Monday, 28 May 2012

Shepherd aesthetes and Barry Pain

For a long time I resisted getting an Internet-capable phone, but it has proved invaluable on holiday for pursuing trains of thought that come out of conversation. A couple of days back, on the train to Portsmouth, Clare recalled a snippet of a song she'd had to learn at school. Googling found rapidly it was The Shepherd's Song: one of the Seven Lieder of Edward Elgar, a cycle of songs with lyrics by various authors. Here it is on YouTube sung by Mackay Choral Society's Male Chorus - The Shepherd's Song - and here are the lyrics:
Down the dusty road together
Homeward pass the hurrying sheep,
Stupid with the summer weather,
Too much grass and too much sleep,
    I, their shepherd, sing to thee
    That summer is a joy to me.

Down the shore rolled waves all creamy
With the flecked surf yesternight;
I swam far out in starlight dreamy,
In moving waters cool and bright,
    I, the shepherd, sing to thee
    I love the strong life of the sea.

And upon the hillside growing
Where the fat sheep dozed in shade,
Bright red poppies I found blowing,
Drowsy, tall and loosely made,
    I, the shepherd, sing to thee
    How fair the bright red poppies be.

To the red-tiled homestead bending
Winds the road, so white and long
Day and work are near their ending
Sleep and dreams will end my song,
    I, the shepherd, sing to thee;
    In the dreamtime answer, answer me,
    In the dreamtime answer, answer me.
The Eliza Stories, the 2002
Prion Classics collected edition
I find it fairly ludicrous; this narrator is in the long tradition of shepherd aesthetes with idyllic lifestyles (this one involves admiring poppies and going for long starlit swims). However, I was interested that the lyrics are by Barry Pain, author of the 1900 Eliza.

If you like observational humour of the style of George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody, Eliza is very much in the same vein, a gentle send-up of late-Victorian social aspiration. It tells of the long-suffering Eliza and her husband, a pushy junior clerk who is trying to get them up the social ladder from working class to lower middle class. Do check it out: Eliza, Project Gutenberg E-Text 23783.

When Barry Pain is remembered, if it all, it's generally for Eliza and its sequels. But I hadn't realised, until I looked at the Wikipedia page and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, the breadth of his writing. As a contributor to Punch and the Cornhill Magazine, much of his work was humour and parody, some of it very barbed (though, like a lot of historical parody) a trifle inaccessible when its targets have been forgotten. A couple of his classics in this area are Marge Askinforit (Gutenberg #26204) , a parody of the self-obsessed and name-dropping autobiography of Margot Asquith ...
I was christened Margarine, of course, but in my own circle I have always been known as Marge. The name is, I am informed, derived from the Latin word margo, meaning the limit. I have always tried to live right up to it.

We were a very numerous family, and I can find space for biographical details of only a few of the more important. I must keep room for myself.

My elder sister, Casein—Casey, as we always called her—was supposed to be the most like myself, and was less bucked about it than one would have expected. I never made any mistake myself as to which was which. I had not her beautiful lustrous eyes, but neither had she my wonderful cheek. She had not my intelligence. Nor had she my priceless gift for uttering an unimportant personal opinion as if it were the final verdict of posterity with the black cap on. We were devoted to one another, and many a time have I owed my position as temporary parlour-maid in an unsuspicious family to the excellent character that she had written for me.
... and If Winter Don't (Gutenberg #27375), a parody of the style and format of ASM Hutchinson's family saga If Winter Comes. In the introduction, Pain comments on the fashionable stylistic foibles of the time, ridiculing novelists who would write the tongue-twister (or drunkenness test) “She stood at the door of Burgess’s fish-sauce shop, Strand, welcoming him in” as:
Across the roaring Strand red and green lights spelling on the gloom. ‘BURGESS’S FISH-SAU.’ A moment’s darkness and again ‘BURGESS’S FISH-SAU.’ Like that. Truncated. The final —CE not functioning. He had to look though it hurt him. Hurt horrible. Damnably. And his eyes traveled downward.

Suddenly and beyond hope she! Isobel-at-the-last. Standing in the doorway. White on black. Slim. Willowy. Incomparable. Incommensurable. She saw him and her lips rounded to a call. He sensed it through the traffic. Come in. Calling and calling. Come in.

“Come in....

“Out of the rain.”
Barry Pain, from the 1891
In a Canadian Canoe
This kind of thing wasn't to everyone's taste. Pain was caught up in the controversy over what was characterised as "the New Humour" (as exemplified in the works of Pain along with writers such as Jerome K Jerome, WW Jacobs, Israel Zangwill, JM Barrie and William Pett Ridge). Critics considered it arch, self-conscious and over-written, as described by this critique by Andrew Lang (Mr Andrew Lang on the new Humour, Press, RĊrahi XLVIII, Putanga 8040, 8 Hakihea 1891, Page 2, syndicated from Longman's Magazine).

But humour was just one aspect of Pain's highly varied output. As the ODNB says:
... it was his serious writing that earned critical acclaim during his lifetime. He was admired for his narrative ability and economy in a range of books that included novels, fantasies, a theological study, a detective story, and a series of parodies that were widely admired. In all, he wrote over sixty books and a mass of uncollected articles and short stories in every conceivable vein.
- N. T. P. Murphy, ‘Pain, Barry Eric Odell (1864–1928)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35362, accessed 28 May 2012]
A sampler of other Barry Pain works online:
  • In a Canadian Canoe, The Nine Muses Minus One, and Other Stories (1891, Internet Archive inacanadiancano00paingoog) - his first collection of stories and essays, many originally in Granta, the style varying through humour, whimsy, reflective essay, and fantasy. This is the work that Andrew Lang so disliked as "the New Humour".
  • The Octave of Claudius (1897, Internet Archive octaveofclaudius00painrich) - a macabre fantasy/SF novel about an impoverished young would-be novelist who is given £8000 by a mysterious benefactor as long as he agrees to be the subject of an experiment (which turns out to be along the lines of Dr Moreau).
  • De Omnibus (1901, Internet Archive deomnibus00paingoog) - these Cockney humorous stories may not be to everyone's taste, but Pain comes up with the occasional gem, such as his narrator's garbling of the well-known riddle as:
    Mothers an' fawthers 'ave I none,
    But this man's sister was my brother's son.
  • Lindley Kays (1904, Internet Archive lindleykays00paingoog) - a then long-awaited serious novel from Pain, telling the story of a man who breaks away from a stultifying trading family to become a successful dramatist.
  • The Memoirs of Constantine Dix (1905, Internet Archive memoirsconstant00paingoo) - a collection of crime stories featuring the anti-hero Constantine Dix, a gentleman of leisure whose public life is devoted to helping criminals go straight, while privately he is a successful thief.
  • The Exiles of Faloo (1910, Internet Archive exilesoffaloo00painuoft) - a dystopian novel set on a Pacific island, and focusing on the increasingly tense politics within the "Exiles Club", an elite governing group formed of criminals and outcasts from English society.
  • The New Gulliver and Other Stories (1913, Gutenberg #33542) - a collection of satirical fantasy stories, the lead one concerning Gulliver's visit to the dystopian Ultima Thule, where the late-Victorian class system has been exaggerated into a society ruled by an intellectual/technical oligarchy.
- Ray

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