Wednesday, July 06, 2016


Criticism Criticised

A.B. C[ook], "Criticism Criticised," Cambridge Review, Vol. XIII, No. 333 (June 9, 1892) 364 (in the original, the annotations are in a bold, smaller font, which I've replaced with red):
Those who, for other than Littlego purposes, have sat through Classical lectures or dipped into Classical books know well how the comments of the learned spoil the flavour of the original authors. Others may judge the matter from the effect of similar interpositions on the following artless ballad:—
She was a tiny whaler,
    And had a tiny crew,
Consisting of one sailor:
    Most manuscripts read "two."

This merry little fellow
    In a fantastic way
Had dyed his whiskers yellow:
    Madvig conjectures "grey."

Within his murderous cabin
    Full six harpoons had he,
Leviathan to dab in:
    Note the hypallage.

History surfeited tightly;
    Andrew of course hast supped;
Mad dabby will jam white lie:
    This stanza seems corrupt.

"His trousers fitted tightly,
    And were of choicest tweed,
Made up by William Whitely,"
    Perhaps we ought to read.

So thus his form adorning
    With colours brave and bright,
He sailed away one morning:
    The scholiast has "night."

Far, far across the ocean
    His buoyant boat did fly,
Till the rough rolling motion—!
    Effective Aposi.

At last on the horizon
    A reef rose dire and dim;
He dreaded reefs like pison:
    "Sailors dread reefs," says Grimm.

But lest my tale be tirin'
    I'll give you just the pith;
On the rocks there sat a Siren:
    This seems a Solar Myth.

One of those antique Misses
    Who long ago did try
To tempt the deaf Ulysses:
    vid. Homer's Odyssey.

With languishing soprano
    She wove her treble toil:
But he only whispered "Ah, no!"
    Subaudi, "Give me oil!"

Still on the Siren whistles
    Her sombre song and sad;
He looked around for missiles:
    Headlam says "Metre bad!"

Out spoke that savage sailor,
    "Your wailing's quite outshone,
For I too am a whaler":
    Verrallian etymon.

Then, then in desperation,
    His huge harpoon he heaves:
For fine alliteration
    See Spenser's "bony, beeves."

The Siren caught it neatly;
    Bent; broke; dropped; jumped upon;
Fused; bruised; contused completely:
    Unique asyndeton!

The sailor "caught it" also
    Like an ill-mannered cur;
Beneath her blows he falls o-
    ver. Mark Hypermeter.

There, where the wild winds waver,
    She built a solemn pyre,
And cremated his cadaver.
    Splendid περιπέτεια!
Of the many learned lucubrations which have been lavished on this simple tale, we select the two following as conspicuous examples of their kind:—

Prof. Mayor. It will not escape notice that in the good old days (for which cp: Columella, i. 2, 3: Sedulius, iv. 5, 6: Cyprian, vii. 8, 9: Sulpicia, 10) when the stout mariners of Spain (see my Univ. Serm. as published in the Review—and by the way our younger scholars might profitably devote their lives to making a complete index to its crowded columns: I have myself noticed some six omissions of the word "and" in the existing lists) did not shrink from the dangers of the deep (vide Horace, Seneca, Varro, Tzetzes, Apuleius, etc., passim) men were undoubtedly born and bred on vegetarian diet. I could cite a million quotations to prove the point, but content myself with calling attention to the careful wording of the above-mentioned poem. For example, "pith" is significant, and "give me oil" conclusive: nor must we suppose (with Nauck, Gruppe, Schweiger-Sidler3, Tücking, Puchta etc.) that the hunting of the whale was for purposes of food-supply—I deny in toto that any sailor of that epoch had ever eaten a whale.

Dr. Verrall. The common misinterpretations of this ode are too notorious to call for detailed refutation. As mangled by most critics and commentators it is a mere agglomeration of meaningless verbiage, or—if we credit one savant—replete with vegetarian vagaries. The fact is that they all (like the Siren before them) have "missed the point" entirely. It clearly represents the Festival Choir, whose adventurous and successful career was frowned upon by the Muse of classic song. We cannot of course expect to appreciate all the subtleties of contemporary Criticism; but in each words as "wailer," "Sail," and "yell-ow," I detect a distinct musical significance. Take again the connection between the adjective "murderous" and the phrase "harpoon": this latter word must be a dialectal variant for the verb to "harp on"; the fact that no such form is known elsewhere is the strongest argument in favour of its restoration here. For "ill-mannered cur" I restore with confidence "ill-Manned choir," exact metrical correspondence being of no importance. Similarly the stress laid upon the syllable "ver" by its position in the line recalls the word "vir" and reinforces my argument about "Mann."

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