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Saturday, 20 July 2019

Part 2. "The Moon takes up the wondrous tale" *


Galileo's first refracting telescope, in the Museo Galileo, Florence

The early telescopes were not perfect.  When  a founder member of the Royal Society,  Sir Paul Neale (or Neile) enthusiastically claimed to see a giant elephant on the Moon, it proved to be a mouse which had crept in between the tubes, along with gnats and insects, which were interpreted as Lilliputian armies.   These Royal Society virtuosi were duly mocked by Samuel Butler as:

 "learned men who greedily pursue,
Things that are rather wonderful than true."

He attacked their aims and their methods as they

"... grew distracted, whether to espouse,
The party of the Elephant or Mouse.
 Some held there was no way so orthodox
As to refer it to the ballot box".*

Samuel Butler, The Elephant in the Moon, c. 1670

Fortunately sense and the empirical method prevailed, and the telescope was taken apart to reveal the mouse.   [Maybe our politicians today should read Butler's poem.]

The early lunar romances were popular with the educated.  Before Bishop Godwin's flying swans, Ariosto in his Orlando Furioso, 1532, sends his hero, Astolfo, a knight of Charlemagne, flying around on a hippogriff, half eagle and half horse (as described in Virgil).


Contemporary wood engraving with hippogriff  for "Orlando Furioso",  (wikimedia commons)

Reaching Paradise, Astolfo is then sent to the Moon in Old Testament Elijah's flaming chariot, where he discovers mad Orlando's lost wits, for according to myth, everything lost or wasted on earth is found on the moon.  How prescient were these writers from antiquity?

The twentieth century American novelist, Herman Wouk, wrote a strange little Utopian journey to the moon in The Lomokome Papers in 1949.  A US. Naval astronaut crash-lands and is captured and taken down to a subterranean (sublunar?) world.  The story is pieced together from fragments of his log, found near the crash site, interspersed with sections of government reports of their findings.
As in other Utopias, the hero discovers the failings of the Lomokome system:  -- "All the Hydrogen Belongs to All the People" -- and their chilling Law of Reasonable War and Death Day, which "reduces a foolishly chaotic arrangement, which threatens our total destruction, to a sane, safe, workable process".



The Lomokome Papers, with haunting illustrations by Harry Bennett  
1968 edition © Herman Wouk

Interestingly, by 1967 Wouk is "sobered by the speed with which truth is overtaking my grim fiction", but thought that, "the moon voyage as a literary form, approaches total eclipse".

1956 Film Poster  (wikimedia commons)

Where it has blossomed of course is on the screen, whether based on existing novels, or created by directors and authors now writing screenplays.  The Forbidden Planet, of 1956, based by its original writers Irving Block and Allen Adler on Shakespeare's The Tempest, is regarded as the forerunner of the genre, which took off in the 1960s with many notable films and TV series.  

To mention just two, 1968 sees Kubrick's unforgettable 2001: A Space Odyssey, based on a story by Arthur C. Clarke: 

Film still from Stanley Kubrick's  "2001: a Space Odyssey" (wikimedia commons)

and perhaps my favourite -- Silent Running, in 1972:


Film still from "Silent Running", with Bruce Dern and Huey,  1972 (wikimedia commons)

* from Joseph Addison's hymn, 1712

Friday, 19 July 2019

Part 1. "Who announces the ages of the moon?" (Amergin, from the 12th century Irish Book of Leinster)

We will all be moon gazing on 20th July, 50 years since the first man stepped onto the moon, that "mythical " body watched in the night skies for  thousands of years.  Just 360 years ago, like Galileo and other contemporary astronomers,  Thomas Harriot, mathematician and navigator, with his splendid new telescope drew this map of the surface of the moon, although unlike Galileo, author of Sidereal Nuncio (or Starry Messenger)  in 1610, he never published his discoveries.  His friend and patron Sir Walter Raleigh  ended in the Tower, so maybe Harriot was being circumspect in uncertain political times.

Thomas Harriot's map measures just 6 ins across, and shows the 5-day-old moon's surface, 
as observed on 26th July 1609      © Petworth House Archives.

In 1679, the best map of the moon's surface for many years was compiled by Giovanni Domenico Cassini, the Director of the Paris Observatory, using a 34 ft telescope, and this was engraved for publication by Claude Mellan and widely copied.  


Cassini's Map of the moon, showing Cape Heraclides  and Sinus Iridium,   c. 1679
(wikimedia commons)

The light from the moon itself also contributed to the sciences from which the capacity for travel into space developed.  In eighteenth century Britain, the full moon lit the way for men of ideas to travel to meet together,  like the "Lunar Society" of Birmingham.  Its key members were Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood and Joseph Priestley (discoverer of oxygen);  there must have been many such meetings elsewhere and on other continents, made practicable by moonlit nights. 

In seventeenth century Europe, the moon became not just a worldwide focus of ancient myth and legend in different cultures, or a universal practical guide to time and navigation, but now, as seen through the  astronomers' new telescopes, an intriguing subject of space travel stories, another aspect of this new spirit of scientific  exploration.  It becomes another New World, often a distant Utopia. 

One of Ben Jonson's court masques for James I in 1620 was News from the New World discovered in the Moon, (based on a classical Greek tale), but the bestseller of its day, The Man in the Moone, 1638, was written probably in the late 1620s by Francis Godwin, the Bishop of Hereford using a pseudonym.    

An early astronaut is transported to the moon by flying geese.  
 Bristol Delft plate c. 1740  Glaisher collection  © Fitzwilliam Museum 

It is also in the later seventeenth century that sees the discovery of the elephant in the moon --  but more of that and other tales in my next blog.

  


Monday, 1 July 2019

July beginnings: "Dancing to Time's tune"



"Through the Looking Glass, and what Alice found there" ,   illus. John Tenniel 1871

"When, at the start of the whole business, I bought an Army greatcoat, it was at one of those places in the neighbourhood of Shaftesbury Avenue, where, as well as officers' kit and outfits for sport, they hire or sell theatrical costumes.  The atmosphere within, heavy with menace like an oriental bazaar, hinted at clandestine bargains, furtive even if not unlawful commerce, heightening the tension of an already novel undertaking.  The deal was negotiated in an upper room, dark and mysterious, draped with skiing gear and riding-breeches, in the background of which, behind the glass windows of a high display case, two headless trunks stood rigidly at attention.  One of these effigies wore Harlequin's diagonally spangled tights; the other, scarlet full-dress uniform of some infantry regiment, allegorical figures, so it seemed, symbolising dualisms of the antithetical stock-in trade surrounding them . . . Civil and Military  . . . Work and Play . . . Detachment and Involvement . . . Tragedy and Comedy . . . War and Peace . . . Life and Death . . ."

British Army WWII officers' greatcoat, recreated from Crombie archive  © Crombie Ltd

"An assistant, bent, elderly, bearded, with the congruous demeanour of the Levantine trader, bore the greatcoat out of a secret recess in the shadows and reverently invested me within its double-breasted, brass-buttoned, stiffly pleated khaki folds.
… In a three-sided full-length looking-glass nearby I, too, critically examined the back view of the coat's shot-at-dawn cut, aware at the same time that soon, like Alice, I was to pass, as it were by virtue of these habiliments, through its panes into a world no less magic."

The Soldier's Art, Vol. 8,  A Dance to the Music of Time  Anthony Powell 1966  (© the author)



A Dance to the Music of Time,  Nicolas Poussin c 1634-36  ©Wallace Collection London

Anthony Powell's revered twelve-volume series presents a tapestry* of British society and events over some fifty years, as seen through the eyes of Nicholas Jenkins, its narrator. The first volume,  A Question of Upbringing, introduces Nick and his friends at public school in 1921, and subsequent volumes chart the passing years with a vast cast of recurring characters, from the Spring to the Winter of their lives;  just as Nick muses on the dancers in Poussin's painting:

 " The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outwards like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure, stepping slowly, methodically, sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take a recognisable shape: or breaking into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the steps of the dance." (Vol. 1)

Each volume has a leitmotif, set out in its title and opening paragraphs. Some introduce a major character, others propel the reader along with Nick (our observer and narrator), into a whole new environment; in volume six the opening - a childhood memory recounting a servant problem in an English country house - might serve as a short story in itself.   As well as the many recurring characters and overlapping events in their lives, themes are carried throughout in frequent references to books and paintings.  This quotation from Byron's Childe Roland comes in the last pages of volume 8.:

"I asked one draught of earlier happier sights
 Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards -- the soldier's art;
One taste of the old time sets all to rights."


(and see the Anthony Powell Society, anthonypowell.org)

*  I am reminded of Grayson Perry's tapestry sequences.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Chaos theory: "French truth, Dutch prowess, British policy"



Cassiopeia A, supernova fragment   © NASA

Here are some apposite lines for politicians and voters today,  quoting from a poet writing over 340 years ago:

  "Nothing! thou elder brother even to Shade:
Thou hadst a being ere the world was made,
And well fixed, art alone of ending not afraid.

Ere Time and Place were, Time and Place were not,
When primitive Nothing Something straight begot;
Then all proceeded from the great united What.
……

Is or Is Not, the two great ends of Fate,
And True or False, the subject of debate,
That perfect or destroy the vast designs of state --
…..

But Nothing, why does Something still permit
That sacred monarchs should in council sit
With persons highly thought at best for nothing fit,

While weighty Something modestly abstains
From princes' coffers, and from statesmen's brains,
And Nothing there like stately Nothing reigns?

Nothing! who dwellst with fools in grave disguise,
For whom they reverend shapes and forms devise,
Lawn sleeves and furs and gowns, when they like thee look wise:

French truth, Dutch prowess, British policy,
Hibernian learning, Scotch civility,
Spaniards' dispatch, Danes' wit are mainly seen in thee;

The great man's gratitude to his best friend,
Kings' promises, whores' vows -- towards thee they bend,
Flow swiftly into thee, and in thee ever end."

Upon Nothing,  John Rochester c. 1678


John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester  c. 1665-70  © National Portrait Gallery London

Saturday, 15 June 2019

On the lending and losing of books: "how many more of your books I daily make use of:"

I have written before about John Locke's long friendship with James Tyrrell from his time at Christ Church, Oxford, who lived at nearby Oakley.    I knew Tyrrell's maternal grandfather was James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and revered as a biblical scholar, by both King James I and Oliver Cromwell.  He was best known for his Latin history, Annals of the Old and New Testaments, which dated the creation of the world from 4004 BC.  


James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, 1641    Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen
© Jesus College, Oxford

But  I gave Archbishop Ussher no further thought until I was reading about the Book of Kells in Christopher de Hamel's "Meetings with  Remarkable Manuscripts".  It was Ussher who first studied Ireland's world-renowned late 8th century Latin manuscript of the four Gospels as a key historic book, and not just as a monumental religious icon of Ireland.  (It is now on the Unesco Memory of the World Register.)


Illuminated page from the  Book of Kells  
© Trinity College Library, Dublin

His grandson James himself was a respected Whig historian (e.g. Bibliotheca Politica 1694). It is not surprising then that the Tyrrells were a family of serious readers, lending and borrowing books amongst themselves and friends.  

Locke entrusted Tyrrell with the storage of his furniture and books from Christ Church when he had to move abroad in 1683.  Back in England seven years later under William III,  by 1691 he  was moving from London lodgings to a more permanent home with Sir Francis and Lady Masham at Oates in Essex, and asked for his Oxford belongings to be returned to him.  This took a long time,  because of the problems of transporting safely furniture, household goods, and valuable items as well as numerous heavy books.  Much was sent by the newly restored river-barge route between Oxford and London:

 A Victorian photo of the new style pound lock at Culham
Originally built by the 17th century Oxford-Burcot Commission; the first commercial barge from London for centuries reached Oxford in 1635, after work to add gated poundlocks and improve the passage over the many weirs and sluices (i.e. flashlocks). 

Even this was not easy:  
"John could not get a Cart before last week to bring them hither [from Shotover to Oxford], nor was there ever a barge ready to carry them till today….I hope they will come safely to your hands for I have given the bargeman great charge of your chair."  Tyrrell to Locke, 15th October 1691

A week later Tyrrell writes, "Your boxes layn here this fortnight waiting for a passage, for the locks being at fault the barges could not passe till they were mended."

This consignment included six large boxes,  two smaller and a trunk, plus a large bundle of linens, and a cane chair.  Locke's goods from Christ Church included a very large number of books as well as items awkward to pack (two carpets were too big to go in the bundle). 

Christ Church College, Oxford   Frederick Nash 

The other problem was that over the years the Tyrrell family had dipped in to Locke's library and used his trunks and boxes, furniture and other items: "having taken the books; and other things out of it, I lent my wife the box to put some linen in:"  30 June 1691

Tyrrell's difficulties sound familiar to anyone who has moved house and had to store belongings with friends or relatives for a long time, or vice-versa.  He has constant problems finding overlooked items at the family homes at Shotover and Oakley and then packing them for transport.

"I would have sent you your telescope if the box had been long enough….I find since the writing of the Catalogue [of Locke's Oxford books] that I have omitted some books which I left at Oxford: and were among my books there, and so were forgot till now….I have bin forced to take the second part of the 'State of France' out of the box: because it would not hold it and the bottle."  

I have sent you all your bookes, except…such bookes (he lists over a dozen) as I have made bold to borrow of you for some longer time.…your Telescope is on top of the bookes in one of the boxes;" 
15 October 1691

"I have also sent you up the 2 first Tomes of your French Herodotus; and the last [Volume III] which I lent my daughter, is come as far as Oxford, but I cannot have it to send up this returne, but you shall have it the next week; when I send up some other things to James:" [Tyrrell's son]  November 1691 

His despatches continue into 1692 with an insight into family life at Oakley:  "as for books not medicinal, James had in his keeping unknown to me Oglebyes Japan, and my Father had borrowed Africa of the same Authours but they shall both be sent to you with the boxes". 

  John Ogilby's Africa 1670  (Photo Bauman Rare Books)

"..the little hair trunk  I lent to my daughter into Wales...Besides your Carpets, I have an old terrestrial Globe of yours, which would not go well into the trunk…...  2 pair of [your cases for books] were at Shotover, with some books of mine, and I could not prevail with the carter to go out of the way." [from Oakley to Oxford] 30th January 1692

And in August: he sends a book "which my Sister had borrowed;"  but not  "an old Terrestriall Globe which would not got into the box … . and my son desires the use of it a little longer;   I have allso your weather glasse at Shotover which was too long to goe into any of the boxes",  nor another book and a cushion which his son still had. 


John Patrick's Weatherglass: Directions   (see SIS Bulletin 80)

Tyrell entrusts a friend to send this 'last' consignment  to Locke:  Mr: Thomas … haveing first sent all your things together with his owne to Mr: Rushes barge, which I suppose sets out on Thursday "  9th August 1692

Eventually, in slow succession, Locke's precious boxes of books and other belongings arrived in London and were then transported by carrier  (i.e. horse and cart) via Bishop's Stortford to the Masham's home at Oates, High Laver in Essex.

Several items were still missing or remained 'borrowed' by the Tyrrell family.  In the summer of 1701, Locke makes a last attempt to trace the missing volume III from his French edition of Herodotus, which may have gone with James's daughter Mary to Wales and was said to have been returned in November 1691 - it was she who had irretrievably lost the key to one of Locke's small trunks, which caused everyone a deal of trouble in her absence.  Tyrrell replies, "my daughter assures me she never saw more than those 2 volumes of it….which way the third came to be lost I know not….my son may perhaps have borrowed it unbeknownst to me.." August 1701

Pierre du Ryer's French translation of Herodotus' "Histories"  (Photo Sequitur Books) 

Locke's Herodotus Volume III was never found, so is it perhaps buried in some old Welsh library archive, or given the difficulties of transport then, lost forever in a Thames mill pond?


 The Mill at Mapledurham,  part 15th century, the oldest surviving mill on the Thames

Quotations from The Correspondence of John Locke, ed. E.S. De Beer, Clarendon Press Oxford

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Hetty Dorval - " a woman of no reputation"

Let us put all the continuing travails of Brexit and Europe into a wider historical context.
Hetty Dorval, a coming of age story by the Canadian writer Ethel Wilson, published just two years after the end of World War II, has one of the most chilling endings to a novel I have come across.

A young Canadian teenager, Frankie Burnaby just twelve, relates how her quiet family life in rural British Columbia is transformed by her secret friendship with a new arrival from Shanghai:  Hetty Dorval, a glamorous young woman with a mysterious past.  Hetty is to turn up again at  key moments in Frankie's life.



 Frankie is too innocent to realise what Hetty is until her parents explain that this visiting must end, for Mrs Dorval is regarded as "a woman of no reputation", ugly stories having followed her across the Pacific.

"In my mind, seeing Hetty's pure profile and her gentle smile, I said to myself that Father couldn't have believed these things if he had seen her himself. But a sick surprised feeling told me it might be true."

When Frankie is sixteen her mother takes her to England  to complete her education. Among the ship's passengers is Hetty, now engaged  to marry an elderly General, and she appeals to the Burnabys' generosity not to mention rumours of her past and destroy her chance of real security.

Frankie then lives with her uncle and cousins Richard and his young sister Molly in Cornwall for two happy years of growing up.  "As I look back, I  don't know where my liking for Richard began or ended.  I accepted my liking or love for him without question.  It was all natural and completely young and happy. Nothing spoiled the confidence and harmony of our lives together whether we were apart or whether we were all together in Cliff House by the sea."

But Hetty, now widowed, turns up again in London and charms Frankie's cousins completely, just as she had bedazzled young Frankie.  


"I thought of others in whom goodness was as visible as green, but it was not visible in Hetty."
(Dancing figurine,  Stephan Dakon for Goldscheider Vienna, 1936-7)

Frankie, finally grown up, and learning the truth of the emotional wreckage Hetty caused in Shanghai, confronts her, determined to protect the cousins she loves.  True to form, Hetty simply walks away from an unpleasant "complicated" situation.  When Frankie sends her packing, she goes off to Vienna with a rich admirer.   The ending is quite sudden:

"As I watched with satisfaction Hetty going down the narrow stairs I knew that before she had taken three steps she had forgotten me and she had forgotten Richard.  She was on her way.
Six weeks later the German Army occupied Vienna.
There arose a wall of silence around the city, through which only faint confused sounds were sometimes heard."

Hetty Dorval,   Ethel Wilson 1947  ©  British Columbia University Library, quotations from Persephone Books edition 2005

Saturday, 1 June 2019

June beginnings: "to reside In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice…"*



HMS Erebus in the Arctic ice, Sir John Franklin expedition 1846,   Francois E. Musin  © Royal Museums Greenwich

"On the morning of September 4th, 1910, the inhabitants of Enmyn, a settlement spread out on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, heard an unusual clamour.  This was not the cracking of shattered ice, nor the rumble of an avalanche, nor the crashing of stones down the rocky precipices of the Enmyn cape.

Just then Toko was standing in his chottagin  [the outer entrance to his yaranga] pulling on a white kamleika.  He thrust his arms carefully into the wide sleeves, touching his face to the material, inhaling its smell -- had a good airing out in the freezing wind.  Otherwise all he touched - traps, Winchester, snowshoes - everything would be permeated with that smell.

A crashing noise roared in his ears. Toko quickly stuck his head through the neck-hole, and sprang out of the chottagin in a single bound.

Where, only yesterday, there had been the white people's ship, a cloud was spreading.  There were ice splinters under his feet,
People rushed out from all twelve of the yarangas.  They stood in silence looking out toward the ship, and making guesses about the explosion.  Now Armol' came up to him.
' Likely, they were trying to crack the ice…'  'I think so, too', Toko agreed.  'Let's go.'  And the two hunters set off for the ice-bound ship.

The cloud over the ship was dissipated, and in the dawn twilight you could make out a hole in the ice under the bowsprit.  There were more and more chunks of ice underfoot, strewn all about the ship.
The deck rang with agitated voices, long shadows flickering across the portholes.

Toko and Armol' slowed their step.  The others caught up with them.
'Blood!'  Toko exclaimed, bending down to the tracks that led from the hole to the ship. 'Blood!' the people echoed, looking down at the stains on the ice and on deck.

From the frozen-through wooden belly of the ship came a long drawn-out moan, just like the howl of a wounded wolf."

A Dream in Polar Fog  Yuri Rytkheu, 1968.  Eng. trans. I. Y. Chavasse, © 2005

This is the story of a young Canadian, John MacLennan, who sails to the Arctic to seek his fortune and make his name.

The Bering Strait and Chukotka Pensinsula, Eastern Siberia

Trying to sail right round the Chukotka Peninsula of Eastern Siberia, too late in the season, their ship is caught in an ice field and carried to Enmyn.

While dynamiting the ice-field a faulty fuse has blown John's hands apart and the captain (offering rifles) persuades the local Chukchi to carry John to hospital at far distant Anadyr.  To save his life on the journey, a shaman has to operate on his gangrenous stumps, but when the men finally get back to Enmyn, the ice has parted and the ship has sailed without him.

Spring in Chukotka    Photo A. Kutskiy

Stranded in this tiny remote settlement of a dozen families, over eight years, he learns to use his mangled hands, learns to hunt walrus and whale and adopts the Chukchi way of life,  marrying and raising a young family.   But white trappers and whalers arrive, outside elements which will threaten these indigenous people's traditions, with the revolution in Russia and the discovery of gold further north, and finally John is forced to make a far-reaching  decision.

"We believe that we live on the best land in the world.  That's the beauty, that no one wants it except for ourselves."

Yuri Rytkheu was born in 1930, and grew up among the Chukchi people, where his grandfather was a shaman, and whose way of life he celebrates in this novel.  In 1949 he studied at Leningrad University, where he made his name as a writer and journalist, and later settled there.  He died in St Petersburg in May 2008.

A walrus rookery   

Modern bulk carriers trapped in the Arctic ice   © maritime executive

* Measure for Measure, Act III   W. Shakespeare

Friday, 3 May 2019

Kermes & Cudbear (and Scottish rain?)

Cudbear and Kermes -- these are not a comedy partnership or a firm of Dickensian lawyers, but associated nevertheless, as these were both once widely used red textile dyes.

Kermes is an very ancient dyestuff, probably known at least since the bronze age, using scale insects, producing a rich scarlet,  so costly only the richest could afford it, until it was replaced by cochineal from Spanish Mexico in the late 1500s.


Roman Catholic cardinals in red robes, illumination from the Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Berry, France 1500s

Kermes dye was  much coveted by the Romans, who called it 'grana' ,  hence "dyed in the grain", without realising that the berry-like granules were the bodies of the female kermes vermilio insect, found on the branches of  the Mediterranean oak (quercus coccifera).
"Kermes is of the bigness of a pea, and of a brownish red colour, covered when most perfect, with a purplish grey dust.  It contains a multitude of soft granules, which, when crushed, yield a scarlet juice.  It is found adhering to a kind of holm oak. "  So Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary of 1755.

Traditionally it was harvested by women: in medieval France in the Languedoc there are accounts of the women going out with lanterns and baskets, as the best time to find the female kermes insects with their unhatched eggs was just before dawn.  At harvest time in May, the women would grow a fingernail extra long for scraping the granules from the branches.   The insects were needed in such large quantities that the scarlet dye cost ten times as much as other dyestuffs.


Coronation cloak of Roger II of Sicily, 1133-34

Equally ancient, but much less spectacular is cudbear, a plant dye. Cudbear comes from lichens, particularly  ochrolecia tartarea, known as crottle in Scotland, but orchil or archil in England.


Ochrolecia tartarea lichen, i.e. Scottish 'crottle', archil or orchil.

 Samples have been found in neolithic caves in France and it was used by the Egyptians to make rich red and purple dye colours  (recorded in the Stockholm Papyrus circa 3rd or 4th century AD).   
The lichen was dried, pounded and then soaked in a urine solution to ferment for two weeks, producing a range of shades.
Archil was used for the rich reds of the finest Florentine silks, rediscovered and refined in Italy in the middle ages.  By the eighteenth century British dyers were importing costly red and purple dyestuffs from abroad - madder from Dutch East India  merchants, and archil (Spanish weed) from the Canaries and Cape Verde.  The demand for better and cheaper dyes and more variety continued into the nineteenth century.  
Cudbear Street in the Hunslet area of Leeds is a reminder of the Wood & Bedford dye works which was there in the nineteenth century, but the patent for commercial Cudbear dyestuffs begins in Scotland with one George Gordon, a coppersmith from the Highlands.  Repairing copper vessels in London, he noticed the dye-maker using a similar method to that of his granny who used native lichens.

George Gordon's comments intrigued his chemist nephew Cuthbert Gordon, who started researching and produced a commercial method for using native lichens, instead of expensive imported dyestuffs.  He and his uncle took out a patent in 1758  and found investors to help them set up a factory in Leith.  He called his dye "cudbear", after his family name Cuthbert. 


The Cudbear patent,   1758  © Scottish School Archives

By 1773 the factory was failing, and Cuthbert was imprisoned for debt, but was released in 1774 to revive the factory in order to repay the investors.  His patent method produced strong red and violet shades suitable for dyeing cotton, as well as wool, with less need for the mordants to help the dye 'bite' firmly onto the fibres.   He advertised with samples  "dyed in a saucepan" so not at full strength, to show his Cudbear could replace costly imported indigo and cochineal.



Cuthbert Gordon's sample advertising from his Leith Walk premises 1774 (from Scottish School Archives)

Cuthbert's efforts attracted a canny Glasgow merchant to invest in 1776 and the factory was moved from Edinburgh to Dunchatton in Glasgow.

Did this fuel the ambition of the merchant's 10 year old son Charles?, for in 1796 he left his clerking job and set up his own factory producing ammonium chloride.
He went on to achieve fame as an industrial chemist and his invention of rubberised cloth made his family name a household word around the globe.  He was, of course, Charles Macintosh (1766-1843).
From the Mackintosh catalogue, 1893  By now the variant K had become standard spelling
 © Mackintosh.com

And skilled fingers, like the insect harvesters', are still part of the manufacturing process:


A special glue is applied by finger, to seal the sewn pieces together. © Mackintosh.com

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

May beginnings: "I'm to be Queen of the May,…*


"Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions. The streets of the cities were lined with buildings in bad repair or in no repair at all, bomb-sites piled with stony rubble, houses like giant teeth in which decay had been drilled out, leaving only the cavity.  Some bomb-ripped buildings looked like the ruins of ancient castles until, at a closer view, the wallpapers of various quite normal rooms would be visible, room above room, exposed, as on a stage, with one wall missing; sometimes a lavatory chain would dangle over nothing from a fourth- or fifth-floor ceiling; most of all the staircases survived, like a new art-form, leading up and up to an unspecified destination that made unusual demands on the mind's eye.  All the nice people were poor; at least, that was a general axiom, the best of the rich being poor in spirit.


The Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens (photo R. Harding)

"There was absolutely no point in feeling depressed about the scene, it would have been like feeling depressed about the Grand Canyon or some event of the earth outside everybody's scope.  People continued to exchange assurances of depressed feelings about the weather or the news, or the Albert Memorial which had not been hit, not even shaken, by any bomb from first to last.
The May of Teck Club stood obliquely opposite the site of the Memorial, in a row of tall houses which had endured, but barely; …. the Club had been three times window-shattered since 1940, but never directly hit.   There the windows of the upper bedrooms overlooked the dip and rise of treetops in Kensington Gardens across the street, with the Albert Memorial to be seen by means of a slight craning and twist of the neck.



Queen Alexandra House, Kensington, built in 1884 (photo Historic England) 

"….All the nice people were poor and few were nicer, as nice people come, than these girls at Kensington…  The first of the Rules of Constitution, drawn up at some remote and innocent Edwardian date, still applied more or less to them:

 The May of Teck Club exists for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London.

 As they realised themselves in varying degrees, few people alive at the time were more delightful, more ingenious, more movingly lovely, and, as it might happen, more savage, than the girls of slender means."

The Girls of Slender Means   Muriel Spark, 1963

Muriel Spark drew on her time at a similar ladies' hostel in 1944 (the Helena Club on the north side of the park) for the May of Teck Club*.  The story unfolds in flashbacks to 1945, from VE Day in May to  VJ Day in August.  Amid wartime rationing and victory celebrations, the girls pursue their individual dreams of careers and marriage:   among them Joanna, the elocution teacher reciting The Wreck of the Deutschland,  Jane, the embryo gossip columnist, Dorothy with her debutante chatter, mad Pauline, and the ever elegant and heartless Selina.
They barter ration coupons, exchange suitors and borrow clothes; a much-prized pre-war Schiaparelli evening dress is a key element in the novel's shattering climax.  Fascinated by their lives is Jane's friend, the anarchist poet Nicholas Farringdon;  "I think he was in love with us all, poor fellow".


Elsa Schiaparelli evening dress, 1938


"They call me cruel hearted, but I care not what they say,
For I'm to be Queen of the May, mother, I'm to be Queen of the May."   Alfred, Lord Tennyson


*The Helena Club was set up by Princess Helena, daughter of Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra House was established as a ladies' hostel by the wife of Edward VII, and Princess May of Teck involved in many charities, became Queen Mary, consort of George V.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

April beginnings: "so priketh hem Nature in hir coragis"*



"Sweet Thames run Softly",  Robert Gibbings wood engraving, 1940

"The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms.  Spring was moving in the air above  and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.  It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said "Bother!" and "O Blow!" and also "Hang spring-cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.  Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gravelled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air.  So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged, and then he scrooged again  and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow."

The Wind in the Willows,  Kenneth Grahame 1908

"The Wind in the Willows"     Paul Bransom

The first illustrations, by Paul Bransom, were not until the eighth edition in 1913, and many notable illustrators have followed, like Arthur Rackham and E. H. Shepard, but I have always read Kenneth Grahame's story of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Mr Toad in a sibling's 1941 school edition with no pictures, just the excitement of Grahame's words.

As a child, when his mother died, Kenneth Grahame and his sister and brothers were sent to England  to live with their grandmother at The Mount, Cookham Dean, close to the Thames.  Here his uncle, the local curate, introduced him to boats and the river and later when Grahame lived further west at Blewbury with his family, the stories he wrote in The Wind in the Willows were those he had told to his young son Alastair.

  The gardens at The Mount,  Cookham Dean,  Stanley Spencer  1938 © artist's estate




Cookham Reach and Barley Hill,  Stanley Spencer c. 1920

Stanley Spencer grew up in Cookham itself and his paintings of the village and Cookham Lock have made the place famous.  Robert Gibbings was a friend from the Slade Art School, and in 1939 rowed along the Thames in his boat the "Willow" compiling his book Sweet Thames Run Softly.

*"Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages."  The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer