Sir Max’s Birthday Party

maximilian birthday prgramme 001Found—a programme for the seventieth birthday party of Sir Max Beerbohm (1872 – 1956), the well known caricaturist, parodist and all-round wit.

It was held on August 24th 1942 and organised by the Players Theatre, which during the war had moved to a ‘basement ‘ in Albemarle Street. The seventy-strong Maximilian Society, had been created especially for the event, and it was decided that a new member would be added each subsequent year that ‘ the incomparable Max ‘celebrated his birthday. The chairman was ‘Sir’ Desmond MacCarthy, the Bloomsburyite literary critic.

All we can gather from the programme is that much of the entertainment comprised seven Music Hall singing acts who trilled such raffish ditties as‘ Milly’s Cigar Divan ‘, ‘ Sweethearts and Wives’, and ‘ Driving in the Park’ . Beerbohm, who began his career in the 1890’s at the height of the Music Hall era, would have known these songs, and might even have chosen them.

Some of the performers were big names themselves. The actor Frith Banbury ( 1912 – 2008) would star in the classic film ‘The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp’ the following year. Hedli Anderson (1907 – 90), the singer and actress, was associated with the Group Theatre and had previously starred in plays by Auden, Isherwood and MacNeice, whom she married that same year. In fact, ‘Funeral Blues ‘was specially written for her by Auden and put to music by Britten for the Group Theatre’s production of ‘The Ascent of F6’. As we all know, the poem later became the star turn in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’. Continue reading

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A Flight of Fancy: Lee-on-Solent’s Swordfish Hotel

Swordfish hotelAlas, good eating places, whether pubs, hotels or restaurants, often come to sticky ends. They close down and when they re-open are often a shadow of their former selves. They frequently burn down, either deliberately to claim insurance, or by accident when a deep fat fryer goes up in flames.

Destruction by fire was the fate of one of the more unusual eating places in the 1961 Good Food Guide. The Swordfish Hotel, on Crofton Cliffs in Lee – on- Solent was a much-loved attraction on the Hampshire coast, between Gosport and Southampton. It boasted a superb view of the Solent, had its own beach, and in 1961 was serving weird starters, such as fried silk worms and roasted caterpillars. More significantly, its chef was trained, in the words of Raymond Postgate ‘at that nursery of good cooks, the Westminster Technical College ’. Continue reading

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Jobs for the girls…

Remington_No._1_typewriter_LIFE_Photo_ArchiveAn extract from the ever fascinating  A Thousand Ways to Earn a Living (1888)

Type –Writing.

‘This is undoubtably one of the most promising occupations for women of which we are able to speak. The type-writer, we may mention for the benefit of those who may not have had the opportunity of seeing it in work, is a small machine for the rapid writing of letters or other documents operated by a keyboard. In the United States there are between sixty and seventy thousand type-writers. In London, the machines are being brought into use in all kinds of offices, and there can be little doubt but that they will speedily become universal. Authors dictate their books to type-writers, legal papers are copied by them, and business correspondence of every description transacted with them. It is an employment particularly well suited to well educated girls. To acquire a really useful knowledge of type-writing would take from six to eight months. The largest school in London is that of Madame Monchablon, 26, Austin Friars E.C. who charges 2 guineas until perfect. The machine usually adopted is the No. 2 “ Standard” Remington . In about 6 months a speed of 50 words a minute is attained, and this can be increased to 80, and in phenomenal cases to 100. We are informed on the best authority that appointments can always be obtained for skilled operators. ‘

Apparently, according to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary the word typist in relation to someone who operated a typewriter, was coined in 1885, which begs the question as to why it was not used in A Thousand Ways .

I wonder who the first author was to produce a book in typescript. Any ideas out there in Jotland ?  [R.M.Healey]

 

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Cushiest/ hardest jobs in the year of the Whitechapel Murders

Barmaid Victorian

Some examples from 1,000 Ways to Earn a Living (1888)

Secretaryships to institutions

‘Are held usually by clergymen or retired military men. These positions are much coveted, and in a recent instance 967 applications were received in reply to a single advertisement in The Times. Secretaries of clubs are frequently members of distinguished families. Such positions fall only to the fortunate. The renumeration is from £400 to £1,500 per annum, including apartment and board.

Private, Household Cavalry

1s. 9d a day plus rations, lodging, clothing &c equal to 15s per week.

Bishop

‘Speaking of it as a profession, the Church is one of the widest of all. Most of the professors at our Universities, the masters in our schools, and numbers of secretaries of religious and other bodies, are qualified priests. In order to become a clergyman it is almost absolutely necessary to obtain a University degree, although it is not requisite ( as is popularly understood ) that that degree should have been granted by either Oxford or Cambridge… From the point of view of a livelihood, it is unfortunately too well known that the Church is far from being a lucrative profession, though, like others, it has its co-called prizes…yet…there is no reason why a clergyman’s leisure time should not be profitably employed in a material as well as a moral sense. The pursuits of tuition or literature are always open to him… Continue reading

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The Authors’ Good Food Guide for 1961 – 1962

Nigel-Lawson-in-1985-008Some of the celebs who ‘approved’ restaurants and inns in The Good Food Guide of 1961 – 62 were poets, journalists, novelists and literary translators. Two of them—Keidrych Rhys (1915 – 87), the Welsh poet and veteran editor of the literary magazine Wales, and Michael Meyer, the prize-winning translator and biographer of Ibsen and Strindberg, and a friend of Raymond Postgate—feature prominently in the London section of the Guide.

Along with drama and good conversation , the greatest passion of Meyer (1921 – 2000), according to a friend, was food. He writes about his passion for it in his autobiography, Not Prince Hamlet (1985), and doubtless he was instrumental in recommending good eating places to his friend Raymond Postgate. Certainly, he is one of the more frequent ‘approvers‘ to appear in the Guide and at one point was expected to succeed as its editor. Eclectic in his tastes and apparently prepared to trawl London for good places to eat, one of his favourite restaurants was Fiddlers Three in Beauchamp Place, Kensington, very close to the trendy Parkes ( see earlier Jot). Appropriately for such a fan of European culture, the food seems to have had a pronounced East European flavour; dishes included ‘ goulash, boiled silverside and dumplings, whole small pigeon, stuffed baby marrows, prune and orange jelly, home-made soups, kedgeree with cheese sauce, and home-made cream cheese’. Translation work often pays well, which explains why Meyer was also able to afford Chelsea’s La Carafe, a branch of the famous fish restaurant Wheeler’s, where lobster Cardinal ( 15/-) and 32 varieties of sole were on the menu. Continue reading

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Help the Spanish cause – don’t drink Port (1936)

spanishFound in a pamphlet called Spain and Us. (Holborn and West Central London Committee for Spanish Medical Aid, London 1936) this contribution by  Louis Golding suggesting a boycott of the drink Port. Quite early in the history of political boycotting of products. Other contributors to this rare booklet included J. B. Priestley, Rebecca West, Stephen Spender, Ethel Mannin, Francis Meynell,  T. F. Powys, J. Langdon-Davies, and Catherine Carswell.

Drink no port.

The aeroplanes are still entering Portugal for the assistance of the gallant Generals, Franco and Mola. So are the shells, the rifles. Perhaps the poison-gas bombs are on their way by now.

And Port is still leaving Portugal.

We must drink no Port.

I know that the Port we might deny ourselves tonight is not the Port which left Portugal a fortnight from now is not likely to be balanced on adept palates for another ten, twenty, fifty years. Ten years from now there may be no docks at Oporto for the disembarkation of its Port, nor docks on the Thames for its reception. Continue reading

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The same old story…

Vanity press advertIn the fascinating Thousand Ways to Earn a Living (1888) the section on ‘Literary Work’ covers journalism, authorship, and something called ‘compilation’. In the journalism chapter modern-day readers might be surprised at the high rates of pay awarded to humble London hacks ( up to £10 a week in 1888—more than a skilled surgeon or a junior barrister might earn ), but few could argue that in late Victorian Britain , as in 2017, in the newspaper world ‘ the majority of new ventures are promoted by newspaper men who have been underpaid or unfairly dealt with by their employers ‘.

Nor, it seems, has the world of vanity publishing changed much. After praising the commitment to potential authors of such a serious publisher as Bentley (who brought out the early work of Dickens), the dangers of unscrupulous publishers is addressed:

‘Advertising sharks should be avoided. Their only aim is to obtain money from unsuspecting writers of inexperience, and they generally manage to rob those whom they get into toils considerably. During the past few years they have been exposed in many papers; but, as their advertisements still appear, there is no doubt that they are still engaged in their nefarious work. Their advertisements may easily be detected. They generally address their announcements to ‘Authors, Amateurs, and others’; sometimes it is fiction, at others poetry that is wanted. But in every case it is plunder that is meant. Mr Walter Besant has laid down the axiom that no one should pay for the publication of his literary work. In the majority of cases this is a good rule, though like many another good rule, it has its exceptions…’  

The rewards earned by novelists has perhaps changed a little in 130 years. Back then ‘the novel-writer ‘, we are told, got’ £50 to £1,000 for a book’. To us this seems rather generous, considering that in 2017 an average first-time novelist would be lucky to receive an advance of £500. What has changed greatly since 1888 is the demise of the serial.’ The modern novelist’, it was reported, ‘ usually manages to run each story he writes through a magazine and a number of provincial and colonial newspapers before issuing it in book form ‘. Incidentally, note the gendering of this modern novelist at a time when the most popular novelists were likely to be writers like Rhoda Broughton and Marie Corelli. Continue reading

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The Book I Most Enjoyed publishing

 

gentlemenmarryOn October 13th 1928 John O’London’s Weekly published a feature in which several well-known publishers revealed the books they had most enjoyed publishing. Though spokesmen for Blackwood’s, Duckworth and Methuen (E. V. Lucas, no less) were reluctant to divulge their choices, a number of other publishers were quite happy to do so. Here is a selection of the publishers that nominated a book or books:-

Jonathan Cape

‘Having been an admirer of the ideas of Samuel Butler, and having read him a great deal, it was, of course, extremely satisfactory to be able to take over Mr Fifield’s business and by doing so become the publisher of Samuel Butler….to get, later, Col Lawrence’s Revolt in the Desert was, perhaps, a bit of a ‘scoop’

H. Grubb (Putnams)

‘…I am sure Major Putnam would agree with me that an author whose books we have been very proud to publish was Washington Irving. My own particular section among his writings would be ‘The Sketch Book’, which, of course, will last while literature remains…’

Harold Shaylor (Brentano’s)

‘….occasionally there arrives a book the publishing of which becomes even more interesting than usual. Such a one was ‘ But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes ‘. Miss Anita Loos’s MS had been anxiously awaited for many months, and it finally arrived. The reading of the proofs was somewhat hampered by the gusts of laughter that continually floated through the office! Nevertheless, thousands of copies were with the booksellers on publication day.’

Charles Boon ( Mills and Boon)

‘…I think that perhaps Jack London’s ‘The Valley of the Moon’ is our choice, for it has many times been described as one of our finest real love- stories ever written.’ Continue reading

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More bargains from 1908 Birmingham

Birmingham Bargains Book Cat

A glimpse into the world of bookselling in Edwardian England. The following’ special bargains’—advertised for sale in ‘ new condition’– are listed in The Bookman of August 1908 by Edward Baker’s Great Bookshop, Birmingham. The discounted prices of 1908 are compared to what the same books ( inevitably in slightly worse condition) are listed at in Abebooks today.  

 

 

Beccari’s Wanderings in the Great Forests of Borneo (1901)    8s 6d (42p)       £600

Book of the Cat by Frances Simpson (1903)                             9s 0d (45p)     £325

Dominion of the Air by Rev J.M.Bacon (1904)                         2s. (10p)           £87

Moss Flora by R.Braithwaite (1887)                                       £2 10s (250p)     £120

Historical Locomotives by Bennett                                         1s   (5p)               £75

How I shot my bears by Mrs Tyacke (1893)                           2s 6d.(12p)        £650         Continue reading

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Let them learn cookerie and laundrie

Elizabethan housewife picGuaranteed to madden the sisterhood are these disdainful words by a certain Thomas Powell in his Welch Bate, Or a Looking Back Upon The Times Past (1603) which is included in Charmers and Caitiffs (1930), an anthology of prose and verse written by men about women:

Instead of songes and musicke, let them learne cookerie & laundrie; & instead of reading in Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, let them reade the Groundes of Good Huswiferie. I like not a female poetesse at any hand…’ 

Although there is no doubting the author of this advice, there is a problem with the full title of Mr Powell’s book. According to the editors of Charmers and Caitiffs , the full title of the collection is A Welch Bate, or a Looking Back Upon the Times Past. However, in the DNB entry for Thomas Powell we find that the work in question is entitled A Welch Bayte to Spare Prouender. The Internet has little or anything to say about Powell, and although both the DNB and The Dictionary of Welsh Biography (1959) sketch out a brief biography, neither is certain about the year of his birth and death.

What we can say is that he was born around 1572 in Diserth, Radnorshire, studied at Gray’s Inn for one year and served as solicitor-general in the marches of Wales, 1613 – 22. More interested in literature than in law, he published various works in poetry and prose, including the book in question, a justification of Queen Elizabeth’s treatment of papists and puritans, which was suppressed. However, he is better known for his pioneer work on the public records. His Direction in Search of Records remaining in the Chauncerie, Tower, Exchequer etc appeared in 1622, while A Repertorie of Records followed in 1631. He died around 1635.

[R.M.Healey]

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Product placement in 1908

 

Samtogen,_King_of_TonicsRemember the moral furore when Fay Weldom included references to Bulgari watches in her novel The Bulgari Connection ? She admitted being paid wheelbarrows of money for this blatant puff. But product placement in fiction is not new. Warreniana , the bestseller published in 1824 by the novelist, parodist and short story writer William Frederick Deacon (1799 – 1845), purports to be a collection of prose and verse by contemporary writers in praise of Warren’s Blacking– the boot polish bottled by the young Charles Dickens in the early 1820s. It is not known whether Deacon received a bung, but as the first edition appears to have been quite large, it is possible that the publishers were financially rewarded by Warren for printing an unusually large number of copies.

Deacon was primarily a comic writer. Few, if any, serious nineteenth century writers would ever consider augmenting their incomes from writing by referencing a commercial product. One that did, however, was American journalist, novelist and short story writer Charles Stokes Wayne, who under the pseudonym Henry Hazeltine decided to see what would happen if he mentioned the restorative effects of Sanatogen in his Confession of a Neurasthenic (1908). Continue reading

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I met a woman who met Man Ray

Man_Ray_1934Another in the series “I once met” and the sub category “I once danced with..” used when the meeting was only with someone who knew the person (almost always famous.) This is a reference to the popular song “I danced with a man who  danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.” An earlier Jot concerned a meeting with a doctor who had worked with Wittgenstein when he was a hospital porter at Guy’s in WW2.

In the 1990s I knew a dealer in modern first editions who had known Man Ray in the 1960s. Her name was Elizabeth Spindel and she sold books from her Canonbury home in North London. She said he made jokes but could not remember any. I asked what his friends called him (he was born Emmanuel Radnitzky) and she said “Man.” This was amusing as in the 1960s, especially amongst hipsters, everyone was known as “man.”

A piece from the Fresno Bee in 1990 by his brother-in-law Joseph Browner has a good insight on the great surrealist: “Man Ray..was a kind of short man who looked a little like Mister Peepers, spoke slowly with a slight Brooklynese accent, and talked so you could never tell when he was kidding.”

 

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Joyce dancing & other bizarre anecdotes of bohemian Paris


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In the twenties the hard-bitten ex-pat journalist Sisley Huddleston
(whose father was such a Francophile that he named his son after a French painter) was the go-to man in Paris for political, literary and social low-down. So it was likely that from his seventh floor studio in Montparnasse he would come up with some hilarious observations on the more outré bohemian behaviour of the times.

In his Bohemian Literary and Social Life in Paris ( 1928), reviewed by Kenneth Kininmont in John O’London’s Weekly for November 17, 1928, he describes, among many other things, James Joyce dancing a ‘ serpent dance with Adrienne Monnier, who kept the famous little bookshop, the resort of many writers, in the Rue de Odeon’.

He also remarks on Rodin’s liking for cooked tripe and recalled a night spent with the Dadaists in their little theatre in Montmartre, where Tristan Tzara, the inventor of ‘a horrible noise-making machine, of the coffee-mill tribe, called a Dada-phone, was putting on one of his plays, entitled ‘Premiere Aventure celeste de M. Antipyrine’. This involved a cast of eight standing in a row and reciting through tubes of cardboard, speeches, of which the following is a translated example:

The equatorial bite in the bluish rock weights upon the night intimate scent of ammoniacal cradles the flower is a lamp-post doll listens to the mercury which mounts which shows the windmill holding on the viaduct before yesterday is not the ceramic of the chrysanthemum which turns the head and the cold the hour has sounded in your mouth once more an angel which falls.

Tzara‘s ‘Premiere Aventure..’ was written in 1916.Perhaps the idea of reciting through tubes of cardboard inspired’ Edith Sitwell to recite her poetry through a megaphone in the entertainment entitled Façade (1923).{RR] 96_530x

 

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Parkes’ Restaurant—eating place of the swinging sixties

Beauchamp_Place_In his Good Food Guide of 1961-62 Raymond Postgate describes the trendy Parkes’ Restaurant at Beauchamp Place (above) in Kensington as ‘ a personal restaurant, dependent upon Mr Ray Parkes, the chef and owner, who offers in his basement at high prices what is claimed to be , and up to date is, haute cuisine.’

Postgate then complains of the ‘ exasperating whimsicality ‘ of such named dishes as ‘ Mr Goldstein’s Prawns’ (15/6), ‘Ugly Duckling’ (25/-), ‘Sweet Mysteries of Life’ (21/-). However, Postgate admires the fact that the ‘very inventive ‘ Parkes was always creating new dishes and provided such large helpings that ‘ the place isn’t quite as dear as it sounds’. Some Jot readers who dined at Parkes’ might recall what these whimsically named dishes actually were.

Parkes is credited with being a pioneer of the nouvelle cuisine revolution that properly began in the seventies, but the conventionally named dishes cited by Postgate, including ‘fillet of beef en croute’ and ‘duck and truffle pate’ don’t sound particularly ‘ nouvelle’. Nevertheless, in his time Ray Parkes was rightly considered an ‘original genius ‘. Egon Ronay described him as ‘ absolutely unique ‘, and the author of British Gastronomy, Gregory Houston Bowden, wrote: ‘ Many experts rate him almost on a par with the chef that he himself admired most, Ferdnand Point of the ‘Restaurant de la Pyramide’ in Vienne.

In addition to his eccentricy as a chef, Parkes was also unusual in that he had no licence. Diners were invited to bring their own wine. Another attraction for the many show-biz clientele that tended to eat at Parkes’ was the fact that it might be open until 2.30 in the morning. [R.M.Healey]

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H.D. letter about Ezra Pound’s look

End_To_TormentFound – an unpublished  typed letter from the Imagist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) to a Mr Russell, almost certainly the poet Peter Russell who was also something of a champion of Ezra Pound. She gives her address as Hotel de la Paix, Lausanne, Switzerland where she is known to have resided from 1946 to 1952. It is a good letter full of commentary on the modernists and with much on Ezra Pound – his style and manner, his appearance and his hair.

She starts by writing about the literary magazine The Egoist, which started in 1914.

‘Yes, I should say it was Ezra who pushed the Portrait (Joyce) in or into The Egoist. I arrived on the scene about 1911; I think during War 1, I was supposed to hold down the Egoist job  for Richard Aldington. I met him before The Egoist, it all came together in 1912, along with Ezra first condescending (and very kindly) to present a few of my poems, as for Poetry Chicago. I believe something of the same thing happened to T.S. Eliot, at one time. I think Eliot noted it somewhere. Ezra just took his pencil and crossed off lines and line-ends and the whole emerged like a stalactite, very beautiful after he chizzled (sic) it. I think it was Hermes of the Ways and it appeared in  the first imagist anthology… I should say unofficially E.  has everything to do with the more dynamic content of The Egoist as with Poetry Chicago, at that time. [At this point she says she could write an article about this but needs no money as she has an allowance and her health is good after an illness. She goes on to reminisce about Pound in early life] …it was a Halloween dance, if I remember,  that day after  Ezra’s birthday. Or it might have been Twelfth Night; I remember our discussing it as Ezra gave our hostess a copy of the same Temple edition which we were all collecting. Ezra wore a green brocade coat. It was, I believe brought back from a trip he had taken with his parents and an aunt  to Tangiers… anyway, he had a photograph with the group, Ezra with a fez over his exact Gozzoli curls. It sounds odd, but Ezra once said to me  at that time, that for one friend he made himself, he made 10 for his hair. It was quite exact, curls like the Hermes of Praxitiles. Continue reading

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Haldeman-Julius—-the Henry Ford of publishing


Emanuel_Haldeman-Julius_(ca._1924)Few American publishers can boast that they have printed 300 hundred million books. Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889 – 1951), however, was one who could. An atheist and socialist who believed that the average American had a right to own a library of enlightening, useful and entertaining texts for a few cents a volume, Haldeman-Julius established the Little Blue Book series in the 1920s. Pocket-sized and ranging in subject matter from ancient culture and classic literature to self-help books and handbooks on making your own candy, the Little Blue Books sold in their millions each year, figured in the early education of such American writers as Saul Bellow and Studs Terkel, and anticipated in some respects the very popular ‘Dummies’ of today, though they were very much cheaper.

Rejecting the idea that a sensational cover would sell a book, Haldeman-Julius believed that it was the book’s title that did the trick. One journalist writing in John O’London’s Weekly dated December 8th 1928 described the publisher’s practice of re-branding books thus:

‘He…has found that those ‘pull ‘ best which suggest either sex, self-improvement, or attacks on respectability and religion….Whenever one of his reprints fails to sell 10,000 copies in a year he sends it to his ‘hospital’ , where it is someone’s job to discover the reason why . The text is analysed. If it is found wanting in sex, self-improvement or attacks etc., it is dropped. If the title is deficient in pep it is scrapped and another put in its place. Continue reading

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Dylan at the Isle of Wight 1969 – a contemporary view

IMG_3514Found – a typed signed letter from Alan Denson*— Irish poet and writer (he wrote a book on the Irish sculptor John Hughes and edited the letters of AE and wrote about ‘Speranza’ -Lady Wilde – Oscar Wilde’s mother.)

The recipient was Beatrice Elvery, Lady Glenavy (1881 – 1970). Irish artist and literary host, friend of Katherine Mansfield and in the circle of Shaw, Lawrence and Yeats. She modelled for Orpen and painted ‘Éire’ (1907) a landmark painting promoting the idea of an independent Irish state. She married Charles Henry Gordon Campbell, 2nd Baron Glenavy (1885–1963) politician and banker in England and Ireland. The letter gives a damning contemporary view of pop music and Dylan from someone who was probably in his early 40s at the time..now his views could be considered blasphemous!

The wonder is I have managed to contain my raging fury at contemporary humbug–which goes far more and more insidiously deep than is generally recognized – and the evil vision what I sarcastically call “pretty values.” A recent example over in the Isle of Wight— the so-called “pop festival.”  What’s it all about? Hedonism: and dishing  out alleged syrup. If I were not writing to a lady I would use another word to express what I think all that syrup really means to the poor silly saps who lap it up. When I think of the neglect of artists who have a vision of the world and by struggle evolve images sequentially to interpret – not merely to record– the phases of living experience,  I’m filled with wonder, and gratitude. But who among them prosper in commercial terms? Vaughan Williams earns  less by the public performance of his symphonies than Mr. Bob Dylan and the pop degenerates get for an hours public sporadic squealing. Of course him and his sort will perish in Limbo whilst  the works of the true artists have, I believe, a concentrated faculty for enduring time without erosion of their invigorating power. Think of Berlioz’s  astoundingly original ’Symphonie Funebre et Triomphale’ where in the last movement by that imaginative in sight which proved his genius original, he suddenly changes key upward: or the fourth, fifth and sixth symphonies of Sibelius. In none of those works I’ve named is there any shade of sentimentality, which is the substance of so called ”pop” and that equally phony “folk art” – I’ll forbear and omit rude language.   [12/9/1969 Alan Denson to Lady Beatrice Glenavy from Kendal, Westmorland]

*Unknown so far to Wikipedia, possible dates 1930-2012, the only substantial info on him is at Amazon in a review of  his poems by an old friend.

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Shakespeare’s quartos

 

Quarto Hamlet cover 001When I studied textual criticism and palaeography at University under the legendary Peter Davison (editor of Orwell’s letters) I recall being impressed by the exceeding rarity of the original quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays. Rarer than hen’s teeth was, I believe, the phrase used. This was because the actors who used them to learn their lines in Shakespeare’s time had no reason to keep them after their acting careers had ended. Shakespeare was just another playwright, and it was only with the posthumous publication of the First Folio in 1623, when all the plays were collected together, that his true greatness began to be recognised.

These pamphlet-like quartos—often badly printed and containing countless errors—were published in small numbers and were not surprisingly badly treated by the jobbing actors who used them every day. Very few survived, hence their great rarity. Despite this, it wasn’t until the early twentieth century, when American multi-millionaires came into the market, that the first quartos began to fetch startling prices—startling, that is, for the time. Today, such treasures might bring in six figure sums. Continue reading

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The £400,000 comma

Foreign fruit dutyDiscovered in an 1928 issue of John O’ London’s is an anecdote illustrating the importance of punctuation in a legal document.

‘Solicitors in their private practice have evolved a language of their own, which weird though it may be, is seldom open to the reproach of obscurity. Very wisely they discard punctuations almost completely. They know that the omission or use of a comma in a legal document can be dangerous. A comma once cost the United States Government £400,000. It was nearly fifty years ago that the United States Congress in drafting a Tariff Bill enumerated in one section the articles to be left free of duty. Amongst these were “all foreign fruit-plants “. The copying clerk in his wisdom removed the hyphen and substituted for it a comma, making the clause read “all foreign fruit, plants, etc “. It took a year to rectify the error, and during that period all oranges, bananas, grapes, and other foreign fruits were admitted free of duty with the big loss to the State already mentioned…’

The loss to the Revenue of that hyphen would be the equivalent of around £20 million today. I wonder if the clerk was fired. We at Jot HQ would love to hear of other costly clerical errors.

[R.M.Healey]

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A pre-Coronation Communist Party pamphlet of 1937

Communist Party leaflet 001Aimed specifically at workers looking forward to the glamorous Coronation of King George VI on May 12th 1937 is this glossy brochure published by the Communist Party of Great Britain. It argues that it is scandalous that a total of £20,000,000 will be spent by the Government in staging the event and by those attending it (new outfits and hotel bills) when that sum might be better spent on new homes, nursery schools and underfed children.

Naturally, the Party denies that it against those with money spending it on whatever they like. What it does argue is that it is divisive for members of the moneyed class to flaunt their wealth before working people. It is also hypocritical for them to spend it on ‘fripperies’ when the ruling class has acknowledged that the Coronation is an occasion for the rich and poor to come together and celebrate the pageantry of this memorable event like ‘ one happy family’.

‘The idea is that you, Bill Smith, miner, fitter, shop assistant, belong to the same happy British family as Lord Nuffield, Mr Selfridge and your own employer—all the King’s loyal subjects together.’

Of course, the pamphlet argues, this is an example of government duplicity. Those in power see the millions as money well spent if the pageantry invokes sufficient feelings of patriotism among the working class to encourage workers to fall in with their ‘ war plans ‘. However, the pamphlet argues that it is up to workers to ensure that the ruling class do not achieve this cosy arrangement.

‘First, make them pay more. If you have to work on Coronation Day, demand holiday rates of pay. Some employers are trying to show how patriotic and generous they are by giving a holiday with pay on Coronation day. If your employer is one of these, demand a proper holiday of at least a week with pay this year and every year—like the French workers get. When they urge you to brighten up your street with flags and streamers, demand that the landlord brightens up your home as well. If they provide a free tea for the children on Coronation day, accept it and see that your children have a good feed and a good time. But demand also, that your children and happy and properly fed during the rest of the year…’   Continue reading

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