Found in a book published by J.R. Tutin, the Hull based reprinter of 17th century literature, a short letter from 1908 to John Haines, a Gloucestershire solicitor and minor poet associated with Ivor Gurney, F.W. Harvey, Edward Thomas and other members of the Dymock Poets group. After discussing various Elizabethan writers Tutin wrote out a fine poem by Ada Elizabeth Smith (1875- 1898) called ‘The Earth Lover’. He had found it in a recent anthology New Songs put together by F Y Bowles – ‘the poem is a real gem in my opinion : yet I’ve not seen it noticed by in any of the reviews of the book.’ A search online reveals little about Ada Elizabeth Smith, a classic poete maudit, except this anonymous (‘J.L.G.’) quite high-flown notice in the London based literary magazine The Academy of December 1898 a week after her untimely death.
Early Dead. Ada Smith 1875 – 1898 In Memoriam. 17 – 12 – 98
Ada Smith was born in Haltwhistle, a hard featured village from which a bare land runs up to the bleak escarpments that carry the ruined line of the Roman wall. She began early to write verse, and published at 13, having acquired very easily a versification of noticeable grace, smoothness, and cadence. She spent some years abroad, chiefly at Vienna and went about with adventurous and observant audacity. Her idea was that she must not only study life as it met her, but seek it out in the hope of writing novels in the coming time. At this period some of the work found its way into the hands of the present writer. It had too many words and not enough pauses and there was much feigning of the Heinesque. Without being quite able to see what she might arrive at, one felt she must go on.
She returned from Vienna last year with the feeling that she was at last equipped for London, and the great adventure could not be delayed. She attempted London at the age of 22 with a nerve wilful and steady. She did not fail. Verses began to be accepted, and her work matured rapidly. She did typewriting, and it must have been hateful.. Her constitution suddenly began to give way in the summer. A long holiday upon the Northumbrian coast made her better, but not well. She ought not to have gone back to typewriting in the city, but she would and did. A couple of months ago she had to return to the North for the last time quite broken down. Her illness ultimately developed in the gravest way then advanced with frightful rapidity. She died at Newcastle upon Tyne upon the Wednesday night of last week.
Found, in the June 12, 1913 issue of a famous review is this scalding attack on two famous Irish writers.
‘In his “Oscar Wilde: a Critical Study “…Mr Ransome remarks that he cannot understand why the Oscar Wilde period (with Mr Yeats, I may add, as its tail-piece) was ever called decadent. Surely, it is either disingenuous or incompetent to fail in such an easy matter. The school was called decadent because it was decadent; and the decadence consisted in the usual feature of decadence, namely the elevation of the part above the whole in value. Pater, I verily believe, never had an idea in his life. In consequence he spent the whole of his energy in concealing the fact in his style. On his style he spent enormous pains as if he knew that he would live by that or nothing. That, I say– the over-attention to style—is decadence. Wilde again was never even a man of letters. Mr Ransome in my opinion utterly fails to present Wilde as he was –an Irish causeur and wit, a born blarney, a talker. In his conversation Wilde was as nearly natural as a self-conscious Irishman in England can possibly be ; that is, he talked to the English as if they were an exotic Frenchman, never by any chance, aiming at the truth, but aiming always at producing in us a pleasant gaping admiration of his cleverness. There are plenty of such Irishmen in England today, only their vogue is past and they no longer surprise us. Too clever for his intellect I called one of them a few weeks ago. Mr Ransome, however, takes Wilde seriously, if critically, as a writer, as a literary man. But as a writer, if you like, Wilde was a poseur. With a pen in his hand he was no longer Wilde but a sort of figure which I can only describe as Turveydrop on paper. He finicked among the words and phrases of the language as if he was playing court to them and was expecting a rebuff from the English genius at any moment. I never saw a page of Wilde that had not “ amateur “ in the vulgar sense written all over it , in vocabulary, in phraseology , and in construction. That also, when the writer is unaware of it, is decadence. It is not mastery of the language, but service under it, as under a mistress. And our language, thank goodness, hates the man who treats it as if it were the Lady of Shallot or Isolda. It is a queen, and its best courtiers are Prime Ministers.Continue reading →
Found – a copy of Ionica – a book of verse by Eton master William Johnson Cory – this edition published anonymously by George Allen in 1891. It has been bound in an expensive full leather binding with gilt decorated inner dentelles. The book was presented by minor poet Arthur C James* to one Iona F Robinson on whom he appears to have been very keen given the title of the book, its sumptuous binding and the poem he has written to her on the front endpaper. Ironically Johnson Cory, a fellow master at Eton, is known for the gay themes in some of his poems.
Found in the Peter Haining archive, an Independent obituary by Peter Mendez of the fin de siecle scholar Ian Fletcher (1920 – 88). As the obituarist remarks, Fletcher’s vertiginous rise in 1955 from humble book-stamper in Catford Public Library to University teacher was extraordinary and may be unique in the history of modern British academic life. Today, when the possession of a Ph D is obligatory for entry into academia, and when many with this qualification are either unemployed or in low-grade jobs, the idea that someone with no degree at all could be elevated to a lectureship in English Literature would be laughed out of court.
But this was Fletcher’s position in 1955. Not only did he lack a higher degree, but he had never attended a University. However, in compensation he became a prolific contributor to such neo-Romantic post-war magazines as Tambimuttu’s Poetry London, Peter Russell’s Nine and Wrey Gardiner’s Poetry Quarterly. In 1948 Tambimuttu published a volume of his poems entitled, Orisons. He also brought out an edition of Lionel Johnson’s Collected Poems in 1953. Fletcher’s passion for the aesthetic movement and the literature of the eighteen nineties had begun early. His book-hunting excursions in that golden age of the forties and early fifties, when rare titles could be had for under ten shillings, led him to assemble a large collection which became a valuable resource. At the same time his growing reputation as a poet and scholar attracted the attention of Professor D. J. Gordon of Reading University, who saw that the young librarian might be a valuable addition to his staff. And it soon became apparent that Gordon’s trust in him was well placed.
Found in a copy Poems at White Nights (published in 1899 in Cecil Court, London) a contemporary review of the book. The review is unsigned but was obviously from a national daily paper as there are financial reports on the back. Gordon Bottomley is a mildly collected fin de siecle poet, of considerable talent but slight neglected -possibly because of his name which could be used as the the butt of jokes, so to speak. His first book The Mickle Drede and Other Verses was privately printed in Kendal in 1896 and is a great rarity and of some value. He attempted to destroy all of the 150 copies as he considered the work immature..The reviewer below senses dark currents in his work.
Mr. Gordon Bottomley's second volume, Poems at White Nights (At the Sign of the Unicorn), shows him still frequenting the darker woods of Faerie. One fragment in it is a dedication for some book of verses in which the receiver is bidden to read:
An excellent introduction by Edmund Gosse to Louis Couperus's 1891 novel Footsteps of Fate ('Noodlot') translated from the Dutch by Clara Bell. Gosse corresponded with Couperus but he wrote well informed introductions similar to this to every book in Heinemann's long series of European novels. They show great scholarship and an enthusiasm for the emerging movements in writing in the last decade of the 19th century. While Britain had its aesthetic 1890s movement and the Celtic Twilight and the French their decadent writers the Dutch had the 'Sensitivists'…There are interesting references to the Dutch Browning (the poet Potgieter) also resident in Florence and also to Netscher the Dutch George Moore, a singular honour.
THE DUTCH SENSITIVISTS
In the intellectual history of all countries we find the same phenomenon incessantly recurring. New writers, new artists, new composers arise in revolt against what has delighted their grandfathers and satisfied their fathers. These young men, pressed together at first, by external opposition, into a serried phalanx, gradually win their way, become themselves the delight and then the satisfaction of their contemporaries, and, falling apart as success is secured to them, come to seem lax, effete and obsolete to a new race of youths, who effect a fresh aesthetic revolution. In small communities, these movements are often to be observed more precisely than in larger ones. But they are very tardily perceived by foreigners, the established authorities in art and literature retaining their exclusive place in dictionaries and handbooks long after the claim of their juniors to be observed with attention has been practically conceded at home.
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..."
Sent in by a loyal jotter and keen accumulator of ephemera and near nonsense. The clue here is that it is the first issue. Surely stuff get's made up at that point...
Check out these Personal ads on the front page of the first issue of the Daily Mail, May 4th 1896. Surely, they can’t be for real. The first and the second read like extracts from late Victorian romantic novels (‘There shall be no reproachful letters; but for heaven’s sake, let me hear of or from you…’ and ‘ if you do not come back to me soon, I fear I shall be tempted into accepting one of the many offers of marriage I am receiving almost daily’ ). Then look at the names attached to the second ad:‘ To Oak’ from ‘ Ivy’ . The third ad reads like a Music hall joke.
Uncle Jim---Come home at once. All is forgiven. Bring the pawn tickets with you---Niece
As for the last announcement, this is a neat effort at sardonic humour:
Will the gentleman who took away by mistake the Brown Pony standing outside the Star and Garter on City and Suburban day, kindly send to the same place for the trap, or return pony ? One is no use without the other.
Hurgh hurgh! But back then, the Daily Mail was a light-hearted read for a mere halfpenny, not the tissue of ill-informed opinion that it is today. Along with fashion tips and household hints, it advertised romantic fiction and jolly magazines, announced violin and piano recitals, and even ( horror of horrors ) included an advert for a novel by that dastardly communist Emile Zola !
Those were the days. When did it all go so wrong ?
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.
Edna Clarke Hall (1879–1979) was a watercolour artist, etcher, lithographer and draughtsman. In 1897 when she was fourteen she entered the Slade School of Art. Whilst there, Edna was taught by Henry Tonks, "the most renowned and formidable teacher of his generation" (famously blasted by the Vorticists.) She studied alongside Gwen and Augustus John, Ida Nettleship, Ambrose McEvoy and Albert Rutherston. Throughout her long life she did many illustrations to Wuthering Heights. She was also a close friend of the poet Edward Thomas.
These two anecdotes are taken from a tiny Slade Centenary catalogue (1971) that has an introduction by Anthony D'Offay. Both concern the wild youth of Augustus John...
Sometimes after working at the Slade all day, I would go with Gwen John and her brother (Augustus) to their rooms in Charlotte Street, where we would sit for each other.
One evening, John found he was without his key. Tantalisingly, the windows on the upper floor were wide open. John suddenly climbed onto the front iron railings and went straight up the face of the house, using the crevices between the flat stones as handhold and foothold. We stood below in horrified silence holding our breath. He disappeared into one of the open windows and a moment later was standing smiling at the front door. ECH 1894
In 1895 when he was on a visit to us in St Albans, Augustus John and I went for a very long walk. I found it very hard to keep up with him mile after mile as he strode along at a great pace. At last, as I almost ran beside him, I confessed that I was very tired. He stopped and looked at me in surprise - I think he had forgotten that I was there, so lost in thought was he. Then, without a word, taking my hand, he stuffed it into his pocket with his own and on we went as before, but for me with a difference, for I was curiously comforted by the tight hold of his hand on mine. ECH 1895