Friday, 25 November 2011


 From the novel, 'Redcliff' by Eden Phillpotts.

"Dusk was down and the tide just upon the turn.  The still waters of the estuary, subdued to a dim silver,  flickered wan and wide in the last of the light and extended to the vague outlines of the distant shore, where earth again arose- an amorphous, undulating ridge of darkness between the water and the fading sky.  A railway train flung a feather of steam to break the gloom afar off and a gaggle of geese flew aloft, heard but not seen.  The shore did not reflect this peace, however, for the boats were sailing with the tide and not a few fishermen stood upon the little breakwater with their dingheys waiting below.  The fishing fleet rode at anchor a quarter of a mile from land.  They were set blackly on the still waters, and a boat or two from the haven had already started for them.  Women and landsmen stood about among the departing fishers.  Little groups talked, moved, mingled;  lanterns twinkled and one by one the shore boats carried their crews to sea."

What a glorious ampleness of alliteration is here! :  'dusk/down',  tide/turn', 'subued/silver', 'wan/wide' 'last/light'.  I have loved this passage for many years despite the fact that here, as so often, Phillpotts shows himself to be a somewhat careless prose writer.   I admit to being a pedant but  'fleet' is singular and can't carry a plural verb and 'however' serves better at the beginning of a sentence than half way through and geese surely are only a 'gaggle' when they are earthbound; when they fly they are a 'skein'.   Perhaps this carelessness,  he wrote at such speed, is one reason why Eden Phillpotts, despite his amazing productivity never received the critical acclaim he desired.   The picture, however, that he paints is very convincing.  The old man,  he was sixty when he came to live in Lympstone, to write 'Redcliff' and to flirt with the young cousin who became his second wife, must surely have stood, notebook in hand, in Lympstone cove and watched the fleet putting out to sea.  His use of the word 'dingheys' is odd.   The word is of Hindi and/or Bengali origin and is given by Eric Partridge as 'dingi'.  It means a small boat.  My Lloyd's 'Encyclopaedic Dictionary ' of 1895 gives 'dinghy', dinghi,' 'dinghee', and 'dingey' but not Eden's, he was born in India, 'dinghey'.  Lloyd's gives as a first definition: "A row-boat of the Hoogly, which probably gave the name to the little jolly-boat of the merchant service."   But who the Hoogly?

Those Estuary fishermen would have called their 'dingheys' 'punts'.  'Punt' is a very proper name for such a boat. It relates closely to ancient words meaning bridge or ferryboat.   A punt is a boat of passage which takes one from here to there and back again.

But, oh my friends,  those 'twinkling lanterns'!

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