Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Egregious Philistines" (1889)

        The reckless misquotation and wrong crediting of poetry by the newspapers is becoming a grievance against which it is time somebody made a protest. It is only within a fortnight that the Troy Press offered, as one of the "classic gems" of Martin Farquhar Tupper, Longfellow's immortal lines:

        Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

                And our hearts, though stout and brave,

        Still, like muffled drums, are beating

                Funeral marches to the grave

which it telescoped and maltreated and mutilated by printing them thus:

        Hearts like muffled drums, are beating

        Funeral marches to the grave.

        And now comes the Minneapolis Times stumbling along with this couple, which it credits to Gray's "Elegy":

        Like muffled drums are beating

        Funeral marches to the grave

        Shakespeare possibly suffers more than any other one poet at the hands of reckless quoters. He generally wrote better than most of those who attempt to improve him. Indeed, he is about as difficult to improve as any writer we [?]. The addition, subtraction, or change of a single word or syllable is an inexcusable impertinence. It makes him say what he didn't say, and there is no possible excuse for blundering when every newspaper office is supposed to have a copy of the bard of Avon. It is surprising therefore, to read this couple in the Albany Journal:

        A merry heart goes all the day—

        Your sad heart tires in a mile-a.

        The stanza to which these maltreated lines belong is sung in a "A Winter's Tale," and reads as follows—punctuation and all:

        Jog on, jog on, the foot-path way,

                And merrily hent the stile-a

        A merry heart goes all the day,

                Your sad tires in a mile-a.

        But from Chicago—which has lately bloomed out, or boomed, into a sort of hot-house of the arts—comes the rankest offense of all. Nothing but a reproduction of the entire matter will do anything like justice to the wisdom and research of the editor of the Herald, who prints the following question and answer:

                                PROBABLY NEWSPAPER POETRY.

        Editor of the Herald:—Please give me the name of the author of the following lines:

                "The snow had begun in the gloaming,

                                And busily all the night

                Had been heaping field and highway

                                With a silence deep and white."


        [We cannot find these lines in any of the usual sources of information.]

        "The usual sources of information"—including a fair acquaintance with the best poets of American—would have told the Herald man that these lines form the first stanza of James Russell Lowell's beautiful poem, "The First Snow-Fall." But even should the Herald deign to inform its correspondent of the poet's name, it never can efface the egregious Philistinism of that headline: "Probably Newspaper Poetry." Chicago is a big city, and Matthew Arnold sized it up right.

Buffalo Express. January 3, 1889: 4 cols 2-3.

Column 4 also has a poem, an amusing one:

The year of eighteen eighty-eight

Would rhyme with many words first-rate.

And likewise eighteen eighty-nine

In rhythm could terminate a line.

But poets now are full of doubt.

The present sadly knocks them out.

In vain they search for perfect chimes,

For eighteen ninety has no rhymes.

                                -Chicago Herald.

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