An excerpt from John Derbyshire's (rather chatty) National Review column:

Muddling Through. I opened my Christmas edition of Radio Derb with a clip of Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I noted with interest as I put the broadcast together that Judy sang the last verse as:

Someday soon we all will be together,
If the Fates allow.
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow...

Nowadays you much more commonly hear the lines as:

Through the years we all will be together,
If the Fates allow.
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough…

When and why was the change made, I wondered? The original lines were much superior as lyrics to the revised version. Were they just thought to be too downbeat? In the old USSR, Swan Lake used to be performed with a happy ending, the original (in which the Prince and Odette both perish) being thought too “negative.” Everything had to work out for the best in the People’s Paradise — no negativity! The Soviets never reported domestic plane crashes, on the same principle. Was there some similar political dynamic at work here, I wondered? Then I read Hugh Hewitt’s witty riff on exactly this topic, and all became clear. It was Frank Sinatra’s fault. Or possibly Judy’s.

What a pity. Apart from being lyrically superior, the “muddling through” version celebrates a fine old Anglo-Saxon tradition — the tradition of muddling through. As Hugh Hewitt says, in some of the most memorable words I’ve read this December:

LIFE IS ONE BIG MUDDLE. Sometimes you have to muddle more, sometimes you have to muddle less, but for all of us “muddling through” is the natural state of things. Luckily, while we muddle, we can surround ourselves with things we cherish. We can muddle nobly, happily and with a sense of purpose. We can choose to love and allow ourselves to be loved as we muddle. Ultimately, if you want it to be and let it be, it’s a beautiful muddle indeed.

Roger on that, Hugh.

The Market for Epic Poems. Just one more point on that song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”: Was the lyricist Ralph Blane a Latinist, at least to the degree of having studied Latin in school? I only ask because the line “If the Fates allow” is an exact translation from the 18th line of The Aeneid. Until about 30 years ago, every pupil at a decent secondary school had to “do” (in my school, memorize) the first couple of pages of The Aeneid, and the words si qua fata sinant would have been lying around in Blane’s head waiting to be put into a lyric, if he’d done school Latin.

Incidentally, there is a new translation of The Aeneid by Robert Fagles. I haven’t exactly read it, but I have looked into it, browsing in a bookstore, and it seems pretty good. To judge from the reception of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf a year or two back, the market for epic poetry is pretty healthy; though personally I’d want a parallel text for anything like that, just to satisfy occasional curiosity as to what the original said.

FWIW, Derbyshire himself seems not to be a Classicist by training ... interesting that he'd pick up on that apparent Aeneid ref (although he is British and probably was exposed to Virgil).


Tony Keen scripsit:

Given what he says in that piece and his approval elsewhere of single-sex schools, I'd think that Derbyshire almost certainly studied at least four years of Latin at school. Twenty years later, at my single-sex grammar school, everyone did Latin 'O'-level, even if they went on to study maths or sciences at 'A'-level or University. I suspect Derbyshire's school was the same.