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Mrs. Henry Fawcett on the Education of Women
"Ni le son du tambour ..ni la marche funèbre '
Not a laugh was heard, not a joyous note,'
"Not a hum was heard, not a jubilant note
"Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note."'
On the Downfall of the Beaconsfield Govern-
The City Montenegro, 1880
ACHILLES OVER THE TRENCH-
A Parody on
DESPAIR; A DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE, 1881–
"He felt highly absurd, as he put on his coat
The Burial of Pantomime, 1846-7
Fellow of the Royal Geographical and Royal Historical Societies;
Author of "The Esthetic Movement in England," "The Poets Laureate of England,"
HAVE, for many years past, been collecting Parodies of the works of the most celebrated British and American Authors. This I have done, not because I entirely approve of the custom of turning high-class literature into ridicule, but because many of the parodies are in themselves works of considerable literary merit. Moreover, as "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," so does a parody show that its original has acquired a certain celebrity, for no author would waste his time, or his talent, in composing a burlesque of an unknown or obscure poem.
A work devoted to the history of English Parody is not so frivolous as it may appear at first sight. Thackeray wrote many Parodies, so did Sheridan, Fielding, and Dryden, whilst numerous articles on parodies are to be found scattered up and down in odd corners of old magazines and reviews, and a few small books have been written on the topic; but, until now, no attempt has been made to give, in a connected form, a history of parody with examples and explanatory notes.
This, then, is what I propose to do in the following articles, and those who desire to possess a complete set of parodies on any favourite author, would do well to preserve these papers for future reference.
PARODY is a form of composition of a somewhat ungracious description, as it owes its very existence to the work it caricatures; but it has some beneficial results in drawing our attention to the defects of some authors, whose stilted language, and grandiloquent phrases, have veiled their poverty of ideas, their sham sentiment, and their mawkish affectations.
The first attribute of a parody is that it should present a sharp contrast to its original either in the subject, or treatment of the subject; that if the original should be founded on some lofty theme, the parody may reduce it to a prosaic matter-of-fact narrative. If, on the other hand, the topic selected be one of every day life, it may be made exceedingly amusing if described in highflown mock heroic diction. If the original errs in sentimental affectation, so much the better for the parodist. Thus many of Tom Moore's best known songs are mere windy platitudes in very
musical verse, which afford excellent and legitimate materials for ridicule. The nearer the original diction is preserved, and the fewer the alterations needed to produce a totally opposite meaning, or ridiculous contrast, the more complete is the antithesis, the more striking is the parody; take for instance Pope's well-known lines:
"Here shall the Spring its earliest sweets bestow,
which, by the alteration of two words only, were thus applied by Miss Katherine Fanshawe to the Regent's Park when it was first opened to the public:
"Here shall the Spring its earliest coughs bestow,
Here the first noses of the year shall blow."
In this happy parody we have that "union of remote ideas," which is said, and said truly, to constitute the essence of wit. Even the most serious and religious works have been parodied, and by authors of the highest position. Thus, Luther mimicked the language of the Bible, and both Cavaliers and Puritans railed at each other in Scriptural phraseology. The Church services and Litanies of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, have served in turn as originals for many bitter satires and lampoons, directed at one time against the Church and the priests, at another time in equally bitter invective against their opponents.
To undertake the composition of parodies, as the word is generally comprehended-that is, to make a close imitation of some particular poem, though it should be characteristic of the author -would be at times rather a flat business. Even the Brothers Smith in " Rejected Addresses," and Professor Aytoun in the " Bon Gaultier Ballads," admirable as they were, adhered almost too closely to their selected models; and Phoebe Carey, who has written some of the best American parodies, did the same thing. It is an evidence of a poet's distinct individuality, when he can be amusingly imitated. We can only make those the object of our imitations whose manner, or dialect, stamps itself so deeply into our minds that a new cast can be taken. But how could one imitate or burlesque Robert Pollok's "Course of Time," or Young's "Night Thoughts," or Blair's "Grave," or any other of those masses of words, which are too ponderous for poetry, and much too respectable for absurdity! Either extreme will do for a parody, excellence or imbecility; but the original must at least have a distinct and pronounced character.
Certain well-known poems are so frequently selected as models for parodies that it will only be possible to select a few from the best of them; to re-publish every parody that has appeared on Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade," E. A. Poe's "The Raven," Hamlet's Soliloquy, or Longfellow's "Excelsior," would be a tedious, and almost endless task.
Prose parodies, though less numerous than those in verse, are often far more amusing, and it will be found that Dr. Johnson's ponderous sentences, Carlyle's rugged eloquence, and Dickens's playful humour and tender pathos, lend themselves admirably to parody.
The first portion of this work will be devoted to the parodies themselves, accompanied by short notes sufficient to explain such allusions as may, in time, appear obscure; the second will contain a full bibliographical account of all the principal collection of Parodies, and Works on the subject, such as the "Probationary Odes," "Hone's Three Trials,"" Rejected Addresses," and the late M. Octave Delepierre's Essai sur la Parodie. The latter work, which was published by Trübner & Co., in 1870, gave an account of old Greek and Roman, and of modern French and English Parodies. I had the pleasure of supplying M. Delepierre with the materials for his chapter on English Parodies, but, owing to the limited space at his command, he was only able to quote a verse or two of the best parody of each description. My aim will be to give each parody intact, except in the few cases where I have been unable to obtain the author's permission to do so.