Golden lads and girls

Bishop

On Wednesday afternoon, 5 September 1929, the eighteen-year-old Elizabeth Bishop was writing to Frani Blough, whom she’d met at the Walnut Hill boarding school in Massachusetts: they became lifelong friends. Bishop was, she said, halfway through Cymbeline: ‘I had no idea it was so good—I never thought of Shakespeare except in terms of Macbeth and Hamlet, but don’t you like this?’ And she quoted:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.[1]

Don’t you like this? Yes, we do. We also like the passage in Hugh Kenner’s The Pound Era, discussing those lines. ‘“Golden,” magical word, irradiates the stanza so that we barely think to ask how Shakespeare may have found it.’ Kenner thinks to ask – or rather, puts to good use what a friend has passed on to him: ‘Yet a good guess at how he found it is feasible, for in the mid-20th century a visitor to Shakespeare’s Warwickshire met a countryman blowing the grey head off a dandelion: “We call these golden boys chimney-sweepers when they go to seed.”’[2]

But yes, ‘golden’, certainly a word magical enough to fascinate and gravitate to many title pages. Before Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Golden Child, David Garnett’s The Golden Echo or Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye, Kenneth Grahame wrote The Golden Age, a phrase that would later resound in Raymond Williams’ The Country and the City as he explored the ‘myth’ of the golden age, pointing out that, as early as Hesiod, ‘at the beginning of country literature, it is already far in the past.’ He sees the ‘escalator of golden ages’ always moving backwards in time, always receding.[3] Every generation, in fact, or a proportion of it, looks back to that supposed idyllic period.

Frida_Uhl

(Frida Strindberg, née Uhl)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17944741

Then, as Ronald Blythe recalls, ‘One of the first night-clubs was opened in 1913 by Strindberg’s second wife, a beautiful ex-actress with a Viennese reputation. It was called the Cave of the Golden Calf and Epstein and Wyndham Lewis decorated its walls and columns. It was haunted by artists, the demi-monde, and guardsmen who went there, so they said, to listen to the accordions of Galician gypsies and hear Lilian Shelly singing “Popsie-wopsie”.’[4]

‘Popsie-wopsie’? It seems so, though I’ve seen it mentioned as ‘My Little Popsy-Wopsy’. She was born in Bristol and apparently posed for both Jacob Epstein and Augustus John.

Eric Gill carved a bas-relief of the golden calf – obviously the central motif – which was hung up beside the entrance (and reproduced on membership cards) ‘and finally carved in three dimensions in Hoptonwood stone and erected on a pedestal’. Madame Strindberg being unable to pay for it, Gill then lent it to Roger Fry for the second Post-Impressionist show at the Grafton Gallery.[5]

And then: The Golden Bowl by Mr Henry James. Writing to his aunt Laura from Alexandria in 1916, E. M. Forster wrote: ‘Work here is quieter again, which leaves me time for reading, and while you were at H. J.’s Portrait of a Lady I was tackling his latter and tougher end in the person of What Maisie Knew. I haven’t quite got through her yet, but I think I shall: she is my very limit—beyond her lies The Golden Bowl, The Ambassadors and similar impossibles. I don’t think James could have helped his later manner—is a natural development, not a pose. All that one can understand of him seems so genuine, that what one can’t understand is likely to be genuine also.’[6] A careful cloud of unknowing.

Warlight

Three years later, in John Buchan’s Mr Standfast, the chapter entitled ‘‘I take the Wings of a Dove’ includes the phrase ‘golden bowl’.[7] But my favourite recent reference is in Michael Ondaatje’s fine novel Warlight (‘The Moth’ is a name conferred by the narrator and his sister): ‘One night when Rachel had been unable to sleep, he pulled a book called The Golden Bowl from my mother’s shelf and began reading to us. The manner of the paragraphs, as the sentences strolled a maze-like path towards evaporation was, to the two of us, similar to The Moth’s when he was being drunkenly magisterial. It was as if language had been separated from his body in a courteous way.’[8]

 

 

References

[1] Elizabeth Bishop, One Art: The Selected Letters, edited by Robert Giroux (London: Pimlico, 1996), 5. Cymbeline, IV, ii, 258-263.

[2] Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), 122. His endnote (570) reads: ‘A visitor to Warwickshire: W. Arrowsmith, reported by Guy Davenport.’ Further elucidated in Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner, edited by Edward Burns, two volumes (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2018), I, 639, 641, 643.

[3] Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), 14, 10.

[4] Ronald Blythe, The Age of Illusion: England in the Twenties and Thirties 1919-40 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964), 28.

[5] Fiona MacCarthy, Eric Gill (London: Faber and Faber, 1990), 108-109.

[6] Selected Letters of E. M. Forster, Volume One: 1879-1920, edited by Mary Lago and P. N. Furbank (London: Collins, 1983), 240.

[7] John Buchan, Mr Standfast (1919; edited by William Buchan, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 133.

[8] Michael Ondaatje, Warlight (London: Jonathan Cape, 2018), 61.

 

Cats, monkeys, parrots and a pelican

Shylock-Tubal

https://shakespeareillustration.org/2016/08/13/shylock-and-tubal/

‘Though I had to run to London several times’, Edward Fitzgerald wrote to Frederick Tennyson on 8 June 1852, ‘I generally ran back as fast as I could; much preferring the fresh air and the fields to the smoke and ‘“the wilderness of monkeys”’ in London.’

That last phrase comes from The Merchant of Venice—by the dramatist of whom Fitzgerald wrote, ‘What astonishes me is, Shakespeare: when I look into him, it is not a Book, but People talking all round me.’[1] Tubal tells Shylock he has been shown a ring that one of Antonio’s creditors ‘had of your daughter for a monkey.’ Shylock is hugely upset by the news since the ring was a turquoise given to him by Leah, before she became his wife: ‘I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys’ (III.i).

My Arden edition, so wedded to extensive and detailed footnotes, has nothing to add here. But recurrences of the phrase, with embellishments, or near misses or oblique references, have offered other editors and annotators hours of fun.

‘Excuse these moans’, Ivor Gurney wrote to Mrs Voynich in April 1916. ‘But I am as a bottle in the smoke, a mouldy pelican in a howling wilderness of monkeys.’ A footnote here points to the Book of Common Prayer, Psalm cxix (bottle in the smoke) and the pelican ‘(not mouldy)’ in Psalm cii, while commenting on Gurney’s ‘also mixing in the “wilderness of monkeys” from Shylock’s valuing of his ring in The Merchant of Venice, III, i.’[2]

Ten years later, C. E. Montague wrote in Rough Justice of his characters, ‘Molly and Auberon too, making no show among parrots and monkeys, but still somehow right’.[3] Parrots and monkeys now? An Army phrase meaning goods and chattels, personal possessions, Eric Partridge tells us, citing a later catchphrase: ‘All right! Pick up your parrots and monkeys, and get mobile’.[4]

Newton-Long-John-Silver

(Robert Newton as Long John Silver – with parrot)

Pelicans, parrots, monkeys. Something missing? Ah. In Some Do Not. . ., the first volume of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End tetralogy, he has Christopher Tietjens remember ‘the words of some Russian: “Cats and monkeys. Monkeys and cats. All humanity is there.”’ ‘Some Russian’, forsooth! It was the New Yorker Henry James, as Ford’s editor, Max Saunders, documents in a footnote: ‘See Henry James, “The Madonna of the Future” (1873), which repeats the sentence: “Cats and monkeys, monkeys and cats; all human life is there!”: The Tales of Henry James, ed. Maqbool Aziz, vol. II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 202–32 (226, 232).’[5] Fordian numerologists will savour the publication date of James’s story (the year of Ford’s birth).

Nor is this the volume’s only dealings with these furry constituents of ‘all humanity’. Less than fifty pages later, Mrs Wannop, writer and mother of Valentine, addresses Christopher Tietjens. ‘“My dear boy,” she said. “Life’s a bitter thing. I’m an old novelist and know it. There you are working yourself to death to save the nation with a wilderness of cats and monkeys howling and squalling your personal reputation away. . . ”’ This further twist engages the editor again: ‘While “cats and monkeys” echoes the phrase noted on 100 above, the addition of “wilderness” here adds another echo, to The Merchant of Venice, III.i.112–14, when Shylock says to his friend: “Thou torturest me, Tubal: it was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.”’ Four more pages and the stalwart Mrs Wannop remarks, ‘“Of course, I back my daughter against the cats and monkeys.”’[6] As who would not?

Valentine-in-Parades-End-008

(Adelaide Clemens as Valentine Wannop in the BBC/HBO series of Parade’s End)

A decade before Some Do Not. . ., Ford had devoted an entire book to Henry James, in the course of which he quoted that final sentence of ‘The Madonna of the Future’ twice, the second time while he was comparing aspects of James and another of Ford’s most admired confrères, Turgenev: ‘For the Russian could never have written The Turn of the Screw; and, if he could have given us Daisy Miller, he certainly could not have written “Cats and monkeys, monkeys and cats – all human life is there. . .”’[7]

Not that it’s all literary larks. Jaap Goudsmit’s 1997 study, Viral Sex, discussed the possible lines of descent of HIV and SIV (Simian immunodeficiency, a virus found in primates), mentioning that monkeys and cats ‘in the same household might sometimes become companions and groom each other.’ That they would also fight is shown in tomb paintings dating from the reigns of Amenhotep III and Horemheb, both fourteenth century BC. ‘So more than three thousand years ago, Egyptian domestic culture gave cat viruses the chance to infect monkeys.’[8]

Cats and monkeys. Monkeys and cats.

References

[1] The Letters of Edward Fitzgerald, edited by Alfred McKinley Terhune and Annabelle Burdick Terhune, four volumes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), II 56, 372.

[2] Ivor Gurney, Collected Letters, edited by R. K. R. Thornton (Mid Northumberland Arts Group & Carcanet Press 1991), 78 and fn.

[3] C. E. Montague, Rough Justice (London: Chatto & Windus 1926), 204.

[4] Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 8th edition, edited by Paul Beale (London: Routledge, 1984), 856.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 100 and fn.

[6] Ford, Some Do Not. . ., 148 and fn., 152.

[7] Ford Madox Ford, Henry James: A Critical Study (London: Martin Secker, 1914), 140, 143. As the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations points out, from the late 1950s, ‘All human life is there’ became the slogan of the News of the World. They may not have come across it in their studies of Henry James, of course. Chapter Five of Fred Kaplan’s 1992 biography of James is entitled ‘“Cats and Monkeys”’.

[8] Jaap Goudsmit, Viral Sex: The Nature of AIDS (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 129.