Friday, December 24, 2021


THE BOY WHO LAUGHED AT SANTA CLAUS  (from Good Intentions Little, Brown& co., publ. 1937)

Ogden Nash (1902-1971)

In Baltimore there lived a boy.

He wasn't anybody's joy.

Although his name was Jabez Dawes,

His character was full of flaws.

In school he never led his classes,

He hid old ladies' reading glasses, 

His mouth was open when he chesed,

And elbows to the table glued.

He stole the mild of hungry kittens,

And walsked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.

He said he acted thus because 

There wasn't any Santa Claus.

Another trick that tickled Jabez

Was crying "Boo!" at little babies.

He brushed his teeth, they said in town,

Sideways instead of up and down.  

Yet people pardoned every sin,

And viewed his antics with a grin,

Til they were told by Jabez Dawes,

"There isn't any Santa Claus!"

Deploring how he did behave,

His parents swiftly sought their grave.

They hurried through the portals pearly,

And Jabez left the funeral early.

Like whooping cough, from child to child,

He sped to spread the rumor wild:

"Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes

There isn't any Santa Claus!"

Slunk like a weasel or a marten

Through nursery and kindergarten,

Whispering low to every tot,

"There isn't any, no there's not!"

The children wept all Christmas Eve

And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.

No infant dared hang up his stocking

For fear of Jabez' ribald mocking.

He sprawled on his untidy bed,

Fresh malice dancing in his head,

When presently with scalp a-tingling,

Jabez heard a distant jingling;

He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof

Crisply alighting on the roof.

What good to rise and bar the door?

A shower of soot was on the floor.

What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?

The fireplace full of Santa Claus!

Then Jabez fell upon his knees

With cries of "Don't," and "Pretty Please."

He hawled, "I don't know where you read it,

But anyhow, I never said it!"

"Jabez", replied the angry saint,

"It isn't I, it's you that ain't.

Although there is a Santa Claus,

There isn't any Jabez Dawes!"

Said Jabez then with impudent vim,

"Oh, yes there is;  and I am him!

Your magic don't scare me, it doesn't" -

And suddenly he found he wasn't!

From grimy feet to unkempt locks

Jabez became a jack-in-the-box,

An ugly, vastly ghastly jack

In Santa Claus's bulging pack.

The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;

They searched for him, but not with zeal.

No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,

which led to thunderous applause,

And people drank a loving cup

And went and hung their stockings up.

All you who sneer at Santa Claus,

Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,

The saucy boy who mocked the saint.

Donder and Blitzen licked off his paint.

Nash published over twenty books of his inimitable "poetry", to the thankful delight of many unserious souls.  One of his last recommendations to his faithful readers:  "Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long."

Saturday, December 18, 2021



Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu  (1814-1873)

Sir Jekyl Marlowe is a commanding presence in the English countryside, being a Baron and the owner of several villages and a lot of land.  The story opens with him returning home to his baronial estate after a tour of the continent.  He happens to meet, on the way, two tourist types, one of whom gives him a slight shock because of his resemblance to an old acquaintance.  Guy Strangways is also new to the vicinity and, as he seems an acceptable member of the upper classes, Marlowe invites him to stay at his manor, along with his companion, Mr. Varberrierre.  A houseparty of sorts develops and other friends collect at the mansion, among them old Mrs. Alice Redcliffe, General Lennox and his young wife, Lady Jane.  Marlowe's housekeeper has just given notice because she won't have anything to do with placing a guest in the "Green 'Room", an addition to the house that was built about twenty years before by the present owner's father, Harry Marlowe.  She says there's ghosts in it.  She leaves and takes a job at the Redcliffe mansion, working as a housekeeper for the aging Mrs. Alice.  Alice harbors a fierce dislike for the younger Marlowe, based on an event that occurred between old Harry and another fellow twenty years before, but the reader only gradually discovers what her antipathy is based on.  As more visitors arrive, social activities ensue, whist, billiards, hunting and the other enjoyments of the British upper classes of the time.  Lady Jane has been assigned the Green Room to sleep in and there's muttering amongst the servants forecasting dire events in the near future.  

Guy and Marlowe's daughter Beatrice become familiar with each other but their budding romance is inhibited by her father's hopes for a more luxurious connection, featuring money or status or both.  The mystery associated with the Green Room is referred to in an increasingly provocative way, heightening the suspense and bewilderment as frequent arcane references are made to its peculiarities.  The reader is informed that Varberrierre has hidden acrimonies against Marlowe as the plot progresses, and it is revealed that all this has something to do with a lost deed to the property and estate, and to the unfair death of the elder Deverell.  Apparently the late owner was engaged in a duel twenty years before and an irregularity in the procedure resulted in the death of Guy Deverell senior.  The rumor in effect stated that the victim was shot before he had a chance to raise his weapon by the underhanded Harry.

The suspense slowly increases as time passes until one night Jekyl is found in Lady Janet's Green Room, stabbed.  By this time Varberrierre has revealed himself to be Herbert Strangways, an old friend of the Deverell who was shot, and, a rich man in his own right who has embarked on a plan to wreak revenge on the family responsible for the elder Guy's death by discovering the old Will and legitimizing the claims on the estate of Guy's son, Guy Strangways, nee Deverell.  Investigation reveals a secret tunnel between Jekyl's bedroom and that of Lady Jane's where he was found, and the General is implicated in the attack;  divorce ensues.  Jekyl's brother, Dives (a local preacher) inherits the estate and Herbert  returns to Europe, where he buys two silk factories and makes money hand over fist.  Guy marries Beatrice and they have a son, Guy.  The General disappears somewhere.

This was a sort of rambling book that seemed rather like a jigsaw puzzle with some missing pieces.  For one thing, although the location of the Will was revealed, no mention was made of what happened to it, or if it was ever unearthed.  And there seemed not too much justification for a number of jaunts and trips undertaken by the ancillary characters.  I sort of got the idea that Le Fanu was trying to increase the suspense by tidbitting the reader, just leaking out a bit of relevant information as the plot developed, so as to maintain a certain level of ongoing anxiety.  And that was slightly annoying...  Apparently the sole reason for the construction of the Green Room was so that the horrible Harry could sneak into it at night through the hidden passageway;  that didn't make a lot of sense to me.  I liked Le Fanu's writing style:  clear but not too verbose, but even so i had the feeling while we were going along that i had accidentally dropped a bowl of spaghetti on the floor and was on my knees, poking about for hidden strands hiding behind various table legs.  His short ghost stories are justifiably famous, as is Camilla, his vampire book, but this one was not one of his better efforts, imo anyway...

Saturday, December 11, 2021



George Meredith. (1828-1909)

Meredith's paternal grandfather was named Melchizedek, and so was the founder of the Harrington family.  He was a tailor in Lymport-on-the-sea and had died just before the action begins in Portugal.  His issue was one son and three daughters, one of whom was married to a Portuguese Count.  Louisa and her family and nephew are first seen returning home from Lisbon, where they had spent some years enjoying the pleasures of the royal court.  Evan, the nephew, is uncertain about where his future lies.  He's been raised in a court atmosphere and the idea of taking over his father's business does not appeal.  Through Louisa's influence he comes to be accepted in the household at Beckley Court, the residence of the Jocelyn family.  He and Rose, the daughter of the reigning baronet, fall in love, but the path is not made easy for them mainly due to Evan being a common tailor.  Evan's sister, Louisa the Countess, has glommed onto the fact that a certain Abraham Harrington, a member of the upper classes, has recently died in the immediate vicinity, and while she doesn't actually lie about her family's relation to the deceased nobleman, she doesn't deny it either.  Which provides her family a tentative justification for a prolonged visit at the Jocelyn estate.  

Side issues involve the sisters' marriages with a retired Major and a rich brewer.  The former is brutal to Caroline and she stays away from him as much as she can:  Beckley Court seems like heaven to her.  Harriet is wedded to Andrew Cogglesby, the younger brother in the brewing firm.  The older brother, Old Tom, is retired and plays an important role in the developing plot as a hidden manipulator of some of the other characters, which he is enabled to do as a result of his abundance of money coupled with his bizarre sense of humor.  After ensconcing themselves in the Jocelyn household, the Harringtons more or less follow Louisa's lead in their dealings with their hosts and other guests.  There are abundant numbers of ancillary figures, a Duke, and assorted Lords residing in the area.  One of them,  Lord Laxley, is a competitor for Rose's hand in marriage and at one point a duel between Evan and Laxley seems imminent, but sober heads prevail and the situation is temporarily defused.  Another character, a friend of Evan's, is described thusly:  "Mr. Raikes stood about a head under him.  He had extremely mobile features;  thick, flexible eyebrows;  a loose, voluble mouth;  a ridiculous figure on a dandified foot.  He represented to you one who was rehearsing a part he wished to act before the world, and was not aware that he took the world into his confidence."  Then there is Juliana, a younger relation to Rose, who loves Evan desperately, but she is handicapped because of a certain lameness which is not elaborated upon.  Later in the denouement, she plays an important role in the final resolution of the plot.

Meanwhile, carousals at the local Green Dragon Inn take place;  a cricket game occupies quite a few pages; and Old Tom episodically looms in the background, laughing to himself at the antics of his victims.  Evan waffles about, trying to convince himself to take up his father's profession, but due to his love for Rose, can't decide to actually go home to Lymport and start to work.  In the interim, he is hired by Andrew Cogglesby to take care of some business dealings.  While in London, he sees Rose occasionally, but nothing very important transpires until Juliana arrives, apparently stricken with tuberculosis.  In the last stages of the disease, she writes her will, leaving Beckley Court (which she had inherited from her uncle) to Evan.  Guilt-ridden, Evan gives it back to the Jocelyns, but, as Old Tom's plans come to fruition, he's left in a prominent social situation nevertheless.  Do Rose and Evan finally get married?  Is Louisa going to be thrown into jail?  Will Caroline escape her cruel husband.  These questions and more are answered in the finale, but suffice it to say that everything works out in the end;  at least to the satisfaction of some of the characters, if not all.

This was one of Meredith's early works.  But in spite of that, it's "comedic" components are fully on display.  The lurking presence of Old Tom is just intrusive enough to attract the reader's attention, but not so kaleidoscopic as to dominate any of the peroration.  Of course, Meredith's principal purpose was to contrast and expose the dire consequences of the English social system, with its Grand Canyon split between the upper and lower, common, classes.  But rather than repeating the facts of the case ad nauseum, he much prefers to indicate the iniquities through the behavior and attitudes of his characters, using their reactions to the circumstances inherent in their social statuses to balloon up the injustices of the system until  they explode, leaving rags of rage and surprise behind like the tattered remnants of an overnight frat party.

In some ways i liked this book better than "The Egoist".  It was more broadly based in terms of its social analysis.  "Egoist". was more of a study of the effects of class prejudice on a few characters, whereas "Evan" seemed to extend that criticism to cover a larger portion of the citizenry, as well as the English institutions that were responsible for such misery and unhappiness noted in the less fortunate economic castes.  Also, the prose was easier to follow.  Meredith has been castigated by some reviewers for his involved and unpredictable sentence construction, and there's some truth to the idea that he's not an easy read.  But on the other hand, he is very perceptive and his books have a lot of depth, the bottom of which i'm certain i haven't plumbed in any of his works that i've read.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, tho...

Saturday, December 4, 2021


Matteo Boiardo  (1440-1494)

Francesco Berni. (1497-1535)

William Stewart Rose. (1775-1843)

This was originally written by Boiardo, and intended to be a sort of compilation of various tales of Orlando (Roland) written by sundry authors and poets in years previous to the 1400's.  It takes place during the reign of Charlemagne, and ostensibly deals with the invasion of Spain by the Moors in the 8th century.  But contrary to the intuited intention, it has mainly to do with the adventures of Charlemagne's knights, their duellos with each other and with fairies, monarchs and legendary beasts such as giants and dragons.  At the outset, a big party is being held in Paris to celebrate the coming-together of all the elements of King Charlemagne's army, including Orlando, Rinaldo, Astolpho, Brandimart, Gryphon, and many others.  This assemblage is supposedly preliminary to the expected war with various African invaders, mainly Gradasso and Agramant, who have nefarious plots to subsume France in their coils.  During the height of the festivities, Angelica vanishes, spirited away to her father's (Sacripant) house in the Orient by Malgigi, Rinaldo's brother and practicing magician.  Since she's of royal blood and pretty to boot, there's a mad dash to find out what happened to her, and many of the knights fare forth to rescue her from whatever coils may have embroiled her.  Things are complicated by the ingestion of magic potions designed to either cause lovers to hate each other, or to make enemies fall in love.  One of the first major events occurs when the Moors capture Paris in the absence of its defenders.  But that situation is resolved when general Gradasso decides to release the city in exchange for Orlando's horse, Bayard.  He wants the Orlando's sword, Durandanna also, but it already left with its owner. When Rinaldo leaves the party he is trapped in a self-powered boat while crossing a river which carries him into the forest of Arden (a common place for magical incidents) where he sees a palace and is captured by a giant.  It's the castle of Altaripa, and is presumably owned by the castellan Gryphon and Stella, his wife.   Rinaldo is lowered into a deep dark cavern from which he's rescued by the knight Astolpho (the only English knight in the book) who lowers a rope and some wax into the cave while Rinaldo is being threatened by an all-devouring monster.  Rinaldo uses the wax to seal the creature's mouth shut and hauls himself up by the rope.

Meanwhile (there are lots of these "meanwhiles" in the book, as Boiardo weaves the narration between situations and events, leaving the reader gasping in wonder at what could possibly happen next to rescue whoever it was that is in imminent danger), armies are gathering before the town of Albracca,  to where Angelica was spirited during Charlemagne's party.  Agrican (a Tartar general) is leading the attackers and Astolpho is present to deny them their victory.  In spite of his magic spear, he's captured by the gloating Agrican.  Meanwhile, Rinaldo has wandered away from the castle Altaripa and met Sir Brandimart's lady friend who says he's been abducted at the Bridge of Oblivion and persuades him to take on nine other knights simultaneously.  Before that, however, he has to listen to the story of Iroldo and Tisbina, involving a devious escape from Medusa's garden through one of four gates named Life, Poverty, Death and Wealth and a thirty day crossing of an endless desert and the use of sleeping powder to free Iroldo.  Rinaldo has another epic battle with a giant and a herd of griffins, but loses his girl-friend when she's captured by a unicorn and swept downstream in a boat.  Back in Albracca, Angelica is besieged in a tower while the Tartars flail at the doors but she's able to leave due to her magic invisibility ring.  She and Flordelis rescue Orlando from Dragontina's garden and they return to Albracca.  At one point, Orlando and Agrican fight for a whole day before the walls of the city and Orlando wins, retrieving his horse Bayard who's been gone for quite some time.  Agrican coverts to Christianity just before he expires.

Monodontes, the King of the Distant Isles wanted to marry his daughter to an old friend.  She actually loved a younger man instead, who she married without her father's permission, but at the same time she agreed to marry the old petitioner.  The two suitors lived in adjacent castles and there was a tunnel connecting the two domiciles, so when the second ceremony occurred, as a result of running back and forth between both castles, she was able to convince the unloved one that she was the twin sister of herself and this worked great until the King discovered the tunnel and was not very happy about the situation.  But it was all resolved when she was captured by two giants while running from one to the other.  One of the major players was a lady knight, Marphisa.  She was a friend of Orlando's and aided him in several of his ventures, mostly relating to defending Albracca against the Tartars.  The new general of which, Truffaldino, Orlando fought with until he defeated him as a result of which Angelica persuaded him to investigate Falerina's garden in Orgagna, near the entrance to Heaven and Hell.  There was a bridge there and a lady hanging up by her hair named Orgilla.  He cuts her down and while he's peering into the black entrance, she steals his horse (Bayard).   This is the end of Book one.

Book two begins with Orlando entering the Heaven and Hell gate and initially coming across a golden donkey with prehensile ears and a sword for a tail.  He sees a tree with golden fruit that throws apples at him.  He cuts it down with his sword (Durandanna) and everything turns black, but he's guided out by Falerina after freeing all the prisoners.  Back at Albracca (again), Marphisa and Sacriphant are still defending the city.  Angelica's invisibility ring is stolen by Brunello the expert thief.  He also steals Sacriphant's horse while he's riding it.  And Marphisa's sword while she's using it.  A Turkish army arrives to relieve the city.  Then Orland and Rinaldo have a long adventure in the subterranean kingdom of Morgana's.  Orlando had defeated the guardian of her lake, Arridano, and found that the lake bottom was actually an extension of her vast holdings.  With a kind of permanent coal lamp to illuminate the darkness, Orland passes a gate into a field of jewels and then finds another bridge which he crosses after contending with the guards.  He enters a building housing a King who's sitting under a sword suspended by a single hair that will decapitate him if he tells a lie.  Orlando finds Rinaldo who attempts to steal a golden chair while en route out of the kingdom, but it flies back in when he tries to carry it up a long flight of stairs that lead the surface.

The adventures continue for several hundred more pages, the second Book ending with the Moors invading once more and all Paris in a state of alarm.  The first two books were published in 1483 and the last one in 1495.  There are only the first two extant, however, as, with one exception, the complete edition was lost sometime in the 16th century.  The one exception is one copy of all three books located in the Marciano, in Venice i think...  The last volume has never been translated.  Francesco Berni rewrote and republished the work in 1531 and it achieved some success at that time.  Then the two books faded into history until interest revived in the late 1700's.  The edition that re-popularized the saga was the translation in prose of William Rose in 1831.  He claimed that the original, written in octave stanzas, was unsuitable for the English language.  This is the version that i read.  And it's the only one, so for as i know, that's available in English.  It's in Gutenberg's files.

It was a lot of fun reading this even though it got fairly confusing at times.  Boiardo had a great sense of humor, which shows through from time to time.  His tongue can be seen at intervals, bulging his cheek out.  Rose, in addition to rewriting the two books, occasionally included some of the original stanzas from Boiardo, and i thought they were excellent and quite poetic.  I think it's a shame that he didn't translate the entirety that way, but, as he was not a very well person, maybe it would have been too much for him.  Comparisons with Spencer are inevitable, and I couldn't help but see commonalities between the two works;  there was a certain amount of allegorical reference to the court of Charlemagne, i thought.  And the compositional style was pretty similar, with interwoven plot lines and fantastic adventures.  Perhaps Spencer was a bit more moralistic than Boiardo, though.  The latter seemed to more interested in relating an entertaining story for the most part, while Spencer really seemed to have a moral imperative, even if, as was perhaps possible, he was just writing that way to impress Queen Elizabeth.  Fun book, and i hope to get to the sequel fairly soon:  Orlando Furioso!