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)
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