Page:Notes and Queries - Series 9 - Volume 5.djvu/486

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478


NOTES AND QUERIES. [9* s. v. JUNE w, im


I only hope that our readers will be at one with us in believing that the verses are the genuine offspring of " our arch-poet," as Robert Burton calls him, and give what credit is due to W. R. Chetwood, MR. SIMP- SON, and myself, for we have all had a humble share, it seems, in proving the case. If Chet- wood had given his authority, I feel sure that Gifford would have saved us all this trouble, for, whatever his demerits may be, he was a careful and laborious student. Though MR. SIMPSON evidently dislikes this militant writer, I am perfectly certain that he is not the man who would " kick a dead lion." He will, therefore, be sorry to learn that he has made a serious mistake and unwittingly done that writer a great injustice. When Gifford wrote: "If it be not the most beautiful song in the language, I freely confess, for my own part, that I know not where it is to be found," he was not referring to 'Underwoods' (2), perhaps the poorest verses Jonson ever wrote, from which MR. SIMPSON has quoted the four worst lines, but to the next (3), beginning with the words

Men, if you love us, play no more.

It is, if I may say so, an admirable piece of work, " written," as Robert Bell observes, " with consummate skill ; but it is doing a great injustice to Jonson to place it above the rest of his compositions in this way not to say a word about the songs of Shakspeare and Beaumont and Fletcher " (* The Poems of Ben Jonson,' p. 135). Of course, the praise is excessive ; nevertheless, as the poem is an almost flawless production, Gifford may be excused for admiring it so highly, and no one would be justified in describing that opinion as a "master-stroke" of critical imbecility. There is nothing so strange and discordant as the judgments passed on the works of genius, as may be seen from the following passage, written by Aubrey de Vere :

"Another time he (Tennyson) read aloud a song by one of the chivalrous poets of Charles the First's time, perhaps Lovelace's * Althea,' which Words- worth also used to croon in the woods, and said, There ! I would give all my poetry to have made one song like that ! ' Not less ardent was his enthusiasm for Burns. And here an incident with no small significance recurs to me. ' Read the ex- quisite songs of -Burns,' he exclaimed. * In shape, each of them has the perfection of the berry, in light the radiance of the dewdrop ; you forget for its sake those stupid things, his serious pieces !' The same day I met Wordsworth, and named Burns to him. Wordsworth praised him even more vehe- mently than Tennyson had done, as the great genius who had brought Poetry back to Nature; but ended, 'Of course, I refer to his serious efforts, such as the "Cotter's Saturday Night"; those foolish little amatory songs of his one has to for


get.' I told the tale to Henry Taylor that evening, and his answer was : ' Burns^s exquisite songs and

Burns's serious efforts are to me alike tedious and disagreeable reading !' So much for the infallibility of poets in their own art." Aubrey de Vere's ' Reminiscences of Tennyson in Early Days,' con-

ributed to ' Alfred, Lord Tennyson : a Memoir,'

by his son (Macmillan, 1897).

Gifford, it will be seen, finds himself in excellent company. JOHN T. QUERY.


THE FLAG (9 th S. v. 414, 440, 457). As to the flag, there can be no doubt that the national or union flag is the proper one to display. There is no kind of authority for the French flag upside down which is now displayed as a British emblem in rural dis- tricts. The badge custom is new, and came to us from the United States, where a minia- ture of the flag is worn. The colour of England is red, but a badge of the union flag is more consonant with modern practice.

D.

FAMILIAR FRENCH QUOTATIONS (9 th S. v. 336, 398, 461). ' Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors,' by Craufurd Tait Ramage, LL.D. (Liverpool, Edward Howell), is a good book of quotations, giving chapter and verse as well as the names of authors ; it is well indexed. The same may be said of Ramage's 'Beautiful Thoughts from Latin, from Greek, and from German and Spanish Authors ' (three volumes), as well as of nis ' Bible Echoes in Ancient Classics.' The last is published by Adam & Charles Black, of Edinburgh. ROBERT PIERPOINT.

COWPER'S LETTERS (9 th S. v. 414). There is an autograph letter of Cowper in the Sal- ford Royal Museum. The always courteous curator, Mr. B. H. Mullen, would furnish MR. WRIGHT with all particulars. It is one of a series of curious letters written by the poet to describe the dreams by which he was visited. WILLIAM E. A. AXON.

Moss Side, Manchester.

LADIES AND LEAP YEAR (9 th S. v. 356). In Scotland the " convention " which accords to ladies the privilege of gaining for themselves husbands or new silk gowns in leap year, if not actually put into practice, is certainly very much talked of. The announcement of a new engagement during leap year is sure to be received with suspicious smiles and the suggestive remark, made with perfect good nature, " Ah, yes, to be sure ; leap year ! " At many private dances throughout leap year the ladies have the pleasure of exer- cising their privilege and choosing their own partners. It is a sight well worth seeing.