1905 “At the Sign of the Ship”

“At the Sign of the Ship” ended in October 1905 with the demise of Longman’s Magazine. Lang wrote articles on similar topics in “At the Sign of St Paul’s” (1905–1912) in the Illustrated London News and in The Morning Post (regular Friday columns from 1905 to 1912); however, the articles were shorter and more focused on a single theme.

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August 1905 [Signed ANDREW LANG.]

Opening lines: “I wish I had been born an American! The reason has nothing to do with Copyright, nor with a passion for Republican Institutions! Admirable as they are, methinks I could feel myself quite free enough under any despotism, lay, or priestly, or preacherly, so to speak. Nobody can prevent a man from thinking freely, and I never wanted to bellow out my free thoughts about politics or creeds in the market-place. Siberia would have had no terrors for me had I been born a Muscovite, nor the Inquisition had I lived under Philip of Spain, nor Smithfield had I been a subject of ‘our own red Mary’; indeed, I fear that I might have signed the Covenant at home, rather than be excommunicated, and harried, and rabbled. Still, the Covenant was a tough morsel, and methinks I should have withdrawn to France till that tyranny was overpast. A quiet man of books could almost always, almost anywhere, have quite as much freedom as he wanted. People generally meant by ‘freedom,’ freedom to prevent other people from being free. Liberty has made some strides in Poland, if it be true that workmen who don’t want to work ‘take the Wilkes and Liberty’ of shooting workmen who do want to work. What the friends of freedom of conscience desired in Scotland was not merely leave to go to sermon, but to beat and bully persons who preferred to go to Mass. It is not, therefore, from any cravings for larger liberty that I wish I were an American. . . . The reason is that they enjoy Britain so much more than we Britons do.” (376)


  • Opening paragraph on freedom
  • Americans enjoy Britain much more than Britons do. “Read Mrs. Pennell’s tale called ‘Enrietter’ in the Pall Mall Magazine–and how that magazine can be vended at sixpence, pictures and all, as it is, makes the despair of economists.”* (376)
  • Mrs. Pennell “made [the] discovery” that “if yells of ‘Murder!’ shrilled from a Briton’s house the police might not enter uninvited by the Briton. . . . The case seems to invite experiment” (377).
  • Lang notes that, if murdered, he could not invite the police in, so this “seems too favourable to the batsman—the murderer. Mrs. Pennell might give lectures on the subject in comparative legislation, proving that American law is much more sensible than ours, which we might modify” (377).
  • “Meanwhile, incidents like that of Enrietter are not in the experience of British housekeepers. The maidens of our households do not revel and drink deep, and get mysteriously gashed across the brows under our roofs by clerks in the Bank of England. Americans enjoy England much more than we do, perhaps even more than they enjoy America” (378).
  • Lang also sees this enjoyment in W. D. Howell’s ‘American Origins, London Films’ in Harper’s Magazine and notes the differences in what Americans pay attention too, that Howells visited the church at All Hallows, Barking because “William Penn was christened there” and relates the story of the American in the omnibus who pointed out Westminster Abbey as the church “where our Stanley was married.” “The headless body of Archbishop Laud interests Mr. Howells because he induced several Low Churchmen to leave our shores for those of America, where they could be persecutors in place of being persecuted” (378).
  • Lang notes that it “does not seem certain that James [I] really did prevent Cromwell from [emigrating], so we must not blame him too hastily. To gaze on the spot whence Cromwell never tried to emigrate (if he did not) is a truly imaginative pleasure” (379).
  • “On the whole, as was natural, Mr. Howells found that there were more English than American ‘origins’ in [London]” and wonders “why nobody republishes Peter Cunningham’s guide,” which Lang feels “a wild desire to read” (379).
  • Lang corrects Howells’s view that Roger Williams was the first in favor of religious toleration, citing an Anabaptist against John Knox, Catherine de’ Medici, and Queen Mary (379).
  • Lang would like to know if Mr. Vachell’s The Hill, where “House Masters spread a rumour that they are dining out, and then lurk ambushed with dark lanterns . . . to catch bad boys who are surreptitiously speeding to London on bicycles”correctly depicts the manners and customs of Harrow” (379).
  • Lang discusses schoolboy villains, and how he once knew one worse than ‘The Demon’ in Eric, or Little by Little by Little. “On the whole, good old Tom Brown is still unapproached as a tale of schoolboy life” (380).
  • Continued discussion of Dr. Munro’s book on false antiquities and Lang’s learning that “forgery of antiques is more easy, more frequent, more apt to deceive the very elect of science, and more lucrative than one would suppose.” The experts have great knowledge but poor intuition, Lang claims, “The labors of these worthy men resemble those of your Biblical or Homeric critic, who can assign an approximate date to this or that clause of a verse in Exodus, or to any given passage in the Iliad. The labours are worth very little if the critic has no natural intuition of art” (380).
  • Lang discusses the case of a successful forger whose work is in a famous museum and asks, “Why should not this artist, for an artist he is, work as a sculptor on his own account, and restore to Europe the lost art of sculpture?”
  • Lang discusses cases and techniques of making modern works look old (381–82).
  • Lang notes that an anonymous correspondent does not believe” the ‘Linesman’ who writes in some newspaper about cricket, as mentioned last month, is . . . the same ‘Linesman’ who wrote so eloquently on warfare.” (382)
  • “We do not seem to have luck in the Test Matches” [the last of the five matches, I understand, is to be played on and on, till Guy Fawkes Day, or Christmas Day, or the day of the Royal Martyrdom, till it is finished, even if Mr. Armstrong bowls for every unchanged. Thus something decisive must happen; but these processes are tedious and unsatisfactory” (383).
  • “The University Match was one of the most interesting and strange . . . . Cambridge . . . won through sheer pluck and not knowing when they were beaten” (383).
  • On Mr. Brearley: “It is a comfort to see a fast bowler who does not take a run of at least twenty-two paces, like the Oxford bowlers” (384).

*Longman’s, unillustrated at the same price, would founder in October.

September 1905 [Signed ANDREW LANG.]

[The September “Ship” is entirely devoted to the clues in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This is also the first month without a “Notice to Correspondents” where the editor requests that “correspondents will be good enough to write to him, informing him of the subject of any article they wish to offer, before sending the MS.”]

Opening lines: “In an evil moment for my peace of mind, I read Mr. Cuming Walters’s Clues to the Mystery of Edwin Drood. I even reviewed the work, and afterwards managed to obtain a copy of the late Mr. Richard Proctor’s Watched by the Dead (1887), a criticism of Edwin Drood which really is ‘out of print.’ Mr. Proctor’s work entirely modified the impressions made on me by Mr. Cuming Walters’s book, and, in the character of Dr. Watson, I consulted the great shade of Sherlock Holmes. Here follow the results, in the shape of an imaginary conversation between Dr. Watson and his celebrated friend.” (473)

  • Lang’s Watson raises the question of The Mystery of Edwin Drood with Lang’s Sherlock Holmes, who never applies his powers to “the unsolved mysteries of the historic past” and has never heard of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, being, according Watson, “not a man of wide general reading” (473).
  • Watson offers Holmes Mr. Cuming Walters’s Clues to the Mystery. Watson agrees with Walters that Drood is dead, murdered by Jasper “Dickens told Forster that. The crime was brought home to Jasper by the evidence of the quicklime into which Edwin’s body was thrown by his murderer. The detective, Datchery, is not Edwin in disguise, but Miss Helena Landless in disguise. Proctor’s theory, that Drood escaped and is Datchery, cannot be correct.” (474)
  • Holmes reads Edwin Drood and claims “Drood is certainly alive. . . . Proctor is right, on the whole, though there are points which puzzle me.” (474)
  • Jasper would have found the ring if he had killed Drood (475)
  • Collins’s picture shows Drood alive in the vault, according to Holmes (476)
  • Holmes notes that Walters made his theory before examining the illustrations. “A theory is an excellent thing, but a theory that overlooks evidence is the devil. . . . He certainly betrayed his plot, unless his idea was to put someone, say Miss Landless, disguised as Drood, in the tomb, for the purpose of misleading the reader and frightening Jasper with a sham phantasm of the dead. But that would have been a very feeble invention of an outworn brain. Miss Landless was utterly unlike Drood.” (477)
  • “Whether Datchery is Helena Landless or Droud, the idea was impossible in actual practice”–neither Landless nor Droud would be able to pass as Datchery to Jasper. (477)
  • Sherlock makes mincemeat of the theory of Mr. Andrew Lang [“that pedant”] that Drood would have come forward if alive: Watson notes that Holmes dislikes Lang, “who had pointed out that my revered friend knows nothing about the Andaman islanders or about Thucydides” (478)
  • One thing is certain to Holmes: “Drood was alive. What beats me is the talk of Jasper about seeing something terrible from a height, clearly the cathedral top. . . . Nobody can make sense out of a blend of opium-dreams and psychical phenomena. It beats me.” (479)
  • Holmes notes that Drood and Datchery both walk with their hats in their hands (479)
  • Watson: “Do you think your system, Drood alive, makes a better novel than Mr. Walters’s theory, Drood dead?” Holmes: “Yes, I do. Dickens has taken a lot of trouble to convert Edwin from a fatuous boy to a kind-hearted sympathetic young man. He was not going to waste him. Edwin as his own ghost, at the close, is infinitely better than a girl disguised as Edwin’s ghost or another ghost, and about the apparition of one Edwin’s ghost or another there is no doubt at all. One sacrifice was enough, and Landless is the victim. Dickens had introduced fatal watchers in most of his books, in almost all of them, but the ghost business was new.” (480)
  • Lang comes out of character and says “speaking for myself, however you understand the novel, I cannot regard it as ‘a masterpiece,’ or exclaim, ‘How superb the sovereign intellect that conceived it, and how majestic would have been its proportions had he completed it!’ Dickens best qualities are apart from his elaborate plots. We forget Monk, and the paternity of Smike, and, in fact, we care little for any of the tangled intrigues. We remember a crowd of people as coming and friendly as Mr. Pickwick, and Sam Weller, and the Crummlesses. Their name is legion, and in Edwin Drood there is but one of these friendly immortals” (480).


October 1905 [Signed ANDREW LANG.]

Opening line: “The public is perhaps a little weary of novels about treasure-hunts. I am, for one; but then I see all, or most, of the treasure hunting novels which never succeed in getting published—ghastly amateur ‘bodies of things to be / In the houses of death or of birth.” (569)


  • While novels about treasure-hunts now seem wearisome, real treasure hunts may still have some interest, one “vaguely hears” there is a hunt on in the Cocos Isles. . . . Where the Cocos Islands are every schoolboy knows, but I do not.” Lang hopes “any treasure-hunter who has made a study of the Cocos marriage laws will oblige me by imparting it” (569).
  • The Duke of Argyll’s article in the September Pall Mall Magazine: “The Armada Ship at Tobermory Bay” (569–70)
  • On tradition being “generally right and generally wrong”: Lang reuses an anecdote where a Highlander remembered the story of the death of an ancestor of Lord Napier, two centuries ago. (Lang reused this anecdote; it appears in an earlier “Ship.”) The Tobermory Bay story was remembered by the Macleans and Campbells for a century longer (569–70).
  • The Ship in Tobermory Bay, the Florencia, was burned, not sunk, so Lang postulates on various things taht could have happened to the treasure, with some historical facts thrown in: “In all this there are treasure of material for a historical novel, if anyone can write it as it should be written” (570–71)
  • Lang summarizes the duke’s report of “local legends as to the sinking of the ship,” but claims “The best legend is not given by the duke: it was told to me in the Sound of Mull by a Shetlander, and I did it into a ballad” (572). In the legend, the Queen of Spain, after her voyage, falls in love at site with a man on the strand, Maclean, who already has a wife at home; after the Queen takes a “tearful farewell” of Maclean, he goes home “and, very imprudently, tells his wife that he ‘has kissed the hand of a Queen.’ The wife pretends she is sending provisions to the ship, but the hogshead of claret is actually filled with gunpowder. When Maclean comes to see the ship off the next day, he sees the explosion (573).
  • Lang recovers two Elizabethan songs, “Disdainful Diaphenia” (573) and “Tall Salmacis” (574)
  • Lang found a ballad on John Knox “in the charter chest of Mr. Seton-Erskine of Setonstarvet, in Galloway. The handwriting is of the eighteenth century” (574). Lang believes the poem to be “a reshaping, by a poet familiar with Burns, of an older and cruder ballad of Queen Mary’s own date. Indeed, it is so very crude, even in its present form, that I am obliged to omit the stanzas describing the noctural adventures of ‘the brethren,’ when they leave Knox’s ‘wine'” (574).
  • Lang briefly alludes to Carlyle on Knox, but says “Carlyle is not a strictly accurate historian; in fact, Thomas Carlyle, in what he says of Knox, makes a series of ‘howlers.’ (575)
  • The novelist Mr. Frankfort Moore “still retains the lost virtue of gaiety” but “he might make an effort to be serious now and then. The White Causeway has many good points but “lets the little seed of mysticism grow up into a upas tree with fantastic far-expanding brances that overshadow his sunny field.” Lang finds the wraith business overdone, particularly when the heroine’s wraith actually loses a hairpin, which the hero finds.” “But things come to a worse pass when the heroine, who has lost her memory when drowned, recovers it after being pitched out of a motor into a tree” (576).
  • Lang quotes the poem about the man of Thessaly who jumps into a hedge and scratches out his eyes “So when he saw his eyes were out, / With all his might and main / He jumped into the quickset hedge, / And scratched them in again!” (577)
  • “It is late in the day for self-congratulation. But the Ashes are safe!”

“Poems printed in full:

  • Disdainful Diaphenia (573) [an Elizabethan song]
  • Tall Salmacis (574) [“]
  • [“the ballad of Knox’s wine party”] [anonymous–probably 18th century] (575)
  • “There was a man of Thessaly” (577)