Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Hpe, Lve, Valur and ?

"Black stared into his tankard, while the tavern clock ticked sixty times. ' I hate things with an O in their names, ' cried Black.  'That goes for clocks and parrots.'  He threw his tankard at the clock and broke it open, but there was nothing inside but works, no rubies, no emeralds, and no sapphires and no map.

Littlejack, the man with the map. (by Ronald Searle)

'The parrot's name is Magraw,' said Littlejack. ' There aint no O in that.'

Black stood up and smote the table with his fist. ' I'll get rid of O, in upper case and lower,' cried the man in black.  'I'll issue an edict.  All words in books or signs with an O in them shall have the O erased or painted out. We'll print new books and paint new signs without an O in them.'

And so the locksmith became a lcksmith, and the bootmaker a btmaker, and people whispered like conspirators when they said the names. Loves Labours Lost  and Mother Goose flattened out like a pricked balloon.  Books were bks and Robin Hood was Rbinhd.  Little Goody Two shoes lost her O's and so did Goldilocks, and the former became a whisper, and the latter sounded like a key jiggled in a clock.  It was impossible to read 'cockadoodledoo' aloud and parents gave up reading to their children, and some gave up reading altogether, and their search for the precious jewels went on."

Hope, Love, Valour and Freedom!  and a Happy New Year

The Wonderful O  James Thurber
© the estate of James Thurber,
Ronald Searle illustration for Penguin Books

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Season's Greetings, with ancient splendours

Season's Greetings and thanks to all those whose blogs I enjoy so much, such as Anecdotal Evidence,
English Buildings, Fired Up, First Known when Lost,  James Russell, Spitalfields Life, Quad Royal,  and many others.

"For lo! the days are hastening on
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold.
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing."

The Angels' Song: It came upon the midnight clear  Edmund H. Sears, 1849

Sunday, 21 December 2014

A Yuletide journey

[Sir Gawain rides through the lawless wilderness of the Wirral, in search of the Green Man to return his challenge]

"But, if those fights were fierce, winter was worse
Where chilling water spilled out of the clouds
Freezing as it fell, pelting the pale ground.
Almost killed by sleet, he sleeps in all his armour
More nights than enough among the rough rocks,
Where plummeting creeks from the summits ran cold
Or hung above his head in hard ice-blades.
This way, in danger, in pain and hardship,
Over the land the knight rides till Christmas Eve,
Then in despair on his ride,
He cries in a plangent tone
That Mary be his guide
To a house, a warm hearth-stone.
Hunched on bare branches, doleful birds
Piped out pitiful calls in the bitter cold."

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Keith Harrison
© The Folio Society, 1983

Carving at Brant Broughton church, Lincolnshire
© Pitkin Publishing, photocredit T. Negus 

Friday, 19 December 2014


 "My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind.  You heavenly powers, since you were responsible for those changes, as for all else, look favourably on my attempts, and spin an unbroken thread of verse, from the beginnings of the world, down to my own times.

Before there was any earth or sea, before the canopy of heaven stretched overhead, Nature presented the same aspect the world over, that to which men have given the name of Chaos.  This was a shapeless, uncoordinated mass, nothing but a weight of lifeless matter, whose ill-assorted elements were indiscriminately heaped together in one place.  There was no sun in those days, to provide the world with light, no crescent moon ever filling out her horns: the earth was not poised in the enveloping air, balanced there by its own weight, nor did the sea stretch out its arms along the margins of the shores.

Ovid banished from Rome,  J.W.M.Turner 1838
The Athenaeum, London

Although the elements of land and sea and air were there, the earth had no firmness, the water no fluidity, there was no brightness in the sky.  Nothing had any lasting shape, but everything got in the way of everything else; for, within that one body, cold warr'd with hot, moist with dry, soft with hard, and light with heavy.

This strife was finally resolved by a god, a natural force of a higher kind, who separated the earth from the heaven, and the waters from the earth, and set the clear air apart from the cloudy atmosphere."

The Metamorphoses of Ovid  trans. © Mary  M. Innes

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Twins in error….

"Re-enter Abbess, with Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse, confronting their twin brothers, Dromio and Antipholus of Ephesus.

Abbess: Most mighty duke, behold a man much wrong'd.
Adriana: I see two husbands, or mine eyes deceive me!
Duke:  One of these men is Genius to the other;
And so of these; which is the natural man,
And which the spirit?  who deciphers them?
Dromio of Syracuse:  I, sir, am Dromio; command him away.
Dromio of Ephesus: I, sir, am Dromio: pray let me stay."

The Comedy of Errors, Act V.  William Shakespeare

Sunday, 14 December 2014


"They were standing under a tree, each with an arm around the other's neck, and Alice knew which was which in a moment, because one of them had 'DUM' embroidered on his collar, and the other had 'DEE'.  'I suppose they've each got 'TWEEDLE' around at the back of the collar' she said to herself.

They stood so still that she quite forgot they were alive, and she was just looking round to see if the word 'TWEEDLE' was written at the back of each collar, when she was startled by a voice coming from the one marked 'DUM'.

'If you think we're waxworks,' he said, 'you ought to pay, you know.  Waxworks weren't made to be looked at for nothing. Nohow!'

'Contrariwise,' added the one marked 'DEE', 'if you think we're alive, you ought to speak.' "

Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there  Lewis Carroll

[after the epigram by John Byrom, on the rivalry between Handel and Giovanni Battista Bononcini]:-

"Some say compared to Bononcini,
That Mynheer Handel's but a Ninny;
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a candle.
Strange all this difference should be
'Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!"

Thursday, 11 December 2014


 "The next day or two he saw vixen and cubs again, though his visits were shorter, and these visits gave him such an innocent pleasure that very soon his notions of honour, duty and so on, were entirely forgotten, and his jealousy lulled asleep.
One day he tried taking with him the stereoscope and a pack of cards.  But though his Silvia was affectionate and amiable enough to let him put the stereoscope over her muzzle,  yet she would not look through it,  but kept turning her head to lick his hand, and it was plain to him that now she had quite forgotten the use of the instrument.  It was the same too with the cards.  For with them she was pleased enough, but only delighting to bite at them, and flip them about with her paws,  and never considering for a moment whether they were diamonds or clubs, or hearts or spades, or whether the card was an ace or not.  So it was evident that she had forgotten the nature of cards too.

"Oh Silvia,…have you forgotten what it is to be a woman?"

Thereafter he only brought them things which she could better enjoy, that  is sugar, grapes, raisins, and butcher's meat.

By and by, as the summer wore on, the cubs came to know him and he them, so that he was able to tell them easily apart,  and then he christened them. ... and told them he was their godfather and gave each of them a name...

Thus Mr Tebrick had a whole family now to occupy him, and indeed, came to love them with very much of a father's love and partiality."

Lady into Fox  David Garnett, illustrated by Rachel 'Ray' Garnett

Monday, 8 December 2014

An American in England

"This would have been a bright sunny day but for the interference of the fog; and before I had been out long, I actually saw the sun looking red and rayless, much like the millionth magnification of a new half-penny."

English Notebooks  Nathaniel Hawthorne, December 8th 1883,   (from Geoffrey Grigson's The English Year)

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Star Talk

" 'Are you awake, Gemelli,
This frosty night?'
'We'll be awake till reveille,
Which is Sunrise,' say the Gemelli,
'It's no good trying to go to sleep;
If there's wine to be got we'll drink it deep,
But rest is hopeless tonight,
But rest is hopeless tonight.'

"Are you cold too, poor Pleiads,
This frosty night?'
'Yes, and so are the Hyads:
See us cuddle and hug,' say the Pleiads,
'All six in a ring: it keeps us warm;
We huddle together like birds in a storm;
It's bitter weather tonight,
It's bitter weather tonight.'
"Jupiter " in  De Sphaera Lombard School miniature,  Biblioteca Estense, Modena

'What do you hunt, Orion
This starry night?'
'The Ram, the Bull and the Lion,
And the Great Bear,'  says Orion,
'With my starry quiver and beautiful belt
I am trying to find a good thick pelt
To warm my shoulders tonight,
To warm my shoulders tonight.'

'Did you hear that, Great She-bear
This frosty night?'
'Yes, he's talking of stripping me bare
Of my own big fur,' says the She-bear.
'I'm afraid of the man and his terrible arrow;
The thought of it chills my bones to the marrow,
And the frost so cruel tonight!
And the frost so cruel tonight!'

'What is your trade, Aquarius,
This frosty night?'
'Complaints are many and various
And my feet are cold,' says Aquarius,
'There's Venus objects to Dolphin-scales,
And Mars to Crab-spawn found in my pails,
And the pump has frozen tonight,
And the pump has frozen tonight.'  "

Star Talk   Robert Graves

(Miniature from the Lombard School

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Mr Chevenix's library

'It is a little plaything-house that I got out of Mrs. Chevenix's shop, and it is the prettiest bauble you ever saw.
…..the Chevenix's have tricked it out for themselves; up two pair of stairs is what they call Mr. Chevenix's library, furnished with three maps, one shelf, a bust of Sir Isaac Newton, and a lame telescope without any glasses. ...

….For the rest of the house, I could send it to you in this letter as easily as the drawing, only that I should have nowhere to live till the return of the post."

Letters  Horace Walpole to Horace Mann,  June1747

Monday, 1 December 2014

A seasonal gift

"The Gift is Small, Good Will is All."
 London 1688

Book-shaped ceramic hand-warmer, © Fitzwilliam Museum.

Friday, 28 November 2014

The scarlet thread

From The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, illustrated by Sidney Paget, in The Strand Magazine, 1893

"The ring, man, the ring: that was what he came back for.  If we have no other way of catching him, we can always bait our line with the ring.  I shall have him Doctor -- I'll lay you two to one on that.  I must thank you for it all.  I might not have gone but for you, and so have missed the finest study I ever came across: a study in scarlet, eh?  Why shouldn't we use a little art jargon.  There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.  And now for lunch, and then for Norma Neruda.  Her attack and her bowing are splendid.  What's that little thing of Chopin's she plays so magnificently: Tra-la-la-lira-lira-lay."

A Study in Scarlet  [the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes] Arthur Conan-Doyle

Saturday, 22 November 2014


"April 26.  Got some more red enamel paint (red, to my mind being the best colour), and painted the coal scuttle, and the backs of our Shakespeare, the binding of which had almost worn out.

April 27. Painted the bath red, and was delighted with the result.  Sorry to say Carrie was not; in fact, we had a few words about it.  She said I ought to have consulted her, and she had never heard of such a thing as a bath being painted red.  I replied: 'It's merely a matter of taste.'

April 29, Sunday.  Woke up with a fearful headache and strong symptoms of a cold.  Carrie, with a perversity which is just like her, said it was 'painter's colic', and was the result of my having spent the last few days with my nose over a paint-pot.  I told her firmly that I knew a great deal better what was the matter with me than she did.  I had got a chill, and decided to have as bath as hot as I could bear it.  Bath ready -- could scarcely bear it so hot.  I persevered, and got in; very hot, but very acceptable.  I lay still for some time.

On moving my hand above the surface of the water, I experienced the greatest fright I ever received in the whole course of my life; for imagine my horror on discovering my hand, as I thought, full of blood.  My first thought was that I had ruptured an artery and was bleeding to death, and should be discovered, later on, looking like a second Marat, as I remember seeing him in Maadame Tussaud's.  My second thought was to ring the bell, but remembered there was no bell to ring.  My third was,  that there was nothing but the enamel paint, which had dissolved in the boiling water.  I stepped out of the bath, perfectly red all over, resembling the Red Indians I have seen depicted at an East-End theatre.  I determined not to say a word to Carrie, but to tell Farmerson to come on Monday and paint the bath white."

The Diary of a Nobody  George & Weedon Grossmith

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Mark Rothko at the Tate


Mark Rothko   'Light Red over Black'  1957     tate.org.uk


"  RUBIFICK,  a. [ruber and facio, Lat.]  Making red.  Grew.
   RUBIFORM, a. [ruber Lat. and form.]  having the form of red.    Newton.
   To RUBIFY, v. a.  To make red.   Brown.
   RUBIOUS,   a.  [rubeus. Lat.]  Ruddy; red; not used.  Shakespeare.
   RUBRICATED,  a. [rubrica, Lat.]  Smeared with red.
   RUBRICK, s.  [rubrique, Fr. rubrica, Lat.]    Directions printed in books of law and in prayer books;      so termed, because they were originally distinguished by being in red ink.    Stilling.
   RUBRICK, a.  Red.    Newton.
   To RUBRICK,  v. a.  [from the noun.]  To adorn with red. "

Dictionary of the English Language  Dr. Samuel Johnson

Monday, 17 November 2014

Black or red

"For he was lever have at his beddes heed
Twenty bokes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophy,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautry.
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre."

Canterbury Tales, Prologue (the Clerk)  Geoffrey Chaucer

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A Load of Unicorn

Caxton's Unicorn paper watermark

"In the middle of the workshop stood the press, a great wooden erection secured between two upright posts that ran from floor to ceiling.  Bendy gazed at it, full of awe.  He had seen a press before; the binder who bound books for the Crowing Cock had one of the same shape -- with a heavy board that moved up and down by a big vertical screw.  But the binder's press was tiny.  This was a monster."

" 'Of course the press is no new thing,' said Caxton. 'It is the type which is new.  The old way of pressing paper on to a carved block is useless for books; you need a new block for every page. Now we have all the letters of the alphabet cast in metal, each letter separate, and we build up a page word by word and letter by letter.  When we have printed enough copies we pull the type to pieces again ready to set up for another page.  Come and see for yourselves.'  "

The Load of Unicorn  Cynthia Harnett  (text and illustrations) 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Kelmscott Albion press

Floor model Albion Press No. 6551, made by Hopkinson & Cope 1891, and used at the Kelmscott Press to print Morris's edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

Photo detail © Christies Fine Art  (Press sold by Christies at auction in New York, 2013)

"When I first knew Morris nothing would content him but being a monk, and getting to Rome, and then he must be an architect, and apprenticed himself to Street, and worked for two years, but when I came to London and began to paint he threw it all up, and must paint too, and then he must give it up and make poems, and then he must give it up and make window hangings and pretty things, and when he had achieved that, he must be a poet again, and then two or three years of Earthly Paradise time, he must learn dyeing, and lived in a vat, and learned weaving, and knew all about looms, and then made more books,  and learned tapestry, and then wanted to smash everything up and begin the world anew, and now it is printing he cares for, and to make wonderful rich-looking books and all things he does splendidly -- and if he lives the printing will have an end -- but not I hope, before Chaucer and the Morte d'Arthur are done; and then he'll do I don't know what, but every minute will be alive."

Edward Burne-Jones on Morris, quoted by Fiona MacCarthy in William Morris, V& A Museum exhibition catalogue 1996

Saturday, 8 November 2014

An early printing press

Sala Diaconu Coresi, Prima scoala Romaneasca

This early hand printing press was used for the first Bible in the Romanian language and the first Romanian schoolbook, through the work of Diaconu Coresi.  The school building is now a museum, marked by this plaque of 1946.

"This ancient place of learning, the first Romanian school in all of Greater Romania, was completely rebuilt in stone in the years 1595-97 through the generous gift of Prince Aron of Moldavia and through
the care for learning of the Archpriest Mihai, being built anew in 1761….it served for hundreds of years as a centre of education for youth and adults…"

With thanks to Vasile Oltean, October 2014

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

1984 (in search of razor blades)

"And when memory failed and written records were falsified -- when that happened, the claim of the Party to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted, because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard against which it could be tested.

At this moment his train of thought stopped abruptly. He halted and looked up.  He was in a narrow street with a few dark little shops interspersed among dwelling-houses. Immediately above his head there hung three discoloured metal balls which looked as if they had once been gilded. He seemed to know the place. Of course! He was standing outside the junk-shop where he had bought the diary.

A twinge of fear went through him. It had been a sufficiently rash act to buy the book in the beginning, and he had sworn never to come near the place again.  And yet the instant that he allowed his thoughts to wander, his feet had brought him back here of his own accord.  It was precisely against suicidal impulses of this kind that he had hoped to guard himself by opening the diary.  At the same time he noticed that although it was nearly twenty-one hours the shop was still open.  With the feeling that he would be less conspicuous inside than hanging about on the pavement, he stepped through the doorway.  If questioned, he could plausibly say that he was trying to buy razor blades.

'I recognised you on the pavement,' [the shopkeeper] said immediately.  'You're the gentleman that bought the young lady's keepsake album.  That was a beautiful bit of paper, that was.  Cream-laid, it used to be called.  There's been no paper like that made for -- oh, I dare say fifty years.'  "

Nineteen Eighty-Four  George  Orwell

Monday, 3 November 2014

London river

London River
For John Minton

"The world ends at  the pier, the purple snake
of the river vanishing into sunset, though
somewhere beyond, locked like a secret, another
existence begins -- with laws of its own
and a brotherhood because of no other, begun
when the coast is shed in the wake like a skin.

But, tied to the riveted stakes of habit, barges
copper as souvenirs of Egypt, pull and return
with the tide on a backspring, lazily large
for a day at their moorings, with money to burn
in the pockets of dockers, or sailors living
a one-night week, the rest an endurance.

It depends on the night, for nothing is lasting --
neither profit nor pleasure, which flare up
like a fire and founder as damply at leisure
--and unless you were there and looked up
catching the spark in its diamond of laughter,
nothing would remain to witness it later.

For sailors and waterfronts like Chinese boxes
hide away in layers behind unsmiling secrets
and carry different faces on Sundays
and Mondays, their surfaces ambiguous as foxes,
who snarl at themselves in a pool when frightened,
afraid of the trick that might prove them a fool.

Life here, as its environs, is precarious--
a world built up like a matchstick warehouse,
a mixture of spices and sawdust, timber
and sacking, that grows dormant at sunset
or lights up at sunrise its debris of history,
but where never a stable perspective is lacking.

Poems   Alan John Ross (1922-2001)

Rotherhithe from Wapping,  John Minton

© Royal College of Art,  Photocredit Southampton City Art Gallery 

Friday, 3 October 2014

WEDGWOOD SAVED: 12: Forces acting in Harmony

Stop Press - Wedgwood Collection Saved

"Fire is an awe-inspiring, unaccountable element, and it is good that this wild partner should at times assert his share in the potter's work.  But then the human contribution, the shape and ornament of the pot, must be correspondingly robust.  When the two forces act in harmony, … the resulting wares have a power to stir the imagination…"
Style in Pottery  Arthur Lane (of the Victoria and Albert Museum) 1948

A view inside the kiln - at the Gladstone Pottery Museum, Longton, Staffordshire
© All rights reserved, photographer Graham Davies

For centuries potters had to judge the firing of their kilns by experience, and rule of thumb; results could be badly affected by changing wind direction and quality of fuels. Wedgwood  had no proper instrument for measuring kiln temperature when he was firing his thousands of jasper samples; he would mark each sample according to its place in the kiln - TBO for 'top of biscuit oven', TTBO for 'tip-top', etc.

His friends and colleagues in the Lunar Society were searching for ways to standardize scientific measurements and Wedgwood was experimenting with a thermometer to withstand the high temperatures of the kilns.  From his first attempts which measured kiln heat by colour changes in the fired clay, he developed (helped by chemist Alexander Chisholm) his Pyrometer, which measured kiln heat by shrinkage of clay at particular temperatures.  For this invention he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1783.

Wedgwood's far-reaching associations with other entrepreneurs and scientists are fascinatingly portrayed in The Lunar Society by Jenny Uglow,  who based much of her research on contemporary correspondence in the Wedgwood Collection archives, which public donations have kept in its  UK home for the public, both British and overseas visitors. See wedgwoodmuseum.wordpress.com

Saving Wedgwood 11: The Dancing Hours

Sir William Hamilton,  British Envoy to the Kingdom of Naples, is popularly better known for losing his wife Emma, Lady Hamilton, to Admiral Nelson.  Fewer people know that he was also a pioneering vulcanologist, observing close-up and recording eruptions of Vesuvius, and an avid collector of classical antiquities, particularly vases and cameos, many newly excavated.  It was from his collection and particularly the illustrated engravings in Baron D'Harcanville's catalogue (The Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Hon'ble Williiam Hamilton)  that Wedgwood drew inspiration for his finest vases. " Good models give birth to ideas by exciting the imagination."

Sir William Hamilton, blue jasper portrait medallion,  c. 1772
© Victoria & Albert Museum

Wedgwood jasper vase, with relief of The Dancing Hours modelled by John Flaxman junior, c.1788
  © Fitzwilliam Museum


The son of a plaster modeller, the sculptor John Flaxman junior began designing for Wedgwood in 1775,  and helped create some of Wedgwood's finest pieces, including the Pegasus Vase; the Dancing Hours relief remains one of his most popular designs.  

He drew Wedgwood's attention to the famous antique  Portland Vase when it first came to England: "I wish you may soon come down to see William Hamilton's Vase, …. it is the finest production of Art that has been brought to England and seems to be the very apex of perfection to which you are endeavouring to bring your bisque and jasper."  

for Sir William Hamilton's career see Fields of Fire, David Constantine
and to stop the Wedgwood Collection dancing away:  www.savewedgwood.org.uk

Monday, 29 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood No 10: Four noteworthy potters

Four of the key names of the Stoke on Trent potteries in the late eighteenth century were Thomas Whieldon,  Josiah Wedgwood, William Greatbatch and Josiah Spode.  All four worked together at  different times, and were all innovators in various respects, yet  only the two Josiahs -- Wedgwood and Spode -- went on to become household names.

Green lead glazed teapot, probably Josiah Wedgwood, c. 1759-66.
© Fitzwilliam  Museum

Wedgwood was a partner of Thomas Whieldon from 1754 to 1759, working on improving existing glazes and bodies.  He began systematically recording his experiments in February 1759,  perfecting this vivid green glaze soon after.  He set up his own works in May 1759, keen to strike out in new ways.

Whieldon was highly respected with high standards of workmanship, but concentrated on already popular wares for a wide market, which made him wealthy.  In 1780 he retired, demolished his factory,  building an ornamental garden on the site, and enjoyed his position as gentleman and Sheriff of the county.

'Apple' teapot, earthenware with splashed lead glazes, attributed to Thomas Whieldon c. 1760
© V&A Museum

Moulded creamware sugar bowl, by William Greatbatch, c. 1765-70
© V& A Museum

William Greatbatch also worked for Thomas Whieldon in the 1750s,  and was known for his modelling and block-making skills,  needed for making the moulded and slip-cast pieces which were so much quicker to produce in large numbers.  He supplied Whieldon and Wedgwood from his own pottery works (1762 onwards) but went bankrupt in 1782, and worked for Wedgwood after this.   His designs show an individual, imaginative flair.

'Aurora' teapot,  William Greatbatch, c. 1770-82, leadglazed, transfer printed earthenware painted with overglaze enamels. This image of the heavens reflects the period's growing interest in science.  © Victoria & Albert Museum

Josiah Spode had just finished his apprenticeship with Thomas Whieldon, and was well paid as a skilled workman, at the time Wedgwood joined the firm as a partner.  He too benefited from Whieldon's methods, but left to make his own way in 1762. Without Wedgwood's capital, he aimed for the mass market, perfecting blue underglaze transfer printing by 1784, which replaced the costly and time-consuming painting skills of Wedgwood's workers.

Underglaze blue transfer-printed earthenware tea wares, by Josiah Spode, c. 1800
© V& A Museum

This  1760s tea canister and bowl represent the collaboration of these potters whose careers overlapped: Wedgwood's improved clear green glaze, Greatbatch's pineapple design moulds, Whieldon's high standards, and the skills of their workmen, such as young Josiah Spode.

Tea bowl and canister, lead glazed earthenware, Whieldon or Wedgwood, c. 1760-65 
© Victoria & Albert Museum

Wedgwood defined the factors of a potter's success as "professional knowledge, sufficient capital, and a real acquaintance with the materials he was working upon".  Both Wedgwood and Spode also relied on a mass market product, efficient factory organisation, and the early use of steam powered engines.

and see English Pottery 1620-1840  by Robin Hildyard, on the development of the pottery industry.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 9: The World we have Lost

 Wedgwood's  famous Frog Service made for Catherine the Great brought him enormous publicity and international prestige, but he made only a very small profit on this commission. Making the 952 pieces of plain creamware cost £51. 8s. 4d., but all these hand-painted views of Britain cost £2239 4s. 0d.

Wedgwood creamware platter, hand painted 1773-4, showing Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire
© Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, photographer Sean Pathasema 

Fifty years ago, Peter Laslett pushed historians to study not just famous Empresses and entrepreneurs, but ordinary people's lives,  as revealed in Parish Records statistics for example, providing a more accurate picture of 'the World we have Lost',  bringing closer these unsung people of the past.

The Wedgwood Collection Archives do this for Nathaniel Cooper (painter of the Frog service borders), for Miss Pars (paid 10s. 6d. per week for painting of ruins), for James Bakewell, (a week and a half painting views of Fingal's Cave on a compotier) or the kiln firemaster who worked 98 hours in one week, to complete the service.  These are just a tiny few of all Wedgwood's skilled workers whose names are carefully recorded in the factory books, which will be lost if the Collection is broken up.

See  The World We have Lost  Peter Laslett 1965
and   The London Decorating Studio and Josiah Wedgwood's Trade with Russia, G. Blake Roberts 
© Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd,  in The Genius of Wedgwood  ed. H. Young, © Victoria & Albert Museum 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 8: The Frog Service

In 1774, Josiah Wedgwood sent a dinner service of 952 pieces to Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.  In 1995,  around three hundred pieces of this "Frog" service, (only a few of which had ever returned from Russia  for exhibition in England since 1774), were the climax of the V& A's 1995 bicentenary  exhibition, "The Genius of Wedgwood", on loan from the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.

Creamware plate, hand-painted at Wedgwood's Chelsea workshop with a view of West Wycombe Park,  to be part of the service made for Catherine the Great, c. 1773-4, for her new summer palace outside St. Petersburg.  Each piece was decorated with a green frog motif, after the Frog Marshes where the palace was sited.
© Victoria & Albert Museum

The Empress's new summer palace was built in the fashionable Gothic style, and her tableware was to be in keeping with its country setting: cream earthenware with no gilding, decorated with monochrome views of Britain's landscapes, great country houses, ruins, monuments and new industries.
"... the Gothic style carried connotations of uncorrupted strength and virtue, while the English landscape garden had become a celebrated emblem of liberty.  As an enlightened monarch, Catherine wanted to demonstrate her sympathy with these ideals."
© Michael Raeburn, "The Frog Service and its Sources"  in The Genius of Wedgwood, edited Hilary Young,  1995 © Victoria & Albert Museum

Cream earthenware, painted with ruins, a view of Wakefield, W. Yorks in the background, c. 1773-4
© Victoria & Albert Museum

The service was displayed in Wedgwood's Greek Street showrooms in London, in June and July 1774, to great wonder and acclaim.

"It consists, I believe of as many pieces as there are days of the year, if not hours. …  There are three rooms below and two above filled with it, laid out on tables, every thing that can be wanted to serve a dinner; the ground the common ware pale brimstone, the drawings in purple, the borders a wreath of flowers, the middle of each piece a particular view of all the remarkable places in the King's dominions neatly executed.  I suppose it will come to a princely price; it is well for the manufacturer, which I am glad of, as his ingenuity and industry deserve encouragement."
Autobiography  Mrs Mary Delany

Hardly surprisingly, Mrs Delany misremembered some details: the garland borders were of acorns and oak leaves for the dinner settings and of ivy leaves for the dessert service.

 See Josiah Wedgwood, entrepreneur to the enlightenment  Brian Dolan
and see  "Interpreting Ceramics" journal online

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 7: 100 Objects - Time for Tea

Object 92  in Neil Macgregor's groundbreaking BBC Radio 4 series of 2010  ("A History of the World in 100 Objects") was a Wedgwood Victorian teaset,  a teapot, sugar bowl and cream jug, made about 1840-45.  He then describes the complex historical  processes involved in bringing the tea, sugar and fresh milk of the tea-drinking ritual to the British mass-market of the 19th century.

A History of the World in 100 Objects  Neil Macgregor  © Trustees of the British Museum and BBC Radio

Wedgwood's contribution was to provide the practical and pleasing-to-use tea services with which the ritual was enjoyed.  He developed earthenware which was heatproof, smooth, washable, and affordable and mass produced.  The tradition of fine design for tablewares continues to this day (e.g. see Martin Hunt's "'Plato" tea service in the V&A).

 Wedgwood teapot, rosso antico, c. 1805-1815
© Victoria and Albert Museum

Bone china teapot designed by Victor Skellern,  Wedgwood's Art Director, c.1937.
© Victoria and Albert Museum

Wedgwood jasper dip teapot, early 19th century, with reliefs designed by Elizabeth, Lady Templetown 1785-90
© Victoria & Albert Museum

Wedgwood earthenware teaset, Falling leaves pattern, 1939
© Victoria & Albert Museum

By 1800, tea was the new national drink.  Celina Fox (quoted by Neil Macgregor) explains the impetus it received in the 1840s.  "Temperance was huge.  Drink for the Victorians was a very big issue.  The desire to have a working population that was sober and industrious was very strong, and there was a great deal of propaganda to that effect.  Sobriety was tied in with dissent, Methodism and so on, and tea really was the drink of choice.  So it's happening on two levels: dissent and having an upright working population which gets to the factory on time and isn't drunk out of its mind, which always seems to be a British problem, and on top of that you have the ritual of afternoon tea.  So tea drinking really takes off in a massive way in the nineteenth century."

The Arts of Industry in the Age of Enlightenment  Celina Fox

Wedgwood, Dr. Darwin's pattern service,  blue jasper dip, c. 1820
© Victoria &  Albert Museum

Historians and curators like Macgregor and Fox depend on the availability of detailed archives like the Wedgwood Collection for their expert research, which is then shared with a much wider public.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 6: Erasmus Darwin

Erasmus Darwin of Lichfield was a physician, botanist, inventor and philosopher.   From his friendship with Matthew Boulton, the Birmingham manufacturer,  was born the Lunar (or Lunatic) society, shortly to be joined by Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestley, and James Watt, and other freethinkers. These friends and entrepreneurs met when the full moon gave them light to travel by, sharing ideas and discoveries  (and see The Lunar Men, by Jenny Uglow).  Erasmus and Josiah's close family friendship led to the marriage of their children, Robert Darwin and Susanna Wedgwood. 

Erasmus Darwin,   Wedgwood jasper portrait,  c.1850-1900, originally modelled by William Hackwood 1780, (after the portrait by Thomas Wright of Derby 1779)      © Fitzwilliam Museum

After his friend's death, Erasmus praised his achievements  in his poem The Botanic Garden of 1803, 

  "And pleased on WEDGWOOD ray your partial smile,
A new Etruria decks Britannia's isle.
Charmed by your touch, the kneaded clay refines,
The biscuit hardens, the enamel shines,
Each nicer mould a softer feature drinks,
The bold Cameo speaks, the soft Intaglio thinks."

This rich Waterlily design dinner service, based on accurate illustrations in botanical journals, was ordered for Erasmus's son, Dr. Robert Darwin (father of Charles) in 1807.  The brown underglaze printing was unusual and the overglaze gilding and hand-painted enamels made it expensive to produce;  production changed to the  much cheaper blue printing in 1811.   

Waterlily Plate, c. 1807-1808
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Monday, 15 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 5. The Useful and the Ornamental

"Usefulness is no more than a condition to be fulfilled.  Grace in fulfilment is an extra, properly called art."     Style in Pottery  Arthur Lane (of the Victoria and Albert Museum)

Wedgwood divided his production into Useful and Ornamental Wares.  The Useful Wares, such as the creamware table services, funded his research and the design outlay on the costly Ornamental Wares.

19th century Portrait medallions of Thomas Bentley (L) and Josiah Wedgwood (R),  from eighteenth century models.
© Victoria & Albert Museum

Josiah met Thomas Bentley, a Liverpool merchant, on a visit to his suppliers in 1762.  Bentley became first Wedgwood's mentor, then his business partner ( in 1768) and lifelong friend.

Through Bentley, he widened his education in the arts and literature, and also gained introduction to the wealthy members of Society, who became his patrons and clients for Wedgwood's finest artistic wares  - the Ornamental goods, especially the classical-styled vases, which made the firm's reputation. Bentley oversaw the Ornamental wares, the jasper plaques, portrait medallions and statues and vases.

The fifty-four years of detailed correspondence between the two partners is a precious key part of the Wedgwood Museum archive.  (see www.savewedgwood.org)

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 4: the enlightened Scotsman

"We walked hence to see the Palazzo Barberini, design'd by the now Pop<e>s Architect Cavaliere Bernini, & which I take to be as superb, and princely an object, as any modern building in Europ for the quantity:
…to this is annexed a Gallery completely furnish'd <with> whatsoever Art can call rare and singular, & a Library full of worthy Collections, Medails, Marbles, and Manuscripts;"

Diary entry, Rome,  November 1644, John Evelyn, (ed. E.S. de Beer)

Among the Collections, was a Roman blue glass cameo vase,  decorated with scenes in white relief,  dating from the reign of Augustus, which (already famous for its beauty and mystery) was acquired by the Barberini family in 1627.  Over a century and a half  later in 1780 it was sold to meet gambling debts and in turn was sold on by James Byres to Sir William Hamilton in 1783.

James Byres, the dealer and intermediary, was an architect, antiquarian and scholar from Aberdeen, whose family fled to France after the Jacobite rising, then living in Rome and leading English visitors around the sights.
 "My guide was Mr. Byres, a Scottish antiquary of experience and taste.  But in the
daily labour of 18 weeks the powers of attention were sometimes fatigued."   Memoirs  Edward Gibbon


Temple of the Sybil in Tivoli,  etching, G.& F. Piranesi, c. 1756

Byres made a serious study of Etruscan painted tombs, on which the Adam brothers drew for their fashionable neoclassical interiors. His scholarly and philosophical interests also stretched to fossils and volcanoes, interests he shared with Sir William Hamilton, and it was the influence of Byres's pioneering work that led Wedgwood to name his new factory "Etruria".

see:  The Portland Vase  Susan Walker © Trustees of the British Museum
and www.savewedgwood.org

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 3. "Am I not a Man and a Brother?"

"Fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom."      Thomas Clarkson

"Am I not a Man and a Brother?"  from Thomas Day's poem The Dying Negro,  was used on these Wedgwood medallions  issued in support of the Society for the Suppression of the Slave Trade.

Emancipation Badge,  jasper ware, c.1787, originally modelled by Willam Hackwood as the Society seal,  from a design by Henry Webber.
© Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Wedgwood was an active supporter of the anti-slavery campaign and sent a batch of his medallions to Benjamin Franklin in America to spread the word.

[Black African slaves were a fashionable addition to one's household in the 18th century; notice the black pageboy in the tea party image in the previous blog.]

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Saving Wedgwood 2. "a double dose of Wedgwood"

"There was more reserve about my grandmother, because she was a Wedgwood.  My father explained to me once,  that my grandfather [Charles Darwin] was rather different from his children, because he was only half a Wedgwood, while they had a double dose of Wedgwood blood in them, owing to two Darwin-Wedgwood marriages in two successive generation.  'You've none of you ever seen a Darwin who wasn't mostly Wedgwood,' he said rather sadly, as of a dying strain.  He can hardly have known any pure Darwin himself, as his grandfather Robert, the last unmitigated Darwin of the line, died when he was only three."

Period Piece  Gwen Raverat

Wedgwood Creamware teapot, c. 1780
© Fitzwilliam Museum 

Gwen Raverat is known for her engravings - as a child she wanted to be 'Mrs. Bewick' - and trained at the Slade with Stanley Spencer.   She grew up with an extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins in Cambridge, and holidayed in the countryside at Down House.  Tea parties and grazing sheep would have been very familiar to her.

This teapot was part  of the major collection of ceramics given to the Fitzwilliam Museum by Dr J.W.L. Glaisher,  who, like Gwen Raverat's father George Darwin, was a don at Trinity College, Cambridge and a President of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Saving the Wedgwood Collection

The wonderful, historic and irreplaceable Wedgwood Collection will be lost without public support: please see www.savewedgwood.org for more information.

Some 20 years of Josiah Wedgwood's experiments separates these two pieces:

Jasper firing trial, c.1770s
(2.4 x 2.0 cms)
© V&A Museum

The Portland Vase, c. 1790
(Ht. 25.5 cms)
© V&A Museum


Wedgwood  had begun his experiments long before, early in his career:

"This suite of Experiments was begun at Fenton Hall, in the parish of Stoke upon Trent, about the beginning of the year 1759, in my partnership with Mr Whieldon, for the improvement of our manufacture of earthenware, which at that time stood in great need of it, the demand for our goods decreasing daily, and the trade universally complained of as being bad & in a declining condition.

White stone ware (viz. with salt glaze) was the principal article of our manufacture; but this had been made a long time, and the prices were now reduced so low that the potters could not afford to bestow much expence upon it , or make it so good in any respect as the ware would otherwise admit of. And with regard to Elegance of form, that was an object very little attended to.

…these considerations induced me to try for some more solid improvement, as well  in the Body as the Glazes, the Colours, the Forms, of the articles of our manufacture.

I saw the field was spacious, and the soil so good, as to promise an ample recompence to any one who should labour diligently in its cultivation."

Experiment Book of Josiah Wedgwood  Wedgwood Museum, Barlaston

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Queen of Riseholme

"[The] new wing ... was, if anything, a shade more inexorably Elizabethan than the stem onto which it was grafted, for here was situated the famous smoking-parlour, with rushes on the floor, and a dresser ranged with pewter tankards, and leaded lattice-windows of glass so antique that it was practically impossible to see out of them.  It had a huge open fireplace framed in oak-beams with a seat on each side of the iron-backed hearth within the chimney, and a genuine spit hung over the middle of the fire.  Here, though in the rest of the house she had for the sake of convenience allowed the installation of electric light, there was no such concession made, and sconces on the walls held dim iron lamps, so that only those of the most acute vision were able to read.  Even then reading was difficult, for the book-stand on the table contained nothing but a few crabbed black-letter  volumes dating from not later than the early seventeenth century, and you had to be in a frantically Elizabethan frame of mind to be at ease there.  But Mrs Lucas often spent some of her rare leisure moments in the smoking-parlour, playing on the virginal that stood in the window, or kippering herself in the fumes of the wood-fire as with streaming eyes she deciphered an Elzevier Horace, rather late for inclusion under the rule, but an un-doubted bargain."

Queen Lucia  E. F. Benson

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Sydney -- Queen Lucinda

"He tracked her back down Sussex Street. They passed the alleyway above which the majority of his colleagues still worked over their ledgers.  Only six buildings down, but on the other side of the street, she went into a tall brick building with bright yellow sandstone ledges to its windows.  Prince Rupert's Glassworks (Office) 5th Floor.

Printing presses occupied the first three floors and the building thumped with their rhythms.  The staircase was filled with the harsh and volatile odours of inks.  Through an open door he saw men in aprons filling their formes from fonts of type. He was sweating as heavily as if he had sat in his normal place in Mr d'Abbs's establishment.

The firms on the fourth floor were, either through lack of custom or because of progressive management, closed for the Saturday afternoon.  The landing was quite deserted, apart from a charlady on her knees, clicking her tongue about this second vandal come marching across her work.  She was not mollified by tiptoeing.

Three firms had their names displayed on dark wooden doors on the fifth floor, all done in different scripts in careful gold leaf with jet-black gold shadows.  The first one he looked at was Prince Rupert's Glassworks.

He knocked, but only lightly, and entered after the very briefest pause.  It was no more than a single room, a desk, three chairs, all crushed beneath a sloping ceiling.  There was no rug on the floor, but the wall behind the desk held a framed etching of the Crystal Palace, and on the wall opposite the windows ( at which Lucinda now stood, her graceless hat held in her hand) there was a great bank of glass shelves displaying a dustless collection of bottles, (green, bright yellow, poison blue) and square book-sized sheets of glass in various finishes and colours. As the sun now played upon these shelves they glowed and bled and washed across each other like the contents of a casket in a children's story."

Oscar and Lucinda  Peter Carey

Saturday, 23 August 2014

'Along the road to Gundagai' - new boys

"My brother and I came to be enrolled in Scotch College ('Oldest in Victoria; biggest in Australia; best in the world!!!') entirely by accident…. . Mother went along to interview the headmaster to see if he would accept us (and she him).  Though the creeper-clad surroundings appealed to her she was so shattered by the Head's devastating Australian accent that she did not honestly feel she could let us be corrupted to that extent. …..
So she went to visit the preparatory school of Scotch College, and there interviewed the Head,…. [His] command of English, his expression and accent were sufficient for Mother to be convinced that Good Old Scotch was where we were to go.

As new boys we received notebooks in which to do our homework. On the cover was a label with name, school, number and form.  We wrote in our borrowed* names, and our numbers, mine was 1064,  Colin's 1065. Opposite the word 'form' I wrote 2B, but Colin who had misread 'form' as 'from' thought he was supposed to write his address.  Spelling not being his strong point, he wrote: The 4 Gas Set, Melborn, Australia, Sea, World, Sola Systim, Univers.  The School's motto was Deo Patriae Litteris.  This was generally construed by the Latin scholars as follows: (To the glory of) God: (For the good of one's) country: and (for the advancement of) learning.  During my period at Scotch the student at the lamp of learning, hunched somewhat after the manner of Rodin's Le Penseur was replaced by the flag of St. Andrew, the voyaging lymphad, the Southern Cross and the Burning Bush common to both Moses and the Presbyterian Church."
[*surnames 'borrowed' from their stepfather, George Thirkell]

The Road to Gundagai  Graham McInnes

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Australian Heir

"Left alone in the hall with the sun streaming in from the park, I was just reading the family crest on the door, Je vive en espoir, when a tall man in a bush hat loped through it.  'Stradbroke' he said.  'Call me Keith.'
…by luck his Lordship himself was over from Sydney.  He normally costs a thousand quid an hour for interviews, but waived all charges for Punch.

Wild light blue eyes glittered at me over his mug of tea. 'I had a peculiar childhood,  I couldn't read or write till I was about fifteen. Granny wrote to me on my fifth birthday saying, "'Dear Keith, You are now the head of the family, here is one guinea, put it in your war bonds."  Same every birthday, but never enclosed the guinea.  I don't have to keep Henham.  I could sell it tomorrow.'  But he keeps it.  It's a challenge.  He has a fax machine in the corner near the scones,  'I'm a commission man.  I'm about profit.  The thing tells me my Sydney office is making a profit and my English office -- this lot -- isn't.  It's going to. '  He stared moodily out at his pretty, derelict acres.

It is odd, it must be odd, to emerge from a family of alienating inbred weirdness, get kicked out of Harrow, build yourself an uncomplicated fortune in a hot new land --only to be clobbered from across the seas by a chilly, failing estate, a press of merciless taxes and an unsought title, bestowed by a subtle and decadent old country which has the nerve to think that you are the oddity."

Coronet among the Corks  Libby Purves  © Punch Limited

Thursday, 21 August 2014

"The terraqueous ball."

"ANTIPODES, s.    The people who living on the other side of the globe, have their feet directly opposite to ours.   Waller.  "

A Dictionary of the English Language  Samuel Johnson

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Meeting the Yahoos

"The  Master Horse ordered a Sorrel Nag,  one of his Servants, to untie the largest of these animals and take him into a Yard.  The Beast and I were brought close together; and our Countenances diligently compared, both by Master and Servant, who  thereupon repeated several Times the Word Yahoo.  My Horror and Astonishment are not to be described, when I observed in this abominable Animal, a perfect human Figure; the Face of it indeed was flat and broad, the Nose depressed, the Lips large, and the Mouth wide: But these Differences are common to all savage Nations, where the Lineaments of the Countenance are distorted by the Natives suffering their Infants to lie grovelling on the Earth, or by carrying them on their Backs, nuzzling with their Face against the Mother's Shoulders.  The Fore-feet of the Yahoo differed from my Hands in nothing else, but the Length of the Nails, the Coarseness and Brownness of the Palms, and the Hairiness on the Backs.  There was the same Resemblance between our Feet, with the same Differences, which I knew very well, although the Horses did not, because of my Shoes and Stockings; the same in every Part of our Bodies, except as to Hairiness and Colour, which I have already described.

….For as to those filthy Yahoos, although there were few greater Lovers of Mankind, at that time, than myself; yet I confess I never saw any sensitive Being so detestable on all Accounts; and the more I came near them, the more hateful they grew, while I stayed in that Country.  This the Master Horse observed by my Behaviour, and therefore sent the Yahoo back to his Kennel."

'A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver's Travels  Jonathan Swift

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Words of vile contempt

"Roger de Portlaunde, clerk of the Sheriff of London, made plaint to Ralph de Sandwich, Warden of the City of London, …that Robert de Suttone, in the full Court of Thomas Romeyn, Sheriff of the same city, which the said Roger was then holding in the name of his master aforesaid, on Thursday the morrow of St. James the Apostle, in the 19th year of the reign of King Edward, cast vile contempt upon him, the said Roger, in contempt of our Lord the King, by saying these words in English, --'Tprhurt, Tprhurt,' because he would not allow him, the said Robert, to plead in his Court, before he had reformed his conduct towards the Warden of the city of aforesaid, by whom he had been before suspended for certain trespasses alleged against him; and because he would not submit to being forbidden by the said Roger; and thereupon uttered the aforesaid words, --'Tprhurt, Tprhurt, Tprhurt', to his damnifying, and in manifest contempt of our Lord the King."

Memorials of London and London Life, 1276-1419  Henry Thomas Riley

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Billet doux

" 'I don't think you understand, ' Mrs Thripp smiled patiently.  'He hasn't spoken a word to me for three years.'
'Three  years ! Good god! How does he communicate?'  The instructing solicitor laid a number of little bits of paper on my desk.
'By means of notes.'

I then discovered that the man Thripp, who I was not in the least surprised to learn was a chartered accountant, used his matrimonial home as a sort of Post Office.  When he wished to communicate with his wife, he typed out brusque and business-like notes,  documents which threw a blinding light, in my opinion, on the man's character.

'To my so-called wife,' one note read, 'if you and your so-called son want to swim in hot water you can go to the Public Baths.  From your so-called husband.'  This was fixed, it seemed, to a padlocked geyser.  Another billet doux was found in the biscuit tin in the larder, 'To my so-called wife.  I have removed what you left of the assorted tea biscuits to the office for safe keeping.  Are you determined to eat me into bankruptcy? Your so-called husband, F. Thripp.'

I made two observations about this correspondence, one was that it revealed a depth of human misery which no reasonable woman would tolerate, and the other was that all the accountant Thripp's notes were written on an Italian portable, about ten years old.

'My husband's got an old Olivetti.  He can't really type,' Mrs Thripp told me.

Many years ago I scored a notable victory in the 'Great Brighton Benefit Club Forgery' case, and it was during those proceedings I acquired my vast knowledge of typewriters.  Having solved the question of the type, however, got me no nearer the heart of the mystery."

Rumpole and the Married Lady  John Mortimer

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

At the Rue Fossette

"The morrow would not restore him to the Rue Fossette, that day being devoted entirely to his college. ..….if there was a hope of comfort for any moment, the heart or head of no human being in this house could yield it; only under the lid of my desk could it harbour, nestling between the leaves of some book, gilding a pencil-point, the nib of a pen, or tinging the black fluid in that ink-glass.  With a heavy heart I opened my desk-lid; with a weary hand I turned up its contents.

One by one, well-accustomed books, volumes sewn in familiar covers, were taken out and put back hopeless; they had no charm; they could not comfort.  Is this something new, this pamphlet in lilac? I have not seen it before, and I re-arranged my desk this very day -- this very afternoon; the tract must have been introduced within the last hour, while we were at dinner.

I opened it. What was it? What would it say to me?"

Villette   Charlotte Bronte

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Bermuda: "In th' Ocean's bosom unespy'd"

"The strange thing was that when I came to the surface I found that during my time below I had forgotten all rules of perspective and other dicta of the art schools, and that I had drawn everything in proportion of its importance to me.  In the upper world of air we have accustomed ourselves to make subconscious adjustments in our vision, so that an elephant seen a mile away still conjures up an idea of something large, though its actual dimensions on our retina may be no bigger than those of the fly on our boot.
 Under the water all these adjustments vanished, and if a particularly interesting small fish passed in the distance, I found that in my drawing it was depicted very much larger than some dull fellow twice the size who happened to be near at hand.  This suggests a parallel with primitive art, where objects were drawn on cave wall or canvas according to their importance to the artist, and not according to mathematics and laws of optics.  Doubtless, when I have dived more often, I shall begin those accursed adjustments of reason, and may even, in time, write a textbook on the subject.  God forbid!"

Blue Angels and Whales  Robert Gibbings

Friday, 1 August 2014

'Where the remote Bermudas rise'

"Each time I went down I made a drawing: there was no need to wander about and search for a subject; wherever I looked there was something new to draw."

Blue angel fish pass and repass in scores                           Three miles from the shore a ring of coral rises from deep water

The drawings printed on this and the eleven following pages are direct reproductions from the author's pencil sketches made on Xylonite while he was actually under water.

Blue Angels and Whales    Robert Gibbings

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Holiday correspondence

"July 31st:
The beginning of the holidays signalled, as usual, by the making of appointments with dentist and doctor. …

Spend much time writing to, and hearing from unknown mothers whose sons have been invited here by Robin, and one grandmother, with whose descendant Robin is to spend a week.   Curious impossibility of combining dates and trains convenient to us all, renders this whole question harassing in the extreme.  Grandmother, especially, sends unlimited letters and telegrams, to all of which I feel bound to reply -- mostly with civil assurances of gratitude for her kindness in having Robin to stay.
Very, very difficult to find new ways of wording this -- moreover, must reserve something for letter I shall have to write when visit is safely over."

Diary of a Provincial Lady  E.M. Delafield

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Cecil Beaton's diary

"Friday, 30th July

...At 5.30 I went to tea with Emerald……The Princess de Polignac came in and said to Emerald, 'This charming young man came to dinner with me, and wrote me a beautiful letter.  Then, if you please, he sent me Tom Jones--but in a rare edition of two volumes of priceless value.'  This frightened me stiff for I asked myself how much that villainous Nancy would  charge me for this book.

I joined Jamesey at Rule's restaurant… I said that more people ought to keep diaries, but the trouble was that the most unscrupulous diarists were too scrupulous when it came to putting personal truths on paper. James said that Cecil [Beaton's] diary would be the chronicle of our age, that we would only live through it.  I said Eddy Sackville West kept one.  James said, 'We could not be hoisted to posterity on two spikier spikes.' "

Ancestral Voices  James Lees-Milne

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Travels in the Air

More Signs and Wonders: Mirage and Luminous Aureola,  Eugene Ciceri and A. Tissander, lithographers
From  Travels in the Air 1871 by James Glaisher, FRS, meteorologist and hot air balloonist.
Image courtesy NOAA Photo Library

Sunday, 20 July 2014

'Across space and time'

"Letter to Peter Claire from Countess O'Fingal

My dear Peter,
  I do not know if my letter ever reached you.
That any letter -- which is so insubstantial a thing -- reaches its destination, when I consider what routes it must take and what weather may fall upon its bearers, does make me marvel.

When Johnnie  O'Fingal once read to me the sad drama of Romeo and Juliet  and I understood that all was lost because that Friar Lawrence's letter to Romeo was lost, I remarked to Johnnie that we are ever and always searching for ways by which we can be joined to those we love across the immensity of space and time, but that these ways are fragile and surely on the winds and tides must move a great quantity of lost things that will never be found?"

Music and Silence  Rose Tremain

Friday, 18 July 2014

Sato's sword

My Table

"Two heavy trestles, and a board
Where Sato's gift, a changeless sword,
By pen and paper lies,
That it may moralise
My days out of their aimlessness.
A bit of an embroidered dress
Covers its wooden sheath.
Chaucer had not drawn breath
When it was forged.  In Sato's house,
Curved like new moon, moon-luminous,
It lay five hundred years.
Yet if no change appears
No moon; only an aching heart
Conceives a changeless work of art. "

From Meditations in Time of Civil War  W.B.Yeats

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Poet of the dawn

"An old man in a lodge within a park;
The chamber walls depicted all around
With portraitures of huntsman, hawk and hound,
And the hurt deer.   He listeneth to the lark,
Whose song comes with the sunshine through the dark
Of painted glass in leaden lattice bound;
He listeneth and laugheth at the sound,
Then writeth in a book like any clerk.

He is the poet of the dawn, who wrote
The Canterbury Tales, and his old age
Made beautiful with song; and as I read
I hear the crowing cock, I hear the note
Of lark and linnet, and from every page
Rise odours of ploughed field or flowery mead."

Chaucer  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Signs and wonders

"I have heard that on a day
Mine host's signboard flew away
Nobody knew whither till
An astrologer's old quill
To a sheepskin gave the story --
Said he saw you in your glory
Underneath a new-old Sign
Sipping beverage divine,
And pledging with contented smack
The Mermaid in the Zodiac!

Lines on the Mermaid Tavern   John Keats

Thursday, 10 July 2014

A profusion of lettering

"And finally, while you are still puzzling over the mystery of things, there will come to you like a revelation the knowledge that most of the amazing picturesqueness of these streets is simply due to the profusion of Chinese and Japanese characters in white, black, blue or gold, decorating everything -- even surfaces of doorposts and paper screens.  Perhaps, then, for one moment, you will imagine the effect of English lettering substituted for those magical characters; and the mere idea will give to whatever aesthetic sentiment  you may possess a brutal shock, and you will become, as I have become, an enemy of the Romaji-Kwai -- that society founded for the ugly utilitarian purpose of introducing the use of English letters in writing Japanese."

Writings from Japan  Lafcadio Hearn, edited F. King

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Three Queens' Binders

"G.D. Hobson gave the name 'Queens' Binder' to the craftsman who was thought to have bound both for Catherine of Braganza and Mary of Modena.  Howard M. Nixon has now taken this further and shown that three binders were involved: Queens' Binder A, Queens' Binder B and Queens' Binder C. Rather like those awful sums in old-fashioned arithmetic books, Queens' Binder A was the more prolific but ( and this will rejoice the hearts of all readers of Stephen Leacock) B was the better craftsman of the two.   Recent research suggests the Queens' Binder A may well be William Nott 'the famous bookbinder, that bound for my Lord Chancellor's library', visited by Pepys on 12 March 1668/9.  Pepys added: 'Here I did take occasion for curiosity to bespeak a book to be bound only that I might have one of his bindings.'  "

Great Books and Book Collectors   A.G. Thomas