Short story by D — “Morphine…”

This was sent in by an old friend (writer and book dealer Robin Marchesi) – an occasional follower of jot. It concerns another old friend dead these seven summers…

Not long ago, I stumbled on a sheaf of papers acquired in the mid 1990s. I recalled the old friend, who left them with me.

His name was Derek Briggs and he was educated at Culford School near Bury St Edmunds, where he was recognized as a brilliant scholar. He made it straight to Kings College, Cambridge, but only lasted a year, before being sent down. As I recall marijuana was involved.

He went to London in the early 70’s where he established himself, as an underground figure with an esoteric air, exploring the varying options on offer, without visible means of support, other than his quick wit, intellect and charm.

No enemy of almost any drugs, he evolved from being a ‘pre-digital’ ‘couch surfer’ in London, to a world wanderer; in a permanent struggle, with himself, to survive, in the semi mystic state, which had become ‘normal’ to him.

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Exiled King Theebaw and his exotic cheroots

Konbang-ThibawThibaw Min (sometimes Theebaw) (1859 – 1916) was the last king of Burma. His reign ended when Burma was defeated by the forces of the British Empire in the Third Anglo-Burmese War, on 29 November 1885. King Thebaw was put in a bullock-cart with his queen by the British and in the presence of a great crowd of weeping subjects, they were conveyed to a steamer on the Irawadi and thence into exile. Without much of the wealth and jewels he had formerly possessed, while in exile he recorded this testimonial for Esoof Cheroots (a brand of Indian cigarettes). This appeared in The Times in 1890.

My late father, the Royal Mindon Min, the golden-footed lord of the white elephant, master of a thousand gold umbrellas, owner of the Royal peacocks, lord of the sea and of the world, whose face was like the sun, always smoked the Esoof cheroot while meditating on his treatment of the bull-faced, earth-swallowing English. Had I done the same I should never have lost my throne, but I used the opium-drugged cheroots from Manila and the trash which was sent to me from San Francisco, and I fell.

Umbrellas are used ceremonially in Burma – when his wife Queen Supayalat died in 1925 she was described as lying in state, ‘shielded under eight white royal umbrellas…’, attended by 90 Buddhist monks and the British Governor Sir Harcourt Butler with a guard of honour of the Mounted Police complete with a 30 gun salute. She lies buried at the foot of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Kandawmin Gardens between the tombs of Aung San Suu Kyi’s mother Khin Kyi and the former UN Secretary General U Thant. King Theebaw was buried at Ratnagiri, India (where he had received a state pension of 100,000 Rupees a year) in a small walled plot adjacent to a Christian cemetery, along with one of his consorts.

Rare Decadence

From a catalogue from 2000, this very rare novel. There are less than a handful of decadent novels from the 1890s in English (plenty in French) and after Oscar Wilde and Marc Andre Raffalovich there is really only this novel published by the elusive Henry & Co., Try finding another copy! Recently it has been available as a P.O.D.

Langley, Hugh. The Tides Ebb out to the Night; Being the Journal of a Young man - Basil Brooke- edited by his Friend Hugh Langley. (H. Henry, London 1896.) Full crimson buckram gilt lettered, ruled in blind, fore edges untrimmed. 8vo. vi,311pp. Highly uncommon decadent novel in the form of a journal and letters, showing an infatuation with French Symbolism. There are descriptions of decadent London rooms and a good deal of drug-taking including kif, ‘hasheesh’ and morphine to which the chief character becomes addicted, when his love affair with a young woman goes awry. The number of decadent English novels of this period is very small: this books appears unrecorded by any of the 90s bibliographies and, although highly accomplished, seems to have attracted very little notice in its day.