1891 “At the Sign of the Ship”

January 1891

Subheading: Mr. Bridge’s Poems [339–47]

Opening lines: “In the autumn of 1873 was published, by Mr. Pickering, a volume of verse by Robert Bridges, a prettily printed volume in pale blue cloth. It contained many charming lyrics, and other pieces of less equal merit. The author appears to have been dissatisfied with the collection, perhaps with the medley in the collection, for he withdrew it from circulation.” (339).

  • Lang gives a list of Robert Bridges’s poetic productions: “This little bibliographical notice is merely intended to show that the poet has not been idle between 1873 and 1890, when his Shorter Poems (G. Bell & Sons) are at last within the reach of all readers” (339). Lang agrees with Poe that the best poems are short (lyrics). (339)
  • Not everyone can write a readable drama, but “Bridges’s Prometheus is readable” (339).
  • Comparisons with Swinburne’s Atalanta, Arnold’s Merope. Bridges’s other Greek plays discussed (ErechtheusNeroPalicio, the Return of UlyssesAchilles in Scyros, and “exquisitely written” lines from the end of Achilles in Scyros quoted (340–41).
  • However, Lang objects to putting “modern ideas into Homeric lips” (341). “Modern thought and sentiment are better expressed in confessedly modern verse, as in Mr. Bridges’s Shorter Poems. These are truly delightful” (341).
  • Lang finds “memories of Milton, of the Elizabethan and Jacobean lyrists, but the voice is always his own” (341). Lang also compares to Arnold’s poetry (341).
  • Lang quotes extensive excerpts from Bridges’s poems (342–46). “Surely this is a new voice, and a voice to be noted and listened to with gladness, now that so many which charmed us are silent, or rather—for Browning and Matthew Arnold can never be silent—now that they give us no new music” (345).
  • “Mr. Bridges’s verse is not likely to be extremely popular. He is too austere a Muse, his thought too condensed; his personality, as it were, too exclusive and commanding, as displayed in his verses. To some extent he reminds one of Andrew Marvell, and again, in places, of Landor. But there is much in his work, especially in his songs, which cannot but win every one who really cares for poetry at all, while the devotees of poetry will make his whole volume a special treasure and favourite” (346).
  • Lang does not believe Bridges will excel in narrative poetry. “It is at present the rarest of all forms of verse, and only represented well by Mr. Morris’s Life and Death of Jason, and some of the tales in The Earthly Paradise, tales which, I think, permit themselves to be read much more easily than Mr. Morris’s romances in prose” (347).
  • “We cannot exactly say that in [Robert Bridges] we have a new poet, but it is certain that the world has at last a new chance of making acquaintance with a Muse which has too long been a recluse” (347).
  • Some people are “very much interested in literature, and yet not interested in the right way. An American critical paper has lately been asking authors, far and wide, to tell it what they are working at. Surely this is being interested in the wrong way, and spying at ‘half-done work’ (347).
  • Lang gives instances of the Boston journal The Author, “wherein one reads that one has reviewed a novel one has never even heard of . . . that General Lew Wallace writes ‘a small neat hand,’ whereas Mr. Ibsen does not do so . . . and that Mr. Gladstone makes marginalia on all his books, which is more interesting. Moreover, we are informed that Kirk Munroe, ‘the interesting junvenile writer, is passing the winter at Cambridge,’ which makes one marvel how young Mr. Munroe is. . . .” (347). “All this is sehr interessant, is it not? and to know these things is to be literary after the manner of Cathos and Madelon, in Les Précieuses Ridicules” (348).
  • Lang gives an sample of how Shelley’s “Skylark” might be reviewed if published today (348–49).
  • Lang responds to “Mr. Sully’s article on the decline of the fidelity of the Dog (in Longman’s Magazine, December)” and questions whether or not dogs are permitted “to have only one friend, his master?” He discusses two friendly dogs, the latter, “the nicest dog I know” who “never forgets a face. Two years since he met a gentleman once at dinner. In the following year, this gentleman was on the links, at St. Andrews, when he felt something touch his leg. He looked down, and there was Fingal, wagging his tail, and as good as remarking, ‘I think, sir, I had the pleasure of meeting you at Mr. ________’s last year.’ This was true politeness. Had the man been a more intimate friend, Fingla would have run round him with joyful barks. But this did not prevent him from being faithful; he was also of a social and friendly turn” (349).
  • “It is not easy to be canonised, in the Church of Rome. Joan of Arc and Mary Queen of Scots still wait their turn. [Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.] But, as M. Nyrop shows, in Mélusine, the French poplace make saints more readily, by dint of false etymologies. Thus the Roman Sidremum produces Saint Dremond . . .” (349–50)
  • “The growth of a legend is curiously illustrated by a passage in the recently published Diary of Sir Walter Scott” (350). Lang discusses the variants of the tale of the Black Officer, in Scott, in Hogg, and from a person in Loch Awe from whom Lang heard the tale (350).
  • Lang gives “the Chinese theory of photography, ‘also from M. Gaidoz’s paper Mélusine, quoting ‘Tour du Monde,’ xxxi. p. 367 [idea that photographic chemicals ‘distilled from human eyes. . . and that’s why the foreigners pick up our exposed children’]. Lang writes that “it seems like twenty Frenchmen and three Russians were massacred by an intelligent Chinese mob, in 1870, on this very score” (350–51).
  • “A lady offers the following variant of the Dissenting Minister and the Friendly Ghost”: Wesleyan minister carrying money, senses danger, prays, and the danger passes. Later “sent for to the deathbed of a noted footpad and burglar in a slum of Bristol.” This man would only allow this minister to come to his deathbed, and told him that on the occasion, he and a friend were lying in wait for him; they didn’t care that he prayed and sang a hymn, but they did care when “we saw another man on horseback join you. . . . We didn’t care to tackle two of you” (351).

Poetic excerpts quoted: 

  • from Robert Bridges’s Achilles in Scyros (a drama) (340–41)
  • two stanzas from Robert Bridges’s Elegy (342)
  • Robert Bridges’s “I will not let thy go” (342–43)
  • Robert Bridges’s “Elegy, on a Lady whom Grief for the Death of her Betrothed Killed” (343–44)
  • Robert Bridges’s “London Snow” (344–45)
  • from a poem by Robert Bridges on the Thames: “There is a hill beside the silver Thames. . .” (345)
  • Other lines from Bridges’s poetry (346)

February 1891

Subheading: Notes on Fiction [453–58]

Opening lines: “Dr. Johnson defines the novel as a tale ‘usually of love,’ and there is no doubt that most novels, since the Greek romances, have been very full of this passion. In his English Novel during the Time of Shakespeare, M. Jusserand gives some statistics as to the preponderance of fiction in modern English literature. In 1885 there were more books of theology than novels, but novels took the first place in 1887, 1888, 1889. In the last year, 1,040 novels were published. This gives us, at the very least, the stories of 2,080 human hearts; but it would be more fair to multiply the number of novels by nine, allowing for four ‘first lovers’ in each, the villain (generally attracted to the heroine), and four unsuccessful adorers,  male or female. Thus the year 1889 may have provided about 8,000 studies of the passion of love, as it is fair to make allowance for novels in which treasure, or murder, or theology was the main interest.” (453)

  • Lang lists statistics on novels and love stories but wonders whether ‘what is called the ‘love interest'” is really “the main attraction of romance, or whether this is not a mere statistical allusion” (453).
  • Discusses role of love interest in Scott, Richardson, Fielding, Dickens [“there is always a love affair, or more than one, but, except perhaps in the case of Dora, the love affair is not what we remember best, is never what we read Dickens for” (454), Thackeray, Stevenson, Trollope [“love must still be lord of all with Mr. Trollope” (455)], Black, Meredith [“even with him, human character in general and at large much preponderates” (455)], the two Kingleys, the Volsunga Saga (454–55)
  • “This case can be made out well enough, as far as the men novelists of England are concerned; the women, on the other hand, have usually excelled just where men have been less conspicuously successful” (455). Discusses Miss Broughton, Austen’s Anne Elliot, “Perhaps love is not the forte of Miss Braddon, who powerfully interests her male readers in Murder, and her lady students in Millinery. Charlotte Brontë, again, can make her people very thoroughly in love: there is no mistake about Jane Eyre and Lucy Snow. But who remembers the amours in the novels of Mr. Wilkie Collins? Charles Reade and Mr. Besant have here more of the feminine talent: their people are in love, no mistake about it; and Beatrice, in Mr. Haggard’s novel of that name, leaves no room for doubt about her sentiments. Yet there is a great mass of English fiction, and of the best fiction, in which the passion is little more moving to the readers than an algebraic formula” (456).
  • French authors “more successful in touching this passion”: Manon Lescaut, M. Bourget, M. Maupassant. M. Zola, in Un Page d’Amour. “M. Daudet is less of an amorist” (456).
  • Author’s great difficulty is to make the passion seem real. Lang says “an elderly novelist must write about the heart of youth with little more enthusiasm than about the tarts and toffee of his boyhood” (456)
  • “this difficulty of making the matter in hand seem real of course attends the novelist in all his adventures. How is it done? what is the unnamed gift by which a person of no style or culture can tell a story, can make us believe as we read, while another author, full of all accomplishments, puts us off with mere descriptions in place of substantial men, women, and things? The novelist, of course, must have conviction; must convince himself first, as children do when they play at being pirates, hunters, knights of old, explorers, and so forth. The novelist must never, in this sense, put away childish things. As a very small boy, the present essayist could never play at horses,’ for example, from a reasoned certainty that he was not a horse, and that his team, if he drove, were only other small boys and girls. Any one who remembers similar lack of illusions may as well give up the idea of writing novels. He may have observations; he will scarcely have sympathy with the puppets of his fancy; he may write like an angel, he will never persuade anybody to believe his narrative. . . . Generally the want of conviction in the reader comes of want of conviction in the author. He must believe before he can make us ‘believe; and this is a special gift, possessed by many people who are nothing less than literary—by the boatman or the shepherd who tells you a legend—and which is wanting wholly in the deliberate and accomplished author.* It is, perhaps, most frequently absent in the love affairs of novels, and that is why the greatest English novelists live by anything rather than their love stories. Here, as usual, Shakespeare is supreme, and his lovers love with all their hearts and souls (456, 457).
  • M. Daudet’s Jack seems too much like David Copperfield, “One has, throughout, an impression that everything has been carefully preconceived, studied, described, crammed for, that it is not spontaneous,” whether or not Daudet actually read Dickens (457).
  • ‘Naebody ever prays for the puir Devil,’ and nobody prays for nor has a good word for the poor wolf, since he was a sacred animal among the Athenians”: Lang gives an Estonian account of the creation of the wolf and asks that the correspondent who sent it to him “send his name and address,” which Lang has lost. (The wolf was made by the devil, but the formula to give the wolf life, given by the Allfather, was “Arise and hunt the devil,” which the wolf did (458–60).
  • Mashari al Osshac, a “Mohammedan mediæval book” which “bears traces of Christian influence.” A youth gave half his life to raise his betrothed from the dead. She left him for a king who fell in love with her, the youth demanded his half life back, and the woman said she didn’t want it and died (460–61).
  • Lang tells about a letter, “in lithographed form, if we mistake not” whose writer has the presumption to ask authors to send him copies of their works: “Dear Sir,—I am very fond of getting presents of books from authors [a droll taste!]” (461). Lang asks how a similar letter would be received if sent to jewelers (462). Some authors apparently accede to his request though.
  • Lang again discusses caddies; although he wishes success to those trying to regulate their employment, he says the problem is that many of the greens are public and it is difficult to enforce rules (462).
  • “Two Songs,” a poem by Graham R. Tomson (Rosamund Marriott Watson) (462–63)
  • Lang recommends Whispers, a book of poetry by Frances Wynne, whose poetry readers “may have met, and liked. . . in this barque, and in other periodicals” (463). “The title is not very fortunate, but it is long since I have read a more agreeable volume of verse successful up to the measure of its aim and ambition” (463).

*Note the similarity in Lang’s ideas about belief and the capacity for telling good tales here and in Lang’s preface to The Green Fairy Book, published in 1892.

March 1891

Subheading: Lord Houghton [567–71]

Opening lines: “Hawks dinna pyke out hawks’ eyne,’ and perhaps no one who has ever compiled a biography should criticise a biographer. But no one but the biographer, perhaps, has had his thoughts so much occupied with the nature and conditions of biography. Only biographers can feel how vague must be the reviewing of this kind of literature, by persons who do not know what kind and quantity of materials the author had at his command. His difficulty may have been the richness of supply, so that he knew not what to omit, or it may have been the poverty, so that he knew not what to put in. Then the unlucky man is apt to find that half the plums, at least, must be left out of his pudding.” (567)


  • Biographies, and the difficulty of compiling them.
  • “The biographer’s trade, at present, is dominated by fashion or trade-custom. Fashion demands two good large volumes, nobody knows why, and it is not every life, however long and distinguished, that can supply really good filling for those two volumes. Thus the biographer is often almost compelled to insert much that is unessential, much that the reader probably skips. Letters are piled in, and these letters contain a good deal that is not germane to the matter, that does not illustrate character at all” (567)
  • Boswell and Lockhart the best biographers; today many writers their own Boswell, but usually are not their own Johnson and fail to “report the [good] talk for [their] readers” (567–68).
  • Mr. Wemyss’s Reid’s Life, Letters, and Friendships of Lord Houghton (Cassell) (568–70): Lang calls attention to pointlessly included letters; Lang does admire much in the biography, though (“It is certain that the future will know him well in his biography” [570]), and he gives interesting anecdotes; he wishes there had been more about Houghton’s editing of Keats’s Letters and Remains and more on Houghton as a bibliophile (569); he was not impressed with the letters from famous people (569–70), particularly Thackeray’s short note inviting Houghton to dine the next evening  when [Charlotte] Brontë would be there: “We knew before that Miss Brontë had dined with Thackeray, and we wish that a Boswell had been one of the guests” (570). The letters from David Gay are more interesting, though perhaps not representative of the poet (570).
  • “When commenting on Mr. Thackeray’s note to Lord Houghton, I had not read Mrs. Ritchie’s description, in Macmillan’s Magazine, of the dinner to which Lord Hougton was invited . . . . a very young Boswell was present, Miss Thackeray. In her delightful paper, ‘My Witch’s Cauldron,’ she shows us what a failure the party was, how much was expected, nothing attained; how the prim little Northern genius, Miss Brontë, snuffed out the fun, till Mr. Thackeray fled to the club and left his guests in despair” (571).
  • “The discovery of an Aristotelian fragment is exciting much interest among people who know nothing about Aristotle” (571). Lang complains of people not reading Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics but being fascinated by a scrap of the Constitutions; he also complains of non-Greek readers reviewing classical works and making misstatements about them (571).
  • On style: Lang agrees with Schopenhauer that reading works with excellent style can only benefit those who have gifts of their own and can ‘learn the use of them’: otherwise, such reading will only lead to ‘cold dead mannerisms’ and ‘shallow imitat[ion]’ (572).
  • Lang also agrees with Schopenhauer that people today spend most of their time reading the ‘Newest Books; and that for the purpose of getting food for conversation in the circles in which they move. This is the aim served by bad novels’ (572). Bulwer Lytton mentioned here; Lang thinks this is “extremely unjust to Bullwer Lytton . . . but the general statement . . . is correct” (572).
  • Mr. Rutherford’s English Authors, “published at ‘The Constitution Job Office, Atlanta Ga,'” which “gives details about contemporary writers in the style of the New Journalism” and “adds lists of questions for examination,” which Lang includes (572–73): “And what has all this to do with English literature? . . . . Of course the book is probably as much of a joke in American as in England. But it only carries literary gossip to a power slightly higher than its usual force” (573)
  • “Metempsychosis,” a poem by May Kendall (573–74)
  • “I keep racking my brains for the moral—it must have a moral—of Dr. Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, translated by Mr. Gosse (Heinemann). The portrait of Dr. Ibsen is capital. I was certain he was like that” (574). Compares Hedda to M. Becque’s La Parisienne. “One character is nearly as bad and unnatural as the other, but there is no doubt as to which is the more amusing” (574).
  • “The Earliest Crocus,” a poem by Frances Wynne (574–75)
  • “A Finish dog, answering to the name of Förde, wants a home. . . . Has no objection to an Ibsenite. . . . Testimonials to character are necessary. Has no objection to a clergyman’s family, of whatever denomination” (575).

Poems printed in full:

  • “Metempsychosis,” by May Kendall (573–74)
  • “The Earliest Crocus,” by Frances Wynne (574–75)

April 1891

Subheading: “Thackeray and His Biographers.”

Opening lines: “It is generally understand that Mr. Thackeray wished no biography of himself to be written. The only contemporary author who could write that life as it should be done [Anne Thackeray Ritchie] has therefore been obedient to her father’s desire. It is easy to understand and to sympathise with Mr. Thackeray’s reluctance to be made the hero of a biography. Scarce any biographer in the world, except Boswell’s masterpiece, tells the truth, and the whole truth. A man, like Cromwell, wants to be painted warts and all, if he must be painted. No modern biographer is likely to do this kind of work. Either he revels in all the tattle he can collect against and about his subject, or he has a dozen reasons–all excellent–fo not speaking out. Many biographers are prolonged and anecdotic epitaphs. Mr. Thackeray was the last man in the world to enjoy the prospect of this too benevolent immortality.  On the other hand, it is not everyone who wants to have all the trifles of his private life–his petulances, fits of temper, his blunders, his bad luck, dragged into the light. Mr. Carlyle may have thought this desirable; and if so, then, as the Yankee remarks, ‘I guess he got his druther’ (673).


  • Thackeray’s biographies and biographies in general (673)
  • Hoggarty Diamond and elements of Thackeray’s experience, as Lang supposes, in his fiction [unhappy loves, school experiences, gambling, experiences with “minxes” etc.) “We know through his books, and through the Letters published not long ago, all that is essential about Mr. Thackeray” (673–74)
  • Lang not writing “the New Journalism” so won’t tell the tale of one of the minxes (674)
  • We don’t need a biography of Montaigne “we know him as well as Dr. Johnson, out of his own essays” (674)
  • “[V]arious brief stories of [Thackeray’s] life, by the late Mr. Hannay, by Mr. Anthony Trollope, and now, by Mr. Herman Merivale and Mr. Frank T. Marzials. This has been an unlucky little book” (674). The latter book is discussed from pp. 674–678. The following are mentioned: Vanity Fair (676), “Mr. Aytoun, of Blackwood’s] and Thackeray’s withdrawn request for a good review (677), the Kickleburys, the Times, the Saturday ReviewRoundabout Papers, Bulwer Lytton, The Last Days of Pompeii, Jeames, Esmond, ‘George Sand and the New Apocalypse,’ Darwinism, Dr. John Brown, faith “there are some who would rather believe and be antiquated with Thackeray than deny and be ‘advanced’ with a multitude of later ‘authorities'” (677), Mr. Dickens, their reconciliation, the Athenæum, Thackeray’s opinion of Sir Walter Scott” (678).
  • “A Highly Valuable Chain of Thoughts” “in the phrase of Wordsworth (though it is not in the style of that author) (678–79)
  • a stanza from Eugene Field’s Little Book of Western Verse (Scribner’s), on fish looking bigger before they are caught (679)
  • Lang wishes Field’s Dutch Lullaby had never been published in The Ship: “The post brings nothing but letters asking leave to set the rhyme to music. Gentlemen composers, please besiege Mr. Field, not me. I believe that Messrs. Osgood, of 45 Albermarle Street, publish Mr. Field’s poems and stories; at all events, in New York Messrs. Charles Scribner’s Sons publish them, and excellent ready meany of them are” (679)
  • Anecdote from The Fishing Gazette, “The Major’s Yarn” about a conjuring show in Japan in which the conjuror throws a ball of string into the air and then climbs up it” (679–80). “This is only the beginning of a ‘yarn’ which is as old as the hills. The late Colonel Yule kindly gave me a set of notes, which I have mislaid, in which the same Oriental narrative was traced through some five hundred years” (680). Lang explains the variants in Ibn Batuto’s account, “Colonel Yule’s note to his Marco Polo,” “modern instances from Indian newspapers,” probability of Ibn Batuto being hypnotized, English writer of the seventeenth century saw in England. “The Fishing Gazette has acquired an incredulous habit from consorting with anglers. But anglers do not lie like golfers. See Golf! See the anecdotes in that deserving serial” (680).
  • He has accumulated verses and apologizes for the late publication of “The Old Year” and “The New Year” (681–82).

Poems Printed in Full: 

  • “A Highly Valuable Chain of Thoughts” (678–79)
  • “The Old Year” (681)
  • “The New Year” (681–682)

May 1891

Subheading: “Some Old Angling Books”

Opening lines: “As spring is ycumen in, according to popular superstition–for one sees no signs of it–and as no new book of great interest has come out, we offer this month a few remarks on some old angling books. Two early specimens at least are not generally familiar, Leonard Mascall’s Booke of Fishing with Hooke and Line (1590) and Taverner’s Certaine Experiments concerning Fish and Fruite (1600). The others mentioned here are all accessible in reprints, as I would fain make Mascall” (101).


  • Angling Books (Leonard Mascall’s Booke of Fishing with Hooke and Line (1590), Taverner’s Certaine Experiments concerning Fish and Fruite (1600), Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler, Sir Henry Wotton (who intended to write a book like Walton’s but didn’t) (101)
  • Walton’s ‘”Jury of Flies’ is of no practical value, and is borrowed ill from Dame Juliana Berners” (101). “Walton’s charming volume survives because it is ‘a picture of my own disposition'” (101).  Richard Franck was “a better angler” but wrote a worse book. (102)
  • Thomas Barker’s Art of Angling 1651, last printed in 100-copy edition in 1820 (103)–“more learned in flies than Walton” (102), second edition 1657. John Hockenhall praises Barker in the commendatory verses for that edition “in English hexameters, not often written, I think, between Gabriel Harvey’s age and that of Mr. Matthew Arnold” and “prefers Barker’s book to those of Ward, Lawson, and Markham. He does not name Mascal. . . John Dennys, author of a pleasant poem, The Secrets of Angling (1613) is omitted by Hockenhall” (102–103).
  • Richard Franck, Northern Memoirs, written 1658, published 1685, edited by Sir Walter Scott in 1821, commonly reprinted (103). “[M]y copy bears the book plate of the famous angler Mr. Thomas Todd Stoddart. Mr. Stoddart did not cut all the pages, and I do not wonder at it” (104). Franck “carried from his University [Cambridge] a great deal of most tedious pedantry, and he added a queer, stupid mysticism of his own devising. He served in the Calvary with Cromwell in Scotland, and there he learned what salmon and sea trout are like. . . . His Northern Memoirs are a kind of dull dialogues, partly occupied with theology, partly with angling” (104). [Places mentioned: Carlisle, Dumfries–and Robert Burns on Dumfries, Sanquhar, Stoney Stratford, Kilmarnock, Glasgow, Dumbarton, ‘dirty Dumblain’ and “many a Highland glen where ‘they live like lairds and die like loons, hating to work, and no credit to borrow, so they rob their neighbours'” and Strathnaver (104–05).]
  • Franck apparently complains Walton is a plagiarist. Lang: “Walton’s book was much too successful not to attract the usual charge which lies ready to the hand of literary jealousy” (104). (102–104)
  • Franck later emigrated to America and wrote Rabbi Moses: a Philosophical Treatise of the Original and Production of Things. Scott described it as ‘unintelligible,’ and probably Scott is the only man who ever tried to read it. However on such subjects as pickerel weed and the barnacle tree Franck is a scientific sceptic compared to Walton. If I have prevented any angler from trying to read the Northern Memoirs this brief account of the Cromwellian angler has not been written in vain” (105).
  • The Angler’s Vade Mecum, or a Compendious yet full Discourse of Angling,’ by a Lover of Angling (London: Theo Bassett, 1681) (106–107). “[T]he Lover of Angling, is, in very truth, what Franck calls Walton, ‘a plagiary,’ and has stolen his ideas, and even his language sometimes, from Cotton’s addition to the Complet Angler, published in 1676″ (107).
  • Only Izaak and Cotton “care to waste a word on the poetry of angling” (103)
  • I.D., Esq. Secrets of Angling (1613) poem
  • Dame Juliana Berners “concerning whom we know so little”: Her treatise on angling was printed by Wynkyn the Worde in 1496″ (108). Lang speculates on her identity–daughter of Sir James Berners, who was beheaded in 1388–so that her work must have originally been in ms–and considers whether she is the author at all, since the author calls an eighteen-foot rod “lyghte and full nymbyll to fish with” (108): “The author’s advice is often good, especially when he, or she, insists on keeping our shadow off the water” (108).
  • “When I said that no new books of much interest were coming out, Dr. Smiles’s ‘Life and Letters of Mr. Murray, the Famous Publisher,’ had not reached me” (109).
  • Lang doubts an anecdote in the above about whether the discussed desk in a footnote in vol. i, p. 243 is the one on which Scott found his lost Waverley ms. “Scott had many escritoires, and much have I written on that which he used when composing The Pirate” (109). Another lady he knows, the daughter of a friend of Scott’s, has claimed to have that desk: “that the fly hooks were still in the drawer seemed good evidence, in addition to this lady’s undoubted opportunities of knowing the truth about the matter. The flies, one may add, bore witness to their date, being tied on hair, not on gut” (109).
  • Russian novelists: “Mr. Besant, in . . . a little book of essays, asks why I am always tilting at Russian novelists” (109). Lang responds “it is not so much the novelists as the exclusive admirers of the novelists that ‘vex my quiet'” (109). Tolstoi, Tourguenieff, and Dostviesky have genius. Lang calls for a “certain cheerfulness in fiction”: “The world is trying enough, but it has its brighter moments. These, perhaps, we should rather seek to prolong” (109). “Shakespeare wrote As You Like It, and Much Ado about Nothing, and Henry IV, as well as Othello. He was not always in Hamlet’s vein. But the Russians, as a rule, are for ever in the mood of the Prince of Denmark, and their example is contagious. . . . We should have merry endings and prosperous heroes, now and again. Their gloom begets within me a certain prejudice against the gifted Muscovites. It is not exactly a literary judgment; it is a pardonable antipathy” (110).
  • Gyp
  • To avoid ill feeling with Russia, Lang will “print a translation from Lermontoff, sent by a Scot in Russia” (110). “Lermontoff, like all great men, including Skobeleff, was a Scot, a Learmont, and mayhap a descendant of Thomas the Rhymer” (110).
  • “The Cossack Mother’s Lullaby” (poem, 110–11)
  • Delightful Spectator article “The Charm of Homer.” Lang says Homer’s heroes “are brave, but not always” (111). He believes English, German, and French warriors would have been more likely to volunteer for fights and less likely to leave them. “My belief is that the gods ruined the heroes’ nerve by eternally interfering” (112).


“The Cossack Mother’s Lullaby” (110–11).

June 1891

Subheading: “A School of Fiction”

Opening Lines: “Mr. Walter Besant, after inventing a People’s Palace, in a novel, has seen it become fact. Now, after inventing a School of Fiction as a possible fact, why should he not make it the ground of a novel? It sounds as if it were a topic which would suit his art, for it has just enough of the fantastic, while on every side it touches reality. A School of Fiction, we say, but why not a University?” (215)

  • School (or University) of Fiction: “almost everybody but Mr. Gladstone has had some intention of writing a novel, and of course would be glad to begin by a suitable course of education.
  • Lang’s suggested mock “matriculation examinations” for the School of Fiction with questions such as the following: “define the terms ‘plagiary,’ ‘criticism,’ ‘edition,’ ‘realism,’ ‘romance,’ ‘naturalism,’ and . . . discuss the comparative merits of half profits, and of royalties, with or without the use of algebra” and “B., married to C. (who is twice her age), is devoted to A., who is engaged to D,, but is in love with E. How would you propose to solve this” and “A. is acquainted with the whereabouts of a treasure in Terra del Fuego. It consists of cathedral plate, and A. is an elder of the Free Church of Scotland. Indicate the most probable action of A” (216).
  • “This examination would weed ‘candidates’ out a good deal. Many would be plucked; and, as nobody would be allowed to publish a novel without a degree in the Art, the output of romance would undergo a salutary reduction; for it is high time that the state interfered, reduced the most prolific authors to not more than nine volumes yearly, and generally looked after the interests of the consumer and the community” (217).
  • Lectures (and Henry James): Professors would lecture based on how they wrote their own novels: “Very likely a novel is sometimes suggested by a title. For example, were I a novelist, I would write one called L’Hôtel Nécropole, as much as I could in the manner of Mr. Henry James. Already the characters and the description–perhaps especially the latter–come over me like a wave. I see the gloomy, new, bleak, white hotel, the consumptive inmates, the undeveloped orange-trees in the bare gardens. . . I have everything by the heroine. She is always a difficulty. Such a scheme, if I were a scholar of Mr. Besant’s college, I would carry to my tutor. Some incidents I really must have, and I insist on burning down the hotel by an inmate who chevies a mosquito with a candle, in his mosquito curtains. May I have the Riviera earthquake, and is Monte Carlo to be introduced? Dear imaginary novel! if I were but a Fellow on Mr. Besant’s foundation, how I would cherish it!” (217). “Adjectives will need a great deal of looking after” (217).
  • Lang hopes Besant will write a novel on this School of Fiction: “Would his villains be kept on the premises, and would Miss Cobbe object to psychological vivisection and the use of the moral scalpel . . .? I do not suggest the appointment of a Professor of Naturalisme, not judging the time ripe for that chair–at least, in mixed classes” (217). “The lowly post of Mudie’s Reader in the new University would suit very well. The question of endowments can be settled by disestablishing the Church in favour of a national institution more in keeping with the wants of the age” (218).
  • “The Golden-Crested Wren,” “An Extinct Race,” and “Orchis Mascula”–scraps that the widow of Richard Jeffries found and “forwarded to the editor” (218–220).
  • “The most virtuous and learned of the evening papers has lately discovered a new plagiarist. The sinner is a young lady of some eight summers, who recently made the innocent remark of being reminded of another lady by a pig”–as noted in Punch. The evening paper traced it to Oliver Goldsmith. Lang says something similar occurs in L’École des Femmes: “beyond this I cannot follow it, but Molière was a noted thief, as the critics of his age took care to inform the public” (221).
  • Lang’s experience angling on Loch Tummell and experimenting with the dry fly (221).
  • Lang refers to a previous “Ship” on the “Indian Rope Trick” but says he can’t “verify the reference in the Life of Apollonius of Tyanna” because he is far from books, but prints from the “MS. notes by the late Colonel Henry Yule in this “Ship” (221). “It is all of a hearsay sort, except this last item, by a mediæval Arab traveller” (222)
  • Colonel Henry Yule’s “Marvels of Oriental Conjuring”: Mentions accounts from Marco Polo, “R. B. Shaw (the first English traveller to reach Kashgar)” from Lahore 1875, Rev. Fred. Lee,  D.D. 1885, Ovington “Voyage to Surat in the year 1689,” The Weekly Dispatch Sep. 15, 1889 (“An Indian Juggling Story”), The Times of India [where he can’t find the original statement], Ibu Batuto’s account (222–23).

July 1891 (vol. 18, pp. 329–335)

Subheading: Some Novels

Opening Lines: “There exists, I am informed, a popular superstition that I generally review each of Mr. Haggard’s novels in from nine to twenty-nine several places. This is not precisely accurate–much the contrary; but I see no reason why I should not review his Eric Brighteyes once, if I please.”

[Annotations unfinished]

August 1891: (vol. 18, pp. 440–48)

Subheading: Critics and Criticised

Opening Lines: “Novelists are still complaining, in the decent obscurity of the Author, that they are not well treated by reviewers. Mr. Lewis Morris, also, in Murray’s Magazine, talks of critics, or of some critics, in a dissatisfied tone” (440).

[Annotations unfinished]

September 1891: 

Subheading: Some New Books (pp. 553–560)

Opening Lines: “‘Oh, bother your French and German at the Sign of the Ship!’ writes, in pencil, on a post-card, a critic who lives in Wellington Square, Chelsea. I am sorry not to be able to gratify this impulsive gent, and to ‘bother’ alien languages. But, in the midst of August, and in the centre of that kingdom unvexed by culture, the kingdom of Galloway, what new English book is a man to review? There are no new English books to speak of, except those, all uncalled for, with which the circulating library clerk fills up the chinks in the box. Thus one has Miss Lynch’s book on Mr. George Meredith, the second work on that great novelist which has lately appeared. The custom of writing whole tomes on authors yet alive, and at work, seems to lack finality, and to partake of the nature of the prolix. When La Princesse de Clèves was published, two hundred years ago, someone wrote a critical volume on the novel at least as long as the original work. Perhaps some admirer of any living novelist will next write three volumes on his last three-volumed novel” (553)


  • Miss Lynch’s Book on George Meredith
  • As far as such a method goes, Miss Lynch “is not a bad example of the sort of book. For my own part, if the method seemed legitimate, I could happily write a critique, as long as the original, on the first part of Mr. Stevenson’s Wrecker, in Scribner’s Magazine. Here is the Master in his fine old form, as entertaining as ever, or even more so, and with every promise of great adventures. . . . It is wretched to be obliged to taste the Wrecker only in sips, once a month” (553–54)

[Annotations Unfinished]

October 1891 (vol. 18, no. 108, pp. 660–66)

Subheading: “The New Humour.” 

Opening Lines: “The footman in Punch, weary of beef and mutton, thought it high time some new animal was invented. Apparently, authors think it high time some new kind of humour was invented. The unhappy thing is that people who were born before 1871, or so, cannot enjoy the New Humour–nay, feel as if the New Humour were the old drivel.”

  • Lang negatively reviews Barry Pain’s In a Canadian Canoe: “Nothing gives me less enjoyment than to speak unkindly of a new and young writer. We need new writers, we need young writers, above all we need humorists. Mr. Barry Pain, according to a reviewer in Punch [not the Baron of Bookworms but an ‘Assistant Reader’] is all that we want” (660). Lang “fails to see this fun merely because it is Cambridge fun” and compares it unfavorably to Mr. Anstey, Mr. Payn, Mr. Burnand, Mr. Besant, all from Cambridge (661).

[Annotations Unfinished]

November 1891 (vol. 19, no. 109, pp. 103–12)

Subheading: “Dorrie.”

Opening Lines: “Perhaps I ought not to review Mr. Tirebuck’s Dorrie, for, to be explicit, I read Dorrie in manuscript. Of course in this state of affairs one could not notice the book anonymously, and my opinion must be taken with all ‘discount’ of bias. But when one finds a novelist, and an accomplished novelist, speaking severely of Dorrie in the London Letter of the New York Critic (September 12), one feels urged to make an apologia for one’s own opinion” (103).

  • Lang gives a mixed review of Dorrie in reaction to what he sees as an overly critical review in the Critic–while it’s neither a book “for little girls” nor “[Lang’s] sort of novel” “if it were not good it would scarcely, in manuscript, hold the attention of any reader so that he could hardly lay it down.” While he doesn’t enjoy the ‘sensational’ part, the length, gruesome scenes, the “reflective psychology” and some of “passionate and ‘unked’ parts” “what dominates me is the character of the heroine, Dorrie, the wild, fierce, humorous, reckless little girl who gives the book its name. . . . she seems to myself the most absolutely original and, in her way , the most talking figure in recent fiction. . . . The passages of religious reflection strike me as perfectly sincere and genuine” (104). Lang would have kept the book “in another key, the key of the earlier and more humorous passages” and refers to John Ruskin on Sir Walter Scott: “We should have been spared the wreck of beautiful, wilful, wanton Dorrie, whose character is in itself her tragedy–a tragedy with gleams of laughter.” Lang discusses the novel further in terms of his feud with Howells: “I am in the bond of fairy tales and the yoke of schoolboy romance” (104), but also discusses how “Authors are often cruel to their creations, and to their readers: nay, this hardness seems to be fashionable, and the amateurs of naturalism–of naturalism in a highly excited mood–may admire exactly everything which we children of Old Romance detest” (104).

[Annotations unfinished]

December 1891 (vol. 19, no. 110 217–23)

Subheading: “A Dialogue of the Dead.” Sub-subheading: “Elysium”

Opening lines: “Mr. Gray (lying on a sofa).—Are there no new novels come in? I shall have to fall back on your works, M. Crébillon. Ah, wherefore did Yorick and you never write those disquisitions on each other’s morality?”

[Annotations unfinished]

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