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Literary echoes and sources in John Meade Falkner's 'The Nebuly Coat.'

The recent appearance in the World's Classics series of all three novels, The Lost Stradivarius, Moon fleet, and The Nebuly Coat, by John Meade Falkner (1858-1952) has brought before a wider public the work of a writer who had latterly been something of a recherche enthusiasm (though those who shared it included Forster, Betjeman, and Larkin). Falkner's style is rich in allusive references; in an earlier article I drew attention to a number of literary and antiquarian allusions in The Nebuly Coat (1903),(1) and this present Note adds further new identifications of literary, including biblical and liturgical, echoes and sources. Sometimes these are simply instances of what has been absorbed in a general way into the phrasing of any traditionally educated and cultivated writer, but others are meant to be nearer the forefront of attention, and they create calculated effects. In both cases there can be what C. S. Lewis long ago called 'difficulties arising from Unshared Background';(2) annotation is some solution. All references to The Nebuly Coat are to the World's Classics edition by Christopher Hawtree (Oxford and New York, 1988).

I. BIBLICAL (references are to the Authorized Version)

1. 'to hide its light under a bushel' (p. 1): Matthew 5: 15.

2. 'that Saul-among-the-prophets look' (p. 27): I Samuel 10:11 and 12.

3. 'a forty-years' wandering in the wilderness' (p. 29, and cf. p. 354): Numbers 14:33-4 and 32: 13; Deuteronomy 8: 2.

4. 'He walked . . . as a child of the light' (p. 42): John 12: 35-6; Ephesians 5: 8; I Thessalonians 5: 5.

5. 'to come over into Macedonia to help us' (p. 91): Acts 16: 9.

6. 'all are as fools in the sight of God' (p. 94): I Corinthians 1:20 and 3: 18-19.

7. 'ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil' (p. 104; cf. also p. 299): Genesis 2:17 and 3: 6; the allusion at p. 299 also refers to Anastasia's naked soul which echoes Genesis 3: 7.

8. 'out of the mouths of babes and sucklings that strength has been eternally ordained' (p. 119): Psalm 8: 2.

9. 'Gather figs of thistles' (p. 121): Matthew 7: 16.

10. 'The flesh was weak' (p. 122): Matthew 26: 41; Mark 14: 38.

11. 'When we have done all that we ought to do, we are unprofitable servants' (p. 125): Luke 17: 10.

12. 'We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we shall carry nothing out' (p. 154): I Timothy 6: 7.

13. 'offer . . . the other cheek to the smiter' (p. 157): Luke 6: 29; on p. 66, as Hawtree notes, Falkner quotes the saying in the form found in Matthew 5:39 with 'turn' instead of 'offer'.

14. 'like Martha, too cumbered with much serving' (p. 176): Luke 10: 40.

15. 'as one who receives an angel awares' (p. 197): a witty alteration of Hebrews 13: 2's 'some have entertained angels unawares' (cf. Genesis 19: 1 ff.).

16. 'to speak the word in season that should avail' (pp. 199-200): Proverbs 15: 23; Isaiah 50: 4.

17. 'would leave childish things' (pp. 203-4): I Corinthians 13:11.

18. 'amethyst and topaz, chrysoprase and jasper, a dozen jewels as in the foundations of the city of God' (p. 223): Revelation 21: 19-20.

19. 'ye are the men, and wisdom shall die with you' (p. 232): Job 12: 2.

20. 'lest he turn and rend you' (p. 232, and cf. p. 356): Matthew 7: 6.

21. 'the crown may tarnish by disuse, the moth of indolence may corrupt' (p. 263): Matthew 6: 19.

22. 'poured out the vials of her wrath' (p. 274): Revelation 16: 1.

23. 'Was a man trying to carry fire in his bosom' (p. 281): Proverbs 6: 27.

24. 'it behoves us to walk circumspectly' (p. 282, and cf. p. 284): Ephesians 5: 15.

25. 'we were enjoined to be wise as serpents as well as innocent as doves' (p. 287): Matthew 10: 16.

26. 'a fiery furnace' (p. 300): Daniel 3: 6 ff.


A. The Book of Common Prayer

1. 'an outward and visible sign' (p. 63): from the Catechism's definition of a sacrament as 'an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace'.

2. 'the station of life to which it has pleased Providence to call him' (p. 132; cf. 'Providence will bring us to that station' (p. 187); 'in the station to which she's called now' (p. 314)): from the Catechism's answer to the question of what is one's duty towards one's neighbour: 'to do my duty in that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me'; this teaching is also echoed by Clerk Janaway when he tells Mr Joliffe: 'Your parents was Dissenters . . . and never taught you the Catechism when you was young; but as for me, I order myself to my betters as I should, so long as they order themselves to me' (p. 290).

3. 'the sins of the fathers will be visited to the third and fourth generation' (p. 286): from the second commandment as given in the Communion Service: 'visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation'; this is closer than the Authorized Version at Exodus 20:5 and 34:7 which has 'iniquity' for the BCP's 'sins'.

B. Latin Rite

1. The three extracts from the service on St Nicholas's Day, 6 December (p. 81): for the prayer inc. 'Deus qui beatum Nicolaum . . .' see Breviarium ad Usum Insignis Ecclesiae Sarum, ed. F. Procter and C. Wordsworth, iii (Cambridge, 1886), col. 25, 'Ad Vesperas'; for 'Nicholas qui omnem terram . . .' and 'Iste est qui contempsit . . .' see ibid. ii (1879), col. 418, 'In tertio Nocturno'.

2. The two extracts from the 'Ordo commendationis animae' (p. 388): for the 'Proficiscere' see The Sarum Missal, ed. J. Wickham Legg (Oxford, 1916), 427, 'Proficiscere anima christiana de hoc mundo in nomine dei patris omnipotentis quite creauit. Amen.'; I cannot trace 'liliata rutilantium' in the old Sarum rite, but the words occur in the modern Rituale Romanum in the prayer beginning 'Commendo te omnipotenti Deo . . . '.

Falkner had an extensive collection of liturgical books, manuscript and printed.


A. English (including texts known to Falkner through English versions)

1. 'unconsidered trifles' (p. 68): Autolycus in The Winter's Tale, IV. iii. 26: 'a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles'.

2. 'so near is grandeur to our dust' (p. 123): Emerson (1803-82), 'Voluntaries' iii: 'So nigh is grandeur to our dust, | So near is God to man' (11.13-14). Falkner's reference is to a letter from Lord Blandamer being on the same breakfast tray as a bloater; the mock-heroic purpose is continued in no. 3 below.

3. 'The bloater was left to waste its sweetness on the morning air' (p. 125): Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard: 'Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, | And waste its sweetness on the desert air' (11.55-6).

4. 'he [Canon Parkyn] addressed his wife as if she were a public meeting' (p. 128): the analogy was originally used by Queen Victoria of Gladstone's manner of addressing her. For the source of the story, in papers first published in the Manchester Guardian in 1897, see Collections and Recollections by One Who Has Kept a Diary [G. W. E. Russell] (London, 1898): '"He [Gladstone] speaks to Me as if I was a public meeting," is a complaint which is said to have proceeded from illustrious lips' (p. 191). Russell's work was very popular, going through seven impressions in its year of publication.

5. 'he was Crusoe, monarch of all he surveyed' (p. 190): Cowper, 'Verses Supposed to be Written by Alexander Selkirk [whose experiences formed the basis of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe], During His Solitary Abode in the Island of Juan Fernandez': 'I am monarch of all I survey' (l. 1).

6. 'As every soldier carries in his knapsack the baton of the Field Marshal' (p. 263): said by Napoleon; see E. Blaze, La Vie Militaire sous l'Empire, i (Paris, 1837): 'Tout soldat francais porte dans sa giberne son briton de marechal de France' (p. 5); the earliest English version I know is in Lights and Shades of Military Life, ed. Sir Charles Napier, ii (London, 1840): 'Every French soldier carries in his cartouch-box his truncheon of marshal of France' (p. 4).

7. 'when "the slow dark hours begin"' (p. 270): Christina Rossetti (1830-94), 'Up-Hill': 'But is there for the night a resting-place? | A roof for when the slow dark hours begin' (ll. 5-6).

8. 'she was the slave of his ring, rejoicing in her slavery, and ready to do his bidding as all the other slaves of that ring' (p. 301): from the story of Aladdin; as well as a lamp, Aladdin had a magic ring with a genie who was '"ready to obey thee as thy slave, and the slave of all who have the ring on thy finger; I, and the other slaves of that ring"' (The Arabian Nights' Entertainments (Edinburgh, 1867), 404; Falkner alludes in Moonfleet (chs. 1 and 15) to this same scene in which the magic ring will effect Aladdin's escape from the underground cave.

9. 'Was he chosen for the Scourge of God?' (p. 347): Marlowe, Tamburlaine the Great, Part I, III. iii. 44: 'I that am term'd the Scourge and Wrath of God'; the phrase occurs several times over Parts I and II.

B. Latin

1. 'Nemo repente - no man ever suddenly became good' (p. 204): Juvenal, Satires, I. ii. 83: 'nemo repente fuit turpissimus' (no one reaches the depths of wickedness at once); Falkner has transferred Juvenal's observation from vice to virtue.

2. 'like the last evil lot to leap out of the shaken urn' (p. 350): Falkner probably has in mind Horace, Odes, II. iii. 25-8:

omnes eodem cogimur, omnium versatur urna serius ocius sors exitura et nos in aeternum exsilium impositura cumbae.

(The lot of every one of us is tossing about in the urn, destined sooner, later, to come forth and place us in Charon's skiff for everlasting exile: Loeb edition's translation by C. E. Bennett)

Cf. also Odes, m. i. 14-16 (for the echo of 1.40 of this Ode see the next item); Statius, Silvae, II. i. 219.

3. 'black Care' (p. 375): Horace, Odes, III. i. 40: 'atra Cura' (black Care).

C. Greek

1. 'like the Homeric housewife who did the best with what she had by her' (p. 84): 'who did the best with what she had by her' is a pretty precise rendering of Homer's [Greek Text Omitted] found in the Odyssey at i. 140, iv. 56, vii. 176, x. 372, xv. 139, and xvii. 95; the phrase normally refers to an improvised meal for which the housekeeper has to make do.

Falkner gives his narrative a Greek colouring at a number of points, and in particular an analogy is suggested between Lord Blandamer and Odysseus (see no. 2 below and Mr Hawtree's notes to pp. 118 and 311, though a correction to the latter note is given at no. 7 below); significantly, at the end of the novel Lord Blandamer is shown reading 'Eugenid's "Aristeia" of the pagans martyred under Honorius' (p. 310, and again at p. 312); though the author and the work are untraced (and may be fictional), they are clearly Greek.

2. 'it was said he [Lord Blandamer] had not been in Cullerne for twenty years' (p. 99; cf. 'a wandering that was to prove half as long as that of Israel in the wilderness [forty years]', p. 354): in view of the analogy elsewhere between Lord Blandamer and Odysseus (see above), there is a parallel between the 40-year-old (pp. 89, 99, 344) Lord Blandamer who for 'half his life' has 'bin a wand'rer in foreign parts' (p. 13) and the twenty-year absence from home of Odysseus.(3)

3. 'we try to give the clue [ball of thread] of the labyrinth' (p. 257): an allusion to the clue of thread which Ariadne gave to Theseus to guide him out of the labyrinth in which he had been shut up.

4. 'dank dungeons of despair, or guilty mycethmi - bellowing caves black as night' (pp. 257-8): 'mycethmi' is a Latinized transliteration from [Greek Text Omitted] = 'bellowings'; Pseudo-Aristotle, De mundo 396 a 11, uses the word of bellowing earthquakes (and of underground bellowing not caused by earthquakes), but I know of no context involving despair or guilt.

5. 'It must have been an atmosphere which followed him [Lord Blandamer] wherever he went - that penumbra with which the gods wrap heroes - which told her he was different' (p. 294): sometimes gods and goddesses poured down mist on a hero for practical purposes: e.g. concealment as when Athene 'with kindly purpose, poured about him [Odysseus] a thick mist, that no one of the great-hearted Phaeacians, meeting him, should challenge him, and ask him who he was' (Odyssey, vii. 14 ff.; cf. vii. 41 ff., 140; xiii. 189 ff.).(4) However, though this practice is well expressed by 'atmosphere', 'penumbra', and 'wrap', in Falkner the atmosphere does not conceal, but rather reveals Lord Blandamer to Anastasia as a 'prince' and a 'hero'. Thus Falkner probably has in mind passages such as Odyssey, vi. 227-45 ('Athene . . . made him [Odysseus] taller to look upon and stronger, and from his head she made the locks to flow in curls like the hyacinth flower . . . even so the goddess shed grace upon his head and shoulders. Then he went apart and sat down on the shore of the sea, gleaming with beauty and grace; and the maiden [Nausicaa](5) marveled at him . . . saying . . . now he is like the gods, who hold broad heaven. Would that such a man as he might be called my husband'; cf. viii. 18-20; xxiii. 156 ff.).

Though part of the effect of the classical analogues is mock-heroic at the expense of Anastasia's naivety, Lord Blandamer is an impressive man, and the analogues simultaneously magnify his stature.

6. 'kept hope hidden at the bottom of the box' (p. 307): a reference to Hope which remained at the bottom of Pandora's box.

7. 'he flung off his sentences ' [Greek Text Omitted] as easily as Odysseus tossed his heavy stone beyond all the marks of the Phaeacians' (pp. 311-12): Mr Hawtree's note (p. 414) to p. 311 says: "[Greek Text Omitted] gushing (corrected in 1954 World's Classics edition [the text used for Mr Hawtree's 1988 edition] from earlier misprints): cf. Odyssey, viii. 186-94'. However, [Greek Text Omitted] is not a Greek word and is itself a misprint; the original 1903 edition of The Nebuly Coat did print a Greek word, [Greek Text Omitted] (p. 290), meaning 'easily, without difficulty, effortlessly'. However, though [Greek Text Omitted] is very frequent in both the Iliad and the Odyssey, and occurs in a different context later in Book viii. 376, it does not occur in the account of Odysseus throwing the discus further than the Phaeacians at viii. 186-94 where at 1. 193 the discus is said to fly from his hand [Greek Text Omitted], 'swiftly'. Though the Homeric parallel between Lord Blandamer and Odysseus is clear enough, the inexactitude of reference is characteristic of Falkner's memorial citation.

8. 'What a creature of an hour was he, was every man' (p. 324): though the idea is everywhere in Greek poetry, the central passage is Pindar, Pythian Odes, viii. 95 ff.: 'Creatures of a day, what is any one?' (Loeb edition's translation by Sir John Sandys). Pindar's [Greek Text Omitted] is reflected a few lines later in Falkner's 'ephemeral man; that he, ephemeral man . . .' (p. 324).

9. 'like the last evil lot to leap out of the shaken urn, an Ephedrus, like that Adulterer who at the finish tripped the Conqueror of Troy' (p. 350): in this characterization of Westray's letter to Lord Blandamer, which indicates the future exposure of his claim to the title as fraudulent and refers in a veiled way to Mr Sharnall's possible murder, there is a triple classical colouring. For the first, 'like the last evil lot . . . urn' see above re.B, Latin, no. 2. The other two are:

(i) 'an Ephedrus': a Latin transliteration from the Greek [Greek Text Omitted] probably here with the sense of 'one who waits'. Two examples of the word may both have been in Falkner's mind: (a) it is used in Herodotus, History, v. 41.1, of Cleomenes as 'heir-apparent' to the throne. Anaxandridas' first wife was barren, and so he took a second wife by whom he had Cleomenes; subsequently, he begat Dorieus by his first wife, but though Cleomenes was said to be nigh insane he none the less as the eldest son inherited the kingdom. In Falkner's novel, the feckless late Martin Joliffe had been the true heir to the Blandamer title (though he had never proved his claim), and the present Lord Blandamer, as the descendant of the bigamous marriage of his grandfather, had no right to the Lordship. The context of dual claimants to a title in Herodotus is appropriate to Falkner's story; the letter is 'waiting' to expose the truth. (b) it is found in a Menander fragment with the sense of someone 'waiting for a life, i.e. a death; plotting a death'; see Comicorum Atticorum Fragmenta, ed. T. Kock, iii (Leipzig, 1888), p. 194, no. 663:

[Greek Text Omitted].

(if you readily do your duty by your son, you will have [in him] a true guardian, not someone who waits for [i.e. plots against] your life)

As Kock notes, the lines are transmitted in the Ioannis Stobaei Anthologium. In support of the possible Menander allusion it can be observed that line 1 of the fragment looks rather like Falkner's 'A man must be on good terms with his heir . . .', only a page later (p. 351). As Westray's letter hints at the public disclosure of facts which could lead to Lord Blandamer's conviction for murder, the letter could be seen as a Waiter on, i.e. deviser of, Lord Blandamer's death; certainly death is envisaged in the following allusion to Agamemnon's murder (see no. (ii) below); cf. also the allusion to death in the preceding image of the lot leaping out of the shaken urn (cf. above, III. B, Latin, no. 2). Falkner never fought shy of an obscure reference (cf. his use of Ausonius and Angelus de Clavasio's Summa angelica identified in my earlier article in 1990: see n. 1), but one still wonders how many people were likely to understand 'Ephedrus' even literally.

(ii) 'that Adulterer who at the finish tripped the Conqueror of Troy': the Conqueror of Troy is Agamemnon; in Odyssey, xi. 409ff. Aegisthus is seen as the principal murderer ('Aegisthus brought upon me death and fate, and slew me with the aid of my accursed wife . . . I, lying on the ground, trying to raise my arms, tossed dying upon Aegisthus' sword'); in Aeschylus, Agamemnon, it is Agamemnon's wife, Clytemnestra, who is the main agent ('Once he had fallen, I dealt him yet a third stroke . . . Fallen thus, he gasped away his life', ll. 1385, 1388). Cf. also Odyssey, i. 32-43 and xxiv. 96ff. The letter Lord Blandamer receives is seen as a potential agent of his death.

10. 'Was he fighting with dragon's spawn? Were fresh enemies to spring up from the - The simile did not suit his mood' (p. 356): a reference to Cadmus who, after overcoming a dragon, sowed its teeth in a plain, upon which armed men sprang up from the ground.

11. 'the blameless herb nepenthe . . . the blameless herb' (pp. 382, 383; cf. 'nepenthe for a heartache', p. 307): a drug said in Odyssey, iv. 221 ff., 'to quiet all pain and strife, and bring forgetfulness of every ill'. I have not come across it being called 'blameless', but this adjective is a standard translation of Homeric [Greek Text Omitted], and Falkner may intend a generalizing Homeric force through the English.

Though no specific Greek equivalent is involved, a similar effect is probably sought in the account of the early morning sun drying the dew on the lawns of 'many-gardened' Cullerne (p. 361). Compound adjectives with 'many-' are recorded from the late sixteenth century (see [OED.sup.2] s.v. many, A. adj., 6); though they are also found in prosaic and scientific contexts, their most frequent use is poetic, often to give a Greek flavouring as calqued on Greek compounds with [Greek Text Omitted]- (many, much). Thus Tennyson in 'OEnone' speaks of 'many-fountained [[less than] Iliad, xiv. 283] Ida' (1.22), and in 'Ilion, Ilion' has 'manycircled' (1.6), 'manygated' (1.10), and 'manytowered' (1.10). Given that a description of sunrise is a Homeric topos, and given the other Homeric and Greek allusions in the novel, it is not strained to see in 'many-gardened' a further Hellenic grace-note.(6)

1 E. Wilson, 'Literary and Antiquarian Allusions in John Meade Falkner's The Nebuly Coat', N&Q NS 37 (1990), 59-65; cf. also my 'A Fictional Source for the Falling Tower in John Meade Falkner's The Nebuly Coat', N&Q NS 43 (1996), 439-41.

2 Arthurian Torso: Containing the Posthumous Fragment of 'The Figure of Arthur' by Charles Williams and a Commentary on the Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams by C. S. Lewis (London, etc., 1948), 189.

3 On p. 99, on the same page as Lord Blandamer is said to have been away for twenty years, we are told, 'For a quarter of a century he had been a wanderer abroad'. However, this must be set against several twenty-year references, and in any case Falkner could make some extraordinary slips: at the beginning of ch. xix (p. 296 of the 1903 edn.) Anastasia is described as the child of 'Michael Joliffe' when she is actually the daughter of Michael's stepson, Martin Joliffe; neither of the two World's Classics edns. (1954 and 1988) comments on or corrects this error.

4 All references and translations from the Odyssey are from the Loeb edn., trans. A. T. Murray, rev. G. E. Dimock (1995). Examples of the phenomena mentioned here can also be found in other works (as the Iliad and the Aeneid), but I have taken my examples from the Odyssey since this is the classical work which Falkner has most prominently in mind elsewhere in the novel.

5 Interestingly, on p. 118 of the novel Anastasia is compared to Nausicaa.

6 I must record my immense indebtedness to Mr Arnd Kerkhecker of Worcester College Oxford for information, references, and help with the section on Falkner's Greek allusions.
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Author:Wilson, Edward
Publication:The Review of English Studies
Date:Feb 1, 1997
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