Tuesday, 27 August 2013

August 27th

"It is so cold this 27th. of August that I shake in the green-house where I am writing."
William Cowper, Correspondence 1782, (Buckinghamshire)

From The English Year  compiled by Geoffrey Grigson

Monday, 26 August 2013

John Bland, the urgent reader

"My Lamb, you are so very small,
You have not learned to read at all.
Yet never a printed book withstands
The urgence of your dimpled hands.
So, though this book is for yourself,
Let mother keep it on the shelf
Till you can read.  O days that pass,
That day will come too soon, alas! "

Dedication to Five Children and It   Enid Nesbit

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Unsuitable reading

" 'Reading, were you?'   Rupert picked up the book which lay on the little table by the fire.  It turned out to be the poems of Tennyson, bound in green morocco.  Could she really have been reading that? he wondered,  looking for the novel stuffed behind a cushion.

'Yes, but I was just going to make some coffee.  Would you like some?' said Ianthe.

How convenient women were, Rupert thought, accepting her offer, the way they were always 'just going' to make coffee or tea or perhaps had just  roasted a joint in the oven or made a cheese soufflĂ©.

'I didn't think people read Tennyson nowadays,' he said, 'but then of course you aren't just "people". '

Ianthe flushed and busied herself with the coffee tray. She had not exactly been reading Tennyson but had remembered John quoting one of his poems during the first days of their acquaintance.
      Now lies my heart all Danae to the stars
      And all my heart lies open unto thee ...

She was ashamed to think that Rupert might have discovered her looking it up."

An Unsuitable Attachment   Barbara Pym

Saturday, 24 August 2013

My library for a horse?

What do we, as a nation, care about books?  How much do you think we spend altogether on our libraries, public or private, as compared with what we spend on our horses?

John Ruskin

Friday, 23 August 2013

Letters from the Windward Islands

[The dressing-room] "seemed crowded after the emptiness of the rest of the house.  There was a carpet, the only one I had seen, a press made of some beautiful wood I did not recognize.  Under the open window a small writing-desk with paper, pens, and ink. "A refuge" I was thinking when someone said, 'This was Mr. Mason's room, sir, but he did not come here often.  He did not like the place.'  ...

.... I sat on the soft narrow bed and listened.  Not  a sound except the river. I might have been alone in the house.  There was a crude bookshelf made of three shingles strung together over the desk and I looked at the books, Byron's poems, novels by Sir Walter Scott, Confessions of an Opium Eater, some shabby brown volumes, and on the last shelf,  Life and Letters of...   The rest was eaten away.

  Dear Father, we have arrived from Jamaica after an uncomfortable few days.  This little estate in the Windward Islands is part of the family property and Antoinette is much attached to it.  She wished to get here as soon as possible.   All is well and has gone according to your plans and wishes.  I dealt of course with Richard Mason. ..... This place is very beautiful but my illness has left me too exhausted to appreciate it fully.  I will write again in a few days' time.

I reread this letter and added a postscript:
   I feel that I have left you too long without news for the bare announcement of my marriage was barely news.  I was down with fever for two weeks after I got to Spanish Town.  Nothing serious but I felt wretched enough.  I stayed with the Frasers, friends of the Masons.... It was difficult to think or write coherently.  In this cool and remote place it is called Granbois (the High Woods I suppose) I feel better already and my next letter will be longer and more explicit.

A cool and remote place...  And I wondered how they got their letters posted.  I folded mine and put it into a drawer of the desk.
As for my confused impressions they will never be written.  There are blanks in my mind that cannot be filled up."

Wide Sargasso Sea  Jean Rhys

Thursday, 22 August 2013

African correspondence

"There was nobody in the kitchen.  A glorious pheasant lay unplucked on the table.  Dark alcoves yawned back into the walls.  High, huge, and Gothic, a framed text hung above the loaded dresser,
 I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE.  The capital letters were blue and red and gold, under years of smoke and dust and grease.  I put my hand on the pheasant's breast, a stone under the fiery feathers.  I looked out of the windows to the stars.  Tomorrow there would be a letter for me.  Or perhaps not.  He was moving round Africa.  He had never had my letter about Papa.  I saw a native running to nowhere with my letter in the cleft of a forked stick, or it might be his letter to me.  The idea cheered me."

Good Behaviour  Molly Keane

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Summer correspondence

"I write in a nook that I call my Boudoir.  It is a summer-house not much bigger than a sedan chair, the door of which opens into the garden, that is now crowded with pinks, roses, and honeysuckles, and the window into my neighbour's orchard...  Having lined it with garden mats, and furnished it with a table and two chairs, here I write all that I write in summer-time, whether to my friends or to the public."

Correspondence  William Cowper,  June 25, Buckinghamshire.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

"Darwin took up his pen"

"In the gaps of time, morning and night, Darwin took up his pen.  He wrote indoors, balancing a cushion on the arm of his chair and resting his writing board on it; in the heat of summer he wrote in his summer-house, its windows opening over the river; on the way to see patients, he wrote in his carriage, the front of which 'was occupied by a receptacle for writing paper and pencils, likewise for a knife, fork and spoon; on one side was a pile of books reaching from the floor to nearly the front window ...  on the other, a hamper containing fruit and sweetmeats, cream and sugar'.  As well as countless letters, Darwin was writing on clouds and spa water and piling up material for his Zoonomia, his ever expanding work on diseases.   And all the time his poem lay on his desk, acquiring new touches and more notes."

The Lunar Men  Jenny Uglow
[quotation from The Life of Mary Anne Schimmel-Penninck, ed. C. Hankin]

Saturday, 17 August 2013

August thoughts

"Charlotte Street, August 18th, 1823:  I was at the Countess of Dysart's fete champetre at Ham House.  I have pleased her by painting two portraits lately, and she has sent me half a buck."

John Constable to John Fisher.

Well Walk, Hampstead, 16th August 1833:  "I can hardly write for looking at the silvery clouds; how I sigh for that peace (to paint them) which this world cannot give, (to me at least). "

John Constable to C.R. Leslie.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Mother Hubbard no reader

"Mother Hubbard, you see, was old;  there being no mention of others, we may presume she was alone; a friendless, old, solitary widow.  Yet did she despair?  Did she  sit down and weep, or read a novel, or wring her hands? No! She went to the cupboard."

Mock Sermon  William U. O'Connor Cuffe,  4th Earl of Desart

Monday, 12 August 2013

A ' killer' novel

"Exclude from your library all books that have no Albany connections.  Buy only such books as were written here, planned here, written elsewhere by men who once lived here or peopled with characters who had chambers here by writers who owned no part of Albany.  With the touch of Albany as sole criterion, and still you will own a not unrepresentative collection of English literature since the end of the eighteenth century.

It began, this relationship between Albany and literature,  almost in that moment when the mansion house became what everywhere else in Britain (but never in Albany) would be called a block of flats.  And it began with a sensation which, after the fashion of sensations, has since slithered off the front page of knowledge into the graveyard of footnote obscurity.  One of the most famous of all habituĂ©s of Albany's forerunner, Melbourne House, was killed, (or was said to have been killed) by a novel.  In 1806, a clerk at the Bank of England, Thomas Surr, published a bestseller, Winter in London.  In it he caricatured the Duchess of Devonshire so successfully that when she read the book the shock of self-recognition hastened her death."

'Albany'  J.E. Morpurgo in The Book of Westminster  ed.  Ian Norrie

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The fashionable novel

"I shall not be satisfied unless I produce something which shall for a few days supersede the last fashionable novel on the tables of young ladies."

Letter to Macvey Napier,  5 Nov. 1841    Thos. Babington Macaulay

G. M. Trevelyan's Life and Letters of Macaulay

Friday, 9 August 2013

Macaulay's New Zealander

"And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's."

 Essay (on von Ranck's History of the Popes)  Thos. Babington Macaulay

[and see  "Contemplating the Ruins of London",  David Skilton;
and "When the New Zealander Comes" in The Strand Magazine, Sept. 1911]

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Ozymandias in London

"We wonder, and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chase,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place."

from "Ozymandias"  Horace Smith

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Miching Mallecho Esquire

...when London shall be an habitation of bitterns, when St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey shall stand, shapeless and nameless ruins, in the midst of an unpeopl'd marsh; when the piers of Waterloo Bridge shall become the nuclei of islets of reeds and osiers and cast jagged shadows of their broken arches on the solitary stream, --

Dedication to Peter Bell the Third by Miching Mallecho Esquire, 1819  Percy Bysshe Shelley

[Waterloo Bridge was opened in June 1817 - see John Constable's painting]

Monday, 5 August 2013

A poet's poet

"Three poets, in three distant ages born,
Greece, Italy & England did adorn.
The first in loftiness of thought surpass'd;
The next in majesty,  in both the last:
The force of nature could no farther go;
To make a third she joined the former two."

Lines Printed under the engraved Portrait of Milton, in Tonson's Folio edition of The Paradise Lost  John Dryden

Sunday, 4 August 2013

"Circumspice "

"This digression is leading me sadly astray
From my object -- A grave for my poor dog Tray!

I would not place him beneath thy walls
And proud, overshadowing dome, St. Paul's.
I've always considered Sir Christopher Wren
As an architect, one of the greatest of men;
And, talking of Epitaphs -- much as I admire his,
'Circumspice, si Monumentum requiris';
Which an erudite Verger translated to me,
'If you ask for his Monument, Sir-come-spy-see!' "

The Cynotaph  Richard Harris Barham (Thomas Ingoldsby)

Saturday, 3 August 2013

A London Diversion (part two)

The Lord Mayor's Coachman continues on his way...

"Up to Old Bailey then he goes on to the Viaduct,
Up Holborn and High Holborn, there was nothing to obstruct,
When 'Now you're going up Oxford Street',  the Lord Mayor shouts again,
But John said 'I don't go that way! I go down Drury Lane.'
Down Drury Lane, Long Acre, and St. Martin's Lane he drives,
And thus to keep out of a street he artfully contrives,
And when they reach Trafalgar Square, the Lord Mayor in a pet,
Said, 'Dash my wig and barnacles! I think he'll do it yet.'

John nearly drove into the Strand, then stopped as if in doubt,
And the Lord Mayor said, 'I'm not surprised to find that you're put out.
Through Parliament Street you must go, or else cross Cockspur Street,
It's very hard, but still you must acknowledge your defeat,'
But John turned back and said, 'My Lord, I don't much think I shall,
If you ask me, I think you'll find I'm going down Pall Mall',
Then round the Square the coachman goes and drives at racing rate,
Goes through Pall Mall, into the Park to Buckingham Palace straight.

The Coachman gave the Lord Mayor, the Lord Mayor, the Lord Mayor,
The Coachman gave the Lord Mayor a curious kind of treat,
He drove him from the Mansion House, the Mansion House, the Mansion House
From Mansion House to Buck'n'am Palace and didn't go through a street."

Song by Harry Hunter and David Day, 1896
Historians of London  Stanley Rubinstein

Friday, 2 August 2013

"The Lord Mayor's Coachman" -- a London diversion (part one)

"The Lord Mayor had a Coachman, and the Coachman's name was John,
Said the Lord Mayor to the Coachman, 'Take your wages and be-gone,
I want a better driver, for I'm going to see the Queen',
Said John, 'I am the finest Coachman that was ever seen,
And if you'll let me drive today I'll show I can't be beat,
For I'll drive to Buckingham Palace and I won't go through a street'.

'You must be mad',  the Lord Mayor said, 'but still I'll humour you,
But remember that you lose your place, the first street you go through'.

The Coachman jumped upon his box and settled in his seat,
And started up the Poultry, which we know's not called a street,
Then up Cheapside he gaily went, the bobbies cleared the course,
To the statue of the Bobby who first organized the force,
'Why you're going into Newgate Street', the Lord Mayor loudly bawls
But John said 'Tuck your tupp'ny in, I'm going round St. Paul's!'

'Well, round St. Paul's means Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street, John!' said he,
But John said, 'No! down Ludgate Hill and up the Old Bailey'. "

The Lord Mayor's Coachman  or,  the Man Who Knew How to Drive  (part I)

Lyrics by Harry Hunter,  music by David Day, 1896
(see  Historians of London  Stanley Rubinstein)