A daily excerpt from a a historical edition of Punch – the greatest satirical magazine in history

Category: Poetry

Science will destroy poetry with its “Electric Light”

SCENE – A Lawn illuminated by the Electric Light

Young Lady (to Scientific Old Gent). Ah Mr. McFungus, we may now indeed say, with TENNYSON, that “the black bat Night hath flown

Scientific Old Gent. Ya-as. Your only “nocturnal bat” now is not the  Tennysonian, but a tennis bat. Fact is, Science will compel the Poets to lay in an entirely new stock of images.

Fred. Poor Diana! Awfully out of it. Can’t fancy Endymion being kissed on the Q.T. by a Brush – Light, can you. though? Modern Science doesn’t lend itself to Poetry.

Long-Haired One (languidly). Bah ! Uttawly Philistian ideah, that. Art can absorb and transmute into Beauty, everything – even Science. See germ of  quite too lovely new Mythos even in your seemingly absurd suggestion. Electric Light poetically personified brilliant new Avatar of the Ineffable Firstborn of created things, Primeval Lux, subtler Cynthia, more terrible Artemis, more perilous Lamia, whose glance is fascination, whose kiss is DEATH !!! Supreme ! (Aside.) Must suggest subject to POSTLETHWAITE.

Secret Gusher, in Terra – Cotta twists (effusively). Science sublimated into quintessential Sweetness ! Dull Prosepoetised into supernal Light. Oh, how quite too utterly Too !

Old Buffet- (yawning) to other Old Buffer. Sleepy ? Eh, my boy ?

Old Buffer Number Two (gaping). Ye-e-s. Turning night into day in this fashion doesn’t suit me.

Young Lady (to Mamma, who has been nodding in a corner). What, asleep, Mamma ?

Mamma, (starting erect). Not at all, my dear not at all. Only this light is just a leetle strong, you know.

Edwin (to ANGELINA, suggeitively), It has one drawback, dear. So few snug shadows, you know !

Angelina, (softly). Ah, yes, dear. Moonlight has its advantages, after all.

[They retire to play Diana and Endymion – old style in the Conservatory.

(7th December 1883)


To Lord Tennyson

TENNYSON, you are an eminent bard; there is none of more note;
You have sung some capital staves; for example, your Bugle Song,
Out of numerous noble lines which I wish 1 had room to quote.
But I think that some of your views propounded in Maud are wrong.

I shouldn’t object to War for “shaking a hundred thrones,”
Provided it left that one at Buckingham Palace firm.
But I hate and detest it, because of its breaking brave men’s bones,
And rendering many true hearts of heroes a meal for the worm.

I cannot agree with you, that War is better than Peace,
Because in Peace time men lie, and rob, and cozen and cheat.
They will bam and bite the more as the Tax-man shears their fleece;
For nothing makes people thieve like the want of enough to eat.

Your “smooth faced snubnosed rogue” has a large per-centage to pay
On the gains of his fraudulent trade ; that ‘s the worst of the War to him.
Were a shell to burst in his shop, do you think he would not run away
As fast as he possibly could, out of danger of life and limb?

But suppose such a snob could be, by the pressure of War’s distress,
Compell’d, or induced, to chouse in a somewhat minor degree,
And suppose he turn’d out with a stick if the Prussians were off Sheerness,
Would that be worth the blood that we shed by land and sea?

Imagine your stomach pierced with the lance or bayonet’s point;
Just fancy your own inside with the bombshell’s fragments torn,
Or a Minie bullet lodged in the middle of your knee-joint,
And a wooden leg, if you live, for the rest of your life to be worn.

Beyond some, albeit, of course, how many years no one knows,
The War cannot last; what then ? When the hurlyburly’s o’er
Will the knaves not continue to swindle, do you suppose,
And adulterate food and physic as much as they did before?

Better torment and death in the glorious field to brave,
Than to run the risk of both, submitting to certain shame,
Better the sabre-gash than the stripe that scores the slave.
That is all I can find to say for carnage, rapine, and flame.

A nation that suffers war might suffer a great deal worse,
It is worse to crouch, and crawl, and be tongue-tied, than to fight.
A choice of the smaller evil, to either side a curse,
War is murder upon the wrong, execution upon the right.

I do not compare the British Grenadier to a sordid wretch
For a suit of clothes and a guinea who chokes out another’s breath ;
I esteem that gallant hero as a quite sublime JACK KETCH,
Who risks his own precious life in putting villains to death.

But I grudge that brave man’s blood ; I think it a grievous thing
That in sweeping off vile Cossacks a drop of it should be lost ;
I wish they could be destroy’d, as the felons at Newgate swing,
Machinery and rope comprehending all the cost.

But the miscreants are too strong, and battle alone remains,
The means of ridding the world of the CZAR’S enormous gang,
And we are obliged to open our purses and our veins,
To put the criminals down, whom we cannot contrive to hang.

I abhor this War as much as I should a plague or a blight,
I wish the loss of life and enormous expense might cease,
Bat the more with dogged rage for that very cause would fight
In hatred of horrible War, and the hope to conquer Peace.

The full text of Maud can be found here.

(18th August, 1855)

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