A. W. (Arthur Woollgar) Verrall.

Collected literary essays, classical and modern online

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X*-" ^ BY

A. W. V^RRALL, Litt.D.







J. D. DUFF, M.A.

Cambridge :
at the University Press


CambnUgt :



THE essays contained in this volume have been
collected from various periodicals, some of
which are now difficult of access. The selection
was made by the author a few months before his
death, at a time when there was every expectation
that he would live to see the republication. The
names and dates of issue of the periodicals in which
the essays originally appeared are given in the
Table of Contents.

For permission to republish, our thanks are due
to the editors of the Quarterly Review, the New
Quarterly, the Oxford and Cambridge Review, the
Independent (and Albany) Review, to Mrs M'^Nalty,
executrix and literary legatee of the late editor of
the Universal Review, and to the Executive Com-
mittee of the National Home-Reading Union.

The Commemorative Address by Dr Mackail,
which is appended to the Memoir, was delivered
at a meeting of the Academic Committee of the

VI Preface

Royal Society of Literature on November 28, 191 2.
We are much indebted to him for his kindness in
allowing us to include this valuable appreciation,
and we have to thank the Society for permission
to reprint it.

We have also to thank Mrs Verrall for valuable

May 1 913.

M. A. B.
J. D. D.



Portrait Frontispiece

Memoir ix

Memorial Inscription in Trinity College Chapel ciii

Commemorative Address. By J. W. Mackail, LL.D. cv

'H'^ A Roman of Greater Rome . . . , . J . i

I Universal Review, 1888. /^ ^-,4b,A^

An Old Love Story 27

Universal Review, 1888.

The Feast of Saturn 58

Universal Review, 1889.

A Tragi-Comedy and a Page of History . . 85

Universal Review, 1889.

Love and Law 112

Universal Review, 1889.

A Villa at Tivoli 127

Universal Review, 1890.

"To Follow the Fisherman": a Historical Problem

IN Dante 153

Independent Review, 1903.

Dante on the Baptism of Statius . . . , 181
Albany Review, 1908.






The Birth of Virgil


Albany Review, 1907.

The Altar of Mercy


Oxford and Cambridge Review, 1907.

Aristophanes on Tennyson


New Quarterly, 1909.

The Prose of Walter Scott .....


Quarterly Review, 1910.

"Diana of the Crossways" .....


National Home-Reading Union's Magazine, 1906.

General Index


Index of Passages


\ X



Whatever way my days decline,
I felt and feel, tho' left alone.
His being working in mine own,

The footsteps of his life in mine.

In Memoriaffi.

Arthur Woollgar Verrall was bom at
Brighton on February 5, 1851, and was the eldest
of a family of three brothers and two sisters. His
father, Henry Verrall, was a well-known solicitor
who held for many years the office of Clerk to the
Magistrates of the town. Since it is always inte-
resting to trace the influences of heredity, some
characteristics may be mentioned here which seem
to have been part of the boy's natural debt to his
parents. From his father he would appear to have
derived his remarkable inductive powers, his simple
tastes and dislike of ostentation, and the patient
endurance with which he bore the sufferings and
disabilities of his later years. His mother's gift
embraced a rare conscientiousness, the aptitude for
languages and teaching, the delight in music and the
ear for rhythm. The tie of affection between mother
and son was unusually strong.

X Memoir

At the age of nine, his health being thought too
fragile even for the conditions of a preparatory school,
he was sent as a private pupil to the Rev. R. Blaker,
Vicar of I field. Mr Blaker soon discovered the boy's
genius for languages, and Greek was immediately
begun. Progress was exceptionally rapid, and two
years later Mr Blaker wrote :

He certainly gives promise of more than ordinary scholar-
ship, and if his health is good, I augur an honourable future
for him. . . . He evinces a quickness of comprehension which is
remarkable for so young a boy. His memory is excellent,
and he is able to retain facts and draw inferences from matters
connected with his reading with wonderful clearness.

' An amusing little story of nursery days perhaps
gives an even earlier indication of his bent in this
direction. The child was looking at some pictures
of red-legged partridges, and was overheard saying
to himself, 'Arthur is a good boy; he doesn't say
thenis grouses, he says thenis grice'

In 1863 he went to Twyford, the well-known
preparatory school for Winchester, where he stayed
a year and a half. His health during this time was,
however, much broken. In 1864 he competed for
a Winchester scholarship, and failed. No doubt
the failure was a disappointment at the time, but in
after years he would refer to it as really a piece of
good luck, since if he had gone to Winchester, he
would have been sure to go to Oxford! In this
judgement we may concur, for we can see that
Oxford would hardly have helped him to * find
himself.' The Greats course would have led him

Memoir xi

into fields of study foreign to his intellectual
temperament, and for metaphysics he had a whole-
hearted dislike, as he had for all speculation that
promised to lead to no definite conclusion. Never-
theless, he had a great respect for Oxford and
a special affection for Winchester, where he was
a frequent visitor. The defeat was almost im-
mediately retrieved. In October of the same year,
at the suggestion of Dr Beard, a friend of his father,
he was hurried off at a few hours' notice to compete
for a scholarship at Wellington College. Though
his name had not been previously entered, his
candidature was accepted, and he gained the second
scholarship, being just beaten by E. Heriz Smith,
afterwards Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge.
In a letter now before me, Dr Benson wrote that
the boy ' was nearly though not quite equal to the
first candidate.... I like very much the boy's clear
and unassuming manner, and am very glad nothing
prevented him standing.' It was like Benson to
add that he hoped he had ' been comfortable under
the odd and hurried circumstances of his competition.'
While at Wellington, Verrall must have experienced
and observed many such instances of thoughtful
courtesy, and as we know, they bore abundant fruit.
Mr Wickham of Twyford, in a letter written when
the boy was leaving the school, repeats Mr Blaker's
impression of his character and augury for his future.
An earlier letter of Mr Wickham's contains one
significant remark : ' I must try to get him to read
a little Ovid next half year, to get him into more

xii Memoir

style in his verses.' The boy, then, was capable of
independent reading at the age of thirteen, had
learned to dislike Ovid, and needed persuasion
before he would read him. This dislike Verrall
never lost, and I can recall the tone of real sadness
with which he once referred to the essential trivi-
ality of Ovid's art ; it actually distressed him that
a man who could have done better things ' should
have left only piffle.' One can well believe that
the boy dimly felt the same disappointment, that
he was even at that early age seeking in his
author something more than the ' topmost froth of

He entered Wellington at the end of his
thirteenth year. Nattifally reserved, of a tempera-
ment unusually refined, and with enthusiasms pre-
dominantly intellectual, he was not one of those
best fitted for the rough and tumble of public school
life. ' Something of home-life,' he wrote in his
contribution to the Archbishop's Life, ' something
like the sympathetic and intelligent circle from
which I came, was almost as necessary to me as
bread and butter.' When he got into the Sixth, as
he very soon did, Benson's keen observation detected
this want, and he and Mrs Benson supplied it in the
best of ways, by treating the boy as one of the family.
He was continually in and out of the house, and
whenever he liked, which was two or three times
a week, he used to join the ' nursery tea,' at which
Dr and Mrs Benson were habitually present. The
value to him of this happy modification of the

Memoir xiii

ordinary conditions of school life, and the incal-
culable gain from these closer relations with two
such natures, he always felt he could not over-
estimate. He would say, referring to those days,
' the Bensons made Wellington possible for me ' ;
and he has written, ' He [Dr Benson] saved my
health and my sense ; I believe that he saved my

If Verrall had written an autobiography (a thing
incredible), not the least interesting period of it
would have been that of his later school years.
Unfortunately even recollections of him as he
appeared to others are disappointingly meagre.
One school-fellow writes, 'As soon as Verrall was
in the Upper Sixth we were aware that his mind
was of a different order from ours,' and mentions
'the width of his reading.' In an obituary notice
in the Wellingtonian, Mr E. K. Purnell, also a
school-fellow, gives a little vignette of unmistakable
fidelity :

A contemporary, who knew him first as a clever boy of
1 8, described him as in those days a most talkative vivacious
youth, his eyes kindling with life and enthusiasm as he talked,
his voice running up into a kind of falsetto. He observed
and was interested in everything and everybody, and his
personality, with its many-sided sympathies, impressed itself
on all with whom it came in contact. The same person,
meeting him when he was examining for the Benson a few
years ago, was drawn irresistibly by the charm of his intense
vitality, and the unconquerable courage which still helped
him to keep up his part in the scheme of life — in a Bath

xiv Memoir

These two brief scraps are all that can now be
obtained. One episode, however, Verrall has him-
self related with curious but characteristic detachment
and candour in the contribution to the Life of the
Archbishop referred to above.

I saw that after the approaching holidays I should...
almost certainly be ' Head of the School,' a really laborious
and responsible change. I was then a rapacious student and
(except perhaps an infamous player of football) nothing else.
My perturbation may be measured by my helpless imperti-
nence. Without any intimation of the Headmaster's purposes,
I actually went and told him that I could not be ' Head,' and
that I should leave ! I ought, I dare say, to have been
snubbed. What I know is that a harsh or light word then
would have ruined my best chance in life, and (as I make
bold to say) would have lost a good year to the school.... He
discussed the matter with me almost daily, always from my
point of view.... In a fortnight I was a very little ashamed
and exceedingly sanguine. And during my year I was to
the Headmaster like a third hand.

In the spring of 1869 he obtained a Minor
Scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, and
a Foundation Scholarship in the following year.
He was bracketed with Henry Butcher from Marl-
borough and Walter Leaf from Harrow — a remark-
able trio to have entered for the same examination.
When the result was known, Dr Benson wrote to
Mr Henry Verrall :

He has done beautifully, and he deserves success. For
his heart is wholly in his work, and that with so much modesty
and so much affectionateness, that no one can rejoice too
much at his success or fear that it may spoil him. His two
co-equals are respectively thought the best of their two

Memoir xv

schools for several years past. And one of the examiners
has written to tell me that if it had been possible to make
a diiference it would have been in Arthur's favour.

We may congratulate each other most sincerely — only on
one point you must not congratulate me, for it is hard to part
with him, I assure you.

Of the undergraduate period available informa-
tion is scanty, and no letters have been preserved.
In the time at which he went up to the University-
he was not a little fortunate, for among his contem-
poraries and friends were such men as Walter Leaf,
Henry Butcher, F. W. Maitland, J. G. Butcher,
Frank and Gerald Balfour, A. J. Mason, A. T.
Myers (a younger brother of F. W. H. Myers),
T. O. Harding, Edmund Gurney, G. H. Kendall,
W. Cunningham, and F. J. H. Jenkinson. With
all these, and the first three especially, he main-
tained a life-long friendship, and the deaths of
F. W. Maitland in 1906 and of Henry Butcher in
1 9 10 were blows little less than overwhelming.
Among his older contemporaries were Henry
Sidgwick, R. C. Jebb, Henry Jackson, and Frederick
Pollock. One event, which occurred early in his
University career, he spoke of at the time as ' the
best thing that ever happened to me in my life.'
This was his admission to a private but not obscure
society, consisting of graduates and undergraduates,
which met, and still meets, for intimate discussion of
any and every subject. Dating at least as far back
as the time of Tennyson, it counts among its numbers,
I believe, many of Cambridge's most distinguished

xvi Memoir

men, and Verrall always considered that he owed

more to his membership of this * glorious company '

than to any other influence of Cambridge life.

Another surviving incident of the undergraduate life

is sufficiently characteristic to deserve record. It

, fell to him to have to read in the College chapel the

I lesson about the feast of Belshazzar from the Book

I of Daniel. Those who were present declare that

the solemnity and dramatic power with which he

delivered it, combined with the rare quality of the

voice, were astonishingly impressive and made the

occasion quite unforgettable.

To The Tatler in Cambridge, an unusually good
example of those short-lived periodicals with which
the undergraduate genius from time to time pro-
motes the gaiety of University life, he contributed
four clever papers. The most amusing of these is
perhaps one on Bain's Mental and Moral Science.
The book, he discovers, has running through it a
vein of subtle humour, and he gently warns the
author that this is a talent which in such a work
should be exercised with philosophic discretion.
The criticism of satire is perhaps all that the work
deserves, and an admirable piece of fooling closes
with the following poetical summary of Mr Bain's

There was a Professor called Bain •

Who taught, in the Land of the Rain,

That the ultimate Fact

Which induced you to act
Was an Inkling of Pleasure or Pain.

Memoir xvii

He proved that Volitional Force
Depended entirely on Sauce,

Inasmuch as the Question

Was one of Digestion,
And Morals would follow of course.

Your Head was impressible Batter
Compounded of White and Grey Matter,

So your Measure of Reason

Would flow from 'Adhesion '
To a tender and merciful Hatter.

He laid the Foundations of Virtue
In finding by Trial what hurt you ;

And spite of your Terror

Would stick to his Error,
And at last, and at best, would desert you.

Religion and Duty he made
A Manner of feeling afraid ;

And Tact, on his showing,

Consisted in knowing
The Feel of the Tongs from the Spade.

Faith, Charity, Hope were reducible
To Phosphate or Salt in a Crucible,

Dissent and Dysentery

Both 'Alimentary,'
Manners and Mammon both fusible.

If Flesh can be sane or insane.
And Meat the sole Factor of Brain,

Then hey ! for the Cooks,

Since the Moral of Books
Is 'Leave Writing for Eating,' O Bain.

In 1872 he obtained the Pitt University Scho-
larship, and in the next year passed out in the
Classical Tripos, being bracketed second with T. E.
Page ; Henry Butcher was Senior Classic. In the

xviii Memoir

examination for the Chancellor's Medals, which
immediately followed, the three were bracketed
equal, and a third medal was awarded, — a thing
never done before or since.

In connexion with his Tripos Verrall used to
tell an amusing story, which he always regarded as
illustrating in a remarkable manner the perverse
vagaries of the human mind. He had to translate a
passage from Tacitus in which Tiberius is described
as doing something Rhodo regressus. These words
he rendered by 'on his return to Rhodes,' and
added two marginal notes, the first explaining and
endeavouring to justify the use of Rhodo for Rhodum,
and the second explaining how Tacitus came to
speak of Tiberius as having done after his return to
Rhodes what it was common knowledge that he did
after his return from Rhodes. Not till he got back
to his rooms did it occur to him that it would have
been simpler to v^Yii^ from in his translation !

In the same year he was elected Fellow of
Trinity College, and resided in Cambridge until the
summer of 1874, taking private pupils. I was my-
self an undergraduate at this time, and knew him
by sight, but alas ! did not know what I was losing
by not asking to be allowed to join those lucky

In July Benson, who had now left Wellington,
wrote to him that there was a vacancy on the staff
of the School : —

I need scarcely say to you that the idea present to all
men's minds is what would have been present with me, viz.

Memoir xix

whether it would be compatible with your arrangements that

you should give them any help I need scarcely put into

words the fact that you would be more useful to Wellington
College than any man living. What they want is enthusiasm
— high-couraged work — with scholarship. And of course
they want a feeling, understanding soul.

Happily he resisted this earnest appeal.

For the next three years he lived in London,
reading for the Bar and doing a certain amount of
teaching work. From 1875 ^o ^'^11 ^^ was 'Super-
numerary Instructor in composition and extra read-
ing ' at S. Paul's School. He gained the Whewell
Scholarship for International Law in 1875, was
called in 1877, and held one brief, if not two.
A legal career, however, had no attraction for him :
in October he returned to Cambridge, and was soon
afterwards placed on the teaching staff at Trinity.
From that time onwards Cambridge was his home.
For the next five years he combined with his work
at the University some teaching at Wren's well-
known coaching establishment in London. He also
taught at Newnham College, and in connexion with
his work there Miss Jane Harrison tells a delightful

I have sometimes wondered if a brilliant dramatist was
not lost in the finding and making of a subtle classical
scholar. One day, as quite a young mfan, he was looking
over my composition in the then library of Old Hall. Coals
were wanted and no coal-scuttle in sight. After a longish
hunt I remembered that the library coal-scuttle always lay
perdu between the double doors that led to Miss Clough's
sitting-room. The arrangement, owing to its ingenious
economy in coal-scuttles, used to cause Miss Clough a quite

V. L. E. b

XX Memoir

peculiar and intimate joy. No less though a slightly different
joy did it cause Mr Verrall. On catching sight of the coal-
scuttle and the double doors he stood transfigured and trans-
fixed. ' What a scene for a play ! ' he exclaimed, and coal
scuttle in hand, me and my composition utterly forgotten,
the plot of that play he then and there constructed and

In 1 88 1 he published his first book, an edition
of the Medea of Euripides. He had been asked
by Messrs Macmillan & Co. to prepare a school
edition of the play, but on getting to work he found
that the limits of a school-book, even if that were
the proper medium, would be far too narrow for
what needed to be done for the Medea, and what
he felt he could do. The book was remarkable not
only as the production of a young man of thirty, but
in itself; it was strikingly original and brilliant, and
was at once recognised as the work of a scholar of
the first rank. Nothing of the kind, nor perhaps
anything approaching it, had previously been done
on the Greek tragedians. While he breathed fresh
life into the play itself, the effect of his work went
further ; for it suggested what might be done for
other legacies of the Attic stage, interest in which
seemed to be steadily sinking into the mere formal
respect one pays to a dull old man whose former
dignities do not permit him to be quite ignored.
The volume was welcomed with delight and admi-
ration, and I think I recognise the hand of Professor
Tyrrell in a long and frankly eulogistic article un-
earthed from the file of the Saturday Reviezv. The

Memoir xxi

textual restorations, of which something will be said
below, naturally attracted special attention, and
confirmed to their author, if they did not originate,
the half-jesting, half-earnest sobriquet ' Splendid
Emendax.' But this part of the work was by no
means the chief or the most valuable. Other merits
were found in rare and perhaps unprecedented com-
bination : a peculiarly delicate appreciation of the
subtleties of the language, a fine discrimination
between expressions superficially identical, a subtle
appreciation of the poet's skill in delineation of
character, and an acute perception of the necessities
and possibilities of a dramatic situation. In the two
last Verrall had no rival among his predecessors,
and few if any equals then or later among his con-
temporaries. As one perused the text afresh after
digesting the commentary, one found the scenes
leap into life, one saw and heard the drama in
progress ; or rather — but here we have first to
thank Euripides — one felt one was in the presence
of a living Medea and a living Jason. The notes
were enriched with illustrations drawn from English
literature and even (as the writer in the Saturday
Review notes) a parallel from Lohengrin, * which to
a commentator of the older school would have ap-
peared unpardonably frivolous.'

Of these qualities of the book there was but
one opinion, but the textual work divided readers
into two camps. While the teachable, old or young,
were only grateful, there were some who were
offended by the originality and alarmed at the


xxii Memoir

brilliance. They mistrusted the cleverness of emen-
dations which took their breath away, making
familiar passages unrecognisable, and they feared
the effects of a pernicious example. Thus did the
mediaeval world regard Galileo. It is an attitude
towards Verrall's work as a textual critic — whether
here or in later books — which has always filled me
with astonishment, for his methods were essentially
sound. As all his labours in this department show,
his decisions were not based on mere guess-work
(of which he always spoke with some impatience),
but were conclusions arrived at from the evidence
furnished by the mss. themselves. Where he dif-
fered from others was in the possession of unusual in-
ductive powers, which enabled him to see further; and
these powers were assisted by a rare sense of lite-
rary and dramatic fitness, an apparently complete
acquaintance with the extant vocabulary of classical
Greek, and an exceptional memor)^ We may, if
we please, sum up all this as ' ingenuity,' but if we
do, we must not use the word in a disparaging sense.
Of course, and he used readily to admit it, the
sharp-edged tool sometimes slipped. Impatient of
the ' fluffy ' explanation that does not explain, he
was occasionally tempted to ofler something which
still fails to satisfy, and which only he could have
made plausible. Again, as some think, he some-
times finds a point where none was intended. It
may be so, but it is surely well to err on the side of
respect for one's author, and if we do not believe
in pointless lines in Aristophanes, why should we

Memoir xxiii

tolerate them in the texts of the tragedians ? And
after all, to accompany Verrall even on an incon-
clusive quest, is to learn things by the way which

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