By MICHAEL CAINES (no pun intended – ed.)
There is a modest tradition of walking sticks propped in literary corners – in the writings of Leigh Hunt, Richard Steele and a few others. Steele didn't always trust them: "a cane is part of the dress of a prig", he suspected. Wounded soldiers aside, there were too many "peaceable cripples" who, "in this warlike age", "think a cane the next honour to a wooden leg". Hunt was more defensive of the innocent instrument itself. He felt the insult was misplaced when people were called names such as "a poor stick, a mere stick, a stick of a fellow". "We protest against this injustice done to those genteel, jaunty, useful, and once flourishing sons of a good old stock."
There is a self-flattering Edmund Gosse anecdote about Tennyson, as published in the TLS in 1904, in which the younger man seeks to impress the Poet Laureate with a fine line about – what else? – Rosicrucianism, likening the mysteries of that secret society to the mysteries of the art of poetry. The poet's response was gratifying: "He paused to listen, and then beat his walking-stick upon the gravel with fervent approval". Walking sticks, it seems, are not merely an aid to perambulation . . . .