Read an Excerpt
By Max Saunders, Richard Stang
Carcanet Press LtdCopyright © 2012 Michael Schmidt
All rights reserved.
The Evolution of a Lyric
The baby was being put to bed in the room over the head of the writer of lyrics. He was pacing up and down the border of his carpet. He could hear the nurse crooning a lullaby that had hushed to sleep little negroes out in Louisiana.
'Hang it all!' he said; 'the kiddy ought to have a lullaby of her own.' One's own baby is something precious to one; so are one's own lyrics; and 'Sweets to the sweet,' they say; therefore, things precious to the precious.
He went to the window and looked out. It was falling dusk. Shadows were creeping up the hedgerows, the red rays of the sun fell aslant along the downs that closed round the farm. On the terrace above the stockyard the flowers were passively awaiting the oncoming of the night. The great white poppies were folding their petals together. High overhead the pigeons were circling round and round, the flush of the sunset irradiating their breasts and the inner sides of their wings. The writer of lyrics sat down at his desk, and began to scrawl upon a scrap of notepaper. The negro melody was running in his head.
'Poppy heads are closing fast,' he wrote, and then paused. What next? Ah! the pigeons – the child liked the pigeons, and the word began with a 'p'. A little alliteration does no harm.
'Pigeons wing their –' No; that was no good. 'Pigeons wing' is wretched. Pigeons – pigeons – what do pigeons do? Ah! –
'Pigeons circle home at last' – the line wrote itself almost. So did the next three words, with the tune to help them:
'Sleep, baby, sleep.' Anything will do here – anything. But what is it to be? A bat cried outside. Yes – yes – the bats – 'The bats are calling.' ...
He looked out of the window again. The round beds on the terrace were bordered with hearts-ease – blue and yellow hearts-ease, and hearts-ease so dark that they were almost black — so black that the darkness could make very little difference to them.
'Pansies' he wrote – another 'p'. He was rather doubtful about so much alliteration, but still 'pansies' is pretty, and then ... 'Never miss the light.' The next line suggested itself, because, even if pansies can do without light, babies can't. 'But sweet babes must sleep at night.' A glance out of the window had caught the settling down of the white shrouds of mist:–
'sleep, baby, sleep, the dew is falling.'
That was a whole verse. But this only stood for the chorus of the tune. There was the body of the melody to be attended to. It was a terrible task, and cost a week's wrestling. To begin with, the melody opened on the second note of a bar and ended on a slur that called for a 'female rhyme'. At last he got as far as: 'We've wandered all about the downs together', but the rhymes to 'together' are all hopelessly hackneyed and necessitated for the third line: 'But now, good-bye, good-bye, dear summer weather', a line that might be good enough for a song translator. Besides, it was the beginning, not the end of summer. At last, for 'downs together' 'upland fallows' suggested itself, and, after that, the verse wrote itself. That made: one four-line verse and one sestet. There was as much again to do. Curiously enough, this time it was not the four-line, but the chorus verse, that gave the trouble. Before it was finished it looked like this:
'You may slumber in your cot' (scratched out).
'Ducks' heads underneath each wing' (scratched out).
'Warm beneath their mother's breast'
'Little chicks have gone to rest'} (vigorously erased)
'Sleep, baby, sleep, the moon is rising, risen' (erased).
'Little mice have stolen out, on the sea the lights shine out' (erased)
'Hoping pussy's not about' (scratched out).
But at last – after fourteen days' work – the thing was done. You will observe that each line cost nearly a whole day. On the morrow, a fellow-writer – a prose man – but one of the great ones of the earth, one of those who receive fifteen guineas per 1,000 words, looked in and picked up the fair copy.
'Ah,' he said, 'if I could reel off little things like that and get half a guinea apiece – as you do – I'd soon be a millionaire.' The writer of lyrics looked at his finished production. It ran:
We've wandered all about the upland fallows.
We've watched the rabbits at their play,
But now good-night, good-bye to soaring swallows,
Now, good-night, good-bye, dear day.
Poppy heads are closing fast, pigeons circle home at last;
Sleep, baby, sleep, the bats are calling;
Pansies never miss the light, but sweet babes must sleep at night:
Sleep, baby, sleep, the dew is falling.
Even the wind among the whisp'ring willows
Rests, and the waves are resting too.
See, soft white linen; cool, such cool white pillows
Wait in the darkling room for you.
All the little lambs are still, now the moon peeps down the hill;
Sleep, Liebchen, sleep, the owls are hooting;
Ships have hung their lanthorns out, little mice dare creep about:
Sleep, Liebchen, sleep, the stars are shooting.
He groaned: '"Ships have hung their lanthorns out" is the only line that doesn't make me feel ill – all the rest is rubbish.' And he sat down to rewrite the lyric from end to end.
Outlook, 3 (22 April 1899), 387–8.CHAPTER 2
Creative History and the Historic Sense
Mr A. F. Pollard has written a book on Henry VIII & Professor Goldwin Smith reviews it in the North American Review. Professor Smith's article is mainly an attack on Henry & the late Mr Froude: immediately afterwards there appears in the Fortnightly Review Mr W.S. Lilly's article on the last named historian.
Froude thought Henry was a marvellous instrument of Providence in the evolution of the Church of England, Professor Smith thinks that Henry was not a 'high bred gentleman', Mr Lilly thinks that the late Mr Froude was congenitally incapable of speaking the truth. (Mr Lilly is secretary to the Catholic Association of Great Britain.) Someone else says that 'The proper place among the diseases of the mind for this wanton insolence may be found by anybody who has the patience & the spare time to read the works of Mr Lilly'. On such lines & in such tempers do we approach creative history & its heroes.
MM. Bouvard & Pécuchet, before they began their never finished Dictionary of Accepted Ideas, studied the works of Professors to find Truth. They attacked for instance the subject of literary style; they discovered Marmontel groaning over the licence that Homer allowed himself & Blair, an Englishman, lamenting the violence of Shakespeare. Bouvard found the disagreements of Professors so confusing & so distracting ... 'ces questions le travaillèrent tellement qu'il y gagnait une jaunisse'. After much reading the works of Professors & others on the question of the personality & the Times of Henry VIII it is difficult to escape the fate of Bouvard. It is at least refreshing to consider the point of view of one simple minded & aloof. A question was set in an examination paper: 'Who was your favourite historical character & why?' A schoolboy answered: 'Henry VIII, because he was the only one that had more wives than children'.
This has a frivolous sound but actually that answer is a symptom serious enough: it represents the net value of History as it is taught today, in so far as it touches the time of Henry VIII.
That schoolboy, seriously considered, voiced practically the general view. The matter of the wives is a very insignificant detail of a whole reign, long, tortuous in its intrigues, extremely difficult to follow in its very broadest outlines: before ever one is able to descend to the king's psychology & motives. Yet that matter has obsessed all our historians: it obsessed Mr Froude; no doubt it obsessed the first Defender of the Faith himself. It obsesses Professor Goldwin Smith to the point of hysteria; it 'intrigues' to this day the whole of Catholic Europe & as much of Protestant England as thinks of sixteenth-century history. It can not, apparently, be got away from.
Immediately after reading Professor Smith's article I discussed the whole personality of Henry with three ex officio leaders of public opinion of today. Their joint, net, opinion was that he was a 'lover'. Professor Smith however calls Henry a 'human tiger' who could not feel love. Yet Marillac the French Ambassador says (Letters & Papers, vol. xvi, 12) that Henry was 'so amourous of the Queen, Katharine Howard, that he could not do enough for her' & Chapuys, Charles V's ambassador, says (Ibid, vol. xvii) that he thought Henry had his death at her execution he looked so ill after. Froude says that it was a pity Henry could not have lived in a world without women, to which Professor Smith gallantly but quite inconsequently retorts: 'Would Mr Froude have found it a pleasant world?' But Jerome Cardan, a professor with his eyes on the stars, accounts for the poor king's matrimonial misfortunes which he had witnessed & lamented, thus: 'Venus being in conjunction with Cauda, Lampas partook of the nature of Mars: Luna in occiduo cardine was among the dependencies of Mars & Mars himself was in the illstarred constellation Virgo & in the quadrant of Jupiter Infelix'. Mr Froude calls this 'abominable nonsense' whilst Henry himself remarked: 'Happy those who never saw a King & whom a King never saw'.
Cardinal Pole in the revised version of De Unitate Ecclesiae accuses Henry of having debauched the sister of Anne Boleyn before divorcing Katharine of Aragon. Froude calls Cardinal Pole an arrogant, loquacious & ineffectual traitor. But Professor Smith says he was broadminded & exactly the reverse of everything that Froude called him. Pole says of himself that at the age of thirty-six he had long been conversant with old men & had long judged the oldest men too young for him to learn wisdom from. On the other hand he freely acknowledges that this remarkable wisdom was the gift of the king who had specially fostered his education. He wrote a book for the king's private reading intended to turn the king back to the Old Faith & away from Anne. He swore to the king that no one had seen it after he had submitted it for the approval of the Vatican authorities. It contained such passages as: 'Your flatterers have filled your heart with folly, you have made yourself abhorred amongst the rulers of Xtendom. ... Rex est partus Naturae laborantis, populus enim regem procreat'. It astonished him that this failed to convert Henry & he travelled all Europe over seeking to raise a crusade against his king.
Froude accordingly calls Pole a fool, an evil genius, a narrow & odious fanatic, & a traitor to the Instrument of Providence. But Professor Smith excuses this treachery with: 'surely without any religious fanaticism any man might well object to seeing the Church, the unity of which all Xtians prized, rent in twain in order to satisfy a tyrant's lust'.
Henry however had been able to satisfy his lust with Anne, not to mention her sister, without rending the church in twain, for according to both Pole & Professor Smith Anne had been his mistress for years before the divorce. (Professor Smith speaks of Henry's 'brutal behaviour in openly installing his mistress as Queen designate at her side'.) The king had also, according to them both, 'certainly' enjoyed her sister. Mr Froude however thinks it unlikely that in that case Henry, his people & his Parliament could have been so 'cynically heartless' as to demand his separation from Katharine on the ground of incest. Professor Smith however considers the charge 'certainly proved': for, in the Act of Parliament, 28 Hen. VIII cap. 27, illegitimate unions are decreed to bring persons within the degree of consanguinity of marriage. Charles V's view of the matter was (he was telling Wyatt, Henry's ambassador, that he could not prevent Spanish preachers uttering these slanders against Henry): 'Preachers will preach against myself whenever there is cause; that cannot be hindered; kings be not kings of tongues. And if men give cause to be spoken of they will be spoken of'. Thus Charles supported freedom of speech. On the other hand, the Queen of Navarre said to the Papal Nuncio at about the same time: 'Say you that the King of England is a man lost & cast away? I would to God that your master the Pope, & the Emperor, & we here did live after so good & godly a sort as he & his doth.'
Thomas Cromwell's portrait by Holbein, says Professor Smith, 'is a softened version of the subject'! It is not ugly enough. His authority for this is Mr Merriman, who wrote in 1902. And: 'For thorough paced villainy Cromwell had no peers. Who besides him has ever deliberately set down his criminal intentions in a memorandum book: "Item, The Abbot of Glaston to be tried at Glaston & also to be executed there with his accomplices. Item, to see that the evidence be well sorted & the indictment well drawn. ... Item to send Gendon to the Tower to be racked. Item to appoint preachers to go through the realm to preach the gospel & the true word of God".' Yet Cardinal Pole, whom Professor Smith so much admires, was setting down in memoranda in books, & crying to all the princes in Europe, that his own king must be taken upon the field of battle & his entrails torn out & burnt before his face. And Pole too would have sent preachers with the true word of God throughout this realm.
The late Mr Froude found Cromwell a mighty minister & a consummate diplomatist, skilfully balancing the Powers one against another & crushing out seditions with a strong but necessary & beneficent hand ... until Henry began to frown on him. Then immediately, Cromwell's bringing about the diplomatic marriage with Anne of Cleves becomes 'stooping to dabble in the muddy waters of intrigue'. When he was in the Tower Cromwell wrote: 'Most Gracious Lord, I never spoke with the Chancellor of the Augmentation & Throgmorton at one time. But if I did I am sure I never spoke of any such matter & your Grace knows what matter of man Throgmorton is.' But Froude says this denial 'was faint, indirect, not like the broad, absolute repudiation of a man who was consciously clear of offience'. Cromwell was accused of having said before the Chancellor & Throgmorton that he would fight against the king sword in hand if the king reversed his policy. Cromwell of course had hanged many men on hearsay evidence of informers like Throgmorton, & Marillac puts the matter: 'Words idly spoken he had aforetime twisted into treason: the measure which he had dealt out to others shall now be meted out to him.' And this was practically the view of the Council that condemned him. Froude however says that Henry was forced to execute Cromwell because 'the illegal acts of a minister who had been trusted with extraordinary powers were too patent to be denied'. Professor Smith accounts for it all by: 'The king feared those under whose influence he had been & could not bear to let them live.' The King of France & Cardinal 'Du Bellay' were of opinion that Cromwell fell because he wanted to marry the Princess Mary, no doubt with a view to the succession: 'insomuch as at all times when any marriage was treated of for the Lady Mary he did always his best to break the same'. It should be remembered that the fondest desire of the Cardinal & Francis had been a French marriage for Mary.
Thus each man may see in the case of Henry VIII what he most desires to see, Professor Smith seeing that it is almost needless to add Cromwell was corrupt, & 'accumulated wealth by foul means'. Yet in the nature of the case the only proof of this is the accusations of his enemies, for Cromwell was not even tried. The case against Anne Boleyn rests perhaps on no better evidence. She was at least tried & – Froude urges – found guilty by the greatest peers of the Realm, her own father being amongst them. Yet in her case, tho' not in Cromwell's, Professor Smith can see that nothing was proved against her ... because he desires to prove that Henry was a human tiger.
Excerpted from Critical Essays by Max Saunders, Richard Stang. Copyright © 2012 Michael Schmidt. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.