Read CHAPTER XXVII - PARODIES IN VERSE. of Collections and Recollections, free online book, by George William Erskine Russell, on

Here I embark on the shoreless sea of metrical parody, and I begin my cruise by reaffirming that in this department Rejected Addresses, though distinctly good for their time, have been left far behind by modern achievements. The sense of style seems to have grown acuter, and the art of reproducing it has been brought to absolute perfection. The theory of development is instructively illustrated in the history of metrical parody.

Of the same date as Rejected Addresses, and of about equal merit, is the Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin, which our grandfathers, if they combined literary taste with Conservative opinions, were never tired of repeating. The extraordinary brilliancy of the group of men who contributed to it guaranteed the general character of the book. Its merely satiric verse is a little beside my present mark; but as a parody the ballad of Duke Smithson of Northumberland, founded on Chevy Chase, ranks high, and the inscription for the cell in Newgate where Mrs. Brownrigg, who murdered her apprentices, was imprisoned, is even better. Southey, in his Radical youth, had written some lines on the cell in Chepstow Castle where Henry Marten the Regicide was confined:-

“For thirty years secluded from mankind
Here Marten lingered ...
Dost thou ask his crime?
He had rebell’d against the King, and sate
In judgment on him.”

Here is Canning’s parody:-

“For one long term, or e’er her trial came,
Here Brownrigg lingered ...
Dost thou ask her crime?
She whipped two female ’prentices to death,
And hid them in a coal-hole.”

The time of Rejected Addresses and the Anti-Jacobin was also the heyday of parliamentary quotation, and old parliamentary hands used to cite a happy instance of instantaneous parody by Daniel O’Connell, who, having noticed that the speaker to whom he was replying had his speech written out in his hat, immediately likened him to Goldsmith’s village schoolmaster, saying,-

“And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew
That one small hat could carry all he knew.”

Another instance of the same kind was O’Connell’s extemporized description of three ultra-Protestant members, Colonel Verner, Colonel Vandeleur, and Colonel Sibthorp, the third of whom was conspicuous in a closely shaven age for his profusion of facial hair.

“Three Colonels, in three different counties born,
Armagh and Clare and Lincoln did adorn.
The first in direst bigotry surpassed:
The next in impudence: in both the last.
The force of Nature could no further go-
To beard the third, she shaved the former two.”

A similarly happy turn to an old quotation was given by Baron Parke, afterwards Lord Wensleydale. His old friend and comrade at the Bar, Sir David Dundas, had just been appointed Solicitor-General, and, in reply to Baron Parke’s invitation to dinner, he wrote that he could not accept it, as he had been already invited by seven peers for the same evening. He promptly received the following couplets:-

“Seven thriving cities fight for Homer dead
Through which the living Homer begged his bread.”

“Seven noble Lords ask Davie to break bread
Who wouldn’t care a d-were Davie dead.”

The Ingoldsby Legends-long since, I believe, deposed from their position in public favour-were published in 1840. Their principal merits are a vein of humour, rollicking and often coarse, but genuine and infectious; great command over unusual metres; and an unequalled ingenuity in making double and treble rhymes: for example-

“The poor little Page, too, himself got no quarter, but
Was served the same way, And was found the next day,
With his heels in the air, and his head in the water-butt.”

There is a general flavour of parody about most of the ballads. It does not as a rule amount to more than a rather clumsy mockery of mediaevalism, but the verses prefixed to the Lay of St. Gengulphus are really rather like a fragment of a black-letter ballad. The book contains only one absolute parody, borrowed from Samuel Lover’s Lyrics of Ireland, and then the result is truly offensive, for the poem chosen for the experiment is one of the most beautiful in the language-the Burial of Sir John Moore, which is transmuted into a stupid story of vulgar debauch. Of much the same date as the Ingoldsby Legends was the Old Curiosity Shop, and no one who has a really scholarly acquaintance with Dickens will forget the delightful scraps of Tom Moore’s amatory ditties with which, slightly adapted to current circumstances, Dick Swiveller used to console himself when Destiny seemed too strong for him. And it will be remembered that Mr. Slum composed some very telling parodies of the same popular author as advertisements for Mrs. Jarley’s Waxworks; but I forbear to quote here what is so easily accessible.

By way of tracing the development of the Art of Parody, I am taking my samples in chronological order. In 1845 the Newdigate Prize for an English poem at Oxford was won by J.W. Burgon, afterwards Dean of Chichester. The subject was Petra. The successful poem was, on the whole, not much better and not much worse than the general run of such compositions; but it contained one couplet which Dean Stanley regarded as an absolute gem-a volume of description condensed into two lines:-

“Match me such marvel, save in Eastern clime-
A rose-red city, half as old as time.”

The couplet was universally praised and quoted, and, as a natural consequence, parodied. There resided then (and long after) at Trinity College, Oxford, an extraordinarily old don called Short. When I was an undergraduate he was still tottering about, and we looked at him with interest because he had been Newman’s tutor. To his case the parodist of the period, in a moment of inspiration, adapted Burgon’s beautiful couplet, saying or singing:-

“Match me such marvel, save in college port,
That rose-red liquor, half as old as Short.”

The Rev. E.T. Turner, till recently Registrar of the University, has been known to say: “I was present when that egg was laid.” It is satisfactory to know that the undergraduate who laid it-William Basil Tickell Jones-attained deserved eminence in after-life, and died Bishop of St. David’s.

When Burgon was writing his prize-poem about Petra, Lord John Manners (afterwards seventh Duke of Rutland), in his capacity as Poet Laureate of Young England, was writing chivalrous ditties about castles and banners, and merry peasants, and Holy Church. This kind of mediaeval romanticism, though glorified by Lord Beaconsfield in Coningsby, seemed purely laughable to Thackeray, and he made rather bitter fun of it in Lines upon my Sister’s Portrait, by the Lord Southdown.

“Dash down, dash down yon mandolin, beloved sister mine!
Those blushing lips may never sing the glories of our line:
Our ancient castles echo to the clumsy feet of churls.
The spinning-jenny houses in the mansion of our Earls.
Sing not, sing not, my Angelina! in days so base and vile,
’Twere sinful to be happy, ’twere sacrilege to smile.
I’ll hie me to my lonely hall, and by its cheerless hob
I’ll muse on other days, and wish-and wish I were-A SNOB.”

But, though the spirit of this mournful song is the spirit of England’s Trust, the verbal imitation is not close enough to deserve the title of Parody.

The Ballads of Bon Gaultier, published anonymously in 1855, had a success which would only have been possible at a time when really artistic parodies were unknown. Bon Gaultier’s verses are not as a rule much more than rough-and-ready imitations; and, like so much of the humour of their day, and of Scotch humour in particular, they generally depend for their point upon drinking and drunkenness. Some of the different forms of the Puff Poetical are amusing, especially the advertisement of Doudney Brothers’ Waistcoats, and the Puff Direct in which Parr’s Life-pills are glorified after the manner of a German ballad. The Laureate is a fair hit at some of Tennyson’s earlier mannerisms:-

“Who would not be
The Laureate bold,
With his butt of sherry
To keep him merry,
And nothing to do but pocket his gold?”

But The Lay of the Lovelorn is a clumsy and rather vulgar skit on Locksley Hall-a poem on which two such writers as Sir Theodore Martin and Professor Aytoun would have done well not to lay their sacrilegious hands.

We have now passed through the middle stage of the development which I am trying to trace; we are leaving clumsiness and vulgarity behind us, and are approaching the age of perfection. Sir George Trevelyan’s parodies are transitional. He was born in 1838, three times won the prize poem at Harrow, and brought out his Cambridge squibs in and soon after the year 1858. Horace at the University of Athens, originally written for acting at the famous “A.D.C.,” still holds its own as one of the wittiest of extravaganzas. It contains a really pretty imitation of the 10th Eclogue, and it is studded with adaptations, of which the only possible fault is that, for the general reader, they are too topical. Here is a sample:-

Donec gratus eram tibi.”

Hor. While still you loved your Horace best
Of all my peers who round you pressed
(Though not in expurgated versions),
More proud I lived than King of Persians.

Lyd. And while as yet no other dame
Had kindled in your breast a flame,
(Though Niebuhr her existence doubt),
I cut historic Ilia out.

Hor. Dark Chloe now my homage owns,
Skilled on the banjo and the bones;
For whom I would not fear to die,
If death would pass my charmer by.

Lyd. I now am lodging at the rus-
of young Decius Mus.
Twice over would I gladly die
To see him hit in either eye.

Hor. But should the old love come again,
And Lydia her sway retain,
If to my heart once more I take her,
And bid black Chloe wed the baker?

Lyd. Though you be treacherous as audit
When at the fire you’ve lately thawed it,
For Decius Mus no more I’d care
Than for their plate the Dons of Clare.

Really this is a much better rendering of the famous ode than nine-tenths of its more pompous competitors; and the allusions to the perfidious qualities of Trinity Audit Ale and the mercenary conduct of the Fellows of Clare need no explanation for Cambridge readers, and little for others. But it may be fairly objected that this is not, in strictness, a parody. That is true, and indeed as a parodist Sir George Trevelyan belongs to the metrical miocène. His Horace, when serving as a volunteer in the Republican Army, bursts into a pretty snatch of song which has a flavour of Moore:-

“The minstrel boy from the wars is gone,
All out of breath you’ll find him;
He has run some five miles, off and on,
And his shield has flung behind him.”

And the Bedmaker’s Song in one of the Cambridge scenes is sweetly reminiscent of a delightful and forgotten bard:-

“I make the butler fly, all in an hour;
I put aside the preserves and cold meats,
Telling my master the cream has turned sour,
Hiding the pickles, purloining the sweets.”

“I never languish for husband or dower;
I never sigh to see ‘gyps’ at my feet;
I make the butter fly, all in an hour,
Taking it home for my Saturday treat.”

This, unless I greatly err, is a very good parody of Thomas Haynes Bayly, author of some of the most popular songs of a sentimental cast which were chanted in our youth and before it. But this is ground on which I must not trench, for Mr. Andrew Lang has made it his own. The most delightful essay in one of his books of Reprints deals with this amazing bard, and contains some parodies so perfect that Mr. Haynes Bayly would have rejoicingly claimed them as his own.

Charles Stuart Calverley is by common consent the king of metrical parodists. All who went before merely adumbrated him and led up to him; all who have come since are descended from him and reflect him. Of course he was infinitely more than a mere imitator of rhymes and rhythms. He was a true poet; he was one of the most graceful scholars that Cambridge ever produced; and all his exuberant fun was based on a broad and strong foundation of Greek, Latin, and English literature. Verses and Translations, by C.S.C., which appeared in 1862, was a young man’s book, although its author had already established his reputation as a humorist by the inimitable Examination Paper on Pickwick; and, being a young man’s book, it was a book of unequal merit. The translations I leave on one side, as lying outside my present purview, only remarking as I pass that if there is a finer rendering than that of Ajax-645-692-I do not know where it is to be found. My business is with the parodies. It was not till ten years later that in Fly Leaves Calverley asserted his supremacy in the art, but even in Verses and Translations he gave good promise of what was to be.

Of all poems in the world, I suppose Horatius has been most frequently and most justly parodied. Every Public School magazine contains at least one parody of it every year. In my Oxford days there was current an admirable version of it (attributed to the Rev. W.W. Merry, now Rector of Lincoln College), which began,-

“Adolphus Smalls, of Boniface,
By all the powers he swore
That, though he had been ploughed three times,
He would be ploughed no more,”

and traced with curious fidelity the successive steps in the process of preparation till the dreadful day of examination arrived:-

“They said he made strange quantities,
Which none might make but he;
And that strange things were in his Prose
Canine to a degree:
But they called his Viva Voce fair,
They said his ‘Books’ would do;
And native cheek, where facts were weak,
Brought him triumphant through.
And in each Oxford college
In the dim November days,
When undergraduates fresh from hall
Are gathering round the blaze;
When the ‘crusted port’ is opened,
And the Moderator’s lit,
And the weed glows in the Freshman’s mouth,
And makes him turn to spit;
With laughing and with chaffing
The story they renew,
How Smalls of Boniface went in,
And actually got through.”

So much for the Oxford rendering of Macaulay’s famous lay. “C.S.C.” thus adapted it to Cambridge, and to a different aspect of undergraduate life:-

“On pinnacled St. Mary’s
Lingers the setting sun;
Into the street the blackguards
Are skulking one by one;
Butcher and Boots and Bargeman
Lay pipe and pewter down,
And with wild shout come tumbling out
To join the Town and Gown.

“’Twere long to tell how Boxer
Was countered on the cheek,
And knocked into the middle
Of the ensuing week;
How Barnacles the Freshman
Was asked his name and college,
And how he did the fatal facts
Reluctantly acknowledge.”

Quite different, but better because more difficult, is this essay in Proverbial Philosophy:-

“I heard the wild notes of the lark floating far over the blue sky,
And my foolish heart went after him, and, lo! I blessed him as he
Foolish; for far better is the trained boudoir bullfinch,
Which pipeth the semblance of a tune and mechanically draweth up
For verily, O my daughter, the world is a masquerade,
And God made thee one thing that thou mightest make thyself
A maiden’s heart is as champagne, ever aspiring and struggling
And it needed that its motions be checked by the silvered cork of
He that can afford the price, his be the precious treasure,
Let him drink deeply of its sweetness nor grumble if it tasteth of
the cork.”

Enoch Arden was published in 1864, and was not enthusiastically received by true lovers of Tennyson, though people who had never read him before thought it wonderfully fine. A kinsman of mine always contended that the story ended wrongly, and that the really human, and therefore dramatic, conclusion would have been as follows:-

“For Philip’s dwelling fronted on the street,
And Enoch, coming, saw the house a blaze
Of light, and Annie drinking from a mug-
A funny mug, all blue with strange device
Of birds and waters and a little man.
And Philip held a bottle; and a smell
Of strong tobacco, with a fainter smell-
But still a smell, and quite distinct-of gin
Was there. He raised the latch, and stealing by
The cupboard, where a row of teacups stood,
Hard by the genial hearth, he paused behind
The luckless pair, then drawing back his foot-
His manly foot, all clad in sailors’ hose-
He swung it forth with such a grievous kick
That Philip in a moment was propelled
Against his wife, though not his wife; and she
Fell forwards, smashing saucers, cups, and jug
Fell in a heap. All shapeless on the floor
Philip and Annie and the crockery lay.
Then Enoch’s voice accompanied his foot,
For both were raised, with horrid oath and kick,
Till constables came in with Miriam Lane
And bare them all to prison, railing loud.
Then Philip was discharged and ran away,
And Enoch paid a fine for the assault;
And Annie went to Philip, telling him
That she would see old Enoch further first
Before she would acknowledge him to be
Himself, if Philip only would return.
But Philip said that he would rather not.
Then Annie plucked such handfuls of his hair
Out of his head that he was nearly bald.
But Enoch laughed, and said, ‘Well done, my girl.’
And so the two shook hands and made it up.”

In 1869 Lewis Carroll published a little book of rhymes called Phantasmagoria. It related chiefly to Oxford. Partly because it was anonymous, partly because it was mainly topical, the book had no success. But it contained two or three parodies which deserve to rank with the best in the language. One is an imitation of a ballad in black-letter called


“I have a horse-a ryghte goode horse-
Ne doe I envye those
Who scoure ye playne yn headye course
Tyll soddayne on theyre nose
They lyghte wyth unexpected force-
Yt ys a Horse of Clothes.”

Then, again, there is excellent metaphysical fooling in The Three Voices. But far the best parody in the book-and the most richly deserved by the absurdity of its original-is Hiawatha’s Photographing. It has the double merit of absolute similarity in cadence and lifelike realism. Unluckily the limits of space forbid complete citation:-

“From his shoulder Hiawatha
Took the camera of rosewood,
Made of sliding, folding rosewood;
Neatly put it all together.
In its case it lay compactly,
Folded into nearly nothing.
But he opened out the hinges,
Pushed and pulled the joints and hinges,
Till it looked all squares and oblongs,
Like a complicated figure
In the Second Book of Euclid.
This he perched upon a tripod,
And the family in order
Sate before him for their portraits.

Each in turn, as he was taken,
Volunteered his own suggestions,
His ingenious suggestions.
First the Governor, the Father:
He suggested velvet curtains,
And the corner of a table,
Of a rosewood dining-table.
He would hold a scroll of something,
Hold it firmly in his left hand;
He would keep his right hand buried
(Like Napoleon) in his waistcoat;
He would contemplate the distance
With a look of pensive meaning,
As of ducks that die in tempests.
Grand, heroic was the notion,
Yet the picture failed entirely,
Failed, because he moved a little;
Moved, because he couldn’t help it.”

Who does not know that Father in the flesh? and who has not seen him-velvet curtains, dining-table, scroll, and all-on the most conspicuous wall of the Royal Academy? The Father being disposed of,

“Next his better half took courage,
She would have her picture taken.”

But her restlessness and questionings proved fatal to the result.

“Next the son, the Stunning-Cantab:
He suggested curves of beauty,
Curves pervading all his figure,
Which the eye might follow onward
Till they centered in the breastpin,
Centered in the golden breastpin.
He had learnt it all from Ruskin,
Author of the Stones of Venice.”

But, in spite of such culture, the portrait was a failure, and the elder sister fared no better. Then the younger brother followed, and his portrait was so awful that-

“In comparison the others
Seemed to one’s bewildered fancy
To have partially succeeded.”

Undaunted by these repeated failures, Hiawatha, by a great final effort, “tumbled all the tribe together” in the manner of a family group, and-

“Did at last obtain a picture
Where the faces all succeeded-
Each came out a perfect likeness
Then they joined and all abused it,
Unrestrainedly abused it,
As the worst and ugliest picture
They could possibly have dreamed of;
’Giving one such strange expressions-
Sullen, stupid, pert expressions.
Really any one would take us
(Any one that didn’t know us)
For the most unpleasant people.’
Hiawatha seemed to think so,
Seemed to think it not unlikely.”

How true to life is this final touch of indignation at the unflattering truth! But time and space forbid me further to pursue the photographic song of Hiawatha.

Phantasmagoria filled an aching void during the ten years which elapsed between the appearance of Verses and Translations and that of Fly Leaves. The latter book is small, only 124 pages in all, including the Pickwick Examination Paper, but what marvels of mirth and poetry and satire it contains! How secure its place in the affections of all who love the gentle art of parody! My rule is not to quote extensively from books which are widely known; but I must give myself the pleasure of repeating just six lines which even appreciative critics generally overlook. They relate to the conversation of the travelling tinker.

“Thus on he prattled like a babbling brook.
Then I: ’The sun hath slipt behind the hill,
And my Aunt Vivian dines at half-past six,’
So in all love we parted; I to the Hall,
He to the village. It was noised next noon
That chickens had been missed at Syllabub Farm.”

Will any one stake his literary reputation on the assertion that these lines are not really Tennyson’s?