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Monday, 5 September 2016

Back to critics

Sibelius memorial Helsinki
The addition that came later.
I dealt with this topic three years ago, in Gems Among the Put-downs, when I described Jan Sibelius' comment "Nobody ever erected a statue to a critic.

I was reminded of this in Helsinki, when we visited the memorial to the composer (left): it is quite abstract, but the Finns, perhaps recalling that, wanted to see his face there, and so the face seen on the right was added, out to one side.

I remembered his alleged comment about statues, and we moved on.

As we got back on the bus, I recalled another review, published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1908.  The author was E. V. Lucas, a not-bad writer, though largely forgotten today

When I find such things, I save them in my meticulously curated image collection, so here it is.
However, as it is a bit hard to read, I fed it through my OCR reader and hand-corrected it, then added a bit of leading, to make it more accessible. The result appears below:

"The Wind in the Willows"

The author of “The Golden Age” and of “Dream Days,” the historian of the immortal Harold, has disappointed us. 
There is no getting away from that melancholy fact. He has written in The Wind in the Willows (Methuen, 6s.) a book with hardly a smile in it, through which we wander in a haze of perplexity, uninterested by the story itself and at a loss to understand its deeper purpose.
The chief character is a mole, whom the reader plumps upon on the first page whitewashing his house. Here is an initial nut to crack; a mole whitewashing. No doubt moles like their abodes to be clean; but whitewashing? Are we very stupid, or in the joke really inferior? However, let it pass.
Then enters a water rat, on his way to a river picnic, in a skiff, with a hamper of provisions, including cold tongue, cold ham, French rolls, and soda water. Nut number two; for obviously a water rat is of all animals the one that would never use a boat with which to navigate a stream Again, are we very stupid, or is this nonsense of poor quality?
Later we meet a wealthy toad, who, after a tour of England in a caravan, drawn by a horse, becomes a rabid motorist. He is also an inveterate public speaker. We meet also a variety of animals whose foibles doubtless are borrowed from mankind, and so the book goes on until the end. Beneath the allegory ordinary life is depicted more or less closely, but certainly not very amusingly or searchingly; while as a contribution to natural history the work is negligible.
There are neat and fanciful passages; but they do not convince. The puzzle is, for whom is the book intended? Grown up readers will find it monotonous and elusive; children will hope in vain for more fun. 
The materials for an English “Uncle Remus” are here, but without the animating spirit. For ourselves, we lay “The Wind in the Willows “ reverently aside, and again, for the hundredth time, take up “The Golden Age.” Perhaps that is the real inner purpose of the new work—to send readers to its deathless forerunners—to “The Golden Age” and “Dream Days.”
So be it.
What can one say?


Footnote: My good friend Pam McLaughlin has alerted me to an instance of a statue of a critic. As immediate past president of the International Cabal of Sibelians, if you want to see it in the flesh, as it were, hurry: Sibelius is always right!

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