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Arachne: A Literary Journal. No. 1

Diary Notes, 1946

page 13

Diary Notes, 1946.

November 28. Calculated the wages. At the bank, a woman was collecting a large officer's pay in linen bags, which is unusual. From the back, she looked like one of the legendary secretaries, the ones who, in their offices, talk to you of the manager as if attempting to make you feel you should share in their worship of their exalted executive, but together with the executive, they, the confidants, are raised to some wanton exaltedness; this figure, so careful to make no mistake in this somewhat lowly commission entrusted to her because it yet requires confidence, behaves not always in this subordinate way; it is decorous just now, therefore it is assumed; however, it is not entirely true; the glamour of the skin, the well-shaped body, the luxury and sophistication not found at home, these things are true, and hence they are lifting each other above their stations, the secretary and the manager; and forgetting for a moment the facts behind all this, whatever the method: the acts of both are successful and become a reality. This reality may be found in the Man magazine, and it is a very considerable one: it is impossible to write of secretaries without this image in mind: the people of former ages went to the theatre and their heroes were the wings of legend, knights, ladies, etc., after whose image they feebly tried to build their lives; now the worshipped couple are businessman and secretary out of the Man magazine, and in spite of the diversity of humankind, there is a common tendency to relate one's life to this ideal. This ideal is the real hero of any epic of office-life, including its glamour, as a self-contained world. (It needs no connection with art or the theatre; it is self-contained.)

* * *

H. showed me a way to the city through his garden, one of these Wellington walks through a somewhat rocky unknown running into Willis Street; the vegetation was surprising, but not as rich as usual. The centre of Wellington has holes in it, in which thrives the unknown.

* * *

November 29. The Nonesuch Blake contains marginalia to Poems, Vol. 1, by William Wordsworth. Quoting a preface, 'Yet, much as these pretended treasures of antiquity have been admired, they have not been wholly uninfluential upon the literature of the country . . . no Author in the least distinguished, has ventured formally to imitate them, except the Boy, Chatterton, on their first Appearance.' Blake comments: 'I believe both MacPherson and Chatterton, that what they say is ancient, is so.' And: 'I own myself an admirer of Ossian equally with any poet whatever, Rowley and Chatterton also.' Blake would not have been impressed with the scholarship of Rev. Skeat, even if it had been proved that Chatterton had coined every word in his vocabulary. Skeat's proofs are as solid as a wall; Blake looks right past every one of them. He does not reject the appearances of the matter, he does not even see them. In Rowley a poet's imagination has shaped the middle ages: using whatever words, writing at whatever time. To Blake, inaccuracies in 15th century dialects could hardly be disturbing, the words which revived the middle ages were there, naturally or out of a glossary, which did not matter, only two things matter: Blake 'believes' Chatterton, and 'owns (him) self an admirer.' Believing Chatterton means a surrender of the self to the heroes and legendary landscapes of Chatterton the poet; what Chatterton told was the death of Aella, the excution of Charles Bawdin, etc., apart from which he made some formal statement about poems by Rowley. But Blake makes the profound gesture of even believing this statement: he will own no difference between Rowley, a poet, and Rowley, a poet in the imagination of Chatterton, in whom he 'believes.' A Rowley created by Chatterton would have a more real existence in the universe, according to Blake, than a material man called Rowley writing poems many centuries ago. But when Blake speaks of 'believing' he means more than this acceptance of a spiritual disembodied Rowley. He means also that if he, as a man, would meet Chatterton, in whom he believes, and Chatterton, as a man, would state the poems were Rowley's, then Blake would not question it.

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page 14

If Chatterton refused to admit his authorship even to his closest friends, thoughts such as these were in his mind. Chatterton never found the ideal friend; if he had done so, this friend would not have questioned him; of this friendship only Blake would have been capable. Blake's reason for never questioning would be that he owned '(him) self an admirer.' All this at great length, not because Blake is at all obscure; he is entirely consistent; but because it is necessary to emphasise this attitude towards hoaxes, which is the one and only tenable attitude. Hoaxes concern little stories told about imaginative works: usually these stories introduce an unknown or classical author as the creator of the works; Chatterton's story was no more. Rev. Skeat can write a hundred pages concerning the truth of such a story; Blake's wisdom ignores it. Van Meegeren and Ern Malley hoaxes cannot delude such an attitude.

* * *

A detail of scholarship substantiates Blake: Skeat held that Chatterton wrote the Rowley poems in modern language, then translated them into 'Rowleian dialect,' as he calls it. This fits the common concept of a fabrication and it is surprising how little evidence Skeat believes it requires. Skeat proves that Chatterton's knowledge of Anglo-Saxon was confined mainly to what may be found sub AA-AL in an Anglo-Saxon dictionary. It would seem to him that these words were used by Chat-terton merely as a help for a fabrication. We, after James Joyce, believe that these words held a fascination in themselves, were noted down by Chatterton for their fascination, and that he also conveyed this. If Skeat ingeniously proves Chatterton's preference for dictionaries and glossaries above texts, we believe that these words must have told him a story; in sounds and also spelling. I am very puzzled by this question: among the Old English or pseudo-Old English words Chat-terton uses many at the end of lines. They rhyme with modern or with other old words. How is it possible to write a poem in modern English first and then translate it so as to produce these rhymes and all the other obvious vocal effects in the poems? Do Chatterton's archaisms ever have forced meanings? How does one imagine Chatterton to follow this complicated procedure? Why could not lines including archaisms occur in Chatterton's mind entire? And why is no lack of spontaneity observable if every one of his sound structures was to a certain extent an act of fate? And, the strangest thing of all, how could Skeat ever have believed in this monstrosity? Because he found a few note-books?

* * *

The apparent simplicity of this whole question bewilders me. Yet the story of Chatterton's translating from line to line passes from a conjecture of Skeat's into Chatterton legend It is forgotten that the suggestion was probably only produced through an excessive zeal of Skeat's to prove the propriety of modernising Chatterton's text, an idea which was his and for which nobody of course wants to deny him credit. It is better to accept Blake's attitude; and to see Chatterton's language as created instead of fabricated, of the same kind as Thompson's and Shenstone's Spenserian borrowings, though in a rather more fantastic and imaginative manner.

December 1. At night left the bus at the wrong stop and had to walk through what seems the cruellest part of Wellington: the concrete roads and viaducts and metal structures between Kaiwarra and Thorndon. One does not think of the terrible things that happen here; one knows that they are erected without any terrifying associations; but in other cities this awful crossing would be peopled with miseries, car accidents, suicides, killings, sinister thoughts involving crimes and sordid women; in Wellington the very absence means greater despair for whoever may be compelled, in reality, to walk that pavement. There is nothing there, nothing at all. The cars frighten; there is no reason why they should not point their headlights at you and run over you.