This week, as we explore The Humourist’s essay of March 5, 1754, we see him once again as a master of sarcasm as he continues—and, thankfully, finishes—his mock literary analysis of the dreadful combat between Moore of Moore Hall and the Dragon of Wantley. You might want to re-read the ballad: “The Dragon of Wantley.”
As I noted last week, as a classicist The Humourist knew that the poem was not great literature and that it was hardly worthy of the nearly 700 words that he devoted to it initially. Even so, he resumes his task on March 5, 1754, devotes his entire essay to his ongoing mock analysis, and does so with such exquisite sarcasm that what is ridiculous already becomes even more so.
I am intrigued. Why would The Humourist be so interested in this nonsensical 1685 ballad? To answer my question, I decided to do some quick research just to see how popular the poem was during The Humourist’s lifetime. I am surprised by my findings! The poem was wildly popular not only as a satirical ballad but also as a burlesque opera!
Here’s what Nick Adams has to say about “The Dragon of Wantley”:
The publication history of the ballad itself is intriguing. It was first published in 1685, although there is an undated edition presumed to be earlier (though possibly dating to earlier in 1685), and there are ten subsequent editions before its appearance in a mid-eighteenth century anthology, Thomas Percy’s Relics of Ancient Poetry of 1767. By this time, the reference to Rotherham is removed and the text is bowdlerised; so excising the local colour along with the rude bits. This is a lot of editions. Moreover, the ballad is included in published edition of Henry Carey’s The Dragon of Wantley (1737). This is perhaps the most improbable manifestation of them all. It is a burlesque opera, satirising the operatic conventions of the time, but tellingly also attacking the taxation policies of the Whig government of the time, led by Robert Walpole. Some of Carey’s burlesques are appealing, but it is pretty hard to say this of The Dragon of Wantley. Nevertheless, it was hugely successful, running for 69 performances (more even than The Beggar’s Opera, the big stage hit of the time). The play was similarly popular in printed form.
“The Dragon of Wantley” as a burlesque opera! Well, of course! Burlesque opera! As a musical virtuoso, The Humourist would have been more than interested in this ballad!
Oh my goodness! I think I just dropped a major clue!
I am aware, fully, that there is absolutely nothing in this essay—or, for that matter, in any of The Humourist’s essays—that points in the direction of The Humourist being a musical virtuoso! However, I know enough about his life that I can make that statement! You’ll find out all the details on August 8.
So let’s move on quickly, lest I reveal more than I should right now! Let’s move on quickly to that which I can reveal: the Curious Challenge of this week’s post!
If you follow Comments that my readers make, no doubt you will remember the one last week from Curious:
The announcement notes, “1 unfinished poem.” Perhaps you, Dr. Kendrick, would be willing to finish the poem? I know it would be marvelous……
Interesting though the task might be, it must be taken on by someone more poetically gifted than I. Thus, I replied to Curious:
I am flattered, Curious, but I confess: my poetic flights are no better than the “Dragon of Wantley”!
Finish the poem. (The poem, by the way, is The Humourist’s “The Temple of Happiness: An Allegorical Poem.”)
Finish the poem. That made me wonder: What other writers left unfinished manuscripts? What happened to them?
I confess: finding the answers to those two research questions has been so fascinating that I forgot, for a moment, that I was running after something that was totally unrelated to The Humourist. (Actually, it IS marginally related, because aside from his unfinished poem, The Humourist left behind a manuscript that he expected his heirs to publish, but they never did. Oh my! I think that I just dropped another clue.)
Let’s move on with even greater haste, but before I toss the Curious Challenge your way, let me share with you my discoveries about some famous unfinished manuscripts. Some of them ended up being published … “unfinished.” Others were “finished” by editors or literary executors—based on extant notes and files—and were then published.
If nothing more, you will enjoy seeing various titles and authors below. The titles may indeed surprise you! If you are interested in the “stories” behind these unfinished works—and they are all great stories—make sure that you follow the links and explore!
Our first list comes from Gabe Habash’s “9 Unfinished Novels by Great Writers“:
Bouvard and Pecuchet by Gustave Flaubert
The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade
Stephen Hero by James Joyce
The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton
The Temple at Thatch by Evelyn Waugh
Billy Budd by Herman Melville
The Watsons by Jane Austen
The Journal of Julius Rodman by Edgar Allan Poe
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
Don Juan by Lord Byron
Sanditon by Jane Austen
The Castle by Franz Kafka
In his “Ten of the Best Unfinished Literary Works,” John Mullan adds a few more new titles:
Woyzeck by Georg Büchner
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
“Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Trial by Franz Kafka
But wait! Here are some additional titles from “Top 10 Unfinished Works of Literature“:
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The Aeneid by Virgil
Answered Prayers by Truman Capote
History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
The First Man by Albert Camus
The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
We’re not finished yet. Are you ready for more? If so, check out the stories in Dennis Drabelle’s, “Five Great Unfinished Novels“:
The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil
The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Cousin Rosamund: A Saga of the Century by Rebecca West
Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort by Roger Martin du Gard
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I agree! Let’s wrap it up with a few more new titles from “10 Unfinished Novels“:
The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov
The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain
Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler (and Robert B Parker)
Weir of Hermiston by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Ivory Tower by Henry James
The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace
The First Man by Albert Camus
Wow! That’s a lot of unfinished literary manuscripts! My hope is that one or more of the authors/titles will engage you enough to make you follow the links and read the stories behind the unfinished manuscripts. Without exception, they are all fascinating!
Now, however, we need to return to the Curious Challenge and wrap up this post!
Curious suggested that I should complete The Humourist’s unfinished poem, “The Temple of Happiness. An Allegorical Poem.” I declined.
Surely, however, we have a poet in our midst who would be so bold as to take on the task of finishing the poem! Thus, my Curious Challenge!
Mind you, one and all aspiring poets: the task that you about to take on is not an easy one.
- It requires that you understand the precise poetic structure of the existing poem.
- It requires that you understand The Humourist’s word choices.
- It requires that you understand the meaning of “Happiness” to the extent The Humourist conveyed that meaning in his unfinished poem.
- It requires that you understand The Humourist’s intent: how would he have finished the poem?
- It requires that you finish the poem in a fashion so seamless that a disinterested reader would not be able to tell where the original manuscript left off and where the continuation began.
Wow! I’m glad that I did not accept the challenge that Curious extended! However, I hope that Curious and many more will take on this Curious Challenge.