Posted by Rebekah King on Monday, October 26, 2015 with No comments
Poem of the Fortnight: Doggerel Fights
This week— trouble on Mount Helicon! In another poem unearthed during data entry for A collection of miscellany poems, the poet Thomas Brown attacks the unspecified ‘Mr. D’ for his abuses against poetry, the classical tradition, and (worst of all) of Englishness itself:
Thou Cur, half French, half English Breed,
Thou Mungril of Parnassus,
To think tall lines run up to feed
Shou’d ever tamely pass us.
Thou write Pindarics, and be damn’d,
Write Epigrams for Cutlers;
None with thy Lyrics can by shamm’d
But Chambermaids and Butlers.
In t’other World expect dry blows,
No tears can wipe thy stains out;
Horace will pluck thee by the Nose,
And Pindar beat thy brains out.
The vision of violent poetic justice at the pearly gates is a rather pleasing one, as is the reimagining of the doggerel-writer as a literal dog. Nevertheless, this is something of a case of the pot calling the kettle unpoetic: if Thomas Brown really is the author here (as two miscellanies claim), then he is not himself above a down-stoop to the jejune* ballad meter and all of its attendant levity. Worse still, the second-line/fourth-line rhymes of each quatrain are disyllabic, that is to say weak or, if you’re feeling misogynistic, ‘feminine’. To my ear they are each so forced that I hope for the author’s sake that this is a cunning meta-poetic joke; an attempt to beat the dreadful rhymer at his own unsubtle game.
Perhaps it is inevitable that, in the competitive pursuit of literary fame, one bard will readily rage against a rival. Almost as inevitable as the fact that ‘cutlers’ in the second line of stanza two sets up the rhyme for ‘butlers’ at the end.
What the DMI tells us so far:
- The poem appears in four miscellanies, from 1699 to 1736.
- The first two are from near-identical editions of A Collection of Miscellany Poems, Letters &c. By Mr. Brown..., 1699 and 1700. Here, the poem is attributed to the poet Thomas Brown (bap. 1663, d. 1704).
- After the 1700 edition of Brown’s poems, ‘To Mr D’ appears again in two more miscellanies, The Merry Companion or, a cure for the spleen, (1730) and A Collection of Merry Poems, (1736).
- Its title is originally listed as ‘To Mr. D---- upon his most incomparable Ballads, call’d by him Lyric Odes.’ Later, the full surname is added: ‘To Mr. D’Urfey, upon his incomparable Ballads, called by him Lyrick Odes.’ It may not be a coincidence that later addition appears published after Brown’s death (in 1704), in the collections of 1730 and 1736 respectively.
- The DMI lists its genres as ‘Lampoon’, ‘Quatrain abab’, and ‘Satire’.
- Its themes are ‘Dunces’, and ‘Poetry/literature/writing’.
Poem ID: 7114
For a more in-depth explanation of how the DMI works, see the FAQ page: http://digitalmiscellaniesindex.org/faqs/
*I make no apologies for the use of the word ‘jejune’. It isn’t deployed often enough, and nicely conjures up the wincing disapproval of one of Bertie Wooster’s aunts.