‘Days beyond compare’

I’m still worrying at Kipling’s story ‘Dayspring Mishandled’. (I shall be giving a paper about it at the Kipling in the News conference in London in April.)

It’s a story full of hints and ambiguities. The first paragraph is packed with them:

IN the days beyond compare and before the Judgments, a genius called Graydon foresaw that the advance of education and the standard of living would submerge all mind-marks in one mudrush of standardised reading-matter, and so created the Fictional Supply Syndicate to meet the demand.

I’ve written before about the Judgements (which were singular when the story was first published in the Strand Magazine). Now it’s ‘days beyond compare that I’m wondering about. The excellent Readers’ Guide on the Kipling Society website glosses it thus:

In the days beyond compare … a variation on ‘Once upon a Time’ or ‘In the High and Far-Off Times’ as the opening of a tale. This expression seems to refer, with a touch of irony, to Manallace’s early days of hope as a young writer, his ‘Dayspring’.

Fair enough – but it’s by no means such a standard phrase as ‘Once upon a time… So why does Kipling use it? Where has he heard it before?

The readers’ Guide notes go on to gloss Graydon:

Graydon Daniel Karlin notes that ‘Graydon’ has some resemblance to W. E. Henley (1849-1903), the Editor of the Scots Observer, who published the first series of Barrack-Room Ballads in 1890. and who fostered the careers of many young writers of Kipling’s generation. He was a close friend and admirer of Kipling and his work.

I haven’t been completely convinced by this in the past, since Graydon and Henley were very different kinds of literary impresario. Henley was running an upmarket magazine, whereas Graydon is organising the syndication of very downmarket stuff. he told his authors to ‘keep their eyes on the Sixpenny Dream Book, the Army and Navy Stores Catalogue (this for backgrounds and furniture as they changed), and The Hearthstone Friend, a weekly publication which specialised unrivalledly in the domestic emotions.’

On the other hand, Henley’s circle was the closest Kipling came to a literary club when a young man, so it is indeed likely that he drew on its atmosphere when writing the story. And I’m more convinced of a Henley connection after coming across this in Henley’s Hawthorn and Lavender (1901):

Poor souls—they have but time and place
To play their transient little play
And sing their singular little song,
Ere they are rushed away
Into the antient, undisclosing Night;
And none is left to tell of the clear eyes
That filled them with God’s grace,
And turned the iron skies to skies of gold!
None; but the sweetest She herself grows old—
Grows old, and dies;
And, but for such a lovely snatch of hair
As this, none—none could guess, or know
That She was kind and fair,
And he had nights and days beyond compare—
How many dusty and silent years ago!
(my italics)

The passing of time, the lovely woman who ‘grows old and dies’, the stories that are untold – these are among the key themes of ‘Dayspring Mishandled’. So is a memory of Henley’s use of the phrase behind Kipling’s?

Henley is one of those poets who have long fallen out of academic fashion (or more precisely, he has never been in academic fashion), and yet some of his work, especially ‘Invictus’ keeps speaking to new generations. I like his ‘Hospital’ poems very much, and of course this one:

Madam Life’s a piece in bloom
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She’s the tenant of the room,
He’s the ruffian on the stair.

You shall see her as a friend,
You shall bilk him once or twice;
But he’ll trap you in the end,
And he’ll stick you for her price.

With his kneebones at your chest,
And his knuckles in your throat,
You would reason — plead — protest!
Clutching at her petticoat;

But she’s heard it all before,
Well she knows you’ve had your fun,
Gingerly she gains the door,
And your little job is done.

Has anyone done any recent work on Henley? I’d like to know.

6 Comments

  1. Roger
    Posted March 6, 2020 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Was there a real person who “foresaw the advance of education and the standard of living would submerge all mind-marks in one mudrush of standardised reading-matter”? Except for the emphasis on fiction it sounds very like Northcliffe. A combination of him and earlier Victorian penny-dreadfuls, maybe. If it wasn’t for the emphasis on its down-market character it might be J.M. Dent’s Everyman’s library.
    Henley was one of the first writers to use free verse in Britain and some of the poems in “In Hospital” (produced from months of agonising treatment for T.B. of the bone which cost him one leg and nearly lost him the other)use assonance in a way that foreshadows Owen. John Connell in his biography of Henley compares him directly to Owen and Sassoon: “His response to the ordeals of hospital was precisely their response to the ordeals of trench warfare, base camp, depot and long-range artillery bombardment.”
    The other poems by him that I quote whenever I can are his versions of Villon:

    VILLON’S STRAIGHT TIP TO ALL CROSS COVES

    “Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.”

    Suppose you screeve? or go cheap-jack?
    Or fake the broads? or fig a nag?
    Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack?
    Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?
    Suppose you duff? or nose and lag?
    Or get the straight, and land your pot?
    How do you melt the multy swag?
    Boose and the blowens cop the lot.

    Fiddle, or fence, or mace, or mack;
    Or moskeneer, or flash the drag;
    Dead-lurk a crib, or do a crack;
    Pad with a slang, or chuck a fag;
    Bonnet, or tout, or mump and gag;
    Rattle the tats, or mark the spot;
    You can not bank a single stag;
    Boose and the blowens cop the lot.

    Suppose you try a different tack,
    And on the square you flash your flag?
    At penny-a-lining make your whack,
    Or with the mummers mug and gag?
    For nix, for nix the dibbs you bag!
    At any graft, no matter what,
    Your merry goblins soon stravag:
    Boose and the blowens cop the lot.

    THE MORAL

    It’s up the spout and Charley Wag
    With wipes and tickers and what not.
    Until the squeezer nips your scrag,
    Boose and the blowens cop the lot.

    VILLON’S GOOD NIGHT
    You bible-sharps that thump on tubs,
    You lurkers on the Abram-sham,
    You sponges miking round the pubs,
    You flymy titters fond of flam,
    You judes that clobber for the stramm,
    You ponces good at talking tall,
    With fawneys on your dexter famm–
    A mot’s good-night to one and all!

    Likewise you molls that flash your bubs
    For swells to spot and stand you sam,
    You bleeding bonnets, pugs, and subs,
    You swatchel-coves that pitch and slam.
    You magsmen bold that work the cram,
    You flats and joskins great and small,
    Gay grass-widows and lawful-jam–
    A mot’s good-night to one and all!

    For you, you coppers, narks, and dubs,
    Who pinched me when upon the snam,
    And gave me mumps and mulligrubs
    With skilly and swill that made me clam,
    At you I merely lift my gam–
    I drink your health against the wall!
    That is the sort of man I am,
    A mot’s good-night to one and all!

    The Farewell.

    Paste ’em, and larrup ’em, and lamm!
    Give Kennedy, and make ’em crawl!
    I do not care one bloody damn,
    A mot’s good-night to one and all.

  2. Posted March 7, 2020 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this, Roger. I shall try Project Muse.
    A trip to Edinburgh would be good, but I can’t manage it before the conference. As for buying a copy, the cheapest copy I found was priced at £75 pounds, rather steep for a book that might or might not be useful. And now I think even that has disappeared. Academic publishing is such a racket. It’s as though they don’t want the books to reach a wide audience.

  3. Posted March 12, 2020 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    I’ll send you an ELT article reviewing a 2018 edition of Henley’s poetry.


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