Sins of the Sesh

THE SESSION OF THE POETS.—August, 1866.

Dî magni, salaputium disertum* — CAT[ullus]. Lib. LIII.

AT the Session of Poets held lately in London,
   The Bard of Freshwater was voted the chair:
With his tresses unbrush’d, and his shirt-collar undone,
   He loll’d at his ease like a good-humour’d Bear;
“Come, boys,” he exclaimed, “we’ll be merry together!”
   And lit up his pipe with a smile on his cheek;
While with eye like a skipper’s cock’d up at the weather,
   Sat the Vice-Chairman Browning, thinking in Greek.

The company gather’d embraced great and small bards,
   Both strong bards and weak bards, funny and grave,
Fat bards and lean bards, little and tall bards,
   Bards who wear whiskers, and others who shave.
Of books, men, and things, was the bards’ conversation
   Some praised Ecce Homo, some deemed it so-so —
And then there was talk of the state of the nation,
   And when the unwash’d would devour Mr. Lowe.

Right stately sat Arnold — his black gown adjusted
   Genteelly, his Rhine wine deliciously iced, —
With puddingish England serenely disgusted,
   And looking in vain (in the mirror) for “Geist.”
He heark’d to the Chairman, with “Surely!” and “Really?”
   Aghast at both collar and cutty of clay, —
Then felt in his pocket, and breath’d again freely,
   On touching the leaves of his own classic play.

Close at hand lingered Lytton, whose Icarus-winglets
   Had often betrayed him in regions of rhyme —
How glitter’d the eye underneath his grey ringlets,
   A hunger within it unlessened by time!
Remoter sat Bailey — satirical, surly —
   Who studied the language of Goethe too soon,
Who sang himself hoarse to the stars very early,
   And crack’d a weak voice with too lofty a tune.

How name all that wonderful company over —
   Prim Patmore, mild Alford — and Kingsley also?
Among the small sparks who was realler than Lover?
   Among misses, who sweeter than Miss Ingelow?
There sat, looking moony, conceited, and narrow,
   Buchanan, — who, finding when foolish and young,
Apollo asleep on a coster-girl’s barrow,
   Straight dragged him away to see somebody hung.

What was said? what was done? was there prosing or rhyming?
   Was nothing noteworthy in deed or in word?
Why, just as the hour for the supper was chiming,
   The only event of the evening occurred.
Up jumped, with his neck stretching out like a gander,
   Master Swinburne, and squeal’d, glaring out through his hair,
“All Virtue is bosh! Hallelujah for Landor!
   I disbelieve wholly in everything! — there!”

With language so awful he dared then to treat ’em, —
   Miss Ingelow fainted in Tennyson’s arms,
Poor Arnold rush’d out, crying “Sæcl’ inficetum!”
   And great bards and small bards were full of alarms;
Till Tennyson, flaming and red as a gipsy,
   Struck his fist on the table and uttered a shout:
“To the door with the boy! Call a cab! He is tipsy!”
   And they carried the naughty young gentleman out.

After that, all the pleasanter talking was done there
   Whoever had known such an insult before?
The Chairman tried hard to re-kindle the fun there,
   But the Muses were shocked, and the pleasure was o’er.
Then “Ah!” cried the Chairman, “this teaches me knowledge,
   The future shall find me more wise, by the powers!
This comes of assigning to younkers from college
   Too early a place in such meetings as ours!”

CALIBAN, The Spectator, September 15, 1866


*Dî magni, salaputium disertum = “Great gods, an eloquent mannikin!”
†”The Bard of Freshwater” is Tennyson, who lived at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight
‡”Sæcl’ inficetum!” = “Uncouth age!”

Caliban was Robert Buchanan (1841-1901), later the author of “The Fleshly School of Poetry”, an attack on immorality and sensuality in the poetry of Swinburne and Rossetti.