Fame's Penny-Trumpet - (2014)
for tenor and piano
Affectionately dedicated to all "original researchers" who pant for "endowment." [ 1 ]
Blow, blow your trumpets till they crack,
Ye little men of little souls!
And bid them huddle at your back -
Gold-sucking leeches, shoals on shoals!
Fill all the air with hungry wails -
"Reward us, ere we think or write!
Without your Gold mere Knowledge fails
To sate the swinish appetite!"
And, where great Plato paced serene,
Or Newton paused with wistful eye,
Rush to the chace with hoofs unclean
And Babel-clamour of the sty!
Be yours the pay: be theirs the praise:
We will not rob them of their due,
Nor vex the ghosts of other days
By naming them along with you.
They sought and found undying fame:
They toiled not for reward nor thanks:
Their cheeks are hot with honest shame
For you, the modern mountebanks!
Who preach of Justice--plead with tears
That Love and Mercy should abound -
While marking with complacent ears
The moaning of some tortured hound:
Who prate of Wisdom--nay, forbear,
Lest Wisdom turn on you in wrath,
Trampling, with heel that will not spare,
The vermin that beset her path!
Go, throng each other's drawing-rooms,
Ye idols of a petty clique:
Strut your brief hour in borrowed plumes,
And make your penny-trumpets squeak.
Deck your dull talk with pilfered shreds
Of learning from a nobler time,
And oil each other's little heads
With mutual Flattery's golden slime:
And when the topmost height ye gain,
And stand in Glory's ether clear,
And grasp the prize of all your pain -
So many hundred pounds a year -
Then let Fame's banner be unfurled!
Sing paeans for a victory won!
Ye tapers, that would light the world,
And cast a shadow on the Sun -
Who still shall pour his rays sublime,
One crystal flood, from East to West,
When ye have burned your little time
And feebly flickered into rest!
5 pages, circa 4' 45"
Illustration by Peter Newell (1903)
I came across poem in the collection, The hunting of the snark, and other poems and verses, Lewis Carroll, Harper and Brothers, 1903, from which illustration above is taken. The poem was first published in Rhyme? Or Reason? in 1883, with illustrations by Arthur B. Frost. [ 2 ]
The century-old sentiment seems wholly up-to-date, the news of today filled with claims from intellectuals and scholars who seek ever-additional funding for their research from sources public and private. Carroll mentions one timeless philosopher and one great scientist by name, from a time before the "Babel-clamour" cries of grant seekers, peer-reviewers, and more such intellects. As Carroll reminds, the "prize" so often sought is money and that imagined fame which could "cast a shadow on the sun." This seminal poet, storyteller and mathematician reminds us not only of the self-seeking praise-and-funding mongers, but of time which has dulled the "talk" of several generations of such men since the poem was written. The penny-trumpet was a cheap Victorian toy, of slightly better manufacture than the farthing-trumpet. Neither were of musical import, of course, and were discarded as children abused them in play.
The setting begins with a broad brushstroke on the tonic major. The form for these several strophes is ABAB - CDEF -ABAB, the center being a continuation of this little arietta which then breaks into a quasi recitativo of vigorous condemnation, followed by a recap.
The score for Fame's Penny-Trumpet is available as a free PDF download, though any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.
[ 1 ] This is the poet's own sentiment, written as dedication above the poem.
[ 2 ] Lewis Carroll's earlier publication featured an illustration by Arthur B. Frost, showing such an "original researcher" panting for "endowment" at a drawing room reception, surrounded by other original researchers, without a doubt.