We can’t stand the ‘sigh’ nor the ‘peruke’

Edmund Gosse’s anthology, English Odes, was published by Kegan Paul in 1881.

John Addington Symonds, translator, biographer and historian of the Italian Renaissance, had established his home at Davos in search of cure for tubercolosis, and made friends with RLS.

The word ‘sederunt’ (Latin: “they sat down”) in Scottish legal usage describes a meeting or a discussion. To continue the joke RLS uses the word ‘steterunt’ (Latin: “they stood”).

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 3, 762.]

To Edmund Gosse [Colvin 1911, 2, pp. 18-19]

[Hôtel Bélvedère], Davos, Dec. 19, 1880.

This letter is a report of a long sederunt, also steterunt in small committee at Davos Platz, December 15th, 1880. Its results are unhesitatingly shot […] at your head.

My dear Weg,We both insist on the ‘Duke of Wellington’. Really it cannot be left out. Symonds said you would cover yourself with shame, and I add, your friends with confusion, if you leave it out. […] Really, you know it is the only thing you have, since Dryden, where that irregular odic, odal, odous (?) verse is used with mastery and sense. And it’s one of our few English blood-boilers.

Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Eventually Gosse relented, and published Tennyson’s ode ‘On the Death of the Duke of Wellington’ [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

(2) Byron: if anything: Prometheus.

George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

But Gosse chose Byron’s ode ‘On Venice’ [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

(3) Shelley (1) The World’s Great Age from Hellas; we are both dead on. After that you have, of course, The West Wind thing. But we think (1) would maybe be enough; no more than two any way.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Gosse chose Shelley’s ode ‘To the West Wind’ [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

(4) Herrick. Meddowes and Come, my Corinna. After that Mr. Wickes: two any way.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Herrick’s ‘Corinna’s going a Maying’: Gosse printed nothing of him [https://ia802706.us.archive.org/]

(5) Leave out stanza 3rd of Congreve’s thing, like a dear; we can’t stand the ‘sigh’ nor the ‘peruke.’

William Congreve (1670-1729) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Gosse gave the whole of Congreve’s On Mrs. Arabella Hunt, Singing: 3rd stanza, too [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]


(6) Milton. Time and the Solemn Music. We both agree we would rather go without L’Allegro and Il Penseroso than these; for the reason that these are not so well known to the brutish herd.

John Milton (1608-1674) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Gosse took RLS’s advice: Milton’s ode ‘On Time’ [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

Gosse took RLS’s advice: Milton’s ode ‘At a Solemn Music’ [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

Milton’s ode ‘L’Allegro’, 1645 [https://ia700708.us.archive.org/]

Milton’s ode ‘Il Penseroso’, 1645 [https://ia700708.us.archive.org/]

(7) Is the Royal George an ode, or only an elegy? It’s so good.

William Cowper (1731-1800) [http://www.poetryfoundation.org/]

Gosse printed Cowper’s ode ‘Boadicea’, and not ‘On the Loss of the Royal George’ [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

(8) We leave Campbell to you.

Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

From Campbell’s odes, Gosse chose ‘To Winter’ [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

(9) If you take anything from Clough, but we don’t either of us fancy you will, let it be Come back.

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) [http://www.florin.ms/]

Clough’s ode ‘The Higher Courage’: Gosse used nothing from him [https://ia600504.us.archive.org/]

(10) Quite right about Dryden. I had a hankering after Threnodia Augustalis; but I find it long and with very prosaic holes: though, O! what fine stuff between whiles.

John Dryden (1631-1700) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Gosse chose Dryden’s ode ‘On the Pious Memory of Mrs. Anne Killigrew’… [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

… and ‘For St. Cecilia’s Day’… [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

… and ‘Alexander’s Feast or, The Power of Music’, too [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

(11) Right with Collins.

William Collins (1721-1759) [http://media-3.web.britannica.com/]

From Collins, Gosse chose ‘The Passions’… [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

… ‘To Evening’… [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

… and ‘On the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland’. [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

(12) Right about Pope’s Ode. But what can you give? The Dying Christian? or one of his inimitable courtesies? These last are fairly odes, by the Horatian model, just as my dear Meddowes is an ode in the name and for the sake of Bandusia.

Alexander Pope (1646-1717) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Pope’s ‘The Dying Christian to His Soul’: Gosse chose nothing by him [https://ia902608.us.archive.org/]

Horace, Odes 3, 13: on the fountain of Bandusia, translated 1879 [https://ia801409.us.archive.org/]

(13) Whatever you do, you’ll give us the Greek Vase.

John Keats (1795-1821) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Keats’s ode ‘On a Grecian Urn’: Gosse accepted RLS’s advice on it [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

(14) Do you like Jonson’s ‘loathèd stage’? Verses 2, 3, and 4 are so bad, also the last line. But there is a fine movement and feeling in the rest.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

Gosse printed the whole of Jonson’s ode ‘To Himself’ [https://ia902704.us.archive.org/]

Last lines of Ben Jonson’s ode ‘To Hinself’ [https://ia802704.us.archive.org/]

We will have the Duke of Wellington by God. Pro Symonds and Stevenson.


John Addington Symonds (1840-1893) [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

RLS in 1880.

RLS in 1880.




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