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