15.12.04

Georg C. Fiske, John N. Daland and an unpublished poem by Mabel F. Arbuthnot

In 2000 I purchased a first-edition copy of the book Lucilius and Horace. A study in the Classical theory of imitation, by Georg Converse Fiske (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1920). This is an extraordinary study on the influence of Lucilius on Horace. It combines the literary theory with the factual documentation of echoes and parallels

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My copy was first owned by a J. N. Daland, a student of Fiske in the University of Wisconsin, because his signature can be seen in a corner of the book. It seems that this copy was a gift of Fiske himself to his student Daland, if the note "m. F. A." (written by Daland) means "munus Fiske auctoris". I have later found out that this J. N. Daland is John N. Daland, who got his M. A. in the University of Wisconsin, and became Dean of Milton College (Wisconsin). He wrote down a long note about Fiske, on the back flyleaves of the book. The note takes four leaves and is written in a big, rounded handwriting. It is a curious example of academic gossip. The text reads:

"My Latin Professor is a great man; he writes Ph. D. after his name. Italy & Greece are to him as Chicago to me, only more so. My Latin Professor writes books, big learned books, in whose pages you can almost see his smiling rotund face with its kind eyes. Now I am reading one from whose pages the face looks sad, tragic, startled, as I read, 'Dedicated to my wife, without whose unfaltering faith I never could have concluded the present work'.
Last year, in the marble-paneled halls of classicism I heard the scholars saying: 'Dr. F's wife has left him. Sh! Didn't you know?...'
m. F. A.
Oct. 1923"

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But the story went on. Georg Converse Fiske (born 1872) died in 1927. Then another of his students in Wisconsin, named Mabel F. Arbuthnot, wrote a deeply felt elegiac poem (a sonnet, actually) on Fiske's death. She seemingly gave or sent the text of this poem to Daland, who pasted it down on a leaf of the book, adding the phrase "Received Feb. 1927". The poem is titled "GEORGE CONVERSE FISKE"; the text is typed and hand-signed ("Mabel F. Arbuthnot") by its author herself. It is actually quite a good poem:

GEORGE CONVERSE FISKE

He is not ready, yet, to take your hand
And tread the unknown path where those he knew
Have gone before him to the shadow-land,
Leaving behind all they had hoped to do.
O Death, be kind to him we mourn to-day,
He was not ready for you when you came,
For he had still so much to do and say,
So much to add to his exalted name.
This is the boon, O Death, that we would ask
For him we mourn to-day, that his great mind
May never need to cease its eager quest.
Be kind, and grant an everlasting task,
To him whose mighty soul was not designed
To crave the gift of everlasting rest.

Mabel F. Arbuthnot.

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This girl was Mabel Florence Arbuthnot (1899-1978). She belonged to a very distinguished family. She received her M.A. and Ph. D. in the University of Wisconsin. She was later Professor of Latin and Greek in Texas State Women’s College at Denton. And she was also an esteemed writer of poetry, who published two books: Carmina (New York: Henry Harrison, 1940) and Selected poems (New York: Henry Harrison, 1975). I have not been able to see these two books, so I can not affirm if the sonnet quoted is there or not. But I rather think that it is a hitherto unpublished poem. So I felt my readers could find its publication here of some interest.

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