1890 “At the Sign of the Ship”

January 1890

Opening lines:

“The time has arrived for a Prospective Review. In an age when new works are abused before they are published because the critic does not like the uncle of the author, it is high time that fictions should be censured before they are written” (330).

  • Lang gives imagined plot summaries of prospective literature for 1890 by Mr. William Black (Machinahanich), Mr. Walter Besant (Fair and Foul), Mr. Rider Haggard (On the Amber Route), “New Poems by quite a new writer,” Mr. Howells and Mr. Cables (Carinthia’s Young Men), Mr. Louis Stevenson (Wandering Willie), and Mrs. Humphrey Ward (The New Polyeucte). (330–36)

Poems Printed in Full:

  • Two of the proposed “New Poems by quite a new writer,” “At Sundown,” and “The Way to Babylon,” which is followed by the initials E.C. and M.K. [May Kendall].

February 1890

Opening lines: “If the year 1889 did not do very much for literature, at least for the highest literature, it gave us the two most interesting volumes of poetry which are now in the hands of the small remnant to whom poetry appeals. But 1889 took from us Mr. Browning, in the unabated force of his intellect, his courage, his enjoyment of life.” (439)

  • Browning’s death, and the two great collections of poetry of 1889, Asolando (by Browning) and Demeter and Other Poems (by Tennyson).
  • Browning’s poetry and his friendliness to all (439)
  • People’s tendency to compare Browning with Tennyson: “Nature, in her satire, frequently gives us great persons in pairs–Fielding and Richardson, Bonaparte and Wellington, Dickens and Thackeray, Mr. Browning and the Laureate. Then we take sides, and quarrel over their respective merits, in place of being glad and grateful. . . . And now, when our two last great poets give us of their best simultaneously, and that best so typical of either genius, we naturally turn to comparing them again, and, in our hearts, prefer one before the other” (439–40).
  • Tennyson’s followers hold to “the ancient loyalty, the long tradition of poetry,” while “Browning’s strength lay in his novelty, his absolute originality” (440).
  • “Everybody by this time has compared Lord Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar, with Mr. Browning’s Epilogue” (412).
  • Sonnets and Poems, by Lord Rosslyn, including one on Browning (443).
  • Mr. Courthope’s Life of Pope which is “the more excellent because he has resisted the biographer’s temptation to paint his hero in the blackest asphalte” (444–47).
  • Lang “not convinced” by Courthope “that Pope was a poet, except on rare occasions, and, as a rule, ‘with a difference’ (445).
  • Lang comments also on Courthope’s views on Pope’s translation of Homer: “Mr. Courthope thinks that [the Iliad] alone would entitle Pope to the praise of ‘a great original poet.’ But he had a collaborator, surely, in Homer! I said long ago (in a preface to a prose version of the Odyssey) that ‘this great translation—Pope’s—must always live as an English poem.’ But then the poetry in it was given by the Greek” (445)
  • Pope’s Iliad full of “magnificent rhetoric, but it is not Homer’s” (446).
  • “My attention has just been called to a slip of eye or pen in The Sign of the Ship for December. I represent Mr. Howells as having compared Mr. Thomas Hardy, as a novelist, to Mr. Thackeray, and declared him more poetical. It was Mr. Trollope, not Mr. Thackeray, that Mr. Howells named in this connection” (447).
  • “Will the author of a poem signed ‘E.C.’ in The Sign of the Ship for January kindly send name and address?” (448)

Poems printed (mainly excerpts)

  • All three stanzas of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Sun upon the Weirdlaw Hill” (441)
  • Two stanzas from Robert Browning’s Prologue to Asolando (440, 441)
  • One stanza from Browning’s Epilogue (412)
  • Four stanzas from Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” (443)
  • One stanza each from Lord Rossyln’s sonnet to Mr. Browning (443) and the sonnet on Lord Iddesleigh’s death (444)

March 1890

Opening lines: “There is no novelist, after all, like M. Xavier de Montépin. In France he addresses, in the Petit Journal, the largest of all audiences, though, when published in books, his works are not so popular as those of subtler authors.” (550).

  • M. Xavier de Montépin “knows exactly what his public wants, and it would be curious and interesting to compare its tastes with those of the large English public which takes its novels in newspapers” (550).
  • David Pae an English newspaper novelist; his story “about a mill-girl” in a Glasgow journal so well liked that its “subscribers demanded that it should be repeated in its columns again and again” (550).
  • The public, in each case, evidently prefers “that there should be an ingénue as pure as poor, who is debarred by conspriacies from the enjoyment of a prodigious fortune” (550). M. de Montépin also “adds the latest things in scientific murder” (550) and is much more graphic than Sir Walter Scott in the Waverly Novels. 
  • Summary of M. de Montépin’s Le Testament Rouge, with a digression on Appolonious, Medea and Jason, and comments on the desecration of the library book of the title (550–553)
  • “A good deal of poetry has lately accumulated in the stores of this barque, and may now, perhaps, be unladen: “The ‘Dickens” Gallery,” by M. J. Farrah (553–54)
  • “Coat o’ Clay,” “a real English folk tale, of which we have so few” (554–58)
  • “The Nightingale’s Children,” a poem by Graham R. Tomson (Rosamund Marriott Watson) (558–59)

Poems printed in full: 

  •  “The ‘Dickens” Gallery,” by M. J. Farrah (553–54)
  • “The Nightingale’s Children,” a poem by Graham R. Tomson (Rosamund Marriott Watson) (558–59)

Folktales printed in full: “Coat o’ Clay” (554–58)

April 1890

Opening lines: When an American editor is in want of something to write about, he abuses the English sparrow, and when we causeurs are in a like straight we fall back on novels. ‘The universal novel,’ says Mr. Grant Allen, ‘must ever hereafter travel in the very self-same path’ as Mr. Henry James and Mr. Howells. In that case it is odd that the author of Kali and of John Creedy does not himself gird up his loins and start on the very self-same path.” (650)

  • Lang disputes Grant Allen’s claim that novels will all be like James and Howells in the future. While he believes that Allen could do well in that vein of fiction if he tried, he claims that Allen “does not practice what he knows . . .because what he practices is more akin to the public taste than what he preaches” (650).
  • Allen does give in “that ‘the old romances will live more or less bravely,’ by the side of the new romance that is delicate and scientific.” Lang posits “And that is all which any sensible reader wants. All that we desire is plenty of paths in fiction, not one single highway, with no highway robbers, and no queer adventures at inns” (660).
  • Lang, like Allen, hopes that the style of the old romance may be good: “No romance is any the worse, but far the better, for being well written . . . . Even the novel-publishing newspapers, so long as they get their weekly allowance of incident, do not grumble, probably, because the language is good. Its excellence, however, depends on the matter” (660).
  • Remarks on style (661)
  • The reappearance of the historical novel as proof that novels are not, as Allen maintained, all on one path; advances in historical study makes these possible (661–62).
  • Plot summary of Joshua, a novel by Egyptologist, Dr. Georg Ebers, which Lang gently mocks, particularly for its romantic incidents, including Hur’s proposal to Miriam, who “was older than Moses, who was very old indeed” (663).
  • “Perhaps this moving love story has been recited with horrid flippancy. But it all seems so odd and so out of place, in the stress of the Exodus. That is the difficulty of historical novels, especially on sacred subjects” (664).
  • “In Sunday School, a poem by M. C. E. (664–65)

Poems Printed in Full

  • “In Sunday School, a poem by M. C. E. (664–65)

May 1890

Opening lines: “To be bitten by the mania for making sonnets is a melancholy thing. It is like drivelling into a punster. As that scourge of society thinks first, on all occasions, of twisting words, so every incident and thought comes to the sonneteer as a matter for their sonnet-making mill.” (105)

  • Sonnet question related to question put to Voltaire about how many French plays (“four or five thousand”) vs. how many good ones (“fourteen or fifteen”) (105)
  • “Florentines, celebrating the sixth hundred year since Beatrice was born or died, actually ask our poets for sonnets!” Lang gives “a specimen of this method”, “Six hundred years have faded since she died / Or else (I know not which) since she was born, / And if the former, Sonnet, though must mourn, / But if the latter, plume thee in the pride / Of Florence, on the yellow Arno’s side . . . .” (105)
  • “Next to sonnet-making, the making of Aphorisms, after Rochefoucauld, is the direst snare of youth.” Lang gives several aphorisms from a maxim-maker (106–07).
  • “An Enchanted Princess,” a poem by G. R. T. (Rosamund Marriott Watson) (107)
  • “A Fragment of Herodotus” (Lang’s parody on Herodotus visiting St Andrews, which was first published in the St Andrews College Echoes (108–10)
  • The Mocking-bird in the Kloof,” a poem by A. Werner (110–12)

Poems printed in full: 

  • “An Enchanted Princess,” by G. R. T. (Rosamund Marriott Watson) (107)
  • The Mocking-bird in the Kloof,” by A. Werner (110–12)

June 1890

Opening lines: “In the spring many persons fling ‘the winter garment of repentance’ away, and betake themselves to backing horses. It is their business of course, to know how much they like to give for the pleasures of hope; but the pleasures of hope are all they purchase by betting.” (234)

  • No worse gambling odds than there are in backing horses (234).
  • Lang had a dream that most certainly will not be fulfilled, but he has known of people who dream of horse races, follow their dream and win (235). On the other hand, one “Mr. Juggins” liked a horse and bet on it. “Everybody but Mr. Juggins knew that Pinturicchio could win, but everybody knew that he was not intended to win. Accident, or the inattention or dishonesty of his jockey, permitted Pinturicchio to run as fast as he chose, whereas a very different manœvre indeed had been contemplated in the stable” (236). But Mr. Juggins still had no luck, as he “had wagered his money with a flagrant welsher” (236).
  • “At Loch Awe . . . I discovered that the Highlander is still rich in legends of every sort . . . . a traditional form of the legend in Scott’s poem of Glen Finlas, also “the discovery that the Appin murder (of which Alan Breck [in Stevenson’s Kidnapped] was accused) is vividly remembered in tradition. The people think it a great shame that the wrong man was hanged. Thousands of them knew who the murderer was. How Celtic is this behaviour! You know who the murderer is, you let an innocent man swing for it, and then you find fault with the Law, because the wrong person was hanged!” (236).
  • Lang recommends Anatole France’s La Vie Littéraire: “a wise, kindly, melancholy spirit of humour, and good humour, informs the various essays. . . . He brings to the criticism of modern literature what so few men bring, and wide and curious, and, so to say, affectionate knowledge of the world’s classics” (237).
  • “The Fatal Advertisements,” a poem by May Kendall on Martians, who looked through a powerful telescope at Earth and wished to know what problems those on our planet had solved, and saw signs that said “Linoleum” and “Sapolio” (237–39).
  • Lang argues with “some one . . . in Mr. Labouchere’s paper, who called “Golf the game of Fogeys” (239). Lang claims that “The young men are the best players, just as much as at cricket, but the old can still potter along” (239–40).

Poems printed in full:

“The Fatal Advertisements,” by May Kendall (237–39).

July 1890

Opening line: “The Aphorist, or Wise Youth, already introduced to the public [see May 1890], offers a few more of his reflections.

  • Aphorisms (347)
  • The Americans are the ones who ought to object now that Congress has “thrown out the Copyright Bill” as the British are “no worse off than [they] were before”: “I myself hug the delightful reflection that, when any American adventurer has robbed me, he has lost money by it. Of course the feelings of writers whose labour has enriched pirates must be vastly different” (347).
  • “On the whole, there was a much more respectable minority in favour of the bill than one had looked for . . . . Better luck next time. The Americans, in the long run, will see that their own pockets and interests, moral, pecuniary, and literary, are not served by pouring indiscriminately all the trash of English fiction on their home market. And possibly we may learn something, too, in this controversy and publish cheaper books” (348).
  • Lang does object strongly to the American practice of “alter[ing], compress[ing], [and] expand[ing] British work to suit the American market, or of “crib[bing] a book from the periodical in which three fourths of it has appeared, and send[ing] into the world with a forged conclusion, but with the author’s ‘brand'” (348).
  • Lang recommends Mr. Ralph Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms, which “has all the merit of ‘Jack Sheppard,’ or ‘Rookwood,’ with an exemplary moral thrown in” (348),  though he wishes that the heroes, “like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, while they were pirates, . . . had determined that the black flag should never be stained with a crime” (349).
  •  Thackeray on “the immense number of persons who are killed in the Waverley novels, and on the perfect tranquillity and good taste with which it is all managed” (349). Similar in Icelandic sagas, but not in Homer.
  • While “a well-known critic regards modern novels of hard blows as a recrudescence of barbarism,” Lang maintains that “polyandry” is also this. “Nothing could be much more disagreeable, in practice, than either antique diversion, but, of the two, one prefers to read about fighting, rather than about free love” (349–50).
  • Canon Kingsley “a peaceful man” was the “author who really revived fighting novels after Scott” (350).
  • Lang displeased with “English anglers, millers, and people responsible for rivers in general,” who, in their methods of weed-cutting, disturb Lang’s fishing [and corrupt drinking water]. “You reach a stream, you begin to fish, and lo, what was water suddenly becomes a salad” (350).
  • Lang makes a correction to the June “Ship.” He had believed that the people of Argyleshire knew the wrong man was hung for a murder, knew the real Appin murderer, and kept the knowledge to themselves: “we are now informed that there was no definite proof, only strong suspicion. . . . This is much more to the credit of the Celtic character than the facts as we had originally believed them to be” (350).
  • Mr. Harry Furniss’s Academy Antics. Lang comments on what seems possible and impossible in Furniss’s complaints about these Academicians and recommends that people outside of the Academy might choose the pictures to be hung (351).
  • “We may agree with much that Mr. Furniss says, and yet regret the manner in which he marshals his power of pencil and pen. At all events, we who merely hear the stories must suspend our judgment till the evidence is produced” (352).

August 1890

Opening lines: “There is a fishing story which I have always believed, knowing the eye-witness of the event who narrates it, but which has been met with scepticism. It is the tale of the Big Trout of Kennaquhair Loch; in deference to local feeling, the real name of the sheet of water is reserved” (458).

  • Trout drags boat “across the water, and back again, boring deep, and never showing himself” (458).
  • Lang admits that in these days of small trout, this seems like ‘an unco leein’ like story,’ (458) but discusses a recently found forty-pound fish that could have done this and is comforted that there are still large fish in lochs (459).
  • Centuries of trout fishing have not brought unanimity on how it ought to be done (459).
  • “Are there fifty novelists in England just now who make a thousand a year or more by their profession? The statement has just been made by one good authority, and disputed by another” (459). Lang wants to know why people care; “barristers, doctors, or other professional people” aren’t subject to this income inquiry, though they “all do much better on the whole than authors, because they supply a necessary article” (460).
  • Ghosts and evidence in courts of law: in the murder trial of Duncan Terig and Alexander Bane McDonald, a ghost’s evidence in June 1754 “rather damaged the interests of justice” in part because the ghost spoke Gaelic and the murder victim could not (460, 461).
  • Mr. Gildersleeve, Professor of Greek at John Hopkins University, “has published a humorous defence of” Xanthippe, Socrates’ wife (461–62).
  • Aphorisms “except one” from “a lady philosopher” (462).
  • “Nearly two years ago a dream story was published in these pages” in which “two young ladies had each a black secret, which was not revealed to the dreamer. The curious may find out, in ‘Two and Two, a Tale of Four,’ what the secrets were . . . as set forth by Miss Glaisher, who has based a shilling novel on the vision (Arrowsmith.) To the original dreamer, or unconscious collaborator, the solution seems ingenious” (462–63).
  • “Transformation,” a poem by Graham R. Tomson (Rosamund Marriott Watson)

Poems printed in full

  • “Transformation,” by Graham R. Tomson (Rosamund Marriott Watson)

September 1890

Opening lines: It is time that the line should be firmly drawn between criticism and reviewing. In the August number of Harper’s Magazine (which, by the way, contains a thrilling account of Custer’s last fight) Mr. Howells does not seem to draw this line. He once more endeavours to abate the insolence of ‘critics,’ assures them that criticism has usually tried to depress originality, tells them that, being anonymous, they are tempted to be savage, and generally, labours to make them ‘know their place.’ To myself he seems to overrate their influence—and their savagery” (569).

  • Criticism and reviewing are not the same thing.
  • Lang believes “the ordinary anonymous reviewer is (as the Scotch lassie said of a modest lover) ‘senselessly ceevil’* (569).
  • “On the other hand,” Lang agrees with Thackeray that “authors should make up their minds to a great deal of ‘honest enmity,’ and ‘to be abused for good as well as bad reasons'” (569).
  • “The anonymous is not necessarily, nor often, the dishonest reviewer.” Howells gave a parable of “the Clarion, which ‘is opposed to So-and-So’s book.’ Now if a reviewer lets his editor impose a task on him, if he attacks the books merely because The Clarion is opposed to them, he is selling his soul extremely cheap. But I believe the bargain is rare” (569).
  • Lang has only had any suggestion made to him about how to review a book twice: “The editor in each case said, ‘If you don’t like the work send it back, for I do.‘ I did like it, in each instance; but had I disliked it, no harm would have been done” (570).
  • “For various reasons one might agree with Mr. Howells, and wish that all reviews were signed. But the public is of another opinion, and a reviewer can always act on Mr. Howells’ excellent advice, and say nothing, anonymously, that he would hesitate to put his name to” (570).
  • “the brief contemporary notice is not criticism. . . . An author gets little good or bad from them. About familiar and prolific writers they keep little clichés on stereotyped forms. For my own part I know exactly what the reviewer will say about any new venture of my own. ‘The versatile and industrious Mr. L. New field. Accustomed lightness of touch. Desultory. Inaccurate. May be read without fatigue. Opinions may still be divided as to Mr. L’s conclusions.’ That is the humour of it; not exhilarating, but quite kindly and harmless. And what more has a man a right to expect? If I have developed a theory about the religion of the Patagonians, what can Jones, who does the notices in the Clarion, know about the matter? What can he care about the matter? He has to turn out a score of lines of copy, and it were irrational vanity in me to expect him to study half a library, and wring his brow with thought over me and my Patagonians. Or if I write a novel–which may fate forbid–it is a thousand to one that I neither excite Jones’s enthusiasm, nor drive him to a fury of indignation. That is reserved for more powerful and passionate authors, who should be proud of ecstatic praise or violent condemnation—from Jones. they have, in either event, made Jones ‘sit up,’ as the saying is, and that is something” (570). Lang notes that when it once happened to him, “The subject of punishment merely giggled, and it were well for all authors to laugh instead of sitting down gravely to call Jones a treacherous savage, or going about to discover his name and habitation” (571).**
  • Lang does not agree with Howells that it is a problem if journals are made to look inconsistent by differing opinions in anonymous reviews written at different times: “Circumstances have altered, that is all; the genius remains, the old opponent is converted, and probably does not mind being inconsistent” (572).
  • Lang recently reread Vanity Fair while traveling and believes that “every five years, one learns better to appreciate this cynic” (572).
  • Lang gives an examination on Vanity Fair (572–73).
  • The writer in Field is upset about some “eyed hooks now being sold” (573). English streams have trout, “but a miller has shut off the water”; “Scotch streams” have “a wealth of water, but trout are absent, or, at best, very shy” (573). Lang discusses a tarn with large trout that will not bite and notes what will make trout bite (bread crumbs), but using them would lead the fisher to “instant ruin, social and professional” (574).
  • In Australia, men are sometimes auctioned off to women at auctions for between five and twopence and 100,000 £. Lang posits this may have also happened to Gay, citing a letter from Pope where Gay is mentioned as being “‘raffled for, and won back by his Duchess'” (574)
  • “The Psychical Society seems to neglect the Morality of Ghosts” (574). Why do people depressed and suicidal in life become such practical jokers? (575).
  • Did those at Mr. Stanley’s wedding notice that they walked over the tombs of Mrs. Bracegirdle and Mrs. Aphra Behn?
  • “In March the world was bare,” a poem by Frances Wynne (575–76).

Poems printed in full: 

  • “In March the world was bare,” by Frances Wynne (575–76).

*Lang used this expression (‘senselessly ceevil’) when describing his review of Hume Brown’s Scottish History to William Blackwood III, noting that he had to be careful since they wrote in the same field. The review was Lang’s sole anonymous contribution to Blackwood’s; Blackwood’s book reviews were usually anonymous. See MS 4690 of the Blackwoods Papers at the National Library of Scotland, folio 205 (March 16, [1899]). See also fol. 211 (April 4).

**These comments on reviewing were made a few months before the reviews of Lang and Haggard’s The World’s Desire were published. (The World’s Desire was serialized April–December 1890 in The New Review, November 1890 in book form; it was widely panned, with the harshest review likely being from the pen of Lang’s one-time friend, W. E. Henley.) See Green, Andrew Lang, pp. 133–35.

October 1890

Opening lines: “Makers of shilling novels must be proud to find Count Tolstoi among thir ranks. His new tale, The Kreutzer Sonata, translated by Mr. Sutherland Edwards (Eden Remington), is very much like other shilling novels, not only in price, but in absence of humour” (676).

  • Lang objects to Tolstoy’s being criticized as if the views of his murderous protagonist, Pozdnisheff, were Tolstoy’s own, which is as reasonable, in Lang’s belief, as equating Iago’s views with Shakespeare’s (676–77)
  • Lang appreciates that the novel is short (676)
  • “How different, how much more genial, if equally absurd, is Miss Florence Warden’s shilling tale, Nurse Revel’s Mistake!” which Lang says “you can recommend to a friend, if the friend has either simplicity enough to accept the situations frankly, or humour enough to endure them tolerantly (677).
  • Lang speaks against hypnotism in most fiction as “really too slipshod and indolent a device” (678)
  • The anecdote of the preacher who was about to be robbed or murdered when a horseman came and frightened off his pursuer–but turned out to be a phantom that was nonetheless visible to both men (678–79).
  •  Lang is amazed by the invention of earlier humans and claims that the current civilized specimens would never have made better tools, domesticated animals, learned astronomy, philosophy, or grammar, etc. like they did (679). A discussion of Wallace and Darwin on human evolution and invention (680).
  • Thackeray’s excellent style and careless grammar (680)
  • A memorial to Richard Jeffries (681)
  • “The Captain’s Dream,” a poem by May Kendall about the Salvation Army, which she takes a “more friendly view of” than Lang does (681–82)

Poems printed in full:

  • “The Captain’s Dream,” by May Kendall (681–82)

November 1890

Opening lines:

“The announcements of new books, in early October, are always pleasant reading, especially, perhaps, when the new books are really old ones revived. This year many of our old friends are to come with new faces; first and best the Saga Library, of Mr. William Morris and Mr. Eirikr Magnussson, which Mr. Quaritch is going to publish. A critic has remarked, in private, that the Philistine shudders at the very name of a Saga.’ Mr. Quaritch appears to reckon that at least a thousand people have not bent the knee to Dagon, for he proposes an edition of 1,000 copies, at five shillings a volume. . . . Books written by white savages, for white savages, or barbarians at least, are the Sagas, the most delightful reading, full of adventure, ghosts, the best of fights, laws, manners, customs, and histories, all told with vigour and simplicity” (106).


  • Sagas, including a comparison to Mark Twain’s tale of the Old Ram, “in which the narrator . . . never comes to the Old Ram at all. But the Sagas do come to him, to Gunnar, or Grettir, or Egil, but seldom by the shortest route” (106).
  • Other sagas already printed: “There are already . . . especially in a rare old copy by Sir George Dasent versions of the mythical Sagas, the Prose and the Verse Edda,” Morris’s Volsunga Saga, Mr. Laing’s very expensive ‘Chronicle of the Kings of Norway,’ the Heimrskringla. “But it is less easy to lay hand on an English version of the Saga of Eric the Red [Lang would like to see a “noble boy’s book written on the subject–and would not even mind Vikings encountering the Aztecs in fiction]. . . Egil’s Saga, I think, one cannot at present possess at all, and the saga of the Laxdale men I only possess in Latin. . . . Njal’s Saga, the best of all, is becoming scarce and expensive in Sir Goerge Dasent’s edition, and there be other Sagas which are quite strangers to people ignorant of Icelandic. . . . we may welcome these noble romances, as among the best books for men, and even still more for boys, though the remoteness of the age in which they were told, and the strangeness of the atmosphere, may frighten away the readers of three-volume novels” (106–07)
  • The Locked Book, or Diary of Sir Walter Scott, from 1825–1832, Mrs. Maxwell Scott, Carlyle, and John Gibson Lockhart mentioned.
  • Joseph Jacobs’s “first fairly complete collection of real English nursery tales, faint fragments, for the English were the first people to forget their own popular traditions” (107–08). (Nutt)
  • “Messrs. Bell are bringing out Mr. Robert Bridge’s Lyrics, which have been as hard to find as Shakespeare quartos, almost, for some years; while Howell’s Letters (Epistolæ Ho-Elianæ), the most diverting gossip, a favorite ‘bedside book fo Thackeray’s, is being issued by Mr. Stott, and in Bohn’s Library, we are to have Jessopp’s edition of Lives of the Norths. Thus the wise persons who, when a new book is praised, re-read an old one, andwill have plenty of the best old books to re-read, and will vex Mr. Grant Allen by saying that ‘the old is better.'” [But most readers prefer the new, as they did “in Homer’s time”] (108).
  • Lang thinks it unlucky that the Scots are being beaten by the English at Golf, citing the Amateur Championship meeting, at Hoylake: with four men (3 Scots) left at the end, Mr. John Ball, the Englishman won. Horace Hutchinson,* also an Englishman, won at St Andrews in September. [*Horace Hutchinson wrote “Cricket vs. Golf” in Blackwood’s (April 1890), which was a response to Lang’s June 1889 poem “The Old Love and the New” in the same publication.]
  • A discussion of genius vs. talent, summarized and expanded upon from the comments of a “correspondent, Mr. Jones” (108–10). “Mr. Jones expresses himself as equally charmed with the works of Genius, when he meets it, and resigned, in his own humble person, to do without it. But he does not understand why he should therefore be regarded as a kind of literary or artistic leper because he does his work pretty fairly, turns out an article for which there is moderate demand, is contented with his wages, and never dreams of being remembered for a day after he has ceased to labour. . . . He is included to hold that the difference between genius and talent is very much a difference of degree, and that a man may at one moment of his life be possessed of genius, and have only talent at another moment, and not very much of that. In short, Mr. Jones regards himself, and people like him, as members, intellectually speaking, of the middle class” (109).
  • English novels vs. M. Guy de Maupassant’s Notre Cæur: “Count Tolstoi and other philosophers have decided that Love plays too great a part in fiction as well as in life. Probably they will be yet more of their own opinion after studying most recent French novels, especially M. Guy de Maupassant’s Notre Cæur. This tells of the loves of a gentleman who had no occupation except his passion, and of a widow lady who was a kind of fascinating Mrs. Leo Hunter. They never dreamed of marrying, though there was nothing to prevent them, and the lover was profoundly miserable because the lady was not entirely absorbed in him, but continued to hunt lions, to dress sumptuously, and to glitter in society. So he retired as far as Fontainebleau, the prey of utter melancholy, and there a beautiful and accomplished dame de comptoir fell as much in love with him as he was with the widow. There is literarally no incident except the minute accidents of these affections, and there is almost less than no conclusion. This kind of writing is hardly possible in an English novel, where you either marry or die, and, in either case, probably find some interest, in this world or the next, outside of the affairs of the heart. . . . In this age when Marriage is promptly declared to be a Failure, let us remember that at least it does end a love affair, and prevents us from declining into the despair of M. de Mariolles, the hero of this ingenious and woeful fiction” (110). Lang recommends salmon fishing in Norway to the hero as “a certain and manly cure” and claims “Man was not meant to do nothing whatever but make love” (111).
  • The art criticism of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Lang quotes some of his language and states “A sporting prophet in a cheap and offensive print could hardly rail more violently. If this, which may be read in Mr. Rossetti’s collected works, is a specimen of an artist’s criticism, let us be glad that other critics are not artist” (111). [Lang concedes Rossetti was young when he wrote what he wrote.]
  • A comment on the late Lord Rosslyn’s verse: “If he did not tickle the ear, he touched the heart; and though he was not didactic, you felt better for reading his sonnets” (111). Also mentions Sir Francis Doyle.
  • Frances Wynne’s untitled poem about summer’s end and autumn, which begins “Hither and thither flying / Flickering to and fro, / Swallows their wings are trying / All in the sunset glow.”

Poems printed in full: 

  • [“Hither and thither flying”] by Frances Wynne (112)

December 1890

Opening lines: “In the September number of this magazine was printed, at the Sign of the Ship, one variant of a supernatural story–the story of the Minister, the ferocious man with the sickle—”There is a Reaper, his name is Death—” and the mysterious mounted stranger. In our version the minister was a Weslyan and a Yorkshireman, because the narrator was born into that creed and a denizen of that country” (215)

  • Lang lists all the variants correspondents have sent him of that story: “a printed book” about a “Calvinistic minister in Wales,” “Märchen in Devonshire, and an echo in Australia,” Nonconformist and Church of England variants, Lord Houghton’s version, with “the ghost of an old friend. . . . Whether one would not just as soon be saved by a robber from a ghost as by a ghost from a robber is a question for the timid” . . . “The Psychical Society,” “Mr. Podmore . . . may tell us . . . that the clergyman’s illusion was ‘telepathetically’ transferred to the imagination of the robber” (215).
  • Bishop of Lincoln, who prayed when his carriage wheel came off, whereupon a stranger came by, happening to have one, and replaced it. When the Bishop turned to thank his helper, he had disappeared. “One cannot expect Calvinistic or Wesleyan readers to believe this prelatical miracle. But the Church, perhaps, is not very credulous about the stranger who sits up aloft to watch over the fortunes of the Dissenting ministers. To the calm scrutiny of science it is plain that all these stories are one story. Let us appeal to the Folklore Society, and induce them to hunt examples of it through the Middle Ages” (216). Lang gives the classical example of Castor and Polydeuces, who “ride up at the very nick of time and help people in distress . . . in Theocritus” (216). “Among the Vedic Indians the Açvin brothers have precisely the same duty. . . . Muir’s Sanscrit Texts may be consulted by the curious. . . . Of course, this would not demonstrate that the stories are not true” (216).
  • Invisible guts for fishing as discussed in Nature: “Science seems at last to be in the right way. We are not much the happier for getting bad news quicker by electricity, and bad goods cheaper by machinery; but if science has invented invisible gut, or something as good as invisible gut, then we have a better chance with the most cautious trout (217).
  • “A lady sends from Suffolk the following curious fragment of a ballad, which , she says, ‘has a very good tune.’ But who, she asks, is the Duke of Bedford, or who the Princess Mary?”: “Six lords went a-hunting down by the seaside, / and they spied a dead body washed away by the tide” [The Duke of Bedford]. Lank says “any information from genealogists will be gladly received” and notes, “Tradition is awfully tenacious in some things. The head of a Border family fell at Killiecrankie, and, quite recently, an old man in the neighbourhood could still point out the tree under which his entrails were buried when the body was carried to the dead warrior’s country” (217).
  • “The Lady and Four Lovers” a “Hindoo Märchen . . . told by the late Sir Alexander Grant, Principal of Edinburgh University, who had heard it in India. Part of the idea–the various pretensions of the lovers–occurs in the story of the Prince Achmet and the Fairy Badroulbadour. But the conclusion is novel and unexpected” (218). A young woman died before being able to decide among her four suitors. One killed himself at her grave and was buried with her, one spent the night in a tree to keep the jackals away from the bodies, the richest one went home and wept all night, the fourth dressed like a pilgrim and visited a shrine. On the way he saw a woman who killed a child who was making too much noise, but didn’t think the murder important, as she had a white powder which quickly could bring the child back to life. He stole the powder and brought it back, resurrecting the young woman and the first dead suitor, but leaving the suitors all to quarrel over who now deserved to marry the young woman. They brought the case to the rajah, and, as he could not make up his mind either, he decided to marry the lady himself (218–19).
  • “Count Tolstoi has lately discovered that nobody should ever marry, if the marriage could give pain to any other body. As it happens, M. Paul Bourget’s new novel, Un Cæur de Femme, turns on the fortunes of a lady who was as charitable and kind, in her love affairs, as the Count could wish” (220). Lang comes to the moral that “Count Tolstoi is wrong, that we must not mix up pity and love–these passions are too near akin to marry” (220).
  • “For various reasons one cannot review Mr. Steuart’s ‘Letters to Living Authors,’ [Lang had written Letters to Dead Authors, 1886], but surely the form of the criticism is not its strong point. You cannot decently tell a man to his face exactly what you think of his work, unless he be a most intimate friend, unless he asks your advice, unless his book is still unpublished, and your counsel has yet a chance of being accepted” (220). Lang discusses Scott on Blackwood’s criticisms, Marmion, and William Erskine. “Much less, then, is such a form of criticism natural, or possible, or desirable, in publicly addressing strangers. The manners of Junius, however softened, are fit, perhaps, for politics, not for literature” (220).
  • Mr. Eugene Field’s “Dutch Lullaby”: “Neither Blake nor Mr. Stevenson has written, to my mind, a more delightful song of childhood” (221, the poem continues onto p. 222).
  • Writer in the Spectator believes golf “demoralises the members of the poorer classes whom it touches” [caddies]. Lang disagrees and thinks caddies, who often start carrying clubs as boys, may do well and points to Tom Morris as an example. Lang objects to caddies being portrayed as “invariably dirty and dissolute. . . . As a rule, they are quite, loyal, good-humoured, and humorous” and believes its the “influx of casual summer visitors” who bring “all the worst loafers to the green, and the regular caddies get an undeserved bad character” (222, 223).


  • Ballad Fragment [“The Duke of Bedford”]
  • “Dutch Lullaby” by Eugene Field
  • See the 1891 “At the Sign of the Ship” summaries.
  • Return to the “At the Sign of the Ship” Table of Contents.