Found – a cheap paperback called The Daily Mirror Old Codgers Little Black Book (Wolfe, London 1975.) The book is billed as ‘100s of funny, curious and strange facts from the world famous Live Letters column…’ The Old Codgers column, where readers wrote in to get answers on all manner of things, had begun in 1936, apparently the idea of the newspaper’s proprietor Hugh (later Lord) Cudlipp. It finished in 1990 by which time The Mirror’s thrusting new editor Roy Greenslade considered its old fashioned and said it was “putting off the younger readers we are trying to attract.”
An article at the time in one of the broadsheets said that while the world went through ‘convulsive’ changes the Codgers remained in ‘a pre-war era redolent of flat caps, allotments,racing pigeons and Woodbine cigarettes…’ There was a bit of protest when it was axed but considering that the Codgers were receiving a 100 letters a day it was fairly muted. They often referred to their legendary Little Black Book that claimed to contain ‘all information known to man.’ In the days of the web most of the questions that readers sent it could now be very quickly answered. Google is now ‘the little black book.’ The questions were often sent it to settle arguments ‘down the pub’. The most common question in the latter period of the Codgers was whether Stan Laurel was Clint Eastwood’s father. The Codgers research showed he was not. Below are two fairly typical Codgers answers to questions on ‘Slippery Wednesday’ and the origin of the phrase ‘Mad as a hatter.’
‘Slippery Wednesday’ is another day that has stuck in older memories because of its dire conditions. A former horse carman recalled how he had to put sacks on his horses hooves and his own feet to get about, and that pedestrians were ‘going down like ninepins’, because of the ice. But he couldn’t remember the exact date, only that it was a Wednesday in the 1920s. We were able to tell him that it was December 21, 1927 when severe frost on overnight rain caused chaos in London and other parts of the country, resulting in thousands of street accidents.
‘Mad as a hatter’ dates from the days when hats were made of felt which was processed by having mercury rubbed over it. The unfortunate men who did the job got mercury poisoning which caused their limbs to shake and contorted their features so that they looked crazy.
Found in a copy of the literary periodical Today for August 1919 is this advice for aspiring authors from its editor, Holbrook Jackson (pictured):
- Typewrite your copy or handwrite it clearly
- Write you name and address clearly on the back of last page of typescript or manuscript.
- Enclose not a loose stamp, but a stamped and addressed envelope
- Don’t write a letter of explanation to the Editor. But if you do write—
- Don’t tell him your stuff is good—he won’t take your word
- Don’t tell him it is bad —bad writing needs no bush
- Don’t tell him your friends like it—he doesn’t care
- Don’t say that another editor advised you to send it along—that would make him suspicious
- Don’t say you want to earn money by writing—he is not out to help you, but to edit his paper and pay those who help him.
Found – a scrapbook of press-cuttings mostly from the Irish newspaper the Cork Gazette. This cutting dates from about 1789. They are mostly taken up with oddities, strange wagers (can a walking man cover 20 miles faster than a walking horse?*) horrible executions, feats, obituaries, a letter from Dean Swift, marriages of royals etc., This piece about current extreme fashions is an example of the slightly sensational journalism of the time…
This most whimsical of all human inventions has undergone, within these few years the most unaccountable changes imaginable, nor is she yet at rest but, with Protean wantonness, every day affirms the new form, leaving a gaping world in pursuit of her. One no sooner catches her, than she escapes, then presents herself under a different form, still more seducing and irresistible than the former.
One time she lets her head grow to the length of a cows tail, then cocks it – it sometimes flows loosely, and others nicely plaited and made into tresses – she soon prides in frizzing, and after that falls down by the ears, hanging like a pound of candles – her present frolic is a crop, which for aught we know be soon metamorphosed into a shorn head.
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 called 'Literary Catchpennies' which outlines various scams played on would be writers of the time. Some of these scams, often for bigger stakes, are still with us on the web.
The perennial literary advertisement trick is, perhaps, the most specious of all. A "Publishing Firm" will offer to consider MSS. sent to Box so-and-so at the offices of the paper in which the advertisements appears. Or the advertisement asks for some specified requires a fee; sometimes he merely swallows all the MSS. sent to him and is heard of no more. A plausible gentleman, with an office in London, extracted from a struggling authoress of my acquaintance a fee of 10s. 6d. for the purpose of making copies of a little tale of hers for the American Press. Another required a specimen of already existing work as a "proof of competency," before employment. With wary caution a printed specimen was submitted, which was duly returned, with a word of approval and with an article taken from a Nonconformist journal - a sketch of some famous preacher - which the applicant for employment was required to paraphrase and return. This being done the MSS. apparently vanished into space for upon a visit of inquiry being made to the address mentioned in the advertisement, the advertiser's name was unknown! Again, a budding composer advertised for "Lyrics." A little poem on "Daffodils" was sent to him. After a weary wait, a gentlemanly young man called on my friend to explain that out of hundreds of lyrics though which he had waded hers was the only good for anything. He asked permission to set it to music and promised to pay a small sum - with many apologies for the smallness. A few days later came - not the small sum - but a tortured love song of Elizabethan or Stuart period. That is to say a phrase here and there was given with dashes in between. These gaps were to be filled up with suitable words. This curious piece of literary patchwork being done, it joined the Daffodil lyric - in oblivion. What budding authoress has not sent precious MSS. to advertised "Literary agencies" with timid hopes that the agent's joyful acceptance of them - together with the "unusual deposit" for "placing same" - will set her free on the first step of the ladder of fame. If the MSS. is "placed" the deposit may nicely counterbalance the price secured for the article plus the commission to the agency; or, more probably at some pains and after some delays the article may be rescued by the author - minus the deposit. Since, however, no author is entirely comment to judge of the selling value of his work, it may reasonably be supposed that a properly conducted literary agency could serve a useful purpose in introducing the budding author to his public. The unfortunate thing is that the budding author generally pays dearly before he discovers that the really bona-fide agency has little need to advertise daily in a score of papers for "suitable MSS."
Other pitfalls to unwary persons "who can write" are the advertisements offering prizes in competitions for more or less intricate word spinning. It is hardly necessary to utter warnings against these, for they appeal mostly to the enterprising speculative sort of person, in whom the gambling instant is not strictly suppressed. It may be noted, however, that "prizes" won in such conceptions seldom pay the competitor for the trouble involved in winning them. They certainly do not pay the genuine work seeker.
Fortunes to Order
Answers to much-advertised offers to teach the work seeker "How to make a fortune" generally result in the return of a fascinating booklet, detailing with the utmost gravity the "trade secrets" of some industry which is sure to be entirely foreign to the fortune seeker's taste or capacity. Two such treatises are before me; one has to do with allotment gardening and the other with pastry making. When all the "ifs" and "ands" are counted the reader comes to the conclusion that although the advertiser's experiences might be genuine a fortune would be much more quickly made by writing a similar booklet and selling it in thousands at 1s. or 1s. 6d., than by rolling out any of the precepts contained therein.
Found - Journals and Journalism (with a guide for literary beginners) published by the Leadenhall Press (London 1880.) The author is stated as 'John Oldcastle' - a pseudonym of Wilfrid Meynell (1852-1948) who became a newspaper publisher and editor. It is likely that the book appeared because at the time journalism was all the rage, like photography in the 1960s or developing apps now…It is full of good advice, occasionally caustic in tone, and starts out with a warning to 'amateurs'. The final part of this extract from the first chapter deals with vanity publishing scams, and refers to an amusing scandal when one scammer sued another. These 'bubbles' were then common and are still with us on the internet. The entire text can be found at Brewster Kahle's incredible expanding Internet Archive.
Even more fatally amateurish is the practice, not uncommon with beginners, of addressing a more or less gushing note to an editor, disclaiming any wish for remuneration, and intimating that the honour of appearing in his valuable paper is all the reward that is asked. A contribution that is worth printing is worth paying for; and to an established paper the trifling sum due for any ordinary article is a matter of no consequence whatever — a mere drop in the bucket of printing and editorial expenses.In the case of a new paper, not backed by much capital, it is different.Gratuitous contributions may there be welcome ; but such a paper will hardly live; nor, if it did, would there be much prestige attached to an appearance in its pages. Besides, the offer of unremunerated labour to an experienced editor will often, and legitimately, be resented. He feels that an attempt is being made to bribe him, and, however absurd the bribe, the idea is not pleasant. There is, in a word, only one fair and sufficient test of capacity in literature as in the other arts, and that is the test of competition in the open market. Our old friends Supply and Demand ...are the only trustworthy umpires in the matter...
As to the style of amateurs, though we have just spoken of freshness as their possible characteristic, the curious fact is that, contrary to natural expectation, they generally write more conventionally than the hacks of journalism. The amateur sets himself too energetically to keep the trodden ways ; he is too timid to allow any originality which he may possess to assert itself; and it is only when he is familiar with the necessary laws that he gives himself a desirable ease and liberty in non-essentials.
Finally, let amateurs beware of " amateur magazines," and of agencies for the profitable placing of literary work. These are generally bubbles — bubbles that will burst as soon as they are pricked with a silver or a golden pin. Some years ago an action was brought by one of these amateur associations against another ; and a number of dreadful young men of nineteen, with long hair, and spectacles, appeared in court as plaintiffs and defendants. No doubt the original promoters of such an organisation traded to good purpose on the credulity and ambition of the provincial and the young, beginning with a profession of philanthropy, and ending with a request for a subscription. They soon had their imitators, however ; the monopoly was broken, the spoils divided; and what with the exposure resulting from their internal dissensions, and the bitter individual experience of the thousands who lent willing ears and purses to their allurements, we may hope that their occupation is now gone.
Found – an obscure work by Robert Power, a forgotten journalist. In the 1920s and up to the early 1950s his short ‘thought pieces’ were syndicated in the UK and as far as Australia. This tradition of coffee break columns is still with us – now it’s Robert Crampton rather than Robert Power but it may not continue much longer…There is no real equivalent online. This is from his Two-minute talks (Vol 2) S. W. Partridge (London,1925) and still has some relevance in the time of eBay. Other ‘talks’ have titles such as ‘Poppy Friendships’, ‘Blistering Tongues’, ‘In the W.P.B.’, ‘Rich Poverty’, ‘Are you Popular?’, ‘Poachers’ and ‘Rubbernecks.’
"GOING! Going! Gone!" cries the auctioneer and brings down his mallet with a sharp rap to declare that opportunity to purchase has passed for all save the highest bidder.
The auctioneer emphasises the desirability of the goods he offers. In seductive language he paints the picture of a bargain that must be seized at once. Prudence struggles with desire in the mind of the keen bargain hunter, but time is limited, and if he lingers in indecision too long, the descending hammer puts a period to his vacillation.
Found at the front of a book catalogue ('Chat Dept.') of J.J. Rigden from the Haining collection this well researched piece on Victorian journalist James Greenwood.
James Greenwood (1832-1929) A Janus of Journalism
This author is now a little better known than he was a few years ago. He contributed to the world of boy's books, some exciting, though bloodthirsty works of fiction that can still be avidly read today.
Relying on his experience as a sensational journalist, he leaned heavily on the plot. His charters were not much more than 'cardboard cut-outs', and to a certain extent, he seemed to be obsessed with lycanthropy. 'The Bear King' 1868, 'Purgatory of Peter the Cruel' 1868, 'Adventures of Seven Footed Foresters' 1865… all have shape-changing as a major theme. His descriptions of blood-letting in various forms were highly coloured, leaving very little to the imagination.
Found – an obscure book by a forgotten journalist. In the 1920s and up to the early 1950s his short ‘thought pieces’ were syndicated in the UK and as far as Australia. This tradition of coffee break columns is still with us – now it’s Robert Crampton rather than Robert Power. His ideas are oddly prescient given the plethora of information now available. The answer to the second part of Dr Johnson’s question is known by everybody – and it’s not the Encyclopaedia Britannica! This is from Two-minute talks. Second volume. Robert Power. London: S. W. Partridge  pp.45-46.Other ‘talks’ have titles such as ‘Poppy Friendships’, ‘Blistering Tongues’, ‘In the W.P.B.’, ‘Rich Poverty’, ‘Are you Popular?’, ‘Poachers’ and ‘Rubbernecks.’
Time was when we used the word “smack” to mean “taste,” and thus a taster became known as a “smacker”. It is not difficult for a generation of slovenly talkers to corrupt a word, and thus “smacker” or taster has become “smatterer,” one who has only a slight, superficial knowledge, a sciolist.
Mitford's vicarage at Benhall
That’s what Charles Lamb called this literary odd job man, who was a cousin of the essayist Mary Russell Mitford, and who wrote of a visit to Lamb at his home in Islington in the Gentleman’s Magazine, which he edited for seventeen years; he was also editor of Gray and Goldsmith, and collected manuscripts ,old books, paintings and Chinese ceramics. He was a gifted cricketer too, a passionate gardener, and in any spare time left to him, he managed to squeeze in a bit of preaching in his parish of Benhall, near Saxmundham in Suffolk.
Here we have a tiny letter from Mitford, in miniscule handwriting, dated July 5th 1848 and addressed to an unnamed correspondent—probably the editor of a magazine, for Mitford was a prolific writer of articles. At this time Mitford himself was editing the Gentleman’s Magazine. It’s worth transcribing the letter in full as it gives a flavour of what a literary hack of the early nineteenth century got up to, although with the security of a clergyman’s income, Mitford was hardly a typical denizen of Grub Street. The letter relates principally to Mitford’s opinion of a new biography of Oliver Goldsmith.
In her sixty six years Constance Smedley (1875 - 1941) managed to pack more into her life than most centenarians would do. Despite being on crutches from her early years and confined from her thirties to a wheelchair (due to some unidentified disability, possibly a hip problem) this Birmingham-born fireball, who married the gay artist Maxwell Armfield, was at various times a crusading feminist, suffragist and journalist, an artist, novelist, playwright, organiser of pageants and folk dances, and perhaps most notably, the founder of the world’s first arts and science club devoted entirely to women.
It is on the notepaper of the London-based Lyceum Club, which the twenty-eight year old Smedley helped to found in 1903, that this featured letter (below) also shows her to be a tireless encourager of talent among women—especially budding musicians and actresses. Here she writes to an actress and fellow feminist Annie Schletter, inviting her to a ‘ semi dress rehearsal ‘where she will witness the enormous promise of a twenty three year old thespian called Gwenol Satow:
‘…I feel Miss Satow has great gifts, but they are entirely undeveloped: her intelligence is far before her technique---& she needs the discipline of training . She is ineffective for lack of technique & is very self-conscious. If she stayed with us & really worked day by day & all day, she might be very, very good.
It is a very hard profession---and she has a great opportunity with us—but I don’t know if she quite realises what a lot of hard work she has to put in, if she is to make good …’
Alas, Miss Satow does not appear to have made the most of her extravagant gifts. In fact, there is no record of her lighting up the professional stage in any way. She became the second wife of the brilliant songwriter David Heneker, also born in 1907, and the composer responsible for such hit musicals as Irma La Douce, Charlie Girl and Half-a-Sixpence. Indeed, Heneker credits his wife for bringing Tommy Steele’s musical into being. According to him she ‘suddenly sat up in bed one night and produced the idea for Half-a-Sixpence ‘. So, in her ninety years perhaps Satow did contribute something to the success of the British theatre, although it is unlikely that Constance Smedley would have been impressed. [RR]
Found- a press cutting of an article from The Times in 1964 by 'Oliver Edwards'. This was a pseudonym for the editor Sir William J. Haley (1901-1987) where he indulged his love of books and book lore. He shared a name with the first rock and roll star Bill Haley but was 2 decades older than the great rocker. Many of his bibliophilic articles are preserved in Talking of Books, Heinemann, London 1957. This press cutting was found in a copy of W.N.P. Barbellion's Last Diary (Chatto, London 1920) and the first part deals with another of WNPB's books. Barbellion (another pseudonym) died tragically young but had some good things to say about death which are preserved at his Wikipedia entry. The article by Edwards/Haley is good on the subject of footnotes, but seems to come from an era way before the swinging sixties…
|Wickham Steed |
(Bibliotheque Nationale Francaise)
[L.R. Reeve* writes:] Somewhere in the world of books there must surely be a biography of the late Wickham Steed. He would have been an eminent man if only for his vast knowledge of foreign languages: a knowledge which could be acquired only after months and years of intense application to his studies and excellent hours.
One wonders whether his obvious passion for other tongues began at the Sudbury Grammar School. Did he learn from an enthusiastic and efficient French teacher, or was his enthusiasm inborn in spite of an apathetic form master? No matter. His enthusiasm and obvious genius could never develop so remarkably without both inherent ability and uncommon will power. No indolent man could have achieved so much. His long arduous apprenticeship abroad began, I fancy, at the Sorbonne, in Paris. When he spoke to a large audience on foreign languages at Essex Hall, Strand, he told us of a Parisian who informed him that he spoke French like a Frenchman: a testimony which all students would like to hear.
Many English people obtain employment in foreign countries in order to reach a working knowledge of a certain tongue. A friend of mine served behind a counter in Paris; but most professional men of course aspire to a university, for it is there they learn the grammar, the correct accent, and study the refinements and culture of a beautiful language in a beautiful city. To be in Paris itself, is, I should think, an inspiration to study and learn as much as possible of an historic centre of learning, and as for its beauty on has only to examine a view from the top of Notre Dame to appreciate the genius of man to design and build a city carefully planned by architects of vision so long ago.
Found - a rare booklet published in Melbourne, Australia circa 1913 -What Life in the Spirit World Really is. Being messages received from beyond the veil by Annie Bright. It is purportedly by the great newspaperman W.T. Stead (1849 - 1912) who had drowned in the 1912 Titanic disaster. It was in fact 'channelled' from Stead by one Annie Bright. Stead numbered spiritualism among his many interests and as well as editing The Pall Mall Gazette (which became the Evening Standard) he also edited the occult quarterly Borderland. He is said to be the first 'investigative journalist' and campaigned against child prostitution and the London slums. He befriended the feminist Josephine Butler and joined a campaign with her to successfully repeal the Contagious Diseases Act. He was an early Esperantist and he is also the father of modern paperback publishing and even 'digest' publishing, issuing severely abridged versions of the classics. Wikipedia has this to say of his last moments on the Titanic:
After the ship struck the iceberg, Stead helped several women and children into the lifeboats, in an act "typical of his generosity, courage, and humanity", and gave his life jacket to another passenger.
A later sighting of Stead, by survivor Philip Mock, has him clinging to a raft with John Jacob Astor IV. "Their feet became frozen," reported Mock, "and they were compelled to release their hold. Both were drowned." William Stead's body was not recovered. Further tragedy was added by the widely held belief that he was due to be awarded the Nobel Peace that same year.
Sent in by a Jot regular - this moving account. In the rare book trade he was renowned for having returned an expensive book he had bought from another bookseller, saying 'I did not find it as saleable as I had hoped.' Only someone as eminent as the ex-editor of The Times could get away with such an excuse. The shot below is of him with Mick Jagger at a TV discussion in 1967 after William Rees Mogg's 'Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel' editorial condemning a jail term handed to Mick for dope offences. At the time he was 10 years older than the great Stone.
This was after he’d left the editorial chair of The Times and was running the very posh Pickering and Chatto antiquarian bookshop in Pall Mall. Before I arranged to interview him I had mugged up on his tastes by reading the guide to book collecting that he’d published a few years earlier. I must admit that I was a little intimidated by his reputation—not just as a high Tory patrician figure from the higher reaches of journalism—but also as someone whose refined tastes in Augustan literature were likely to show up my own thin knowledge of this area.