Striding Folly

The page numbers are from “Lord Peter” published by Harper & Row. The excerpts are copyrighted 1972 by Harper & Row.

400 ~ leaving his queen en prise

en prise: likely to be captured. From the French for “within grasp” or “engaged.”

405 ~ “Woman, woman, lovely woman? Meet me by moonlight and all that kind of thing?”

There are plenty of poetry and songs with this theme, so Wimsey’s probably not making a direct quotation. However, I did find a ballad, published between 1880 and 1900, called “Meet Me By Moonlight Alone” that might have provided an inspiration.

Meet me by moonlight alone,
And then I will tell you a tale,
Must be told by the moonlight alone,
In the grove at the end of the vale.
You must promise to come for I said
I would show the night flowers their queen;
Nay, turn not away thy sweet head,
‘Tis the loveliest ever was seen.
O meet me by moonlight alone.

“Warned of God in a dream”

A reference to Matthew 2:12: “And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”

A pretty piece of fused and inverted symbolism … the dead body of a black crow becomes a dead man with a white rook.”

In addition to being the name of a chess piece, a rook is also a large bird found in Europe that resembles a crow.

“Like the White Queen’s. She, by the way, could believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

A reference to “Alice in Wonderland.”

“Let time pass … for, as a great chessplayer observed, it helps more than reasoning.”
“A lady … who played with living men and mated kings, popes, and emperors.”

The lady is Queen Elizabeth I, who, during negotiations with the French in 1580 concerning a possible marriage, wrote:

“You do not forget, mon tres cher, that the greatest cause of delay [in arranging a match] is due to this [agitation by English zealots against a Catholic marriage], that our people ought to congratulate and to applaud. To bring this about I have let time pass, which generally helps more than reasoning.”

Harriet Vane quotes this same passage in “Gaudy Night.”

I made a very big mistake once,” said Harriet, “as I expect you know. I don’t think that arose out of lack of interest. It seemed at the time the most important thing in the world.”

“And yet you made the mistake. Were you really giving your mind to it, do you think? Your mind? Were you really as cautious and exacting about it as you would be about writing a passage of fine prose?”

“That’s rather a difficult sort of comparison. One can’t, surely, deal with emotional excitements in that detached spirit.”

“Isn’t the writing of good prose an emotional excitement?”

“Yes, of course it is. At least, when you get the thing dead right and know it’s dead right, there’s no excitement like it. It’s marvellous. It makes you feel like God on the Seventh Day–for a bit, anyhow.”

“Well, that’s what I mean. You expend the trouble and you don’t make any mistake–and then you experience the ecstasy. But if there’s any subject in which you’re content with the second-rate, then it isn’t really your subject.”

“You’re dead right,” said Harriet, after a pause. “If one’s genuinely interested one knows how to be patient, and let time pass, as Queen Elizabeth said. Perhaps that’s the meaning of the phrase about genius being eternal patience, which I always thought rather absurd. If you truly want a thing, you don’t snatch; if you snatch, you don’t really want it. Do you suppose that, if you find yourself taking pains about a thing, it’s a proof of its importance to you?”

“I think it is, to a large extent. But the big proof is that the thing comes right, without those fundamental errors. One always makes surface errors, of course. But a fundamental error is a sure sign of not caring. I wish one could teach people nowadays that the doctrine of snatching what one thinks one wants is unsound.”

“I saw six plays in London this winter,” said Harriet, “all preaching the doctrine of snatch. I agree that they left me with the feeling that none of the characters knew what they wanted.”

“No,” said Miss DeVine. “If you are once sure what you do want, you find that everything else goes down before it like grass under a roller–-all other interests, your own and other people’s.”

(Contributed by Mary Butler)

Queen Elizabeth’s comment might also have found its way into Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” his argument for an American revolution, when he wrote that “Time makes more converts than reason.”

Oddly enough, the story is that Thomas Paine, when he was imprisoned in Paris during the French Revolution and was at risk of losing his head to the guillotine, was spared when his wife disguised herself as a boy and bet his life against Robespierre in a game of chess. She won.

This story was told in the September 1953 issue of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”

(Contributed by Malcolm Bishop)

(c) 1995-2016 by Bill Peschel