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Literary licence/historical fact

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  • yawors1@uwindsor.ca
    A posting originally from the Crimean War yahoo group that might be instructive: Collaboration - a Cautionary Tale. Some time after the event, Alfred Lord
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4, 2006
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      A posting originally from the Crimean War yahoo group that might be

      Collaboration - a Cautionary Tale.

      Some time after the event, Alfred Lord Tennyson (ALT) was seated in his
      study on the Isle of Wight, composing a poem on the Charge of the Light
      Brigade. He had completed the draft of the first few verses when a servant
      announced the arrival of a certain Mr Michael Le Toc (MLT). Michael had a
      cousin, James, who had been serving at the time as a Cornet in one of the
      light cavalry regiments; having heard of Lord Tennyson's project he was
      anxious to ensure that his cousin should receive due recognition and was
      certain that the poet would value the knowledge that he had acquired in
      conversation with James.

      Against his better judgment, ALT agreed to see MLT and unwisely recited to
      him the draft verses, the first of which began...

      Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward,

      All in the valley of death Rode the six hundred...

      At this point MLT interrupted to point out some inaccuracies. His cousin
      was a stickler for detail and before leaving the Crimea had made it his
      task to visit the battlefield and pace the distance; he had calculated a
      distance of nine sixteenth of a league, measured from the front rank of
      the cavalry at the start to the Russian gun positions; furthermore the
      so-called valley was in fact a re-entrant. James had also told him that
      one of the officers had been thrown from his horse just before the order
      to charge; he had been unable to catch his horse in time and it had
      galloped off with the rest. There had therefore been only five hundred and
      ninety nine riders. MLT suggested a revised draft...

      ALT looked sideways at his visitor before continuing...

      `Forward the Light Brigade'!

      `Charge for the Guns'! he said...

      `It was Lord Cardigan who said'...interposed MLT. Into the valley of

      `re-entrant', corrected MLT.

      Rode the Six...

      `five hundred and ninety nine', warned MLT.

      At this point ALT refused to continue unless MLT ceased his interruptions.
      MLT pointed out that Cousin James had been there and that accuracy was
      important to his reputation; nonetheless he reluctantly agreed to contain

      `Forward the Light Brigade'! `Was there a man dismayed'? No, tho' the
      soldier knew Someone had blundered...

      MLT was on the edge of his chair and unable to contain himself any longer
      'Blundered'! You can say that again! James was in fact extremely dismayed,
      but then

      he was the only one with the intelligence to realise what was happening;
      of course...'. ALT quelled him with a look before continuing...

      Their's not to make reply, Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do
      and die: Into the Valley of Death

      Rode the Six Hundred.

      At the end of the verse MLT felt free to comment. `Of course they couldn't
      reply because they had not been asked for their view, but anyone with
      James' intelligence could certainly reason why! Yes, they had to do, but
      no, they didn't have to die; they might just be wounded or even get back
      unharmed - but then again they might die. As for the rest, you must
      remember that the valley was a re-entrant and the riders totalled just
      five hundred and ninety nine, though there were, I agree, six hundred

      ALT ignored the observations and resumed his recitation...

      Canon to Right of them, Canon to left of them, Canon in front of them
      Volley'd and thunder'd...

      MLT was on his feet... `No! No! No! The guns on the right were only half
      right. and James told me that at the start of the charge those on the left
      had been moved back and were only a quarter left; also, I don't think you
      should use the word "Volley'd"; I looked it up in the dictionary and I
      believe rifles volley while guns salvo...

      ALT held up a hand to silence the flow...

      Storm 'd at by shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of
      Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the Six Hundred.

      MLT, who suddenly appeared to be losing interest and was scribbling on a
      piece of paper, pointed out that James Le Toc had believed that his men
      were stupid enough to be bold but that few of them had been good enough to
      ride well. MLT also doubted whether Death had jaws - unless it came in the
      form of a crocodile; he wondered too about Hell's mouth but would `speak
      to the Vicar - or was he a Rector'?

      The fourth verse was still in embryo and ALT decided to humour his
      visitor. The verse was planned to deal with the arrival of the Brigade at
      the Russian gun position. `Not having been there', he said, `I would
      appreciate any information you might have gleaned from your conversations
      with your cousin as to his action on reaching the objective. My own draft
      began with the lines...'

      Flash 'd all their sabres bare, Flash 'd as they turn 'd in air, Sabring
      the gunners there, Charging an army, while All the world wonder'd....

      On being asked for his opinion MLT turned pink, but continued to scribble
      on his notepad, before rising and bowing himself quickly out, dropping a
      piece of paper in his host's lap as he hurriedly left. the room.
      Surprised, ALT opened the note and read...

      I am of course unable to assist you further, since Cousin James was the
      officer who fell from his horse just before the charge; while the horse
      performed superbly and went the whole way with the Brigade, he himself due
      to the distance and the smoke, was not in a position to see what actually
      occurred at the head of the re-entrant, let alone the flashing of sabres;
      indeed I doubt whether the world knew much about it at the time either. As
      for the first part of the charge, you may find the attached redraft of
      your poem helpful...

      Nine sixteenth of a league, nine sixteenth of a league,

      Nine sixteenth of a league onward,

      All in the re-entrant of death

      Rode the five hundred and ninety nine men and six hundred horses. `Forward
      the Light Brigade!'

      `Charge for the guns!' Lord Cardigan said;

      Into the re-entrant of death

      Rode the five hundred and ninety nine men and six hundred horses.

      `Forward the Light Brigade'!

      Le Toc was of course dismayed;

      No other soldier knew

      Someone had blunder'd

      Their's not to make reply,

      Only Le Toc could reason why,

      Their's but to do, be wounded, return unharmed or perhaps die; Into the
      re-entrant of death

      Rode the five hundred and ninety nine men and six hundred horses

      Canon half right of them,

      Canon a quarter left of them,

      Canon in front of them

      Salvo'd and thunder'd.s

      Storm 'd at with shot and shell,

      Boldly they rode, though not all that well;

      Into the ? of Death ... (check with the Vicar/Rector)

      Into the ? of Hell... (see above)

      Rode the five hundred and ninety nine men and six hundred horses.

      lists and deduct one more for Cousin James - but not for his horse; also
      don't forget that the guns on the right will now be half left and those on
      the left will now be three quarters right, ie to the right rear. You can
      contact me by trumpeter if you need any further guidance but please don't
      forget to acknowledge the enormous contribution made by Cousin James. I
      have some of his pictures which you must see!

      Having read the note, the Poet Laureate dropped it in the waste paper
      basket and continued with his task.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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