Grammont’s Memoirs, published by M. Conquet, which Lang posits “will live, and ‘win its way to the mythical,’ as Thucydides has it—that is, to prices mythically high. . . . The chief copy, exemplaire unique, only costs 400l.” (350)
  • “People who like folk-lore and the study of the human past (not a very considerable majority of mankind) will delight in Mr. Frazer’s Totemism (A. & C. Black). Discusses also a correspondent from Orkney’s thoughts on possible totemism there—or where the nicknames come from, also the tarring of a horse to make it watertight (350–51)
  • Lang discusses his annoyance with foolish correspondents who want him to do things he has no time for, such as addressing material to him that ought to go to the editor of Longman’s, asking “about worthless old books in their possession,” or sending him “ballades” which “are now a drug in the poetic market” (351).

Poems printed in full:

  • “The Year of Grace,” lyric poem by Violet Hunt. (347)
  • “The Broidered Bodice,” translated from Old French by Graham R. Tomson, with the French given below (348–49)

February 1888 [Signed A. Lang.]

Opening lines: “The topic of dreams is not easily exhausted. In the January number of Scribner’s Magazine, Mr. R. L. Stevenson publishes his own nocturnal and shadowy biography, which is full of interest for students of the human mind.”


  • Dreams, as discussed by Robert Louis Stevenson in Scribner’s Magazine: “The involunatary elements in imaginative creation, the ideas which seem to an author to be given to him, rather than constructed or devised by him, are most curiously illustrated” (458). Molière’s Lutin “a familiar spirit of a trickery sort, which sometimes whispered to him exquisite fancies” (458). Stevenson had a “Lutins whose name is Legion. Brownies he calls them, and they work all night in the factory of his brain” (458). Stevenson should write one of his Brownie’s tales in French, as it “turns on a passion which, in English, would hardly prove marketable. . . when, no doubt, the very people who would censure it in English would see no harm in it. Nor is there any harm, any more than in the Œdipous Tyrannus” (458).
  • Mr. James Payn’s Confidential Agent: Payn “tells me that he never got a plot . . . from a dream of his own,” but he did get one from a friend: “People who have read Mr. James Payn’s Confidential Agent will see what good use he has made of the dream” (458–59)
  • “Brownies appear sometimes to waste their favours on people with no turn for story-telling. . . . The plot of a foolish tale of mine, The Cheap N***** , . . . was the gift of a Brownie. I dreamed . . . about the chart on the negro’s back; the rest of it was chiefly a combination (as critics justly remarked) of hints from Edgar Poe and researches in Aztec antiquities” (459). Lang notes that it’s nearly impossible to tell a treasure story without charts (Treasure IslandShe, Rainbow Gold). “Yet reviewers will probably continue to regard all charts in treasure tales as plagiarisms, probably from Poe and the Gold Bug” (459).
  • Lang relates the dream he had, a story of two women, old friends, who meet at a railway station and catch up on the years “between seventeen and twenty-five” (460). Both had been engaged, had the engagement broken off, and married. They discover there that each of them had married the former lover of her friend. One “gives away” the other’s secret. The other almost does (459–61).
  • A Scotch professor’s dream of Night-hags and testimonials, the writing of which is a “tedious, difficult, invidious affair, above all when several of your old students and friends are competing for the same post” (61). The professor overpowered the Night-hag “till she was a mere weak shadow of herself,” and she whispered, “Won’t you at least give me a testimonial?” (461)
  • Latin Elegiacs written in a dream, like Kubla Khan, long after the poet’s Eton days (461).
  • Economics/revolution: Lang looked through Lockhart’s Life of Scott “for Sir Walter’s account of his Brownies” and instead found a letter to Southey (May 9, 1817) on what to pay laborers for piece-work after a hard and poverty-filled winter, it being “necessary that the work should be of a sort in which the soundness could be tested” and ‘that the undertakers, in their anxiety for employment, do not take the job too cheap'” so that they will put their ‘heart and spirit’ into it (461–62). “[O]ur own labour question will have to be settled either by a great national effort of patriotism and goodwill, or–the other way. And that way, as far as history has shown, is full of horror, peril, and distress, and is not in other ways satisfactory” (462).
  • “Having once opened Lockhart, a man is likely to shut it with difficulty” (462). Lang discusses Sir Walter Scott’s theory of an author’s ‘fair profits'”–1/6 the retail price. Lang also notes that in Border Minstrelsy there’s an error in the note on Jamie Telfer” in describing the location of Dodhead. Lang believes “the facts are cleared up in a local history by Mrs. Olliver, which I have not yet had the privilege of consulting” (462–63).
  • May Kendall’s “A Castle in the Air”
  • Puss in Boots and Mr. Traill’s Et Cetera, which “does me the honour of alluding to my researches about Puss in Boots.” In “Russia, Sicily, among the Avars, and at Zannibar” Puss in Boots is a moral story of the gratefulness of a cat, butin “France, Italy, India, and elsewhere, Puss in Boots is an immoral story: the Cat is a swindler, the Marquis de Carabas is his accomplice.” M. Gaston thinks the Zanzibar story the original; Mr. Trail “thinks the story is the original thing, and the moral an afterthought. Who is to decide?” Cruikshank “introduced the moral motive of gratitude in the Cat. Now he probably invented this, for he was no folklorist, and his invention thus jumped with the tale as told by Avars and Swahilis. Human fancy has these narrow limits, which causes literary coincidences” (463–64).

Poems printed in full: “A Castle in the Air” (May Kendall) (463)

March 1888 [Signed Andrew Lang.]

Opening lines: “In one of his biographical sketches, of M. de Goncourt, I think, Théophile Gautier tells the world how the news of a friend’s death came to him, in a country house, and with the news, the demand for the feuilleton. These evil tidings, these mournful demands, come thicker and more frequent as we step westward in life. One after another of a generation falls and receives his brief lament” (567)


  • Sir Henry Maine’s death at Cannes–Maine was “an illustrious author” and “a friendly presence.”
  • Maine’s Ancient Law, published twenty-five years ago “rose, like a new light, on the world of University studies.” Lang, “as a young and then impetuous reviewer” once disagreed with him on “the primeval conditions of marriage and the human family” as his views “were not those of my friend Mr. J. F. M’Clennans.” He received a letter back with “urbanity that would have disarmed one of the wild folk in whom we were interested.” “Neither of us quite converted the other. . . but the discussion brought the great advantage of knowing a man so learned, original, courteous, and kind. All Sir Henry Maine’s books on the evolution of Society are more interesting than novels, and are written with singular lucidity and grace” (567).
  • “Some riots are unsympathetic to a quiet observer, but with the Rio Tinto rioters every one who values a decent life may sympathise. If it be true that the calcinations of the works ruin vegetable life for miles around, and kills trees and grass, as in the Black Country, who can marvel that the country folk resisted? The world should not let its fields, and streams, and air be blackened, blighted, poisoned by manufacturing operations. If industrialism ran long in its present course, which may or may not happen, this planet would be calcined, like the moon–a pretty result of progress” (568).
  • Book Chat (an American journal) gives an index of the “poetry of November and most of December, of the magazine poetry”–290 “separate pieces.” “There is something in statistics that has a repulsive kind of attraction to an unregenerate heart. They do not prove anything, because everything can be proved by statistics. Thus it could be proved that ours is an age rich in poetry, which of course is absurd” (568). At least sixty two are by ladies–and “probably many of the initials belong to the fair. Still, even so, there are about four times as many male as female poets going about, which is a larger proportion than one would expect” (568). “[A] large proportion of the lady poets are Irish–by their names” (568). Christmas is the topic with the most poets: sixteen.
  • Rhymes to babe: Mr. Swinburne, Mrs. Timmins from Thackeray’s “A Little Dinner at Timmins’s”–the rhyme Tippoo Saib, Swinburn’s astrolabe [Lang: “It is certainly rhyme, but is it reason?”] Lewis Carroll “merely cuts, instead of untying, the knot” with wabe and grabe in Jabberwocky. “For more rhymes to babe we need that legendary rhyming dictionary which the proud critic in the Athenaeum says is used by writers of ballads” (570).
  • Professor Tyrrel’s “clever dialogue of the dead, between Madvig, Bentley, and others” in the January Fortnightly Review. “Conjectural emendations” in classical texts, archaeological digging “spoken of with little applause” (570). Lang argues that “diggers and critics have the same motives,” “a better intelligence of ancient life and ancient art. . . Let there be peace among us and harmony” (570). Herodotus, Attica mentioned, Professor Stephens and Professor Sayce.
  • Professor Sayce’s rendering of the text describes a boy “prematurely buried with lamentations.” Lang remembers his own Head Master stating, to a classmate, “Jones, the ancients did not write nonsense!” and objects to the construction above as “worthy of Poe”: “If they lamented the little chap, why did they bury him before he was dead?” Professor Rhys, Macbeth, Mr. Hicks, Mr. Henry Bradley, Mr. Arthur Evans all worked on the translation: “But the true lesson is, not that philology and archaeology are at war, but that we should never think we have even approached a right translation from any tongue when our translation makes very dubious sense. Of course, when Celtic words are suspected in the Greek, the sense may indeed be ‘sadly to seek.'” (571).
  • “Arsinoë’s Cats,” Graham R. Tomson’s English of Greek epigram (of which two versions exist: “Cats were exotic animals in Greece. The lady whom her lover laments actually threw him over because he did not, and one Nicias did, bring her cats from Egypt” (572, 571.) Lang comments on the translation (573) but allows translators liberties, mentioning James Darmesteter who “recently rendered Miss Mary Robinson’s poems into French prose” and Madame Couve who attempted the same with Rossetti’s sonnets, though “scarce so happily” (573).
  • The Red Lion at Farningham, on the Darent, which has “beautiful and characteristic . . . English scenery” and C. Wayth, Esq. who wrote “Trout Fishing on the River Darent: a Rural Poem (London: John Mortimer, 1845). Lang notes that “there is little fishing in it” and that Dickens, after receiving it, called it ‘Orient pearls at random strung’—’too much string, my boy.” (573).
  • Relics from the Bone Caves in France bought by the Christy fund for the British Museum: “sketches etched on bone and ivory by men who were contemporary with the Mammoths, men who loved before the Glacial period . . . probably . . . hundreds of thousands of years” ago. “They are as far removed from other savage art as is the art of Leech. . . . Did they migrate south . . . and become the ancestors of the Greeks?”
  • Rider Haggard now has an “ancient Egyptian ring in lapis lazuli. . . which reads “Agr, or ân-agr, ‘The clever writer, or Great Scribe.’ This looks like ‘a prediction, cruel smart'” (574).
  • “A correspondent has requested and received permission to use the story of the Brownies and the two ladies, told in the last Ship. Novelists at a distance with please accept this intimation” (574).

Poems printed in full: 

“Arsinoë’s Cats,” Graham R. Tomson (Rosamund Marriott Watson) (572)

April 1888 [Signed A. Lang.]

Opening lines: “‘Why don’t you write here about what people are doing?’ somebody says to me. The answer is not very far to seek. What are people doing? In Mr. Whiteing’s new–what shall I call it, didactic romance?—the hero, on ‘The Island,’ gets a set of newspapers” . . . [with headlines full of death, blood, injustice, and destruction, and reads] the ‘cool devilry of mocking head-lines, as though all the woe and all the folly of the world were but one stupendous joke'” (675).


  • The things people are doing are generally not good things, or, at least, evil makes “a large proportion of the world’s performances. I know there are plenty of good actions, but these rather shun the light. It is because we all sit in the Ear of Dionysius . . . it is because we are always listening to these things that I do not care to write about them here.
    “And yet there are people who are doing things which are worth the doing, and worth telling of.” Sir Edmund Currie and those who worked with him, the People’s Palace in East London. “Most of the readers of this Magazine have read All Sorts and Conditions of Men—if they have not, it is time they did—and will be glad to hear of the excellent progress which is being made.—ED.” (675)
  • Another paragraph follows, followed also by —ED., which advises the reader to go see the Palace firsthand, the organ recital, the library, the gymnasium, billiard tables, science classes. “A swimming bath will soon follow, and if the visitor is pleased with what he sees it is easy for him to give a helping hand to the work by writing as big a cheque as he can manage and handing it over to Sir Edmund Currie for the building fund.—ED.” (676)
  • Another paragraph, also followed by —ED. advises those who cannot go to the East End to subscribe to the Palace Journal, “an advertisement of which, with form of subscription, will be found at the end of this Magazine,” a journal edited by Mr. Besant. “In this journal the West End can learn how at any rate part of the East End lives. Neither quarter of the town will be the worse off should the journal form a link and a means of communication between them” (676–677)
  • “Of His Pitiable Transformation” a rondel given “to a friend of mine, by another friend of mine,” Lang prints it without “telegraphing to the Adirondacks for permission. Probably the author’s hand will be easily recognized, and I presume that, twelve years ago, the sage who laments his youth was just twenty-five. And as to his hair being ‘grey,’ it is not even ‘brindled.’ [A joke: Stevenson–who wrote “To Andrew Lang,” which begins, “Dear Andrew, with the brindled hair”] (677).
  • French ballades, rondels, and virelais are not “exploded; old toys, dolls that the sawdust hath run out of . . .” Only English ballads have that reputation, so “[t]here can, therefore, be no harm in publishing Mr. Henley’s “Ballade a un Sien Ami.” (677, 678)
  • M. Michel Bréal’s pamphlet on etymologies. . . . Etymologies are so freakish. there was once a youth named Anson, whom his friends called ‘The Count.’ The etymology ran thus: Anson, Hands on! Hands off! Paws off! Pausoffski–the Count. Nothing could be clearer or less expected.”
  • Max Müller’s new Biography of Words. 
  •  “Fairies and the Philologist” (May Kendall). The fairy tale/mythical personages can’t know how they are to act, for instance, if the princess is to be hot or cold, because the philologists disagree–one believing her name is related to fire, the other to snow: “We’re dead and gone. Our stories grew / From how are names were spelt. / If someone made a Myth of You, / You’d find out how it felt. // ‘Tis all in vain. We’re Dawn or Day, / We’re Sun or Sea or Air. / Only—you might have let us stay / Till you knew what we were” (680).
  • Orkney correspondent in conversation with a shoemaker from Hudson’s Bay. The man  was living with two Hebrideans, including one John Macleod, “in the hut of a half-breed who had a very beautiful daughter” (681). Macleod could “be easily argued out of his passion” during the day, but at night “he became ‘fair mad for her'”. One day the man found a small parcel, containing Macleod’s and the girl’s hair, and other items, under his pillow, but the hair “were alive.” The shoemaker claimed that the young woman had “pit medicine on him, ye ken, an’ a wee while after he gaed back and married her.”‘ (680–81).
  • “Aucassin et Nicolette”—”Mr. Bourdillon published his translation and edition of the oldest French novel, ‘Aucassin et Nicolette,’ in autumn. Another appeared in January,* and now Mr. E. J. W. Gibb sends me his own privately printed version. There are but fifty copies, ye bibliophiles, and it is a very agreeable translation, with the old French to follow. Gibb “has given the verses in assonance, not in rhyme. [*Lang’s translation? Lang’s Aucassin and Nicolete was originally published in 1887, according to the David Nutt reprint, which claims that the original 550 copies “went out of print almost immediately”–the spelling of the second translation Nicolete, matches Lang’s title, but not the Bourdillon and Gibb titles.]

Poems printed in full:

  • “Of His Pitiable Transformation” (R. L. Stevenson) (677)
  • “Ballade a un Sien Ami” (W. E. Henley) (678)
  •  “Fairies and the Philologist” (May Kendall) (679–80)

May 1888 [Signed A. Lang.]

Opening lines: “As this number of the Ship is written actually en voyage, the reader will perhaps kindly excuse remarks even more than usually desultory. ‘Forgive these weak and wandering cries,’ confusions of a rainy holiday. Hotels are not places in which any one but Miss Broughton’s Professor Forth would venture on a long consecutive work. . . . if Mr. Forth was capable of such concentrated attention in a hotel bedroom, with an unsympathetic wife trampling on his Tertulian, I am sorry he died to make two lovers respectable. For my own part, I find Moncrif’s Histoire des Chats a more than sufficiently difficult book to deal with in similar circumstances” (105).


  • Hotels
  • The weather in Italy is rainy to England’s March blizzard. Lang wishes for a spate in August in a salmon river instead. The Arno will not do for fishing. The Riviera would, if only locals would not “poison, shoot, and dynamite the fish, as if they were Czars or Irish Secretaries. This is no place for politics, and I would not hurt a candid reader’s feelings by saying one word against the most Robust modern methods of argument. But to employ dynamite and poison against trout in a clear stream strikes one as advanced, almost too progressive in fact” (105–06).
  • French caricatures of English women: “The Vie Pariesienne has been diverting its readers with sketches of ‘The Swallows of the Riviera’–a lady writing her letters outdoors, another “the lady who lends you books and says, ‘Have you read this?’ ‘Have you read that?'” Lang comments on “our astonishing unabashedness: “People not only write their letters, but read them aloud in public” but notes that the artist “is very ungallant, and as Anglophobe as M. Guy de Maupassant” while the artist of the Journal Amusant. . . makes our sisters marvels of loveliness, more so, perhaps, than even a patriot is likely to find them when on their travels. By the way, M. Guy de Maupassant, if English girls ‘smell of indiarubber,’ as you declare, when abroad, it is because they carry tubs of indiarubber, and they do that, because tubs of other materials are not invariably to be met with in some beautiful and hospitable countries” (106).
  • “As Mr. Henry James has been mentioning in the Fortnightly Review, the author of La Maison Tellier [M. Guy de Maupassant] seems to have an extremely acute sense of smell, at least of disagreeable smells. His novels are full of references to odours, which, for some wise purpose, are allowed to exist, but which are seldom talked of, and still more rarely paraded in literature” Scott, on the other hand, had no sense of smell. “One could do without a sense of smell in literature, apparently, to judge by the cases of Sir Walter and M. Guy de Maupassant (106–07).
  • Ballades and Mr. Stedman, a writer in a Philadelphia paper, who, like Lang, does not think war necessary for good poetry. A meeting of gentlemen “whose names are unfamiliar to me, actually went so far as to hold a kind of meeting, and say severe things about triolets, and Mr. Austin Dobson, and this humble but not altogether heart-broken singer. Mr. Edgar Fawcett came out very strong indeed . . . . Ah, gentlemen, if I had epics, and lyrics like Homer’s and Shelley’s, to give you (I say give, in the present state of the law of copyright), how gladly would I produce those sterling articles. But the Muse made me a cicala, not a swan of Cayster (if you happen to know where that is), nor a Theban eagle. Let me chirp ‘when so dispoged;’ you need not buy the chirps, nor is it actually necessary that you should imitate them on penny whistles, as some of you are kind enough to do in the small print at the tails of the American magazines. We sell but a thin liquor, we ballade-mongers. . . . If you don’t like it stick to your native Boker, and your bevy of lady poets” (107).
  • A Glasgow correspondent wants Lang’s opinion on his poetry, and Lang “with candid regrets, that it is not of a very valuable quality, as far as my poor opinion goes, either in manner or matter. Correspondents will also be good enough to note that in future I cannot undertake to return, or to offer any opinion about their lay, or their eclogue, or their ditty. Send them to Editors of Magazines, ye worthy poetic correspondents, and, if nobody will buy them, you may reasonably conclude that they are (as Mr. George Borrow’s publisher said of all poetry) ‘a drug in the market.’ (108).
  • “Märchen” by G.R.T. (Rosamund Marriott Watson): “A ferlie cam’ ben to me yestreen” which Lang introduces with several phrases in Scots. (108)
  • Lang asks about the “limits of fairness in buying ‘bargains’ in the matter of curiosities and antiquities, and tells several anecdotes, including the Indian tale of the Rat who married the Princess (Mr. Lal Behari Day), Snuffy Davy, in Scott’s The Antiquary, Lang’s own experience with booksellers who “declined to accept a penny beyond the stipulated price,” Italian teapots purchased for ten francs, though worth five hundred, from a poor seller, and M. Paul Lacroix, who “bought a copy of the original editions of Tartuffe, which had belonged to Louis XIV, for two francs. He gave it away, on the same day to M. Ambrose Didot” The bookseller wanted 1,998 more francs, but none were forthcoming (109).
  • The case of a woman who “bought for a few sous, from a fisherman, two large shells. . . In one of them she found three large black pearls, which she sold for a considerable sum.” She gave nothing to the fisherman. Lang hopes we would return gold found in a purchased piece of furniture to the “person who had the oldest interest in” it (109).
  • Ballades written before he knew ballades. . . cried from the ground, and clamoured for Heaven’s vengeance against ballade-mongers. It is not easy to write poetry in foreign hotels while an Italian is twanging his mercenary mandoline below the window as if he were Blondel and I were the Lion-heart. The kind singers who occasionally tip me a stave are sundered from the Ship by roaring seas, and dozens of Douanes, where they actually make you pay as much for a box of cigarettes as you gave for it in Pall Mall. Rhymes from M. K. or W. E. H. would be contraband, I daresay, and would be charged at a hideous ransom in this fairy land of Italy. The lowering skies and the peculiarly cold sour smell of the sweet country (M. Guy de Maupassant may analyse the odour) do not predispose me to lift up my voice in minstrelsy, so, as this old ballade is handy, let it take its chance with Mr. Edgar Fawcett and the other critics who held a meeting about poetry, and ended by squabbling about religion! Oh, Anglo-Saxon Race, how earnest thou art, and how little success attends thy Transatlantic efforts to hold Courts of Song!”
  • “Tout Finit Par de Chansons. (Ballade en guise de Rondeau.)” (Andrew Lang) (110–111)
  • The Italian lottery–and how to win it with incantations, and a Christmas Eve or eve of St. John dinner for two and the summoning of Saint Pasquale: “This is only a rough sketch of how to win? —I have discovered no other way. The lottery is a beneficent institution. Nobody wins perhaps, but everybody expects to win, and lives in happy dreams of purchasing steam yachts and of existing in idleness and opulence. . . . we have only the Turf in England, and to expect to succeed in spotting winners demands more faith than the general public has at its disposal” (111).
  • Lang contrasts English picture galleries with Italian art: “The picture galleries will be opening when this appears, and men, my brethren–art critics–will be padding the weary hoof through the Grosvenor, the Academy, the New Gallery. Hard is their lot, and weary will be their eyes, but perhaps even the most modern Academicians are less fatiguing than the Umbrian school. . . . No severer trial than a couple of miles of Luca Signorelli can be imposed on [the Bersaglieri]; if they survive it they are made field marshals, I believe. But it is too rough on a mere visitor who is nothing less than athletic, and to such I would humbly recommend total abstinence from Early Italian Art. . . . One begins to pine for a Herbert, a Frith, an unaffected Horsley, or an elaborately finished Whistler, with all the impastu of this master. It is only in England that we can expect to find these” (112).

Poems printed in full:

  • “Märchen” by G.R.T. (Rosamund Marriott Watson)(108)
  • “Tout Finit Par de Chansons. (Ballade en guise de Rondeau.)” (Andrew Lang) (110–111)

June 1888 [Signed ANDREW LANG.]

Opening line: “The death of Mr. Mathew Arnold is more than a loss to English literature, it is a personal loss to all who knew him, even slightly.” (217)


  • Lengthy obituary of Matthew Arnold (217–222)
  • Lang: “I do not care to add to the burden of the Ship this month any of the usual frivolities, though tempted by a rondeau of Central Africa, with a native burden, and by other pleasing wares that have been contributed. But there is room for a Scotch poem on “The Myth of the Ship of the Dead,” which Procopius, if I err not, speaks of” (222)
  • Graham R. Tomson’s [Rosamund Mariott Watson’s] poem “Deid Folks’ Ferry.” (222–24)

More detail:

  • Received news in Venice by a five-word telegram of Matthew Arnold’s death (217)
  • “[H]is nature was joyous, though perhaps no one would guess it from his poetry” ; he “was a boy to the last—above all, if the story be true that his death followed soon after leaping a fence in the gladness of his inexhaustible spirits” (217, 218)
  • Lang discusses his work: “One does not feel inclined, at this moment, to ‘reckon up’ and criticise the work of Mr. Arnold. I would regret it little if he had never spoken about affairs, if his impracticable wisdom and wit had never touched the questions of Ireland, of Religion, and the rest. . . . Delightful as his earlier literary criticism, and stimulating as all his literary criticism is, one cannot pretend that it was always free from oddities and errors. His belief in English hexameters, his belief in M. Scherer, his indifference to French poetry, or most French poetry, his attachment to Byron, were all hard for the next generation to understand. But he was something a great deal better and rarer than a critic; he was a poet, nor do I think the world yet knows how beautiful, and true, and all but flawless a poet he was. . . . If we are to class poets as in an examination, I would not place Mr. Arnold with Lord Tennyson, and it is really impossible to compare him with Mr. Browning. But probably he was to me what Wordsworth has been to him. . . . . he has made life more beautiful to see, and more easy, perhaps, to live with.” (218–19)
  • Unlike most poets “worth naming”, Arnold “was not . . .       wholly a man of leisure, far from that” (219)
  • Poetry quotations (219–220)
  • claims, “The last of men from whom one would have expected such conduct, he suffered bores gladly” (221)
  • Believes there must be material for a “most valuable Life and Letters” [Lang would later be very disappointed in Arnold’s letters.] (221)
  • Wishes a portrait had been made; perhaps Balliol will “be wiser” about their “one living poet, Mr. Swinburne” (222)

Poems printed in full:

  • “Deid Folks’ Ferry.” Graham R. Tomson. [Rosamund Mariott Watson]

July 1888 [Signed A. LANG]

Opening lines: A WRITER in the Contemporary Review of June pleads very powerfully for the slave children of England–the children who are sent out to beg, and to pay for the beer and the bets of their fathers. Their case is very pitiable, and it may be possible to help them by the action of the law. One would like to say a word for another class of young persons not too well treated. Are parents and guardians aware that in certain large schools on the Public School system the boys don’t always get enough to eat? I say this with the utmost deliberation, and I think that it is an abominable shame. I have heard, on very good authority, of one case in which a boy was afflicted with scurvy, thanks to the generous and abundant diet of a high-class and respectable Dotheboys Hall. (326).


  • “[Schoolboys] often do not get properly nourished at school, while their parents pay large quarterly bills” (326–27).
  • Lang discusses three volumes of poems” Henley’s Book of Verses, Anstey’s Burglar Bill, and William Sharp’s Romantic Ballads and Poems of Phantasy, as well as the preface to this book; Lang, unlike Sharp, doubts “whether the modern ballad has a great part to play in poetry” (328). Lang comments on Rosssetti as seeming “to do all that could be done with the ballad, and the result was remarkable and interesting and original, but somewhat too purely literary. His ballads were very long and did not affect a man as the old genuine popular ballads affect one” (328). “As Mr. Sharp remarks, a modern ballad, if written just like an old one, becomes an imitative exercise. And, if a modern ballad disdains the old formulæ, then it escapes from the genre altogether, and becomes something else, not to be judged by the laws of the ancient art” (328).
  • “It is not forms of writing, after all, nor cleverness in selecting them that we lack. It is genius that we lack, and when genius comes it will make or find its own mode of expression quite naturally” (328).
  • “In Mr. Henley’s very pretty volume, the best things are like the work of nobody else. . . . He is alone in the ‘realism’ of his poems in ‘Hospital,’—a strange subject for art . . . . His ballades are among the most clever in English, his rondeaux have elements of poetry ‘which is strange’ in these contracted forms” (329).
  • “As for Mr. Anstey’s Burglar Bill, I can only say that I have laughed at it till I cried, though in no laughing humour. How much we owe the man who can make us laugh . . . .” (329)
  • “The Lover in Hades,” a poem by “a contributor” (330).
  • On Molièristes’ and Shakespearomaniacs” and their fascination with trivia—why is Sir Walter Scott not subject to the same mania? What became of the “fishing tackle that Scott was rummaging for when he found the lost MS. of Waverly“? Lang answers the question (331).
  • The Japanese “Game of a Hundred Wicks,” where people tell ghost tales and blow out the wicks one by one (331).
  • M. Paul Sébillot’s Revue des Traditions Populairies, May 1888, which contains some Japanese ghost stories (331–32).
  • The M.C.C.’s acquisition of a work of art “a drawing in pencil on grey paper, representing a country game [of cricket] in the last century” (332).
  • Another work of art representing skittles (332).
  • Lang wonders about the accuracy of the story about the Admiral being “engaged in a game at bowls when the news came that the Armada was in sight” because of the similarity between “keels” (the game kails as pronounced by Devonshire natives”) and keels as ships (333).
  • “Would that we could now get ships as rapidly as in the Devonian miracle! The eighty-eights are ominous years—but even patriotic politcs are not admitted in this Ship” (333).
  • “The Crossing of the Till,” by Miss A. Warner (pp. 334–336), about which Lang writes, “If the following ballad is not a good ballad, I do not know a ballad when I see it” (333). He also notes that though the poem “was posted to me in October . . . by an accident in the direction,” he didn’t receive it till June, has since lost the author’s address “and shall be much obliged if she will have the kindness to send it to me” (336).

Poems printed in full:

  • “The Lover in Hades,” a poem by “a contributor” (330).
  • “The Crossing of the Till,” by Miss A. Warner (pp. 334–336)

August 1888 [Signed A. LANG]

Opening lines: “Whatever kissing may do, as the proverb hath it, publishing does not ‘go by favour.’ If only the world of amateurs who yearn to ‘be in print’ would learn this truth, how much less unhappy would be the life of the professional! Every day the professional scribbler gets melancholy letters from scribblers who are not professional. They have sent their poetry and prose to all the magazines, and the prose and poetry always returns to them again, after few days or many. ”


  • Lang says amateur writers superstitiously believe that their work is not published because it comes from them and not from an initiated professional already known to the editor. (441)
  • “The other wild belief in plagiarism is just as tenacious.” (441) “Probably most of the literary coincidences in fiction which are called plagiarisms may be accounted for in a very simple and innocent manner. A story in a magazine gets into common talk and conversation, and is heard, at last, by some literary person in search of a topic or a motif. Neither he nor the people who tell him the anecdote are aware that it has ever been printed; it has reached them by way of oral tradition.” (442) Examples are given.
  • “Have I not heard some person, supernaturally wise, affirm that Mr. Haggard’s ‘Measons’ is pilfered from a silly tale of my own? In both a record is tattooed on the human body, and that idea is publici juris, surely, because it is over 2,300 years old, and was employed by Histiæus, according to Herodotus, who was ‘a plagiarist himsel’,” according to Porphyry.” (443)
  • Lang has read a French book, Les Editions Originales d’Ecrivains Français du XV au XVIII Siècle, which reproduces facsimiles of books’ original title pages, along with other bibliographic information. He recommends that an English imitation be made: “The rich amateur could use it as a guide in his purchases, and the poor amateur would, at least, behold a shadow of what he can hardly hope to possess in reality.” (443)
  • “Australian poetry, is not as good as Australian cricket, nor have her minstrels, like her bowlers, a distinguished style of their own.” (443) Lang discusses “Mr. Douglas B. W. Sladen’s Century of Australian Song.” (443–45)
  • Lang’s poem “Chinook and Chinok” (445–46)
  • “Correspondents still write to tell us what too well we know–the story of ‘The Doctor and the Slave.’ But Lang asks if anyone can unriddle another story, of “two elderly ladies” traveling in the midlands who were silent till “Nuneaton” was announced, upon which one said to the other, “Eliza has too good reason to remember Nuneaton.” (446)
  • Lang claimes “light verse” is “as rare as strawberries” due to to the depressing weather and claims the following poem by a Caledonian Muse, “High Tide by the Northern Sea” may “determine people who have not already done so to accept the advice of the undertaker’s advertisement: ‘Why drag on a miserable Existence, when you can be Comfortably Buried for 3£. 10s.?
  • Lang follows the poem with a one-stanza poem on cricket, “Low Spirits on a Southern Ground. (July 2, 1888.) (448)


  • Lang’s poem “Chinook and Chinok” (445–46)
  • “Low Spirits on a Southern Ground. (July 2, 1888.) (448)

September 1888 [Signed ANDREW LANG.]

Opening lines: “Was there ever such a year? The draggled memories of 1879 seem dry beside it; and while farmers, cricketers, holiday-makers repine, nobody is one penny the better except the trout fishers. They have had their evil things, certainly, in the series of dry seasons, but even they must this year have almost had too much of what they reckon a good thing—rain.” (554)


  • “It has been a bowler’s season at cricket” (554). Lang’s cricket writing is, however, at an awkward time since “these notes have to be written when the victory of Australia at Lord’s is an old story, and before the return match at the Oval is played” (554).
  • Under the rainy conditions, Lang advises the batsmen Pecca fortiter (sin boldly) “play a bold bad game, and play it audaciously” (instead of sinning, but without “pluck and fortitude,” as they sinned at Lord’s–wanting to swipe, but restrained into spooning by conscience). [Lang seems to misattribute Pecca fortiter to Augustine rather than Luther] (554)
  • He quotes from a Midsummer Night’s Dream, as “is customary” “every wet summer” and adds three lines that may have been appropriate had cricket been popular in Shakespeare’s time. (555). [The OED dates cricket to ?1575.]
  • Lang suggests that underpaid writers organize: he discusses a literary sweater who started working 12 hours a day on the salary of one guinea a week and recently produced among numerous other genres and works, “thirty tales of 25,000 words each! “Compared with this fertility Mrs. Oliphant and the late Mr. Trollope are indolent” (556). After reading this story, Lang suggests that “if any capitalists are really making fortunes out of this employment of penmen at starvation wages, why it is high time that a Literary Trades Union was started by the oppressed class” (556). (See The Author page for more on Lang and the Society of Authors, founded 1890.)
  • A poem from a correspondent, “Underground” [about the London Underground] (556–57)
  • Autograph hunters (in reference to the current fad, M. Octave Uzanne’s ‘Zigzags d’un Curieux,” which Lang thinks overly kind to the collectors [Lang does not enjoy giving autographs] and M. Daudet’s ‘L’Immortel,’ which isn’t) (557–58). Lang also writes “Suetonius (I plagiarise this information from M. Uzanne) said he had read the rough drafts of Nero’s poems in Nero’s own hand.)
  • Lang hopes he has, “in this note, scrupulously acknowledged my debt to M. Uzanne” as Uzanne charged him with plagiarizing “A Bookman’s Purgatory” from him the year before. “The story was merely adapted by me, not from M. Uzanne, but from “L’Enfer d’un Bibliophile,” by the late M. Charles Asselineau. (Paris, 1860). This work my unfortunate hero is said to have been reading before he fell asleep and dreamed an Anglicised version . . . . and this remark was meant to indicate the source of my narrative. Anybody can compare M. Asselineau’s tale with my adaptation, or plagiarism, if plagiarism it be. But I am not aware that any incident or idea in my sketch was borrowed from M. Uzanne, though I had read a paper in which a hero of M. Uzanne’s also (if my memory serves me correctly) dreamed a dream after reading the dream of M. Asselineau” (558–59).
  • Lang shares a tale he was told “by a lady of African extraction,” a “‘Nancy story’ . . . the term of the negroes of the West Indies for any improbable tale. The true spelling is ‘an Ananzi story,’ and Ananzi, the spider, is the great hero of story on the Gold Coast.” Lang says it is a Tar Man story, and he only knows of this sort of story among Buddhists and Africans and would like to know more about how it got “from Buddhists to Blacks, or from Blacks to Buddhists; and how, if it cannot be found in European Märchen,” it missed Europe (559–60).

Poems printed in full:

  • “Underground,” from a correspondent (556–57).

October 1888 [Signed ANDREW LANG.]

Opening lines: “Not to read more of the newspapers than one can avoid is the chief relaxation of the holidays. But dimly one hears that the wiseacres of the world have been discussing two questions: whether (a) wedlock, and (b) the weed are failures. If they are both failures it is very hard on Man.” (660)

  • Lang relates the Maori account of the creation of woman, in Lang’s words: “Not seeing when he was well off (as my Maori author has it), he prayed to the Gods for a helpmate” The Sun married the Echo, ‘and Woman, their beautiful daughter, was born’ (660).
  • The man was unhappy with his lot, and prayed to the Gods again, and they sent him the Tobacco Maiden, who died. “Man burned her fair body solemnly . . . the smoke seemed peculiarly fragrant, and has since comforted him greatly when Woman is a little annoying” (660).
  • “Such is the New Zealand legend, which makes it difficult to believe that both Tobacco and Marriage are failures. Heaven meant the one to be the complement of the other” (661).
  • Lang agrees with La Rochefoucauld that “‘There are good, but there are no delightful marriages.’ . . . This world is not perfect, but everything which is not perfect is not a failure. . . . Man has tried it all ways: Monogamy, Polygamy, Polyandry, Divorce made Easy (in Rome and Indiana), the Thibetan, British, Nair, and Spartan expedients, and on the whole civilised man has found the present Institution work best” (661).
  • Lang tells a story about a white settler who found a jade axe-head, which he showed to a woman who related its whole history, which shows that the Maori, that “chivalrous people,” also named their weapons like Europeans do. (661)
  • “Lines Written with a Slate Pencil on a Window of the Dining Room at the Lowood Hotel, Windermere, while waiting for tea, after being present at the Grasmere Sports of a very wet day, and in consequence of a recent perusal of ‘Belinda,’ a novel by Miss Broughton,” sent by a correspondent” (662).
  • Lang regrets that Longman’s is not illustrated, as the poem could then have been illustrated by a sketch (662).
  • Lang inserts corrections of previous inaccuracies in the Ship, sent in by correspondents, including that the pecca fortiter quote was by Luther, one error that was the printer’s not Lang’s, and one that he must leave W. E. Henley to comment on. He also received a letter from the writer of “Literary Sweating,” who says he made 200 pounds a year, not 200 pounds from all his work together. Lang writes, “May he drive his cochons d’or to a better market!” (663).
  • Lang gives a new intellectual game, “It is ‘my own invention:’ alone I did it, and can recommend it as more than common tedious and destructive of the happiness of nations” (663). He then gives “Directions for Playing the New Intellectual Game of Poets and Painters” (663–64)
  • The poem “Fleur-de-Lys” by G. R. T. (Graham R. Thomson [Rosamund Marriott Watson]) (664)
  • Scotch stories which Lang has lately heard and states in brief—three humorous anecdotes (665).
  • A correspondent writes to vindicate Rider Haggard’s account of elephant’s coming to a wounded comrade’s aid, which had been criticized, along with an account of a buffalo doing something similar and an account of the opposite–a whole herd turning on a wounded cow (665–66).

Poems printed in full:

Fleur-de-Lys” by G. R. T. (Graham R. Thomson [Rosamund Marriott Watson]) (664)

November 1888 [Signed A. LANG.]

Opening lines: “MR. BALLANTYNE’S article on ‘Wardour Street English’ in the October number of this magazine suggests a number of questions which it is not very easy to answer. It is easy to say that Mr. William Morris has invented a kind of Saga slang, a queer neo-Icelando-Anglo Wardour Street dialect, never before spoken or written by mortal man. This is true enough; but what kind of English are people to write, in certain circumstances?” (105)

This number has italicized topics given in the magazine:

  • Of ‘Wardour Street English’
  • Of Dialogue in Historical Novels
  • OF the ‘Black Arrow,’ ‘The Talismans,’ ‘John Inglesant,’ and ‘Esmond’
  • Lord Coleridge and Wordsworth
  • John Hamilton Reynolds: his ‘Peter Bell’
  • Of Aversions in Literature, of Rockets, and of Mr. Harry Quilter
  • Julian the Apostate: his Poem against Beer
  • A Ballad of Peru
  • A Reply to the Emperor Nero.

These headings are quite accurate, but more detail is given below:

  • Lang discusses the question of what sort of English historical novelists should employ in terms of William Morris, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow, a story in a boy’s paper in which a Druidess spoke in an objectionably modern style, Sir Walter Scott’s writing, and John Inglesant (105–06)“Only Mr. Thackeray, in Esmond, solved the problem of matching the style and the period” (106).
  • “Of one thing I am pretty certain. Modern readers like anything better than Wardour Street English, except real Old English, like that of Mallory, or Wiclif, or Chaucer” (107).
  • Lang notes that Hamilton Reynolds, Keats’s friend, had nearly as low an opinion of Wordsworth as Francis Jeffrey; Reynold’s published a parody of Peter Bell before the original was published. “Shelley’s was Peter the Third” (107).
  • Lang notes that “even a poet may fail to be the devoted and thorough-going admirer of a contemporary poet. We are all make like Bill Sikes’s dog: ‘don’t he hate other dogs as isn’t of his own breed?’ Time brings a change; all good dogs become of the breed of the critic and student of the future; he is far more concerned to enjoy their merits than to quarrel with their faults” (108).
  • Lang wonders why some critics (such as Mr. Harry Quilter) seem to enjoy the fall or failure of previously successful writers, especially since he cannot agree with Mr. Quilter on the supposed failures of Mr. Christie Murray or Mr. Anstey. He also makes the more than usually pointed criticism that “Mr. Quilter, too, is hardly fair. It may be doubted whether he will ever give the other side their revenge” (since Quilter has never gone “up like a rocket” and come “down like a stick” (109).
  • Julian wrote an epigram against beer. Lang and Professor Campbell of St Andrews both try their hand at rendering it into English (109).
  • “Ballad of Peru” (from a correspondent) (110–11)
  • Nero’s Ghost “is requested to accept humble thanks for his gracious autograph, an original poem written in letters of gold on a purple skin of the African goat” (111–12)

Poems printed in full:

  • Two renditions of Julian on beer by Lang and Professor Campbell (110)
  • Ballad of Peru” (from a correspondent) (110–11)

December 1888 [No signature.]

Opening lines: “Man is a difficult animal to satisfy. Thirty years ago he was crying out for examinations. Everybody was to be examined for everything. There was to be no more patronage than is consistent with a world where the House of Jobus will never be extinct. Intellect and energy were to pass through the doors of examinations with all good things. Now mankind cry out that they are aweary of examinations. Everyone is eternally being examined from six years old to six-and-twenty.” (218)

  • Lang does not believe that the system of examinations, which causes men to “only read what pays,” is at fault for university students not studying: “When did a crowd of young men every study? . . . . Under the system of examinations a larger proportion is obliged to make a nodding acquaintance with history, philosophy, poetry. . . . What do the educated classes read? The newspapers; and women read novels, and boys read poetry sometimes. It is not credible that the majority would study at all if they were not compelled to study, and examinations bring people in contact with good books” (218–19).
  • “Things may have altered: it is a long time since I was an undergraduate; but at that time, far from reading what paid, you could read nothing that did not pay, or at least that might not pay, either as an aid to style or by way of allusion, or, generally, by widening a man’s knowledge” and the fact that certain books would be tested made him more thorough in his study (219).
  • He believes that military examinations “show that a fellow has stuff in him,” though he may be “an honest dull boy” the examination distinguishes “the plodder from the idler” (220).
  • He agrees that examinations can be improved to avoid the problem of cramming, with “”unseen passages’ well chosen” and “a few pieces of composition” (220).
  • Lang seems to think that the bison would have gone extinct in time from the “reckless improvidence” of the “Indians,” (and claims that’s a common charge), though he also mentions the “advance of railways and the destructiveness of white sportsmen” (221). He claims that Minitarees believed that the “shot bison . . . did not really die” and tells the story of a boy who was found inside a regenerated bison (221).
  • Lang objects to a recent article on the Philosophy of Marriage in which a woman praised the simplicity of marriage in primitive society, claims that marriage has become much simpler in advanced societies (221–22).
  • Lang discusses the recent restrictions on “Free Trade in the translation of some of Zola’s novels.” Lang believes Zola’s intentions “may be austerely excellent,” that Zola may wish to “exhibit a series of bad examples, with some kind of purpose of awaking mankind to a sense of their defects” (222). “Unfortunately his methods cannot produce the results which it is only fair to assume that he desires” as apes and tigers are “vain enough” not to be shocked at their own images in a mirror, but like staring at them (223). Lang claims that grown-up readers “are much more likely to be disgusted than depraved by certain tales of M. Zola’s. . . . It is the curiosity of youth that takes moral harm from them, and the British youth, at all events, is protected from injury by the decent obscurity of a foreign language. It would be well if no English publisher thought it desirable to raise the veil, for the experiment is perilous. Yet, when one considers what is published daily by the press, there seems to be a lack of complete consistency in forbidding the publication of any literary work” (223).
  • “Shall we meet beyond the river?” M. K. (May Kendall) (223–24)

Poems printed in full:

  • “Shall we meet beyond the river?” M. K. (May Kendall) (223–24)
  • See the 1889 “At the Sign of the Ship” summaries.
  • Return to the “At the Sign of the Ship” Table of Contents.