First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 28 February 1887
Sussex Scrapbooks 28/3, p. 84
We have received a ‘story in dramatic form’, from the hand of Brigade Surgeon Cameron Macdowall, entitled 'The first Empress of the East’. Dr Macdowall has appeared in print before. Last time, if we recollect aright, he was — in print, bien entendu (evidently) — engaged in kissing the hands or feet of a female relative; his cousin was it, or aunt? This time he is murdering a young girl, in a few hundred lines of blank verse. He explains in his preface that he cannot help writing verses, and he prints his imaginings, because ‘manuscript poetry gives a most restricted pleasure’. Further, he hints incidentally that he has a good conscience. How he can reconcile this with the verse he makes, is a question which concerns himself alone. Here is some of his verse. A person, called Longinus, is showing his stable to one Glaucus — also horsey. Longinus says: — ‘A noble race these horses of Arabia, Glaucus; they’re the sublime of all equinity’. This makes Glaucus jealous. He shows that he also can ‘sublime equinity’ in more or less rhyming, more or less ten-syllable verse. Glaucus prefers the Arab, or ‘the freeborn desert child’: —
His quarters almost horizontal lieThis must be Macdowallese for being fired; but there is no footnote. After ‘stables’, Longinus and Glaucus begin to explain things. Longinus is a cavalry officer in Zenobia’s service, and his ‘sublime equinity’ is a good deal cut up in a charge against the Romans. As Longinus explains: — ‘It was a wondrous charge but t’was not war’. Longinus was a little bruised; but what really hurt him was — ‘to see such gross, such palpable mis-manage- ment’. This fragment seems to have been borrowed from a sanitation-report; but there is no footnote, and the author, as a rule, is lavish in this respect. Longinus has been recommending alterations in arrows and spears to an Equipment Committe who had disregarded his suggestions. In the scuffle aforesaid: —
There actually were no reserves of archersLonginus is very nice, and the stage directions are very funny. People stab themselves and fight very freely. When Dr Macdowall runs dry, bits of Gibbon are brought in. This adds immensely to the effect. Footnotes career about the pages to clear up historical allusions, or to point out where the author has got an original notion and wants to work it. He compares the Dawn to a spirit rising from the grave, and believes the comparison to be original. It is original — aboriginal in fact — being at least as new as the Solar Myth. There are many startlingly original things in the poem — notably the verse. At the end of the book are notes; and the notes alone are, in their petrifying audacity, worth the price of the volume. The author is afraid people will reproach him for his ‘freedom of metre and accentuation’. On the contrary, they like it. Lines like these are not met every day: —
‘Lo! to save the temple from destruction.’and so on. There is no monotony about such verses, nor any ‘cloying surfeit of reiterated cadence’. The First Empress of the East is a fine, rugged, veterinary, military, amatory, bloodthirsty, Gibboned, Saga. There was an American doctor called Holley Chivers, once, who wrote poems — ‘Facets of Diamonds’, ‘Eonchs of Ruby’, and the ‘Lost Pleiad’. The only perfect copies of his works are in the British Museum. There is a likeness between his style and Dr Macdowall’s. But we prefer the Indian Doctor.