Hay In Nosebags

“the Knyght was a little less than Perfect, and his horse did not have a metabolism”

Preamble to A Knyght Ther Was by Robert F Young, Analog Science Fact & Fiction, July 1963

This fragment from a pulp magazine was almost certainly the inspiration for Dobson’s important pamphlet, published, as it happened, on the day of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas, entitled, somewhat inelegantly,  A Comparative Study Of The Metabolisms Of The Horses Of Three Knights Of The Realm (out of print).

Dobson begins with a bold declaration:

In this pamphlet I am going to prove, beyond all reasonable doubt and brooking not one whit of opposition, that the horse of Sir Lancelot, of the Arthurian Round Table, had the metabolism of a squirrel, that the horse of his confrère Sir Bedivere had the metabolism of a gnat, and that the horse of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, of later date, had a metabolism so extraordinary and anomalous that science has yet to account for it. My findings, which will completely overturn the accepted wisdom regarding the metabolism of horses ridden by knights of the realm, are backed up by a wealth of evidence only I have had the energy and diligence to winkle out of the documentary record, and this evidence, in the form of a vast scholarly apparatus of footnotes and citations and what have you will be published in a separate series of pamphlets in due course.

It never was – so the reader has to take on trust forty pages of wild assertion, idiotic wittering, equine ignorance, and frankly incomprehensible gibberish, all of it written, as we would expect, in majestic sweeping paragraphs. The pamphlet is remembered today chiefly for the much-anthologised passage about nosebags crammed with hay which, though factually inaccurate, has served as a model for many a novice pamphleteer. I well remember the way these words of Dobson’s transfixed me in my early, faltering stabs at composition, and how for years I was unable to write a finished piece without inserting something about hay in nosebags, no matter what my ostensible subject. It must be said that editors were kind to me. The inevitable rejection letters I received gently pointed out that I could easily delete the hay in nosebags stuff without fatally undermining my prose. But, oh!, I was young and headstrong and I would not countenance the change even of a comma to what I had scribbled so decisively with my propelling pencil on my tablet of notepaper. In those days, I cared not to pound the keys of a typewriter like Mancunian polymath Anthony Burgess. My hero Dobson was a scribbler, and so would I be.

The truth of it was, of course, that without acknowledging the fact I was being smothered under the Dobson cushion, as so many beginners have been. My salvation, and the prompt that allowed me at long last to cast the cushion aside, was a commission from a now defunct magazine, Beasts Of Barnyard And Field, to pen an article about nosebags crammed with hay. I worried and fretted at it so much that, in nervously gnawing my propelling pencil I managed to get a sliver of lead stuck in my craw, and had to be enclinicked. It was the morning of my fifty-first day there when, sprawled on my balcony gazing at the mountains, I sensed a tiny yet dramatic shifting of the integuments within my head, and knew at once that I was free of Dobson. The mighty out of print pamphleteer will always remain my idol, but on that morning in that clinic on that balcony I knew it was possible for me to plough my own furrow.

I tore up the few puny pages of prose I had written about hay in nosebags, and instead submitted to the magazine a piece about swill for pigs. Alas, later that day, listening to the news on the wireless in the clinic’s rumpus room, I learned that the skyscraper housing the offices of Beasts Of Barnyard And Field had collapsed after attack by woodworm and weevils and tiny, tiny beings that bore through cement, and the magazine had ceased publication. Ha!, I thought, I am not going to let that stop me. And it has not.

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