Tag Archives: Baron Corvo

Maundy Gregory – a St John’s Wood Gatsby

IMG_1829Found in a 1955 Punch – a review by the novelist Anthony Powell of Honours for Sale. The Strange Story of Maundy Gregory. (Gerald Macmillan, London: Richards Press 1954). Maundy Gregory had in the 1920s what amounted to a licence to print money. He sold honours, a profession that made a comeback in the Blair years. For £10,000 (about $1 million now) he could get you an earldom; knighthoods were a bit cheaper. You could, in fact, sign a cheque to him in your expected new name–only cashable when you assumed the title. He liked rare books, especially the works of the fantastical Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo.) In some cases (according to AJA Symons in Quest for Corvo) he would pay his agents to track down supposedly unfindable books, money no object. He had a mansion in St John’s Wood which later became the world famous Beatle’s recording studio.

Powell calls him an ‘honours tout’, a ‘real life Gatsby’ and ‘a mad aspect of the 1920s incarnate’. He suggests that anyone  ‘who enjoys a good laugh’ should read the list of  guests at his Derby Eve Dinner at his own club ‘The Ambassador’s.’ Something of a ‘sausage fest’ (i.e. no women) but, as Powell says, Gregory certainly knew how to ‘bring them in.’  The author of the book, Gerald Macmillan, may  be exaggerating when he says it was the most distinguished gathering ever held…

List of guests at Ambassador Derby Eve Dinner, held on June 2, 1931.

Major-General J. E. B. Seely (in the Chair), Sir Austen Chamberlain, Mr. Winston Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, Mr. J. H. Thomas, the Duke of Sutherland, Viscount Craigavon, the Marquess of Reading, Major-General the Earl of Scarborough, Sir John Simon, Lord Southborough, Viscount Elibank, Mr. J. Maundy Gregory, Lord Jessel, Mr. Ralph E. Harwood, Earl Winterton, Lord Queenborough, Lord Bayford, Mr. W. Dudley Ward, Lord Plender, Marquis del Moral, Lieutenant-Commander Sir Warden Chilcott. Continue reading

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The Rings of Baron Corvo

Biography of Baron Corvo
by 
A.J.A. Symons

An interesting side note on the appearance of the great cult writer can be found in this speech by C.H.('Harry') Pirie-Gordon (1883-1969) co -author with Baron Corvo  of The Weird of the Wanderer (by Prospero & Caliban). Baron Corvo was also known as Frederick Rolfe. The speech was delivered at the first banquet of the Corvine Society in June 1929 16 years after Corvo's death. Caliban speaks:

"His Archblessedness the Grand Master has referred to the Baron's sub fuse (sic) and sometimes revolting vesture. I cherish happier memories of his sartorial appearance. While he was our guest, sometimes he appeared in the purple habit designed and devised by himself for the Order of Chivalry, of which we were both members, a habit sumptuous and amaranthine: at others, when dining with the doubtless bucolic society, which marvelled at his conversation and his lore, he would wear a dinner jacket of soft bluish-grey velveteen, with his clerical collar and silk stock, while on his fingers would appear one or more of the massive silver rings which he had designed for himself. These he kept, when not in use, in a box of powdered sulphur in order that they might constantly be black: two of these were the famous anti-Jesuit rings, to which he alludes in one of his stories. They were of immense thickness, and each was armed with a spur rowel, so set in the thickness of the ring as to be capable of revolving. He used to explain that if a man, wearing these, were to meet a Jesuit, he could dash one of them across the Jesuit's forehead, and escape while the holy man was blinded by his own blood pouring from the wound scored across his forehead. Another ring he had, which he gave to me, made of electron, which he explained as being an amalgam of gold and silver in equal parts. This was engraved with a Crow..."

The diners who throughout the meal had drunk larger and larger libations finally toasted the Baron in Corvo Gran Spumante and then "the meeting did not so much end as deliquesce..."

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A letter from Baron Corvo

An undated  Baron Corvo letter (1889-1890) about the artworks in the church of St Cuthbert with Matthias in Earl's Court, London. Rather short but with classic Corvine nuances.

Written to the vicar Father Westall shortly after the first 2 or 3 pictures of the Stations of the Cross were hung in the London church, from the Collegio Suizzera, Rome (Scots College). There is much online about this splendid church (and Fr. Westall) but no mention of the Guido Reni (sold/ stolen?) The letter was published in the Autumn 1966 Philbeach Quarterly, a magazine somewhat in advance of the usual parish newsletter - it had a poem by Betjeman ('Anglo Catholic Congresses') a good piece on the Arts and Crafts figure William Bainbridge Reynolds + John Heath-Stubbs and Michael De-La-Noy were on the editorial board.The enigmatic self-styled Baron Corvo, Frederick Rolfe (rhymes with loaf*) writes:

Dear Sir,
May I be allowed to ask the name of the painter of the Stations of the Cross in your church, and history of the very fine copy of Guido Reni's San Sebastian, which also hangs there?
Though I do not suppose any weight attaches to my opinion, I feel bound to say that your Stations are far more beautiful than any I have seen, even here, and the Guido, too, is the best representation of the original I know, though perhaps a little "skied."
Your obedient servant,
Frederick William Rolfe,
Clerk.

*The late Donald Weeks' pronunciation, presumably researched and authenticated by him.