The Monocle Club


Jot 101 SPB Mais and The Monocle Club 1950s pic

Wearing a monocle is out of fashion at the moment, though, like the wearing of waistcoats, the trend could make a comeback. The idea of a single lens that could correct defective sight in one eye began with the late eighteenth century quizzing glass; in the late nineteenth century this developed into the monocle that we know today. The list of men and women who over the years wore monocles is short, though it includes some big or biggish names. Comparatively recently we have seen the TV astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, boxer Chris Eubank and wine-lover Johnnie Cradock wear them, but when they were more fashionable we find that the list of wearers includes poet W. B. Yeats, film directors Fritz Lang and Erich von Stroheim, Surrealist Tristram Tzara, Kaiser Wilhelm, Joseph Chamberlain, and earlier in the nineteenth century, Dr Karl Marx and Lord Tennyson. Lesbians who wore monocles, possibly for a certain effect, include Una Lady Troubridge and novelist Radclyffe Hall.


One of the wearers who featured in a list drawn up by the travel writer and broadcaster S.P.B. Mais on a page torn out of a pocket diary for 7thJuly 1936, that we at Jot HQ discovered interleaved in a copy of The Toast by the Sette of Odd Volumes ‘Verbalist ‘, Harold Williams, was actor Leslie Banks, who possibly used a monocle to disguise a serious injury to his eye socket caused by a bomb during the First World War. Mais’ list was headed ‘The Monocle Club ‘.  How it got into Williams’ booklet is not known, but it is likely that Mais owned this item and was inspired by the aims of the Sette of Odd Volumes, which was essentially a dining  club composed of like-minded members, to set up something similar for all those who happened to wear monocles. It is also possible that this project never got off the ground, for the Internet, which tells us much about the all-lesbian Monocle night club in ‘ twenties Paris, remains silent regarding what the traditionalist Mais probably envisaged as an all-male outfit. We just don’t know.


Of the eleven names drawn up by Mais, only seven are legible; these are David Jamieson, Mais himself, actors Laidman Brown and  Leslie Banks, Grant Richards, Eddie Marsh, and James Agate . To the names of a gentleman whose surname was Moir Mais has added that he was president of the Sette of Odd Volumes, which adds credence to the theory that Mais intended this club to be the model for the Monocle Club. Continue reading

Poetry and Jazz at the Festival Hall

A press-cutting for June 1961 found among the papers of Daniel (‘Dannie’) Abse, CBE, FRSL (1923 – 2014) well respected Welsh and Jewish poet who worked as a doctor much of his life. From the days of poetry and jazz, duffle coats and beards. The Tribune (a left -wing weekly) emphasises the youth of the audience, this is from a time when ‘youth’ meant under 30 – the youth movement didn’t really begin until 1963 (see Larkin’s poem Annus Mirabilis.) Another press-cutting notes the presence of the ‘irrepressible’ Spike Milligan ‘the eminent goon poet.’ Press cuttings, like Poetry and Jazz, are surely a thing of the past. Are there agencies still cutting up (and pasting) newspapers that mention their clients?

The Hampstead Poets and Jazz Group whose first recital was such a success at Hampstead Town Hall last February, greatly daring,took the Festival Hall on Sunday for another performance of their unique form of entertainment. Their optimism was well justified, as the hall was just about full; again the majority of the audience was under 30, and they were given the mixture of poetry and jazz much as before, although unavoidably, the intimate atmosphere of the first occasion was lost in the vast auditorium.

The one newcomer was Laurie Lee, himself a young poet in the thirties when the chief pre-occupation was the Spanish Civil War, as these young men, Adrian Mitchell, Dannie Abse, Jon Silkin, Pete Brown, and Jeremy Robson, the organiser, are poets of the sixties under the H-bomb’s shadow. Cecily Ben-Tovim’s drawing shows Mrs Harriet Pasternak Slater reading to the audience…her poems and her translations of her brother Boris Pasternak’s poems… created a sense of quiet lyricism and nostalgia among the young voices of protest and dissent. The jazz group, helped by Laurie Morgan and Dick Heckstall-Smith, added their own special contribution to the atmosphere.

The Literary Cranks of London – Omar Khayyam Club

We could find no further copies of the 1894 London journal The Sketch which in that year was running a series 'The literary cranks of London.' However the 1899 publication The Book of Omar and Rubaiyat has an essay on the Omar Khayyam Club entitled 'The literary cranks of London' by 'A Member' which is almost certainly reprinted from the series. The book shows a menu card for the society designed by the PRB artist Simeon Solomon. The other club in the series was 'The Johnson Club' - there were possibly more.
Mention is made here of 'The Ghouls' which may pay further investigation... Of the many societies that flourished then the Omar Khayyam is one of the few to have survived and still meets. There is also an American chapter.



The literary cranks of London are as the sand of the sea-shore for number, and yet they have rather diminished than increased during the last few years. The Wordsworth Society no longer collects archbishops and bishops and learned professors in the Jerusalem Chamber to solve the mystery of existence under the guidance of the great poet of Rydal, and one is rather dubious as to whether the Goethe Society has much to say for itself to-day, although in its time it has crammed the Westminster Town Hall with enthu- siastic lovers of German literature. The Shelley Society one only hears of from time to time by its ghastly bur- den of debt,a state which perhaps reflects the right kind of glory upon its great hero, whose aptitude for making paper boats out of Bank of England notes, if apocryphal, is, at any rate, a fair exemplification of his capacity for getting rid of money.And as to the Browning Society, with its blue-spectacled ladies, deep in the mysteries of Sordello, if the cash balance, which is said at Girton to have been expended in sweetmeats, had any existence, at the London centre, one knows not what confectioner at the West End has reaped the benefit. There are, however, some fairly flourishing organizations at this moment. One of them is the "Sette of Odd Volumes," another the Johnson Club, to say nothing of the "Vaga- bonds," the " Ghouls," and the latest comer, the Omar Khayyam Club.

Continue reading

The Literary Cranks of London – The Vagabond Club

The second of a series on 'The Literary Cranks of London' this published in  The Sketch on Aug. 29th, 1894. Written by a member George Brown Burgin (1856-1944), novelist, critic and journalist. There are various photos of him in the National Portrait Gallery collection. He was sub-editor of the humorous journal The Idler from 1895 to 1899. He wrote over 90 novels but there is no Wikipedia page for him. However there is quite a bit online on him including various quotations such as his claim that: 'It is much more comfortable to be mad and know it than be sane and have one's doubts.' The Vagabond Club was founded around the blind poète maudit Philip Bourke Marston and boasted such distinguished members as Jerome K. Jerome, Robert Barr, Conan Doyle, Barry Pain,  and Israel Zangwill. No women. It is interesting that Burgin mentions, without opprobrium, that  it contained 'misogynists'...

Continue reading

The Literary Cranks of London – The Cemented Bricks

I came across this oddly named literary coterie quite recently in a catalogue by the august bookseller and writer John Saumarez Smith in a scholarly note about one of its members - the writer (anthologist) Robert Maynard Leonard (1869 - 1941) who among other things was secretary to the Anti-Bribery League, which sounds like something from a G K Chesterton short story. Members of the 'Cemented Bricks' included Richard le Gallienne, Walter Jerrold, Sir John Parsons, Lord Amulree and Joseph Knight. The web yields very little about them except this page from The Sketch of 13/2/1895 bought for the price of a mocha latte on eBay. It remains unknown to Google books and even Brewster Kahle (praise his name) has not archived it... At the same time we bought another in the series of 'Literary Cranks of London' on 'The Vagabond Club' which will follow later.

The Literary Cranks of London.

The Cemented Bricks.

The Cemented Bricks.! Who or what are they? Is it a new order of Hod-fellows, or is it a building society?

That question, or series of questions, was put to me by a lady three years ago. This article will supply the answer.

Continue reading

Leslie Shepard on Charles Fort

Although Leslie Shepard (1917 – 2004) was a passionate devotee of early cinema, he  is probably best known today for his books on Dracula, Indian mysticism, the supernatural, paranormal  and British street literature, on which he was a world expert. He was a born collector who amassed a huge library of books and ephemera, much of which is now in academic libraries. The portion  which escaped this fate seems to have been sold at auction over a period of years and it was at auction a couple of years ago that I acquired a large box containing part of his penny ballad archive—possibly the detritus.

It goes without saying that Shepard was a fan of Charles Fort, that indefatigable collector of facts concerning the paranormal, and probably in the 1960s, as he reports in this typed article of 1974, which may have appeared in INFO, a successor to Doubt, the house journal of the American-based Fortean Society, that Shepard was recruited into the latter. Shepard had relished the early issues of Doubt, but in the article he complained that in the later numbers natural skepticism towards scientific dogma was transformed into something:

Continue reading

Lotos Club, New York – The Ace of Clubs

The Ace of Clubs

That’s what Mark Twain called New York ‘s famous Lotos Club, which still exists.  Founded in 1870 by a group of writers and critics, it seems, back then, to have been a sort of plusher Groucho Club. Its first home was at 2, Irving Place, off 14th Street. The early leading lights were, like Twain, high powered journalists; but before too long, scholars, artists, collectors and connoisseurs had joined the throng. Within two years the Club had outgrown its quarters and had moved to more spacious premises in Fifth Avenue. Here members might live semi-permanently.

Thomas W. Knox  (1835 – 96), adventurer, soldier, popular author and journalist, had begun as a teacher, left to join the gold rush and when the Civil War broke out in 1863 was made a colonel in the Californian National Guard, but  was invalided out and subsequently became a war correspondent for the New York Herald. He then travelled the world, initially with the Russo-American Telegraph Company, and from the 1880s, when not travelling abroad, had an apartment at the Lotos Club. By 1889, it would appear that he had lost his taste for ‘parties and receptions’. In this letter to fellow journalist Alphonse Miner Griswold, popularly known as ‘The Fat Contributor’, politely declining an invitation, Knox writes that ‘for the past two years and more I have altogether ceased to be a society belle (sic)…I’m nearly always in bed by 11 pm.’

But Knox’s taste for adventure never waned. In 1896, just seven years after writing to Griswold, Knox died at his beloved Lotos Club after returning from the Sahara. He was just 60. Griswold had predeceased him in 1891 aged 57. It must have been all that rich Lotos Club food. The Club is still famed for its Michelin star cuisine.[RH]