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Title: Every Man His Own Poet - Or, The Inspired Singer's Recipe Book
Author: Mallock, W. H. (William Hurrell), 1849-1923
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Every Man His Own Poet - Or, The Inspired Singer's Recipe Book" ***

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                     EVERY MAN HIS OWN POET:

                 The Inspired Singer's Recipe Book.

                               BY A

                        NEWDIGATE PRIZEMAN.

 Nuper ventosa isthæc et enormis loquacitas animos juvenum ad magna
 surgentes veluti pestilenti quodam sidere afflavit.--PETRONIUS.


Transcriber's Note:

    Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. A table
    of contents, though not present in the original publication, has
    been provided below:



To have attempted in former times a work of this description, would have
seemed, we cannot deny, to savour either of presumption or of idiotcy,
or more probably of both. And rightly. But we live in times of progress.
The mystery of yesterday is the common-place of to-day; the Bible, which
was Newton's oracle, is Professor Huxley's jest-book; and students at
the University now lose a class for not being familiar with opinions,
which but twenty years ago they would have been expelled for dreaming
of. Everything is moving onward swiftly and satisfactorily; and if, when
we have made all faiths fail, we can only contrive to silence the
British Association, and so make all knowledge vanish away, there will
lack nothing but the presence of a perfect charity to turn the
nineteenth century into a complete kingdom of heaven. Amongst changes,
then, so great and so hopeful--amongst the discoveries of the rights of
women, the infallibility of the Pope, and the physical basis of life, it
may well be doubted if the great fathers of ancient song would find, if
they could come back to us, anything out of the way or ludicrous in a
recipe-book for concocting poetry.

Some, indeed, object that poetry is not progressive. But on what grounds
this assertion is based, it is not possible to conjecture. Poetry is as
much progressive as anything else in these days of progress.
Free-thought itself shews scarcely more strikingly those three great
stages which mark advance and movement. For poetry, like Free-thought,
was first a work of inspiration, secondly of science, and lastly now of
trick. At its first stage it was open to only here and there a genius;
at its next to all intelligent men; and at its third to all the human
race. Thus, just as there is no boy now, but can throw stones at the
windows which Bishop Colenso has broken, so there is scarcely even a
young lady but can raise flowers from the seed stolen out of Mr.
Tennyson's garden.

And surely, whatever, in this its course of change, poetry may have lost
in quality, is more than made up for by what it has gained in quantity.
For in the first place it is far pleasanter to the tastes of a
scientific generation, to understand how to make bad poetry than to
wonder at good; and secondly, as the end of poetry is pleasure, that we
should make it each for ourselves is the very utmost that we can desire,
since it is a fact in which we all agree, that no man's verses please
him so much as his own.


Poetry as practised by the latest masters, is the art of expressing what
is too foolish, too profane, or too indecent to be expressed in any
other way. And thus, just as a consummate cook will prepare a most
delicate repast out of the most poor materials, so will the modern poet
concoct us a most popular poem from the weakest emotions, and the most
tiresome platitudes. The only difference is, that the cook would prefer
good materials if he could get them, whilst the modern poet will take
the bad from choice. As far, however, as the nature of materials goes,
those which the two artists work with are the same--_viz._, animals,
vegetables, and spirits. It was the practice of Shakespeare and other
earlier masters to make use of all these together, mixing them in
various proportions. But the moderns have found that it is better and
far easier to employ each separately. Thus Mr. Swinburne uses very
little else but animal matter in the composition of his dishes, which it
must be confessed are somewhat unwholesome in consequence: whilst the
late Mr. Wordsworth, on the contrary, confined himself almost
exclusively to the confection of primrose pudding, and flint soup,
flavoured with the lesser-celandine; and only now and then a beggar-boy
boiled down in it to give it a colour. The robins and drowned lambs
which he was wont to use, when an additional piquancy was needed, were
employed so sparingly that they did not destroy in the least the general
vegetable tone of his productions; and these form in consequence an
unimpeachable lenten diet. It is difficult to know what to say of Mr.
Tennyson, as the milk and water of which his books are composed chiefly,
make it almost impossible to discover what was the original nature of
the materials he has boiled down in it. Mr. Shelley, too, is perhaps
somewhat embarrassing to classify; as, though spirits are what he
affected most, he made use of a large amount of vegetable matter also.
We shall be probably not far wrong in describing his material as a kind
of methylated spirits; or pure psychic alcohol, strongly tinctured with
the barks of trees, and rendered below proof by a quantity of sea-water.
In this division of the poets, however, into animalists, spiritualists,
and vegetarians, we must not be discouraged by any such difficulties as
these; but must bear in mind that in whatever manner we may neatly
classify anything, the exceptions and special cases will always far
outnumber those to which our rule applies.

But in fact, at present, mere theory may be set entirely aside: for
although in the case of action, the making and adhering to a theory may
be the surest guide to inconsistency and absurdity, in poetry these
results can be obtained without such aid.

The following recipes, compiled from a careful analysis of the best
authors, will be found, we trust, efficient guides for the composition
of genuine poems. But the tyro must bear always in mind that there is no
royal road to anything, and that not even the most explicit directions
will make a poet all at once of even the most fatuous, the most
sentimental, or the most profane.


The following are arranged somewhat in the order in which the student is
recommended to begin his efforts. About the more elaborate ones, which
come later, he may use his own discretion as to which he will try first;
but he must previously have had some training in the simpler
compositions, with which we deal before all others. These form as it
were a kind of palæstra of folly, a very short training in which will
suffice to break down that stiffness and self-respect in the soul, which
is so incompatible with modern poetry. Taking, therefore, the silliest
and commonest of all kinds of verse, and the one whose sentiments come
most readily to hand in vulgar minds, we begin with directions,


Take two large and tender human hearts, which match one another
perfectly. Arrange these close together, but preserve them from actual
contact by placing between them some cruel barrier. Wound them both in
several places, and insert through the openings thus made a fine
stuffing of wild yearnings, hopeless tenderness, and a general
admiration for stars. Then completely cover up one heart with a
sufficient quantity of chill church-yard mould, which may be garnished
according to taste with dank waving weeds or tender violets: and
promptly break over it the other heart.


This kind of poem has the advantage of being easily produced, yet being
at the same time pleasing, and not unwholesome. As, too, it admits of no
variety, the chance of going wrong in it is very small. Take one
midnight storm, and one fisherman's family, which, if the poem is to be
a real success, should be as large and as hungry as possible, and must
contain at least one innocent infant. Place this last in a cradle, with
the mother singing over it, being careful that the babe be dreaming of
angels, or else smiling sweetly. Stir the father well up in the storm
until he disappears. Then get ready immediately a quantity of cruel
crawling foam, in which serve up the father directly on his
re-appearance, which is sure to take place in an hour or two, in the
dull red morning. This done, a charming saline effervescence will take
place amongst the remainder of the family. Pile up the agony to suit the
palate, and the poem will be ready for perusal.


    (_The following, apart from its intrinsic utility, forms in itself a
    great literary curiosity, being the original directions from which
    the Poet Laureate composed the Arthurian Idylls._)

To compose an epic, some writers instruct us first to catch our hero.
As, however, Mr. Carlyle is the only person on record who has ever
performed this feat, it will be best for the rest of mankind to be
content with the nearest approach to a hero available, namely a prig.
These animals are very plentiful, and easy to catch, as they delight in
being run after. There are however many different kinds, not all equally
fit for the present purpose, and amongst which it is very necessary to
select the right one. Thus, for instance, there is the scientific and
atheistical prig, who may be frequently observed eluding notice between
the covers of the "Westminster Review;" the Anglican prig, who is often
caught exposing himself in the "Guardian;" the Ultramontane prig, who
abounds in the "Dublin Review;" the scholarly prig, who twitters among
the leaves of the "Academy;" and the Evangelical prig, who converts the
heathen, and drinks port wine. None of these, and least of all the last,
will serve for the central figure, in the present class of poem. The
only one entirely suitable is the blameless variety. Take, then, one
blameless prig. Set him upright in the middle of a round table, and
place beside him a beautiful wife, who cannot abide prigs. Add to these,
one marred goodly man; and tie the three together in a bundle with a
link or two of Destiny. Proceed, next, to surround this group with a
large number of men and women of the nineteenth century, in fancy-ball
costume, flavoured with a great many very possible vices, and a few
impossible virtues. Stir these briskly about for two volumes, to the
great annoyance of the blameless prig, who is, however, to be kept
carefully below swearing-point, for the whole time. If he once boils
over into any natural action or exclamation, he is forthwith worthless,
and you must get another. Next break the wife's reputation into small
pieces; and dust them well over the blameless prig. Then take a few
vials of tribulation and wrath, and empty these generally over the whole
ingredients of your poem: and, taking the sword of the heathen, cut into
small pieces the greater part of your minor characters. Then wound
slightly the head of the blameless prig; remove him suddenly from the
table, and keep in a cool barge for future use.


Take one soulfull of involuntary unbelief, which has been previously
well flavoured with self-satisfied despair. Add to this one beautiful
text of Scripture. Mix these well together; and as soon as ebullition
commences grate in finely a few regretful allusions to the New Testament
and the lake of Tiberias, one constellation of stars, half-a-dozen
allusions to the nineteenth century, one to Goethe, one to Mont Blanc,
or the Lake of Geneva; and one also, if possible, to some personal
bereavement. Flavour the whole with a mouthful of "faiths" and
"infinites," and a mixed mouthful of "passions," "finites," and
"yearnings." This class of poem is concluded usually with some question,
about which we have to observe only that it shall be impossible to


Take rather a coarse view of things in general. In the midst of this,
place a man and a woman, her and her ankles, tastefully arranged on a
slice of Italy, or the country about Pornic. Cut an opening across the
breast of each, until the soul becomes visible, but be very careful that
none of the body be lost during the operation. Pour into each breast as
much as it will hold of the new strong wine of love: and, for fear they
should take cold by exposure, cover them quickly up with a quantity of
obscure classical quotations, a few familiar allusions to an unknown
period of history, and a half-destroyed fresco by an early master,
varied every now and then with a reference to the fugues or toccatas of
a quite-forgotten composer.

If the poem be still intelligible, take a pen and remove carefully all
the necessary particles.


Take a packet of fine selected early English, containing no words but
such as are obsolete and unintelligible. Pour this into about double
the quantity of entirely new English, which must have never been used
before, and which you must compose yourself, fresh as it is wanted. Mix
these together thoroughly till they assume a colour quite different from
any tongue that was ever spoken, and the material will be ready for use.

Determine the number of stanzas of which your poem shall consist, and
select a corresponding number of the most archaic or most peculiar words
in your vocabulary, allotting one of these to each stanza; and pour in
the other words round them, until the entire poem is filled in.

This kind of composition is usually cast in shapes. These, though not
numerous--amounting in all to something under a dozen--it would take too
long to describe minutely here: and a short visit to Mr. ----'s shop in
King street, where they are kept in stock, would explain the whole of
them. A favourite one, however, is the following, which is of very easy
construction. Take three damozels, dressed in straight night-gowns. Pull
their hair-pins out, and let their hair tumble all about their
shoulders. A few stars may be sprinkled into this with advantage. Place
an aureole about the head of each, and give each a lily in her hand,
about half the size of herself. Bend their necks all different ways, and
set them in a row before a stone wall, with an apple-tree between each
and some large flowers at their feet. Trees and flowers of the right
sort are very plentiful in church windows. When you have arranged all
these objects rightly, take a cast of them in the softest part of your
brain, and pour in your word-composition as above described.

This kind of poem is much improved by what is called a burden. This
consists of a few jingling words, generally of an archaic character,
about which we have only to be careful that they have no reference to
the subject of the poem they are to ornament. They are inserted without
variation between the stanzas.

In conclusion we would remark to beginners that this sort of composition
must be attempted only in a perfectly vacant atmosphere; so that no
grains of common-sense may injure the work whilst in progress.


Take about sixty pages-full of the same word-mixture as that described
in the preceding; and dilute it with a double quantity of mild modern
Anglo-Saxon. Pour this composition into two vessels of equal size, and
into one of these empty a small mythological story. If this does not put
your readers to sleep soon enough, add to it the rest of the language,
in the remaining vessel.


    (_This recipe is inserted for the benefit of those poets who desire
    to attain what is called originality. This is only to be got by
    following some model of a past generation, which has ceased to be
    made use of by the public at large. We do not however recommend this
    course, feeling sure that all writers in the end will derive far
    more real satisfaction from producing fashionable, than original
    verses; which two things it is impossible to do at one and the same

Take a couple of fine deadly sins; and let them hang before your eyes
until they become racy. Then take them down, dissect them, and stew them
for some time in a solution of weak remorse; after which they are to be
devilled with mock-despair.


Take one blaspheming patriot, who has been hung or buried for some time,
together with the oppressed country belonging to him. Soak these in a
quantity of rotten sentiment, till they are completely sodden; and in
the mean while get ready an indefinite number of Christian kings and
priests. Kick these till they are nearly dead; add copiously broken
fragments of the Catholic church, and mix all together thoroughly. Place
them in a heap upon the oppressed country; season plentifully with very
coarse expressions; and on the top carefully arrange your patriot,
garnished with laurel or with parsley; surround with artificial hopes
for the future, which are never meant to be tasted. This kind of poem is
cooked in verbiage, flavoured with Liberty, the taste of which is much
heightened by the introduction of a few high gods, and the game of
Fortune. The amount of verbiage which Liberty is capable of flavouring,
is practically infinite.


We regret to have to offer this work to the public in its present
incomplete state, the whole of that part treating of the most recent
section of modern poetry, _viz._, the blasphemous and the obscene, being
entirely wanting. It was found necessary to issue this from an eminent
publishing firm in Holywell street, Strand, where by an unforeseen
casualty, the whole of the first edition was seized by the police, and
is at present in the hands of the Society for the Suppression of Vice.
We incline however to trust that this loss will have but little effect;
as indecency and profanity are things in which, even to the dullest,
external instruction is a luxury, rather than a necessity. Those of our
readers, who, either from sense, self-respect, or other circumstances,
are in need of a special training in these subjects, will find excellent
professors of them in any public-house, during the late hours of the
evening; where the whole sum and substance of the fieriest school of
modern poetry is delivered nightly; needing only a little dressing and
flavouring with artificial English to turn it into very excellent

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