Saturday, 12 May 2012

Blockhead (Size 5)

No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.
 Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784)

SOME years ago when my books were still in print I made a calculation of how much I earned per hour from writing them. I did this by adding together all the royalties I'd received and dividing the total by the number of hours I thought I might have spent at the keyboard. I cheated, I suppose, by adding in the fees I'd received from serialisation - which used to happen in French interest magazines - and odd other appearances in print.

It came to 8p.

THE moral of this, if any, is possibly pointed in the diary entry of Sir Harold Nicolson for May 12th, 1937, the day of George VI's coronation, to which both he and Ramsay MacDonald, a previous Prime Minister, had been invited:

I go to see Ramsay MacDonald for a moment and find him sitting in his room punching a hole in his sword-belt and looking very distinguished in a Trinity House uniform. I tell him how well he looks. 'Yes,' he answers, 'when I was a visitor to a lunatic asylum I always noticed how well the worst lunatics looked.'

AND today I've made the acquaintance of George Wither (1588-1667), a minor English poet who spent much of his life in prison for writing libellous verses, identifying leading members of English society with Lust, Lechery, Revenge, Gluttony and Hate. I am honoured to quote the only poem known to me in which the poet gives his love's shoe size:

I LOVED a lass, a fair one,
As fair as e'er was seen;
 She was indeed a rare one,
Another Sheba Queen:
But, fool as then I was,
I thought she loved me too:
 But now, alas! she 's left me,
Falero, lero, loo! 
Her hair like gold did glister,
Each eye was like a star,
She did surpass her sister,
Which pass'd all others far;
She would me honey call,
She'd—O she'd kiss me too!
But now, alas! she 's left me,
Falero, lero, loo!

Her cheeks were like the cherry,
Her skin was white as snow;
When she was blithe and merry
She angel-like did show;
Her waist exceeding small,
The fives did fit her shoe:
But now, alas! she 's left me,
Falero, lero, loo!

On one occasion when Wither was banged up in the Tower of London in the shadow of  the headsman's axe, another almost equally bad minor poet, Sir John Denham, begged King Charles I to spare Wither's life, on the grounds that as long as Wither lived, Denham would not be accounted the worst poet in England.

I don't know why I'm telling you all this.