Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

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ing in just where it does. This is true even of prose.
And I should fancy that few men would long continue
to write for any periodical the editor of which was
wont to cut and carve upon their articles. You re-
member how bitterly Southey used to complain of the
way in which Lockhart altered his. But all this holds
good with infinitely greater force in the case of poe-
try : especially in the case of such short gems as
many of those in Mr. Patmore's volume. The prose
writer, however accurate, covers his pages a day : each
sentence is carefully weighed ; but weighed rapidly.
But the poet has lingered long over every word in liis
happiest verse. How carefully each phrase has been
considered : how each phrase is fitted to all the rest !
I declare it seems to me, there is something sacred in
the best stanzas of a great poet. It is profanation to
alter a word. And you know how to the sensitively
strung mind and ear of the author a single wrong note
makes discord of the whole : the alteration of a word


here and there may turn the subhrae to the ridiculous.
And such aUerations may be made in all good faith,
by people whose discernment is not sharpened to this
particular use. There was a pretty song, popular
some years ago, which was called " What are the wild
waves saying ? " The writer had many times heard
that song : but he hardly recognized its name when he
heard it once asked for by the title of " What are the
mad waves roaring ? " Let us have the poet's work
as he left it. You do not know how painfully the
least verbal alteration may jar upon a sensitive ear.
I hold that so sacred is the genuine text of a great
poet, that even to the punctuation ; and the capital
letters, however eccentric their use may be ; it should
be esteemed as sacrilege to touch it. Let me say
here that no man who does not know the effect upon
poetry of little typographical features is fit to edit any
poet. It seems to me that Mr. Coventry Patniore
fails there. It is plain that he does not perceive,
with the sensitiveness proper to the editor of another
man's poetry, what an effect upon the expression of a
stanza or a line is produced by typographical details.
Mr. Patmore not unfrequently alters the punctuation
which the authors (we may suppose) adopted after
consideration ; and which has grown, to every true
reader of poetry, as much a part of the stanzji as its
words are. Every one knows how much importance
Wordsworth attached to the use of capital letters.
Now, in the poem entitled " Fidelity " (" Cliildren's


Garland,") Mr. Patraore lias at nine different places
Bubstituted a small letter for Wordsworth's capital :
considerably to the destruction of the expression
of the |)iece : and at any rate to the clipping of the
coin Wordsworth left us. In the last verse of Poe*s
grand poem, " The Raven," Mr. Patmore has, in six
lines, made jive alterations : one quite uncalled for ;
four for the worse. Poe wrote demon : Mr. Patmore
chooses to make it dcemon. Poe wrote " the shadow
that lies floating on the floor : " Mr. Patmore substi-
tutes is for lies : to the detriment of the sense. And
Poe ends the stanza thus :

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore !

It is extraordinary how many variations for the
worse Mr. Patmore introduces into the last line.
He makes it

Shall be lifted " Nevermore."

1st. The dash before the nevermore is omitted : a

2d. The Nevermore is made to begin with a capi-
tal : which, though very right in preceding stanzas,
is here absurd.

3d. The Nevermore is marked as a quotation : which
it is not. It is one in the preceding stanzas, and is
properly marked as one : but here the mark of quo-
tation is wrong.

4th. Poe puts, most fitly, a mark of exclamation



after the nevermore ! If ever there was a stanza
which should end with that point, it is here. But
Mr. Patmore, for no earthly reason, leaves it out.

Now, some folk may say these are small matters.
I beg to say that they are not small matters to any
accurate reader : and above all, to any reader with
an eye for the expression of poetry. And no man,
who has not an eye for these minute points, and who
does not feel their force, is fit for an editor of poetry.
I am quite sure that no mortal, with an eye for such
niceties, will deny, that each of Mr. Patmore's four
alterations of one line of Poe is an alteration for the
worse. I have taken as the proper representation of
Poe the best American edition of his whole works,
in four volumes. But if you look at the beautiful
little edition of his poems, edited by Mr. Hannay,
you will find that the accurate scholar has given that
stanza exactly as the American edition gives it : and,
of course, exactly right. If Mr. Patmore does not
understand how indescribably irritating these little
cuttings and carvings are to a careful reader or
writer, he is not the man to edit the " Children's
Garland," or any other collection of poetry. Every
one can imagine the indignation with which Words-
worth the scrupulous and Poe the minutely accurate
would have learned that their best poems were, either
through carelessness, or with the design of making
them better, altered by Mr. Patmore, even in the
matter of capital letters and points : and that finally


the result was to be exhibited to the world, not as
Raphael touched up by Smith the sign-painter, but as
Raphael pure and genuine.

And while thus fault-finding at any rate, I am
obliged to say that though acquitting Mr. Patmore
of any vainglorious purpose of improving those " Best
Poets " from whom he has selected his " Garland," I
cannot acquit him of culpable carelessness in a good
many instances. Though he may not have smeared
the great master's picture with red paint, he has not
been sufficiently careful to present the picture to us
unsmeared by anybody else. Except in those " very
few instances " in which he has changed a word or
phrase " unfit for children's reading," we have a right
to expect an accurate version of the text. But it is
quite easy to point out instances in which Mr. Pat-
more's reading could not have been derived from any
edition of the poet, however bad ; nor can any one
say that Mr. Patmore's reading is an improvement
upon the textus receptus. The third and fourth lines
of Macaulay's poem, " The Armada," run as follows :

When that great fleet invincible against her bore in vain
The richest spoils of Mexico, the stoutest hearts of Spain.

Mr. Patmore makes two alterations in these lines.
For that great fleet, he reads the great fleet, to the
detriment alike of rhythm and meaning. And for
the richest spoils of Mexico, he reads the richest sto'>'es.
It is extremely plain that spoils is a much better word


than stores. It was not the stores of Mexico ; that is,
the weahh stored up in Mexico ; that the Armada
bore. It was the spoils of Mexico ; that is, the
wealth which the Spaniards had taken away from
Mexico ; that the Armada bore. It is possible that
the Spaniards may have taken away all the wealth
of Mexico : in which case the spoils and the stores
would coincide in fact. But they would still be to-
tally different in conception ; and so exact a writer as
Macaulay would never confound the two things.

Next, let us turn to Campbell's touching verses en-
titled " The Parrot." Campbell put at the top of his
verses the words, " The Parrot : a domestic Anec-
dote." Mr. Patmore puts the words, " The Parrot :
a true Story." The poem tells us, very simply and
beautifully, how a certain parrot, which in its early
days had been accustomed to hear the Spanish lan-
guage spoken, was brought to the island of Mull :
where, we may well suppose, it heard no Spanish.
It lived in Mull for many years, till its green and
gold changed to gray: till it grew blind and appar-
ently dumb. But let the story be told in the poet's
words :

At last, when blind and seeming dumb,
He scolded, laugh'd, and spoke no more,

A Spanish stranger chanced to come
To MuUa's shore;

He hail'd the bird in Spanish speech,
The Ifird in Spanish speech replied,

Flapp'd round his cage with joyous screech,
Dropt down, and died.


Tn glancing over Mr. Patmore's reading of this
little piece, I am annoyed by observing several al-
terations in Campbell's punctuation : every altera-
tion manifestly for the worse. But there is a more
serious tampering with the text. The moral of the
poem, of course, is that parrots have hearts and
memories as well as we. And the poem sets out
by stating that great principle. The first verse is :

The deep affections of the breast,
That Heaven to living things imparts.

Are not exclusively possess'd
By human hearts.

Mr. Patmore has the bad taste, not to say more, to
leave that verse out. I cannot see any good reason
why. The principle it states is one which a word or
two would render quite intelligible to any child. In-
deed, to any child who could not take in that principle,
the entire story would be quite unintelligible. And
I cannot recognize Mr. Patmore's treatment of this
poem as other than an unjustifiable tampering with
the coin of the realm.

There is another poem of Campbell's which fares
as badly. Campbell calls it " Napoleon and the Brit-
ish Sailor." Mr. Patmore, in his zeal for cutting and
carving, calls it " Napoleon and the Sailor : a true
Story." This poem, like the last, sets out with a
principle or sentiment ; and then goes on with the
facts. Mr. Patmore takes it upon himself to leave
out tl at first verse : and then to daub the second


verse in order to make it intelligible in the absence of
the first. I hold this to be utterly unpardonable. It
is emphatically Raphael improved by the sign-painter.
And the pretext of anything " unfit for children's
reading" will not hold here. Any child that couli
understand the story, would understand this first verse

I love contemplating — apart

From all his homicidal glory,
The traits that soften to our heart

Napoleon's story !

Then Campbell's second verse runs thus :

'Twas while his banners at Boulogne
Armed in our island every freeman,

His navy chanced to capture one
Poor British seaman.

Thus simply and naturally does the story which fol-
lows, rise out of the sentiment which the poet has ex-
pressed. But as Mr. Patmore has cut out the senti-
ment, he finds it necessary to tamper with the second
verse : and accordingly he starts in this abrupt, awk-
ward, and ugly fashion ; which no true reader of
Campbell will behold without much indignation : and
which would have roused the sensitive poet himself to
still greater wrath : —

Napoleon's banners at Boulogne

ArniL'd in our ishmd every freeman.
His navy chanced,

And so on. Here, you see, in the verse as im-
proved by Mr. Patmore, we have two distinct propo-


sitions ; separated by a comma. Mr. Patmore not
merely has no eye for punctuation ; but is plainly
ignorant of its first principles. If any schoolboy,
after having had the use of the colon and semicolon
explained to him, were to use a comma in such fash-
ion in an English theme, he would richly deserve a
black mark for stupidity ; and he would doubtless re-
ceive one. But apart from this lesser matter, which
will not seem small to any one with a sense of gram-
matical accuracy, I ask whether it be not too bad that
Campbell's natural and beautiful verse should be adul-
terated into this irritating caricature of it.

Let us next test Mr. Patmore's accuracy in ex-
hibiting Sir Walter Scott. Everybody knows " Lady
Heron's Song" which Sir Walter himself called "Loch-
invar : " but which Mr. Patmore, eager for change,
calls " Young Lochinvar." Sir Walter's first two
lines are these :

O, young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best.

Mr. Patmore cannot render these simple lines ac-
curately. He begins West with a capital letter :
which, riglit or wrong. Sir Walter did not. Then
he puts a point of exclamation after West, where Sir
Walter has a comma. Sir Walter tells us that Loch-
invar's steed was the best : Mr. Patmore improves the
statement into his steed is the best. The very pettiness
of these changes makes them the more irritating.
Qranting that Mr. Patmore's reading is neither bet-


ter nor worse than the original, why not leave us the
poem as the great man gave it us ? Through all that
well-known song, one is worried by Mr. Patmore's
wretched little smears of red paint. The punctuation
throughout is no longer matter for an imposition ; it
is matter for a flogging. Sir Walter says,

So holdly he entered the Nethorby Hall :

Mr. Patmore with his brush makes it so bravely.
And, eager for change at any price, Mr. Patmore
gives us a new spelling of the name of the river Esk.
Sir Walter, like everybody else, spells that word Esh.
Mr. Patmore is not content with this, but develops
the word into Eske. Sir Walter describes a certain
locality as Cannohie Lee : Mr. Patmore improves the
name into Cannohie lea. And finally, the song end-
ing with a question, Sir Walter ends it with a point of
interrogation. But Mr. Patmore, impatient of the
restraints of grammar, concludes with a point of ex-

All this is really too bad. Byron fares no better :
and Mr. Patmore's alterations are of the same irritat-
ing and contemptible kind. Byron wrote

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there roll'd not the breath of his pride;

Mr. Patmore cannot leave this alone. In the first
line he reads nostrils for nostril: in the second, thenh
for it. Now, not only are Byron's words the best,
just because Byron chose them : but Byron's descrip-


tion is strikingly true to fact. Every one who has
ever seen a horse fallen, or a horse dead, knows how
remarkably j^a^ the creature lies upon the ground. It
(s startling to find the sixteen hands of height when
the animal was upon his legs, turned to something that
hardly surpasses your knee when the creature is lying
upon his side. And the head of a dead horse, lying
upon the ground, would show one nostril and not two.
You would see only the upper one : and remark that
the warm breath of the creature was no longer rolling
through that. These little matters make just the dif-
ference between being accurate and being inaccurate :
between being right and being wrong.

I do not know w^hether it be from a desire to im-
prove Mr. Keble's name, that Mr. Patmore, in his
" Index of Writers," alters it to Keehle. I object
likewise to Mr. Patmore's improving Barnfield's

She, poor bird, as all forlorn,
Leaned her breast up till a thorn :

by substituting against for up till. The very stupid-
est child would know, after one telling, the meaning
of up till : and Mr. Patmore's alteration is a destruc-
tion of the antique flavor of the piece.

The thoughtful reader, who has had some experi-
ence of life, must have arrived at this conviction :
that if two or three slices of a leg of mutton are ex-
tremely bad, all the rest of the leg is probably bad
too. I have not examined the whole of Mr. Pat-


more's volume : but I am obliged to conclude, from
the absence of minute accuracy in the pieces which I
have examined, that the entire volume is deficient in
minute accuracy. Now, in a book like this, accuracy
is the first thing. If any scholar were to take up a
play of ^schylus or Aristophanes, and find it as care-
lessly edited as several of the poems which we have
considered, I think the scholar would be disposed to
throw that play into the fire. And I cannot for my
life see why perfect accuracy should be less sought
after by an editor of English poems than by an editor
of Greek plays.

But on the general question of cutting and carving
I would almost go so far as to say, that after a poem
has been current for years, and has found a place in
many memories, not even its author has a right to
alter it. Nothing, at least, but an improvement the
most extraordinary, can justify such a breaking in
upon a host of old associations. It is a mortifying
thing, when a man looks, in later life, into the volume
of his favorite author, to find that the things he best
remembers are no longer there. Even manifest im-
provement cannot reconcile us to the change. When
the present writer was a youth at College, he cherished
an enthusiastic admiration for John Foster's " Essays."
Let it be said, his admiration is hardly less now. I
read and re-read them in a large octavo volume : one
of the earlier editions, which had not received the au-
thor's latest corrections. Yet I valued every phrase :


and I well remember how aggrieved I felt when I got
an cation with Foster's final emendations; and found
that lobster had cut out, and toned down, and varied,
jus*; the things of which my memory kept the firmest
hoV) One feels ys though one had a vested interest
in what had been so prized and lingered over. You
know how Wordsworth and Moore kept touching up
their verses : generally for the worse. I do not think
Oie last edition which Wordsworth himself corrected,
is the best edition of his poetry. In that poem of his
which has already been named, concerning the faith-
ful dog on Helvellyn, he made, late in life, various lit-
tle changes : which not being decidedly for the better,
must be held as for the worse. For any change from
the dear old way is for the worse, unless it be very
markedly for the better. And surely, after describing
the finding of the poor tourist's body, the old way,
which was this :

Sad sight ! the shepherd, with a sigh,
Looks round, to learn the history:

is quite as good as the new way, which is this :

The appalled Discoverer with a sigh,
Looks round, to learn the history.

No rule, indeed, can be laid down here. No great
poet cuts and carves upon his own productions so
much as Mr. Tennyson. You remember how

Revered Victoria, you that hold —


has changed into

Revered, beloved, oh you that hold.

You remember how in the story of the schoolboys
who stole a litter of pigs, the passage,

"VVe paid in person, scored upon that part
Which cherubs want.

has now dropped all reference to the scoring. And
" Locksley Hall " bristles with verbal alterations,
which every careful reader of Tennyson knows. One
bows, of course, to the presence of Mr. Tennyson ;
and does not venture to set up one's own taste as
against his. Yet, let me confess it, I miss and I re-
gret some of the old things. Doubtless there are pas-
sages which at the first were open to hostile criticism,
and which met it : which now have been raised above
all cavil. There is that passage in the " Dream of
Fair Women," which describes the death of Iphi-
genia. She tells of it herself. Here is the verse
as it stands even in the seventh edition :

The tall masts quivered as they lay afloat,

The temples and the people and the shore;
One drew a sharj) knife thro' my tender throat
Slowly, — and nothing more.

Every one feels how unpleasant is the picture con-
veyed by the last two lines. It passes the limits of
tragedy, and approaches the physically revolting It


.s, likewise, suggestive rather of the killing of a sheep
ur pig, ilian of the solemn sacrifice of a human being.
I confess, I incomparably prefer the simplicity of the
inspired statement : " And Abraham stretched forth
his hand, and took the knife to slay his son." We
don't want any details as to how the knife was to be
used ; or as to the precise point at which it was to let
out life. It would jar, were we to read, " Abraham
stretched forth his hand, and was just going to cut
Isaac's throat." Now Mr. Tennyson is worse than
that : for he gives us, doubtless with painful accuracy,
the account of the actual cutting of the throat. Then,
besides this, Mr. Tennyson's verse, as it used to stand,
was susceptible of a wrong interpretation. I do not
mean that, any candid reader would be likely to mis-
take the poet's sense : but I mean that an ill-set critic
would have occasion for misrepresenting it. You may
remember that a severe critic did misrepresent it.
In an ancient Review, you may see the verse printed
as I have given it above : and then the critic goes on
to say something like this : " What an unreasonable
person Ipbigenia must have been ! ' He cut my
throat : nothing more : ' what more could the woman
possibly want ? " Of course, we know what the poet
meant : but, in strictness, what he meant he did not
say. But look to the latest edition of Mr. Tennyson's
poems ; and you will be content. Here is the verse
now. You will see that it has been most severely cut
and carved ; but to a most admirable result :


The high masts trembled as they lay afloat;

The towers, the temples wavered, and the shore;
The bright death quivered at the victim's throat,

Touched, aud I knew no more.

I should fancy, my friend, that you have nothing to
say against such tampering with the coin. This is as
though a piece of baser metal were touched with the
philosopher's stone, and turned to gold. And there
have been cases in which a very felicitous change has
been made by one man upon the writing of another.
A single touch has sometimes done it. I wonder
whether Mr. Palgrave was aware that, in giving in
his book those well-known verses " To Althea from
Prison," which he rather absurdly describes as by
Colonel Lovelace (why does he not tell us that his
extracts from a greater poet are by William Shak-
speare, Esquire'^), there is one verse which he has
not given as Lovelace wrote it,

When I lie tangled in her hair

And fetter' d to her eye,
The birds, that wanton in the air.

Know no such liberty.

; Lovelace wrote " the gods that wanton in the air : "
and birds was substituted by Bishop Percy. It is a
simple and obvious substitution : and the change is so
greatly and so unquestionably for the better, that it
may well be accepted : as indeed it has universally

The mention of a happy substitution naturally sug-


gests the most unhappy substitution on record. You
may remember how the great scliolar, Bentley, puffed
up by his success in making emendations on Horace
and Terence, unluckily took it upon himself to edit
Milton. And here indeed, we have, with a vengeance,
Raphael improved by the painter of wagons. Milton
wrote, as everybody knows :

No light, but rather darkness visible:
but Bentley, eager to improve the line, turns it to

No light, but rather a trcuisjncuoits gloom.

There is another passage in which the contrast be-
tween the master and the wagon-painter is hardly less
marked. Where Milton wrote,

Our torments also may in length of time
Become our elements:

Bentley, as an improvement, substituted the following
remarkable passage,

Then, as ^twaa ivell observed, our torments maj'',
Become our elements.

It is to be admitted that the stupidity of Bentley's
reading, is even surpassed by its impudence. Of
course, the principle taken for granted at the begin-
ning of such a work is, that Bentley's taste and judg-
ment were better than Milton's. For, you observe,
there was no pretext here of restoring a more accurate


reading, lost through time : there was no pretext of
giving more exactly what Milton wrote. There was
no question as to Milton's precise words : but Bentley
thought to make them better. And there is something
insulFerable in the picture of the self-satisfied old Don,
silting down in his easy-chair with " Paradise Lost : "
and, pencil in hand, proceeding to improve it. Doubt-
less he was a very great classical scholar : but unless
his wits had mainly forsaken him when he set himself
to edit Mikon, it is very plain that he never could
have been more than an acute verbal critic. Thinking
of Bentley's " Milton," one imagines the Apollo Bel-'
vedere put in a hair-dresser's window, with a magnifi-
cent wig : and dressed in a suit of clothes of the very
latest fashion. I think likewise of an incident in the
life of Mr. N. P. Willis, the American author. When

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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 18 of 19)