Epitaph Suitable for a Critics's Tomb
My! What a bubbly, vapoury box of vanity!
A litter of worms, a relic of humanity,
Once a plaster-caste of mud, a puff of breath as well,
Before you chance to wander - remember there's a -----
So here lies an honest critic and I tell thee what,
'Tis a thing for all the world to stare and wonder at!
- From Fumes of Formation
[ What follows is the complete text of Aldous Huxley's essay on Amanda, "Euphues Redivivus". First though, a little background information: "Euphues" was the creation of John Lyly (1554-1606). According to Cassell's Encyclopedia of Literature 1953), "his 'euphuistic' style, with its antithetical parallelism of phrases and clauses, its calculated assonance and transalliteration and its recondite allusions to mythology and natural history, was highly artificial but imposed an influential artistic discipline on English prose". Huxley's essay was published in book form in 'On the Margin', 1923.
(Reproduced here by kind permission of Huxley's copyright holders, the Reese Halsey Agency). ]
I have recently been fortunate in securing a copy of that very rare and precious novel Delina Delaney, by Amanda M. Ros, authoress of Irene Iddesleigh and Poems of Puncture. Mrs. Ros's name is only known to a small and select band of readers. But by these few she is highly prized; one of her readers, it is said, actually was at the pains to make a complete manuscript copy of Delina Delaney, so great was his admiration and so hopelessly out of print the book. Let me recommend the volume, Mrs. Ros's masterpiece, to the attention of enterprising publishers.
Delina Delaney opens with a tremendous, an almost, in its richness of vituperative eloquence, Rabelaisian denunciation of Mr. Barry Pain, who had, it seems, treated Irene Iddesleigh with scant respect in his review of the novel in Black and White.
" This so-called Barry Pain, by name, has taken upon himself to criticize a work, the depth of which fails to reach the solving power of his borrowed, and, he'd have you believe, varied talent." But " I care not for the opinion of half-starved upstarts, who don the garb of a shabby-genteel, and fain would feed the mind of the people with the worthless scraps of stolen fancies."
So perish all reviewers! And now for Delina herself.
The story is a simple one. Delina Delaney, daughter of a fisherman, loves and is loved by Lord Gifford. The baleful influence of a dark-haired Frenchwoman, Madame de Maine, daughter of the Count-av-Nevo, comes between the lovers and their happiness, and Delina undergoes fearful torments, including three years' penal servitude, before their union can take place. It is the manner, rather than the matter, of the book which is remarkable. Here, for instance, is a fine conversation between Lord Gifford and his mother. an aristocratic dame who strenuously objects to his connection with Delina. Returning one day to Columba Castle she hears an unpleasant piece of news : her son has been seen kissing Delina in the conservatory.
" Home again, mother ? " he boldly uttered, as he gazed reverently in her face.
"Home to Hades! " returned the raging high-bred daughter of distinguished effeminacy.
" Ah me! what is the matter?" meekly inquired his lordship.
"Everything is the matter with a broken-hearted mother of low-minded offspring," she answered hotly . . . . .. Henry Edward Ludlow, Gifford, son of my strength, idolized remnant of my inert husband, who at this moment invisibly offers the scourging whip of fatherly authority to your backbone of resentment (though for years you think him dead to your movements) and pillar of maternal trust."
Poor Lady Gifford ! her son's behaviour was her undoing. The shock caused her to lose first her reason and then her life. Her son was heart-broken at the thought that he was responsible for her downfall :
" Is it true, O Death," I cried in my agony? " that you have wrested from me my mother, Lady Gifford of Columba Castle, and left me here, a unit figuring on the great blackboard of the past, the shaky surface of the present and fickle field of the future to track my life-steps, with gross indifference to her wished-for wish ? " . . . Blind she lay to the presence of her son, who charged her death-gun with the powder of accelerated wrath.
It is impossible to suppose that Mrs. Ros can ever have read Euphues or the earlier romances of Robert Greene. How then shall we account for the extraordinary resemblance to Euphuism of her style ? how explain those rich alliterations, those elaborate " kennings " and circumlocutions of which the fabric of her book is woven ? Take away from Lyly his erudition and his passion for antithesis, and you have Mrs. Ros. Delina is own sister to Euphues and Pandosto. The fact is that Mrs. Ros happens, though separated from Euphuism by three hundred years and more, to have arrived independently at precisely the same stage of development as Lyly and his disciples. It is possible to see in a growing child a picture in miniature of all the phases through which humanity has passed in its development. And, in the same way, the mind of an individual (especially when that individual has been isolated from the main current of contemporary thought) may climb, alone, to a point at which, in the past, a whole generation has rested. In Mrs. Ros we see. as we see in the Elizabethan novelists, the result of the discovery of art by an unsophisticated mind and of its first conscious attempt to produce the artistic. It is remarkable how late in the history of every literature simplicity is invented. The first attempts of any people to be consciously literary are always productive of the most elaborate artificiality. Poetry is always written before prose and always in a language as remote as possible from the language of ordinary life. The language and versification of " Beowulf " are far more artificial and remote from life than those of, say, The Rape of the Lock. The Euphuists were not barbarians making their first discovery of literature ; they were, on the contrary, highly educated. But in one thing they were unsophisticated : they were discovering prose. They were realizing that prose could be written with art, and they wrote it as artificially as they possibly could, just as their Saxon ancestors wrote poetry They became intoxicated with their discovery of artifice. It was some time before the intoxication wore off and men saw that art was possible without artifice. Mrs. Ros, an Elizabethan born out of her time, is still under the spell of that magical and delicious intoxication.
Mrs. Ros's artifices are often more remarkable and elaborate even than Lyly's.
This is how she tells us that Delina earned money by doing needlework:
She tried hard to keep herself a stranger to her poor old father's slight income by the use of the finest production of steel, whose blunt edge eyed the reely covering with marked greed, and offered its sharp dart to faultless fabrics of flaxen fineness.
And Lord Gifford parts from Delina in these words :
I am just in time to hear the toll of a parting bell strike its heavy weight of appalling softness against the weakest fibres of a heart of love, arousing and tickling its dormant action, thrusting the dart of evident separation deeper into its tubes of tenderness, and fanning the flame, already unextinguishable, into volumes of burning blaze.
But more often Mrs. Ros does not exceed the bounds which Lyly set for himself. Here, for instance, is a sentence that might have come direct out of Eupbues :
Two days after, she quit Columba Castle and resolved to enter the holy cloisters of a convent, where, she believed she'd be dead to the built hopes of wealthy worth, the crooked steps to worldly distinction, and the designing creaks [sic] in the muddy stream of love.
Or again, this description of the artful charmers who flaunt along the streets of London is written in the very spirit and language of Euphues :
Their hair was a light-golden colour, thickly fringed in front, hiding in many cases the furrows of a life of vice; behind, reared coils, some of which differed in hue, exhibiting the fact that they were on patrol for the price of another supply of dye.... The elegance of their attire had the glow of robbery - the rustle of many a lady's silent curse. These tools of brazen effrontery were strangers to the blush of innocence that tinged many a cheek, as they would gather round some of God's ordained, praying in flowery words of decoying Cockney, that they should break their holy vows by accompanying them to the halls of adultery. Nothing daunted at the staunch refusal of different divines, whose modest walk was interrupted by their bold assertion of loathsome rights, they moved on, while laughs of hidden rage and defeat flitted across their doll-decked faces, to die as they next accosted some rustic-looking critics, who, tempted with their polished twang, their earnest advances, their pitiful entreaties, yielded, in their ignorance of the ways of a large city, to their glossy offers, and accompanied, with slight hesitation, these artificial shells of immorality to their homes of ruin, degradation and shame.
Aldous Huxley, from On the Margin, 1923.