1896 “At the Sign of the Ship”

January 1896 (Signed ANDREW LANG.)

Opening lines: “MR. MATTHEW ARNOLD’S ‘Letters’ are rather disappointing. For one thing, they are very domestic. A letter-writer is, of course, obliged to suit his correspondents, though Walpole wrote to the good but dull Sir Horace Mann and Gray to the tedious Mason. Mr. Arnold’s correspondents, certainly, were not dull and tedious, and, considering that he wrote so much to the ladies of his family, it is wonderful that he wrote so much about literature and affairs. A man’s best letters are usually written to ladies not of his family—I do not mean love letters, of course, but—everybody knows what I mean!” (313)


  • Matthew Arnold’s letters—disappointing. The best letters written by a man “are usually written to ladies not of his family” (313)
  • “His comments on modern literature are mainly about his own works” (314)
  • Similarly to J. G. Lockhart, Arnold did not take harsh criticism personally and was surprised when others (such as Francis Newman) did (314).
  • The letters are not as “diverting” as Arnold’s prose nor his repartee (letters negatively compared to Lockhart’s) (314)
  • Had odd literary judgments, undervalued Thackeray, who was much the better letter writer
  • Harrison’s judgment on Thackeray praised, though Lang quibbles with Harrison’s view that “we cannot easily remember Shakespeare’s and Scott’s villains . . . while in Thackeray ‘it is an effort of memory to recall the generous and fine natures.’” Lang discusses why Harrison’s views are untrue, with examples (315–16)
  • Arnold’s views on Tennyson, Charlotte Brontë and other literary contemporaries (316–17)
  • Vandals and university towns: Oxford and St Andrews discussed and vandalism lamented, John Knox’s trying of witches discussed (in the context of Witches’ Hill being destroyed) and the discovery of gutter stones made from old tombstones and Celtic crosses used as building material (317–319)
  • Americans in Cosmopolitan Magazine have a picture of ‘Arundel Castle, where Scott spent his childhood’ (which Lang notes is false) (319)
  • Professor Barrett’s funny theory that Eusapia Paladino cheated before sceptics because ‘a dynamic force in human thought’ from the sceptics caused her to cheat in front of people who believed she would cheat. Lang discusses at length how illogical this idea is, if it is what Barrett really intended to claim. (319–20)
  • Lang discusses why “a desire to reach a certain conclusion . . . makes educated men fly from a manifest, familiar, palpable explanation of fact, a vera causa, to a shadowy, abnormal, unproved cause, which probably has no existence in rerum natura?” and why, according to Lang, this is more prevalent in some disciplines [such as psychical research] than in others (320)
  • Correction by a reader: Lang’s misquotation of Tennyson in the October Longman’s (321–22)
  • An addendum: Lang notes that he did not mean to suggest that Mr. Arnold’s Letters are uninteresting. (322)

Poems printed in full: None

February 1896 (Signed ANDREW LANG.)

Opening lines: “That noble lady or gentleman who is not freely inclined to read about ‘ye beastly devices of ye Heathen’ (as B.R. says in his old translation of Herodotus), had better skip what follows. An English gentleman, an officer in the Police Service in Burmah, has given me a great deal of information, which I long to impart, about Burmese and Shan devilries and magic.” (423)


  • Mr. M.C. Poole on “Burmese and Shan devilries and magic,” including a ghost in the shape of an animal that disappeared after Poole swore in Burmese, an enchanted walking corpse, a love potion requiring the corpse of a woman to grind it (423–425)
  • the excuses of conjurers when their charms don’t work (425)
  • Burmese and European Poltergeists (425–26)
  • Mr. W. A. Craigie’s highland instance in the December Folk Lore. Lang: “Let it suffice to show that Burmese magic and belief are very like belief and magic everywhere, while the Shan stories of pôk thwin (revivifying) and pôk hnôk (reversing the spell) are comparatively original” (426)
  • Mr. Nimmo Christie on “a witch’s consolations” in the poem “The Witch.” (427)
  • Punch’s parody of Lang (427–28)
  • The publication of Lady Eastlake [Elizabeth Rigby’s] Memoirs; Lang argues with A. B. in the speaker, claiming that the malignant parts of the Jane Eyre review were not the work of Lockhart and discussing the review more generally, insisting that the review be put into the context of readers who knew nothing about Charlotte Brontë (428–31)
  • “We should never jump to moral conclusions, especially unfavourable ones, about an unknown author, on the evidence of our reading of his or her novel” (431) (However, Lang, though serious in this claim, then goes on to mock lady novelists who “unflinchingly expose vice, adding none of the allurements of humour, or style, or taste, or even grammar”) (431)
  • Lang responds mockingly to a “lady, in a rather long letter to the Editor” who complained that “Rain Magic” published twice in “At the Sign of the Ship,” along with other complaints. “The lady seems not a little dissatisfied with the whole conduct of this barque. Next month, perhaps, I may publish my ideas on hats, on bonnets, sleeves, and other matters apt to interest ‘an elegant female,’ as Mr. Collins says. (432)

Poems printed in full:

  • Mr. Nimmo Christie’s “The Witch” (427)

March 1896 (Signed ANDREW LANG.)

Opening lines: “‘Religion and Politics,’ said the editor of a domestic magazine, ‘are the only subjects worth writing about, and the only subjects about which I may not write.’ About Religion (except that of savage and ancient peoples) I do not desire to improve the occasion, but if any critic thinks that I have no remarks to make on Politics, he is entirely mistaken. However, this is not the place wherein one can speak his mind about Americans, Armenians, Boers, Cape intriguers, Dutch, English, French, Germans, Hibernia, Jameson, Krüger—it is a pretty little political alphabet, but not to be discoursed of here.” (535)


  • Lang has political views but does not publish them here. (535)
  • Lang keeps his promise to the lady “who was dreadfully bored by the kinds of topics here treated of, and the manner of treatment” and decides upon twins as a suitable topic (535)
  • “the embarrassing age when, if both [twins] are boys or both are girls, the fondest and most experienced mother does not know ‘t’other from which’” (535)
  • Lang has read of a betrothed man becoming confused about which twin he was engaged to, suggests twins wear their hair differently, but remarks that this is hard if one way is fashionable—especially since the same style would become each twin, discusses the bad plan of identification (tattooing) in the new novel Adventure and also does not recommend mothers tattoo their daughters “by way of establishing their identity. As long as they are children, nobody sees the tattoo marks, if on the arms; and when the dear girls ‘come out,’ and wear low dresses, tattoo marks excite too much notice, not of the right kind. The problem is beset by difficulties, and any practical suggestions will be gladly received” (535–36)
  • From his converse with subalterns, Lang does not believe, as some mothers do, that the army examinations are too difficult (536–37)
  • Broad sleeve fashions very ridiculous, especially for short women on bicycles (537)
  • “At what age should a lady discard hats in favour of the more mature and matronly bonnet?” (537)
  • “I append a few answers to fair correspondents” (537–38)
  • “And now ‘suppose we join the gentlemen!’” (539)
  • Lang suggests someone else take up the topic of “a history of the personal interrelations . . . of that large and distinguished set of poets and men of letters who ‘flourished’ between 1790 and 1840” (539–541)
  • “The Fairies Portion” by Nimmo Christie (541–42)

Poems printed in full:

“The Fairies Portion” by Nimmo Christie (541–42)

April 1896 (Signed ANDREW LANG.)

Opening line: “‘Finishing a book,’ said the wife of a man of letters, a lady of much experience, ‘is worse than’ another even of the highest domestic interest. To be finishing a book, in the midst of packing up the effects of a household, and returning borrowed volumes and manuscripts to public and private libraries, and to be obliged, at the same instant, to write the Sign of the Ship, is to be in a position for which the harshest critic might feel sympathy.” (637)


  • Lang’s difficulties in writing this column, finishing his book, and moving, including the fact that his black cat just sat on and blotted his manuscript. Lang laments that he cannot see the Professors at Glasgow University competing at golf with the occupants of St Andrews chairs and tells a National Observer critic that golf was not anachronistic in the fifteenth century (637)
  • Lang prints Dr. Auerbach’s condemnation of The Blue Fairy Book as anti-Semitic (from the American journal The World’s Advance Thought), which Lang believes “too funny to have been invented by way of a joke” (637–38)
  • Lang notes that Mr. St. Loe Strachey accepts dog story anecdotes (“in his book of Spectator Dog Stories” on much flimsier evidence than is accepted for “bogey stories.” Lang divides ghost stories into natural groups (as Strachey did with dog stories) (639–40).
  • “A Newfoundland, named Oscar, belonging to myself, had often listened with much interest to stories of rescues of drowning persons by dogs” (640) Lang’s stories of Oscar become more and more exaggerated and impossible, but he highlights the “resemblance” between them and Strachey’s collected anecdotes which “is a pure coincidence, unless you explain it by telepathy, which I think superfluous” (641).
  • Lang discusses a new way of advertising books (that he doesn’t think much of): publishers recent habit of quoting those who have “had the pleasure of seeing the MS. in advance” (642)
  • Lang is surprised by the prices buyers will pay for books that do not seem worth it to him (642–43)
  • Lang gives a mixed review Mrs. Oliphant’s “Scotland, for children” but recommends it on the whole, despite a few errors and disagreements, which he discusses. Although making allowances that the book was to be short, he believes she has left out details that children will “[delight] in and [remember]”. Lang approves of her giving references and citing the Waverly novels. Lang corrects a few errors he sees in the history (Knox couldn’t look out on the ruins of St. Andrews “He had not made the ruins yet” (643) and disagrees with Oliphant on some questions of the history of religion (Oliphant is more sympathetic to the Protestants, believing excommunication rare). (643–45)
  • Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Gerard (Newnes) praised (645): “For humour, excitement, adventure, and manly feeling Mr. Doyle has never excelled this new work, which is a thing of the open air, and much superior to (as I trust it will be even more popular than) Sherlock Holmes” (645)
  • Lang objects to his “sweet enemy Professor Matthews” claiming phrases as Briticisms: “Does a single use of any phrase . . . make the phrase a Briticism? I recken not, some. . . . If I have leprosy, does that make leprosy a British malady?” (645)
  • “LIED UND LIED.” A poem by William C. Lawton (646)

Poems printed in full: “LIED UND LIED.” A poem by William C. Lawton

May 1896 (Signed ANDREW LANG.)

Opening line: “A recent biography, that of Cardinal Manning, has revived a question which can never be absolutely settled, for it is a question of degree. What is the precise duty of the biographer?” (101)


  • Lang takes on the question of the duty of the biographer as to publishing unflattering information, using as examples Lockhart’s Life of Scott and Froude’s biography of Carlyle. Lockhart was accused of blackening Scott’s character: “The truth, and the whole of it, was told in this biography, and the wise world howled, as we may still read in Mr. Carlyle’s essay.” [Carlyle approved of Lockhart’s book.] (101)
  • Carlyle “insisted on the publication, by Mr. Froude, of some unhappy details, about his own married life; they were published, and most of us remember, perhaps helped to swell, the hubbub. . . . Did truth demand all these domestic janglings? I venture to think not, for truth of representation must always be a compromise. Details can only be introduced in such measure as will not mischievously affect the truth of the likeness as a whole.” (101–02)
  • Mr. W. B. Scott, once heard Sir Walter Scott swear, which, Lang says, he did rarely, but Lang posits, had W. B. Scott written Sir Walter’s Life, he would have been on the lookout for swear words to publish: “If he found ‘a swear word’ in a letter, that letter he would have published, however otherwise unessential. Sir Walter would have gone down to posterity with the florid eloquence of our troops in Flanders. This is only an example of the difficulties of the biographic art. A man forms, perhaps unconsciously, an idea of his subject, and that idea dominates the portrait which he draws. Quite unintentionally he selects all that bears out his theory, and he has a tendency to omit a good deal of what makes against it.” (102)
  • “Actual, absolute, full-bodied truth is unattainable. A letter or two, a page of a diary, may upset, in fact, our theory of a life.” Lang notes that we can never know that those letters or pages did not exist. (102)
  • Is it necessary to report a single, unimportant bad action committed by the biography’s hero when that action will become the central focus of the biography if published? Lang thinks not. (103)
  • The biographer should also think of the feelings of other people when publishing letters: “you are not writing the lives of the persons commented upon, who may have left a reputation dear to many, and descendants in the land. Undoubtedly a biographer must deny himself the pleasure of printing these entertaining passages, if he happens to be a gentleman.” (103)
  • “When a notable person is recently dead it is not an inevitable duty to publish all his correspondence and diaries. They can slumber comfortably in a vault of the British Museum till Time quiets passions pulveris exigui jactu.” (103)
  • Returning to Lockhart, Lang admires him for telling everything about Scott, “for the few darker spots only increased the general brilliance of the lights, and prevented the exhibition of an impossible, impeccable statue in alabaster” but for holding his hand in his biography of Robert Burns, “for many were living to whom the whole truth would have been a needless infliction of pain. In such cases, to generalise is quite enough” (104)
  • The biographer should be loyal to the secrets of his subject: Burns did not want anyone to know about Highland Mary; if someone discovers a letter uncovering her secret, he should keep it. “If he can, he should burn and obliterate; if he cannot, he should forget.” (104)
  • “Of all cant ‘the public has a right to know’ is the most odious. The public has not a right to know. The greater a man is, the more he has done for us, the less right have we to pry into his secrets.” (104–05)
  • The dead should not be deprived of human rights. Lang, however, does not object to finding out the secrets of dead politicians: “If we can find out Junius, if we can unearth a letter of Marlborough’s to the King over the water, let us do so by all means. But the love-letters of a dying poet [Keats] are on a totally different level.” (105)
  • Lang is pleased by Gosse’s “hunger and thirst after Poetry” in his Critical Kit-kats. Gosse “still goes on discovering new poets in an age which . . . is usually content with old poetry.” Lang notes that he himself has ‘discovered’ many new poets “who never came to any good, except Mr. Kipling, revealed long ago to the Western world in the queerly framed first edition of Departmental Ditties!” (105) [See “Ship” Oct. 1886.]
  • Lang, who is behind in his reading of foreign poetry, desires to read Les Trophées, “a history of the world in sonnets,” by M. José Maria de Herédia, whom Gosse discovered long ago, “almost in [Gosse’s] infancy.” He’s impressed that M. José Maria de Herédia was elected to the French academy for “his sonnets, while M. Zola cannot get in, with all his hundreds of editions. . . . A poet, any literary gentleman, who, in any field has the better of the triumphant popular novelist deserves our gratitude.” (105–106)
  • In the American translation of Dumas’s Crimes Célèbres, Mr. Burnham claims that “the blowing up of Darnley . . . ‘did not materialise.’ Is this an Americanism?” Lang asks (106).
  • Lang discusses Gosse’s correction of “a vaguely remembered anecdote” about Stevenson and then discusses Stevenson’s many unwritten books” (106–107)
  • Lang mentions that numerous correspondents “hastened to inform” him of the attribution (Longfellow) to “Life is real, life is earnest,” which he pretended not to know in his March 1896 number. “This fact was well know to me, and, as I thought, to everybody. I wrote in the figure called Irony, from a Greek word. But from Dundee (where one expects it) to Plymouth correspondents took it seriously. (107)
  • A mock Honour Schools examination on Pickwick, evidently written by another correspondent in response to a misquotation from Lang. Lang writes, “These are the rebukes of a friend. One is glad that somebody still knows his Pickwick. It is a dreadful warning against quoting from memory.” (108)
  • Scott’s unconscious plagiarisms, the results of a “a good but capricious memory”: Perhaps all poetry exists in the world of Ideas—poets remember and do not create it, and Sir Walter and Hinves happened to remember the same couplet.” (108)
  • Lang is glad to see that W. E. Henley is editing “the whole of Byron’s prose and verse” even though he personally does not think much of Byron as a poet. However, “I have recently read his Letters again. What a character! There is no use in preaching about Byron; with such a mother, such an education, with madness and crime in his blood, spoiled for his beauty by women, he was fated to be what, in fact, he was. He knew a good man when he saw him, he loved Shelley and Scott. But when Mr. Stevenson said that Napoleon, Byron, and Another were ‘cads,’ one may deplore his unpolished language and hasty censure. Yet one knows what he meant. When Mr. Henley’s edition is ready we shall see whether he or Mr. Swinburne represents public opinion, right or wrong. Can we, his non-admirers, be right as against Scott and Goethe, all the England and all the world of his day?” (109).
  • After reading Froude’s Carlyle, Lang became interested in Carlyle’s ‘ell of genealogy,’ particularly the fact that Carlyle’s ancestors and Sir Walter Scott’s ancestors “may have driven kye together, or driven away each other’s kye” (110)

Poems printed in full: None

June 1896 (Signed A. LANG.)

Opening lines: Zophiel; or, the Bride of Seven, is by far the most original poem that this generation has produced.’ So said the British Poet Laureate, the late Mr. Robert Southey. The generation wherein Zophiel was the most original poem by far was the generation of Keats and Shelley. The author of Zophiel was Mrs. Brookes, of New England, a citoyenne of the United States.” (210)


  • Southey’s opinion of his own poetry and its comparability (or incomparability) with other poets. (Wordworth, Milton, Tasso, Virgil, and Homer are mentioned.)
  • Lang eagerly looked for Zophiel (praised by Southey) in Professor Brander Matthews’s Introduction to the Study of American Literature, but it was not there.
  • Lang reviews Matthews’s introduction, finding that early American literature (including Cotton Mather) are passed over too quickly. Lang writes that “probably Cooper was the first imaginative American writer to win admiration on the Continent. He seems to be a good deal neglected now” (211). Lang objects that Cooper’s Pilot was not ‘the first salt-water novel ever written’ and mentions Smollett. Lang objects to the idea that ‘there is no falling off in quality, [in contemporary American poetry], for never has the accomplishment of verse been possessed by more writers’ believing that “in America, as in England, there is more quantity than quality” (211).
  • Lang believes Mr. Ballantyne is too hard on Pope for paying his assistants in translation £50 a book for The Odyssey, saying he himself would be glad to translate the Odyssey at £50 a book, £1,200 total. “Pope got far more—3,500l. for twelve books—but that was because of his name.” (211)
  • Lang speculates that only Lord Tennyson might secure a price that high in the present century, “for his name and fame were justly great in the land.” While perhaps Pope could have divided the money differently, Lang claims “acting as he did, he was merely ‘not over-generous’ and quotes and responds to Leslie Stephens on the matter (212).
  • Lang praises Pope’s speeches in his translation of the Iliad, saying that although they are not always accurate, his translation of Hector’s speech “has speed and splendour, like Homer’s own” (213). Of the line, ‘But thou canst live, for thou canst be a slave,’ Lang writes, “Homer did not say that, but he would have said it if he had thought of it.” (214)
  • In response to William Morris calling Pope ‘a dullard,’ Lang objects that, although his “own sentiments are all with romance against ‘classicism,'” “there is no service in such criticisms” (214)
  • Lang laments that great poets “can seldom spare time for translations” (214) and that “translation appears to be one of the lost arts” (215).
  • Lang praises a seventeenth-century translation, he assumes by Sir Toby Matthew, of St. Augustine’s Confesssions (215–16) and discusses the marginalia written his copy next to Augustine’s report of his dear friend’s death.
  • Lang believes “the art of fans” is also a lost art and discusses a painted and engraved one he recently saw of Prince Charles (216).
  • Lang notes the difficulty of pleasing all Americans and discusses Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage: “In England it has been much praised–in my opinion, overpraised” (216). Lang objects to a Dial critic on censures of the book’s portrayal of “tactics and strategies” of the war, as the “raw recruit” Crane discusses would have known nothing of them. However, Lang finds the book “too long and greatly in need of maps. The reader should know, though the recruit does not, what is going on, where, and why” (217). But Lang agrees with Mr. Warner that he was ‘carried along by its intensity, and felt at the end as if I had experienced a most exciting and melodramatic dream, which I could not shake off when waking’ (217–18).
  • Lang introduces “Mr. Locker Lampson’s waifs and strays of memories in ‘My Confidences'” by means of Haggard’s Heart of the World and comments on the people Locker mentions in it, including “Croker, who was . . .  discredited with the Quarterly review of Keats’s Endymion.” Lang does not explicitly state that he disagrees with this (true) claim, but he believes that the style in the review is not typical Croker:You may usually know Croker’s fist by a profusion of italics and capitals, and by his habit of defending the Christian religion when nobody was attacking it. The review of Endymion, as far as I remember, has not these marks of Croker” (218).
  • Lang is sometimes annoyed by Locker’s namedropping without having any memory of importance to share about the person discussed: “Mr. Locker writes as if, on a large scale, he had been a taster of men. He inspected them carefully, and saw no more of them if he did not like them.” Various important names are mentioned: Croker, Landor, Dickens, South, Wordsworth, Spedding, Dr. Lushington, Rossetti, Mr. Severn, Leigh Hunt, Keats’s sister Fanny. (218–219)
  • “To remember about people is a special gift. They amused, they delighted us, and we cannot say why. About the little I saw of Lord Tennyson I remember next to nothing–I was in too great a fright. Boswell took notes immediately after his talks with Johnson. Lockhart thought this wrong, not honourable; one is glad Bozzy was of a different opinion. We have all reason to be grateful to James.” (220)
  • Lang ends by briefly eulogizing Lord Bath, lately dead: “What one recalls now is his unaffected goodness, his charm, his kindness, his great knowledge of letters, the humour of his conversation, the pleasantness and courtesy of his manner. It may be guesses that he was shy, and shy people who are also modest are apt to be misjudged. They who knew him (even as slightly as I myself did) valued him, and deeply regret his loss.” (220)

July 1896 (Signed ANDREW LANG.)

Opening lines: “Mr. Sully’s book on children and their psychology [1] is one of the most curious and interesting. As one reads it and reflects on it, long-closed vistas of memory reopen.” (313)

[1] Longmans


  • Lang does not recall doubting or reasoning about religion as a child, “beyond a strong opinion that I should be a ‘goat’ at the Last Day”; he claims to have memorized, without curiosity nor understanding, the Shorter Catechism, whose doctrines had “appalled” “Stevenson and Mr. Minto.” Lang’s childhood opinion on how the Greek gods fit into the biblical story in Genesis. (313)
  • Ghosts appealed more than theology; Lang was more frightened of them than of predestination (314).
  • Lang hated cruelty, though he saw children who practiced it did not grow up “better nor worse than their neighbors. Lang believed that he had no imagination or “power of playing at things” after learning to read. (314)
  • George Sand and Sir Walter Scott had childhood visions; Lang does not associate childhood visions with the ability to see visions in adult life, nor with crystal-gazing. Lang believes “the scientific study of childhood is only in its infancy”; he believes Mr. Sully might have made more of “the amazing differences among children”  (315).
  • “That children as a rule run rapidly through the savage intellectual stage is probable enough, but all children do not present the savage phenomena.* For one, I was born civilised, with a perfect horror of cruelty (so natural to many infants), and with no power of personifying inanimate things, or of ‘visualising,’ or of living in fantasy.” Lang believes most children lose their genius for such things at school and “trail their clouds of glory no further than the Lower Fourth” (315).
  • Discusses Sully’s comparison of child and savage art. (315–16)
  • Lang discusses the ink drawings of “a black of Corowa, New South Wales” (316).
  • Lang recommends Mrs. Parker’s collection, “Australian Legendary Tales, which are to be published by Mr. Nutt.” “These make a regular natural ‘Jungle Book,’ by a variety of savage Kiplings, including the King of the Hippi” and “are quite safe to charm any child worth charming. . . . It would be a real pity if we pedantic old folk-lorists kept all the fun to ourselves” (317).
  • Trout will not take red May-flies (which Lang calls “Bloody Marys”) (317–18)
  • “Everyone should read Miss F. Skene’s interesting reminiscences in the June Blackwood. Lang corrects one of her ideas on Lockhart, however.
  • Lang discusses the “cohesiveness of fads”: “a White Rose League person is rarely a Psychical Researcher” (319).
  • At “Tilley, near Caen” there have been supposed apparitions of “Our Lady,” but the “Church, so far, takes an unfavourable sense of these appearances” (319)
  • Lang thinks of all hieroglyphs, those of Easter Island are “the oddest.” He supposes they will never be deciphered (319–20).
  • Mr. Tait has won the amateur championship at golf at Sandwich; Horace Hutchinson was also “in his old form again, and close up to the winner” (320).
  • ‘Dorians may talk Doric,’ according to Praxinoë and Gorgo, but, according to “a certain kind of reviewer, Scotch novelists should not write Scotch” (320). Lang mentions the Athenæum’s review of Stevenson’s Weir of Hermiston. 
  • Lang says “the two hundred Scotch words used by Mr. Stevenson–are of constant occurrence in Burns, Scott, and the Ballads. If this reviewer really does not understand them, he cannot read, without a glossary, books with which every educated man is supposed to be familiar. The words themselves, as a rule, are old English surviving north of the Tweed” (321).
  • “Now reviewers really need not affect ignorance: they have such quantities of the genuine article. However, if they will insist on averring that they review Scotch novels in ignorance of Scotch, Latin essays in ignorance of Latin, and translations from Greek in ignorance of Greek, we can only say that it is time for them to receive the homely compliment of the sack” (322).
  • Lang makes an aside explaining his earlier reference to Doric-speaking women in an idyll of Theocritus (322).

*Lang’s remarks are interesting because they partially contradict and partially confirm some of his earlier writing on children and on savages. See, for instance, his article “Boys” in The Cornhill and his prefaces to the fairy books, as well as his preface to The Plain Princess.

August 1896 (Signed A. LANG.)

Opening lines: “Last month all the Scottish lion in a peaceful nature was aroused by reviewers who did not understand, or pretended not to understand, common Scots words. Since then another critics, Mr. Purcell, devotes three columns and a half of the Academy (June 27) to what I fear I must call incoherences about Scotland and Scotch authors and critics, all à propos of Mr. Stevenson’s Weir of Hermiston. (416)


  • Lang complains of the English reviewer in the June 27 Academy, who claimed that Caledonia was always partial to her own poets and asks if he has never heard of Jeffrey’s reviews of Scott: “In fact, no man is a prophet in his own country, a Scot least of all.” He also discusses a Scot’s poor opinion of James Barrie’s Professor’s Love Story and notes that “it was a Scot who trampled so noisily on what he called ‘The Kailyard School.’ . . . . The English, it appears to me, and not the Scotch, have commonly give to Scotch writers the warmest welcome” (416–17).
  • Purcell claims that Scots say English readers cannot appreciate Scottish genius because they don’t understand certain words; Lang points out that the word Purcell uses as an example, paddock, is not Scots, but English. (417)
  • Lang thinks it very likely that Purcell can’t appreciate Scots due to the language barrier: “Where is the conceit, and where is the arrogance in claiming that persons ignorant of a language are not the best judges of the literature of that language?” (418).
  • “I am convinced that if I knew Russia and knew Spain, Cervantes and Tolstoï would give me certain pleasures that, in my ignorance, I do not taste. . . . Of course only an idiot would argue that only a Scot can appreciate Mr. Stevenson, or Scott, or Hogg.” (418).
  • Responding to a new, unnamed critic, Lang disagrees that “colloquial English . . . should be the model in literary composition” (419).
  • Lang agrees with tradition that there should be “a certain standard of accuracy in literary language which is not demanded in ordinary talk” also, stating, in defense of tradition, that “monogamy has its drawbacks, but experience has proved these to be less unendurable than the inconveniences attendant on polygamy, polyandry, and the delightful system of ‘going as you please’ (420).
  • Lang does not like the advice to spit infinitives, saying that he is “priggish enough not to split my infinitives in ordinary talk” though he does “sin in ‘shalls’ and ‘wills,’ ‘woulds’ and ‘shoulds’ and tries to correct them in print (420–21).
  • Lang remarks on the liveliness of criticism at the moment: an American critic accused of “wilful falsehood” in his opinion of Hardy’s novel while Wordsworth’s works “that inflammatory topic” leads Thomas Hutchinson to accuse another scholar of ‘futile babblement’, etc. (422).
  • Lang was pleased with the University [cricket] Match, which spectators enjoyed. Cambridge lost, probably by “giving voluntary no-balls” (423).
  • Lang welcomes “the Cornhill at its old price, and in its good old ‘form’ and discusses the contents. “If the world will prefer photographs and frivolities, it may even ‘gang its ain gait.’ But is it not sad that twenty years of education should have brought us to a literature of shreds and patches?” (423).
  • The Badminton Magazine for June has “a curious letter on golf [and the word’s derivation] by Sir Walter Scott (424).

September 1896 (Signed A. LANG.)

Opening lines: “Doubles, as a rule, do their owners nothing but mischief. They are met coming out of public-houses, or in the worst of bad company.” (527)

  • Lang knew a man who could never convince people that “he was in Liverpool while the double was revelling in London. . . . My own double lately went to a ball, but there I had the whiphand of him, for nobody (however credulous and superstitious) would believe I went to a ball.” (527)
  • One case of a double who helped, can be read about in the August Blackwood’s in “The Strange Experience of the late Sir James Browne,” who found, when he went among the Ghilzaies with a British force, that they believed him to be his double, “a Mohammedan saint and wonder-worker” who “had led them to expect his return with an army to fight their enemy the Ameer. When, therefore, Sir James came among them with a British force, the Ghilzaies sided with us,and were very serviceable” (527–28).
  • Lang gives the anecdote of an English lady in India during a drought, who, when she saw “twelve fakeers had been put on to pray for rain,” “remarked that so many as a dozen fakeers all praying at once might rather overdo the effect” (528). There were 24 inches of rain the next day, and the English lady gained a reputation as a weather forecaster (529).
  • Lang tells a ghost story heard from “Mrs. Miles of what she heard while in the service of Mrs. Shafto.” Noises and other unsettling events were ascribed to a girl from the workhouse who was taken as a maid, but forced to cut off her hair. The girl set fire to the house in revenge and was sentenced to transportation, and the ship sunk. (529–31).
  •  Lang hopes a “kind reader” can tell him what “‘the celebrated Mademoiselle Ferrand’ . . . was celebrated for? He notes that Grimm is the one who noted her celebrity and that some of his readers may “have all the Society of the eighteenth century at their finger-ends” (531). He recently came across a portrait of the wife of a Colonel MacDonald whom he was trying to track down in a very unlikely place–a Lowland drawing room, and he wished the portrait could talk (531).
  • Lang discusses Dr. Jameson’s raid at Pretoria and the explanation that he did it because he might find documents there to justify the raid. Lang notes the similarity to a story of Frederick the Great. History may be repeating itself, but the whole story may also be “a myth, or an unconscious reminiscence of Mr. Carlyle’s Frederick the Great” (532).
  • Lang says “if these notes seem unusually dull (which is not wholly inconceivable), be it known that I write them on August 2, after traveling from Turriff (where ‘the Trot’ was) to St. Andrews, on August 1. That is the day when all the Scotch, with one wild impulse, rush into the railway stations. To travel then is to be acquainted with misery and fatigue. . . . the 6:15 train at St. Andrews arrived at 11 p.m.” (532) .
  • “To wanderers thus forelorn . . . nothing can be more welcome than a new novel of Miss Braddon’s. This lady is not reckoned with the great masters of the human intellect, such as a Hall Caine, a Miss Corelli,* an Ian Mclarean. Yet she is ever readable, in Sons of Fire, her latest, her fifty-sixth, as in Lady Audley’s Secret, which was practically her first” (532).
  • Lang writes of a scorned lover’s expression, “Oh, those singing notes on the violin. . . that long-drawn, lingering sweep of the bow, like the cry of a spirit in paradise . . . .” “This is the kind of writing that I love. It may not, perhaps, be exactly thus that a young sportsman expresses himself, when cut out by a Lancer who is given to playing the fiddle. In real life, I admit, he might speak differently. But, for beauty of style, and magnetic eloquence of language, I doubt if Miss Corelli herself has ever excelled this, or several other passages in Sons of Fire. . . . Others may draw men as they are; Miss Braddon, an idealist like Sophocles, draws them as they should be.  . . . A novel like this can never fail to entertain, and may be regarded as the best companion for one of these railway journeys in which chance, rather than Bradshaw, is the regulating and controlling power” (533–34).
  • Lang comments on Lord Rosebery’s statement about Burns, “Where they failed we feel it a less dishonour to fail” (533).  While Lang allows that this may be true when faced with the imperfections of a saint, with Burns it is more likely that he will “obtain imitators who, with no natural taste for whiskey, say, like to imitate Burns” (534). He does not believe Burns’s example leads people to “pick themselves up after a moral stumble” (533–34).

*For Lang on Marie Corelli, see Nathan Hensley’s, “What is a Network? And Who is Andrew Lang?”

October 1896 (Signed A. LANG.)

Opening lines: “Of all the so-called spooks, he who makes things fly about is the most interesting historically. I think he was known to ancient Egypt and Assyria, though the evidence might be more complete, and in Europe I find him everywhere, since the ninth century of our era. In China, as in Peru and America, he abounds; and whatever else he is, he is a topic of belief among peoples ancient, modern, savage, civilised, Catholic, Covenanting, Anglican, Pagan, Nonconformist, Buddhist, and so forth.” (632)

November 1896 (Signed ANDREW LANG.)

Opening lines: “‘Man, being reasonable, must get drunk,’ says the poet, and the advocates of ‘temperance,’ as they oddly call it, often contrast the convivial habits of man with the asceticism of the lower animals. But don’t animals get drunk?”

December 1896 (Signed

Opening line: “If ever a man spoke a word in season that man is Dr. Hirsch, whose Genius and Degeneration is published, in English, by Mr. Heineman.” (195)

Please check back for updates on incomplete months.


  • See the 1897 “At the Sign of the Ship” summaries.
  • Return to the “At the Sign of the Ship” Table of Contents.