Monday, 31 December 2012

"The Chimes"

"We have heard THE CHIMES at midnight, Master Swallow!"

Charles Dickens writing to John Forster, 1844, (quoting Henry IV Pt. 2) having found the title for his latest Christmas book.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Heavenly spheres

"Mortals, that would follow me
Love virtue, she alone is free,
She can teach ye how to climb
Higher than the sphery chime;
Or if virtue feeble were,
Heav'n itself would stoop to her."

Comus  John Milton

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

There was no snow

"The wind was rough
And cold and blough; she kept her hand
Inside her mough.
It chilled her through,
Her nose turned blough,
And still the squall the faster flough.
And yet although
There was no snough,
The weather was a cruel fough.
It made her cough
(please do not scoff)
She coughed until
Her hat blew ough."

Bennett Cerf

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Day in the Morning

" 'Alack,'  said the tailor, 'I have my twist; but no more strength -- nor time-- than will serve to make me one single button-hole; for this is Christmas Day in the Morning!  The Mayor of Gloucester shall be married by noon -- and where is his cherry-coloured coat?'
He unlocked the door of the little shop in Westgate Street and Simpkin ran in, like a cat that expects something.
But there was no one there!  Not even one little brown mouse!
The boards were swept and clean; the little ends of thread and the little silk snippets were all tidied away, and gone from off the floor,
But upon the table -- oh, joy! the tailor gave a shout -- there, where he had left plain cuttings of silk -- there lay the most beautifullest coat and embroidered satin waistcoat that ever were worn by a Mayor of Gloucester.
There were roses and pansies upon the facings of the coat; and the waistcoat was worked with poppies and corn-flowers.
Everything was finished except just one single cherry-coloured button-hole, and where that button-hole was wanting there was pinned a scrap of paper with these words -- in little teeny weeny writing --

                                                                                ' NO MORE TWIST '  "

The Tailor of Gloucester  Beatrix Potter

Happy Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2012

The night before Christmas 1666

24th December 1666

"...I did this evening buy me a pair of green spectacles, to see whether they will help my eyes or no.  So to the Change, and went to the Upper Change, which is almost as good as the old one; only shops are but on one side.  Then home to the office and did  business till my eyes begun to be bad; and so home to supper (my people being busy making mince pies) and so to bed....

25. Christmas Day.  Lay pretty long in bed.  And then rise, leaving my wife desirous to sleep, having sat up till 4 this morning seeing her maids make mince pies. ..."

The Diary of Samuel Pepys  ed. Robert Latham

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Sunday, 23rd December, 1945

"I read an interesting article in which it said that only three hundred thousand less turkeys were available this year than in an ordinary pre-war year.  But where, in 1938, only one family in seven had turkey, either from choice or inability to pay for one, today almost everyone wanted bird, and were quite able to pay the price.

People are so afraid of letting anything 'get by them'.  Take fruit, for instance.  I feel sure the average working-class person hardly ever bothered to buy oranges except at Christmas, but now, as soon as it is rumoured there are oranges or apples on the way, everyone spends hours looking for them.  and I know, perfectly well, that before the war thousands and thousands of people never had one salad in the whole course of the year.  Whereas now they all seem to want salads."     B. Charles.

"11a.m. Norah came in to arrange about the feeding of Smut while we are away at Christmas, and I gave her one of my three-year calendars.
11.30 a.m.  Ida came in and brought me a box of chocolates. I gave her a calendar."  Herbert Brush.

Our Hidden Lives  The Remarkable Diaries of Post-war Britain  Simon Garfield

Deo Gracias

"Adam lay i-bowndyn,
bowndyn in a bond,
Fowre thowsand wynter
thowt he not to long;
And al was for an appil,
an appil that he tok,
As clerkis fyndyn wretyn
in here book.
Ne hadde the appil take ben,
the appil taken ben,
Ne hadde never our lady
a ben hevene qwen.
Blyssid be the time
that appil take was,
Therfore we mown syngyn

Sloane ms. 2593

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Christmas cheer

"Then well may we welcome old Christmas to town,
Who brings us good cheer and liquor so brown,
To pass the cold weather away with delight,
We feast it all day and we frolic all night.
Both hunger and cold we keep out with relief --
Plum pudding, goose, capon, minc'd pies and roast beef."

17th century street ballad.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Baskerville, a Lunar man

"Perhaps it was because they were self-taught that such men seemed to think that anything they set their heart on was achievable. Baskerville had worked for years, challenging a notoriously conservative craft, before he printed his ground-breaking Virgil of 1757.  He not only designed new typefaces but cast the type and set it and improved printing-press design, paper-making and ink-making.  Many of his experiments had the lateral-thinking quality that marked the Lunar circle - an ad hoc, quick readiness to seize the potential of things near to hand, to test the properties of everything they stumbled across, whether it be rocks, metals, acids or tools.  Baskerville's lustrous, oily, near-purple ink gained its unique colour from being mixed with 'fine-black', soot collected from the glass-pinchers' and solderers' lamps; his paper's prized glaze came from 'hot-pressing', a mysterious process probably based on a technique from his japanning work."

The Lunar Men   Jenny Uglow

Monday, 17 December 2012

A merchant's letters

"'It befits a merchant,' wrote Leon Battista Alberti, the great architect who belonged to one of the chief trading-companies of Florence, 'always to have ink-stained hands.'  Datini was of the same opinion.  While the heads of some firms left much of their correspondence to their fattori, he insisted, even in his old age, on writing every letter with his own hand--

'I wish to look over each of my papers,' he wrote in 1399, 'and set them in order and mark them, that I may be clear about each man with whom I have to do.'

What did all these letters look like, and how did they reach their destination?  They were written on sheets of paper folded in three, closed by a small cord passing through holes in the edges, and sealing it at each end.  The side containing the address was marked with the same trade-mark  which was also placed on Francesco's bales  of merchandise.  Each bundle of letters was then wrapped in a water-proof canvas and enclosed in a bag or purse called a scarsella, sealed by the merchant and worn at the messenger's belt."

The Merchant of Prato   Iris Origo

Friday, 14 December 2012

Home is where one starts from.

"There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album)."

Four Quartets:  East Coker V   T.S. Eliot

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Venetian inkstands

"In Venice, staying at the Leone Bianco (comfortable,  but by Austrian decree no French wine at dinner)  Lady Blessington began her collection of objects that had once belonged to famous people with the purchase of an inkstand once owned by a Doge.  She recalls she had bought some specimens of the old Venetian glass and some curious cameos.  In the ante-room by her apartments, an Italian Jew pesters her daily in broken English to buy the inkstand of the last Doge, Manin.   'I ventured to insinuate that had it been the inkstand of Paolo Luca Anafesto, the first instead of the last Doge, it would have had more attractions for me.'

In the end, she became the owner of  'Manini's inkstand; the inkstand in which he dipped his pen to sign the capitulation  of Venice after it had counted twelve centuries of sway.' "

Venice  The Most Triumphant City  George Bull

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

At Satis House

"She presently rose from her seat, and looked about the blighted room for means of writing.  There were none there, and she took from her pocket a yellow set of ivory writing tablets, mounted in tarnished gold, and wrote upon them with a pencil in a case of tarnished gold that  hung from her neck.

'You are still on friendly terms with Mr. Jaggers?'
'Quite.  I dined with him yesterday.'
'This is an authority to him to pay  you that money, to lay out at your irresponsible discretion for your friend.  I keep no money here; but, if you would rather Mr. Jaggers knew nothing of the matter, I will send it to you.'
'Thank you, Miss Havisham; I have not the least objection to receiving it from him.'

She read me what she had written, and it was direct and clear, and evidently intended to absolve me from any suspicion of profiting by the receipt of the money.  I took the tablets from her hand,  and it trembled again, and it trembled more as she took off the chain to which the pencil was attached, and put it in mine.  All this she did without looking at me.

'My name is on the first leaf.  If you can ever write under my name 'I forgive her,' though ever so long after my broken heart is dust -- pray do it!'  "

Great Expectations   Charles Dickens

Monday, 10 December 2012

Henry James in Venice

"But even as he gazed at the Barbaro's painted walls and sculpted ceilings, James had in mind a very different sort of palace.

At the time, June of 1887, he was deep in thought about a dilapidated ruin on a lonely canal in a melancholy, rarely visited part of town.  The once-grand interior of this other palace was shabby, dusty, and tarnished.  Its walled garden had become an overgrown tangle of weeds and vines.  Two impoverished spinster ladies lived in the palace, rarely went out, saw no one.

James told nobody about this other derelict palace or its two lonely inhabitants, because they were fictional. They were characters in a short novel he was then composing --The Aspern Papers, the other of his two masterful novels set in Venice.  In the mornings, he would go to the Barbaro's breakfast room, sit down at the Chinese lacquered desk beneath the 'pompous Tiepolo ceiling', and write a few pages.  During his five-week stay at the Barbaro, he put the finishing touches on the manuscript and sent it off to his publisher."

The City of  Falling Angels  John Berendt

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Cottage library

"I asked him how he got his books.  He explained that he bought them of a pedlar who travelled the country and to whom he had given a list of the works which he most desired to posses.  This man was able to get them cheap, at sales or at houses where a removal was expected.  When he came to Gulley's cove he always brought one or two volumes in his pack.  He had got the Human Understanding from a dairy-maid in exchange for a cap ribbon.  She had been using it as a scale-weight for cheeses."

Troy Chimneys  Margaret Kennedy

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Encyclopaedia of Istanbul

"It was only after he realised that his collection might have no bounds that he hit on the idea of an encyclopedia, and from then he remained aware of the 'thingness' of his collection.  When Professor Semavi Eyice, the historian of Byzantine and Ottoman art, who'd known Kocu since 1944, and who'd written entries for the Encyclopedia since its inception, wrote about Kocu after his death, he described his large library piled high with 'material' he kept in envelopes -- newspaper cuttings, collections of pictures and photographs, dossiers and notes (now lost) compiled from his long years of reading the nineteenth-century newspapers.

When Kocu realised that he would not live to finish the Encyclopedia he told Semavi Eyice that he was going to take his entire collection, a lifetime of scavenging, and burn it in his garden.  Only a true collector would consider such a gesture, which calls to mind the novelist Bruce Chatwin, who for part of his life worked at Sotheby's, and whose hero, Utz, destroys his own porcelain collection in a moment of rage.  Kocu did not, in the end, let his anger get the better of him, but if he had, it would have made little difference;  production of the Istanbul Encyclopedia steadily slowed, stopped altogether in 1973."

Istanbul, Memories of a City  Orhan Pamuk   trans. M . Freely

Friday, 7 December 2012

A Discourse on Paper

"To omit many other devices in after ages to signify their conceptions, paper was first made of a broad flag (not unlike our great dock) growing in and nigh Canopus in Egypt, which it seems was the staple commodity of that country,  and substantial enough to bear the solemn curse of the prophet, 'The paper-reeds by the brook shall wither, be driven away, and be no more.'

Our modern paper is made of ground rags, and yet this new artificial doth still thankfully retain the name of the old natural paper.  It may pass for the emblem of men of mean extraction, who by art and industry, with God's blessing thereon come to high preferment.  One may find, if searching into the pedigree of paper, it cometh into the world at the downgate, raked thence in rags, which, refined by art, (especially after precious secrets are written on therein) is found fit to be choicely kept in the cabinets of the greatest potentates.  Pity it is that the first author of so useful an invention cannot with any assurance be assigned.

There are almost as many kinds of paper as conditions of persons betwixt the emperor and the beggar: Imperial, Royal,  Cardinal, and so on downwards to that coarse paper called Emporetica, useful only for chapmen to wrap their wares therein.  Paper participates in some sort  of the characters of the countrymen which make it, the Venetian being neat, subtle, and courtlike, the French light, slight and slender, the Dutch thick, corpulent and gross, not to say sometimes also charta bibula, sucking up the ink with the sponginess thereof.

Paper is entered as a manufacture of this county, because there are mills, nigh Stourbridge fair, where paper was made in the memory of our fathers.  And it seemeth to me a proper conjunction, that seeing Cambridge yieldeth so many good writers, Cambridgeshire should afford paper unto them."

The Worthies of England  Thomas Fuller   ed. R. Barber

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Ice puzzles

"Little Kay was quite blue, nay almost black with cold, but he did not observe it, for the Snow Queen had kissed away the shrinking feeling he used to experience, and his heart was like a lump of ice.  He was busied among the sharp icy fragments, laying and joining them together in every possible way, just as people do with what are called Chinese puzzles.  Kay could form the most curious and complete figures -- this was the ice-puzzle of reason -- and in his eyes these figures were of the utmost importance.  He often formed whole words, but there was one word he could never succeed in forming -  it was Eternity.  The Snow Queen had said to him, 'When thou canst put that figure together, thou shalt become thine own master and I will give thee the whole world, and a new pair of skates besides.'
But he could never do it."

The Snow Queen  Hans Christian Andersen

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The first snow

"When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down.
Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.

All night it fell, and when full inches seven
It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness,
The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;
And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marvelled -- marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.

Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees,
Or peering up from under the whited massed wonder,
'O look at the trees!' they cried, 'O look at the trees!'
With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,
Following along the white deserted way,
A country company long dispersed asunder:
When now already the sun, in pale display
Standing by Paul's high dome, spread forth below
His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.

For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;
And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,
Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:
But even for them awhile no cares encumber
Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,
The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber
At the sight of the beauty that greets them,
           For the charm they have broken."

London Snow  Robert Bridges


Tuesday, 4 December 2012

"Penny plain, tuppence coloured"

"She reached into the carton on the bed and took out one of the metal rods.  Like you, she said accusingly to the little figure attached to the end of it.   A slide, she explained, handing it to me for closer inspection; the characters and the props were all attached to slides, making it possible to move them in and out between the panels.

The figure of the Don had been lithographed in four colours on heavy-stock paper and then cut out with scissors like a paper doll.  He was part of a complete Don Giovanni set which had originally belonged to the Baroness von Schadenheim, and which the Baroness had given to Helle in token of their friendship -- although that,  Helle said, was another story.  Evidently the tradition of the model theatre came into existence in England around 1800;  Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a charming essay on the subject, in which he described the pleasures of purchasing, for a mere two pennies, a set of lithographed sheets containing all the figures and props and backdrops needed to create a whole new world.

And it was a whole new world, Helle said, which she and Flo were about to create -- specifically, the bog world of The Girl who Trod on a Loaf's second act, the world Inger drops into when she takes that fateful step onto the loaf of bread."

The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf  Kathryn Davis

Monday, 3 December 2012

Serge's writing desk

"It was a writing-table set; a large blotting-book, a double inkwell, a pen-tray, and a sort of casket with a lock and a tiny gilt key.  But it was all made of some warm white stone, white with a glow in it, like pearls or sea-shells, and clasped and set in a heavy carved metal, duller than gold but like gold; and studded in large stones of black and white, round and polished as marbles.  Edward Marshall turned the tiny key and lifted the curved lid of the casket; inside were slots and compartments for notepaper and envelopes....

Mr Penscot stooped (with some difficulty) and brought his glasses to bear on the table.
'Probably Russian,' he pronounced, straightening himself. 'It was a fashion, you know?  The lavish use of semi-precious stones in inkstands and paper-knives and clocks and door-handles and what-not.  Yes, definitely Russian I should say.  Barbaric; but very handsome...'

'I wonder how it got here?'

Mr Penscott shrugged his plump shoulders,
'Your guess is as good as mine!  Either someone belonging to the Manor House made the Grand Tour about a hundred years ago and brought it home with his other curios and mementos and presents.  Or -- more likely -- it was sold by someone who came over here as a refugee in the last war.'

'I wish we had it,' said Vicky.  'Even more than the tea-cups -- yes, I do Dal.'
'Why?' Edward Marshall asked.

'I don't know.  I just think -- it's beautiful.'
'You're quite right.  It is.'  "

The Gentle Shadows  Kathleen Wallace

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The new pupil

"I can still remember this unusual being and all the strange treasures he brought along in the satchel he wore on his back.  At first, there were 'picture' penholders that he brought out to write dictation; if you closed one eye you could see a picture, through a peephole in the handle, blurred and magnified, of the Basilica at Lourdes or some unknown monument.  He chose one, and the others were quickly passed around.  Then there was a Chinese pencil box, fall of compasses and curious instruments, which travelled along the bench to the left, slipping silently and surreptitiously from hand to hand, under the exercise books, so that Monsieur Seurel wouldn't see.

Brand-new books also did the rounds, books the titles of which I had eagerly read on the spines of the few in our library:  La Teppe aux Merles,  La Roche aux Mouettes, Mon ami Benoist...  Some of us were leafing through these volumes on our knees whilst writing our dictation with the other hand.  We didn't know where they had come from: they might have been stolen.  Other pupils were turning the compasses round inside their desks, while still others, hastily, Monsieur Seurel's back being turned as he continued the dictation while walking from the desk to the window,  had one eye shut and the other fixed on the blue-green, speckled view of Notre-Dame de Paris.  Meanwhile, the new arrival, pen in hand, winking, with his fine profile outlined against the grey pillar, was enjoying all this furtive activity going on around him."

Le Grand Meaulnes  Alain-Fournier  (trans. Robin Buss)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Whose letters?

" 'When we was at the Benedick I had charge of some of the gentlemen's rooms; leastways, I swep' them out on Saturdays.  Some of the gentlemen got the greatest sight of letters: I never saw the like of it. Their waste-paper baskets'd be fairly brimming and papers falling over on the floor.  Maybe havin' so many is how they get so careless.  Some of 'em is worse than others.  Mr Selden, Mr Lawrence Selden, he was always one of the carefullest: burnt his letters in winter, and tore 'em in little bits in summer.  But sometimes he'd have so many he'd just bunch 'em together, the way the others did, and tear the lot through once like this.'

While she spoke she had loosened the string from the parcel in her hand, and now she drew forth a letter which she laid on the table between Miss Bart and herself.  As she had said, the letter was torn in two; but with a rapid gesture she  laid the torn edges together and smoothed out the page.

A wave of indignation swept over Lily.  She felt herself in the presence of something vile, as yet but dimly conjectured -- the kind of vileness of which people whispered, but which she had never thought of as touching her own life.  She drew back with a motion of disgust, but her withdrawal was checked by a sudden discovery: under the glare of Mrs Peniston's chandelier she had recognised the hand-writing of the letter.  It was a large disjointed hand, with a flourish of masculinity which but slightly disguised its rambling weakness, and the words, scrawled in heavy ink on pale-tinted notepaper, smote on Lily's ear as though she had heard them spoken."

The House of Mirth  Edith Wharton

Friday, 30 November 2012

The coming of December

"The night is freezing fast,
Tomorrow comes December;
And winterfalls of old
Are with me from the past;
And chiefly I remember
How Dick would hate the cold.

Fall, winter, fall,  for he
Prompt hand and headpiece clever,
Has woven a winter robe,
And made of earth and sea
His overcoat for ever,
And wears the turning globe."

W. H. Auden

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A Pin to see the Peepshow

"More people were arguing now, arguing about the letters, her letters to Leo.  There was her counsel, arguing, as far as she could follow, that the letters were not what he called admissible.
The judge seemed to be arguing that they could prove a conspiracy -- Oh, thought Julia desperately, I've got a good business brain, I know I have.  Why can't I follow this?

But fear had invaded her, invaded all her brain and all her body, and she was almost numbed with it....

The man who was against her, the man who was for the Crown, was arguing about the principals in the second degree, and about something called incitement.  She hardly followed the remarks of the judge, except that he used the word 'admissible' again.  So she supposed that the letters, her precious private letters, that Leo had kept in spite of their agreement, were going to be read in this dreadful place...

How ordinary this man made her life sound, ordinary yet dreadful.  Why, he was even quoting the letter she had written to Leo after they had had tea together -- that time when it had first occurred to her it would be marvellous and splendid to be one of the great lovers of the world...

Letter after letter.   Why, here was that silly chlorodyne letter now, as though chlorodyne would hurt anybody; and all the letters she had written to Leo about their meetings and about when he was coming back.  Why, he was even reading the one about how she had managed to get rid of the baby.

Julia came out of her dream, and leaned forward.  How horrible. He was making it sound as though it referred to getting rid of Herbert.  What was he reading now? -- My heart, I always think of you as my heart.  How horrible to hear that sort of thing  read aloud in that dreadful place....

The next morning, there he was at it again.  All her letters, her precious beautiful letters, building up the future, her future life with Leo -- which she realised now she had always known at the back of her mind would never be an actuality  -- all these precious letters, the spun web of her fancy with which she had tried to enmesh him while he was miles away, continued to be read out in this blind white place."

A Pin to See the Peepshow  F. Tennyson Jesse

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Cottage libraries

"There had been a time when the hamlet readers had fed on stronger food [than novelettes], and Biblical words and imagery still coloured the speech of some of the older people.  Though unread, every well-kept cottage had still its little row of books, neatly arranged on the side table with the lamp, the clothes-brush and the family photographs.  Some of these collections consisted solely of the family Bible and a prayer-book or two; others had a few extra volumes which had either belonged to parents or been bought with other oddments for a few pence at a sale -- The Pilgrim's Progress, Drelincourt on Death, Richardsons' Pamela,  Anna Lee: the Maiden Wife and Mother,  and old books of travel and sermons.  Laura's greatest find was a battered old copy of Belzoni's Travels propping open someone's pantry window.  When she asked for the loan of it, it was generously given to her, and she had the, to her, intense pleasure of exploring the burial chambers of the pyramids with her author."

Lark Rise  Flora Thompson

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Lord Keeper of the Great Seal

"It being little release to a man that the cause is judged at last with justice on his side when he is undone in the length of the suit."
Locke to Edward Clarke on John Somers' appointment as Lord Keeper, 1693

Correspondence of John Locke, edited E. S. De Beer

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Trial by Jury?

"The jury all wrote down on their slates, ' She doesn't believe there's an atom of meaning in it,'  but none of them attempted to explain the paper.....

'Why, there they are!' said the King triumphantly, pointing to the tarts on the table.  'Nothing can be clearer than that.  Then again -- 'before she had this fit'-- you never had fits, my dear, I think?'  he said to the Queen.

'Never!'  said the Queen furiously throwing an inkstand at the Lizard as she spoke. (The unfortunate little Bill had left off writing on his slate with one finger, as he found it made no mark; but he now hastily began again, using the ink that was trickling down his face, as long as it lasted.)

'Then the words don't fit you,'  said the King, looking round the court with a smile.  There was a dead silence.
'It's a pun!'  the King added in an angry tone, and everybody laughed. ' Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

'No, no!' said the Queen.  'Sentence first -- verdict afterwards.'
'Stuff and nonsense!'  said Alice loudly.  'The idea of having the sentence first!'
'Hold your tongue!'  said the Queen.
'I won't!'  said Alice.
'Off with her head!'  the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.  Nobody  moved.
'Who cares for you?'  said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time).  'You're nothing but a pack of cards!'  "

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  Lewis Carroll

Friday, 16 November 2012

Tunbridge Toys

"I wonder whether those little silver pencil-cases with a movable almanack at the butt-end are still favourite implements with boys, and whether pedlars still hawk them about the country?  Are there pedlars and hawkers still, or are rustics and children grown too sharp to deal with them?  Those pencil-cases, as far as my memory serves me, were not of much use.  The screw, upon which the movable almanack turned, was constantly getting loose.  The 1 of the table would work from its moorings, under Tuesday or Wednesday, as the case might be, and you would find, on examination, that Th. or W. was the 231/2  of the month (which was absurd on the face of the thing), and in a word your cherished pencil-case was an utterly unreliable time-keeper.  Nor was this a matter of wonder.  Consider the position of a pencil-case in a boy's pocket.  You had hard-bake in it; marbles, kept in your purse when your money was all gone; your mother's purse, knitted so fondly and supplied with a little bit of gold, long since -- prodigal little son! -- scattered amongst the swine -- I mean amongst brandy-balls, open tarts, three-cornered puffs, and similar abominations.  You had a top and string; a knife; a piece of cobbler's wax, two or three bullets, a Little Warbler; and I, for my part, remember, for a considerable period, a brass-barrelled pocket-pistol (which would fire beautifully, for with it I shot off a button from Butt Major's jacket);  with all these things, could you expect your movable almanack not to be twisted out of its place now and again  -- your pencil-case to be bent ... and so forth?

In the month of June, 37 years ago, I bought one of those pencil-cases from a boy whom I shall call Hawker, and who was in my form.  Is he dead?  Is he a millionaire?  Is he a bankrupt now?   He was an immense screw at school, and I believe to this day that the value of the thing for which I owed and eventually paid three-and-sixpence, was in reality not one-and nine."

Drawn from Life William Makepeace Thackeray
Selected and edited by Margaret Forster

Thursday, 15 November 2012

An Ipswich reader

Philip Helwys, Merchant. 19 April 1610 and 9 James I (sic).

"In the Hall

Imprimis one ould shorte Table Joyned with a frame two
    Joyned formes, and two Joyned stoole                                              0   8   0
Item two turned chaiers, and two little old chaiers                                 0   3   0
Item fower old cushions                                                                         0   2   0
Item one litle bible and sixe small books                                                0   5   0
Item a firepan, a paier of tongs, a paier of bellowes and a
   paier of Cobirons and a paier of Sheres                                              0  3   4
Item a litle Simpsers desk                                                                       0  0   8
.... "

from The Ipswich Probate Inventories 1583-1631
ed. M. Reed

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A Dorset squire at home

"The windows which were very large, served for places to lay his arrows, crossbows, stonebows, and other such like accoutrements; the corners of the room full of the best chose hunting and hawking poles; an oyster table at the lower end, which was of constant use twice a day all the year round, for he never failed to eat oysters before dinner and supper through all seasons: the neighbouring town of Poole supplied him with them.  The upper part of the room had two small tables and a desk, on the one side of which was a Church Bible, on the other the Book of Martyrs; on the table were hawks' hoods, bells, and such like, and two or three old green hats with their crowns thrust in so as to hold ten or a dozen eggs, which were of a pheasant kind of poultry he took much care of and fed himself; tables, dice, cards and boxes were not wanting.  In the hole of the desk were store of tobacco pipes that had been used.

....He lived to a hundred, never lost his eyesight, but always writ and read without spectacles,  and got to horse without help.  Until past fourscore he rode to the death of a stag as well as any."

Memoirs  Antony Ashley Cooper,  2nd Earl of Shaftesbury
PRO 30/24

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Potter's hand

"Stay still in the hand of the Potter,
Lie low 'neath his wonderful touch,
He shapeth and mouldeth in mercy
The clay that he loveth so much;
Surrender thyself to his working,
The curve and the hollow he wills,
Nor shrink from the pain and the pressure
For the vessel he fashions he fills."

On a Scandy pattern plate, Longpark, c. 1915

"I watched the Potter thumping his wet clay,
And with its all obliterated tongue it murmured,
Gently Brother! Gently, pray."

Watcombe  motto-ware

Friday, 9 November 2012

"On the eleventh day, when Lucifer had shepherded away the flock of stars on high, the king came to Lydia, in great good humour, and restored Silenus to his young ward.

The god was glad to have his tutor back, and in return gave Midas the right to choose himself a gift -- a privilege which Midas welcomed, but one which did him little good, for he was fated to make poor use of the opportunity he was given.  He said to the god: 'Grant that whatever my person touches be turned to yellow gold'."

The Metamorphoses of Ovid  trans. M.M. Innes

Thursday, 8 November 2012

8th November 1947

"Wrote another contribution to my N.T. Guide.  I sold 120 books for £6 to a shop in the Fulham Road, which I happened to pass by; and finished reading Coryat's Crudities.  Also went to the National Gallery to see the pictures which have been recently cleaned.  The exhibition is the ultimate vindication of cleaning.  I do not think any reasonable man could still object to it being done by an expert with the scientific care that the Gallery undoubtedly takes.   I am inclined to think that  the photographs taken after cleaning make the originals look more scraped and chalky than in fact they do.  I reached this conclusion after comparing the detailed photograph of a satyr's face in Rubens's Silenus with the painted face on the canvas."     Saturday, 8th November

Caves of Ice  James Lees-Milne

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Pigeon Post

"He picked up the birdcage and walked in a stupor to the sweltering warehouse where he was to work. In a corner was a rough table, papyrus rolls, pens and ink.  Other clerks were stacking ingots of copper in piles and morosely tallying them on the strips of papyrus.  He looked at the thin papery strips, the pens and the ink; then at the bird.  What about the sign-game he had played with his sister?  How much of it, he wondered, did she remember?

Perhaps it was not too late to get a message through to Gebal -- a message that would tell his sister what had become of him.  At the same time it might warn the King of Gebal of the danger that threatened the city.  But it was unheard of, to send a message through the air a distance of many weeks' marches.  Fearful doubt told him it was preposterous, but he had to believe it was possible, and that was enough to make him forget the oppressive heat and the hopelessness of his situation.

He put the birdcage inconspicuously in a corner and set immediately to work with the other clerks, piling ingots, checking and tallying them, packing them in panniers ready to be sent off by ass-train to the armourers in Egypt.  It was exhausting work, physically and mentally, yet he kept a corner of his brain alive and apart, and through it paraded the signs that meant nothing in the world to anyone but him and his sister -- the twenty two letters.  Could he remember them himself?  He said their names over:
     Aleph - the ox
     beth - the house
     gimmel - the stick
     daleth - the door ....."

The Twenty-two Letters   Clive King

Monday, 5 November 2012

The telephone call

"He had gathered his feet under him preparatory to getting up when his telephone rang.  In other places in the world, one understands, telephones are made to ring in outer offices, where a minion answers the thing and asks your business and says that  if you will be good enough to wait just a moment she will 'put you through', and you are then connected with the person you want to speak to.  But not in Milford.  Nothing like that would be tolerated in Milford.  In Milford if you call John Smith on the telephone you expect John Smith to answer in person.  So when the telephone rang on that spring evening in Blair, Hayward, and Bennet's it rang on Robert's brass-and-mahogany desk.

Always, afterwards, Robert was to wonder what would have happened if that telephone call had been one minute later.  In one minute, sixty worthless seconds, he would have taken his coat from the peg in the hall, popped his head into the opposite room to tell Mr Heseltine that he was departing for the day, stepped out into the pale sunlight, and been away down the street.  Mr Heseltine would have answered his telephone when it rang and told the woman that he had gone.  And she would have hung up and tried someone else.  And all that followed would have had only academic interest for him.

But the telephone rang in time; and Robert put out his hand and picked up the receiver."

The Franchise Affair  Josephine Tey

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Coal and Candlelight

"While yet unfallen apples throng the bough,
To ripen as they cling
In lieu of the lost bloom, I ponder how
Myself did flower in so rough a spring,
And was not set in grace
When the first flush was gone from summer's face;
How in my tardy season, making one
Of a crude congregation, sour in sin,
I nodded like a green-clad mandarin,
Averse from all that savoured of the sun.
But now, throughout these last autumnal weeks
What skyey gales mine arrogant station thresh,
What sunbeams mellow my beshadowed cheeks,
What steely storms cudgel mine obdurate flesh;
Less loth am I to see my fellows launch
Forth from my side into the air's abyss,
Whose own stalk is
Grown untenacious of its wonted branch.
      And yet, O God,
Tumble me not at last upon the sod,
Or, still superb above my fallen kind,
Grant not my golden rind
To the black starlings screaming in the mist.
Nay, rather on some gentle day and bland
Give Thou Thyself my stalk a little twist,
Dear Lord, and I shall fall into Thy hand."

An Afterthought on Apples  Helen Parry Eden
(from Coal and Candlelight)

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Library at Kovecses

"The library was so crammed that most of the panelling was hidden, and the books, in German and French and English, had overflowed in neat piles on the floor.  The surviving area of wall was filled by antlers and roebuck horns, a couple of portraits and a Rembrandt etching.  There was an enormous desk covered with photographs, a box of cigars with  cutter made out of a deer's slot and, beside them, a number of silver cigarette cases laid in a neat row, each of them embossed with a different gold monogram.  (This, I noticed later on, was an invariable item in Central European country houses, particularly in Hungary.  They were presents exchanged on special occasions, and always between men: for standing godfather, for being best man at a wedding, second in a duel, and so on.)  There were shaded lamps and leather armchairs beside a huge open stove, a basket of logs and a spaniel asleep in front of it."

A Time of Gifts  Patrick Leigh Fermor

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Mottos in Metroland

"Over the years I studied the rolling stock.  From the platform I could tell at a glance a wide from an extra-wide compartment.  I knew all the advertisements by heart, and all the varieties of decoration on the barrel-vaulted ceilings.  I knew the range of imagination of the people who scraped the NO SMOKING transfers on the windows into new mottos; NO SNORING was the most popular piece of knife-work; NO SNOGGING a baffler for years; NO SNOWING the most whimsical."

Metroland  Julian Barnes

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

In the frame

"All in all, not a sound type.  Nunn drew a box round her name in the Horse of the Year Calendar.  He drew a scalloped edging round the box, then a box round the edging,  and a line of loops round the new box, and a box round the loops.   Then he surrounded the whole thing with a picture frame, and the picture frame with more boxing, scalloping, and loops, and the expanded version with another picture frame.  Leaning very close to see what he was doing, he began to shade in the gaps between alternate sets of borders.   One thing worried him as he worked.  He knew for sure from his long years of dealing with subversion that anyone who got up a petition was merely acting as a front for some more sinister figure who remained unidentified.  That was the man he really had to get at.  Nunn turned over the possible names in his head."

The Tin Men  Michael Frayn

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The opsimathic reader

"That the Queen could readily switch from showbiz autobiography to the last days of a suicidal poet might seem incongruous and wanting in perception.  But, certainly in her early days, to her all books were the same and, as with her subjects, she felt a duty to approach them without prejudice.  For her, there was no such thing as an improving book.  Books were uncharted country and, to begin with at any rate, she made no distinctions between them.  With time came discrimination, but apart from the occasional word with Norman, nobody told her what to read, and what not.  Lauren Bacall, Winifred Holtby, Sylvia Plath -- who were they?  Only by reading could she find out.  

It was a few weeks later that she looked up from her book and said to Norman: 'Do you know that I said you were my amanuensis?   Well, I've discovered what I am.   I am an opsimath.'

With the dictionary always to hand, Norman read out: 'Opsimath: one who learns only late in life.' "

The Uncommon Reader  Alan Bennett

Sunday, 28 October 2012

'Spy' chooses his name

"In conclusion, it might be of some interest if I again record how I came to adopt the nom de crayon 'Spy'.  Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles, who was the proprietor of Vanity Fair at the time I submitted my first cartoon, requested me to invent some characteristic signature consisting of three letters.  I worked three initials into the form and semblance of a jester's bauble.  But that did not please him.  Thereupon he threw me a dictionary, and asked me to choose a three-lettered word which would constitute an appropriate signature.  The book opened in the middle of the 'S' pages.  Near the top of the first column was the word 'Spy', one of the meanings of which was given as 'to observe'.  Whereupon I adopted the word as a pencil-name, and I have caricatured under it ever since."

'Spy' and His Sitters  Leslie Ward  The Strand Magazine January 1910

Saturday, 27 October 2012

A lunar calendar

"The grandfather clock is an enemy telling me that death runs at my heels.  The clock has a painted face picturing the four seasons; Spring, a child on a sheep-covered hill; Summer, a girl big with child raking hay in a shining meadow; Autumn, a woman blown before a tempest; Winter, an old man with a red face pushing sticks into a fire under a cooking pot slung from a tripod.  There is a painted moon behind, that moves with the days of the month."

Tide-race  Brenda Chamberlain

Friday, 26 October 2012

London morning, 26th October 1928

"Next day the light of the October morning was falling in dusty shafts through the uncurtained windows, and the hum of traffic rose from the street.  London then was winding itself up again; the factory was astir; the machines were beginning.  It was tempting after all this reading to look out of the window and see what London was doing on the morning of the 26th of October 1928.  And what was London doing?  Nobody, it seemed, was reading Antony and Cleopatra.  London, it appeared, was wholly indifferent to Shakespeare's plays.  Nobody cared a straw -- and I do not blame them -- for the future of fiction, the death of poetry or the development by the average woman of a prose style completely expressive of her mind.  If the opinions upon any of these matters had been chalked on the pavement, nobody would have stooped to read them.  The nonchalance of the hurrying feet would have rubbed them out in half an hour."

A Room of One's Own  Virginia Woolf

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The end of summer

"The Sun now darts fainter his Ray,
The Meadows no longer invite,
The WoodNymphs are all trip't away,
No Verdure cheers sweetly the sight.
Then adieu to the pastoral scene,
Where Harmony charmed with her Call:
Where Pleasure presided as Queen,
In ye echoing Shades of Vauxhall."

'The Adieu to Spring-Gardens',  (John) Lockman 1735

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Quality newspaper


Amid all these lugubrious kinsfolk and acquaintance, mother found her social duties tiresome enough, and liked to have me in the room in order that she might give vent to her feelings afterwards. 'Molly dear,' she would exclaim, 'I must say what I think about Aunt Lizzie, or I shall burst.'  Charles enabled us to bear a lot by means of his deadly imitations of every one.  But mother, the gayest of mortals, had to rack her brains to get the conversation away from grievances.  She even asked a visitor one day how she managed to have such an effective bustle.  The astounding answer was,  'The Times.  I find its paper so good, far more satisfactory than the  Daily News',  and putting her hand under her skirt she tore off a piece to show us."

A London Child of the 1870s   M. V. Hughes

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Matsue nocturne

"At home again, I slide open once more my little paper window,  and look out upon the night.  I see the paper lanterns flitting over the bridge, like a long shimmering of fireflies.  I see the spectres of a hundred lights trembling upon the black flood.  I see the broad shoji of dwellings beyond the river suffused with the soft yellow radiance of invisible lamps; and upon these lighted spaces I can discern slender moving shadows, silhouettes of graceful women.  Devoutly do I pray that glass may never become universally adopted in Japan  -- there would be no more delicious shadows. "

Writings from Japan  Lafcadio Hearn,  ed. Francis King

Monday, 22 October 2012

Devon Harvest song

"The Potter fashioned me with care, as plainly doth appear,
For to supply the harvest men with good strong English beer.
Drink around my Jolly reapers and when the corn is cut
We'll [hand] the other Jug around
and cry A Neck A Neck."

Able Symonds 1813
Inscribed on Devon Harvest Jug,  at Buckland Abbey, National Trust

Saturday, 13 October 2012

At West Wycombe Park

"Sunday 8th February

Still freezing hard and the drive desperately dangerous and slippery.  Eddy is here again, and Cecil Beaton came last night.  He is quite grey, and darts like a bird.  He is flagrantly twentyish.  He must be very successful if money-making is an indication.  I do not mean to be critical for he is an artist.  Jamesey likes him and I find him very sympathetic though a little alarming.  This morning on my return from Mass at High Wycombe I gave him an hour's typewriting lesson; and made him use all his fingers too.  He showed promise.  Towards the end we started gossiping, and then I saw how entertaining and sharp he is."

Ancestral Voices  James Lees-Milne

Friday, 12 October 2012

Quilp's pen

"It was a dirty little box, this counting house, with nothing in it but an old ricketty desk and two stools, a hat-peg, an ancient almanack, an inkstand with no ink and the stump of one pen, and an eight-day clock which hadn't gone for eighteen years at least, and of which the minute-hand had been twisted off for a toothpick.  Daniel Quilp pulled his hat over his brows, climbed on to the desk (which had a flat top), and stretching his short length upon it went to sleep with the ease of an old practitioner; intending, no doubt, to compensate himself for the deprivation of last night's rest, by a long and sound nap."

The Old Curiosity Shop  Charles Dickens

Thursday, 11 October 2012

A new pen, 1947

"Do you notice any improvement in the writing done with the 'Biro' pen?   Jim tells me that he will never want to use any other kind.  It was invented during the war for the use of the RAF pilots whose pens failed to work sometimes at the high altitudes."

Herbert Brush,  Monday 2nd June 1947.

"I went to the British Museum and bought a 'Biro' pen on the way, after going into three shops where the pen was sold out as soon as they obtained a supply.  I have heard so many good accounts of it that I made up my mind to buy one and use it in my diary.  The pen runs well and seems to suit my style of writing, and goes very smoothly, no matter how hard I press."

Herbert Brush, Tuesday 15th July 1947.

Our Hidden Lives   The Remarkable Diaries of Post-War Britain  ed. Simon Garfield 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Landscape near an Aerodrome

"More beautiful and soft than any moth,
With burring, furred antennae, feeling its huge path
Through dusk, the air-liner, with shut-off engines
Glides over suburbs and the sleeves set trailing tall
To point the wind.  Gently, broadly she falls,
Scarcely disturbing charted currents of air.
Lulled by descent, the travellers across sea
And across feminine land, indulging its easy limbs
In miles of softness, now let their eyes, trained by watching,
Penetrate through dusk, the outskirts of this town.
Here where industry shows a fraying edge,
Here they may see what is being done."

From The Landscape near an Aerodrome  Stephen Spender

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Squadron Leader Peter Carter bales out

"He left the microphone and clambered across to the nearest escape hatch.  Lowering himself, he sat on the edge with his legs dangling down into fog and space.  A rush of cold wind struck his legs, in violent contrast to the heat of the plane.  Yes, he had  his own conception of the Other World, as well as some of the old traditional ideas.  The big, white wings, for instance.  He insisted on retaining them.  They were essential to any Other World. For the rest, well he imagined something like a great office with vistas of filing cabinets, because there must be an awful lot of records to be kept, and a large clerical staff.  But, above all, there would be a great dignity and peace -- the serenity that came from an ordered existence where Justice and the Law remained unchallenged.  Kindness and an utter freedom from the ruinous prejudices of this world would mark human relationships.

The excitement and elation had left him now and he felt quiet and calm.  He stared down into the fog and murmured his last poem, with great seriousness and solemnity,

'The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
      And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
      Even we,
      Even so.'

Glancing back at the body of the dead operator he said: 'See you in a minute, Bob.  You know what they wear by now.  Propellers or wings ...'
Raising himself  slightly on his hands, he slipped gently out of the plane.  The great uncanny wounded monster lurched on, obsessed with its own approaching end and oblivious of his departure."

A Matter of Life and Death ( the book of the film)  Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Monday, 8 October 2012

Rockfist Rogan flies in.

"This has to be a perfect landing.  It would be terrible if I cracked up on my arrival."

Rockfist Rogan,  of the 509th Flying Squadron, RAF.

First appearance in The Champion comic, 8th October 1938.  Frank S. Pepper

Sunday, 7 October 2012

John Aubrey remembers

"When I was a a boy 9 years old, I was with my father at one Mr Singleton's, an alderman and woollen-draper in Gloucester, who had in his parlour, over the chimney, the whole description of the funeral, engraved and printed on papers pasted together,* which, at length, was, I believe, the length of the room at least; but he had contrived it to be turned upon two pins, that turning one of them made the figures march all in order.  It did make such a strong impression on my young fantasy, that I remember it as if it were but yesterday.  I could never see it elsewhere.  The house is in the great long street, over against the high steeple; and 'tis likely it remains there still. 'Tis pity it is not redone."

*Published by Thomas Laut, 1587

Brief Lives  "Sir Philip Sidney"  John Aubrey,   ed. R. Barber 

Saturday, 6 October 2012

"For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?"

"He arrived at S--- in the morning and took the best room in a hotel, with a fitted carpet of grey soldier's cloth and on the table an inkwell, grey with dust and surmounted by a figure of a horseman with his arms raised and no head.  The hotel porter gave him the necessary information: Von Diderits  lived in the Staro-Goncharnaya Street, in a house he owned himself, not far from the hotel.  He was rich and lived well; he owned horses and was known to everyone in the town.  The hotel porter pronounced his name as 'Drydyrits'!"

The Lady with the Little Dog   Anton Chekhov, trans. Elisaveta Fen

Friday, 5 October 2012

Night Mail to Scotland

"This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner, the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb;
The gradient's against her but she's on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder,
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily, she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.
Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.

Extract from Night Mail  W. H. Auden
written for the GPO Film Unit documentary "Night Mail" 1936

Monday, 1 October 2012

At Quincey's moat

"But when these hours wane,
Indoors they ponder, scared by the harsh storm
Whose pelting saracens on the window swarm,
And listen for the mail to clatter past
And church clock's deep bay withering  on the blast;
They feed the fire that flings a freakish light
On pictured kings and queens grotesquely bright,
Platters and pitchers, faded calendars
And graceful hour-glass trim with lavenders."

From Almswomen  Edmund Blunden

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Putney Heath Telegraph

"If you'll only just promise you'll none of you laugh
I'll be after explaining the French telegraph!
A machine that's endowed with such wonderful pow'r
It writes, reads and sends news 50 miles in an hour.
Then there's watchwords, a spy-glass, an index on hand
And many things more that none of us understand,
But which, like the nose on your face, will be clear
When we have as usual improved on them here.

Adieu, penny posts!  mails and coaches, Adieu!
Your Occupation's gone,  'tis all over wid you.
In your place telegraphs on our houses we'll view
To tell time, conduct lightning, dry shirts and send news."

(from Charles Dibdin's Production, Great News or a Trip to the Antipodes c. 1794)

The Romance of the Putney Heath Telegraph  John Skelley

Saturday, 29 September 2012

'Place Pigalle' - at the LSE

"Allan Kingsbury, Entertainments Officer ... plotted a coup in the Michaelmas Term of 1949, a coup which he called a 'Smoking Concert',  and because I drew funny cartoons, he assumed I could write funny material.  It just so happened that from the age of 16, with a guitar bought for me by my mother, who encouraged everything I ever did, I had been composing awful tunes.  And in cahoots with an old friend, Maurice Bentley, I had moved on to writing parochial point numbers on the sexual proclivities of the Grange Park bourgeoisie.  So I submitted a few ideas.   Allan decided I should perform in them, and I cannot remember my reaction to that at all. Except perhaps, fear?  But somehow it all went ahead.  The smoking concert grew into a full scale revue, and I suggested it be called 'Place Pigalle', because that summer I had made my first trip to Paris and had still to recover from the breathless excitement, the vibrant magic, of my introduction to Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, and Pigalle!  I had made a vow that one day I would grow a beard, go back to Montmartre, and paint -- for the time being I stayed clean-shaven, and daubed the scenery for the show.

I was, of course, quite mad!  With nine months to go before Finals, I plunged impetuously into the all the time-consuming, life-involving, wildly fascinating activities that go into putting on a show.   John Hutchinson and Len Freedman were to do their brilliant double act at the piano; Al Bermel, then Editor of CMR was to write and perform; Cyril Wiseman, a law student who should have been a concert pianist, was to compose and accompany; and Bernard Levin was to impersonate Harold Laski and compere.  I first met Levin one evening, as he was walking ahead of me towards Holborn station.  I caught him up and said, for no reason whatsoever: 'Did you know that Finsbury Park, spelt backwards, is Y-RUB-SNIF-KRAP?  He pointed out that KRAP-Y-RUB-SNIF might be more accurate, and I had found a fellow lunatic."

Ron Moody, in My LSE  edited Joan Abse

Friday, 28 September 2012

The Third Programme

"I was somewhat amused when I picked up the Radio Times this morning and saw that the BBC had christened the new programme the 'Third Programme'.  Apparently the BBC is afraid of the word 'Cultutral' and neither 'Serious' nor ' Heavy' appealed.  It is curious how English people are afraid of being serious, and how culture is regarded as somewhat priggish.  The 'Third Programme' is a title which is certainly safe, but very colourless."
George Taylor,  26th September 1946  Mass Observation diary.

Our Hidden Lives:  the Remarkable Diaries of Post-War Britain  Simon Garfield

Breaking the Butterfly

"I had marvelled up till then at the linguistic range of the average dramatic author who at a moment's notice 'adapts' you from the Russian, or the Scandinavian, or any other language that you choose.  I did not then know very much German and had to confess it.
 'That'll be all right,' said Daly.  'I'll send you the literal translation.'
 For translations, a shilling a folio used to be the price generally paid to the harmless necessary alien.

Somewhat against my conscience, I consented to bowdlerise Sudermann's play so as not to offend Mrs. Grundy, who then ruled the English and American stage.  Poor lady!  She must have done quite a lot of turning in her grave since then.  Jones went further when he adapted Ibsen's Doll's House.  In the last act Helmer took the forgery upon himself,  and the curtain went down on Nora flinging herself into his arms with the cry of 'Husband';  and the band played 'Charlie is my Darling'.  That was the first introduction of Ibsen to the British public.  'A charming author', was the verdict first passed on Ibsen in London."

My Life and Times  Jerome K. Jerome

Note: This English adaptation of A Doll's House was first performed in March 1884 as "Breaking the Butterfly".

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Word and picture


"Paul Rotha (The Film till Now)  says 'Dialogue, by very  reason of its realism, represents real time and not the filmic time of the visual image.'

Arnheim's solution was a perceptive one:  'Sound film -- at any rate real sound film -- is not a verbal masterpiece supplemented by pictures, but a homogenous creation of word and picture which cannot be split up into parts that have any meaning separately.'  (Film)

This is the reason why Shakespeare and Shaw, undiluted and unaltered, cannot become more than hundred-per-cent talkies.  Admittedly, you can see the people talking more clearly, but it is a doubtful advantage since the lines were written to be projected orally over a distance, and the broad eloquent phrasing of great drama is lost in the overpowering visual presence of the actor.  Many situations in a Shakespeare play, on the other hand, would make excellent cinema (Lear driven out on to the heath by Fritz Lang, the riots in Rome by Eisenstein, the murder of Duncan by Hitchcock), but Shakespeare's words would be cut to nothing and his rhythms lost among visual silences or natural sounds."

Film  Roger Manvell

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Byland Abbey

"27 April.   R. and I drive over to Rievaulx, where they are to video the titles of Irwin's TV history series,  Heroes or Villains?, in the sequence which opens the second act of the play.  En route we stop and have our sandwiches at Byland, where we are the only visitors this cold and cloudy morning.  As an abbey it's always more peaceful because less dramatically situated than either Rievaulx or Fountains, on a flat and boggy plain backed by woods and often quite hard to find.  A notable feature is an alleyway of reading carrels backing the cloister, together with many surviving stretches of medieval tiled floor, but much the most numinous object is a green earthenware inkwell found in the chapterhouse during excavations and now in the abbey museum;  it was presumably used, possibly for the last time, to sign the deed of surrender handing the abbey over to Henry VIII's commissioners."

Untold Stories  (Diaries 1996-2004)  Alan Bennett

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Galena (PbS)

"The Romans' name for lead was 'plumbum' and the artificers who worked in this metal were called 'plumbarii';  some Roman plumbers were women, so perhaps the term 'plumber's mate' had an even more appropriate meaning than it has today.

A property which makes lead easy to work is its low melting point (327 degrees C.).  Molten lead can be cast into shapes from Buddhas to bullets, and its ease of casting is one of the reasons why lead has for centuries been associated with the manufacture of printers' type metal; for example, this book has been printed using an alloy containing 74 per cent lead, 16 per cent antimony, and 10 per cent tin.

The combination of weakness and ease of melting made the ancients regard lead as the least noble of metals, and it will be remembered that in The Merchant of Venice the casket chosen by Bassanio was of 'base' lead."

Metals in the Service of Man  W. Alexander and A. Street

Monday, 24 September 2012


                                                                                              " 14 East 95th St.
                                                                                                New York City

                                                                                                MAY 11, 1952

Dear Frank:
Meant to write to you the day the Angler arrived, just to thank you, the woodcuts alone are worth ten times the price of the book,  what a weird world we live in when so beautiful a thing can be owned for life -- for the price of a ticket to a Broadway movie palace, or 1/50th the cost of having one tooth capped.

Well, if your books cost what they're worth I couldn't afford them!

You'll be fascinated to learn ( from me that hates novels) that I finally got round to Jane Austen and went out of my mind over Pride & Prejudice which I can't bring myself to take back to the library till you find me a copy of my own.

Regards to Nora and the wage-slaves.  


84 Charing Cross Road  Helene Hanff

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Women and Fiction

"The scene, if I may ask you to follow me, was now changed.  The leaves were still falling, but in London now, not Oxbridge; and I must ask you to imagine a room, like many thousands, with a window looking across people's hats and vans and motor-cars to other windows, and on the table inside the room a blank sheet of paper on which was written in large letters WOMEN AND FICTION, but no more. The inevitable sequel to lunching and dining at Oxbridge seemed, unfortunately, to be a visit to the British Museum.  One must strain off what was personal and accidental in all these impressions and so reach the pure fluid, the essential oil of truth.  For that visit to Oxbridge and the luncheon and the dinner had started a swarm of questions.  Why did men drink wine and women water? Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor? What effect has poverty on fiction?  What conditions are necessary for the creation of works of art? -- a thousand questions at once suggested themselves.  But one needed answers, not questions; and an answer was only to be had by consulting the learned and the unprejudiced, who have removed themselves above the strife of tongue and the confusion of the body and issued the result of their reasoning and research in books which are to be found in the British Museum.  If truth is not to be found on the shelves of the British Museum, where, I asked myself, picking up a notebook and a pencil, is truth?"

A Room of One's Own  Virginia Woolf

Saturday, 22 September 2012


"Elsie read better than Philip, though she had the same stunted and truncated education.  She picked up books at Purchase Hall and tried to make sense of them,  She recognised well enough the hunger for something more than housework, of which Marian Oakeshott spoke.  She was thinking much faster than usual, and reflected sardonically that those hungry-minded women, those frustrated female thinkers, of whom Marian Oakeshott spoke, would always need her, Elsie, or someone like her, to carry coals and chop meat and mend clothing and do laundry, or they wouldn't keep alive.  Someone in the scullery, carrying out the ashes.  And if one got out of the scullery, like a disguised princess in a fairytale, there always had to be another, another scullery-maid, to take her place.

Nevertheless, she would like to get out."

The Children's Book  A. S. Byatt

Friday, 21 September 2012

A Devon Motto

Early Aller Vale mottoware, c. 1885-1900 (also Longpark)

"The journey's long from A to Z
And puzzles many a curly head,
But leads to books, Red, Green or Blue,
Which brings the fairy land in view."

Torquay Mottowares  Torquay Pottery Collectors' Society

(P.S. "May you never find a mouse in your cupboard, With tears in its eyes.")

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Lorelei improves her mind

 "April 1st:

I am taking special pains with my diary from now on as I am really writing it for Gerry.  I mean he and I are going to read it together some evening in front of the fireplace.  But Gerry leaves this evening for Boston as he has to lecture all about his works at Boston, but he will rush right back as soon as possible.  So I am going to spend all my time improving myself while he is gone.  And this afternoon we are both going to a museum on 5th Avenue, because Gerry wants to show me a very very beautiful cup made by an antique jeweler called Mr. Cellini and he wants me to read Mr. Cellini's life which is a very very fine book and not dull while he is in Boston.

So the famous playwright friend of mine who is called Sam called up this morning and he wanted me to go to a literary party tonight that he and some other literary gentlemen are giving to Florence Mills in Harlem but Gerry does not want me to go with Sam as Sam always insists on telling riskay stories....

...So I am going to stay home and read the book by Mr. Cellini instead, because, after all, the only thing I am really interested in, is improving my mind.  So I am going to do nothing else but improve my mind while Gerry is in Boston...

April 2nd:

I seem to be quite depressed this morning as I always am when then is nothing to put my mind to. Because I decided not  to read the book by Mr. Cellini.  I mean it was quite amusing in spots because it was really quite riskay but the spots were not so close together and I never seem to like to always be hunting clear through a book for the the spots I am looking for, especially when there are really not so many spots that seem to be so amuseing after all.  So I did not waste my time on it but this morning I told Lulu to let all of the housework go and spend the day reading a book entitled "Lord Jim" and then tell me all about it, so that I would improve my mind while Gerry is away...

Well I just got a telegram from Gerry that he will not be back until tomorrow and also some orchids from Willie Gwynn, so I may as well go to the theatre with Willie tonight to keep from getting depressed and he really is a sweet boy after all.  And it is quite depressing to stay at home and do nothing but read, unless you really have a book that is worth bothering about."

"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"  The Illuminating Diary of a Professional Lady
Anita Loos

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

School books

"As for the few textbooks  that the class possessed, you could hardly look at them without feeling as though you had stepped back into the mid-nineteenth century.  There were only three textbooks of which each child had a copy.  One was a shilling arithmetic,  pre-War but fairly serviceable, and another was a horrid little book called The Hundred Page History of Britain --a nasty little duodecimo book with a gritty brown cover, and, for frontispiece, a portrait of Boadicea with a Union Jack draped over the front of her chariot.....

The date of the book was 1888.   Dorothy, who had never seen a history book of this description before, examined it with a feeling approaching horror.  There was also an extraordinary little 'reader' dated 1863.  It consisted mostly of bits out of Fenimore Cooper, Dr. Watts and Lord Tennyson, and at the end there were the queerest little 'Nature Notes' with woodcut illustrations.  There would be a woodcut of an elephant and underneath in small print: 'The Elephant is a sagacious beast.  He rejoices in the shade of the Palm Trees, and though stronger than six horses he will allow a little child to lead him.  His food is Bananas.'  And so on to the Whale, the Zebra, the Porcupine and the Spotted Camelopard."

A Clergyman's Daughter  George Orwell

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Printer's Devils


Smells of Steaks in Passageways.  I like this poem considerably.  I've got into the habit of wandering round the passageways off Fleet Street and Farringdon Road when the office sends me out on a job.  I like looking down into the basements and seeing a printer's devil like myself drinking a cup of orange coloured tea.  The old men with their red noses and greasy bowler hats look as if they were made of something other than flesh and blood  -- brown paper and melted down string, I should think."

A Boy at the Hogarth Press  Richard Kennedy

Monday, 17 September 2012

Dr. Johnson's House

"Mrs Rowell ...then unfolded a chapter in the history of Gough Square that would have startled Boswell and the Doctor.  She was living there as a caretaker...   On December 29, 1940, when the bombs began to fall, an oil-drum from a neighbouring printer's-ink factory was hurled through the air and lodged itself on the roof.  No one had any time to think how appropriate it was, or how ironic, if you like, that a printer's-ink factory might have been the means of destroying the house of Dr. Johnson, for the roof-beams were crackling and blazing and the tiles were falling into the room below.  This fire was put out by the firemen and the caretakers, and in the morning it was seen that the beams, though charred, were still sound.  The house was in grave peril on five subsequent occasions.  It was, of course, closed to the public,  and,  as the Blitz developed,  it became a rendezvous for the Auxiliary Fire Service.  How Dr. Johnson, that irrepressible clubman,  would have loved that!  It is almost too perfect to be true.

...If ever the ghost of old Sam Johnson came back to London, it must surely have been during this time, though oddly enough, no fireman is reported to have encountered a bulky figure on the stairs, or to have been addressed as 'sir' by someone who offered to relieve him at his post."

In Search of London  H.V. Morton

Sunday, 16 September 2012

A Conflagration of Books

"It was astonishing to see what imense stones the heat had in a matter Calcin'd, so as all the ornaments, Columns, freezes, Capitels & proje(c)tures of massie Portland stone flew off, even to the very roofe, where a Sheete of Leade covering no lesse than 6 akers by measure, being totaly mealted, the ruines of the Vaulted roofe, falling brake into St. Faithes, which being filled with the magazines of bookes, belonging to the Stationer(s), & carried thither for safty, they were all consumed burning for a week following: "

7 September 1666
Diary of John Evelyn  edited E. S. De Beer

Thursday, 13 September 2012

(101) Uses for dead books

"No furniture so charming as books."
Memoir  Rev. Sydney Smith   (on Lady Holland)

"Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life."
An Apology for Idlers  Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The blank symbol

'"It may be that a writer's attitude to books is always ambivalent, for one of the reasons one writes is that all existing books are somehow unsatisfactory, but it's certainly difficult to think of a better symbol of civilisation.  Of course the symbol changes: the fine book, its materials, its craftsmanship, its design, was eloquent of  a civilisation founded on means,  leisure and taste;  today the symbol is the paperback, hurled in hundreds of thousands against the undeveloped areas (Asia, Africa, the young), spreading what we think is best in our thought and imagination.  If our values are to maintain a place in the world, these are the troops that will win it for them, but victory is not a foregone conclusion.  And what is won abroad may all too easily be lost at home.  Perhaps George Orwell best used the book-as-symbol in a way satisfactory to both sides: you remember how in 1984 he made his hero, Winston Smith, treasure a book that he had acquired from 'a frowsy little junk shop';  it was, Orwell tells us, 'a peculiarly beautiful book' in paper and binding alike.  Only, the pages were blank.  For a writer, the image is a powerful one: the books the past has given us, the books in which the bookseller deals, are printed; they are magnificent, but they are finite.  Only the blank book, the manuscript book, may be the book we shall give the future.  Its potentialities are endless."

'Books'  Foreword to the Antiquarian Book Fair programme, 1972
Required Writing   Miscellaneous pieces 1955-1982   Philip Larkin

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Areopagitica -- in defence of beleaguered truth

"Behold now this vast city: a city of refuge, the mansion house of liberty, encompassed and surrounded with his protection; the shop of war hath not there more anvils and hammers waking, to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed justice in defence of beleaguered truth, than there be pens and heads there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing,  searching, revolving new notions and ideas wherewith to present, as with their homage and their fealty, the approaching Reformation: others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement.  What could a man require more from a nation so pliant and so prone to seek after knowledge?  What wants there to such a towardly and pregnant soil, but wise and faithful labourers, to make a knowing people, a nation of prophets, of sages, and of worthies?  We reckon more than five months yet to harvest;  there need not be five weeks;  had we but eyes to lift up, the fields are white already."

Areopagitica: a speech of Mr John Milton for the liberty of the unlicenc'd printing, to the Parliament of England 
John Milton, 1644

Monday, 10 September 2012


"Liberal of song, they travel in groups, they sing loudly."
Exeter Book Riddle 57
(translated from the Anglo-Saxon by Patrick J. Murphy)

"We are little airy creatures,
All of different Voice and Features.
One of us in Glass is set,
One of us you'll find in Jet,
T'other you may see in Tin,
And the fourth a Box within,
If the fifth you should pursue,
It can never fly from you."

Miscellanies  Jonathan Swift.

Sourced from Unriddling the Exeter Riddles by Patrick J. Murphy

Sunday, 9 September 2012

A greedy Alphabet

 "To the enjoyment of the pictures, appreciation of the text was soon added, as thanks to the brilliant educational methods of my mother I learned to read at a very tender age.  Her system, simple as it was effective, was based on a chocolate alphabet.  This was spread out twice a week on the dining-room table and such letters as I recognised I was allowed to eat; later, when my knowledge of this alphabet was faultless, I was entitled to such letters as I could form into a new word.   Although never strong in arithmetic I soon grasped the simple fact that the longer the word the more the chocolate, and by the time I could spell 'suffragette' without an error this branch of my education was deemed complete and a tendency to biliousness had become increasingly apparent.

Once  my ability was firmly established I read everything on which I could lay my hands,  from The Times leaders to the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer."

All Done from Memory  Osbert Lancaster

Saturday, 8 September 2012

An Icelandic ABC

"As is known, the ability to read and write was almost as common in Iceland before the days of printing as it has been since;  and actually I think that my grandmother was closer to the people who lived before the days of Caxton.  Spelling books were never used in Iceland.  My grandmother said she learned to recognise the letters of the alphabet from an old man who scratched them for her on the ice when she had to watch over sheep during the winter.  She learned writing from an old woman by making letters with a knitting needle on a piece of smoky glass; they used to tinker with this unobtrusively in the evening sometimes, by moonlight."

The Fish Can Sing   Halldor Laxness
translated by Magnus Magnusson

Friday, 7 September 2012

Bibles in Iceland

"It is too well-known to need mentioning that according to an ancient Icelandic price-scale, the cost of a Bible is equivalent to that of a cow -- and that means an early-calving cow, or else six well-fleeced lambing ewes.  This price is written on the title page of the Bible edition that was printed in a remote mountain valley in northern Iceland in 1584, and as is known, Icelanders have never believed in any other Bible but this one;  it was printed with tasteful vignettes and decorative woodcuts and weighs five pounds, and is very  like a raisin-box in shape.  This volume has always been available in the better churches in Iceland."

The Fish Can Sing  Halldor Laxness
 translated by Magnus Magnusson

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Eric Ravilious blocks

"The blockmaker was Mr Stanley Lawrence of Red Lion Court, and without his firm T. N. Lawrence, the only one to survive from the heyday of commercial wood engraving in the Victorian era, the revival of wood engraving could never have taken place.  All the members of the Society of Wood Engravers found their way up the narrow stairs to Lawrence's old-fashioned office to buy beautiful box-wood blocks cut to the size they asked for,  as well as the inks, rollers, tools and Japanese papers they needed.

In their prospectus for 1931, the Golden Cockerel Press announced their books for the year.  At the head of the list comes 'Twelfth Night, or What you Will,  by William  Shakespeare', described as 'decorated by Eric Ravilious,' ...."

Eric Ravilious:  Memoir of an Artist   Helen Binyon  

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Somerset House Conference

The Somerset House Conference, 1604
from children's exercises in creative writing:

"We all sat round the table on that baking hot September afternoon.  All ten of us, all brothers, and our prim and proper father.  Why we had to sit there in our big heavy coats I don't know.  But our father made us.  Of course he took his off to reveal his cool white and blue silk shirt.  We were there because we had been naughty.  Benjamin and his lot had put graffiti on the new painting in the drawing room.  And on top of that all ten of us had performed our pop group 'Oldies' on Sunday, strictly forbidden.  Dad found out and so we all had to study the Bible in the summer hols, to learn about the Ten Commandments and the sabbath. But I didn't mind because 'Oldies' our pop group had a booking that evening at the local disco."

from A Teachers' Guide to Using Portraits   Susan Morris
Copyright English Heritage

The Somerset House Conference
by  Unknown artist
oil on canvas, 1604     NPG 665
Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

An Engraver's tailpiece

"It was here at No. 31 [Kensington Square], that I discovered Bewick, one afternoon while Aunt Etty was having her rest.  I remember lying on the sofa between the dining room windows with the peacock blue serge curtains, and wishing passionately that I could have been Mrs. Bewick.  Of course, I should have liked still more to be Mrs. Rembrandt, but that seemed too tremendous even to imagine; whereas it did not seem impossibly outrageous to think of myself as Mrs. Bewick.  She was English enough, and homely enough, anyhow. Surely, I thought, if I cooked his roast beef beautifully and mended his clothes and minded the children -- surely he would, just sometimes, let me draw and engrave a little tailpiece for him.  Only just to be allowed to invent a little picture sometimes.  Oh happy, happy Mrs. Bewick! thought I, as I kicked my heels on the blue sofa."

Period Piece  Gwen Raverat

Monday, 3 September 2012

Tulips and peacocks

"The tulip is a peacock among flowers:
 one has no scent, the other has no song;
the one glories in its gown, the other in its train."

From the French.

"A Peacock once placed a petition before Juno desiring to have the voice of a nightingale in addition to his other attractions; but Juno refused his request.
When he persisted, and pointed out that he was her favourite bird, she said:
'Be content with your lot; one cannot be first in everything.'  "

Fables of Aesop, edited by Joseph Jacobs.

"See how the Flow'rs, as at Parade,
Under their Colours stand displayed:
Each Regiment in order grows,
That of the Tulip Pinke and Rose."

Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax
Andrew Marvell

Sunday, 2 September 2012

A graver dress

"When evening comes, I return home and go to my study.  On the threshold I strip off my muddy sweaty workaday clothes and put on the robes of court and palace,  and in this graver dress, I enter the antique courts of the ancients, and am welcomed by them."

Machiavelli c. 1560

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Young Giotto's pigs

" 'Nothing like pigs for significant form, Bob, '  interrupted a small man who had banged the door of an ancient car and come from the road to join us.  Though I did not recognise him at first, there was something familiar about the untidy twist of his necktie and the eager eyes that looked out from under two unkempt shocks of hair.  'Haven't seen you in twenty years,'  he said to me. 'Only heard last week that you were hereabouts.'

'Near fifty years since  the Slade,'  I said at a guess.
'More than forty, anyway,'  he said.

I knew who he was then -- Giotto Junior, as we used to call him because of his obsession with the early Florentine artists and because of the intensity of his own religious paintings.

'Pigs, I could draw them all day long,' he said, 'but they're awkward in a studio.'

Though I had followed his work through the years, I had never known him put pencil to pig.  Saints and angels and humans in mystic communion: allegories, they were his line, at times difficult to comprehend but always combining  a richness of form with minute and loving detail.

As he walked ahead of me towards the cottage I noticed that his shiny blue serge trousers had a slit across their seat, and through it was hanging a wide flap of linen shirt immaculately white.  I said nothing, but when two days later he paid his return visit I saw that the rent had been mended by a rectangular patch of mustard red tweed which spread from side to side of his behind.

'Why, Giotto,' I said, 'What's happened to you? You're all poshed up.'
'Oh yes, I know,'  he said wearily.  'But I'm going to a reception.'

Giotto was the master draughtsman among the students of our generation at the Slade.  Form and its interpretation obsessed him:...  Clean, cold, unrelenting drawing with a hard pencil was the order [at the Slade]:  no 'sketching,' none of the charcoal don't-give-yourself-away school: and Giotto, though physically the smallest student in the class, was with pencil in hand the biggest man among us."

Till I end my Song  Robert Gibbings

Friday, 31 August 2012

Resurrection Day!

"I am Nell Coles.  It is my lot
to lie within the parish plot, rolled in a strip of poorhouse sheet
that had ado to reach my feet; nailed in a pinewood box, so thin
already it lets water in,
and tumbled here with naught to show
a Christian creature bides below.
To right and left the gentlefolk
are put to bed in three-inch oak;
linen-shrouded, lapped in lead;
smooth-turfed and tended, foot to head;
held safely in by curb and stone --
yet would I choose to change with none,
who, spite of pomp and high estate,
are of the dead most desolate.
All graves are hard, but none has less
of comfort or of kindliness --
tho' roofs be sound and walls be dry --
than those wherein my betters lie.
All graves are cold; but I knew cold
and lack and shivering of old.
I did not, as these great ones come
unpractised to a cheerless home.
Yet, praised be God, here at mine end
my poverty is turned my friend;
for at my elbow I can see
the shapes of bygone company --
Poll Makepeace; merryman Tom Finch,
and Lightfoot's Joan; can, at a pinch
throw out a jest to Silas King
shall set his rib-bones rattling;
and while my old jaw hangs in place
match tales with Martha Boniface --
what time the dead do lie alone
until the final Trump is blown.
When, even on that awful Day,
I think to be more blest than they;
for as they grapple, heave and strain
and strive to reach the light again,
all unnumbered I'll have found
my way up thro' the shuddering ground,
and scrambled with no trouble at all
by rocking tombs and shafts that fall,
past twisting cross and groaning urn--
out of my station, out of turn--
first in the place, the first to stand,
grave-gear bunched in my either hand,
making my bob, and like a nell,
crying 'Good day, Lord Gabriel!' "

Pauper's Piece  Ada Jackson
in Country Life magazine 1970


Thursday, 30 August 2012

Hydriotaphia, or Urn Burial

"Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us.  A small fire sufficeth for life, great flames seemed too little after death, while men vainly affected precious pyres, and to burn like Sardanapalus, but the wisedom of funerall Laws found the folly of prodigal blazes, and reduced undoing fires, unto the rule of sober obsequies, when few could be so mean as not to provide wood, pitch, a mourner, and an Urne."

Hydriotaphia, Urne-Buriall  or, a Discourse of the Sepulchrall Urnes lately found in Norfolk.
Sir Thomas Browne

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Reading at "Fernley", Cookham

"What he read, besides the Bible, was largely a closed book to me.  But conversation with my brother, Sydney, was one means of glimpsing his mind.  Another was to take a look at the old card table.  Occupying most of the space was the old Bible given to him by Mr Hatch, often opened at Job.  Struggling for space round its fringes would be Byron, Keats, Donne, Urn Burial, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Possessed.  He was heavily influenced by Dostoevski.  Later, referring to those days, he regretted struggling so long with Carlyle's French Revolution.

He was unorthodox in in the manner of his reading.  During his whole life, I never knew him sit in a comfortable chair, for this or any other purpose.  He was a hard-chair reader, and sat at a table more often than not, with his legs screwed round one another at the ankles; and a funny oil lamp usually provided the light."

Stanley Spencer by his brother Gilbert    Gilbert Spencer

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Emily Bronte draft

"First worship God,  he that forgets to pray
Bids not himself good morrow nor good day."

George Herbert
Inscribed on Prayer board from Haworth Old Church, now in Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth, W. Yorks.

Emily Bronte, by Patrick Branwell Bronte, 1833
National Portrait Gallery, London
NPG1724 National Portrait Gallery, London

"I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heather and the harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, wondering how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Valediction: of the booke

"This Booke, as long-liv'd as the elements,
Or as the world's form, this all-graved tome
In cypher writ, or new made Idiome,
We for loves clergy only'are instruments:
When this book is made thus,
Should againe the ravenous
Vandals and Goths inundate us,
Learning were safe; in this our Universe
Schooles might learne Sciences,  Spheares Musick,  Angels Verse."

Songs and Sonets  John Donne

A Ghost in the machine, Part 3.

Archy creates a situation  3:   the foregoing--

"lines hopping from key
to key in the shadow and being anxious
to finish my
god my god cried henry losing his nerve
the machine is writing all by itself it
is a ghost and threw himself face
downward on the bed and hid his face in the
pillow and kept on saying my god my
god it is a ghost and the woman screamed
and said it is
tom higginbotham s ghost that s whose ghost
it is oh i know whose
ghost it is my conscience tells me i
jilted him when we were studying
stenography together
at the business college and he went into
a decline and died and i have always
known in my heart that he
died of unrequited love o what a
wicked girl i was and he has come
back to haunt me
i have brought a curse upon you henry chase
him away says henry trembling so the bed
shook chase him away mable you coward you
chase him away yourself says mable and both
lay and recriminated and recriminated
with their heads under the covers hot
night though it was while i wrote
the foregoing lines but after
a while it came out henry had a
stenographer on his conscience too and
they got into a row and got so
mad they forgot to be scared i will
close now this house is easily seen from the
railroad station and the woman sits in
the window and writes i will be behind the waste
paper receptacle outside the station door
come and get me i am foot sore and weary
they are still quarrelling as i
close i can do no less than
say thank you mable and henry
in advance for mailing this

Archy & Mehitabel  Don Marquis