Wednesday, January 08, 2014

A taste for the cane

At the TLS, Peter Leggatt on an early unpublished play by Swinburne:
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 wish
In a minute or two that he never had asked for first fault for the hundredth time.
Birch. Swish!”
The word “Swish!” is written, I should add, in inch-high letters, presumably as Swinburne becomes less able to contain his rising excitement.

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