Twelve Miles from a Lemon

img_1366-624x380Found in a bound volume of The Idler Magazine (Chatto & Windus, 1892. Volume 1, February to July. pp 231 – 232) this piece by regular contributor Robert Barr. The Idler was edited by Barr with  Jerome K Jerome. It ran from 1892-1911. This piece was found in the always interesting section ‘The Idler’s Club’, fairly heavy on the whimsy but never unamusing– see an earlier jot  where, among other things, Barry Pain proposed that ‘..amateur dramatics would be much improved if performed in total darkness and thus they would also be able to avoid paying a licence fee…’ This piece by Robert Barr has a curiously modern feel about it (if you substitute the internet for the telegram) and the idea of being 12 miles from a lemon echoes the current city dweller’s fear of being more than ‘four miles from a latte..’

Some years ago, somebody* wrote a book entitled ‘Twelve Miles from a Lemon’. I never read the the volume, and so do not know whether the writer had to tramp  twelve miles to get the seductive lemon toddy, which cheers and afterwards inebriates, or the harmless lemon squash, which neither cheers nor inebriates. I think there are times when most people would like to get twelve miles away from everything – including themselves. I tried to put a number of miles between me and a telegraph instrument, and flattered myself for a time that I had succeeded. I dived into the depths of the New Forest. The New Forest is popular in summer, deserted in winter, and beautiful at any season. I found a secluded spot in the woods, and thought I was out of reach of a telegram. I wish now I had not got so far away from the instrument. The boy came on horseback with the message. It was brief, coming well within the sixpenny range, and it stated tersely that the printer was waiting for these paragraphs. The boy said calmly that there would be fifteen shillings and sixpence to pay for the delivery of that yellow slip of paper. Continue reading

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Potash for Relief

Here is a short note from the Conservative politician and former soldier Sir Henry Edwards (1812- 86) to his physician, which was found among some autographed letters.

5, (street name illegible)
28th Aug.

Dear Dr Deetz

I now send you as you wish part of the water I have made during the night & will call if agreeable to you about 10 o’clock this morning. I regret to say the pain I suffer, particularly after dinner, in walking home, even an hour after dinner, seems to me to increase & I suffer dreadfully. I have found relief from Potash & (illegible) on reaching home from dinner, but without that I don’t know how I could bear the pain—it is so excruciating. I will call on you before 10 o’clock, if convenient, at your house, or perhaps you would prefer to see me here.
Yours mostly truly, Henry Edwards
Deetz Esq, MD.

As a former soldier, Edwards was doubtless used to speaking plainly and indeed suffering pain, but to those familiar with examples of Victorian decorum on such matters, this short letter to his doctor may surprise us today. Did he pee into an old jam jar or beer bottle and ask his servant to deliver it to the physician along with the explanatory note? Perhaps his servant was used to such unusual errands and didn’t turn a hair. Obviously, we don’t know what was wrong with Edwards, but if he had suffered from similar symptoms before and suspected kidney stones, a confirmation from his doctor that stones were present in his urine would explain the errand and proposed visit. As someone who has suffered four separate bouts of kidney stones over a eight year period, I can personally testify to the agony they cause. However, the fact that the pain came on after dinner would suggest gallstones to me.

Edwards’ use of Potash for relief is interesting. Potash was the common name for potassium carbonate in Victorian times, but according to Robert Hooper’s The Physician’s Vade-Mecum (1823), potassium tartrate was the specific for gallstones. [R.M.Healey]

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Whistler Stories

Found – Whistler Stories (Harper, New York 1913) put together by Don C Seitz. Many of the stories associated with the artist James McNeill Whistler are ironic jokes about his incredible self regard (‘…responding to an admirer who stated that there were only two great painters – Velasquez and himself. “Why drag in Velasquez.”’) or withering put downs. This exchange with Oscar Wilde is a good example of the latter:

 

Wilde asked the artist’s opinion upon a poem which he had written, presenting a copy to be read. Whistler read it and was handing it back without comment.
“Well,” queried Wilde, “do you perceive any worth?”
“It’s worth its weight in gold,” replied Whistler.
The poem was written on the very thinnest tissue-paper,
weighing practically nothing. The coolness between the two men is said to have dated from that moment.

The next story is a rare one – someone turns the tables on the great artist:

Whistler had a French poodle of which he was extravagantly fond.  This poodle was seized with an affection of the throat, and Whistler had the audacity to send for the great throat specialist, Mackenzie.  Sir Morell, when he saw that he had been called to treat a dog, didn’t like it much, it was plain.  But he said nothing.  He prescribed, pocketed a big fee, and drove away.  The next day he sent posthaste for Whistler.  And Whistler, thinking he was summoned on some matter connected with his beloved dog, dropped his work and rushed like the wind to Mackenzie’s.  On his arrival Sir Morell said, gravely:  “How do you do, Mr. Whistler?  I wanted to see you about having my front door painted.”

Lastly a tale that shows his self opinion was justified, although it took a few decades…

An American millionaire, to whom wealth had come rather quickly from Western mines, called at the Paris studio with the idea of capturing something for his gallery.  He glanced casually at the paintings on the walls, and then queried:
“How much for the lot?”
“Four millions,” said Whistler.
“What?”
“My posthumous prices!  Good morning!”

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The Library of J-P Mayer

Found among the papers of  J-P Mayer (1903 – 1992) – this appraisal of his massive library by his friend F.R. Cowell. Peter Mayer was  Professor Emeritus at Reading University and author of books on De Tocqueville, Max Weber, the sociology of films,  and French political thought. He fled to England in 1936 having been a leading figure in the anti-Nazi movement in Germany. He then worked for Britain in the Ministry of Economic Warfare.His library was acquired by us last year, many of the high price items having been taken by Bonham’s auction house. This included a presentation copy from John Stuart Mill to Alexis de Tocqueville and  signed material from Friedrich Engels which made £100,000 plus each. Oddly we (Any Amount of Books, Charing Cross Road) also bought in 2009 a large part of the library of F.R. Cowell another man with a very large and interesting book collection. Both men went on book hunts together, Paris being (then) fertile ground. Mayer also bought heavily while in America. F. R. Cowell was a historian and author of Cicero and the Roman Republic, The Athenaeum, and Leibniz Material for London and many other works on ancient history, horticulture, economics and bibliography. In the accompanying letter (shown) he invites J-P Mayer to join him for a meal at his London club – The Athenaeum (February 1962). It appears that Mayer was trying to sell his library to ‘Boulder’ -presumably the University of Colorado. Evidently the sale never happened and the books stayed in his house in Stoke Poges for another 50 years. The house was near St. Giles church where Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is believed to have been written. It took 5 large vans to move the books. F.R. Cowell’s book collection just two…

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John Thomas Smith as Hamlet

‘The Keeper of the prints showing A.E.C. how the Balcony scene should be performed' (Pen and ink drawing by Edward Chalon)

One of the most famous Keepers of Prints at the British Museum was John Thomas Smith (1760 - 1833), who was also a gifted amateur artist, an antiquary, and a writer on art and artists, whose two most acclaimed books were the scurrilous Nollekens and his Times (1828) and the exceedingly scarce and sought after Vagabondiana (1817), which contains forty or more etchings of well known mendicants in the metropolis based on his own sketches.

But in his early days Smith had hopes of becoming an actor, and in 1787 was promised an engagement with the Royalty Theatre in London. Unfortunately, this fell through and he set up as a drawing master instead. But if the portraitist Alfred Edward Chalon (1780 – 1860) is to be believed, Smith retained an interest in performing throughout his life. Here we have a pen and ink drawing by Chalon of the Keeper as a distinctly middle aged and podgy Hamlet. It may have been sketched following the publication of the sitter’s biography of the brilliant sculptor Nollekens, which portrayed him (possibly with truth) as a miserly curmudgeon. It has been said that Smith decided to write the book--dubbed ‘the most candid biography in English literature’--after the disappointment of not receiving the generous bequest he had been led to expect from his friend.

Smith died in harness aged just 66 in 1833. A Book for a Rainy Day, which contained his largely unpublished writings appeared posthumously.

[R.M.H]

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1846 Diary of J.W.Penfold—inventor of the octagonal pillar box

Any Jotters who in their childhood tuned into Danger Mouse, which is about to be revived, must know that his sidekick was called Penfold. It would seem that this character was named after the Victorian architect John Wornham Penfold (1828 - 1909), who is perhaps best known today as the inventor of the octagonal pillar box, several examples of which can still be found in Cheltenham.

But here we have a copy of the Punch Pocket Book for 1846 (discovered many years ago in an antique shop) that once belonged to the future architect and designer, then aged just eighteen, while he was working as a lowly assistant draughtsman in the London office of the renowned architect and illustrator Thomas Talbot Bury (1809 -1877) and his partner Charles Lee (1803 – 1880). At this time Penfold’s duties were various, and included surveying at proposed sites, researching legal documents, studying plans, often of proposed railways, and copying and preparing plans and delivering them with other related material to clients and lawyers. The Diary, also records Penfold’s churchgoing, social life, including visits of friends and relations, dining out, trips to the theatre and concerts, excursions to art galleries and museums, and visits home to his home town of Haslemere. Here  then  is a rare glimpse into the world of a trainee architect in early Victorian London at a time when  the ‘Railway Mania ‘ was raging across England and the metropolis was rapidly expanding.  Not surprisingly, most of the more interesting entries in the Diary illustrate the way in which these developments relate to Penfold’s work. Here are some examples:

January:
Wednesday 14th.Took letter to B. Williams, Waterloo Place & to Humby, Carlton Chambers. Copying Plan of Sewer under Richmond Railway on Mr Leader’s land & Beck’s Bill to W. Clay.

Monday 26th. …went with Sydney to measure across Westminster Bridge road where the south east extension is to cross by Miss Carr’s property. Inking in tracing of South Eastern Extension Ry.

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Leon Gambetta’s crisis

Leon Gambetta—‘ the grand orateur et homme d’Etat’.

So reads the printed label stuck on the back of this carte de visite by a French dealer sometime early in the twentieth century. It is indeed a ‘ curieuse piece ‘, as the dealer avers. Gambetta has addressed in pencil, above his printed name, the following remark to an unidentified friend or colleague:

‘Le crise dures toujours, impossible de mettre le nez dehors…’
(The crisis is lasting for ages, impossible to stick ones nose outside…)

Historians might debate what crisis Gambetta is referring to. There were doubtless several in the tempestuous political career of one of France’s greatest heroes. But the date of 12th December that Gambetta adds at the end of his message might offer a clue. In Paris from 23rd November to 15th December 1877 the improbably named President McMahon presided over a ministry that excluded all ‘parliamentary hands‘ like Gambetta and his democratic colleagues. During this period it was felt that MacMahon was planning a coup d’etat and this crisis came to a head around December 10th and 11th. The idea was to deny power to Gambetta, who may have felt that his life was in danger during this time. Excluding Gambetta worked for a few years, but eventually, in 1881, he was asked to form a ministry. This lasted for just 66 days.

Around late November 1882 Gambetta was shot in the stomach, but this was an accident. However, it may have contributed to the stomach cancer that eventually claimed his life, on 31st December 1882.

[R.R.]  

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A charitable action from Richard Arkwright—the richest shareholder in Britain

Every schoolboy knows about Sir Richard Arkwright, the pioneer factory owner from Derbyshire whose invention of the water frame contributed hugely to the Industrial Revolution. Well here’s a scrawl from his son, Richard Arkwright junior (1755 – 1843), who took over the business and proved to be an even greater industrialist than his father had been. On the latter’s death he sold some the factories he had inherited and ploughed back the capital into property, shares and a bank. At his death his fortune was estimated at £3m, making him the richest man in Britain outside the landowning classes.

The letter, which is dated 20 February 1837 and is addressed from the family home of Willersley Castle,
just down the road from Arkwright senior’s Cromford Mill, asks an unidentified correspondent to attend to a cripple, Eliza Freer, who is related to someone known to him.  Let Richard himself explain:

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A rare souvenir of London’s Great Wheel

The Great Wheel, which was built for the Empire of India exhibition at Earl’s Court in 1895, and was the ‘London Eye’ of its time, is pretty well documented. Postcards showing various aspects of it can be had quite easily, as can medallions, which were struck periodically throughout its career, right up to 1907, when it was demolished. But what we have here is something quite rare—on a number of levels. Firstly, it is a large photographic image of the wheel—four times the size of a postcard—which was mounted on board and sold –presumably to be framed and hung—by the famous  commercial printers of posters, stamps and banknotes, Waterlow and Sons Ltd. And there on the lower right hand corner is the signature of the Wheel’s ‘constructor ‘ Walter B Basset ‘, which may be original, but could equally be a facsimile. Lastly, we can date the photograph because it depicts the Wheel looming above the temporary constructions in painted wood and ironwork—some especially imported from India-- that comprised the Exhibition, which was the brainchild of Imre Kiralfy, a producer of burlesques and spectacles.

Interestingly, in the background can be glimpsed  the warehouses that stored the forage for the horses that transported goods of London largest department store, Whiteleys, while in the bottom left hand foreground can be seen a very early example of an elaborate electric floodlighting system for the Exhibition. If the signature is a facsimile then this mounted photograph could well have been a bit of opportunistic merchandising by Basset, who remains a very significant figure in the history of the amusement industry. Born Walter Basset Williams in 1864, the scion of an ancient Devon family, whose seat was Watermouth Castle, he entered the Royal Navy but left in 1882, possibly due to ill health, and instead took up engineering with the well established Maudslay Sons and Field, which specialised in steam-power. Here he did well and by the age of just 27 had become managing director. In 1894, inspired by the pioneering example in Chicago, he begun to build his first steam-powered Ferris Wheel at Earl’s Court, which when completed stood 300 feet high and contained 30 carriages, each of which could carry 30 passengers. It was an immediate success, but its popularity waned over the following years and in 1907 it was dismantled and the metal sold for scrap to the same company which 46 years later was to buy the Skylon at the Festival of Britain and produce cigarette cases from the scrap metal.

While the Wheel was still operating, however, Basset built other Ferris Wheels at Blackpool and Paris, but neither were a financial success, and when Maudslay went bankrupt in 1899, he set up his own business, The Basset Nut and Screw Company, in Belgium. In the end the destruction of his prized project at Earl’s Court may have been the last straw for a man in poor health, for in May 1907 he died, aged just 43, at the family home in Devon.  Thankfully, the Vienna Riesenrad survived its creator and is now one of the city’s greatest attractions—it featured in the films ‘The Third Man’ and ‘The Living Daylights’.

[R.M.Healey]
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Fat Mary’s brother, a royal sex scandal and a precedent created

As a follow-up to a very recent Jot on Princess Mary of Teck, whose biography was called The People’s Princess, here is a short letter from her brother, found amongst a pile of old letters acquired a few years ago.

 Prince Francis of Teck seems to have followed the age-old career path of minor royalty—public school, Sandhurst, and action abroad -- only this particular royal seems to have been a philanderer and gambler. He had an affair with the beautiful Ellen Constance, wife of the 3rd Earl of Kilmorey, and this together with his ruinous gambling got him sent to India. In the letter, dated March 20th 1893, written when Francis was a lieutenant in the 1st Royal Dragoons, he thanks someone called Mowbray for sending him an ‘ excellent photograph’ but regrets that due to an ‘ exam’ that he is obliged to take on the 4th May, he cannot accept an invitation to visit him. This exam may have been for the rank of captain, and though he probably failed it on this occasion, he was promoted the following year. After India he served in Egypt, and later saw action in the Boer War, eventually retiring in 1901 with the rank of major.

In 1910 Francis died suddenly at Balmoral of pneumonia, aged 39.When his will was read it was discovered to his family’s horror that he had bequeathed to his mistress Ellen the famous Cambridge emeralds, which were part of the family jewels. It was then left to his sister, now Queen Mary, to have this will sealed, thus creating a legal precedent. Previously, royal wills could be publicly examined. The Queen also  negotiated to buy back the emeralds, reportedly paying £10,000 ( around £600,000 today ) for them. Mary then wore them at the coronation of her husband in 1911.

A few years ago actress Sarah Miles claimed that not long after this letter was written, Francis fathered an illegitimate son called Francis Remnant, who became her maternal grandfather. This makes the beautiful Sarah second cousin of the present Queen.

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Charles Pearson & James Watt association

Discovered in 1998 on a market stall off Brick Lane is this copy of the exceedingly rare Substance of a Address by Charles Pearson at a Public Meeting (1844). The book is scarce enough (none on Abebooks, nor likely to be in the near future), but my copy also bears an inscription from the author to James Watt, son of the famous Scottish engineer.

Watt (1769 – 1848) who, like his father, was an engineer, but was also a radical political activist in the turbulent 1790s, has his own Wikipedia entry, but there is no mention in it of Pearson. Nevertheless, the two men had much in common. While in France Watt’s support for the French revolutionaries and his friendship with Joseph Priestley, got him condemned in the British Parliament and he remained in self-imposed exile until he felt it was safe to return home. A generation younger, Pearson, as the radical Solicitor for the City of London, was the champion of parliamentary reform who defended radicals in court. He also was in favour of the disestablishment of the Church of England, opposed the system of packed juries and fought commercial monopolies in London. A year after his Substance on an Address appeared, he published a pamphlet which called for an atmospheric railway that would follow the ancient Fleet ditch to Farringdon. This was rejected and I seem to remember that Punch had great fun with the idea. Other railway schemes supported by Pearson were also rejected, but at last in 1854 the Royal Commission accepted a proposal to build an underground railway, using the ‘cut and cover ‘method, from Praed Street to Farringdon. Work began in 1860 and within three years the new line was completed. The world now had its first underground railway. Unfortunately, Pearson had died while the work was still in progress and he never got to ride on the first train.

It would be nice to think that Watt, the consultant engineer behind the building of Fulton’s North River Steamboat of 1807, and the marine engineer who in 1817 was responsible for the first steamship to leave an English port, had something to do with Pearson’s atmospheric railway of 1845. It seems very possible, especially as Watt’s expertise was in steam power and pneumatics. In addition, Pearson’s address of 1844 tackles many of the issues that would have been close to Watt’s radical heart and the younger man would have taken great pleasure in presenting a copy of his book to the septuagenarian former firebrand.

One question remains. Watt died at his home, Aston Hall, near Birmingham, in 1848. So how did his book end up on an East End junk stall in 1998 ?