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Bottom's 'hopping' heart and Thomas Phaer: the influence of the early translators on 'Pyramus and Thisbe.'(Notes.)

SOME time ago, I drew attention to a parallel between the curious movement of Bottom's heart when, as Pyramus, he prepares to deliver the fatal blow in the burlesque:

Out sword, and wound

The pap of Pyramus,

Ay, that left pap,

Where heart cloth ho (V i.280-3)(1)

and an unintentionally ludicrous moment in Thomas Phaer's translation of the Aeneid (1558) where as the rowers wait tensely for the race to start in the games,

Their harts for joy cloth hop, and fear cloth flap their

brests within

(V. 1 S3)(2)

As Shakespeare, in parodying classical poetry in `Pyramus and Thisbe', also mocks Arthur Golding's translation of the Metamorphoses, it seemed a reasonable assumption, given the extreme scarcity of `hopping' hearts in sixteenth-century literature, that Bottom's represented a random shaft at Phaer. Recently, however, this has been contested by Rick Bowers.(3)

His objection is primarily based on the esteem in which Phaer was held by Elizabethan critics. How, it is asked, could someone with a `reputation as a learned translator' that was `secure in London literary circles near the end of the sixteenth century',(4) be a target for Shakespearian mockery. To establish Phaer's high standing, `no less a critic than George Puttenham' is produced with his praise for `Doctor Phaer' as `one that ... excellently well translated into English verse heroycall certaine bookes of Virgils Aeneidos'.(5) Unfortunately, however, the same passage in Puttenham furnishes proof that the praise of the early translators of the classics by contemporary critics was no guarantee of immunity from Shakespearian attack. The very next sentence to that cited by Bowers, for example, reads:

Since him followed Maister Arthure Golding,

who with no lesse commendation turned into

English meetre the Metamorphosis of Ovide

... [Italics mine](6)

And Golding, no less praiseworthy than Phaer in Puttenham's view, has long been recognized as a target for mockery in the burlesque.

Bowers cites three critics, Puttenham, Hall, and Thomas Nashe,(7) in his attempt to defend Phaer in this way but it is surprising and also a little disappointing that he did not summon the man who had a special enthusiasm for the translator, William Webbe. Had he done so, we might have been afforded a glimpse of the translator at work and of the qualities an Elizabethan critic admired in him. In A Discourse of English Poetrie (1586), Webbe devotes several pages to lavish praise of Phaer, quoting liberally and at length from his Aeneidos. To Webbe, the work is proof that `the English tongue might by little and little be brought to the verye majesty of ryght Heroicall verse'.(8) And the excerpts to support his contention that Virgil is `gallantly prosecuted' by the translator `in sweete wordes', include Aeneas' words of consolation to his companions in Book One when `Dissembling hope with outward eyes, full heavy was his breast'; the `choyse words' describing Dido first smitten with love when `The manhood of the man, full oft his famous lyne / She dooth revolve'; the woeful and lamentable' description of her grief - `Her eyes about she rolde; as redde as blood they looked than'; and `the brave warlike phrase and bygge sounding kynde of thundring speeches to be found in the battle scenes where a clamorous noise upmounts'. Finally Webbe sets the seal on the `gallant grace' of the translation with Phaer's version of Fame, lines which, in his opinion, `may serve for all the rest':

Monster gastly great, for every plume her carkasse bears

Like number learing eyes she hash, like number harkning eares,

Like number tongues and mouthes she wagges, a wondrous thing to speak;

At midnight foorth she flyes, and under shade her sound dooth squeake.

All night she wakes, nor slumber sweete cloth take nor never sleepes:

By dayes on houses tops shee sits, or gates of townes she keepes.

On watching Towres she clymbes. and Cities great she makes agast:

Both trueth and falshood forth she telles, and lyes abroad cloth cast.(9)

As we see here, Phaer's fourteeners are tolerable but hardly inspired; the iambic beat is heavy and unvaried(10) and this, plus a tendency to place the caesura after the fourth foot, which gives the metre its all too familiar eight-and-six sound, together with end-stopping, makes his lines predictable and severely limits their flexibility. But what is most striking about Phaer's verse is the strange, unEnglish sound which results from its Latinate syntax. This is the result of an extraordinary innovation by Phaer. In Tudor grammar schools, two systems of Latin syntax were taught boys for the composition of Latin prose or poetry: `Natural! or Grammaticall Order' and the more refined `Artificiall or Rhetoricall Order' which was used by `the purest Latinists'. And when he translated Virgil, although it often involved writing English as if it were an inflected language, Phaer decided to introduce elements of both systems; he did so to distinguish his work from ordinary poetry and in the belief that Latinate syntax, along with a regular, `stately' metre, would elevate his translation to epic heights.(11) So in these lines, for example, we quickly become aware of two prominent Latinate features: according to the dictates of `Naturall Order', adjectives are often placed after nouns as in `Monster gastly' or `Cities great'. And according to `Artificiall Order', of which Phaer was more fond and makes far heavier use, verbs are repeatedly placed at the ends of clauses, notwithstanding the strain on intelligibility, as in `By dayes on houses tops shee sits' end `Bosh trueth and falshood forth she telles'.(12) A constant feature of his uninspired fourteeners, Latinate syntax, particularly `artificiall order', makes the overall effect of Phaer's translation uncomfortable and occasionally grotesque. In addition, matters are not helped by the use of earthy, workaday, sometimes incongruous `englyshe' words like Fame's `carkasse' and her `squeaking' in the night;(13) and words can also sometimes turn up in quite the wrong place as we see in the inadvertently risible line:

Like number tongues and mouthes she wagges, a wondrous thing to speak.(14)

Even a cursory examination of lines which were among those most admired by an Elizabethan critic, then, shows Phaer as eminently mockable.

Bowers also raises an incidental objection that `the perceived parallelism of phraseology between Phaer and Bottom is separated by nearly forty years (Book Five of Phaer's Aeneidos dates from May 1557), by a text not counting as a source, and by two very different genres'.(15) The gap in time is of little account - Golding's Ovid, for instance, first appeared a mere eight years after Phaer's Virgil;(16) nor are definitions of genre of great use when it comes to the burlesque which its writer, Peter Quince, variously regards as an `interlude', a piece of `tragical mirth', and a `most lamentable comedy'. But mention of the vexed question of the burlesque's sources(17) does usefully refocus one's attention on exactly why Shakespeare should have had an early translator like Phaer in mind when writing it.

Until very recently, it had not been realized how very close Peter Quince's play was to the Latin text of the Metamorphoses (IV.53-166).(18) At times following the Latin word for word, littering his play with words and phrases translated from the original, Quince is clearly composing his version of Pyramus and Thisbe with a copy of Ovid's poem open before him. But he is ill at ease with the Latin text for while he has some Latin, he has not enough Latin to cope. And the result is that his play is also littered with ludicrous mistranslations. For example, the reason he repeatedly refers to the tragic tale of Pyramus and Thisbe as a `most lamentable comedy' (I.ii.9) and also an `interlude' (5) is that, using his dictionary, he had found the word Ovid uses initially to describe the rovers' story, `fabula' (IV.53), defined as `an interlude or a comedic' (italics mine). it is his dictionary-dependence that also accounts for other amusing anomalies such as his Pyramus thanking the `Sweet Moon' for her `sunny beams' (V.i.256; italics mine). Besides being `most lamentable' poetry, therefore, the burlesque is also `most Lamentable' translation; and just as Shakespeare mocks bad poets, as Quince wrestles with `poetic' language and metre, so he is also mocking bad translators as Quince wrestles with the Latin text.

And when it came to bad translators, his eyes turned to the translators of the 1550s and 1560s. Struggling to turn the classics into English at a time when metre was dreadfully impoverished and the language itself in a crude and `barbarous' state, their awkward, often clumsy work was open to ridicule. And from the first meeting of Bottom, Quince, and company in the forest to prepare for their `most obscene' rehearsals, Shakespeare has them in his sights. Hence the parody of John Studley's Hercules Oetueus when Bottom demonstrates in his inimitable way that he could play `Ercles rarely' by launching into,

The raging rocks

And shivering shocks

Shall break the locks

Of prison gates,

And Phibbus' car

Shall shine from far,

And make and mar

The foolish Fates. (I.ii.23-30)(19)

Modern editors are totally misleading when they speak of this as an illustration of ia style of verse common in the 1580s'(20) and give the date for Studley's work as 1581.(21) This was the date of Thomas Newton's retrospective composite edition, Seneca His Tenne Tragedies, made many years after Studley's work actually appeared. Like his other translations of Seneca's plays, Hercules Oetoeus was a work of the 1560s when a number of youthful translators headed by Jasper Heywood translated Senecan drama as part of the early Elizabethan translation `movement,(22)

And in the burlesque itself, as Quince struggles with Latin, Shakespeare is mocking features of the work of the early translators like Latinate syntax(23) and excessive alliteration. Consider these lines where Quince is telling the story in his prologue.

And as she fled, her mantle she did fall,

Which lion vile with bloody mouth did stain.

Anon comes Pyramus, sweet youth and tall,

And finds his trusty Thishe's mantle slain;

Whereat with blade, with bloody, blameful blade,

He bravely broached his boiling bloody breast


Quince begins here by following Ovid's text word for word with `and as she fled, her mantle she did fall' (V.i.141) for `Dumque fugit ... velamina lapse reliquit' (IV.101), and by being drawn into Latinate syntax. But then, when he is no longer following the Latin, he continues to use it; hence the position of the adjective and verb in the next line, `Which lion vile with bloody mouth did stain'. The position of adjectives in the next two lines might be thought to reflect a desperate struggle for a rhyme by Quince, but, in fact, with `sweet youth and tall', and the remarkable `mantle slain', he is continuing with Latinate syntax; and just like early translators like Phaer or Heywood or Studley he is convinced that he is making his verse more lofty and impressive by doing so. And then he rounds off this particular section with a stentorian display of alliteration as the `bloody blameful blade' `bravely broached his boiling bloody breast'. Heavy alliteration was also one of the hallmarks of the early translators, and editors customarily turn in their direction at this point. They refer to Golding's use of the phrase -- `boyling breast' to describe the Calydonian Boar (VIII.478),(24) but it is difficult to see the relevance of a monstrous animal. A far more likely, fittingly `heroycall' source is found in the Senecan translation Shakespeare had parodied earlier, Hercules Oeteus. In this, shortly before Deinira kills herself because, like Pyramus in Quince's play, she has unwittingly been the cause of the death of the one she loves, her Nurse begs her:

Remove the fervent fits that rage within thy boyling breast

(Italics mine)(25)

And Studley whose fascination with alliteration frequently carried him to excess, seems also to have supplied the alliterative weapon for the fatal act with the `bloody blade' to which Hercules refers in the scene where that hero meets his end.(26)

Elsewhere, when he borrows phrases from the Latin like the description of Thisbe as the most beautiful of young ladies (`praelata puellis' iv.56) or the reference to lions devouring one of the lovers (`consumite viscera morsu? O ... leones' 114-15), Quince is again drawn into using Latinate syntax as in the line, `This beauteous lady Thisbe is, certain' (129) or in the poignant lines rendered grossly unnatural by Bottom's hilarious misreading of the script:

O wherefore, Nature, didst thou lions frame,

Since lion vile hath here deflowered my dear?

(275-6; italics mine)(27)

And at such moments, as Quince tortures English syntax, in the background his creator is once more mocking the awkwardness of the early translators, mindful no doubt of the desperate clumsiness which often reduced them to ending clauses with forms of the verb `to be' as in `this also shal end when gods wyll is',(28) or even perhaps specific outbursts like the distressed Iole's `Alas that...Dame Nature did mee frame'(29) (italics mine).

There are also two moments in the burlesque when Shakespeare has the early translators specifically in mind. The first comes with Bottom's `Thanks, courteous wall' when Snug as `Walls parts his finger and presents `Pyramus' the `chink' (V.i.175). This mocks the clumsiness of Arthur Golding in whose version of Ovid's poem the lovers actually feel they owe the wall a `det' for its `courtesie' (IV.96).(30) The second comes in the finale when Quince's `pray' moves out of an Ovidian and into a Senecan key with the `tragicall' declamations, the first of which begins with:

But stay -- O spite!

But mark, poor Knight,

What dreadful dole is here?

Eyes, do you see?

How can it be?

O dainty duck, O dear!

Thy mantle good --

What stained with blood?

Approach, ye Furies fell!

O Fates, come, come,

Cut thread and thrum,

Quail, crush, conclude, and quell. (260-70)

A variant of eight and six which at one point Quince intended to use, the affinity of these lines with the fourteener, the metre that was the early translators' stock-in-trade, has been much remarked.(31) And we have once again returned to the alliterative country of the youthful Senecans, an infernal landscape of `dreary dole', `dismall day', and `Furies fell',(32) and, specifically, to Hercules Oetueus. In Studley's translation, the power of the vengeful Fates is similarly acknowledged over an heroic, `amorous knight' in lines like:

And needes must on / this shameful rocke / my fatall

twist be spunne


And knap in twayne / the fatal twist / Where on thy life

doth stay (Parentheses mine)(33)

And it is in the midst of these lofty, heroic declamations, of course, when Shakespeare's thoughts are on the gaucherie of the early translators that he despatches his random but well-deserved shaft at a moment in the `English verse Heroycall' of the Aeneidos. And consequently Thomas Phaer's clumsy reduction of an epic moment in Virgil to unintended absurdity with the rowers' `hopping' hearts, furnishes one of the most memorable details in Bottom's unforgettable suicide speech:

Come tears, confound!

Out sword and wound

The pap of Pyramus,

Ay, that left pap.

Where heart cloth hop:

Thus die I, thus, thus, thus!

The focus in this brief article has necessarily been on Shakespeare's mockery of the early translators of the classics. But it is characteristic of the dramatist that this mockery is not aimed at pillorying bad translators in the way a satirist like Pope might have set out to do; his purpose is primarily to show Peter Quince bungling a classical `pray' which involves elements of translation. The mockery of the translators is incidental, good humoured, and a source of fun.

And it helps set matters in perspective to realize that if Shakespeare could mock the early translators for their many, evident defects, he also appreciated their occasional good moments. For example, when Saturninus seals Rome's fate in Titus Andronicus by confessing his infatuation for Tamora, Queen of the Goths, `a goodly lady of the hew / That I would choose', who,

like the stately Phoebe 'mongst her nymphs

Dost overshine the gallant'st dames of Rome.

(I.i.313-14; italics mine)

the dramatist is recalling the moment from Phaer when Aeneas first saw Dido: going to the temple, this `Queene so faire of hew' is like Diana and `overshines' the `thousands of the ladle Nimphes' who `await to her will' (I.472, 476-7; italics mine). And from Jasper Heywood, whose translations of Seneca can be almost unbearable but are occasionally streaked with genuine poetry, comes Lorenzo's `Orpheus' drawing `trees, stones, and floods' and the beautiful vignette on `youthful and unhandled colts' succumbing when `music touch their ears' (Merchant of Venice V.i.70ff.).(34) It is a moment in John Studley's portrayal of the dying hero of Hercules Oetueus, which, as we have seen, Shakespeare knew well, that gives Hamlet his `peasant slave',(35) And Arthur Golding, the best of the early translators by some way, whom the dramatist constantly used and for whom he had a genuine fondness, contributed, among much else, what may be the loveliest moment in Romeo and Juliet when Juliet asks of the dead young man she had confused with Romeo, `Wash they his wounds with tears?', an image culled, incidentally, from the early translator's version of Pyramus and Thisbe.(36) (1) Quotation is from A Midsummer Night's Dream, ed. R. A. Foakes (Cambridge, 1984). (2) Virgil had written that fear and desire for praise drain the hearts of the rowers as they wait for the race to start (`exsultantia haurit / corda pavor laudumque arrecta cupido' V.137-8). (For my note, see `Thomas Phaer and Nick Bottom's "Hopping" Heart', N&Q, ccxxxii (1987), 207-8. Quotation of Phaer is from The Aeneid of Thomas Phaer and Thomas Twynne, ed. S. Lally (New York and London, 1987).) (3) Thomas Phaer and the London Literati', N&Q, ccxxxix (1994), 33-5. (4) Bowers, 34. (5) Bowers. 34. (6) The Arte of English Poesie' (1589), rptd. in Elizaberthan Critical Essays. ed. G. G. Smith (Oxford, 1904). ii.63. (7) Nashe also yokes Golding and Phaer together for praise; see The Preface to Greene's Menaphon', Smith, i.315. It was traditional to do so in the roll-call of Elizabethan writers by contemporary critics. (8) For Webbe's praise of Phaer, see Smith, i.256-62. (9) p. 261. When he finishes with Phaer, Webbe immediately also turns to Golding praising him briefly for the beautifying of the English speeche' with his Ovid. (10) Initially. this passage gives a misleading impression of Phaer's metre because Webbe misquotes the first line which should read. A monster gastly great, for every plume her carcas beares' (italics mine ); the line is end-stopped, then, but more importantly, reflects Phaer's strategy for giving his line `gravitas' and a stately sound with the iambic beat falling predominantly on strong vowel sounds. (11) Phaer's translation was popular and went through numerous editions; it was also extremely influential and where he led, in respect of both the handling of the fourteener and Latinate syntax, other early translators followed.

(For the rules of `artificiall order' and also `naturall order' as taught in the grammar school, see the Latin section of `Brevissima Institutio' in William Lily's Short Introduction of Grammar, ed. V.J. Flynn, rpt. of the 1567 edition (New York, 1945), or John Brinsley, Ludus Literarius or the Grammar Schoole, ed. E. T. Campagnac (Liverpool, 1917), 158-65; for discussion of the system, see T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespere's Small Latine & Lesse Greeke (Urbana, 1944), ii. 256-70.

Phaer's use of Latinate syntax is discused in my `Lively, Dynamic, but Hardly a Thing of "rhythmic beauty": Arthur Golding's Fourteeners', Connotations, ii (1992), 208-10. His influence on the other early translators in this respect is to be discussed in my forthcoming article,' - Thy forefoot to me give": Latinate syntax, Pistol, and the Translators'.) (12) This accorded with the first `Precepte' of `Artificiall Order' which read:

The oblique cases (that is all besides the Nominative and

the Vocative) are commonly placed in the beginning, the

Nominative case in the midst, the Verbe in the end: For

example; in the sentence following, the Grammatical order

is thus:

Caesar occupavit civitatem munitissimam hostium.

The Artificiall order is usually thus:

Munitissimam hostium civitatem Caesar occupavit.

(Brinsley, 160)

(Other features of `Artificiall Order' of which Phaer was particularly fond, were that `the word governed is commonly placed before the words governing' (Brinsley, 161), as in Then first the quell feare mee caught' (!II.564), or `Who shall us leade?'(III.95), or tree his fathers mince obeyed'(IV.256); and that adverbs and prepositions are placed `moss elegantly before the Verbe or Participle which they declare' (Brinsley 161). as in `Some storme then headlong drive'(II.523),or the deare with bouncing leapes do flie' (IV. 164), or `Dame Iuno than her selfe. the quene of heaven, adown did slide' V11.650).) (13) Like other translators of the 1550s and 1560s. Phaer was heavily influenced by the views of Sir Thomas Cheke, who advised translators against the use of `inkhorne terms' and words borrowed from foreign languages and counselled the development of English from its own resources wherever possible. (Cheke made his views known through his translation of the New Testament (c. 1550), in which he made liberal use of traditional English words, and in his letter of 16 July 15 57, which was printed with Hoby's Book of the Courtier.) This led to the translators' cultivation of an earthy, often incongruous vocabulary featuring many `old-denisoned' English words; monosyllables were also consciously cultivated, the theory being, as George Gascoigne later explained, that `the most auncient English wordes are of one sillable, so that the more monosyllables that you use, the truer Englishman you shall seeme, and the lesse you shall smell of the Inkehorne'. Phaer, for instance, is particularly fond of `hight', `shog', chop', and `knap'.

(For Gascoigne, see `Certayne Notes of Instruction', Smith, i.51; for a more detailed discussion of the translators' language, see my forthcoming book, Shakespeare's Ovid and Arthur Golding.) (14) The patent clumsiness of such lines is a clear indication that, like other early translators, Phaer was working at speed. (15) p. 34. (16) Its first four books were published in 1565, the whole work in 1567. (17) The confusion that has prevailed over its sources is probably best exemplified by Kenneth Muir's influential article, Pyramus and Thisbe: A Study in Shakespeare s Method'(SQ. v (1954),131-53). Of the sources identified by Muir, the works of Thomas Moffet, Dunstan Gale, and Chaucer have now been eliminated. (See K. Duncan-Jones, `Pyramus and Thisbe: Shakespeare's Debt to Moffet Cancelled', RES, ns. xxxii (1981), 296-301; G. R. Stanivukovic, `Shakespeare, Dunstan Gale, and Golding', N&O, ccxxxix (1994),35-7; and my `Chaucer's Non-Involvement in Pyramus and Thisbe', N&O, ccxxxiv (1989),317-20.) (18) See my `Golding's Ovid, Shakespeare's "Small Latine" and the Real Object of Mockery in Pyramus and Thisbe' ShS, xlii (1990), 53-64. The article also contains further discussion of details referred to in this paragraph. (19) Harold Brooks, for example, quotes these lines from Studley: `O Lord of hosts, whose fieryflash / That forth thy hand cloth shake / Doth cause the trembling lodges twain / Of Phoebus car to quake ... / The roaring rocks have quaking stirred, / And none thereat have pushed; / Hell gloomy gates I have brass ope / Where grisly ghosts all hushed / Have stood'. (The New Arden edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream (London and New York, 1979, reprinted with corrections, 1983),21). (20) R. A. Foakes (ed.), 58. (21) See, for example, Brooks,21, and Foakes, 58. (22) Studley translated Agamemnon and Medea in 1566, and Hippolytus and Hercules Oetueus in 1567. (For the date and quality of Studley's work, and that of the other youthful Senecans, see E. M. Spearing, The Elizabethan Translators of Seneca (Cambridge, 1912).) (23) As a glance at any anthology of early Elizabethan poetry will reveal, the use of `artificiall order' was not confined to the early translators, but Phaer, who was the first of the early translators, took it to unparallelled extremes in his efforts to imitate Latin syntax; and where the influential Phaer led, the other translators followed, taking up the ponderous fourteener, heavy alliteration, and, of course, `artificiall or rhetorical! order'. (24) For example, see Brooks, 112. (25) Tenne Tragedies, ii.226. The reference to the 'boyling breast'of Deinira, who is in despair aher sending Hercules the shirt of Nessus, is also followed by her cursing herself -- `let the greedy gripe scratch out these guts', and as I have shown in'Let Vultures Gnpe Thy Guts: Pistol Cursing Falstaff' (N&Q ccxxxix (1994), 37-8), Shakespeare was also to recall her curse. (26) Cf.

Lo yet myne end I daunted am by death and overthrowne, But yet no bioudy blade agaynst my rived rybbes . . . (p. 232; italics mine) (27) Cf. Bottom's earlier misreading of the script in the rehearsal,'Thisbe, the flowers of odious savours sweet', which the irritated Quince was immediately able to correct -- `Odorous! odorous!' (III.i.79). (28) Aeneidos, I.177. (29) Hercules Oetaeus. p. 200. (30) At this point Ovid wrote only that they were grateful for its affording a passage for their words -- `tibi non debere fatemur, / Quod datus est verbis ad amicas transitus aures' (IV.76-7), (31) See, for example, Brooks, lxxxvii, and Foakes, 11. (32) Of the young Senecans, Jasper Heywood was fondest of the most notable of these phrases, `'Funesfell'; he uses it strikingly at the opening of his version of Thyestes where Tantalus begins the play by asking:

What furykll enforceth me to fle, th'unhappy seat,

That gape and gaspe with greedye jawe, the flecyng food

to eate

(Tenne Tragedies, i.55)

and later in the prologue. Tantalus asks to return to hell even though he will be tormented by the sound,

Of greedy roaryng Lyons throats or flocke of furyes fell.

(p. 57; italics mine)

(For Shakespeare's familiarity with Heywood's translations, see my `Two Notes on Shakespeare and the Translators', RES, n.s. xxxviii(1987),523-6.) (33) Hercules Oetoeus, pp. 232, 205. The `amorous knight`'is Hercules (see p. 208); in the course of the play, Studley also refers to him as a'conquering knight' (p. 220) and 'a noble knight' (p. 232). (34) See my `Two Notes on Shakespeare and the Translators'. (35) See `Shakespeare, Studley, and Golding', RES, n.s. xxxix (1988), 522-7. (36) See `"Wash they his wounds with tears?" Shakespeare's Discriminate Reading of Golding', N&Q, ccxxxiii (1988), 52.
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Author:Taylor, Anthony Brian
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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