I had got as far as this in thinking the thing out when that “Types of Ethical Theory” caught my eye. I opened it, and I give you my honest word this was what hit me:
Of the two antithetic terms in the Greek philosophy one only was real and self-subsisting; and that one was Ideal Thought as opposed to that which it has to penetrate and mould. The other, corresponding to our Nature, was in itself phenomenal, unreal, without any permanent footing, having no predicates that held true for two moments together, in short, redeemed from negation only by including indwelling realities appearing through.
Well – I mean to say – what? And Nietzsche, from all accounts, a lot worse than that!
Rodney Spelvin was in for another attack of poetry…He had once been a poet, and a very virulent one, too; the sort of man who would produce a slim volume of verse bound in squash mauve leather at the drop of a hat, mostly on the subject of sunsets and pixies.
“I think you would also have found her educational methods a little trying, sir. I have glanced at the book her ladyship gave you–it has been lying on your table since our arrival–and it is, in my opinion, quite unsuitable. You would not have enjoyed it. And I have it from her ladyship’s own maid, who happened to overhear a conversation between her ladyship and one of the gentlemen staying here–Mr. Maxwell, who is employed in an editorial capacity by one of the reviews–that it was her intention to start you almost immediately upon Nietzsche. You would not enjoy Nietzsche, sir. He is fundamentally unsound.”
It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.
A certain critic — for such men, I regret to say, do exist — made the nasty remark about my last novel that it contained ‘all the old Wodehouse characters under different names.’ He has probably by now been eaten by bears, like the children who made mock of the prophet Elisha: but if he still survives he will not be able to make a similar charge against Summer Lightning. With my superior intelligence, I have out-generalled the man this time by putting in all the old Wodehouse characters under the same names. Pretty silly it will make him feel, I rather fancy.
Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.
I once got engaged to his daughter Honoria, a ghastly dynamic exhibit who read Nietzsche and had a laugh like waves breaking on a stern and rockbound coast.
“I hold that the rank is but the penny stamp–”
“Guinea stamp, sir.”
“All right, guinea stamp. Though I don’t believe there is such a thing. I shouldn’t have thought they came higher than five bob. Well, as I was saying, I maintain that the rank is but the guinea stamp and a girl’s a girl for all that.”
“For a’ that, sir. The poet Burns wrote in the North British dialect.”
“Well, a’ that, then, if you prefer it.”
“I have no preference in the matter, sir. It is simply that the poet Burns–”
“Never mind about the poet Burns.”
“Forget the poet Burns.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Expunge the poet Burns from your mind.”
“I will do so immediately, sir.”
The root of the trouble was that she was one of those intellectual girls, steeped to the gills in serious purpose, who are unable to see a male soul without wanting to get behind it and shove.
“I can’t tell you how pleased I am. Not just because it’s mine, but because I can see that all the trouble I took training your mind was not wasted. You have grown to love good literature.”
It was at this point, as if he had entered on cue, that the motheaten bird returned and said they had not got old Pop Spinoza, but could get him for me. He seemed rather depressed about it all, but Florence’s eyes lit up as if somebody had pressed a switch.
“Bertie! This is amazing! Do you really read Spinoza?”
It’s extraordinary how one yields to that fatal temptation to swank. It undoes the best of us. Nothing, I mean, would have been simpler than to reply that she had got the data twisted and that the authoritatively annotated edition was a present for Jeeves. But, instead of doing the simple, manly, straightforward thing, I had to go and put on dog.
“Oh, rather,” I said, with an intellectual flick of the umbrella. “When I have a leisure moment, you will generally find me curled up with Spinoza’s latest.”
I don’t know if you happen to be familiar with a poem called ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by the bird Tennyson whom Jeeves had mentioned when speaking of the fellow whose strength was as the strength of ten…the thing goes, as you probably know,
Tum tiddle umpty-pum
Tum tiddle umpty-pum
Tum tiddle umpty-pum
and this brought you to the snapperoo or pay-off which was ‘someone had blundered.’
I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare — or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad — who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.
Vers libre is within the reach of all. A sleeping nation has wakened to the realization that there is money to be made out of chopping its prose into bits. Something must be done shortly if the nation is to be saved from this menace. But what? It is no good shooting Edgar Lee Masters, for the mischief has been done, and even making an example of him could not undo it. Probably the only hope lies in the fact that poets never buy other poets’ stuff. When once we have all become poets, the sale of verse will cease or be limited to the few copies which individual poets will buy to give to their friends.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.