The "Thunderer" of Otago.
A Poor Poet's Reply to A Great Critic.By Thomas Bracken,
The Thunderer of Otago
Oh mighty Critic of the mighty "Times,"
Great self-created Supreme Judge of Rhymes,
Spare, spare thy lash, a little while be calm—
While my poor Muse performs a low salaam.
Ay Muse of mine be humble and be meek—
The "Times" is great, and thou, alas, art weak;
The "Times" is powerful—avoid the rage
Of its farseeing potent Critic Sage.
I've felt his Bullock-hide—(nay do not laugh—
Can't Bullock-hide be taken from a Calf?)
Let's draw it mild, my Muse, and use soft phrases,
When next we tune our 'Harp' perhaps he'll praise us.
Here goes again. Oh wise Provincial Daniel
I cower before thee like a very spaniel;
Thou art a great authority no doubt,
In Poetry, for "Wordsworth" you can spout,—
You must be in 'Lake Literature,' well read,
I trust Sir that you likewise are well fed.
I don't mean to offend you, but you know
A Journal of "The Times" stamp pays so low
That men like you, who use the "pruning knife"
Upon its staff, just earn the staff of life,
Or little more; but then, 'tween you and me,
There's chances from such minstrels as "K. B"
I blame you not if disappointment lurks
Within your breast. An extra pint of Burke's
Goes rather high this sultry weather, then
A hungry Critic has a frightful pen.
page 4 My theme is much too simple, 'Exiles' lays
Are subjects far below thy soaring gaze;
Such stuff may go down with the vulgar Crowd,
Thy mind goes up o'ershadowed by a Cloud.
My "easy handled metre" seems to tease you—
I've tried another measure now to please you,
I've jogged along, Sir, in the "well-known rut"
Ah, Mister Critic, that's a dreadful cut.
Exiles are 'Nuisances,' wheree'r you ramble
One meets your gaze, viae Byron and Campbell,
And countless "herds of versifiers" more
Have togged him out, in short, he is a bore.
His 'Reveries' and 'Laments' in foreign climes,
Are far too "commonplace" to suit the "Times;"
"The most creative intellect" it seems
Can't write originally, on such old themes.
Now Sir, with all due deference, I submit
That you must have been laboring in a fit
Of Mental Madness, when you wrote such stuff.
(To clear your mind, I'd recommend a 'puff'
Of cloudy vapor.) Each flower that decks the plains
Has been immortalised in countless strains,—
Yet who shall say "we've had enough of these;
Wild flowers are ' Stale,' they can no longer please,
They're withered by each 'versifier's' sigh—
Their fragrance has departed, let them die?"
Then there's another subject, "Fatherland,"
That's torn to pieces by the rhyming band;
The love of country, a la Moore and Scott,
Is voted by Great Critics to be 'rot,'
We're sick of all those patriotic lays
They're not the poetry of "Now a days."
The Poet's duty used to be to sing
Of noble deeds, but now it's no such thing;
The Poet's task was wont to be to start
The holiest feelings in the human heart—
The love of Home, and all we prize most dear—
For grief, a sigh—for misery, a tear,
For heroes, praise, but now that's "commonplace,"
For snarling sland'rous Critics, vile disgrace.
But now, in this advanced enlightened age,
'Æsthetic' Poetry is all the rage,
The Critic of "The Times" with contempt turns
page 5 From "tinkling commonplaces" such as Burns
And Hogg and Goldsmith gave the world.
Great Wordsworth's misty banner is unfurled;
The works of Bowles and Southey reign supreme,
Of Poesy their writings are the cream.
Yet there are men who seriously say—
The former Bards shall live in Fame's bright day
When Wordsworth and his foggy-minded crowd
Are hid behind K. B.'s "lone Mournful Cloud."
In my production, Sir, you cannot find
A line that brings up "freshness" to your mind,—
I well believe you, it's beyond my power
To freshen up a mind that seems so sour.
Perhaps my theme has kindled, (you know best)
Unpleasant recollections, in your breast,—
There are some folks, you know, who hate to hear
Aught relative to "Exiles." It is queer
But yet it's true, that there are men like these
Who cannot bear the phrase, "Across the Seas;"
It oft reminds them of the woes they've met,
And incidents, which they would fain forget.
To such as these, I'm blowed—I mean—I'm blest if
An 'Exile' is "particularly suggestive
Of Poetry." It's 'merit' is not "striking,"
A cloudy night is much more to their liking.
Or something more original, a "rippling billow"
Beneath the shadow of a "weeping willow."
Oh "Melancholy Prince of Denmark" thy fair love
Ophelia was drowned, poor crazy dove,
Oh mighty woe, that her mind should be bothered
Again at the Antipodes, she smothered.
Alas! her body's gone to feed the vermin,
The "Daily's" Critic preached her funeral sermon,
Forgive me, Sir, if I have hurt your honor
(This Muse of mine's at fault, the blame be on her)
In even hinting that you might have crost
The 'rippling billows,' at your country's cost,
The thing's impossible! I only meant
It's been the fate of many a better gent.
Your hatred to all ' Exiles' must proceed
From, some far different cause than that. Indeed
I think I have it now. The "Sun" has shed
A ray of light into my obtuse head,
page 6 A lady is mixed up in the affair;
Had I but known that, I would never dare
To strike my Lyre, when her Soft noted Lute
Sued sweetly for the 'Caledonian' "hoot,"
(Now "hoot's" a vulgar word, I trust you'll pardon me,
My 'Bush' experiences have helped to harden me),
I never shall forgive myself for this,
I'll cry for mercy. Pardon me, dear Miss
Or Misses, as the case may be, for gaining
The Prize, when thou thy tenderest chords were straining,
For thy fair form it would have bought a dress,
(I've been dressed by the 'Quixote' of the Press.)
Oh, Muse of mine, pray let us show contrition
For "palming" off a "schoolboy's composition,"
As English Poetry, on the wise Scribe
Who's word is law, who scorns to take a bribe,—
The self-dubbed guide, in literary matters,
Who deals out justice, and who never flatters.
Otago and Dunedin should be very
Proud of this literary luminary'
But for this 'Pilot' of the 'Daily's' pages
We'd soon drift back into the barb'rous ages.
Some fools may think, that in our schoolboy years
True poetry, in purest form appears—
That then, our freshest thoughts arise and shine
In closer union with all things divine.
Before the heart has caught the worldly blight
All Nature's works seem beautiful and bright;
The hopes and aspirations of our youth,
When to our minds all bears the stamp of truth,
Are offsprings of the purest 'poesy;'
Such trash the "Times" condemns as heresy,
It's learn'd Reviewer treats with ridicule
All things that are connected with a 'School.'
He breaks the 'ruler' o'er the master's pate,
The 'desk's' an object of his special hate;
Already he has slain 'The Colonist,'
Before he's 'born.' Give him his favorite Mist
That hides the noble mountains from our view,—
(I wonder is he fond of "Mountain dew?"
I think he likes it, by his style so Mistical,
So vain, so arrogant, so egotistical.)
His "Pegasus" mounts to the skies, sans crupp
page 7 I'm sure he's a disciple of great "Tapper,"
He's Special Correspondent of the 'Nine,'
And therefore, those 'admirers' of mine
Should sue for mercy to this Man of Terror
For their 'grave,' mischiefous, 'egregious' error;
What though they're educated gentlemen. It's plain
They can't appreciate a 'Cloud' of rain;
Perhaps they think (the unpoetic set)
That in Dunedin they have too much wet.
A Cloud at evening is a glorious sight,
But when it breaks up on a winter's night
And falls in heavy torrents to the ground
In Princes-street, why one is nearly drowned.
It drives romantic notions from a fellow
Especially if he has no umbrella,
That must be why the Judges did not grant
The 'Prize' to K. B. of the "Vap'rous Chant,"
How strange is human nature! All deceit!
If suffering comes on us alone we meet
Its frown with terror, but if others share
Our misery, the burden we can bear!
And thus it is that I now thank the 'Fates'
For giving me just twenty-seven mates,
All 'Rhymsters' like myself, without ability,
The 'Oracle' has said it—show humility!
Bow to its mandate, from 'Fame's' path retire,
And break each Lyre, or brand the "Times" a 'liar;
But Brethren, while you're thinking what to do
We'll strike a song up, I will give the 'Cue,'
Let's praise the "Times" although it did ignore us,
Now clear your throats, and join me in the chorus;
By way of a 'Finale' to my Rhymes
I'll take my Harp and sing to thee Oh "Times."
Song—The Thund'rer of Otago.
The "Sun" shoots forth his morning rays
The 'Cloud' is melted by his gaze,
I'll tune my Harpstrings now to praise
The Thund'rer of Otago.
I am one of the rhyming throng
I'll tune my Harp both loud and long
To praise the subject of my song
The Thund'rer of Otago.
Its prototype of high renown,
The 'Thunderer' of London town,
Before its splendor must bow down—
The 'Thund'rer' of Otago.
I am one, &c.
In Science, Literature, and Art,
It takes you know a leading part;
Its Politics change with the mart,
The Thund'rer of Otago!
I am one, &c.
It's Circulation is so great,
On good authority I state—
Five hundred 'Daily' sheets relate
The doings in Otago.
I am one, &c.
Its parts component are a 'hash'
Of 'Bunkum,' 'Stuff,' and 'Balderdash,'
Well seasoned o'er with senseless trash,
The Thunderer of Otago.
I am one, &c
The Gent who sways its slashing pen,
Looks down on common-minded men,
His Cloudy Atmospheric ken
Is broader than Otago.
I am one, &c.
Great 'Words—worth' knowing, calm his soul,
He worships Bowles, when o'er his 'bowl;'
Were 'Pope' alive he'd tax his 'poll'
If he came to Otago.
I am one, &c.
A Critic Criticised.
The town is rather amused with the conduct of the editor of our contemporary, in respect to the Caledonian Society's prize poems, lie and four other gentlemen were appointed a short while back judges of the poems for which prizes were offered. The judges gave in their decision when it appeared that, whilst the other four were unanimous, my lord of the Daily Times, dissented. At the meeting, at which this was announced, our reporter applied for a copy of the prize poem. The rival editor considered all the poems should be left to the tender treatment of the Daily Times but the meeting thought otherwise It was put to the vote, and the decision arrived at that the Sun should have a copy. We duly published it. Days elapsed, when at last the Times came out with an astounding article on the subject. The prize poem was worthless, commonplace, sickly, the majority of the judges incapable, the one minority, the expert editor himself, was the only one who knew anything about poetry. We can only faintly do justice to the egotism displayed. The remarks about poetry were couched in the terms, which many people affect who make Wordsworth their model, but which are wholly alien to the noble truthfulness of thought and feeling which characterised that great poet. However, we need not waste time in describing the spurious Wordsworth school, for it is well known.
The names of the five judges were as follows:—The Rev. D. M. Stuart; Mr Pope, Acting Head Master to the High School; Mr Hislop, Secretary to the Education Board; Mr Bathgate, Manager of the Daily Times company; and Mr Barton, editor of the Daily Times. The last named gentleman was the one minority, but in the Daily Times he in plain terms, gives it to be understood that his four fellow judges were incapable. There is no modest diffidence displayed, no qualified statement that so and so is his opinion, and that he believes he is correct. He places himself on a pedestal of infallibility—"Among the thirty poems sent in, there are only two which can be said to display any poetic power whatever, and of these two one has not even been honorably mentioned by the four judges. We think it our duty to the public, to the Caledonian Society, and to the writers of these poems, to publish them with the successful one. A perusal of the three will leave no doubt in the mind of any competent critic as to the woeful mistake which has been committed in this matter." The italics are our own, the opinion they express of his fellow judges should not be overlooked. It is not for us to palliate the insult they offer to men of recognised educational acquirements.page ii
But a judge who holds such an exaggerated notion of his powers should at least be impartial. There is evidence to the contrary in the sundry strictures. The judge tries to make out that the prize poem, the Exile's Reverie, is an altogether inferior production to the second piece, which is a Reverie upon sunset. He commences his slashing criticism of the former with the following remarks—"The very subject is common-" place, Exile's Laments, Exile's Returns, and Exile's Reveries "have been written with so much tedious sameness by a herd" of versifiers ever since emigration began that readers of poetry, "have grown sick of the word, and unanimously vote Exile a" nuisance. It would test the most creative intellect of the day" to write originally on such a theme, or to support a single "fragment of reflection with even the appearance of novelty" about it. * * * And later on, had no composition "been sent in of greater merit than that of the Exile's Reverie," the judges would have been justified in declining to make any "award at all. But in making their award, they not only" selected a piece of the most ordinary character, but they "absolutely overlooked the only pieces which were worth con-" sideration. Such a result can only be taken to mean that the "Judges concerned are not competent to offer an opinion on "literary matters. That impression is confirmed by their "Report. They recommend that, in order to enable the Judges "to 'compare' the competition poems on a future occasion, a "subject should be selected for the competitors; and they re-" commend 'The Colonist' as a subject lor the purpose. This "is perfectly absurd. It carries an odious smell of the school-" master's desk about it. The Judges ought to know that the" mere selection of a subject is in itself an index to the writer's "capacity; and they ought also to know that it is not the "business of critics to 'compare' but to analyse. The special "subject which has taken their fancy is a ludicrous illustration "of their taste in poetry. They want heroic verse on a stock "subject, in the fashion prevalent in schools. 'The Colonist' "is only another name for 'The Exile;' the subject is much "the same. It is not one which any poet would choose for "himself, for it is not particularly suggestive of poetry."
Putting on one side the insolence of the allusion to the Rev. Mr Stuart, formerly principal of a school, Mr Pope, and Mr Hislop, contained in the sentence "it carries an odious smell of "the schoolmaster's desk about it," can anything be more unfair than to fasten the stigma of being commonplace, on the subject of an Exile's Reverie, and to omit a like reflection in reference to the other subject. No theme has been more dealt with by versifiers than Sunset. Reveries on Sunset have been written by the thousand. We make no complaint of it on that page iii score, for, in fact, to the true poet it matters little whether a subject is new or old. Nothing but malevolence could have led the critic to such comments; he could not have been unaware that sunsets and clouds and melancholy moonings have been much more versified than exiles It is hard to believe also that he was sincere in supposing that the latter subject "is "not one which any poet would choose for himself." He must have heard of, if he has not read, that exquisite poem concerning an exile—Enoch Arden.
The attempt to bring Wordsworth in was ingenious—pity the ingenuity was not exerted in a better cause. There is no poet whose whole opinions, thoughts, and feelings more belie the notion that he would see anything to complain of in a commonplace subject.
Wordsworth was indeed universal in his notions of the subjects with which poets might properly deal. Neither was it part of his creed that an artificial taste is necessary to the appreciation of poetry. This is the creed our judge wants to maintain, it is a favorite one of the pedantic school. It is to this all the sneers are directed about competent critics, standard of taste, &c. It is a creed which wrongs mankind, for it denies to the majority of men the power of enjoying poetry, it encourages the poetry of priggishness, it would crush out, if it dared, Burns, or even Shakspeare.
We venture with becoming modesty to express our opinion on the side of the four judges. The subject of either an exile or a colonist is a noble one for a true poet to treat. Comparatively little has been done in it; thousands of poems teeming with original ideas might be founded on it. The conquest not by arms but by religion, by art, by science, by indefatigable energy, by toil, by endurance, and by suffering, of the new world by the denizens of the old, comes within the range of the subjects named. In itself, the migration of civilized man, with all the surroundings of transplanted knowledge and civilization, is a poem.
We venture further to endorse the opinion of the four judges as to the merits of the "Exile's Reverie." It is neither common place in itself nor its ideas. Nor is the metre "the most familiar" and the most easily handled." The language is forcible and well chosen, and the imagery correct.
This is more than can be said for the second poem, which our judge is so anxious to uphold. It is unequally written, the metre incorrect in places, the language sometimes involved, and the leading image false. Imagery, especially when it is borrowed from nature, should be rigidly correct. The man who said he "smelled a rat, he saw it floating in the air," was laughed at, and so also the poet opens himself to ridicule who supposes page iv that the clouds shine on the sun. Such an idea is no doubt original, but not so nature's usual operation, the sun shining his farewell to the clouds, and lighting them up with his departing rays We venture to think that the few lines about gold tinged clouds which Walter Scott wrote before he was twelve years of age were true to nature, and incomparably better, for the sentiment is healthy. It is the hysterical school girl who loves melancholy musings; crude poets minister to the want, and as in Sunset, ape Miss Landon, and "weep for the living, not for the dead" The thing is very stale. Its morbid tone is Sunset's worst fault, otherwise it is not without merit. The imagery of the sun summoning back the dispersed clouds, though not original, is well expressed, and in some respects the poem is respectably strung together. The writer is capable of better things, if he or she would condescend to be natural. The fault of young poets, strained affectation is conspicuous.
In respect to the originality of the poem, we incline to believe its ideas, besides the unluckly light dispensing clouds, and the seeping for the living &c., original to a certain extent, but clothed in language not altogether original. In no disrespect to Mr Infallible, we say there is abundant evidence to those accustomed to literary analysis, to prove that he knows something of the author and his intentions. We do not come to the conclusion of the judge's knowledge solely from the violent prejudice he exhibits and the unfair attack he makes upon the other poem. In parts of the article there are evidences of his being familiar with what the author of the poem is familiar. For example, there is no particular reason for intruding the few lines from Tintern Abbey, but the writer evidently knows the lines well and likes to air his knowledge. The author of the poem has also unquestionably read and knows the lines to Tintern Abbey well. Again our judge in a strange manner goes out of his way to quote Wordsworth's lines to a Rainbow. He quotes them apropos of nothing. They are much inferior to Campbell's poem on the same subject. If a rainbow required to be referred to poetically, it would have been better to have selected Campbell's lines. But the judge was evidently well acquainted with Wordsworth's lines, and with some difficulty managed to squeeze them in. There is about those lines evidence that the writer of the poem "Sunset" is well acquainted with them. In them "be" is made to rhyme with "piety" and in Sunset "me" is made to rhyme with "imagery."
However it is not worth while following out this line of evidence further. Whilst acquaintance with the author may, to some extent, explain, if not excuse, the savage onslaught our judge makes upon the innocent prize poem, it rather makes worse than better his insolent treatment of his fellow judges.