Wednesday, November 13, 2013

`Nil. Till!'

He has no Facebook account, no Twitter, no Wikipedia entry and no discernible photo on the internet. In the one picture I’ve seen, his look is diffident and clerkish, suggesting he is reliable but unlikely to banter with the boys. His collar is high, his glasses steel-rimmed, his jacket and vest tasteful, conservative and probably gray. He’s a minor caricature out of late-period Dickens. In black and white, his moustache almost disappears above thin, tight lips, which nevertheless hint at a capacity for sardonic amusement. In George Eliot’s phrase, C.W. Brodribb (1878-1945) is among the anonymous millions who “rest in unvisited tombs.” 

My library has one of his books, Poems, published by Macmillan & Co. of London in 1946. I found it only because Edmund Blunden wrote the introduction, in which he describes Brodribb as “a Latinist, viewing events and verse with the eye of the classical scholar and historian—as well as the citizen thoroughly aware of war’s actualities.” Born in London, Brodribb was a journalist who went to work for The Times in 1904 and remained there until his death. Blunden quotes a colleague of Brodribb’s who reports the poet preferred writing about “English literature and history,” and that he was “more at home with Milton and Pope than with Shakespeare—though he came to a late accommodation with W.S. and sang his praises in one of his last poems.” “On W.S.,” a sonnet dated January 1945, the year of Brodribb’s death, is not very good and I won’t transcribe it. His talent, rather, seems to favor light verse or, as a section of the book is titled, “Lighter Poems.” Here is “The Rake’s Progress”: 

“Born lorn,
Dad bad,
Nurse worse;
`Drat brat!’
Gal pal,
Splash cash,
Pop shop,
Nil. Till!
Wired `Fired!’
Scrub pub,
Found Drowned.
`De Se;’
Grief brief.” 

Also collected are translations from Latin and Greek (Horace, Virgil, Heraclitus), original poems in Latin and translations of English passages into Latin, including lines from “Lycidas,” The Merchant of Venice and the penultimate stanza of “Ode to a Nightingale.” Blunden notes that “faiths and humanities would always temper his irony, and he belongs much more to the race of Horace than of Martial, of Landor than of Byron.” Slowly, as I read Brodribb’s verse, I came to recognize a familiar newsroom type – the odd, wryly witty, taciturn, polymathic autodidact. They seem to flourish in particular among the ranks of copy editors and take laconic delight in the arcana of baseball statistics, French irregular verbs, Confederate Army regiments or the early recordings of Muggsy Spanier. They occupy the realm where hobbyist bleeds into reputable amateur authority and, in more serious cases, crank. Most, however, are perfectly harmless, like bloggers.  Brodribb even writes a poem about them, “An Epitaph (After the Greek epigrams)”: 

“Here lies a journalist. I wish you would
Tell them in Fleet Street, for their good.”


AHR said...

Dear Patrick,

Thank you for introducing me to a man worth knowing. I look forward to learning more about his literary work. Allen

E Berris said...

There is a memorial to Charles Brodribb in St Bride's Church, Fleet Street (the printers' church). Ian Norrie writes of him in "The Book of the City" (High Hill Books 1961) and this was my source for the quotations in my blog (frozenink.blogspot 18 Aug. 2012). Clearly a valued and respected friend to his colleagues.