Yet more ‘Howlers’

Jot 101 howlers pic of Cecil HuntCecil Hunt ( 1902 – 54)  was a journalist, editor, novelist and anthologist best known throughout the English-speaking world for his compendiums of schoolboy ‘ howlers’. His first collection appeared in 1928 and proved to be a best-seller. At various times afterwards he produced other anthologies of howlers as well as guides to journalism, which he had studied at King’s College, London,  and creative writing, books on the origins of words and a collection of unintentionally funny letters. He also wrote novels under two pseudonyms ( Robert Payne and John Devon). Interestingly, Hunt was President of the London Writers’ Circle and was instrumental in establishing Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. He died at just 51, but ironically his wife lived to be 107.

Hunt always denied the charge that he concocted many of the howlers that made him famous, explaining that there was no need to cheat, as ‘the genuine supply is ample ‘.

We must take him at his word, though reading some of the following examples from Science and Nature, taken from the second (1957) edition of My Favourite Howlers, it is sometimes easier to believe that they are product of a witty and inventive man rather than a ignorant schoolboy.

 

Science and Nature

The Solar System is a way of teaching singing

 

An herbaceous border is one who boards all the week and goes home on Saturdays and Sundays

 

Iron filings are always attracted by a magnate

 

An aorta is a man who makes very long speeches. Continue reading

Tenure or no tenure: a case from 1972

O'Donoghue Manitoba pic.

‘Publish or perish ‘ has long been an accept truism among academics; those University staff  hoping for promotion will only achieve it if they are judged to have published a sufficient amount of published research to justify it. After all, university teachers are expected to researchas well as teach.

There must be many examples of University teachers failing to progress along the road towards a professorship, but your Jotter can think of two glaring cases. At my own University a certain expert in textual criticism, who was taken on by the department of English on the strength of a degree and a B. Litt in English , from Oxford University and who proved to be a popular teacher among his students ( his classes on bibliography and his lectures on Bob Dylan as a poet were highly appreciated) , failed to climb the greasy pole of academic promotion mainly because he published little or anything throughout his forty or so years in the department. He began as a Lecturer and retired (I believe) as one.

Another better known example was Monica Jones, the lover of Philip Larkin, who while a Lecturer in English at the University Of Leicester, failed to publish a single research paper or book, although she was regarded as a well-respected teacher with a particular interest in Sir Walter Scott. While her colleagues were promoted she remained firmly ensconced in the position as Lecturer, and retired holding that post. In her case, it wasn’t a lack of energy or intellectual capabilities that held her back. Like Larkin she left Oxford with a first class degree in English, but like Larkin, who in .’Vers de Societe’ resented having to ask an ‘ ass about  his fool research ‘, didn’t see any point in publishing learned papers or books within her field. She preferred teaching, and according to those who attended her lectures and classes, was a gifted communicator. Continue reading

9 Clues to Racism and Sexism in Children’s Books: a perspective from 42 years ago

Taking into account the current debate on identity politics, and in particular the climate of ‘ wokeness’ regarding racism and sexism, it is interesting to read one of the earliest texts on this subject, Racism and Sexism in Childrens’ Books( Writers’ and Reader’ Publishing Cooperative, 1979). In it Judith Stinton, who edited the book, drew up a list entitled ‘ How to Look for Racism and Sexism in Childrens’ Books: a guideline.

Jot 101 childrens book censor 001

 

 

These points seem to have been discussed ever since, often inducing a polarisation of views according to various agendas and prejudices. As the publisher Nicholas Parsons observed in 1985

 

The Central Committee of Teachers Against Racism complained that ‘black people’ are shown as greedy in Bannerman’s The Story of Little Black Sambo (1899) because Sambo eats 169 pancakes. Right-wing letters to the Times, on the other hand, produced arguments of varying implausibility liberally laced with self-righteousness, to demonstrate the impossible that : The Story of Little Black Sambo does not purvey a view of black people that is at best patronising in the extreme, and at worst unpleasantly racist.’

 

Who was this would-be censor? The only Judith Stinton we could find online was someone who is currently curating exhibitions on literature for museums. From her photograph she looks too young to be the person responsible for the groundbreaking booklet, but she may have produced it when in her very early twenties. Continue reading

Selhurst—The Public School that never was

 

Jot 101 Selhurst Humphry Berkeley pic

Hoaxes, if done well, often fool people—even those who are generally regarded as reasonably intelligent. One that caught out some Oxbridge educated people who ought to have known better, was the piece of tom foolery dreamt up in 1948 by a  twenty-two year old Cambridge undergraduate who later became an MP. His name was Humphry Berkeley and he invented a public school called Selhurst whose head was a certain H. Rochester Sneath.

 

Berkeley tried an experiment with any undergraduates he came across. Steering the conversation towards the subject of where he went to school, Berkeley, when asked would reply: ‘Well, as a matter of fact I went to a school called Selhurst. The name was brilliant chosen. It had a plausibility about it, unless, of course, you knew that Selhurst Park was the home of Crystal Palace football club. Had you this knowledge you may have asked some probing questions, but doubtless in 1948 most Oxbridge undergraduates would not have been football fans. Anyway, Richard Boston takes up the story:

 

‘ Registering his questioner’s non-recognition of the name he would follow up with ‘ Haven’t you hard of Selhurst?’ Anxious not to cause offence his acquaintance would reply,’ Of course I’ve heard of it my dear fellow.’ After various such successful experiments Berkeley knew that he had found the perfect name for what he calls a minor public school of ‘ the third degree’.

 

The next move was to have some letter headings printed with words at the top reading ‘Selhurst School, Near Petworth, Sussex. From the Headmaster H. Rochester Sneath.’ At small expense but with considerable ingenuity, Berkeley was able to make a forwarding arrangement with the Post Office.  ( Another ruse was to pretend that he was on staying holiday with an imaginary sister to whom letters should be sent .) Now he was in business.

 

The first letter was to the Master of Marlborough College. H. Rochester Sneath announced that the three–hundreth anniversary of the foundation of Selhurst was coming up , and that he was anxious to have the opportunity of entertaining Their Majesties on the occasion. ‘Perhaps you would be kind enough to let me know how you managed to engineer a visit recently from   the King and Queen’. He also asked for any helpful tips about how to treat royalty. Continue reading

Hazing, rushing and dinging: an Englishman’s impressions of American student life in the early 1950s. Part 2

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Dating.

 

…Co-eds, the girls from Cornell itself, are not allowed to enter the house unless there are chaperones—a married couple over 25—ant the house is registered for a week-end party so that the bar may be opened…At some universities the fraternities have “ house mothers “ to preserve civilisation and to prevent Army table-manners from creeping in…The sororities  are few in number, and they have a more efficient methods of choosing new members …I have been told that in some sororities, a girl who lacks a date for an important week-end can lose much of her prestige wit the rest of the house; and it would seem that the systemic discussion of dates, which the sororities tend to encourage, contributes something to the perfect self-assurance of the American collage girl, which is even more effective that the traditional reserve of the English woman as a barrier to  close acquaintance.

 

 

The college dating system is an equally interesting phenomenon. In modern America it has developed into as formal a code of behaviour as the rules of medieval chivalry and the French Courts of Love …To get a Saturday date in America it was preferable to telephone the girl  on the Monday before. It appeared that it would be impolitic move to telephone on the Friday, even if hte girl has no previous engagement for Saturday she will probably refuse, to avoid the loss of prestige which would result from  being without a date before Friday. Dating activities are limited by convention—the cinema and drinks afterwards, visits to a roadhouse, fraternity parties, or dances—and are usually fairly expensive…The formalisation of dating behaviour tends to restrict the norm of conservation to small talk, and since one may sometimes date a girl only once, there is no chance of  any more than the most standardised small talk. There is the occasional dissatisfaction with this system, particularly the “ blind “ ,. or prearranged dates, where the parties are unknown to each other; the men complain of having to produce the same stereotyped conversation  with yet another first date, and the girls of having to endure the standardised  advances of another man she knows very little about…

 

Conclusion

 

I should perhaps add that  the impressions recorded here are based mainly on a university which is privately endowed, among he top ten colleges of the Eastern states, and whose fees of $600 – 700 are more than $100 higher than many other comparable non-state universities in America; so that the type of student and methods of teaching may differ considerably from some of the state colleges and from the enormous universities of the Midwest…And let me add finally…that the generosity of the Americans outdoes that of any other nation I know…that American workers seem to have more ideas and certainly more initiative than most of their European counterparts; and there is an unquenchable interest here in foreigners, which gives rise to most elaborate arrangements for their welfare, and which contrasts strongly with the zenophobia generally found in Britain, even in a supposedly cosmopolitan place as London….

R. M. Healey

Hazing, rushing and dinging: an Englishman’s impressions of American student life in the early 1950s. Part 1

Jot 101 Cornell 1950s pic

 

Writing in the Spring 1952 issue of New Phineas, the magazine of University College, London, Gordon Snow, who spent a year at Cornell (above), was pleasantly surprised at what he found there.

 

The academic syllabus.

 

My first impression…was one of surprise at the liberty and freedom which the students were given in choosing their courses; it seemed as if there was none of the overspecialisation that some of the honours courses in England tend to fall into…Second impressions, however, revealed that defects did exist in the system; many of the arts courses are run to cater in part for agriculture or science or hotel-school students, who have to fulfil a certain number of requirements in the liberal arts, and , who consequently, may have an interest in the theory of a liberal education but very little enthusiasm in practice for their particular requirements. As a result, there is not a great deal of homogeneity in purpose, or interest in the very large arts lecture classes , and many of the students who have come to college for vocational training pure and simple find the arts courses irksome. Since there students may be as much of two-thirds of the class, the lectures have to be scaled down to their needs: hence the universal and horrifying use of enormous anthologies for particular periods of literature, expensive as all American books are, and with up to 1,400 pages in double columns of fine print. My own anthology consists of representative selections from American poetry and prose, from Captain John Smith to Ernest Hemingway, and the lecture has to eat his way at high pressure, through major and minor writers, three times a week, making his own selections for his students from among the selections in the book, and to a large extent predigesting critical reactions to them. Independent  thought is not inhibited my this method of teaching, since I have come across many examples of it already, but it can scarcely said to be encouraged. To this extent, and to the extent that they continue a no-specialised study of several subjects, American colleges are a smooth continuation of  the high schools and their methods; the students are given a very thorough grounding in he subjects taken at English grammar schools , wit the benefit of the maturer mind which the college student brings to them, and since there are as many Americans who go to college —or at lead begin college—as reach the Sixth Form of English schools, the universities here serve their purpose, a very different one from the English universities, well enough… Continue reading

Some lesser known geographical facts ( useful for quizzes)

 

More from From The Howlers Omnibus(1928)

Jot 101 howlers lyons-mapThe cold at the North Pole is so great that the towns there are not inhabited

 

Oxo is the capital of Norway

 

Lipton is the capital of Ceylon

 

The population of London is a bit too thick

 

China is called China because the first china was made there

 

Persian cats is the chief industry of Persia, hence the word “ purr”.

 

Africa is called the Dark Continent because the negroes in it are black

 

In Holland the people make use of water to drive their windmills.

 

The people in Iceland are called Equinoxes

 

Volcanoes  throw out saliva

 

The valley of the Rhone grows tea, which is packed at Lyons.

 

A mountain range is a cooking stove used at high altitudes.

 

The Menai straits are crossed by a tubercular bridge Continue reading

All Souls Stories by AL Rowse

by Lady Ottoline Morrell, vintage snapshot print, June 1926

A L Rowse (centre), Roger Makins and Evelyn Baring  photographed in 1926 by Lady Ottoline Morrell,

We found some pages cut out from an undated issue of The Contemporary Reviewin the Jot 101 archive the other day. These seven pages contain an article by A. L. Rowse entitled ‘All Souls Stories’, and like so many of the historian’s writings on his old college, mix amusing gossip with valuable reflections on academic bad behaviour.

 

All Souls, as Rowse admits, has always aroused curiosity and astonishment from outsiders, including those from the University itself.  Why are some graduate contenders elected and others rejected? Is success in a formal examination the sole route to a life fellowship? What part did the legendary cherry stone problem play in the process? If fellows are the crème de la crème of academic excellence at the University and beyond it, why is it that some Fellows are evidently not of this calibre ?

Rowse gives an example of one particular Fellow whose behaviour suggested that he was not up to the job, Sir ( later Viscount) John Simon. For some reason this nitwit managed to be appointed Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Chancellor, while being ‘ not much good’ in any of these posts, according to Rowse, who obviously knew the man well enough to make this judgment. Rowse recalls him addressing the Junior Fellows in an attempt at bonhomie, while managing to get their names all wrong. Then there was the time that the newly married Simon and his wife arrived at what they thought was the home of Lord Courtney, a pro-Boer politician, only to find that they had come to the home of W.L.Courtney, then editor of The Fortnightly Review. There was also the time that Simon found himself talking in ‘ labourious’ French to the French Ambassador, who turned out to be Frederick Kenyon, Director of the British Museum. Simon, according to Rowse, also made a mess of handling Hitler and Mussolini. Rowse charitably called this incompetence examples of Simon being   ‘ accident prone ‘.Most non-All Souls men would see them as acts of blithering idiocy. Continue reading

The Amateur as English Man of Letters: the salutary case of Edmund Gosse

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Edmund Gosse by John Singer Sargent

There must be very few examples of literary men who have managed to penetrate the hallowed halls as a professor in one of the greatest universities of the world—the University of Cambridge, no less—without a degree. The brilliant orientalist, Samuel Lee, a former carpenter of humble background who taught himself Hebrew, Arabic and a dozen other languages in his spare time while working as a lowly-paid schoolteacher, was one. Lee was appointed Professor of Arabic at Cambridge in the early nineteenth century, having already distinguished himself as an independent scholar, and had to be granted a special MA through an act of parliament before he could take up his post. The literary odds and ends man Edmund Gosse, whose famous father, the naturalist Philip Gosse  had seen to it that the Holy Bible had been his principle reading matter as a child,  was another. These are two rarities. It’s hard to recall any other contenders in the modern era.

 

Back in those mid Victorian days, when early advancement in the arena of learning sometimes began with a junior post in some national cultural institution, such as a national library or a museum, Edmund Gosse was given the post of library cataloguer at the British Museum on the strength of a certain verbal facility and ‘a working knowledge of Italian, French and German’. Today, as well as a good degree from a good university, candidates for an equivalent post in the British Library would probably need a diploma in librarianship or in archive administration plus a few years of practical experience. He or she might even need to have passed the dreaded Civil Service Examination.

 

No such problem for the young Edmund Gosse. In 1866 he breezed at the tender age of seventeen into his cushy ‘opening’ worth £90 a year thanks to the ‘influence ‘of the novelist and cleric Charles Kingsley, a friend of his father. His literary colleagues at the Museum included Richard Garnett, who became a fixture in the Library, the poet Arthur O’ Shaughnessy and the exotic Theo Marzials, later to become a favourite poet of John Betjeman. To his credit, Gosse did not rest on his laurels. Perhaps recognising that he had had a fortunate start to a literary life for someone with no formal qualifications, he worked hard on the two languages—Danish and Swedish– that he guessed might help him progress. Continue reading

ABC of Plain Words Revisited

Plain Words cover pic 001When some BBC journalists don’t know the difference between reticent and reluctant, and use the word enormity to mean an enormous event, popular grammarians, such as Liz Truss or Ernest Gowers, who was her equivalent in the 1950s, are needed more than ever. That’s if these pisspoor journalists can be bothered to read their books.

Sir Ernest Gowers was a senior civil servant whose best-selling popular grammar Plain Words (1948), was devised to help his fellow civil servants write clear and correct English. In 1951, admitting that its format could be improved, Gowers brought out ABC of Plain Words.Nearly 70 years on this guide can still be used alongside other more recent grammars, such as Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Most of the advice proferred by Gowers still applies, but some might raise a few eyebrows among the journalists of today. Here are a few words and their definitions that might provoke discussion today.

Deadline.This is a word known to all hacks, but  Gowers chooses to define deadline conventionally as ‘ a line drawn round a military prison beyond which a prisoner may be shot down’. I don’t know which dictionary Mr Gowers was using, but the Chambers dictionary we use here at Jot HQ gives two definitions besides this one—1) ‘ the time that newspapers, books etc going to press’ 2) ‘a fixed time or date terminating something’. Gowers doesn’t even mention what ninety percent of people nowadays (and probably in 1951 too) would recognise as the most common definition of deadline.

Decimate.Gowers is right about the word decimate, however. He defines it as meaning to reduce by one tenth, not to one tenth. No writer today should get away with saying that troops were decimated, mainly because no-one would possibly know that soldiers in a battle could be reduced by exactly one tenth !

Dilemma.This is another word of precise meaning. It does not mean that someone has a number of difficult courses of action. He or she has exactly two. Continue reading

A month in the life of a RADA student in 1934: The journal of Nancy Seabrooke

 

Diary of Miss Seabrooke 1934 001Nancy Clara Seabrooke (1914 – 1998) does not figure hugely in the history of the British theatre and TV. Her biggest claim to fame was  being the most patient understudy in the annals of British theatre– shadowing the role of ‘Mrs Boyle’  in Agatha Christie’s record-breaking Mousetrapfor 15 years (6,240 performances), and actually appearing as her for a fraction of these performances, before retiring in 1994. On TV she was a bit part player, appearing in single episodes of Danger Man, The Grove Family, Maigret and  No Hiding Place. Double Exit(1950) was her first TV movie. She was Deputy Stage Manager of the play ‘The Irrregular Verb to Love’ (1961), which starred fellow RADA student Joan Greenwood. There is no record of any appearance by Seabrooke on the silver screen.

 

Her journal, which covers the period April 18thto May 19th1934 while she was a twenty-year-old final year student at RADA, occupies the whole of a slim exercise book, and is written in a large, round, artistic hand in fountain pen and pencil. At the outset Seabrooke confesses that she had decided to begin it after acquiring a Victorian example in a second–hand shop. She says nothing about whether she plans to continue her journal well beyond the month. For all we know, it may have been part of a series, though no evidence of this has come to light.

 

At the time in which she began her journal Seabrooke was commuting to London from her home not far from the small village of Newdigate, south of Dorking, Surrey, and the events she describes are concerned as much with her home life in the country as they are with her other, more glamorous,  existence as a RADA student. Several things emerge from the journal. She seems to have been fascinated by Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, particularly Ben Jonson and John Webster (she even named her cats Beaumont and Fletcher), was an avid playgoer in London, notably at The Old Vic, and was in awe of many leading actors, especially John Geilgud, to whom she writes a fan letter. She also seems to have been the editor ( or assistant editor ) of the news-sheet The Rada News  and was writing a ‘ satire ‘ and some ’sonnets’. Having at the outset vowed that she would steer away from introspection, she devotes a good deal of her journal to tormenting herself over a certain Joseph, on whom she clearly had a crush, although the affection seems to have been one-way. Continue reading

The Book of Total Snobbery

 

From the wondrous library of Jeremy Beadle. and signed by him in pencil, is a copy of The Book of Total Snobbery(1989)  compiled by Lynne and Graham Jones.Rowse pic

Mr Beadle has littered the text with various dates, but if the date ( 5 DEC 1906) alongside snobbish remarks made by the popular historian and alleged ‘ poet ‘ A.L Rowse refers to the Oxford don’s date of birth, it is wrong by several years. Be that as it may, Mr Beadle seems to have been amused or even shocked by what he read of Rowse.

 

It may be true, as the compilers and Rowse himself admitted,  that someof his  snobbish remarks were deliberately provocative, but what is not true is that the historian was’ a nice old bean ‘. To some, including the late Brian Aldiss, who was  a very nice and generous person, he was one of the more repulsive dons that he had to deal with while working as a bookseller’s assistant (see The Brightfount Diaries) in Oxford during the fifties. The Jones’s confirm as much. Rowse—at one time a Labour supporter it must be stressed—always held the common man in contempt:

‘I have genius ‘, he once remarked, ‘ordinary human beings are bloody idiots ‘. On another occasion he told a reporter from the Times‘ There’s the paradox, dear, not only am I first rate, I am an enormous best-seller as  well ‘. And there’s more:

 

‘I don’t live my life among ordinary human fools. I really am the most colossal   highbrow, my dear. I’m hardly human, you know’

 

‘My real mission in life is to teach clods to use their brains’

 

‘I’m really rather fortified by my contempt for contemporary society. I’m happy working creatively for myself. I’m not interested in what third-raters think of them’

 

‘The truth is that ordinary people are incapable of working without direction’.

 

The rather ironic aspect of all this is how the academic historians at Oxford felt about Rowse’s writings. Many devalued his work as being too ‘ popular ‘.

 

Incidentally, Rowse’s snobbery even extended to inhabitants of his native county. In a letter to me he argued that the acclaimed poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson wasn’t Cornish, despite being born in Pelynt, near Looe. He didn’t have Cornish blood, you see. It is true that both Grigson’s parents came from East Anglia, but you try telling someone born in Yorkshire that because his parents ( or one parent) hailed from, say Derbyshire, that he was by virtue of this, no Yorkshireman.

R.M.Healey

Idleness as a part of education

Found-  a thin booklet, the text of a lecture (‘oration’) on idleness IMG_5206delivered at the London School of Economics in December 1949 by A.H. Smith, the warden of new College Oxford. A.H. Smith (Alic) has a short entry at Wikipedia, his dates are 1883 to 1958. Not one of the famous New College wardens like Maurice Bowra or  his predecessor the historian H.A.L. Fisher but known as a philosopher and also as the Vice Chancellor at Oxford. His lecture is on a subject that is still discussed, especially  in these hectic, time-poor days. However he refers to his own time as one of fast change, restlessness and impending catastrophe.

In 1932 Bertrand Russell had written In Praise of Idleness advocating a three-day week and  noting ‘.. immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous’, earlier Kierkegaard had written’..far from idleness as being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.’ In our time the industrious Tom Hodgkinson published How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto and founded (or revived) The Idler. Smith states that by idleness he does not mean being a total slacker or waster, also he does not mean playing lots of sport, joining multiple student societies and general not studying. He is an advocate of  strenuous study but of knowing when to stop, not overdoing it ‘… when you close your books, close them with a bang, and abandon yourself to the enjoyment of idleness..’ Continue reading

The Accompaniments of Wine

bordeaux chateau bottled 1934The great oenophile and gastronome T. Earle Welby had sound and sensible, if occasionally harshly expressed, views on what to eat with wine. Here are some of his opinions taken from the brilliant Cellar Key (1933).

‘With the exception of Champagne, which is never better than when taken in the forenoon, and Sherry, which is highly adaptable, all wines need, for full enjoyment, to be accompanied or immediately preceded by food. It is thus an important part of connoisseurship to know the affinities and antipathies between particular wines and food.

To begin with the enemies of all wine whatsoever, almost all hors d’oeuvres are inimical. To a great extent they consist of smoked, pickled, or highly condimented articles, and are therefore bound to blur the palate. But there is nothing to be said against plain melon, caviare, or oysters. Genuine Chablis is proverbially most enjoyable with oysters; and all the fine white Burgundies…will accord excellently with oysters, as indeed with crab or lobster or fish of any kind. But unless melon or caviare or oysters be selected, it is wise to eliminate hors d’oeuvres on a serious vinous occasion, and simply have Spanish olives in brine put on the table as a preliminary, and kept there till the meal is at an end.

Egg dishes are usually not favourable to the enjoyment of wine, for eggs very often have more a less a sulphurous flavour, and though this may hardly matter when one is drinking the baser, over-sulphured white wines of Bordeaux, it is very harmful to all delicate wines. Continue reading

My wife is uncultured—can I improve her? (1938)

19744241506Another ‘solution’ to ‘real life problems’ from the pen of the redoubtable ( and mysterious) R.Edynbry, who doesn’t seem to have published any book other than this little volume (Real Life Problems and Their Solution) of 1938 from Odhams Press, London.

I realized when I married that my girl had few brilliant mental attainments. She had no interest in literature, nor had she even a parrot-knowledge of the names of writers or the classic books of the past. She is a product f the film era, and I have come to the realization that I have married one who comes within the category of the lightheaded. She cannot be serious for more than one minute at a time, and I get no intelligent response to my suggestions. Do you think that, with careful handling, I could introduce her into the ways of thought; to good literature; to an appreciation of the best things of life—-wean her, so to speak, from the dross? The thought that I might be ashamed of her one day appals me. What do you advise ?

‘The best thing for you to do is to concentrate on some of your wife’s good qualities and help her to develop these to the full. It is extremely unlikely you will ever be able to ‘cultivate’ her in the way you wish. There is a very large class of women who take no interest whatever in what men call culture. Even when they do appear to be interested in art, literature or classical music, it is usually to further some scheme at the back of their minds. Or, as has been said by a wit,” When women talk of astronomy, they are thinking of the astronomer “.A love of good books and literature and the fine things of life is inborn and cannot be superimposed like a coat of varnish. A fact that many psychologists have noted is that when a young girl has had her interests centred mainly on the emotions, there is little prospect of intellectual things making any appeal to her. Continue reading

Dr Marx would not have approved

services_rr_624x304bThe removal of the British Library from Bloomsbury to St Pancras seems to have ushered in a new, more relaxed, attitude towards the rules governing who can acquire a reader’s card, according to a Guardian article of 2005. In it the Reading Room is described as being crowded with undergraduates, anxious, no doubt, to obtain an advantage over their peers. Under the rules prevailing in 1938, and which are contained in a Guide to the Use of the Reading Room, a copy of which we found recently in a box of ephemera, restrictions which perhaps Karl Marx might have recognised, were doubtless drawn up to limit the number of readers using the famous Rotunda. There is a distinctly schoolmasterly tone to the following advice:

The Reading Room is in fact, as well as in theory, a literary workshop and not a place for recreation, self improvement or reference to books which are obtainable elsewhere…

No person will be admitted for the purpose of preparing for examination, of writing prize essays, or of competing for prizes, unless on special reason being shown; or for the purpose of consulting current directories, racing systems, lists of unclaimed moneys , or similar publications.

‘Racing systems’ and ‘lists of unclaimed moneys’. How redolent of the seedy world of Brighton Rock, which appeared a year later.

There is also a touch of ‘Greeneland’ about the advice offered to those prospective Readers seeking a testimony :

The Trustees cannot accept the recommendations of hotel-keepers or of boarding- house or lodging-house keepers in favour of their lodgers… [R.R.]

 

More schoolboy howlers

Schoolboy howlers cover 001Colin McIlwaine seems to have made a nice little earner out of collecting schoolboy howlers. His Selection of Schoolboy Howlers, first published in 1928, had gone into a fifth edition by 1930, while two further anthologies, More Schoolboy Howlers and Smith Minor Again followed. An obvious thought occurs with such collections. It must have been tempting to bulk out genuine howlers with made up ones, but since McIlwaine gives no sources for his examples, it is almost impossible to differentiate between the real and the suspicious. A date attached to each howler would also be useful from a social historical point of view. It would be interesting, for instance, to chart the rise of the specifically ‘ schoolboy’ howler as opposed to the malapropism beloved of eighteenth century compilers of joke books, such as Joe Miller’s Jest Book. My own tentative research has brought to light a chapter devoted to them in a book dating from the 1880s, but it doesn’t follow that the author of this book was supplied with howlers by schoolmasters of his acquaintance. It could be that certain howlers had become part of common currency by this period.

Some howlers collected by McIlwaine can be dated quite accurately.

‘ Joan of Arc was canonised by Bernard Shaw ‘

Mussolini is an ugly man. He wears the shirt of the Madonna, and when he smiles he makes people weep. He has been killed four times…He can do everything and knows everything and loves playing the saxaphone with his family. Galileo was charged with High Treason because he said that Mussolini moved round the sun, and not the sun round Mussolini.’ Continue reading

A modern painting in every student’s common room

Undergraduate taste in art mag cover 001Thus begins the front page article published in the January 19th 1951 issue of John O’London’s Weekly. In it the art critic F.M.Godfrey recounts the campaign of Anthony Emery, a mature undergraduate at Pembroke College, Oxford, to supply examples of modern art for the Common rooms, hostels and Unions used by every undergraduate in Britain.

The crusade to inspire students with the right attitude to ‘ the good, the beautiful and true’ had begun just after the war at Emery’s own college, where, shocked by the ignorance of modern art shown by serving officers, he ( a wartime officer ) and some like-minded friends had pledge to subscribe a £1 each to established a small collection for their common room. Inspired by the guidance of Sir Kenneth Clark, who had chosen for them a painting each by John Minton, John Piper and Duncan Grant, they had gone on to choose their own pictures.

As Godfrey remarks, Emery’s manifesto, which he called ‘A New Oxford Movement’ had the spirit of the reformer about it. And Godfrey himself echoed his sentiments.

‘Our appalling ignorance towards modern art must be eradicated when we are at the impressionable …age of under twenty, and we must conquer the schools to secure a lasting influence upon our manhood. If we had a ministry of culture and in it a department for the dissemination of modern art, here are the brains and the will to conduct it. For already half of Oxford has succumbed: Pembroke, Worcester, Brasenose, Exeter and New College, Magdalen and St Edmund’s Hall are outbidding one another in the effort to acquire the largest collection of modern painting in the United Kingdom ‘. 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

A relic of the talented Messel Family

Messel Medea cover 001Found in a box of old text books (Zinn collection)  is this copy of part two of C. B. Heberden’s edition of Euripedes’ Medea ( notes and appendices) published by the Clarendon Press in 1886.Stamped in gold lettering on the light brown cover of this distinctly dull-looking school text book are the words MESSEL/TARVERS. Inscribed in pencil on the fly-leaf we find ‘ L.Messel/Tarvers ‘, which suggests that it belonged at one time to Leonard Charles Rudolph Messel ( 1872 – 1953), father of the famous stage designer Oliver Messel. Beneath the inscription are two pencil and ink drawings—one of a veiled lady in Victorian dress, the other a small profile of a man’s head.

Leonard was the eldest son of Ludwig Messel, a German stockbroker who had emigrated to Britain, possibly in the late 1860s.He married and in 1890 bought Nymans, a 600 acre estate near Hayward’s Heath in West Sussex. His son Leonard was sent to Eton, where he joined Tarver’s house, and that is all we really know about his life as a schoolboy. However, if he did execute the two drawings, then he obviously passed on his artistic skills to his son Oliver, who may also have inherited skills from his mother, who was the daughter of Edward Linley Sambourne, the eminent Punch cartoonist. This being so, it is equally likely that Oliver, who also attended Eton, inherited his father’s copy of Heberden’s Euripides, and it was he who drew the veiled woman and male profile. Continue reading