Jones’s Wedding and Other Poems
by Hugh Sidgwick
(Edward Arnold, priced 3/6)
It is just over a year since the death of Hugh Sidgwick, and it is a pleasure to note the publication of this tale in rhymed prose, which he began before the War. He worked on it in those grim times that followed, finally finishing it during the period when he was recalled from active service to work on Mr HAL Fisher’s Education Act during the early months of 1917 (during which time he also wrote ‘From a Funk-hole.’)
This review was in the ‘Oxford Magazine’:
“This tale, so playfully, so delicately told, is like an epitaph, at once grave and gay, on an Oxford friendship, or a group of Oxford friends, and young Oxford before the War lives again in these pages. The humours of the Commemoration Ball, the agony and joy of the Eights, have never been more happily translated than in ‘Eileen’ and in ‘Janet,’ but ‘Dorothy’ gains an added poetic virtue from her setting in the mountains and the lakes. Jones ‘goes over the top’ into matrimony; the author, the ‘I’ of the narrative, alas, will never come back to us from France, to determine in a sequel the fates of Robinson, Brown and Smith, and delight us with fresh sallies of his wit and satire, never malicious and never beside the mark, his merry irony, with sometimes almost a sob in its voice.
The versification owes its lift to Browning, but the Education Office must have made Sidgwick something of a cockney, for the letter ‘r’ hardly exists for him, and ‘cards’ as a rhyme to ‘Promenades’ is almost more than we can bear, while ‘Neitsche’ and ‘feature’ as a jingle set our teeth on edge; but could he reply to us, it would be with a smile and a fresh atrocity. And this poem is dated to last year; so far was he ‘au-dessus de la melee’!”
The range of Hugh’s literary interests was evident in the library of books that was returned to the family on his death, along with his kit: a complete Jane Austen, the Oxford India-paper Vergil and Horace, a Tacitus, Mackail’s Greek Anthology, as well as volumes of Stevenson, Belloc and Kipling.
However, the writing of such verse as this must surely have been Hugh’s way of amusing himself and distracting his thoughts from more disturbing images of war.
Hugh’s description of the differences between Oxford and Cambridge men cannot fail but to raise a smile in this festive season:
Brown once wrote a didactic poem,
"The Oxford Man and How to Know Him,"
In which he said the distinctive mark
Was a fatal readiness to embark
(Disregarding the obvious dangers)
On abstract topics with total strangers -
Art, the Future, the Kingdom of Ends -
While he reserved for his real friends,
In soul-communion knit together,
His views on clothes and food and the weather.
Per contra, with Cambridge men he found
The order was the other way round.
Brown's statement, of course, is much too sweeping,
But some of the facts do seem in keeping.