Sunday, March 18, 2012

Winged Words

John Murray to Lord Byron.
November 4th, 1812.

…I shall be careful to give you full notice of the new edition of ‘Childe Harold,’ which has been very much assisted in sale by the admiration forced from the ragamuffins who are abusing the Address. I would be delighted if you had a new poem ready for publication about the same time that Walter Scott is expected; but I will sacrifice my right arm (your Lordship’s friendship) rather than publish any poem not equal to ‘Childe Harold’ without a conscriptive command, like that which I lately executed in committing your portrait to the flames; but I had some consolation in seeing it ascend in sparkling brilliancy to Parnassus. Neither Mr. Gifford nor I, I can venture to assure you, upon honour, have any notion who the author of the admirable article on ‘Horne Tooke’ is.

I ever remain,
Your Lordship’s faithful Servant,
John Murray.

P.S.—I do not mention ‘Waltzing,’ from the hope that it improves geometrically as to the time that it is retained.’

Walter Scott and John Horne Tooke are mentioned in the same paragraph of a letter from publisher John Murray to Lord Byron.  Tooke, the English politician, whose conversational skills are said to rival Samuel Johnson’s, died on March 18, 1812.  Tooke also wrote a philological treatise on “winged words”; those which have passed into common usage from an original source.   The term winged words is a translated phrase from Homer, and this term was employed by Thomas Carlyle in his essay “On Walter Scott".

‘His {Scott’s} power of representing these things, too, his poetic power, like his moral power, was a genius in extenso, as we may say, not in intenso. In action, in speculation, broad as he was, he rose nowhere high; productive without measure as to quantity, in quality he for the most part transcended but a little way the region of commonplace. It has been said, 'no man has written as many volumes with so few sentences that can be quoted.' Winged words were not his vocation; nothing urged him that way: the great Mystery of Existence was not great to him; did not drive him into rocky solitudes to wrestle with it for an answer, to be answered or to perish…’

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