Laughing at Poetry

Laughing at SwinburneIn the April 24th 1942 issue of John O’London’s Weekly can be found a perceptive view by the essayist Robert Lynd on the subject of risible poetry written by good poets. He takes his cue from an incident a century before when Thomas Wakley, the founder of the Lancet, stood up in the Commons to mock some puerile lines from ‘Louisa’ by the Poet Laureate, William Wordsworth.

Lynd then goes on to wonder whether ‘absurdities were so common in the older poets as they came in the period that followed the French Revolution. Shakespeare and Milton seem never to have descended to such unconscious ludicrousness as Wordsworth. I do not think that any of the older poets ever wrote a line that parodies itself so easily as Swinburne’s :–

Swallow, my sister: O Sister

     Swallow. 

‘One of Swinburne’s loveliest poems, ‘Before a Mirror ‘, Lynd continues, ‘begins with a verse of extraordinary nonsense –at least, containing extraordinary nonsense—and yet who can fail to be moved by it:– Continue reading

An attack on Oscar Wilde and Yeats

Yeats picFound, in the June 12, 1913 issue of a famous review is this scalding attack on two famous Irish writers.

In his “Oscar Wilde: a Critical Study “…Mr Ransome remarks that he cannot understand why the Oscar Wilde period (with Mr Yeats, I may add, as its tail-piece) was ever called decadent. Surely, it is either disingenuous or incompetent to fail in such an easy matter. The school was called decadent because it was decadent; and the decadence consisted in the usual feature of decadence, namely the elevation of the part above the whole in value. Pater, I verily believe, never had an idea in his life. In consequence he spent the whole of his energy in concealing the fact in his style. On his style he spent enormous pains as if he knew that he would live by that or nothing. That, I say– the over-attention to style—is decadence. Wilde again was never even a man of letters. Mr Ransome in my opinion utterly fails to present Wilde as he was –an Irish causeur and wit, a born blarney, a talker. In his conversation Wilde was as nearly natural as a self-conscious Irishman in England can possibly be ; that is, he talked to the English as if they were an exotic Frenchman, never by any chance, aiming at the truth, but aiming always at producing in us a pleasant gaping admiration of his cleverness. There are plenty of such Irishmen in England today, only their vogue is past and they no longer surprise us. Too clever for his intellect I called one of them a few weeks ago. Mr Ransome, however, takes Wilde seriously, if critically, as a writer, as a literary man. But as a writer, if you like, Wilde was a poseur. With a pen in his hand he was no longer Wilde but a sort of figure which I can only describe as Turveydrop on paper. He finicked among the words and phrases of the language as if he was playing court to them and was expecting a rebuff from the English genius at any moment. I never saw a page of Wilde that had not “ amateur “ in the vulgar sense written all over it , in vocabulary, in phraseology , and in construction. That also, when the writer is unaware of it, is decadence. It is not mastery of the language, but service under it, as under a mistress. And our language, thank goodness, hates the man who treats it as if it were the Lady of Shallot or Isolda. It is a queen, and its best courtiers are Prime Ministers. Continue reading

500 Books with Interesting Inscriptions

img_2706Found – a 1982 book collector’s catalogue from George S Macmanus of Philadelphia 500 Books with Interesting Inscriptions. Mostly modern American and British literature, it has many direct signed presentation from the authors and  many association copies. There are the usual authors who are known to have signed a lot – Galsworthy, Masefield, John Drinkwater, Witter Bynner etc., but also uncommon signers like the great WW1 poet Isaac Rosenberg-  a copy of his play Moses signed shortly before his death, a modest condition copy at $2500. There are some inscriptions whose significance is hard to fathom- Norman Douglas’s In the Beginning inscribed by him to the effete (and highly collectable)  novelist Reginald Turner “To Reggie hoping he won’t follow Symira’s example in ‘every’ respect, from Norman Douglas.” Great condition $375. There are several Aldous Huxley 1920s novels inscribed to Anita Loos with minor condition problems in the $300 range and several Swinburne presentations at $1000 inscribed to the artist Burne-Jones. A decent buy at $1750  is George Orwells Eton leaving present. We have had dozens of these through over the years. Each boy was given a current smart cream-coloured edition of Poems by Thomas Gray. The presentation leaf reads: ‘Hunc Librum Erico A Blair’ and it is signed by the master ‘Cyrillus’ Alington. Potentially these ‘leaving present’ books exist for Cyril Connolly, Brian Howard, Aldous Huxley, Harold Acton, Henry Green and, possibly more valuable than even Orwell, Ian Fleming. Continue reading

Oscar Wilde—a case of ‘human wreckage’

oscar_wilde_portraitFound in the issue of T.P.’s Weekly for July 11th 1914 is this distressing description of Oscar Wilde a year and a few months before his death. It was sent in by an American reader who noticed it in an article by the war correspondent George W Smalley (1833 – 1916) for The New York Tribune:

‘Oscar Wilde died in 1900, a bankrupt in respect of property and reputation alike. With regard to our personal relations I will quote Wilde’s own testimony:

     “ I dislike all journalists, and Smalley most of all “

I was staying with Sir Sydney and Lady Waterlow at their villa in Cannes during the winter of 1898 –’99. Every Sunday morning I used to drive with Sir Sydney to the further end of the Esterel promontory, the most picturesque portion of that picturesque Mediterranean shore, to the east and south-east of the town. As the horses walked up the long hill, I saw at some distance a figure of a man coming slowly down. He was tall, heavily built, ill-dressed, almost ragged. You could hardly say he walked. He shambled and slouched and stumbled along. As he came near, his face was bloated, the flesh hung below the jaw in dewlaps, the eyes were bleared; there was hardly a look of conscious humanity left in them; his whole attitude was one of illness and extreme misery and despair. ( It was Oscar Wilde.)

     He passed rather close to the victoria, and the spectacle of so much human wreckage was appalling’. [RR]

 

Literary Masterpieces

james-joyceLiterary Masterpieces

In the miscellany Medley from October 1936 appears this intriguing pronouncement:

‘ It has been found that literary masterpieces of the first rank have been produced most frequently by authors who were from the ages of 40 to 44 inclusive’

Dr Harvey Lehman

We thought we’d test out the good doctor’s theory using, among other sources, the excellent Annals of Literature (1961), which finishes at 1950.

We started with Charles Dickens (1812 – 70). In this five year period he published three memorable novels: Bleak House, Hard Times, and Little Dorrit. However, most critics regard Great Expectations (1860) as his ‘literary masterpiece. ‘

We then turned to George Eliot (1819 – 80). She was 40 when Adam Bede was published, 41 when The Mill on the Floss appeared, 42 when Silas Marner came out, and 43 when Romola hit the shelves. All wonderful novels, but most critics would class Middlemarch( 1871-72) as her ‘ masterpiece of the first rank’.

Next we looked at James Joyce( 1882 – 1941). Here we hit the mark. His Ulysses, undoubtably a ‘ masterpiece of the first rank ‘, appeared in 1922 ( though it was years in the making ). Joyce was 40 at the time. Continue reading

I once met E.M. Forster

IMG_1569Found among the papers of the mathematician Norman Routledge (1928-2013) this affectionate memoir of E.M. Forster. Routledge  had known Forster in the 1950s when he was a Fellow at King’s College, Cambridge. He went on to become a distinguished  teacher of mathematics and was a close friend of Alan Turing, inheriting some of his books. The second half of his working  life was spent teaching maths at Eton. These notes were probably for a talk he gave to the boys there (mid 1960s) with a sound recording of Forster talking (probably this piece from YouTube) and some reading from his books. The notes are written on the back of the maths  homework of one Hope-Jones minor…

I wish I was going to tell you about a great hero- figure, spouting brilliant and amusing things, and combining an amazing literary  fertility (an earth-shaking novel every year) with great and noble deeds -what should they be? – fighting injustice and involved in passionate love affairs? But he is none of these.

He happens to have lived since the war in the college, Kings, where I was an undergraduate, and so one would occasionally meet him on social occasions. He’s rather non-descript in appearance – has a moustache and rather dowdy clothes and speaks very little but listens a lot. Very gentle eyes. Is greatly loved by all who know him– has indeed the air of always having been loved without having had to strive for it. Can be very amusing if he wishes, but you have to listen carefully– I’ve seen people quite fail to notice that he has been making fun of them. Continue reading

Exactly who wrote ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’?

Baskerville Addington Peace book cover
The title page of the 1902 first edition bears just one name—Arthur Conan Doyle. And if you believe Conan Doyle’s son Adrian and just about every Sherlockian you’ll ever meet, only one man wrote the famous detective story. But in a newspaper cutting from the Daily Express dated March 16 1959 in the Haining Archive, the journalist Peter Evans tells how he met an 88 year old man from Dartmoor who swears that another writer of detective stories, Bertram Fletcher Robinson (1870 – 1907), the author of The Chronicles of Addington Peace (1905) contributed some material to the book. That man was Harry Baskerville and he had worked as the coachman to Fletcher Robinson’s father.

According to most accounts, Fletcher Robinson’s only contribution was to tell his friend Conan Doyle about the West Country legend of a ghostly hound and to borrow the name of the family coachman for Sir Henry Baskerville. Indeed, the octogenarian even showed Evans the inscribed first edition of the book in which Fletcher Robinson acknowledges as much. But Baskerville claimed much more for his employer’s son:

‘Doyle didn’t write the story himself. A lot of the story was written by Fletcher Robinson. But he never got the credit he deserved. They wrote it together at Park Hill, over at Ippleden. I know, because I was there.

According to Baskerville, long before Conan Doyle arrived at Park Hill, Fletcher Robinson had confided:

“Harry, I’m going to write a story about the moor and I would like to use your name”.

Baskerville then continued:

“Shortly after his return from the Boer War, Bertie (Robinson) told me to meet Mr Doyle at the station. He said they were going to work on the story he had told me about. Continue reading

An album of Oscar Wilde letters

oscar_wildeFrom a 1946 catalogue of ‘scarce and interesting original autograph letters manuscripts historical documents’ from London dealer Winifred Myers.  She was a major player in the field of autographs into the 1960s. These were listed at £80. After 70 years it would be a safe bet to say they have gone up by over 2000 times …Fortunately they were bought by a collector who let them be published in Rupert Hart- Davis’s collection of Oscar’s letters that appeared in 1962. Are they still in the ‘choicely bound’ Riviere album?

WILDE (Oscar). 1856-1900. Author. 9 Autograph letters signed, with original envelopes, 38 pp., 4to. and 8vo., and one autograph post card signed O.W. (some letters are signed in full, some “Oscar” and some with initials), Paris, Dieppe, Naples, etc., 1897-99, to his publisher Leonard Smithers, chiefly regarding his “Ballad of Reading Gaol.” A very fine collection of letters of the utmost importance. The first letter written from Berneval only three months after his release from prison, expresses the hope that he will finish the Ballad within a few days, begs Smithers to get an answer from Beardsley about doing the frontispiece; a long letter from Naples deals fully with the title-page and his pseudonym C.3.3.; speaks affectionately of Robt. Ross; were all his friends like Ross he would not be “the pariah dog of the nineteenth century.” Refers to Lord Alfred Douglas who is staying with him, “He has also ruined my life, so I can’t help loving him,” his wife’s letter of reconciliation. “In questions of the emotions and their romantic quality, unpunctuality is fatal.” “I am going to try and find a place near Genoa!… The chastity of Switzerland has got on my nerves,” asking for money, “I have no money at all. I am in a dreadful state… I am nearly in the gutter,” mentioning “The Importance of Being Earnest,” etc. Probably the most important and moving collection of Wilde letters ever offered for sale, mounted with typescripts in an album, choicely bound, green morocco gilt, g.e. lettered in gold on spine, by Riviere.

Virginia Woolf – An Appreciation (1941)

4e2b6da99ff0d5c9f24dfefdfec9abfcFound- a press-cutting from The Observer – April 6th, 1941 a week after the suicide by drowning of Virginia Woolf. This ‘appreciation’ accompanied a memorial poem by Vita Sackville-West. It was by the now slightly forgotten critic Basil de Sélincourt.  Virginia Woolf notes in her diary how she was heartened  when he praised her novel The Waves (1937). It was said to be her favourite review. There is a good photo of Selincourt at the National Portrait Gallery by Lady Ottoline Morrell.

An Appreciation – Basil de Selincourt

The loss of Virginia Woolf is not only a grave blow to English letters, but will also be widely felt by many who had no personal acquaintance with her. It was not for nothing that she collected her brilliant, or radiant, studies in Criticism under the title “The Common Reader”. The originality of her mind and the acuteness and range of her perception never isolated her, never led her to forget that the foundation of the literary art is sympathy, that we write to be understood, to make our vision carry. True, the reading of her novels can be a strenuous exercise, but it is an exercise in intimacy. The greatest of them, “The Waves,” most of us must be content to wonder at; we can hardly hope to comprehend it. But however we may be baffled by work of hers, we have never been offended. Its elusiveness is the elusiveness of nature. Her waters are limpid as the sea’s on a solitary shore; her phrase has the decisiveness, the crisp outline of a shell. Her horizons only are unfathomable. She has preferred to keep here even for herself a quality of mystery, as if the greatest communication a writer has to make were the sense of an incommunicable infinite, of a truth always present wholly, and therefore never seizable in any part.  Continue reading

In Memoriam Virginia Woolf (1941)

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Found - a press-cutting of an 'In Memoriam' poem written by Vita Sackville-West and published in The Observer on 6 April 1941 a week after her friend (and lover) Virginia Woolf had drowned herself in the River Ouse. It is odd that this version of the poem is not online (except possibly at a cash-for-knowledge site which reprints a version from the Winnipeg Tribune from May 17 1941 which may or may not be the same.) There is some suggestion that the free version available online was found at Sissinghurst in Vita's tower/study. From that version, presumably a later revision of the Observer poem (or just possibly an early draft) I have printed the changed words in square brackets. The word 'smell' in the tower version is surely wrong...'Mrs Brown' must be taken as representing 'unknown people.' The  lines:

How small, how petty seemed the little men

Measured against her scornful quality.

the same in both versions, have been praised as being particularly acute.

IN MEMORIAM VIRGINIA WOOLF

Many words crowd, and all and each unmeaning.

The simplest words in sorrow are the best.

So let us say, she loved the water-meadows,

The Downs; her books; her friends; her memories;

[her friends; her books;her memories]

The room which was her own.

London by twilight; shops and unknown people;

[shops and Mrs Brown] 

Donne's church; the Strand; the buses, and the large

Swell of humanity that passed her by.

[Smell of humanity]

I remember she told me once that she, a child,

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Books we must not read. Part Two

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Recently, following the lead of an article by William Mason-Owen published in a 1951 issue of The Colophon magazine, Jot 101 looked at some of the manuscripts and typescripts in the British Museum Library that were then withheld from publication due to the sensitivity of their contents. In part two we examine the banned printed books mentioned in the article.

First on the Colophon list is Cantab, by the otherwise respected Irish writer Shane Leslie, which appeared in 1926. This was ‘withdrawn under threat of legal proceedings for obscenity’. Your Jotter hasn’t examined the novel, which recounts the adventures and misadventures of a Cambridge undergraduate, but those in the know have maintained that any indelicacies it contains are inoffensive and certainly do not justify the ban.

D.H.Lawrence’s The Rainbow and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were also regarded as dangerous to public morality. Around half the first edition of the former was burned in 1915, hence its comparative rarity. Moreover, if you can find a copy in the original rather sensationalist dust wrapper you will get a few thousand pounds for it.

Ulysses (1922) was another on the list. The Little Review, in which excerpts appeared, was prosecuted in the US and the whole book remained suppressed here until 1934.The Egoist, which published parts of it in the UK was also the subject of court action. The first edition of the book appeared in Paris in 1922, but copies of this and subsequent continental editions were subject to seizure by British customs until a ban was lifted on its publication in the thirties.

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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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Occupation: Female Companion

Joan Fontaine in 'Rebecca'

Found in  The Fingerpost: A Guide to Professions for Educated Women, with Information as to Necessary Training (Central Bureau for the Employment of Women,1906) an article about getting work as a female companion. It suggests that the occupation, often found in thrillers and novels up to the late 1930s, hardly existed even in 1906. Vere Cochran, the writer of this piece, says that the profession was at its height in early Victorian times when 'semi invalidism' was a prevailing fashion. 'Who (now) can afford the doubtful luxury of a paid companion?' One of the most notable companions in fiction is the unnamed narrator of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (1938) While working as the companion to a wealthy American woman on holiday in Monte Carlo she meets the rich and troubled widower Max de Winter who whisks her off to his country mansion Manderley...

"Companion, Housekeeper, or any position of trust - I could undertake work of this kind".

If the many seekers after work who open their campaign with these words could gauge their true import, or the effect which they produce, they would not so lightly use them. Few words could more clearly display their ignorance with regard to the conditions of the labour market;indeed, to the ears of those who know and who receive year by year hundreds of such applications, these words almost constitute a badge of incapacity.

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Paul Renin ‘Sex’ (1928?)

1950s issue, Many
thanks John Fraser.

Here’s a bit of a puzzler. Coming from the archive of Peter Haining and bearing annotations by him, this is a photocopy of a blurb for a book 'in preparation' entitled Sex, which is described as 'Paul Renin’s Latest, Greatest and Most Courageous Novel !' Now here’s the thing. Such a novel by Paul Renin—the pseudonym of someone called Richard Goyne (1902 – 57), who also wrote crime novels—did not seemingly appear, according to Abebooks, until 1951.

The copies available on Abebooks are described as the first U. S. editions from the publisher Archer of a romance concerning a 'sixteen year old runaway Girl in the South Seas' . However, the blurb announcing the forthcoming appearance of Sex is clearly in a typeface of the 1920s, which Haining’s annotation identifies as dating from 1928. This, of course,  was the year in which Lady Chatterley’s Lover appeared, and the blurb writer seems keen to emphasise that Sex was, like Lawrence’s novel, a mould-breaking literary event.

What of the parents who—for reasons of “delicacy” or hectic pursuit of their own gay lives—allow their children to grow up in perilous ignorance?

What if those boys and girls who, so neglected, are lured from the fireside” by distant, seductive callings” to learn “romance“ and its moods for themselves in “the little corners of the city where night steals early and danger lingers always” ?

There are the human, poignant problems with which Paul Renin is most fitted to deal. In Sex he tells a daring and a wonderful story. Of romance, of passion, of weak lovers old and young. Of great emotions and greater need. In Sex PAUL RENIN SPEAKS OUT FEARLESSLY.

We have not examined a copy of the 1928 book, if indeed it was published in this year. If its publication was held back until 1951, it may have been because the censors –perhaps provoked by the blurb—took action to prevent its appearance.. [RR]

The 1928 issue may not have happened (i.e. the book was a 'ghost') - an extensive search through WorldCat, Copac and the might Karlsruhe database reveals no edition earlier than 1942. This was published by pulpmeister Gerald Swan who was discussed in an earlier jot on London's markets.

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The irresistible Samuel Foote

Found- in the The common-place book of literary curiosities, remarkable customs, historical and domestic anecdotes, and etymological scraps by Rev. Dr. Dryasdust, of York. (London: John Bumpus 1825) these amusing anecdotes about Samuel Foote (1720 – 1777) the British dramatist, comic actor and theatre manager. Probably the best known quotation associated with him is a put down of an unnamed ‘law lord’. Foote said of him- ‘What can he mean by coming among us? He is not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others.’ Dr. Dryasdust provides six anecdotes about Foote. The first concerns Samuel Johnson, who tried very hard not to be amused by him..the last, where he messes up his lines in Hamlet, has the spirit of Tommy Cooper or Stanley Unwin. His Othello was apparently a ‘masterpiece of burlesque..’

1. Life's a poor player.

"Dr Johnshon said, 'The first time I was in company with Foote, was at Fitzherbert's. Having no good opinion of the fellow, I was resolved not to be pleased; and it is very difficult to please a man against his will. I went on eating my dinner pretty sullenly, affecting not to mind him; but the dog became so irresistibly comic, that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork, throw myself back in my chair, and fairly laugh out. Sir, he was irresistible!"

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Thomas Augustus Trollope—the famous novelist’s forgotten brother

While many admirers of Anthony Trollope are busy celebrating the great novelist’s bicentenary, spare a thought for his older brother, Thomas Augustus Trollope (1810 – 92), who was always in his shadow, but who as a novelist, prolific travel writer and biographer in his own right, may have eclipsed Anthony in the word stakes.

In a long literary career Thomas published around sixty books, having begun a writing partnership with his mother while still at Oxford? In addition, he was a prodigious contributor to magazines. His friendship with Dickens, for instance, led to a long association with Household Words. Much of his work was achieved while living in some style in Italy. He moved to Florence in 1843, creating with his first wife a salon for expatriates at the Villino Trollope, which was expertly decorated and whose  sumptuous furnishings included a library of 5,000 books.
From here he migrated to Rome, where with his second wife, the writer Frances Trollope, he established another refuge for the expatriate  community.

In this short undated letter Trollope apologises  to a Mr Cutbill for not being ‘ able to remain at home’ to see  him, and suggests that he  instead  delivers a ‘ packet ‘ to number  193, Piccadilly, ‘ otherwise the advantage of the scarcity would be lost ‘.As the address in question was that of Trollope’s publishers, Chapman and Hall, and if the letter dates from the period before he left for Italy, this packet may have contained some literary material of interest to the writer, but equally,  it could have been something perishable which may have spoiled if Cutbill, who was away from home at the time, had waited until his return to present  personally to Trollope.

This latter possibility seems unlikely. We simply don’t know what Trollope meant by ‘the advantage of the scarcity’, but if the package did indeed contain a perishable gift from Cutbill, perhaps Trollope felt that his publishers would be best placed to look after it until he returned to claim it.
[R.M.Healey]

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The Open Window 1905

Not sure where this came from or what it was. It appears to be a literary magazine but is not the literary magazine  The Open Window published in London by Locke Ellis  from 1910 onwards with contributions by Edward Thomas, E.M. Forster, George Bourne, Katherine Mansfield,  Maxwell Armfield, Douglas Goldring, W.H. Davies, Geoffrey Whitworth, Lord Dunsany, John Drinkwater, Walter de la Mare and Vivian Locke Ellis etc., The article, of some competence, quotes among other George Borrow, Kipling, W.E. Henley and F. Marion Crawford...

On the “Joie de Vivre.”

There could hardly be a more fitting time to say something about this primitive impulse than now, when maps and guide-books are taken down from shelves; when bicycles, botanical vascular, and geological hammers are brought out from their places of concealment, and we lift up our eyes to the hills.
  The true “joie de vivre” I take to be the satisfaction of an instinct for communion with Nature, an instinct which, implanted in the bosoms of our ancestors during the long ages before cities were existent, has not yet died completely away in their more artificial descendants, and which, at certain periods, seizes upon some of us with an almost irresistible power.
  After living during many months in dingy offices or class-rooms, poring over musty tomes, and hearing through our windows nothing but the lugubrious cry of the coal man, the discordant tinkle of the barrel-organ, or other of the multiform phases of the “brouhaha des rues”–sounds having relation to nothing more than the distracting life of this “man-made” town–suddenly some small note may be heard, or an odor of spring may be felt, or a green blade seen growing in a cranny of the wall–some sight or sound, small in itself, but mighty in the mental effect it  evokes; for, in a moment, this ancient primaeval instinct grips us by the heart-strings, and we resolve–to take a holiday.
  In Marion Crawford’s “Cigarette Maker’s Romance” there is a wonderful passage describing the annual wild rush of the reindeer to drink the salt water of the Arctic Sea. As their blood cries out for the essential chloride, so in spring does that of the city-dweller for the ozone of the hills.
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Edward Fitzgerald buys a Constable and conceives Alice (1841)

Found in  A Fitzgerald Medley (Methuen, 1933) an excerpt from a letter by Fitzgerald (the translator of Omar Khayyam) that he sent to his friend Frederick Tennyson in January 1841. Charles Ganz, the editor of the anthology, includes this in the introduction to a piece Fitzgerald wrote for children - a version of Dickens's Little Nell in simple language for children. The letter reads:

I have just concluded, with all the throes of imprudent pleasure, the purchase of a large picture by Constable*, of which, if I can continue in the mood, I will enclose you a sketch. It is very good:but how you and Morton would abuse it! Yet this, being a sketch, escapes some of Constable's faults, and might escape some of your censures. The trees are not splashed with that white sky-mud, which (according to Constable's theory) the Earth scatters up with her wheels in travelling so briskly round the sun; and there is a dash and felicity in the execution that gives one a thrill of good digestion in one's room, and the thought of which makes one inclined to jump over the children's heads in the streets. But if you could see my great enormous Venetian picture you would be astonished.

Does the thought ever strike you, when looking at pictures in a house, that you are to run and jump at one, and go right through it into some behind-scene world on the other side, as Harlequins do? A steady portrait especially invites one to do so: the quietude of it ironically tempts one to outrage it: one feels it would close again over the panel, like water, as if nothing had happened.

Ganz comments: "This fantastic idea reminds us of Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there. Carroll wrote his story. Fitzgerald played with the idea and let it slide. One cannot  help regretting that he never wrote an original story for children, but we must rejoice that Little Nell's Wanderings, the result of the efforts of two men of genius is left to us."

*Not sure what this picture was. I can find no paintings of Venice by Constable. It would of course be excessively valuable now. He is known to have bought two Constables in 1842 that sold for healthy sums when he died in 1876. The cover of the book is by Frank Brangwyn.

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J. B. Priestley by L.R. Reeve

Another piece from the papers of L.R. Reeve*. He never met Priestley but saw him speak and even appears to have been pointed at by the great man.

J. B. PRIESTLEY

J. B. Priestley may during his adult life have sometimes failed to reach his usual high standard. Certainly I have at times experienced an uneasy feeling that some passages have galloped along giving a faint impression of superficiality, a suspicion of slickness, pretentiousness, and pot-boiling. Yet I would forgive him half-a-dozen trifling contributions because of the heart-lifting, sustained enjoyment arising from The Good Companions, which I encountered more than thirty years ago, and have read again in 1969 with even more pleasure than at the first reading: a fact which leaves me wondering why thirty years on, when one is supposed to reach a plateau of jaded thrills and fancies, the enjoyment of an earlier book is assuredly enhanced. It may be that one's appreciation of a classic increases after many years of weary persistence in studying second-rate literature which misguided critics have informed us are masterpieces; or it may be that when one's knowledge of the human condition is greater than in early days, the better we are able to appreciate a perfect delineation of real men and women.
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Sherlock’s Watson — was he a bad doctor?

Found in The London Mystery Magazine of April/May 1951 this amusing Sherlockian poem casting doubt on Watson's medical credentials…The author 'Sagittarius' was a journalist named Olga Katzin* who wrote several humorous and satirical books, some in rhyme. A short life  is appended below. The London Mystery Magazine began in 1949 and went on into the mid 1950s. It gave its address as 221b Baker Street. Adrian Conan-Doyle (Arthur's son) 'not uncharacteristically' sued the magazine, but lost the case.

Illustrated by 'Figaro'

DOCTOR…?

Holmes left one unsolved mystery,
The case of the strange M. D.;

Was he ever qualified?

Had he anything to hide?
And why was he always free?
Facts of his previous history
Researchers fail to trace,

But there’s something queer in his medical career,
For he never had a single case.

Nobody called Dr Watson
For medical advice;
If Sherlock in a hurry asked his company in Surrey,
Watson would be ready in a trice.
No one ever seemed to worry,
When he drove to Charing Cross,
Which strengthens the suspicion that as surgeon or physician
Watson was a total loss.

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