The play concerns a boy called Redgie, a naughty recidivist who, despite his multiple convictions, is dared by his schoolmates to plead “first fault” – a clause obviating punishment for a first-time offender – when he is about to receive a thrashing for whispering in church. Needless to say, no mercy is shown and a graphic beating ensues. Despite the schoolboy subject, Swinburne’s aural imagination is already magnificent. As Redgie is being beaten and his peers look on, Swinburne gives the Birch itself a part:“Wilmot. (aside to Lunsford) What a happy idea of young Clavering’s! but I’ve an idea – & I’m sure – that he’ll wishThe word “Swish!” is written, I should add, in inch-high letters, presumably as Swinburne becomes less able to contain his rising excitement.
In a minute or two that he never had asked for first fault for the hundredth time.
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
A taste for the cane
At the TLS, Peter Leggatt on an early unpublished play by Swinburne: