Saturday, 5 December 2009

BOOK REVIEWS by Barry Van-Asten

by Barry Van-Asten

The Old Straight Track - by Alfred Watkins.

Alfred Watkins' previous work 'Early British Trackways' has been extended upon and we are presented with a compelling case for the evidence of leys in which straight lines link various ancient sites, such as mounds, mark stones, beacons, churches and castles etc. Whether by human design or coincidence, the principles behind this system of ley lines still remains a mystery - were they a network of tracks used in prehistoric times and was there a sacred aspect to their use? We do not know and it is for the reader to explore the evidence and decide for themself. This remarkable little book is beautifully illustrated with line diagrams, maps and photographs and Watkins' visionary system of 'old straight tracks' seems a sound and sensible theory.

Haunted Borley - by A. C. Henning.

This is a rare and delightful little book by A. C. Henning, Rector of Borley cum Liston, and despite the title, the book does not focus entirely on the strange occurrences that took place at Borley Rectory (and later at Borley Church). There is a sense of the Rector's passion for his parish - he has researched the history of the church and in particular the Waldegrave family monument which lies within. He describes the church architecture and the restoration of the original stone Mensa in 1947. But, it was the haunting that brought Borley to the attention of the world and there are some fascinating insights into its history, but essentially, it is Mr Henning's love for Borley with its beautiful church which shines through and persists in the mind of the reader longer than any ghost! Wonderful and timeless!

The Hollow Vale: A Poem - by James Turner.

The Hollow Vale is James Turner's third book of poetry and it describes a journey taken by the author; a journey through the contours of his mind; a romantic quest through a rustic landscape towards the Hollow Vale, which may or may not be a dream or some spiritual vision.
Like Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim's Progress' or Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan', we enter into the scenes conjured by the poet and join him on the quest to the Hollow Vale, where there is 'a place for the lonely heart,/ a little earth to cover nakedness'.
This is a beautiful poem rich in imagery and one for all lovers of poetry and enthusiasts of Mr Turner's work.

The Accident And Other Poems - by James Turner.

James Turner's 'The Accident and other poems' is his fifth and final collection of verse. This slim volume contains some of the most tender and evocative lines on nature and agriculture interwoven by the thread of Turner's life experiences; pain and the approaching mood of mortality (he was to die nine years after its publication) together with the magic of the seasonal rhythms he would have known and worked with, give the collection a curiously personal sense. The poems are timeless and I felt that I was discovering something very special when reading this remarkable book by a very extraordinary man! A must for poetry lovers!

Ghosts Of Borley: Annals Of The Haunted Rectory - by Paul Tabori.

I became 'strangely obsessed' with Borley Rectory from an early age and I am still under the spell! This book by Paul Tabori and Peter Underwood is thoroughly researched with evidence of the hauntings from past incumbents of the house and other eye-witness accounts. All those involved seem to become familiar characters in a sort of internal trial within the readers' mind, examining evidence and statements etc; and then of course there is the famous 'phantom nun'!
Whatever your opinion of Harry Price, the investigator and 'showman', he was still a pioneer in paranormal research and his meticulous methods for recording the hauntings became the blue-print for all such cases. And whether one believes in ghosts or not, the story of 'the most haunted house in England' is a fascinating one!
There are some wonderful illustrations and the chapters maintain interest throughout. This book is a classic and should be on the shelf of every Borley/paranormal enthusiast. An absolute delight to read!

Sometimes Into England: A Second Volume Of Autobiography - by James Turner.

James Turner's second volume of autobiography is no less remarkable than his first - Seven Gardens for Catherine. In this companion piece we are shown Turner's life at the notorious Borley Rectory, considered 'the most haunted house in England' and Turner's attempts to make a success of the gardens and 'mushroom sheds'.
The journey takes us through Belchamp Walter and his explorations of Suffolk and the Fens, to the idyllic Primrose Cottage near North Cornwall, and finally to the haven of Treneague where he creates a magical garden that reflects the wonder of the man and his timeless love of the land with his passion for words - along with his untiring adoration for his wife 'Catherine'. A beautiful book!

Seven Gardens For Catherine: An Autobiography - by James Turner.

I became interested in James Turner through his connection to the Borley Rectory haunting, and Seven Gardens for Catherine is the first part of Turner's autobiography. This really is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a poet sadly not given the recognition he deserves in contemporary times. The book is nicely illustrated and we are shown Turner's life at home in rural Kent and his years at Oxford before his marriage to 'Catherine' and the financial misfortunes which led to bankruptcy.
This is the story of an indecisive man finding the courage and conviction to follow his heart through the hardship and struggles, yet throughout the comic mishaps and endevours there is a tale of enduring love and a passion for the soil which culminates in Turner's poetic vision of life - as Turner himself says: 'the record of a man's gardening is the autobiography if not of his soul, certainly of his body!' I quite agree - an excellent book about an extraordinary man!

Discovering Wayside Graves And Memorial Stones - by Mark Chetwynd-Stapylton.

This is a delightful little book with charming line drawings by Edward Stamp. Each legend is concise and a joy to read for those interested in history and superstitions. There is a sprinkling of black & white photographs to accompany a selection of the tales and all in all Mark Chetwynd-Stapylton has produced a wonderful book to dip into from time to time and it makes one want to go out and discover for oneself these little treasures that exist along roadsides and out of the way nooks and crannies. A joy indeed that leaves the reader wanting more!

Magick In Theory And Practice - by Aleister Crowley.

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

This is Crowley's magnum opus and an essential book for any enthusiast of the occult arts or student of Crowley's system of Magick. It comprises of three sections:
Part I - Mysticism (yoga techniques) the basis for all magical work.
Part II - Ceremonial Magic with a complete description of the magical weapons and their uses as taught in the Golden Dawn.
Part III - Crowley's magical system in theory and practice expounded with its foundations rooted in the Book of the Law and the aeon of Horus. There are certain formulas with their significance to the Great Work and chapters on Consecrations, Oaths, Invocations, Clairvoyance, Divination, Alchemy and rituals taken from The Equinox.
Some of the ideology can be obscure to the beginner but through diligent research and understanding many of its tenets become clearer to the student. I would suggest that it is read alongside The Great Beast by John Symonds and The Magical Records of the Beast 666 by Symonds & Grant. The Book of the Law is also advised for the most part of the book, especially part III, and what burgeoning library of the student would be complete without The Confessions of Aleister Crowley?
It is the handbook that all modern day magicians should own. I personally obtained the book in my early teens and the book seemed to grow in strength with a magical energy of its own - it became a living tool and a compendium of great knowledge and wisdom. It is therefore an excellent place for those with an open and enquiring mind wishing to unravel and understand the great driving force and life's work of the man they dubbed 'the wickedest man in the world' - Aleister Crowley!

Love is the law, love under will.

Gems From The Equinox - by Israel Regardie.

This is an excellent compendium of the major works found in Crowley's great masterpiece of occult knowledge - The Equinox, a periodical which declared the Law of the New Aeon of Thelema. Gems from the Equinox is divided into seven sections on themes such as: The Book of the Law, Yoga, Magick, and Sex Magick etc and there is something for all students and scholars of Magick and Crowley's works in this concise collection. Israel Regardie has done a fine job on this volume of illumination, yet how can it ever compare to that superior star which is the Equinox?
There are some omissions which I feel should have been included, such as: The Temple of Solomon the King, John St John, Across the Gulf, The Rites of Eleusis, The Herb Dangerous, and The Soldier! and the Hunchback?... - yes, these are available elsewhere and space is always a factor, yet to have them all in one volume would be a wonder indeed!
But we must forgive Mr Regardie for reducing the greatest periodical ever written in the English language concerning magical instruction, into a mere work of art and beauty in one extraordinary volume, of which, I'm sure Crowley would have approved (despite the omissions)!

The Collected Works Of Aleister Crowley - by Aleister Crowley.

The Collected Works of Aleister Crowley (three volumes) is just a small fragment of his massive, prolific output. In volume one we see the young 'beast', already enjoying the assembled air of aristocracy and demonic debauchery, in his rooms at Trinity College, Cambridge, immersed in science and philosophy. The poems are chiefly spiritual and mystical and they show the lyrical and dramatic influences of Baudelaire, Swinburne, Shelley and Byron. We see a man bored by the constraints of Edwardian England, seeking new horizons and new sins. Poems such as 'Aceldama', 'The Tale of Archaise', 'Songs of the Spirit', 'Jephthah' and 'Tanhauser' give us a glimpse into the mind of the great man and his vast knowledge. Volume two continues with 'Alice: An Adultery' and 'The Sword of Song', while volume three concludes with 'Why Jesus Wept', Rosa Mundi, and other love songs', 'Rodin in Rime' and 'Orpheus'. We find Crowley the 'romantic' and Crowley the 'wanderer', yet 'White Stains' (1898) and 'Snowdrops from a Curate's Garden' (1908) are curiously not included!
Crowley proves himself a highly technical poet with a mastery of the English language, yet some say his poems are mere exercises in which to display his wealth of learning and that amongst the deep ocean of his verse are only a handful of sunken treasures. This is probably true for the casual reader, afterall, who takes the time and trouble to read Tennyson anymore! But for those willing to look beyond the mountain of lies written about Crowley and his reputation as the 'wickedest man in the world'; to discover a little more about this huge figure in occult history, then what better place to begin than where the soul is laid bare - his poetry!

The Magical Record Of The Beast 666 - by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant.

The Magical Record of the Beast 666 by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant gives us a fascinating glimpse into the magical activities of Aleister Crowley during the years of the Great War. They can be read as a continuation of the experiments he made with fellow magician and poet Victor Neuburg, during 1914 in The Paris Working - a series of homosexual 'operations' which were a transition between the ceremonial rituals as taught in the Golden Dawn and the sex rites of the Ordo Templi Orientis. The sexual force replaced the lengthy conjurations of the past and the records aim to show to what extent the sexual 'current' can determine or influence events. The 'Magical Records' comprises of 'Rex de Arte Regia' (The King on the Royal Art), a magical diary beginning in Sept 1914 - March 1915 and continuing Feb 1916 - Sept 1918. There is also 'The Magical Record of the Beast' from Dec 1919 - Dec 1920, followed by Liber Al vel Legis (The Book of the Law). This is an invaluable book to the collector of 'Crowleyana' and it documents an important period in the history of his life.

The Confessions Of Aleister Crowley - Edited by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant.

The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, written in the nineteen-twenties, mostly at the Abbey of Thelema, contain his fascinating exploits in magick, his travels and mountain climbing and his Great Revelation for Mankind - the Law of Thelema, as received in the Book of the Law, in Cairo, 1904. Crowley broke all the conventions of his day and explored the outer regions of mind and body through the use of sex, drugs, ceremonial magic and Eastern philosophy. He exhausted himself on adventure and although he often lived up to his reputation as the 'wickedest man in the world' he was sometimes capable of heroic gestures and he wrote some of the most sublime passages of poetry in the English language. I have read this book several times and it is always a delight. Written in six parts with easy to digest chapters the interest remains throughout the major events of Crowley's life - his encounter with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage; his meeting and friendship with Allan Bennett, his marriage to Rose Kelly; Liber Al vel Legis; the Kanchenjunga expedition; the Abbey of Thelema, and so on...
However he is remembered: magician, poet, mountaineer or chess master, this book will remain a witty and wise account of one of the greatest enigmatical figures in English history. Superb!

The Book Of The Sacred Magic Of Abramelin The Mage - by S. L. Macgregor Mathers.

The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage is one of the most important grimoires in occult literature and anyone familiar with the works of Aleister Crowley will be aware of its significance to Thelema and Magick. Originally written in Hebrew in 1458 by Abraham and addressed to his son Lamech, it was translated from a French manuscript by none other than the founder of the Golden Dawn, S. L. Macgregor Mathers. The volume is divided into three books describing the process of the sacred magic whereby six months of intense purifications, prayer and devotion are undertaken. Once the aspirant has attained to the Knowledge and Conversation of his/her Holy Guardian Angel (the higher self), only then can the angels and infernal spirits be evoked and the talismans used to produce the desired results.
Mathers believed in the malevolent forces to such an extent that he advised caution 'against the dangerous automatic nature of certain of the Magical Squares of the Third Book; for, if left carelessly about, they are very liable to obsess sensitive persons, children and animals'. He also went as far as to say that even owning the book could bring about serious disturbances and even harm to the individual. Crowley says in his 'Confessions' that 'the demons connected with Abra-Melin do not wait to be evoked, they come unsought'. I can't confirm this, but I can't deny it either, and for some who are not serious students of the occult and believe it to be just 'harmless twaddle' (fou pauvre!), it can lead to very real unspeakable torment and therefore it should not be underestimated. This is dark and dangerous stuff indeed!

The Collected Ghost Stories Of M. R. James.

Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) was a distinguished scholar and a master of the English ghost story. Educated at Eton he became Provost of King's College, Cambridge (1905-1918) and Provost of Eton (1918-1936). His interests and academic research included church architecture, classics, the mediaeval period, languages and ancient manuscripts. It is his scholastic background which gives his stories a sense of belief and authority; the stories, originally written to be read to friends at Christmas, have the ability to unsettle with moments of real terror.
The Collected Ghost Stories (1931) comprises of his former published works: 'Ghost Stories of an Antiquary' (1904), 'More Ghost Stories' (1911), 'A Thin Ghost and Others' (1919) and 'A Warning to the Curious' (1925). The Collection contains all his published ghost stories except three: 'The Experiment', 'The malice of inanimate objects', and 'A vignette'.
Stories such as 'Casting the runes', 'Oh, whistle and I'll come to you, my lad', 'The tractate middoth', Canon Alberick's scrapbook', 'The rose garden' and 'Wailing well', gently unfold with subtle otherworldly menace; a dark unspeakable and ancient evil presides throughout, waiting for the opportunity to enter our world, usually by some academic protagonist meddling with an innocuous looking artefact or book and unwittingly unleashing a terrible supernatural force or long dead spirit.
These stories are real works of art and beauty that leaves a lasting impression on the mind of the reader. Wonderful!

The Monk - by Matthew Gregory Lewis.

The novel is set in the Monastery of the Capuchins in Madrid and it is the tale of Ambrosio, a monk who descends deeper and deeper into temptation, breaking his monastic vows to fall under the spell of sexual obsession, incest, rape and murder.
Lewis drew much of his inspiration from the great Romantic novelist of Gothic tales, Ann Radcliffe, whose 'The Mysteries of Udolpho' (1794), captured the imagination of her time with its rugged, wild landscapes and strange apparitions. The Monk was written in only ten weeks while Lewis was a mere nineteen years of age. Published in 1796, the book became such a sensation that it propelled the young Lewis into celebrity status and he even became known as 'monk' Lewis.
In the novel, he painted a portrait of monastic life which could be synonymous with our own times, where hypocrisy, sexual misconduct, abuse and cruelty have become customary evils within ecclesiastical establishments. At the time, the book was damned as blasphemous but by contemporary standards where crimes of extreme horror are all too common, the Monk seems like a light-hearted romp!
Like Udolpho, the Monk has also become a source of much inspiration in the horror genre and it will remain one of the shockingly great classic novels of Gothic literature.

Arthur Machen: Artist And Mystic - edited by Mark Valentine and Roger Dobson.

This is a beautiful little 72 page booklet published in 1986 by Caermaen Books with a cover and title page designed by Tim Earnshaw. Edited by Mark Valentine and Roger Dobson, it follows their previous successful publication 'Arthur Machen: Apostle of Wonder'. There is a splendid Foreward by Morchard Bishop (Oliver Stonor) who was an acquaintance of Machen and amongst this collection of interesting articles are such things as Machen's 'Preface to the Great God Pan'; 'Sorcery and Sanctity: the spagyric quest of Arthur Machen' by Ron Weighell; 'Machen, Waite and the house of the hidden light' by Messrs. Dobson and Valentine; 'Strange Magic' by Tim Earnshaw; 'Occult Territory' by Simon Clark and Morchard Bishop's 'A chapter from the table-talk of Arthur Machen'...
This rare and delightful booklet will appeal to all who appreciate Machen and his work and to enthusiasts of his occult/Golden Dawn background. This is a perfect addition for any collection!

Spooklights: A British Survey - by David Clarke and Granville Oldroyd.

Published in 1985 by David Clarke and Granville Oldroyd, this 44 page booklet details the thoroughly absorbing accounts of 'ghost lights' and the history of the ignis fatuus in folklore; of particular interest are the spectral lights of Burton Dassett.
Messrs. Clarke and Oldroyd display a real passion for their subject and handle it in a scholarly manner with detailed notes and references. Remarkable and absolutely fascinating.

Arthur Machen and Morchard Bishop: Dreams And Visions - by Mark Valentine and Roger Dobson.

Dreams and Visions is 'a brief journey into the remarkable imagination of Arthur Machen as recorded by Morchard Bishop; with a postscript from the unpublished portion of the Secret Glory'. Published in 1987 by Mark Valentine and Roger Dobson for Caermaen Books, this small and curious little booklet of just 12 pages has some interesting snippets relevant to Arthur Machen by Morchard Bishop, the pen name of Oliver Stonor (1903-1987). Recommended purely for serious collectors and 'Machenophiles'.

The Magical Dilemma Of Victor Neuburg - by Jean Overton Fuller.

This excellent biography of Victor Benjamin Neuburg (1883-1940) is a heartfelt and humane study of a man. We find him at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1906 and his ventures in poetry lead to his first publication 'The Green Garland' (1908). He encounters the poet and occultist Aleister Crowley and enters his magical circle of friends. The young Victor must have felt flattered to have the attention and poetic encouragement from such a notorious and charismatic character as Crowley. In fact, he showed great promise as a poet and his second book 'The Triumph Of Pan' (1910) alludes to his spiritual development and hints at his feelings for his lover, the 'sweet wizard' - Aleister Crowley, who initiated Neuburg into his system of magick.
In 1909, Victor (Frater Omnia Vincam) underwent a Magical Retirement at Crowley's home, Boleskine House on the shore of Loch Ness in Scotland and suffered much hardship. The following year he danced for his 'master' in the 'Rites Of Eleusis', Crowley's staged performances of magical invocations; we also see Victor assisting Crowley with his work on The Equinox and in the Paris Working of 1914, where the two lovers invoked dark forces by the use of homosexual magic.
This is probably the greatest book we are likely to see on Neuburg and Jean Overton Fuller has done a first rate job! But it is a pity Victor never revealed the true intimate nature of his relationship with the Great Beast, for he must have truly admired and loved the man to be so damaged beyond repair when their magical partnership soured and it is said, Crowley ritually cursed him. And so Neuburg remained strangely silent on his association with Crowley - what really happened in the desert when they conjured the demon Choronzon?
Whatever the truth is, it affected the rest of his life and he was always looking over his shoulder for the shadow of the Beast. But he did have the vision to recognise the poetic talent of Dylan Thomas while he was poetry editor for the Sunday Referee. We get as close as we are ever going to get with this book and for all those demonic rites with the Beast and all those secrets he took with him to the grave, 'Vicky' seems like a thoroughly gentle, kind and lovely man to have known! Astonishing!

The Alien Wood: Twenty Elegies - by James Turner.

This is Turner's second volume of poetry and in it he shares with us the poet's spiritual glimpse into nature and his delight in the cruel and beautiful countryside around him - 'A moment
Will become an age when cruelty
Has perished. And there is sweet rest
Beneath the spacious hands of God
In the broad fields.'
To read these poems is to feel the eternal pulse of life pour from the page; a pulse that will not dim; a throb of nature's ecstasy and melancholy that Turner has captured perfectly in these thoughtful and magical verse - 'The magpie has deserted the wood,/ The heron flighted to the autumn pool,'.
The elegies have a confessional quality to them but we do not feel that we are trespassing on sacred ground for the poems are the intense expressions of awareness of life and death that we are all comforted by, and sometimes afraid of, as the poet declares in his final elegy -
'Leaving my love is an open wound
Handwide in my breast and a heart
Of blood sucked dry and of throat
Burning with unslaked thirst.
Leaving my love is a life spent.'
Highly recommended indeed!

Aleister Crowley The Black Magician - by C. R. Cammell.

This little book is essentially a re-working of Cammell's 'Aleister Crowley, the Man: the Mage: the Poet' (1951) which presents a personal and intimate portrait of the Great Beast whom Cammell came to know between 1936 and 1941. Cammell didn't find it difficult to resist Crowley's magical persona with his rites and notions concerning the Book of the Law and the Aeon of Horus, but Cammell did fall under the spell of Crowley the man and the poet; of Crowley the man of great intellect and legendary wit who was generous to close friends, of whom there were few.
Within these delightful pages (22 concise chapters) a picture appears, not of the sensational 'wickedest man in the world' and all the nonsense surrounding his mystique, but of the Logos of Thelema as a wise old man of the world still capable of great gestures despite the bad press against him and his financial misfortunes; a man in whose refined and charming company a vast and peculiar genius shined but never so much as to appear pretentious or bombastic.
The Black Magician is a companion peice to other published biographies and C. R. Cammell has captured in this touching and honest account, a glimmer of the essence of the man Aleister Crowley that will stand alongside other great monoliths of the Crowley canon.

Harry Price, The Biography Of A Ghost-Hunter - by Paul Tabori.

In the world of psychical research, the name of Harry Price stands as a beacon, for he was a pioneer in that subject and his tireless energy for the truth created many friends and enemies! In his book 'the Biography of a Ghost-Hunter', Paul Tabori, Price's literary executor, has produced a very thorough examination of Price the complex man of science who studied all areas of the 'occult' in his search for the existence of the 'paranormal'.
There are in-depth chapters on the development of his National Laboratory of Psychical Research and his work with various mediums such as 'Stella C' and Rudi Schneider; also his experiences with the spirit child 'Rosalie' and the failed Brocken experiment. There is also Price's long squabbles amongst the spiritualists and his exposing of fake mediums in the seance room. There is a chapter on the famous Borley Rectory and Price's thoughts on poltergeists and a delightful chapter in which friends and acquaintances give their personal accounts of Harry Price.
Paul Tabori has written a fascinating and detailed study and Harry Price fulfills all those expectations of what a 'ghost-hunter' should be: meticulous and innovative; diligent and open-minded, but the general perception is that he was a generous and kind man who made a deep and lasting impression upon those who knew him.

The Drug And Other Stories - by Aleister Crowley.

Those who are new to the writings of Aleister Crowley may be pleasantly surprised by this wonderful collection of forty-two short stories, some of which have never been published before. Most of Crowley's fiction was written between 1908 and 1922 and appeared in such periodicals as 'The Equinox', 'The English Review' and 'The International', to name a few.
Throughout many of the stories we are aware of the astonishing intellect behind them and we are never far away from the man's celebrated wit and dark humour; there are also elements of intense foreboding and unease. In fact, in my opinion, Crowley is a very accomplished writer and given time to mature, his name could have sat alongside the greats of the novel and the short story, if his way had not been obscured by notoriety. But a deeper understanding and appreciation of the man is possible through his fiction, and such stories as: 'At the fork of the roads', 'The violinist', 'The vixen', 'The ordeal of Ida Pendragon', 'The stratagem', 'A death-bed repentance' and 'The argument that took the wrong turning' have auto-biographical details woven into the fabric of his fiction.
Those more familiar with Crowley's works will recognise the philosophical, magical and religious references that appear, but these stories can simply be enjoyed by all who love the art of story-telling.
There are still many works by Crowley yet to be published but perhaps with this renewed interest in the man this will be rectified in the future! With an extensive section on notes at the end of the book, this collection is a long-awaited delight!

Enchanted Britain, Mystical Sites In Rural England, Wales And Scotland - by Marc Alexander.

Marc Alexander (an author of some distinction) writes with such enthusiasm and passion for his subject that it really shows throughout this two-hundred page modern classic. The author also provides twenty-eight black & white photographs which are full of atmosphere and well presented.
In ten delightful chapters ranging from Arthurian Legend, fairies, shrines and dragons to Culloden, Loch Ness and Ben MacDhui, the author entices us into a world of the supernatural and of sacred sites and burial mounds where the 'veil has always been thin'.
This is a well researched book and Marc Alexander reveals some of the lesser known mysterious sites of interest alongside the well established mystical and magical places of enchantment in our landscape. If you are a lover of folklore, standing stones, ghosts and haunted sites in Britain you will not be disappointed with this highly recommended book. An immensely enjoyable and entertaining read from cover to cover!

The Great Beast: The Life And Magick Of Aleister Crowley - by John Symonds.

First published in 1951, The Great Beast signalled an interest in the occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), bringing his magick and his reputation to a wider audience; it also influenced some of the greatest musicians from the sixties to the present day with its doctrine of Do What Thou Wilt.
Unfortunately, John Symonds (1914-2006) has been criticized over the years for pandering to the public taste for startling revelations and strengthening the image of Crowley as the 'wickedest man in the world'. Although there are elements of sensationalism, I would disagree on the whole and say that The Great Beast is a milestone in Crowley related publications and set a high standard for biography making it an essential part of any collection.
The Great Beast also combines Symonds' later work 'The Magick of Aleister Crowley'.
This is a classic and memorable study of one of the world's great enigmas: Aleister Crowley, and a book you will keep coming back to!

Witchcraft For Tomorrow - by Doreen Valiente.

Doreen Valiente brings the old craft into the New Age with this intense and fascinating study. Her passion for historical accuracy brings in such great figures as George Pickingill, Gerald Gardner, Dion Fortune and of course Crowley and the extent to which he may have influenced Gardner in composing certain Rites. These figures were true pioneers in the early days of British witchcraft and so there is an intimate feel to this wonderfully written, methodical handbook.
Valiente explores the origin of the craft and its practice today through eleven chapters giving insight into certain subjects such as the festivals (the Greater and Lesser Sabbats); the magic circle, tools and symbols right through to the working site. There is also a beautiful and frank chapter concerning witchcraft and sex magic which is truly enlightening.
Finally, the book ends with a Book of Shadows showing various Rites of Consecration and Invocation along with certain chants and dances etc. This is an invaluable book for anyone wishing to know more about the craft of the wise and a handy practical guide for beginners. Blessed be!

The Magick Of Thelema: A Handbook Of The Rituals Of Aleister Crowley - by Lon Milo Duquette.

This is a unique book in the world of occult literature in that it tackles Thelemic ceremonial Magick and gives a thorough grounding in the basic elements and techniques. There are chapters on the significance and importance of the Pentagram and Hexagram rituals - the foundation of all magick, to the sublime beauty of the Gnostic Mass.
To the beginner and intermediate practitioner of Magick alike, the classic rituals of Aleister Crowley can seem somewhat complex and confusing. L.M. Duquette looks at various obscure aspects of the rituals and gives general hints and explanations from his own extensive practical knowledge of the subject and shows how to perform them in accordance to the Aeon of Horus. He explores such rituals as: The Star Ruby; The Star Sapphire; Liber V vel Reguli; the solar rites - Liber Resh and The Mass of the Phoenix. Of particular interest is his innovative study of Liber Samekh, where he goes into great depth and detail, producing a workable and structured format that is easy to follow at all points of the ceremony.
Throughout all this, L.M. Duquette's sense of humour is also present in this extraordinary ground-breaking and thought-provoking, must have book!

The Most Haunted House In England - by Harry Price.

Published in 1940, 'the most haunted house in England' is the story of how Harry Price, an expert in psychical research, was contacted in the summer of 1929 to investigate Borley Rectory, where strange phenomena had been taking place. Little did Price know that the haunting would occupy a further ten years of his life and this book is the systematic record of events that occurred throughout the investigation.
With thirty-two thoroughly absorbing chapters plus appendixes, this book presents a complete picture with historical details concerning the investigation and those involved in it. Whether you are a student of the paranormal or just have a passing interest, this book is the most authenticated case of a haunted house in the annals of psychical research. A remarkable classic!

The End Of Borley Rectory - by Harry Price.

This book by Harry Price is a companion piece to his earlier book 'the most haunted house in England' and it gathers together unused material and further records since the Rectory mysteriously burnt down in 1939. We are presented with all the evidence from the ruins of the Rectory and asked to decide for ourselves from the facts, recorded scientifically by witnesses to the events.
The popularity of the Borley Rectory phenomena over the years and the growth of interest in psychical research, proves that deep down we all want to believe in ghosts, but even if you don't believe in ghosts, you can't beat a good ghost story! Fantastic!

Food For Free - by Richard Mabey.

First published in 1972, 'Food for free' has become a staple classic handbook on wild food identification and if like me you find a sense of magic and wonder in hunting and discovering a 'new taste sensation' that is growing naturally, and engaging with something our ancestors would have known, then this book is ideal for you. With beautiful colour drawings and photographs of over one-hundred wild plants, berries, mushrooms, seaweed and shellfish, each with a recommended recipe and preparation note, this book will appeal to all those walkers and countryside lovers who stroll down winding tracks and bridleways, casually picking elderberries and blackberries and wondering what else is edible! Look no further than this delightful and utterly useful book!

My Life With Borley Rectory - by James Turner.

James Turner, the poet and novelist, bought the remains of Borley Rectory, known as 'the most haunted house in England', which included the gardens and foundations, the well and the coach house and stables which Turner converted into a cottage in 1947. My life with Borley Rectory is based upon some of the adventures Turner experienced there and the result is a comic masterpiece full of hilarious escapades and misunderstandings.
Living at the cottage with Turner are his two eccentric companions, cleverly drawn with Dickensian mannerisms: Prescott, a God-fearing widow who takes care of the housework and is happiest when amongst the stones in the churchyard or making endless cups of tea; then there is Ryan, a secretive yet loveable Irish rogue devoted to his beloved piano which he nurses through the cold winter. But their idyllic life at Borley is soon interrupted by visits from sightseers and mediums and strange noises in the night; ghostly chases in the orchard and the great 'well incident' in which a foreign Princess makes an appearance.
We also encounter the beautiful and fiery Netta with whom Turner falls in love and her father, obsessed with digging an enormous hole in the Rectory garden.
Mr Turner is a skillful storyteller and this book has it all: tunnels, ghosts, treasure and love! A must for all who appreciate the enduring legend of Borley Rectory!

The Hill Of Dreams - by Arthur Machen.

The Hill of Dreams (published in 1907) is Arthur Machen's semi-autobiographical masterpiece. Machen (1863-1947) was obsessed by his childhood surroundings of Caerlon On Usk in Wales, and the notion of ancient history - the ruins and mounds; the imprint of early civilisations upon the landscape, whose energy is still vibrant with an 'occult rapture' alongside our own time. He was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and this immaginative tale incorporates many of his ideas and beliefs concerning nature and landscape.
Lucian Taylor is an intense, solitary romantic figure; a sensitive child existing between two worlds, that of reality and fantasy in rural Wales, the land of Machen's boyhood. The Hill of Dreams of the title is an ancient Roman fort where Lucian experiences strange visions of the past, a mystical, pagan realm beyond the veil of illusion; a realm or 'super-reality' normally hidden. Lucian later pursues his desire to be a writer and living in the dark solitude of London, suffers great poverty for his art.
Machen captures perfectly the sensation of a cosmically charged 'other-world' beyond our own which is able, through the sublime portal of the Hill of Dreams, to penetrate and intrude upon our waking world - utterly mesmerising!

The Wild Places - by Robert Macfarlane.

This book is an exploration of the wild places of Britain and Ireland and Macfarlane writes of his accounts of journeys in the landscape, from climbing and walking to swimming and sleeping out in all weathers. Throughout this fascinating and very readable book we are there with the author, in those holloways and woodlands and on those moors and summits, and like dreaming intervals, we are thrown into the history and folklore of a location; the names and the memory of certain places which go into producing our own ideas of a very personal 'internal wild map'.
Incorporating his recollections of his friendship with the great Roger Deakin, who sadly died in 2006,this book is both a deep lament and a masterful celebration for what we have lost and what remains of the wild places. Excellent!

The Enigma of Borley Rectory - by Ivan Banks.

This book is a very thorough examination of the Borley case and presents the reader with many new and interesting theories concerning the identity of the ghostly nun; the cause for the hauntings within the grounds and the interiors of the old Victorian Rectory, and the suspicions and real cause of the fire during Captain Gregson's ownership which destroyed the 'most haunted house in England' beyond repair. There is also the mystery surrounding Glanville's so called 'Locked Book'; just what secrets does it contain and who was the rightful owner? These questions and more are discussed in this excellent book and Ivan Banks really brings the old Rectory and the personalities behind it to life. But I have to say I wasn't too fond of the double column page layout which can be overlooked, but my other concern was the numerous spelling errors throughout the book which sadly detracted a little from the scholarly subject matter, but that aside, this is a first rate un-biased book on the fascinating haunting with many new ideas for future research. A must have for any serious student or casual reader interested in the Borley phenomenon.

The Castle of Otranto - by Horace Walpole.

The Castle of Otranto (1764) is the first Gothic Novel and it created a wave of interest in all things Gothic. With Otranto, Horace Walpole (1717-1797), establishes a fascinating incarnation of the Gothic ghost story. Conrad, Lord Otranto, is the only son of Manfred, and on his wedding day, Conrad is found crushed to death in the castle courtyard, by a giant helmet. Manfred decides to banish his wife to a convent and marry his son's intended bride, princess Isabella, in his pursuit of a male heir.
The Castle of Otranto with its comic moments, supernatural themes and plot devices; its story lines involving mistaken identity, deception, romance and even incest became a very influential literary classic and is highly recommended - sensational!

The Great God Pan - by Arthur Machen.

This classic novella is the story of an experiment which attempts to cross and unite the division between the ancient gods and mankind. Mary, a seventeen year old orphan is under the protection of a certain Dr Raymond, a specialist in 'transcendental medicine', living in Wales. The doctor experiments upon Mary in order to facilitate her seeing the great god of nature himself - Pan! Mary succeeds in seeing the goat-footed god and descends into madness and dies after giving birth to a little girl.
Years later, an attractive young woman named Helen Vaughan arrives in London society and captivates the men around her, like satellites, who all succumb to the horror that seems to follows her - death! And so it seems Helen's mother, Mary, did indeed succeed in her union with the great god Pan and Helen is the beautiful yet monstrous offspring. Disturbing and fantastic!

Under Storm's Wing - by Helen and Myfanwy Thomas.

Under storm’s wing is a collection of writings by Helen Thomas (1877-1967) in which she recounts her relationship with the great poet of the First World War, Edward Thomas (1878-1917). Assembled by their youngest daughter, Myfanwy, the collection incorporates Helen’s first volume of memoirs ‘As it was’ (1926), which depicts how the couple met and fell in love and married in secret while Edward was still at Oxford, much to their parents’ disapproval. Helen was expecting their first child, Merfyn, and life would prove to be difficult for the young family.
Helen’s second volume ‘World without end’ (1931) continues their life together and the hardship as Edward found it increasingly difficult to find work he enjoyed with a steady income, instead of being forced to write essays and reviews and awful ‘hack-work’ to put food on the table. He suffered from depression and needed to be alone quite often, shutting poor Helen out of his life at times with three children to care for. Edward fell into an affair with Eleanor Farjeon which must have hurt Helen most of all, but she stuck by him and never stopped loving him.
The American poet Robert Frost encouraged Edward in his own poetry writing and Thomas published ‘Six Poems’ in 1916 under the pseudonym of Edward Eastaway.
Edward enlisted in the Artists Rifles in 1915 and was sent to France. He was killed at the Battle of Aras in 1917, aged just thirty-nine, by a blast wave from a shell that whistled by so close to him, it stopped his heart. He will be remembered for such classic poems as ‘Adelstrop’, ‘And you, Helen’, ‘As the Team’s Head-Brass’, ‘Words’, ‘After Rain’ and ‘What shall I give’... the name of Edward Thomas shall remain immortal and these intimate portraits by his dear wife and child will be read and loved for always!
The book also includes Myfanwy’s account of her childhood and personal letters and memoirs of meetings with W H Davies, D H Lawrence, Ivor Gurney, Eleanor Farjeon, Robert Frost (6 letters to Edward) and W H Hudson. But it is Helen, who herself is also a wonderful writer, who shines through as a very understanding, passionate and forward-thinking young woman for her time. For me, Helen’s words bring to life the simple man of the English countryside and the great poet, with all his brooding melancholy and moments of tenderness; we are given the gift of glimpsing their life together, and sharing their tears, for I truly believe this is one of the most beautiful books ever written! Astounding and timeless!

Seven Types of Ambiguity - by William Empson.

First published in 1930 (revised in 1947 and 1953), 'Seven Types of Ambiguity' by William Empson (1906-1984) is the classic study of ambiguity within English verse which became very influential in the development of literary criticism. Empson presents us with an analysis of the multiple in-depth meanings or verbal 'nuances' found within a text which can be interpreted as an alternative view or reaction in the scope of the main theme. An example of this, and the simplest form, is the metaphor, which can be seen as a word or grammatical construction which is effective in more ways than one. Then there is the pun which may have simultaneous meanings and interpretations, and so on.
Using examples from Shakespeare, Donne, Hopkins, Keats, Shelley and Swinburne, 'Seven Types of Ambiguity' is an invaluable work to the student and lover of English Literature and critical analysis.

In A Glass Darkly - by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

Published in 1872, 'In A Glass Darkly' by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) is a collection of five short stories in the Gothic horror tradition. The stories purport to be actual cases collected from the papers of the German Physician and psychic investigator Dr Martin Hesselius. The five stories are: 'Green Tea', which features a demonic entity in the form of a malignant monkey that haunts a clergyman. 'The Familiar', a story about a sea captain persecuted by a dwarf; 'Mr Justice Harbottle'; 'The Room in the Dragon Volante', a mystery novella on a theme of being buried alive, and 'Carmilla', an otherworldly tale about a female vampire in Austria which contains lesbian overtones. Le Fanu is an imaginative writer and this classic book is essential reading for anyone interested in the development of the horror story, or simply likes a good old fashioned scarey tale! Fantastic!

Dracula - by Bram Stoker.

Dracula, published in 1897 by Bram Stoker (1847-1912) is the most famous vampire tale ever written which has inspired countless adaptations since the novel appeared. The story is told through the diaries of Jonathan Harker, a young solicitor; Mina, his fiancee; her friend Lucy Westenra and Mina's father Dr Seward, who is the superintendant of a lunatic asylum in Essex.
Harker travels to Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania and finds himself a prisoner there. He stumbles across the Count in a ruined chapel, lying in his box, which along with boxes of his native soil, is shipped to Whitby and to Carfax Abbey. The crew of the vessel are killed en route and Dracula proceeds to enslave Lucy in the cult of the Un-Dead - the vampire, and despite attempts to help her from Dr Seward and his old teacher, Professor Van Helsing, she becomes a creature of the night. But her soul is saved and she is despatched with a stake through the heart, and so Dracula focuses his attention on Mina. Her father, her fiancee and Van Helsing try to save her from Dracula's advances and they search for his boxes of earth, his only refuge during the hours of sunrise and sunset. Dracula is followed in a dramatic chase to Transylvania and in the thrilling climax he is beheaded and stabbed through the heart, whereby he crumbles to dust!
The book has been one of the most singularly influential works of literature and has introduced a host of vampires in books and later films, since its publication. Classic, essential reading!

Frankenstein, or the modern Prometheus - by Mary Shelley.

Frankenstein, or the modern Prometheus, bublished in 1818 by Mary Shelley (1797-1851), is told through the letters of an English explorer in the Arctic, named Walton. It relates the exploits of Victor Frankenstein, a Genevan student of philosophy at the University of Ingolstadt. He discovers the secret of giving life to inanimate matter and assembles a terrifying human figure from fresh cadavers and gives it life! The creature has the supernatural strength of a super being and because of his differences and mistreatment he becomes a lonely and miserable 'monster', who turns on frankenstein, after failing to convince his creator that he needs a female companion. He murders Victor's brother and his friend Clerval and also his bride Elizabeth. Frankenstein pursues the creature to the Arctic and attempts to destroy it, but dies after telling his tale to Walton. The monster declared that his creator would be his last victim and disappears into the snowy waste.
The story is beautifully written and this 'blue-print' for all monster creations is also a cautionary tale on how nature, which is essentially good, can be corrupted by ill treatment. Those familiar with the many film versions will be surprised with the original tale and how it differs in interpretation from current perceptions of the creature. fantastic!

The Mysteries of Udolpho - by Ann Radcliffe.

The Mysteries of Udolpho, published in 1794 by Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) is a classic Gothic romance incorporating moments of real terror. It is the story of Emily St Aubert, an orphan who is carried off by Montoni, her aunt's villainous husband. She is taken to a remote castle in the Apenines, where she is in real danger and threat of losing her honour, her fortune and even her life. Emily is surrounded by various supernatural terrors, which may or may not be real. She escapes and manages to return to France, and after many subsequent mysteries and misunderstandings, she is reunited with her lover, Valencourt.
This is a real 'monster' of a novel and the mind becomes totally engrossed in the imaginary scenes Radcliffe creates. The moments of activity by supernatural agents, is explained away as natural and most by human creation. But the delight of the book is the author's descriptive powers and wonderful characters, which really have an energy all of their own and take shape in the heart - a wonderful journey of emotion!

Tales Of The Uncanny And Supernatural - by Alegernon Blackwood.

Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural, published in 1949 by Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) is a really fascinating and unique collection of short stories by a remarkable and prolific writer of the macabre. Blackwood understands the effects within nature and the natural world around which becomes just as much a character as the protagonists within his tales. Like Machen, Blackwood was a member of the occult society, known as The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, so he knew a thing or two about the unseen forces of nature and the elemental energies that flourish in the ancient woodlands and valleys; the malevolent spirits of the wild. This superb collection incorporates twenty-two of his tales with such classics as: 'The occupant of the room', 'The man whom the trees loved', 'The glamour of the snow', 'The pickestaffe case', and 'The lost valley'. Highly recommended!

Melmoth The Wanderer - by Charles Maturin.

Published in 1820 by Charles Maturin (1782-1824), this is a very effective Gothic novel which tells the story of one of the darkest characters in literature: Melmoth, a man who has sold his soul in exchange for the promise of a prolonged life. Melmoth offers relief from the sufferings of the different characters he meets in the novel, whose horrific tales suceed one another, and in return they must take over his bargain with the Devil! Definitely one for lovers of Gothic horror!

Deep Country: Five Years In The Welsh Hills - by Neil Ansell.

Deep Country is the story of how Neil Ansell undertook a personal adventure to live alone in a remote cottage in the Welsh hills for five years. It is a fascinating tale of how he coped without gas, electricity or plumbing and how he became accustomed to the seasons and how his awareness became heightened to the changes around him. His observations of wildlife; the rituals of the woodland and the rhythms of the fields are wonderful descriptions of how beautiful the British countryside really is! Neil becomes engrossed by the daily activities of the birds he sees, such as the curlews, red kites, sparrowhawks and ravens; he becomes attached to the wanderings of the animals that live nearby, like the badgers and the hares, and even to the colony of bats in his roof space!
This magical and evocative book is a remarkable journey of a man who gradually becomes more and more at home with the woodland creatures and hardships of living alone with nature. Definitely essential reading!

The Golden Bough - by Sir James Frazer.

Sir James Frazer (1854-1941) is one of the founders of modern anthropology and ‘The Golden Bough: a study in magic and religion’ is the pinnacle of his distinguished life, which appeared in twelve volumes between 1890 and 1915. [This volume is abridged by the author and was first published in 1922].
It is a remarkable and fascinating journey offering a thesis that basically declares mankind to have progressed from magic, through religious belief to the scientific. The book discusses such things as: fertility rites, tree worship, taboos, myths and rituals, human sacrifice (the sacrificial killing of kings), fire festivals, folk tales, the dying god, the scape-goat and much more. Frazer’s analysis of the primitive mind and comparative study of beliefs fired the literary imagination of the time and was hugely influential to such writers as D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. An amazing undertaking and an intriguing and delightful work of art!

Anna Akhmatova: Selected Poems - by Stanley Kuntz and Max Hayward.

Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) is one of the greatest names in Russian poetry. Her verse transcends the ideologies of her time and speaks directly to us; her personal poems are full of compassion and relate to us through lines on love, suffering, persecution and death: I am continually amazed by her depth of perception!
Akhmatova lived through a harsh period in Russian history and recorded her experiences in her beautiful poetry – Stalin’s Terror, during which her ex husband, Gumilev was shot by the Bolsheviks in 1921 and her son was sent to a labour camp on and off for most of his life; her lover, Punin suffered much the same fate, dying incarcerated in 1953. There was also a ban on her poetry from 1922-1940!
Anna knew some of the greatest individuals of her time: Osip Mandestam, M. Kuzmin, A. Blok, A. Bely, Mayakovski, Yesenin, Tsveteyave and Pasternak, and her poetry collections: Evening (1912), Rosary (1914), White Flock (1918) and Plantain (1921) contain some of the most intense yet sublime poetry in the Russian language. The Selected Poems has such classics as: ‘Reading Hamlet’, ‘How can you look at the Neva?’, ‘Now nobody will want to listen to songs’, ‘Voronezh’, ‘Requiem’, ’Your Lynx-eyes, Asia’, and fragments from her celebrated ‘Poem without a Hero’. To anyone wishing to understand the intricate beauty of verse, Akhmatova reveals more in just one line than many poets are able to in a whole collection! She is a colossal figure, reticently standing on the fringes of humanity, observing its every detail, and so to some degree, she is an ‘outsider’ in the world of poetry, like so many of her fellow, native artists during the twentieth century were forced to be!
There are translation notes by Stanley Kuntz and a fine introduction on Akhmatova, the Symbolists, Futurists and Acmeist Poets by Max Hayward, and the poems have side by side Russian and English translations. This is a real labour of love by the authors and a delight for newcomers to Akhmatova and scholars alike!

The Magical Revival - by Kenneth Grant.

Published in 1972, ‘The Magical Revival’ by Kenneth Grant (1924-2011) is the first work in his Typhonian Trilogy and in it he introduces certain theories and practices which extend upon the writings of Aleister Crowley. Grant, who studied under Crowley during 1944 until the great man’s death in 1947, became the Head of the British Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) and is widely accepted as an authority on various aspects of metaphysical and magical phenomena as understood within Crowley’s ‘Argenteum Astrum’ (A. A.) system of Magick and the O.T.O. The book explores such subjects as the Kundalini force utilised in Sex Magick; the Barbarous Names of Evocation and the attitude towards drug use during ceremonies and vision-skrying etc. Grant also draws parallels between the writing of H P Lovecraft (1890-1937), with his Cthulhu Mythos and Crowley’s Thelemic system with its central pillar: Liber Al vel Legis (The Book of the Law), and he has much to say on many of the leading lights within the occult world, such as Dion Fortune (1890-1946), A. O. Spare (1886-1956), C S Jones [Frater Achad] (1886-1950), and Jack Parsons (1914-1952) to name a few.
This important book is a source of extensive information to the student and intermediate as it concerns many otherwise obscure points within Magick. Grant, whose great mind condenses many difficult ‘esoteric’ notions into an understandable framework, (although the subject matter remains very advanced by its nature), really strips away at the symbolism as much as he can within reason upon the subject of Sex in certain mystical and magical rites to reveal a work of beauty that sheds light where other authors have feared to illuminate! In the years to come his work will be re-appraised and given the serious appreciation it deserves, and rightfully so! Fantastic!

The Complete Works Of Oscar Wilde (Collins Classics) - by Oscar Wilde and Merlin Holland.

Oscar Wilde [1854-1900], the Irish dramatist, author and poet was one of the leading lights in the ‘decadent’ movement, celebrated for his flamboyant style and caustic wit!
The Collected Works contain everything the great man wrote, which in my opinion is some of the finest short stories, essays and plays in the English language, such as ‘The Happy Prince’, ‘The Selfish Giant’, ‘The Star-Child’, ‘A Woman of no Importance’ (1894), ‘An Ideal Husband’ (1899) and the classic, final play he wrote ‘The Importance of being Earnest’ (1899). There is also his only novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (1891), an outstanding masterpiece of Gothic melodrama on a theme of Faust in which Dorian, a young narcissistic gentleman sells his soul for everlasting beauty and falls into debauchery as he hunts pleasures both moral and immoral! And of course there is the much quoted ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’ (1898). From his essays there is ‘The Portrait of Mr. W. H.’ a very interesting piece of writing on Shakespeare’s sonnets which sheds new light on the bard!
Oscar was an aesthete who liked beautiful things, unfortunately he suffered a lot of ridicule and lampooning for his beliefs in such periodicals as ‘Punch’, yet Wilde achieved great success with his intimate comedies concerning manners and society.
Because of his ‘friendship’ with the handsome, aristocratic Lord Alfred Douglas ‘Bosie’ [1870-1945], Wilde suffered the ultimate degradation and punishment for his so called crime: two years hard labour at Reading Gaol! (1895-97) It was here that he wrote in 1897 his apologetic letter of bitter reproach to Lord Alfred part published in 1905 as ‘De Profundis’ which makes for quite emotional reading.
In exile in Paris he took the name Sebastian Melmoth and he was a broken and penniless man! He lies in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
Like that other great fellow, William Shakespeare, Wilde tends to sit awkwardly with the British mentality towards great men and women of letters, after all, we cannot be seen to be too ‘patriotic’ in celebrating our own great figures of national identity, and a show of pride would never do! But we must realise that Wilde lived in an unenlightened age where attitudes to homosexuality were concerned, and we must learn to forgive a country that not only celebrated his genius but also crucified his spirit, and to this day, to this hour and this minute – my blood still boils with rage! His immortality is secured and the complete works are a testament to the genius of the man! May his sweet soul rest eternal!

The Holy Books of Thelema, being The Equinox, volume III, number 9 - by Aleister Crowley.

A series of divinely inspired texts received by the occultist Aleister Crowley in 1907 and 1911. Crowley maintained that he was not the sole author for these works and that they were written by an intelligence independent of his own. The Holy Books are the foundation of the mystical, magical and religious system known as Thelema which declares that there is no law beyond do what thou wilt! Included in this collection of remarkable  visionary texts is the sublimely beautiful Liber Liberi vel Lapidis Lazuli; Liber LXV – Cordis Cincti Serpente; Liber LXVI: Stellae Rubeae; Liber A’ash and of course The Book of the Law [Liber Al vel Legis] with its three chapters which were delivered unto mankind in Cairo in 1904.
Together with a detailed preface and a synopsis on how the Holy Books were received, this compelling collection reveals more of its beauty with each reading and whether they are regarded as a ‘divine utterance’ or just inspired poetry, the Holy Books of Thelema is a thing of staggering wonder and illumination! Love is the law, love under will!

W B Yeats: Collected Poems – Ed. Professor Augustine Martin.

This classic introduction to W B Yeats (1865-1939) and his collected poems is a real work of art, and as can be seen the poetic strength of the great Irish nationalist, who was well versed in his native Irish mythology, does not diminish through his progression into old age. Here you will find the romantic lyricism of his early poems with their Celtic twilight, magical woods and fairies in such collections as his ‘Crossways’ (1889) with its ‘Down by the Sally Gardens’ and ‘The Rose’ (1893) with the wonderful ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’. Yeats found inspiration from his unrequited love for Maude Gonne, an ardent revolutionary, in collections such as ‘The Wind among the Reeds’ (1899); ‘In the Seven Woods’ (1904) to his infinitely beautiful ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’ (1919). Then there are his more mature and political poems [he served as a senator of the Irish Free State from 1922-1928]: ‘Michael Robartes and the Dancer’ (1921) with the astonishing ‘Easter 1916’ and the great prophetic poem ‘The Second Coming’. ‘The Tower’ (1928) contains his ‘Sailing to Byzantium’... Then there is ‘The Winding Stair and Other Poems’ (1933) to ‘New Poems’ (1938) with ‘The Gyres’ and his ‘Final Poems’ (1938-39) and ‘Under Ben Bulben’.
Yeats became interested in the Theatre and he created an Irish National Theatre; his narrative and dramatic works are also included, from his ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’ (1889) and ‘The Shadowy Waters’ (1906) to his ‘The Two Kings’ (1914).
For me, Yeats is a giant among modern poetry and there are elements of Wordsworth’s nature poems, Spencer’s fairy kingdoms and Blake’s ‘occult and mystical’ realms in the collected poems. Yeats was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and he was more than familiar with occult symbols, ceremonial magic and demonology; yet for all this, I find there is something curious about the man, a sort of ‘anaemia’; a ‘wateriness’ where there should be ‘steel’! But that said, his words are blood which pulse between worlds – an unseen world of ghosts and fairies and a world of political unrest. Fantastic!

The Greek Myths - by Robert Graves.

The Greek Myths by Robert Graves (1895-1985) is truly a labour of love by a man who not only understood the importance of the myths but also recognised their relevance in the modern world. Graves, himself a great novelist and poet, has produced a scholarly work, beautifully written with numerous explanations and cross-references to obscure points of interest within the text. In fact, the Greek Myths is a great source to draw upon throughout one’s life and to the writer, there is much to inspire! The stories are timeless and told in a clear, understandable narrative, from such tales of Pan, Orpheus, Leda and Sisyphus to the myths of Oedipus, the Argonauts, the wrath and death of Achilles and the madness of Ajax – the Greek Myths has it all: love and death; comedy and tragedy; something familiar and something not so familiar. Whether you are new to the Greek Myths or a specialist, this is the definitive classic on the subject. Enjoy!

An Introduction to the Mystical Qabalah – by Alan Richardson.

First published in 1974, this little guide (only 63 pages) is part of the Aquarian Press ‘Paths to Inner Power’ series of practical handbooks on the principles behind occult theory and practice. The book discusses abstract philosophical ideas and symbols concerning the Qabalah or the Tree of Life; its application in magic and its relevance to various spiritual forces. It is of particular interest to those wishing to create telesmatic images and for solo ritual work. Also included is ‘the Middle Pillar’ and the ‘Banishing and Invoking Ritual’.
This is a basic guide for beginners and a stepping stone for those approaching the more advanced realms of the occult.

Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957 – by W. H. Auden.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) never ceased to experiment with poetry in its form and subject matter, becoming quite complex in his later works. Auden’s early poems are pastoral and lyrical, speaking of the windswept Yorkshire moors and disused, derelict mine-works which fascinated the young Auden. He travels through poetic territory, transfixed upon Freud and folktales and arrives upon a landscape shaped by conflict, depicting the horrors of war and the brutality of tyrants, such as Hitler, that resonates with the reader: ‘When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,/And when he cried the little children died in the streets’.And in his later poems there is a pre-occupation with space and time, sex and ritual and of course, love: ‘Lay your sleeping head, my love, /Human on my faithless arm’. As a young man, the erudite Auden was drawn to Marxism but later grew closer towards an Anglo-Catholicism which brought about an intensified ‘self-censorship’ period. His poems are often dazzling and sometimes annoying, but there is an integrity which remains throughout!

Secrets of Modern Witchcraft Revealed: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Magickal Arts - by Lady Sabrina.

Books on witchcraft can be a hit and miss affair, and frankly, I didn’t hold out much hope for this. But I was pleasantly surprised by this informative and well-written book! The mysterious Lady Sabrina, High Priestess and founder of Our Lady of Enchantment Seminary of Wicca, has produced a practical ‘hands-on’ manual with exercises for both beginners and more experienced witches. ‘Revealed’ are the basic elements of witchcraft and magick, from the tools used in the ceremonies and the casting of the circle, to the more advanced techniques such as herbal lore, runes and talismans, and much more! Secrets of Modern Witchcraft Revealed offers a no-nonsense approach to the path of the wise and Lady Sabrina’s guiding hand and helpful advice throughout this useful and delightful book are indeed gentle and reassuring to the novice! Fabulous!

Pastoral - by James Turner.

Pastoral is the first poem to be published by James Turner (1909-1975) and it is divided into four parts celebrating the four seasons. There is a poignant melancholy throughout the seasons, as if the poet is in mourning, reflecting upon his past experiences, for a countryside he dearly loves: ‘Trumpets of heralds speak from the woods/ if we have ears to hear/ and any man withdraw out of this vale/ of uttermost sorrow’ [Spring]. The poem was written in September 1940 when Turner, aged thirty-one, was inspired to compose this long ‘quartet’ after working in a neglected apple orchard and seeing a whitethroat’s nest: ‘Where the whitethroat has nested/ it is spring. Unseen in the cool/ she made her yellow nest.’ [Summer] It might be true to say that Turner had some sort of mystical revelation, alone in the orchard, and he suddenly had the desire to write poetry, and that evening, he began to write ‘Pastoral’. The poem captures the fragile beauty of the land and contrasts it with the upheaval of war: ‘How glorious the mountains of dead/ who died that the invader/ might not conquer!’ [Winter] And so a great debt is owed to a whitethroat and its nest in a neglected apple orchard... and thus was given to England, one of her greatest, if little known, poets – James Turner!

A Witches’ Bible: the complete witches’ handbook - by Janet and Stewart Farrar.

This intriguing collection incorporates two books in one volume: ‘Eight Sabbats for Witches’ and ‘The Witches’ Way’. Included within this comprehensive book are the principles and techniques for celebrating the Sabbats; casting and banishing the magic circle; performing the Great Rite, consecrations, spells and descriptions of the various tools of the craft. There is also a fascinating chapter on ‘witchcraft and sex’ which examines the distinction between the male and female polarities; an essay by Doreen Valiente called ‘The Search for Old Dorothy’ (Dorothy Clutterbuck, a New Forest witch who initiated Gerald Gardner in 1939, and in turn, Gardner initiated Valiente in 1953). The authors, Janet and Stewart Farrar, who were initiated by Alex and Maxine Sanders, are well known in witch-circles and present us with a work on traditional British witchcraft; Wiccan practices with special emphasis on the Gardnerian and Alexandrian forms, which are truly appealing and draw upon the magical writings of Aleister Crowley. The book also contains elements of Irish Gaelic forms of witchcraft which feels natural within the context of this beautifully researched and written book – Janet and Stewart re-located to Ireland in 1976. With lots of interesting photographs, The Witches’ Bible makes essential reading for anyone who is curious about what witches actually do and those considering the craft as a way of life! Excellent!

Don Juan, Mescalito and Modern Magic: The Mythology of Inner Space - by Nevill Drury.

This unassuming little book by Nevill Drury presents a comparison between the magical world of Don Juan and the modern Western magical systems, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Some of the phenomena Drury pokes his nose into are discussed in part one: ‘The Inner Mythology’ where we meet the drug-induced visionary universe of the shaman and the ins and outs of astral projection. In part two: ‘The Qabalah Revisited’ and perhaps the most interesting section, we learn about the fundamental variations between Christianity, magic and science and discover the ceremonial rituals of the Golden Dawn; of course, no mention of the Golden Dawn would be worth its salt without summoning forth the Prophet of the Aeon of Horus: Aleister Crowley! In part three we are treated to the ‘Book of Visions’ which actually is quite an interesting examination on the visionary aspects of the Tarot. With extensive notes, all in all this little book stands up quite well against some of the nonsense published on such subjects, but I fear I am being rather kind and what the book attempts to achieve it simply lacks the passion to do so!

The Book of Spells: A Magical Enquiry into the Rituals of Sorcery and Witchcraft - by A. E. Waite.

First published as ‘The Book of Ceremonial Magic’ in 1911, this volume can be considered a classic in the world of occult literature. Waite explains the techniques and ideas behind the various rites connected with ‘infernal necromancy’. The book is written in two parts and the first ‘The Literature of Ceremonial Magic’ is a critical and analytical account which explores the rituals of transcendental magic and of black magic in particular. The second part of the book ‘The Complete Grimoire’ looks at the initial rites and ceremonies; the hierarchy of the infernal spirits and Goetic Theurgy (the Lesser Key of Solomon the King); evocations and the making of demonic pacts together with various experiments in divination and the art of invisibility etc. This is indeed a fascinating work but perhaps Waite, who was prone to use obscure and difficult to understand words, makes it a little laborious to read and somewhat archaic and so one must evoke all the servitors of Hell to endure the book to the end! It still remains a major work but if you are looking for a cosy book on witchcraft, look elsewhere!

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Wordsworth Library Collection).

Shakespeare’s complete works comes in all different shapes and sizes to suit all price ranges and this volume is reasonably priced and excellent value! The text is small and there are double column pages, but that’s what you get, if you want your Shakespeare with large text and lots of annotated notes in separate volumes then by all means purchase that format. But if you want the plays in chronological order together with all the long poems and the sonnets in one volume at a good price, then this is ideal! It is a book that one can either treasure or work with and mark memorable passages, dipping in and out of it and leaving it lying around, without being too precious about it. The plays and poems of course speak for themselves and the first reading of Shakespeare remains in the soul for the rest of one’s life and a connection is established which re-affirms one’s sense of ‘Englishness’, sadly lacking nowadays, and one’s appreciation for our wonderful literary heritage! Superb!

Teaching Yourself White Magic and how to try it out –by John Heriot.

This little book (122 pages) by John Heriot, a ‘magician’, is a good, basic ‘simplified’ guide to developing one’s magical faculties. The book looks at such things as the art of creating talismans, to ‘stronger magic’ such as invocations, pacts and rituals. The author also looks at ‘psychic powers’ – meditation, hypnosis, telepathy and clairvoyance etc. In the fourth and final chapter ‘Magic and Spiritual Development’, we investigate the astral body and self-defence on all levels. With lots of line-drawings to illustrate the subjects, and overlooking the ‘dated’ appearance, all in all, this is not a bad little book.

John Betjeman Collected Poems.

Of all the English poets, Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) seems to stand alone. His work is hugely popular amongst readers, but because of his ‘simple’ style of incorporating topographical place-names, contemporary allusions, humour (frequently mocking) fused with a melancholy nostalgia for a bygone world, he is never really ‘accepted’ as a poet by fellow poets and critics, including ‘pseudo-intellectuals’ who worship at the altar of T. S. Eliot. Betjeman, like that other great English poet who suffers much the same snobbish disapproval, A. E. Housman (1859-1936), sought inspiration in the English countryside, towns and villages and conveyed his poetic observations, often witty, urbane and satiric with a light lyrical nostalgia; love is also a major theme, fulfilled and unrequited, with much sadness and regret and written in the structure of the ballad form. But who can fail to fall under the spell of Betjeman with such poems as ‘Death in Leamington’, ‘The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel’, ‘Slough’, ‘Upper Lambourne’, ‘Myfanwy’ and ‘A Subaltern’s Love-song’? His interests were far-reaching, from architecture, especially the ‘Gothic Revival’ of Victorian Church architecture, (he was founder of the British Victorian Society); railways, social history, provincial towns and conservation. He didn’t take himself too seriously, not even as Poet Laureate (1972) and his Collected Works remains as a monument to the measure of the man – remembered for his conservation work, his child-like enthusiasm and as one of the nation’s favourite poets! Wonderful!

Konx Om Pax: Essays in Light – by Aleister Crowley.

This collection of essays concerning ethical and philosophical problems within humanity are written in a delightfully curious and sublime manner, sprinkled with satirical and esoteric wisdom. Here you will find in this tremendously lucid little book: ‘The Wake World’, ‘Ali Sloper, or the Forty Liars’ (a drama); ‘Thien Tao, or the Synagogue of Satan’ ( a political essay) and ‘The Stone of the Philosophers which is hidden in Abiegnus the Rosicrucian Mountain of Initiation’. These eloquent and remarkable ‘essays in light’ are an attempt to provide solutions for society and methods for the emancipation from personal obsessions and restrictions, written in Crowley’s humorous and inimitable style. Consider them absurd or consider them astounding, the erudition and perception of the author is unmistakable!

The Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy.

The poetry of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is consistent with his attitude to language in which the written word should convey all the meaning, expression and power of speech with its many forms of dialect, an endeavour not unlike his poetic predecessors, William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Robert Browning (1812-1889). Hardy was a great experimenter with his verse, changing the poetic form, rhythms and stress, so many of his poems have a contemporary feel to them. The Collected Poems, contains over nine-hundred poems from his eight published works: ‘Wessex Poems’ (1898), ‘Poems of the Past and Present’ (1902), ‘Time’s Laughingstocks’ (1909), ‘Satires and Circumstance’ (1914), ‘Moments of Vision’ (1917), ‘Late Lyrics and Earlier’ (1922), ‘Human Shows’ (1925) and ‘Winter Words’ (1928). Many of his poetic themes, as with his novels, focus on man’s internal and external struggle with the indifferent force that rules, which inflicts upon him directly, the sufferings, pains and ironies of life and love. Hardy felt a deep ‘kin-ship’ with the land around him and nature features heavily in his many poems, representing various ‘symbolic’ moods and emotions. Also throughout his verse one finds a hideous sense of loss and lurking oppressiveness with a terrific vein of sexual tension, (and I here quote from two of my favourite Hardy poems): ‘The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing/ Alive enough to have strength to die; / And a grin of bitterness swept thereby/ Like an ominous bird a-wing...’ [Neutral Tones, 1867 from ‘Moments of Vision’] And again in ‘We sat at the window’ also from ‘Moments of Vision’: ‘We were irked by the scene, by our own selves; yes,/ For I did not know, nor did she infer/ How much there was to read and guess/ By her in me, and to see and crown/ By me in her./ Wasted were two souls in their prime,/ And great was the waste, that July time/ When the rain came down.’ Like his novels, Hardy’s poetry has the power to leave a lasting impression on the reader and they cut through all the Victorian sentimentality to reveal a poet, true to his own soul! Wonderful!

Commentaries on the Holy Books and other papers, being The Equinox, volume four, number one.

This volume contains many interesting papers by the magician Aleister Crowley, referring to the Holy Books of Thelema, a set of inspired poetic texts or ‘divine scriptures’, depending on your point of view, received in 1907 and 1911. Within this book is Crowley’s excellent essay ‘Occultism’, a forward-thinking explanation of the subject. There is also ‘One Star in Sight’ a glimpse of the structure and system of the Great White Brotherhood; Liber XXXIII an Account of A.A.; Liber XIII vel Graduum Montis Abiegni; Liber CLXXXV, which describes the tasks and the oaths of the magical grades; Liber Vesta; Liber DCLXXI vel Pyramidos; Liber VIII, an invocation of the Augoeides; Liber Cordis Cincti serpent vel LXV; Liber LXXI – ‘The Voice of Silence’, ‘The Two Paths’ and ‘The Seven Portals’, being Crowley’s commentaries on the above works by Helena Blavatsky. There are also the shorter commentaries to the Holy Books of Thelema. In fact, the book aids the aspirant in the attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, and the grade of Adeptus Minor; this is therefore an important publication to magicians everywhere!

The Vision and the Voice with commentary and other papers, being The Equinox, volume four, number two.

Liber CDXVIII The Vision and the Voice is a detailed exploration of the thirty aethyrs from the Enochian system of magic as discovered and developed by Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly. Aleister Crowley began investigating the aethyrs in Mexico in 1900, and then in Algeria during 1909 with Victor Benjamin Neuburg (1883-1940). Within these recorded visions is the important magical ordeal of ‘Crossing the Abyss’ and the attainment of the grade of Magister Templi [Master of the Temple]. Also included in the book is Liber CCCXXV The Bartzabel Working, a ritual evocation of the spirit of Mars performed in 1910; Liber LX The Ab-Ul-Diz Working, a discourse with an intelligence in 1911 which led to the writing of the inspirational ‘Book 4’. Liber CDXV The Paris Working, sex magick performed in 1914 with his magical assistant, the poet, Victor Neuburg (Frater Omnia Vincam or Lampada Tradam). Also included are Crowley’s fragmentary diaries for 1909 and 1910, together with detailed editorial notes and a full index. In fact, the book contains a wealth of new and invaluable material to any aspiring magician!

In the Midst of Life: A History of the Burial Grounds of Birmingham – by Joseph McKenna.

I thoroughly recommend this fascinating little book by Joseph McKenna to anyone with the slightest interest in historical burial practices, Birmingham, its monuments and places of the dead. Find out why the corpse of John Baskerville did not rest easy, or why William Booth was ‘twice tried, twice hanged and twice buried’! There are chapters on ‘Plague pits’, ‘Resurrectionists’, ‘Strange burials’ and a ‘Gazetteer’ of cemeteries, churchyards and unorthodox burial grounds in alphabetical order, taken from an index originally compiled by Dr. R. J. Hetherington. ‘In the Midst of Life’ not only celebrates death in all its macabre glory, but it also breaks the silence on a somewhat ‘taboo’ subject, which is strange as it is an inevitable departure we all must confront! A good read, but my only disappointment is that the book is too short at fifty-five pages and an extended and revised edition with more photographs would be most welcome!

The Book of Lies – by Aleister Crowley.

First published in 1913, ‘The Book of Lies which is also falsely called Breaks the wanderings or falsifications of the one thought of Frater Perdurabo (Crowley) which thought is itself untrue’, is a collection of paradoxes and aphorisms, consisting of ninety-three chapters of various lengths, concerning the Qabalistic signifigance of each number. For example, chapter 36 ‘The Star Sapphire’ gives a revised and ‘perfect’ ritual of the Hexagram, 36 being the square of 6; and chapter 77 refers to Laylah, whose numerical value in Hebrew is 77, and so on. Each chapter has a commentary to help understand the veiled symbolism and obscure allusions behind each numerical interpretation. There are puns, play upon words revealing secret ‘esoteric’ knowledge; double and even triple meanings connected in combinations that will outrage, baffle and thoroughly perplex the reader beyond belief, but all of a sudden, through diligent work and understanding, its subtle beauty is revealed! Remarkable!

The Complete Stories of Lewis Carroll.

The stories of Lewis Carroll, pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) are a delight to read at any age and the enduring appeal of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865) have captivated readers around the world since its publication. Carroll has the amazing gift of seeing the world around him as through the eyes of a child and his characters interact directly upon the child’s imagination and appeals to our sense of adventure. In fact, one can’t help but be absorbed into the fantasy world he creates, without the usual process of introducing morals and ‘lessons’ as so many Victorian authors felt the need to do. Here you will find the ‘Wonderland’ companion piece ‘Through the Looking Glass’ (1871) and ‘A Wonderland Miscellany’ – Carroll’s puzzles and solutions etc from the Wonderland stories. ‘Bruno’s Revenge and Other Stories’; the marvellously rambling ‘Sylvie and Bruno’ (1889) and volume two: ‘Sylvie and Bruno Concluded’ (1893); ‘The Hunting of the Snark’ (1876) and Carroll’s inventive games and puzzles. With the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914), this book is a real timeless classic!

The Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley: Tunisia 1923 – Edited by Stephen Skinner.

The Magical Diaries present us with a warts and all glimpse into the daily life of Aleister Crowley during the year 1923; a year in which Crowley had been banished from his Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu, Sicily, by order of Mussolini. These diaries record in detail the ‘Great Beast’s’ magical workings and the influences and results obtained. He writes down his thoughts on the Book of the Law and its commentaries; his use of drugs to achieve altered states of consciousness and his investigations into the practice of sex magick; also his use of the I Ching for general divination purposes. In fact, the diaries reveal a very ‘human’ individual with doubts thrown into self-analysis and unsure of his next move; a man subjected to constant ill health that isn’t afraid to laugh at himself and his failings. But, through all of this personal introspection we see a man dedicated towards his spiritual journey and tirelessly working towards its conclusion. Fascinating!

New Aeon Magick: Thelema without Tears – by Gerald del campo.

New Aeon Magick is a very unique and useful book to both beginners and experienced practitioners of Thelemic Magick. Written in a simple to understand manner, it tackles such important subjects as: ‘What is Qabalah and how is it used within a magical context?’, ‘What is Magick?’, ‘How do Thelemic Gods and Goddesses differ from established perceptions of God forms?’, ‘How does one obtain or make one’s magical tools?’ With the emphasis on ‘practice’ rather than theory, New Aeon Magick looks at the Great Work in relation to everyday life, with chapters on: ‘The Philosophy of True Will’, ‘Courage’, ‘Love’, ‘Silence’, ‘Death’, ‘Meditation’, ‘Magical Ritual and Formulae’, and much more. I would highly recommend this book purely on the fact that there is not enough good ‘insightful’ books on Thelema and also because it is a very good general guide on magick which can be used in daily practices.

777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley.

Edited and introduced by Dr. Israel Regardie, a man who knew Crowley personally, this extensive collection of selected writings on the Qabalah is presented in three main sections. In part one there is Crowley’s essay ‘Gematria’ which is reprinted from ‘The Temple of Solomon the King’, found in The Equinox, volume I, number 5. Gematria is a system based on the relative numerical ‘Qabalistic’ value of words as found in the Hebrew Alphabet. Other forms of the literal Qabalah are ‘Notariqon’, in which every letter of a word is taken from the initials or is an abbreviation of another word; and ‘Temura’ which is a permutation, substituting one letter for another letter in the Alphabet etc. Also included is Crowley’s ‘An Essay upon Number’. In the second part of the book we find Liber 777 which first appeared in 1909 and is a series of tables showing the relationships or ‘correspondences’ between certain numbers and objects, thoughts, ideas, symbols, elements and planetary spheres; various religions and magical systems – it is a structured, magical and philosophical dictionary. And finally, in part three, we find ‘Sepher Sephiroth’, which first appeared in The Equinox, volume I, number 8. It is a dictionary, listing hundreds of Hebrew words with their numerical values and equivalent words of the same numeration. This book is an invaluable source of reference!

On the Black Hill – by Bruce Chatwin.

On the Black Hill, published in 1982 by the celebrated author and travel writer Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989) is my first introduction to Chatwin’s work and within moments of opening the book, I was captivated. It is the beautifully written story of a Welsh Border hill farm called the ‘Vision’ and its inhabitants. Amos Jones is a gentle man but age and life and hard work turns him into a bitter man and he frequently becomes cruel and aggressive to his wife Mary. The wonderfully drawn character of Mary, gradually falls out of love with her husband whose behaviour seems to stem from the fact that Mary has a thirst for knowledge and has travelled to the ‘Holy Land’ and is better educated. When the children arrive, twin boys named Lewis and Benjamin, Mary stays with Amos for the sake of the children, but it is the long-suffering Mary who takes it on herself to enlighten the boys in the ways of intellectual learning, as if it is something forbidden and frowned upon, which of course it is by their father Amos who thinks no good will come of it. Lewis finds studying difficult but Benjamin seems to take to it, although his love for his brother and not wishing to hurt him or be parted from him, makes him feel duty-bound to sacrifice any leaning towards an education which may take him away.
Later in the novel, Amos after years of feuding with farm neighbours and almost losing the ‘Vision’, becomes weary of brain and limb and dies after suffering an accident, leaving poor Mary, and the boys to look after the farm. It is here that she shows her own strength and good business acumen, acquiring more land.
The twins have an inseparable bond between them, feeling intuitively each other’s pain. When poor Mary dies, the boys, who never got married, keep the farm almost as a shrine to her. But time moves swiftly on and we are witness to great changes such as the new farming techniques and mechanisation; to the historical events that surrounds the Vision and touches them, like the Great War and the Second World War, and minor events around the Black Hill. In fact, the story captures all the minute nuances and emotions of life, revealing some of the facts in the lives of the twins, from birth to death, as if we are there at the time. Chatwin’s portrayal of rustic folk and rural ways of life seem like a world away but they are exact and compelling in their characterisation; yet there is more to Chatwin, for he imbues a life force into Mary and the boys and the other people they come in contact with, which is very moving and it is as if they are pulled from our own memory. Tears are inevitable with this powerful and mesmerising book!

The Interior Diagram and Other Poems – by James Turner.

Published in 1960, ‘The Interior Diagram’ is James Turner’s fourth book of poetry. This collection explores the spiritual and physical aspects of pain and human experience, celebrated in the ever-changing landscape. The title poem: ‘The Interior Diagram’, looks at the connection between Christ’s five wounds upon the cross and the five senses: touch, sight, taste, hearing and smell, in a journey beyond reality and the material basis of existence, exploring the ‘world’ found within each ‘wound’ and the sufferings and despair that unite us within our mortal life-span.
Mr Turner, in these poems, has really matured and throughout this collection (72 pages) there is the underlining motif of love, even in such poems where he is writing of death, as in ‘Zones of the Dead’, or ‘Dying Gull’, and ‘For Peggy, Dying...’ – ‘Pain and leaving sorrow bear / Deeply into love, a sword / Thrust upon Golgotha’. Love also re-occurs in his beautiful ‘coastal’ poems: ‘Autumn Beech’, High Sea at Sunset’, ‘Last Land’, Kynance Cove’, and ‘Rockpools’...
Turner, like that other nature poet John Clare (1793-1864), finds a spiritual aspect to all the natural wonders he encounters and finds God in every wayside flower along the hedgerows and every fleeting moment of birdsong. ‘The Interior Diagram’, and in fact, all of James Turner’s poetic output capture the essence and all the beauty of what it is to be human, immersed in nature and aware of the magic around us! Incredible!

The Equinox of the Gods, being The Equinox, volume III, number 3 – by Aleister Crowley.

First published in 1936, The Equinox of the Gods presents the reader with the facts and circumstances concerning, what is undoubtedly Crowley’s greatest achievement, that of Prophet of the Law of Thelema. This fascinating book takes an in-depth look at the revelation which occurred in Cairo on 8th, 9th and 10th April in the year 1904, when Liber Al vel Legis (The Book of the Law) was delivered to mankind. The Book was dictated by a discarnate being named Aiwass, the Minister of Hoor-Par-Kraat (the Lord of Silence), to the great Master of Magick, Aleister Crowley, who is the Priest of the Princes, Ankh-Af-Na-Khonsu.
Within the three chapters of the Book of the Law, is a new order or ‘Law’ for humanity, that of ‘Do What Thou Wilt’. This new Law of Love, Liberty and Light supersedes the old law of compassion and weakness and of the ‘dying god’ religions in which suffering brings about redemption and sin which is considered shameful, as in Christianity, whereby the acolyte and worshipper are obedient servants to God’s will; in turn, the new ‘aeon’ or era of Thelema (Greek for ‘Will), the Law of the Strong, states that mankind must realise the true will of the individual and understand one’s purpose in existence, for ‘every man and every woman is a star’.
Included in The Equinox of the Gods are the beautiful illustrations of the Stele of Revealing and a facsimile of the original manuscript in Crowley’s handwriting, along with the Comment.
For years Crowley struggled to understand the significance of Liber Al and strove to ignore the message, but over time he came to realise the tremendous importance of what occurred during those three days in Cairo; he came to believe whole-heartedly in the authenticity of The Book of the Law and he dedicated the rest of his life to teaching and studying its beautiful and terrifying wisdom. Thelema is like no other religion, for it does not aspire to become dogmatic and ‘established’ and its followers are ‘few and secret’, but it is for the individual who chances upon the ‘glad word’ and comes into contact with Thelema on their long journey through life to decide for themselves, if the Book, like so many other Holy Books of the past, inspires the mind and speaks to the heart and uplifts the soul with wondrous rewards – Love is the law, love under will.

A E Housman: The Collected Poems.

Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936) was born in Fockbury, Worcestershire; he won a foundation scholarship to Bromsgrove School in 1870 and seven years later, he went to St John’s College, Oxford where he read the classics. After failing his degree he went to work as a clerk at the Patent Office in London.
At Oxford, Housman formed what can only be referred to as a ‘romantic attachment’ to a fellow undergraduate named Moses John Jackson (1858-1923). Moses was athletic and he studied science and he would become the love of Alfred’s life! But Moses did not return Alfred’s love which remained unrequited. It was this passion, and later, the pain of separation in 1887 (Moses went to settle in British Columbia) which inspired Housman’s experiments in poetry: ‘He would not stay for me; and who can wonder? / He would not stay for me to stand and gaze. / I shook his hand and tore my heart in sunder / And went with half my life about my ways.’ [Additional Poems]
His first book of poems: ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (1896), which was originally titled ‘Terence’ or ‘The Poems of Terence Hearsay’, was published at his own expense and written mostly in the quatrain ballad form. The poems are a nostalgic evocation of an idealised Shropshire, a ‘land of lost content’ and a place that formed a sentimental attachment for Housman. The poems in ‘A Shropshire Lad’ and in his later poems reveal Housman’s cynical attitude to love and life and we also glimpse fragments of his atheism, as in ‘God’s Acre’ from Additional Poems, where the churchyard is a ‘hopeless garden that they sow / With the seeds that never grow’. Death seems a recurring theme and in his half-invented pastoral settings, time and place are never quite distinct. Many of the poems seem to be voiced by a sadness that is characteristic of the English nature: courage in the face of adversity; suffering and emotional hurt, anguish and pain... but like any good English man he never asks outright for sympathy. We can identify with him through our shared sorrow, a bit like our English obsession with the weather – we are born to suffer in silence, but we show our suffering through that silence! Hardy expresses a similar sentiment. In fact, these poems typify the English spirit to endure great sorrow and hardship; a spirit of a nation of stubborn, stoicism that bred heroic types such as Captain Scott (1868-1912) and Lawrence Oates (1880-1912)... but for Housman the Latin scholar, his passions were stifled by the closed world of academia and ‘deliberately he chose the dry-as-dust, / Kept tears like dirty postcards in a drawer;’ [Auden]
Alfred was appointed Professor of Latin at Cambridge in 1911 and in 1922 his ‘Last Poems’ was published, followed by ‘More Poems’ in 1936, published by his brother, Lawrence, after Alfred’s death.
The Collected Poems, features familiar classics such as: ‘Loveliest of trees’, ‘When I was one-and-twenty’, ‘Bredon Hill’, ‘Is my team ploughing’, ‘On Wenlock Edge’, ‘Far in a western brookland’, ‘Terence, this is stupid stuff’, ‘The rainy Pleiads wester’ and ‘Because I liked you better’... Housman’s semi-imagined vision of England as a rural idyll may be long gone, but he has left us a glimpse of a life with all its passion and sadness that is timeless, and for me, of all the English poets, Housman and his Collected Works is something I find myself returning to again and again! Marvellous!

The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Wordsworth Library Collection).

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), was orphaned at a young age and went to stay at the home of John Allan. Poe came to live in Scotland and England between 1815 and 1820 where he studied at various schools. His first volume of poetry ‘Tamerlane and Other Poems’ was published anonymously in 1827 before he enlisted in the Army. A second volume of verse appeared in 1829 titled ‘Al Aaraaf’, before he was dishonourably discharged from the Army in 1831. His ‘Poems’ published in 1831 featured his famous poem ‘To Helen’ but he began to take another direction and started writing short stories which were published in various magazines of the time. His ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque’ was published in 1840 and had such macabre classics of the Gothic genre as ‘Morella’, ‘William Wilson’, ‘Ligeia’, ‘Metzengerstein’ and ‘Berenice’ etc.
His critically acclaimed ‘The Raven and Other Poems’ appeared in 1845 which made Poe famous but his success brought little in the way of financial stability. He also wrote some excellent essays on the art and theory of poetry [‘The Poetic Principle’ and ‘The Philosophy of Composition’]. Poe was a tragic figure suffering from poverty, bouts of ill health and alcoholism, and depression from the death of his wife whom he married at the age of twenty-six in 1835. Virginia Clemm was his thirteen year old cousin. She died of Tuberculosis in 1847. But through all the mental tortures he endured, his mind dragged from the dark depths of his soul, tales of such horror which ranged from his fear of being buried alive to sadism, obsession and incest and even necrophilia. It’s no wonder that Freud found him so intriguing!
Poe’s stories are riddled with sickness and decay, one only has to read ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘The Premature Burial’, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, ‘The Masque of the Red Death’, ‘The Black Cat’, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ or poems such as ‘Annabel Lee’, ‘The Raven’, ‘The City in the Sea’, ‘Lenore’ or the wonderful ‘Ulalume’ to have a complete sense of the dark Gothic atmosphere that Poe makes his own. For me, it was the collection ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ first published in 1908 which I read as a young boy that introduced me to Poe’s world of the fantastic and the macabre, but it also opened my eyes to a world of great literature and no author or book can have a greater achievement than that! This edition of The Collected Works has all of Poe’s writings and is simply astounding! Definitely recommended!

The Complete Poems of Walt Whitman (Wordsworth Poetry Library).

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was an innovative American ‘wandering’ poet who produced some very extraordinary and original poems. ‘Leaves of Grass’ (1855) is his first published collection of verse which he continued to revise and extend throughout subsequent editions. It is written in the free verse style which became synonymous with Whitman and also features the poem sequence ‘Calamus’, considered to be quite obscene for its time. It was these poems which gave rise to the many theories concerning Whitman’s sexuality, because of the homosexual interpretations of the poems.
Whitman worked as a clerk and during the Civil War he was a volunteer nurse at a hospital and it was during this time that he published another collection of poems called ‘Drum-Taps’ in 1865. As a poet, he seems to invent a new vocabulary in an attempt to create a voice for the New World which is growing up around him: ‘I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul, / The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me, / The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a / New tongue.’ [Song of Myself] Poems such as: ‘When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d’, ‘Pioneers! O Pioneers!’, ‘I sing the body electric’, ‘Out of the cradle endlessly rocking’, ‘O Captain! My Captain!’, and ‘Sometimes with one I love’ are free from the conventional poetic restrictions and sweet with an almost pagan rejoicing of life! Upon my first reading of the complete poems I was completely surprised at how ‘modern’ Whitman feels in comparison to his English contemporaries, such as Algernon Swinburne (1837-1909), Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) and Robert Browning (1812-1889). His inventive use of words and poetic structure seems totally alien to his period and throughout his works I found myself thrown by a word or a line as if struck by electricity! He is only one of two poets to have done so, the other being the great English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)!
Whitman has a sense of freedom and realism about him and this influenced such writers as D H Lawrence (1885-1939) and Ezra Pound (1885-1972). He may have looked like some Old Testament Prophet or a gruff old mountain man, but he was thinking years ahead of his time!

Pervoe Svidanie [The First Encounter] – by Andrei Bely.

Published in 1921, ‘Pervoe Svidanie’ is a long autobiographical poem by the Russian novelist, poet and literary critic, Andrei Bely, pen name of Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev (1880-1934). Bely was influenced by the Russian Symbolist poets Alexander Blok (1880-1921), Valeri Bryusov (1873-1924) and Vyacheslav Ivanov (1866-1949) who considered reality to be an illusion, finding a mystical quality behind everyday life; in fact, Bely was even inclined to view the October Revolution of 1917 as the Second Coming of Christ! In later life he was drawn towards Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. His poem ‘Pervoe Svidanie’ [The First Encounter] is considered to be his greatest achievement and the title reflects the work of the Russian Christian, philosophical mystic, Vladimir Solovyov’s (1853-1900) ‘Three Encounters’. The poem, with its changing narrative and inventive structural techniques recounts Bely’s youth and friendship with Vladimir Solovyov’s younger brother Mikhail, at the beginning of the century in Moscow.
It was a time of great change and experiments in art forms, in which Russia was at the forefront with such remarkable visionaries as Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) and the Ballets Russes, Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), and Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953) and the Constructivist movement; it was a time of hope and revolutionary gatherings before the unspeakable terrors of the Stalin regime.
The poem is written in nine line stanzas of four foot iambic meter, often with an ironic surprise at the end. There are repeated themes and related masculine and feminine rhymes and there is also the use of single rhymes and even several related rhymes throughout, separated by various line spaces over the stanza. Rhymed words are repeated and even extensions on the rhymed vowel. With a translation and an introduction by Gerald Janacek (the original Russian text is alongside the English translation) and notes and comments by Nina Berberova, ‘The First Encounter’ is a magical work of art and a glimpse into a Russian bygone age!
‘He believed in the shimmering sheen of gold, / Yet was slain by the golden darts of the sun; / In his thoughts he measured centuries / Yet had no time to live his own life.’ – Wonderful!

The Poems Of Alice Meynell Complete Edition – by Alice Meynell.

Alice Meynell, nee Thompson (1847-1922) was a poet, essayist and feminist writer who became a popular and successful poet through her several collections of verse: ‘Preludes’ (1875), ‘Poems’ (1893), ‘Other Poems’ (1896), ‘Later Poems’ (1901), ‘Collected Poems’ (1913), ‘Ten Poems’ (1915), ‘A Father of Women and Other Poems’ (1918) and ‘Last Poems’ (1923).
Although Meynell is not what one would call an ‘adventurous poet’ in her technical ability, she is a typical Victorian and chooses to adhere to the simple rhyme format that is familiar and popular, yet many of her poems are of interest for their themes, particularly that of the mystery which surrounds religion (she was a Roman catholic). The Poems of Alice Meynell, first published in 1923 contains all her major works from ‘Preludes’, ‘Poems’, ‘Later Poems’, ‘A Father of Women and Other Poems’ and ‘Last Poems’. Among her many poems are some truly beautiful and memorable works such as this from 1869 ‘On Keat’s Grave’ (sadly not included in the collection): ‘Down from the low hills dark with pines / Into the fields at rest, the summer done, / I went by pensive ways of tombs and vines / To where the place I dream of is; / And in a stretch of meditative sun / Cloven by the dark flames of the cypresses / Came to the small grave of my ended poet.’ Magical! A joy indeed for all lovers of poetry!

Hope Against Hope – by Nadezhda Mandelstam.

Published in 1970, Hope Against Hope is the author’s memoir of her husband, the Russian Jewish poet, Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938). Osip was one of the leading lights of the Acmeist movement in poetry and he helped to form the ‘Poet’s Guild’ in 1911 with Nikolai Gumilev (1886-1921) and his wife, the celebrated poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966). Osip married Nadezhda Khazina (1899-1980) in 1922 in Kiev, Ukraine and they moved to Moscow.
In 1934 Osip read his satirical poem about Stalin to a small group of friends and within days he was arrested and sentenced to be ‘isolated but preserved’. Osip and his wife, who chose to go with the poet, went into exile in Voronezh where he continued to write his poetry. In 1938 he was arrested once more and he died in a labour camp near Vladivostok on 27th December 1938.
This remarkable book (the title by the way, is a play on the author’s name Nadezhda, which in Russian means ‘hope’) is a harrowing account of the poet and his wife’s last four years together and the persecution they underwent, as indeed many suffered, under Stalin. Each of the short chapters, translated by Max Hayward, fully holds the attention throughout and this book stands as a testament to the human spirit and confirms Osip Mandelstam to be one of the great poets of the last century and should be remembered as such! Amazing!

Hope Abandoned – by Nadezhda Mandelsatam.

Hope Abandoned, published in 1974, is the complementary piece to her earlier work ‘Hope Against Hope’, and in it Nadezhda describes her life with her husband Osip from May 1919 to May 1938, and her eventual life without the poet after his death into the 1960’s. The book sets out Osip’s fundamental ideas and values concerning poetry and also gives us a glimpse into his beliefs, painting an intimate portrait of the poet and his fellow contemporaries such as Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) and Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966). There are also descriptions of Osip’s and Nadhezda’s travels together and their friends.
This book is totally unique and invaluable, not only for the information we receive about Osip and his creative genius, but also for the insights into the life of the great Akhmatova. Along with the author’s earlier companion work ‘Hope Against Hope’, this book is surely a contender for one of the greatest memoirs written in the twentieth century! Completely compelling!

Christopher and his kind – by Christopher Isherwood.

Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) is an English novelist of some distinction whose early works are influenced by E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf. His ‘Mr Norris changes trains’ (1935) and ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ (1939), the latter becoming the hit 1968 stage musical ‘Cabaret’, reflect his own experiences of life in Berlin between 1929 and 1933. Isherwood was a friend and casual lover of the English poet W. H. Auden (1907-1973) with whom he collaborated on several written works. They settled in America and Christopher became a citizen of the USA in 1946. But it is with his early period in England, Berlin and later in Spain during the Civil War that ‘Christopher and his kind’, published in 1976, is concerned with. It centres on pre-war Berlin with its hedonism and decadence; its political atmosphere charged with violence and the predatory hunt for handsome young boys in bars, bought and bedded, like a collection of lost souls in search of something in a society threatened by a brutal fascist regime.
This book is a fascinating, frank and revealing account of Berlin’s glory days with it’s ‘anything goes’ approach to life and sexual expression. It is an interesting snap shot of the gay sub-culture: Isherwood struggles to save his German friend Heinz, with whom he had a loving yet often quite volatile relationship, from the ruthless hands of the Nazis. And of course, throughout is the overwhelming and immensely intelligent figure of W. H. Auden. Some will find it hard to reconcile Isherwood’s and Auden’s decision to leave Britain in a time of war, but Christopher and his kind is a celebration of youth and freedom before the great curtain descended over Europe! Outstanding!

The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins – Edited by W H Gardner and N H MacKenzie.

In many ways, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) is a rather neglected poet, but to anyone who cares to explore the life and work of this somewhat ‘peculiar’ man, there are indeed many riches to be found! Hopkins, was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1866 and was resolved on a life as a Jesuit Priest (he was ordained in 1877). He was a professor of rhetoric at Roehampton in 1873-4 before studying theology at St. Bueno’s in North Wales (1874-7) where he became entranced by the spiritual teachings and disciplines of St. Ignatius Loyola.
His poems are known for their poetic devices of ‘inscape’ and ‘instress’, words of Hopkin’s invention; the former is the spiritual ‘essence’ of a thing, and the latter is the ‘energy’ which flows from that thing. Hopkins also uses a technique known a ‘sprung rhythm’ which attempts to mirror speech rhythms using verse which is based on the number of stresses (not the feet) in a line. Among his complete poems in ‘The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ published in 1918, are: ‘The wreck of the Deutschland’ (1876), ‘The Windhover’ (1877) and ‘Pied Beauty’ (1877). But it is his ‘dark poems’, or what is termed the ‘terrible sonnets’ for which he is most remembered. They were written at a time of deep depression in the summer of 1885, while as a professor of Greek and Latin at University College, Dublin; poems such as: ‘To seem the stranger’, ‘I wake and feel’, ‘Patience, hard thing’, ‘Carrion Comfort’, ‘No worst, there is none’ and ‘My own heart’ have a tragic sadness about them which leads one to suggest Hopkins may even have contemplated suicide during that dark time of his life! We know he was infatuated by a young poet named Digby Dolben (1848-1867), and that his love was unrequited – ‘I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day. / What hours, O what black hours we have spent / This night! What sights you, heart, saw; ways you went! / And more must, in yet longer light’s delay. / -- With witness I speak this. But where I say / Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament / Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent / To dearest him that lives alas! away.’ I count myself fortunate to have walked in the footsteps of such a wondrous soul! A marvel of misunderstood genius!

Katherine Mansfield: The Woman and the Writer – by Gillian Boddy.

This is a very good biography of the writer Katherine Mansfield, pseudonym of Kathleen Mansfield Beuchamp (1888-1923), who was born in Wellington, New Zealand. Katherine, who was mostly educated in London, was bisexual by nature and after her first marriage in 1909, left her husband after only a few days; she became pregnant by another man and unfortunately gave birth to a stillborn child in Bavaria.
Her first collection of stories, ‘In a German Pension’ (1911), was a collection of previously published works telling of her time in Germany. In the same year she met the literary critic John Middleton Murray (1889-1957) whom she married in 1918. Her short story ‘Prelude’ was published by the Hogarth Press in 1918 and her next collection ‘Bliss, and other stories’ came out in 1920.
Mansfield was a remarkably accomplished and modern writer, influenced by Chekhov (1860-1904), who experimented with her prose, using an almost painterly approach to give impressions of her characters, like glimpses or fragments of life, capturing details from odd angles which perhaps may not have been seen. Her last collection of stories was ‘The Garden Party and other stories’ published in 1922. Two more collections followed, published posthumously: ‘The Dove’s Nest’ (1923) and ‘Something Childish’ (1924).
Katherine is also a very good poet and poems such as ‘Night Scented Stocks’ (1917) and ‘Sleeping Together’ (1908) reveals the rich texture and simplicity of her verse; there is also a sense of mystery in her poems, as in the beautiful ‘There was a child once’ (1910): ‘There was a child once / He came to play in my garden; / He was quite pale and silent. / Only when he smiled I knew everything about him, / I knew what he had in his pockets, / And I knew the feel of his hands on my hand / And the most intimate tones of his voice. / I led him down each secret path, / Showing him the hiding place of all my treasures. / I let him play with them, every one, / I put my singing thoughts in a little silver cage / And gave them to him to keep... / It was very dark in the garden / But never dark enough for us. On tip-toe we / Walked among the deepest shades; / We bathed in the shadow pools beneath the trees, / Pretending we were under the sea. / Once – near the boundary of the garden - / We heard steps passing along the World-road; / O how frightened we were! / I whispered: ‘‘Have you ever walked along that road?’’ / He nodded, and we shook the tears from our eyes... / He came – quite alone – to play in my garden; / He was pale and silent. / And when he went away, we did not even wave.’ Gillian Boddy has given us a very well researched book with real passion for her subject that shows Katherine Mansfield as a strong, modern woman and free spirit of her time. The author has also included many rare photographs of Katherine, who had a very distinctive style with her short hair and deep sad eyes. All in all, an excellent book about a very extraordinary woman whose life and writing career was tragically cut short!

The Complete Works of Lord Byron – by J. W. Lake.

George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) enjoyed all the pleasures and luxuries of one privileged to be born into aristocracy – he inherited a baronetcy in 1798 at the age of ten, and the family estate, Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire; he was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge; he took his seat in the House of Lords and was widely travelled. He lived a life of excess and had numerous affairs...
His first published poems were ‘Hours of Idleness’ in 1807, which was poorly received. Byron’s first important poem was ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’, published between 1812 and 1818, written in Spenserian stanza form of eight, five-foot iambic lines, followed by an iambic line of six feet, rhyming: ababbcbcc. It tells the tale of a young man who wanders through Europe, disillusioned with life and his hedonistic life-style. Other important works include: ‘The Bridge of Abydos’ (1813), ‘The Giaour’ (1813), ‘The Corsair’ (1814), and ‘Lara’ (1814); in these poems Byron began developing the notion of the ‘Byronic Hero’, the romantic figure with a mysterious past. He wrote his best works during his later period. ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’ (1816) was written in Geneva and the dramatic poem ‘Manfred’ was finished in Venice in 1817. The Venetian tale ‘Beppo’ (1818) and his best known work ‘Don Juan’ (1819-24) were written in Ottava Rima, an Italian stanza form of eight lines, each line having eleven syllables, rhyming: abababcc.
Legends have grown around Byron from his birth, having a club-foot; swimming the Hellespont, to accusations of incest from his relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh, and the birth of a daughter. There are also tales of young Byron suffering sexual abuse and how at University his sexual appetite included both sexes, and that he may have suffered from Bi-Polar Disorder. He accumulated debts and had to sell Newstead Abbey to solve his financial problems. He rebelled against authority, convention and morality; was an idealist radical lionized by society. He was passionate about Greece being free from the Turks and had intentions before his early death of fighting for their freedom.
Byron is seen as the archetypal English Romantic poet, but his poetry is different from his contemporary Romantics such as William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and John Keats (1795-1821), in that Byron’s poetic figures lack introspection; his poems are in the manner of the classical, with their heroic couplets, as in the works of John Drydon (1631-1700) and Alexander Pope (1688-1744).
Byron manufactured his own image and mythology, self-promoting the public perception of Byron as a Romantic hero, thus assuring himself immortal fame, and so he can be considered as the first real ‘celebrity’ poet, self-absorbed by his own public persona. Like most of today’s so-called, undeserving ‘celebrities’ in a culture where absolutely anyone can become famous, the ego dominates everything they do and the public love to hate and mock these sad, insipid ‘personalities’ lacking in real talent. Byron was different in that he was an enormously intensive ego with a great genius to match!
He is known as the ‘bad Lord Byron’ who was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know!’ words which fuelled the Byron machine, perpetuating the myth that venerates the name of Byron. But I must say I find it hard to like Byron the poet and there is something about the ‘Byronic Hero’ I find detestable, the mysterious wandering figure seems too one-dimensional, but Byron the man, contemptuous of convention, to me is far more interesting and the so-called ‘bad’ things associated with him, are in fact his only redeeming features.
The Complete Works has all the expectations one would want from Byron, a detailed ‘sketch’ of the great man’s life and even records of his parliamentary speeches!
He is praised and celebrated the world over and his name, which is synonymous with chivalry and Romanticism, shall shine among the stars until the end of time – not bad for an egotistical bore with a club-foot!

Lytton Strachey: A Critical Biography – by Michael Holroyd.

This excellent book by Michael Holroyd incorporates the two volumes published in 1967-68 of Strachey’s life: volume I ‘The Unknown Years 1880-1910’ and volume II ‘The Years of Achievement 1910-1932’. Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) was a biographer and essayist who was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge; he was a member of the ‘Apostles’, the Cambridge intellectual society which counted as its members the likes of George Edward Moore (1873-1958), John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) and Leonard Woolf (1880-1969), leading lights who became firm friends of Strachey’s. He was also involved with the Bloomsbury Group, an artistic and creative group of friends who actively revolted against the artistic, social and sexual restrictions of Victorian society. He wrote some excellent works including ‘Landmarks in French Literature’ (1912), the classic ‘Eminent Victorians’ (1918), a collection of four biographical essays; ‘Queen Victoria: A Life’ (1921) and ‘Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History’ (1928).
Holroyd has written a classic in the form of biography on Lytton Strachey and this two volume work helped to create new interest in the Bloomsbury Group at its publication and generally in the art of biography itself! Superb!

Philip Larkin Collected Works.

The poet and novelist Philip Larkin (1922-1985) worked in various libraries from 1943 and his first collection of poems was ‘The North Ship’ (1945); two novels followed ‘Jill’ (1946) and ‘A Girl in Winter’ (1947) before his next collection of poems ‘The Less Deceived’ (1955). His best known collections of poetry ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ (1964) with its melancholy tone and ‘High Windows’ (1974) have an undercurrent theme of death and the transient nature of existence; his poems are exercises in restraint, bleak and of little emotion. Larkin was a poet of ‘The Movement’, a group of poets emerging from post-war Britain, expressing concerns that were relevant in simple, plain language, revealing an anti-romantic and humorous outlook.
Larkin’s poems seem like personal entries in a private diary, brimming with pessimism. The sadness associated with love and the perpetual fear of death gallops through Larkin’s verse, but love offers tantalising glimpses of brief happiness, as in ‘Faith Healing’: ‘In everyone there sleeps / A sense of life lived according to love’ or again in the immortal classic, ‘An Arundel Tomb’: ‘Our almost-instinct almost true / What will survive of us is love’. Beautiful!

M. R. James: An Informal Portrait – by Michael Cox.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book on the life of Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936), England’s finest ghost story writer, and Michael Cox has produced an excellent biography of the scholar, dean and provost of King’s College, Cambridge and later provost of Eton College. He concentrates on the man behind the ghost tales, exploring his character and his wide circle of friends. During his research Cox came upon an obscure ‘lost’ work by James called ‘The malice of inanimate objects’, something all Jamesian scholars and enthusiasts are grateful for.
We know James had a talent and a fascination for telling ghost stories to his school friends and there is a chapter on the development of the ghost stories and his own opinions on the ‘spirit world’. Cox quotes from the great man’s letters and notebooks and there are lots of photographs, but those coming to ‘An Informal Portrait’ (1983) with hopes of learning more about the composition of the famous ghost stories may be a little disappointed and perhaps you may wish to consult R. W. Pfaff’s 1980 publication ‘Montague Rhodes James’ which is still in my opinion the definitive biography. That said Cox has done excellent work in casting new light upon the master of shadows! Recommended!

Wildwood: A journey through trees – by Roger Deakin.

Wildwood is a fascinating and even spiritual appreciation for wood in all its various states of being and beauty, from its stately grandeur in nature and the terrible tragedy of the elm to its function within the landscape as ecological habitats and how skilled crafts persons manage and shape it into utensils, furniture and magnificent art forms.
Deakin is an excellent and knowledgeable fellow, evoking a mesmerising land of lost orchards and hedgerows; his enthusiastic passion for nature and storytelling really comes across whether he is talking about the rookery and the twilight world of the woods in literature; his journeys to the New Forest and the Forest of Dean and Wye, or the Australian outback and the Russian Steppe.
Trees are part of our ancestral heritage and our link back to the great wood; the familiar way markers in a landscape – the ‘fairy tale’ woods of our childhoods, dark and haunted, imprinted upon our psyche, they remain with us. Enchanting and definitely recommended!

Uncle Silas – by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

Le Fanu’s novel published in 1864 is the tale of Silas Ruthyn, a man suspected of murdering a gambler found dead at Silas’s home Bartram-Haugh in Derbyshire. Silas’s brother Austin believes wholeheartedly in his innocence and on Austin’s death bed he leaves a will stating that Silas is to be awarded guardianship of Austin’s daughter Maud. Austin’s belief and trust in his brother Silas is shown by the fact that if Maud dies before coming of age, Uncle Silas will receive her fortune.
Silas attempts to marry Maud off to his son, Dudley (already married) but Maud refuses. Under the belief that she is on her way to school in France, Maud finds she is a prisoner at Bartram-Haugh. Silas, Dudley and a creepy French Governess Madame de la Rougierre, plot to murder Maud, but the Governess is killed by Dudley by mistake and Maud escapes.
Le Fanu (1814-1873) is a master of the ghost story and Uncle Silas is full of atmosphere and chilling moments. Those who are wise will uncover a world of magic in the writings of Le Fanu if they should care to delve into his works. Excellent!

The Selected Poetry and Prose of Shelley (Wordsworth Poetry Library) with an Introduction and Notes by Bruce Woodcock.

Like Byron, Keats and Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley has secured his immortality amongst the English Romantics and anyone wishing to understand the poetry of the period and the Romantic Movement need look no further than Shelley, for he encompasses the thought and essence of his contemporaries. Born in Sussex and educated at Eton College and University College, Oxford, Shelley (1792-1822) was an unhappy and rebellious child. He played the eccentric at Oxford and was expelled in 1811 for circulating ‘The necessity of Atheism’ which he co-wrote with his friend T. J. Hogg. He eloped with the sixteen year old Harriet Westbrook to Scotland and they married in August 1811, a marriage ending in 1814 (Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine in 1816). Shelley eloped yet again, now with Mary Godwin and her fifteen year old stepsister Jane ‘Claire’ Clairmont. He spent the summer of 1816 at Lake Geneva with Byron and suffered tragedy when his daughter Clara and son William both died in Venice and Rome respectively. Percy and Mary settled in Italy and Shelley drowned in 1822.
Shelley is one of the great English Romantic poets and his major works include the visionary poem ‘Queen Mab’ (1813), ‘Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude’ (1816), the epic political poem ‘The Revolt of Islam’; the four act lyrical drama ‘Promethius Unbound’ (1819), ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ written in response to the Peterloo Massacre; ‘The Ode to the West Wind’, the satirical ‘Peter Bell the third’, ‘The Witch of Atlas’, ‘The Cenci’, ‘Adonais’ (1821) written on hearing of the death of Keats; the autobiographical ‘Epipsychidia’ (1821), ‘Hellas’ (1822) and ‘The Triumph of Life’ (1822).
Shelley is often considered to be an angry young man with more than a hint of intellectual arrogance and self pity and for this reason he was derided in his own time and not really appreciated until after his death and the later appraisal by Victorian poets and writers. It is true Shelley was mischievous and idealistic and that he hated all forms of oppression and injustice; he was a radical who revealed his philosophical thoughts, political ideas and notions of human desire through his poetry. He was a non-violent, atheist, anti-monarchy, vegetarian who believed in free love and women’s emancipation from oppression, and like Byron he supported the Greeks’ cause against the Turks. Unlike that other Romantic, Wordsworth, whom he thought betrayed his ideals; Shelley wanted his poetry to connect with the world and cause reactions, which indeed it did.
The Wordsworth Poetry Library edition is excellent value, making great poetry available to everyone, something I’m sure Shelley would have approved of.

The Complete poems of John Keats (Wordsworth Poetry Library) with and Introduction, Glossary and Notes by Paul Wright.

Of all the English Romantic poets, Keats is the most emblematic of the notion of the beautiful, doomed romantic youth, succumbing to the tragedy and fate of his own death, something which appealed to the Victorians and the Pre-Raphaelites. John Keats (1795-1821) was an apprentice to an apothecary-surgeon and became a student at Guy’s Hospital before abandoning medicine in favour of writing poetry. His first volume of poems was published in 1817 and was ridiculed as ‘Cockney School’ of poetry. He visited the Lakes, Scotland and Northern Ireland and moved to London’s Hampstead where he met and fell in love with Fanny Brawne. After financial difficulties he became ill in the winter of 1819 with tuberculosis and he died in Rome in February 1821.
Keats was one of the principle figures in the Romantic Movement and he was influenced by Wordsworth and Hazlitt and many critics were quite hostile to his poetic works. The year 1818 proved to be his year of maturity, writing such poems as ‘Endymion’ (dedicated to Chatterton), ‘Isabella, or the Pot of Basil’, ‘Hyperion’, ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, ‘The Eve of St Mark’, ‘Ode to Psyche’, ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, ‘Ode on Melancholy’, and ‘To Autumn’. His second volume of verse appeared in 1820 and his contemporaries either loved or loathed his work; Byron, that pompous man of action disliked Keats and despised his effeminacy which is strange coming from a man who delighted in the affections of both sexes! Yet Keats adored Byron’s works. But Shelley, the profound visionary who died the year after Keats favoured the younger poet’s intellectual and spiritual passion for beauty; he possibly saw a kindred spirit but where Shelley uses philosophy to shape his poems, Keats draws upon the sexual and physical notions of beauty, writing with real feeling and an admiration for beauty in all its transient forms. Byron, the Romantic poseur saw Keats as a passive poet; a ‘young pretender’, with a liking for nostalgia, but I find Keats with his pure heart and imagination relates much better to the modern reader than Byron or Shelley for that matter, and the collected works are a proof of his lasting lyrical beauty! In the words of Shelley: ‘I weep for Adonais – he is dead!’

The Turn of the Screw – by Henry James.

The turn of the screw is a classic ghost story by Henry James 1843-1916 and published in 1898. Written in the first person narrative, the novella is the story of a young governess who accepts a position taking charge of two especially beautiful children named Miles and Flora at a country estate named Bly. The governess, who is romantically drawn towards the children’s handsome Uncle who has employed her, soon realises that there is something strange at Bly and she senses an evil presence at the house. Miles is expelled from his school and the reader, just as the governess, is left wondering what terrible schoolboy vices he has been accused of and was there a sexual element; of course, this is never spoken of. Before long the governess is seeing the ghosts of the former valet Peter Quint and the previous governess Miss Jessel. In life, Quint and Jessel were romantically linked but things soon suggest that the ‘romance’ was no ordinary story of love and the new governess believes their restless spirits are influencing the children; attempting to corrupt them into their world of sin and ‘un-nameable debaucheries’.
The governess sees Flora near the pond, and she believes she is in contact with the sinister Miss Jessel. Flora is taken away to safety and little Miles dies in the governess’s arms, with the predatory Quint determined to win over the boy’s soul.
Henry James has written a truly haunting tale in which the tension tightens and we are never really sure whether the ‘evil’ apparitions, if indeed they do exist, for it is up to the reader to decide, are seducing the children. Are the ghosts communicating with the children or are they figments of the new governess’s imagination? But it is this uncertainty and the corruption of childhood innocence which is the most powerful and terrifying aspects of the story that leaves a lasting impression. I cannot recommend this wonderful story enough!

The Collected Poems of Edward Thomas – edited by R. George Thomas.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917) is surely one of England’s greatest poets of the twentieth century and I regard him above and beyond all others, except perhaps my other poetic love – A. E. Housman. Thomas was drawn to literature and it was his friend Robert Frost (1874-1963) the American poet who inspired him to make the shift from writing prose to writing poetry. The transition would not have been too difficult for Thomas as most of his prose writing was already in a sense, ‘poetry’ but in a different format. He wrote about the things he loved; things close to his heart such as the beauty of nature. He was a man who understood the human relationship with the land and the ‘spiritual’ joy of being immersed in the wilderness, a landscape that is almost lost to us now!
His poems are striking because like Hardy, there is a deep love of nature and a colloquial conversational, even intimate feel to his poems, using natural diction and speech rhythms. He chooses his words with precision, stripping away the unnecessary ‘dead’ adjectives and this gives his poems a modern feel. His first poem ‘Up in the wind’ written in December 1914, has this sense of the intimate conversation about it, along with his bleak pastoral outlook in his observations, much like the poems of Housman: ‘Here I was born, / And I’ve a notion on these windy nights/ Here I shall die. Perhaps I want to die here.’
Thomas wrote at a fevered pace, being unsatisfied with the demands for reviews, literary criticism and writing commissions (‘hack-work’) to deadlines; it seemed to stifle his own creative ambitions which caused a heavy sadness in his heart. He was by nature, prone to bouts of melancholy and this disposition caused several near mental breakdowns and he even considered suicide when he took his revolver with him and sat upon a hill alone in the autumn of 1911. But it was the love and support of his wife Helen and the beauty of nature and solitude which kept his dark demons at bay. And so, with the turmoil of war, Thomas enlisted in 1915 and the great tragedy of his death occurred on the first day of the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917 when he was killed by a shell blast which stopped his heart; a day that will go down in literary history!
He is considered to be one of the ‘war poets’ which I feel is incorrect because only a few of his poems feature war as a main theme, such as ‘In Memoriam (Easter, 1915): ‘The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood/ This Eastertide call into mind the men, / Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should/ Have gathered them and will do never again.’ But it is nature and the beauty of the English landscape which shines through his verse and war lurks on the fringes, behind every farm hand that does not return to the land. His poems, which originally appeared under the pseudonym Edward Eastaway, recall real events or remembered walks and topographical details; works such as the conversational ‘As the Team’s Head-Brass’ with its talk of war and watching the lovers enter into a wood, or the tender ‘If I should ever by chance’ and ‘What shall I give?’ or the beautiful ‘And you, Helen’, and ‘Fifty faggots’, to the melancholy wistfulness of ‘Women he liked’. Then of course there is the classic ‘Adelstrop’ something so modern it could almost have been written by Ted Hughes (1930-1998); ‘Words’, ‘After rain’, ‘Old man’, ‘Roads’ with its sense of continual movement, and the simplistic rhyme scheme of ‘Out in the dark’; his poems have become timeless reminders of a country before the devastation of war and how war effects every corner of every field and every wood. His collected poems are one of the most astonishing collections of verse ever written and to read them is to hold them dear in one’s heart for always!

The Equinox – Volume I, numbers 1-10.

The Equinox is a massive periodical containing esoteric writings, poetry, short stories, plays and material on yoga techniques and magical instruction. Volume I comprises of ten bulky issues or ‘numbers’ published twice yearly at the vernal (spring) and autumnal equinox between 1909 and 1913. The motto on the front cover of each volume reads ‘The Method of Science’ and ‘The Aim of Religion’ and it is subtitled ‘The Review of Scientific Illuminism’; in a magical sense it is known as the ‘encyclopaedia of Initiation’ and it gives very specific and structured methods of attainment in the occult arts. Its author was the celebrated occultist and so called ‘wickedest man in the world’ Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) who published it at his flat and Headquarters of his magical order the A.A. or the ‘Silver Star’ at 124 Victoria Street, London. Other contributors included: John Frederick Charles Fuller (1878-1966), Victor Benjamin Neuburg (1883-1940), Frank Harris (1856-1931), Meredith Starr [Herbert Close] (1890-1971), and George Raffalovich (1880-1958).
It was Crowley’s wish to produce a masterpiece of the English language in its printing and content – ‘My special job was to preserve the Sacred Tradition, so that a new Renaissance might in due season rekindle the hidden Light. I was accordingly to make a Quintessence of the Ancient Wisdom, and publish it in as permanent a form as possible... the Equinox, in a word, was to be a sort of Rosetta Stone’. The Equinox was the official organ of Crowley’s magical order, the A.A. and it was the ‘first serious attempt to put before the public the facts of Occult Science, so-called, since Blavatsky’s unscholarly hotch-potch of facts and fable, Isis Unveiled’.
Throughout several issues are serialised essays such as ‘The Herb Dangerous’ which looks at the psychological effects of drugs and it is found in the first four numbers of the Equinox. ‘The Temple of Solomon the King’ a biography of the magical career of Frater Perdurabo [Aleister Crowley] has the first four numbers written by Fuller and the rest written by Crowley.
Number 1 (published March 1909) contains such works as ‘At the fork of the road’, ‘The Soldier and the Hunchback ! and ?’ with a special supplement: ‘John St John: The Record of the Magical Retirement of G. H. Frater O. M. (Crowley). In number 5 (March 1911) there is the special supplement Liber CCCCXVIII ‘The Vision and the Voice’ and in number 6 (Sept 1911) is the supplement featuring ‘The Rites of Eleusis’, seven invocations or ‘rites’ of the planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Venus, Mercury, Luna. There is an account of an incarnation in Egypt in number 7 (March 1912) titled ‘Across the gulf’, and in number 9 (March 1913) is the extraordinary ‘An Evocation of Bartzabel the Spirit of Mars’, and finally in number 10 (Sept 1913) is a translation of Eliphas Levi’s ‘The Key of the Mysteries’ as a special supplement.
There is no doubt that to the student of the occult and the enthusiast of Crowley’s work, The Equinox is essential reading and it incorporates everything from the early Golden Dawn teachings to Crowley’s own magical system and the Law of Thelema in the Aeon of Horus. Many of the major writings have been published elsewhere of course and a less expensive option is to purchase Regardie’s ‘Gems from the Equinox’ which has most of the important magical writings, but to have the complete set of The Equinox is truly a wondrous and invaluable thing! Outstanding!

The Equinox – Volume III, number 1.

After five years of silence since the publication of volume I (publication alternated five years of silence with five years of speech and so Crowley considered volume II of The Equinox to be an unpublished ‘volume of silence’), volume III of The Equinox appeared in March 1919. With its blue cloth covers it became known by the familiar name of the ‘Blue Equinox’. The book has many works of magical instruction and esoteric knowledge specific to Crowley’s Thelemic system of the occult the A.'.A.'., or Great White Brotherhood, a ‘Body of the highest Initiates, pledged to aid mankind. It offers instruction in the Way of Spiritual Progress and Illumination to individual seekers. The work of the A.'.A.'. is called Scientific Illuminism. This may be briefly expressed by quoting its motto: "The method of Science; the aim of Religion." Every seeker is taught how to realise Truth for himself, by means accurate and well-tested. The O.T.O. is the first of the great religious Societies to accept the Law. It trains groups by way of progressive initiation. The Equinox publishes all instructions and pronouncements of the A.'.A.'. and O.T.O. It also publishes such poetry, drama, fiction, and essays, as are sympathetic to this programme, so far as space permits.’
This first number of volume III contains such important works as: ‘Liber II – The Message of the Master Therion’, ‘Liber DCCCXXXVII – The Law of Liberty’, ‘Liber LXI’, ‘Liber LXV – Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente’, ‘Liber CL – De Lege Libellum’, ‘Liber CLXV – A Master of the Temple’ (an account of the attainment of Frater Unus in Omnibus [Achad], Charles Stansfeld Jones), ‘Liber CCC – Khabs am Pekht’, ‘The Seven Fold Sacrament’, ‘Liber LII – Manifesto of the O.T.O.’, ‘Liber CLXI – Concerning the Law of Thelema’, ‘Liber XV – The Gnostic Mass’ and the special supplement is ‘Liber LXXI – The Voice of the Silence: The Two Paths, The Seven Portals’.
The book shows a definite progression from the first volume and there is a clear turn towards more magical and Thelemic writing rather than short stories and plays. Sadly other numbers were not published during those ‘five years of speech’ but if number one is anything to go by other numbers would have been of the highest quality and content. The book is remarkable as it stands alone in volume III (until other books by Crowley were issued under the Equinox volume III banner later on, such as ‘Eight Lectures on Yoga’ and ‘Liber Aleph’ etc), and it is an excellent addition to any occult student or Crowley scholar’s library! Recommended!

Critique of Pure Reason – by Immanuel Kant.

First published in 1781 by the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ explains Kant’s philosophical belief that knowledge is acquired through two varying factors: ‘a posteriori’ – in which something is known to be logically true only by the evidence of the ‘sense’ experience, and ‘a priori’ – in which something is logically true through the understanding, independent of experience (pure reason). These conditions of knowledge must also take into account the concept of Space (outer intuition) and Time (inner intuition), which governs our perception and understanding. Kant analyses these unions of synthesis into twelve categories or conscious laws which include: Quantity (Unity/Plurality), Quality (Reality/Negation/Limitation), Relation (Cause and Effect) and Modality (Possibility and Responsibility; Existence and Non-Existence). By this Kant shows that the world around us is experienced by a priori (Rationalism and Reason) and a posteriori (Empiricism and Experience) subjective to consciousness (a unity of intuitions), linked by thought under certain laws.
This ‘consciousness’ assents to specific modes of conduct, as in the ‘moral’ law of behaviour (good, honest and positive actions), ‘amoral’ and ‘immoral’ (bad and negative actions). These moral laws are also driven by religious aspirations in some who assume the existence of a ‘Superior Being’ or God, and are subjective to God’s will. In metaphysics, morality and religion are not within the boundary of knowledge and lie in the region of faith, and so Kant brings into question the theory that there may not be a God, after all, and ultimately the concept that the soul cannot exist for how can a substance that is ‘not matter’ (the soul) be contained ‘in matter’ (the body)?
This is all very fascinating and Kant’s work went on to inspire such thinkers as Johann Fichte (1762-1814), Friedrich Schelling 91775-1854), George Hegel (1770-1831) and David Hume (1711-1776). This interesting book will provide the reader with much food for thought!

Snowdrops from a Curate’s Garden – by Aleister Crowley.

Crowley wrote the book during a stay at his Highland home, Boleskine, on the banks of Loch Ness, after his wife Rose gave birth to their daughter Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith Crowley, on 28th July 1904. Crowley and his friends whom he invited to stay: his physician Dr. Percival Bott, who joined the party in readiness for Rose’s confinement; Gerald Kelly (1879-1972) the artist and brother to Crowley’s wife Rose; Ivor Gordon Back (1879-1951), a friend of Aleister’s and Gerald’s from their Cambridge University days. Ivor was editing Crowley’s ‘Collected Works’ at the time and he later became a surgeon at St. George’s Hospital, London. Crowley’s Aunt Annie also attended and looked after the household while the men enjoyed the Highland delights of salmon fishing, shooting, climbing (Crowley taught Bott and Back the rudiments of climbing), playing billiards and the Laird’s (Crowley’s) wine cellar! Rose, in her convalescence was bored and so Aleister decided to entertain her by writing a ‘suitable book for her’. He wrote a chapter a day on his typewriter and read what he wrote to the rest of the party, except his Aunt Annie! – ‘Ivor and I, with some assistance from Gerald, collected such of these manuscripts as had not been destroyed, and with ‘The Nameless Novel’, we composed a volume to carry on the literary form of White Stains [Aleister Crowley. 1898] and Alice [Aleister Crowley. 1905]; that is, we invented a perpetrator for the atrocities.’ [Confessions. Aleister Crowley]
And so the book begins with an account of its imaginary author’s life; the author, who is only known by the letter ‘K’, we are told by an un-named editor who stole the manuscript, was born around 1860 in a ‘hunting shire of England’ to parents who were reasonably well off to enjoy a life of leisure. ‘K’ is a delicate and religious youth whom his tutors respect for his learning. After taking Holy Orders, he gains a Chaplaincy in Paris where he is accepted and honoured for his work amongst the poor. During the many hours of idleness he composes ‘hymns’ and spends his evenings at a restaurant known as the ‘Au Chien Rouge’ with the celebrated artists who frequent the place [Crowley is here thinking of the ‘Chat Blanc’ in the Rue d’Odessa, where he enjoyed many an evening in the year 1902].
‘K’ gives himself sexually to a ‘boat-captain on a Seine steamer’ and after marrying a young and beautiful English woman, they honeymoon in Cairo [Crowley is on familiar ground as he and Rose spent their honeymoon in Cairo]. The couple go to the notorious ‘T – Club’ and there are soldiers, fish porters and all the good and bad of Egyptian society indulging in orgiastic behaviour. It is here that ‘K’s’ wife is violated numerous times!
Then we come to the ‘Nameless Novel’ itself which is about an archbishop and his obscene atrocities which defy belief. Then we are treated to the ‘Juvenilia’, poems which include: ‘The needs of the Navy’, ‘After the Fall: a page from the Book of the Recording Angel’ and ‘The Parson’s Prayer’. Then from the ‘Bromo Book’ we have: ‘Long before dawn’, ‘Stephanos’, ‘To Pe or not to Pe’, ‘Home thoughts from abroad’, ‘One way of love’, ‘Outside the Spanish Cloisters’, and ‘Force’. Then come the Limericks: ‘The sailor ashore’, ‘Triolets’, ‘Birthday Ode’, ‘Rosa Mystica’, ‘Celia’, ‘The automatic girl’, Micturating Mary’ and ‘The poet abroad’.
The book is an interesting example of pornographic literature and ‘schoolboy humour’ written merely as an exercise to amuse his wife Rose. Crowley invented many new words and phrases but its only real value is as a ‘period piece’ for Crowley students and scholars. Its content fails to titillate but be warned as it does include such content as incest, torture, necrophilia, coprophagia, cannibalism, sodomy... you get the idea, all the things that put the ‘Great’ in Great Britain! Crowley said about the book in his ‘Confessions’ that ‘my object is not merely to disgust but to root out ruthlessly the sense of sin!’ Not a bad endeavour! Humorous and degrading and jolly good fun! Enjoy!

South with Scott – by Admiral Sir Edward R. G. R. Evans K.C.B., D.S.O.

Published in 1921, ‘South with Scott’ is a fascinating and moving account of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s (1862-1912) British Antarctic Expedition of 1910. The author, Edward ‘Teddy’ Evans (1881-1957), a naval Lieutenant who journeyed with Scott on board the Terra Nova, was Scott’s second in command and one of the last (along with Tom Crean 1877-1938 and William Lashley 1867-1940) to see Scott and his companions: Edgar Evans (1876-1912), Henry Bowers (1883-1912), Edward Wilson (1872-1912) and Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates (1880-1912), alive on the ill-fated ‘Southern Journey’ to the Pole. ‘Teddy’ has written a thoroughly engrossing book which includes diary entries; ten photographs by Herbert Ponting and fold-out maps. He captures all the highs and lows of camp life and the drama heightens from page to page with such endeavours as Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Gerrard’s (1886-1959) arduous scientific journey in search of Emperor penguin eggs from Cape Evans to the penguin colony at Cape Crozier and back; or the crossing of the Beardmore Glacier in which the author almost died were it not for his companions Lashley and Crean and the bond of brotherhood forged – the book is dedicated to them. And of course there is the ultimate heroic sacrifice by poor, brave Captain Oates on the day of his birthday!
Being what amounts to somewhat of an obsessive in regards Scott and his last expedition to the Pole, which he reached on 17th January 1912, and having seen many of the original polar artefacts, I find the tale, sad as it is, a great example for us all and a lesson in hope and mental and physical endurance combined with the spirit of comradeship.
Evans, who was disappointed not to have been chosen as a member of the final polar party, has written a great tribute to a fine and gallant band of men, the likes of whom we will never see again, and a picture emerges of Scott as an excellent leader of men, respected by all in his command, prepared to follow him to the end of the world! I dearly loved this book (my copy has acquired a wonderful aroma of antiquity) and I heartily recommend it!

Clouds without water – by Aleister Crowley.

‘Clouds without water’ is a series of erotic love poems by Aleister Crowley, under the pseudonym of the Rev. C. Verey. The title is taken from the Book of Jude: ‘clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever’ [Jude 12, 13.]
Crowley began writing the book in October 1907 and it is inspired by a beautiful, young actress by the name of Vera Blanche Neville Snepp (1888-1953), who acted under the name Vera Neville. Crowley met her at Coulsdon in Surrey and she called herself ‘Lola’ – ‘Lola! Now look me straight between the eyes. / Our fate is come upon us. Tell me now / Love still shall arbitrate our destinies, / And joy inform the swart Plutonic brow.’ [VIII The Initiation]. Lola inspired the first four sections of the poem: I The Augur, II The Alchemist, III The Hermit and IV The Thaumaturge. She also inspired and appeared in Crowley’s ‘The Wake World’ as ‘Lola Daydream’ in ‘Konx Om Pax’ (1907). Vera married Henry Algernon Claude Graves (1877-1963), 7th Lord Graves, Baron of Gravesend in 1909. They divorced in 1922. Another of Crowley’s mistresses, the sculptress Edith Agnes Kathleen Bruce (1878-1947) inspired sections V The Black Mass, VI The Adept and VII The Vampire. Also the first letters of the lines of ‘A Terzain’ spell out the name Kathleen Bruce. Kathleen had met Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the explorer in 1906 and they were married in 1908.
Another mistress inspired the final part of the book, VIII The Initiation, she was a friend of Oscar Wilde and although Crowley does not mention her by name, this is undoubtedly Ada Leverson, nee Beddington (1862-1933), known by Wilde as ‘The Sphinx’.
On 8th July 1908 Crowley worked on ‘Clouds without water’ in Paris and in the following year it was privately printed and ‘edited from a private MS. by the Rev. C. Verey, for circulation among ministers of religion’. With an interesting preface by the good Reverend Verey, ‘Clouds without water’ is a fascinating and passionate journey of poetic lust: ‘our love is like a glittering sabre bloodied / With lives of men; upsoared the sudden sun; / The choral heaven wake; the aethyr flooded / All space with joy that you and I were one’. Beautiful!

Church Monuments – by Brian Kemp.

Being number 149 in the Shire Album series, published in 1985, ‘Church Monuments’ is a good basic introduction to the history of English monuments beginning in the twelfth century with relief effigies, through to the tomb chests and elaborate decorations of the Renaissance. Kemp also looks at Baroque wall tablets, Rococo and Greek Revival inspired monuments of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and touches upon the Gothic Revival of the Victorian era, with its sentimental figurative sculpture.
The section on effigies is very interesting and explores the evolution of the various postures from the reclining, semi-reclining and kneeling, through to the hands clasped in prayer effigies. The symbolism of monuments and their adornments is also of particular interest, with themes concerning the Resurrection and the immortality of the soul and the stark reality of the corpse effigies, skeletons and skulls, emphasising the inevitability of death.
With a list of Cathedrals, churches and chapels containing important funerary monuments, Dr Brian Kemp has produced a good preliminary guide to the art of monuments which thankfully survived the destruction of the Reformation in the 16th century and the Civil War of the 17th century; monuments which are our cultural heritage and architectural legacy. But at only 32 pages, ‘Church Monuments’ only allows us a glimpse into this truly fascinating subject and I was definitely left wanting more! Recommended!

Amphora – by Aleister Crowley.

In 1908 Aleister Crowley sent his manuscript of Christian devotional verse in praise of the Virgin Mary, anonymously to the London publishers Burns and Oates, who subsequently published the work under the title ‘Amphora’. At the same time, Crowley issued a private printing for ‘the Authoress and her intimates’ by Arden Press, with the inclusion of an epilogue disclosing an obscene sentence when reading the first letter of each line downwards and the first letter of each last word, downwards! ‘I decided to write a series of hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the simplest possible style’. [‘Confessions’]
When Messrs Burns and Oates discovered the true authorship, they reacted in typical Christian fashion when confronted with anything contrary or revealing free-thinking idealism and sexual expression: they closed their eyes and put their fingers in their ears, shouting ‘Repent!’ And so the remaining copies of ‘Amphora’ which had received mixed reviews, were withdrawn.
‘Amphora’ is divided into four books, each containing thirteen hymns and beginning with this short prologue: ‘Mother and maiden! on the natural night / Embowered in bliss of roses red and white, / To Him with gold and frankincense and myrrh.’ ... ‘Those Pagans gazing on the Heavenly Host / Were blest of Father, Son and Holy Ghost; / And me, though I be as an heathen Mage, / Thou wilt accept in this my pious page.’
Crowley later re-issued the book in 1912 under the title ‘Hail Mary’, and it is unlikely to appeal to anyone not interested in Crowley and his works. Nevertheless, there are moments of simple beauty in the hymns and granted, they do lack a certain ‘dark passion’ which can be found in other Crowley poems such as his ‘Hymn to Pan’, but ‘Amphora’ shows to what extent Crowley’s magnificent creative mind could be directed. Intriguing!

Not the Life and Adventures of Sir Roger Bloxam – by Aleister Crowley.

Written in the old French-Spanish quarter of New Orleans by Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) between 1916 and 1917, ‘Not the Life and Adventures of Sir Roger Bloxam’ is a very curious little book indeed! It is an extremely inventive piece of writing composed by Crowley when he was staying near to the old ‘Absinthe House’ and for those without any background knowledge of Crowley’s life, especially his intimacy with Jerome Pollitt, it will seem rather unintelligible. It is in parts a humorous, though veiled account of Crowley’s youthful ‘adventures’ and sexual relations, which focuses on his great love: Herbert Charles Jerome Pollitt (1871-1942), whom he met at Trinity College, Cambridge as an undergraduate in the October term of 1897. The relationship was to last until the summer of 1898 because of differences in interests, much to the eternal regret of Crowley, who ended their passionate affair in favour of a spiritual life. Pollitt was a ‘female impersonator’ with beautiful golden hair who performed at the College’s ‘Footlights Dramatic Club’ (he was the club’s Vice President in 1894-5 and President from 1895-1897). The whole of the book is really a ‘paean to Pollitt, whom Crowley came to regard as the greatest love of his life.
Crowley says of the book on page 817 of his ‘Confessions’ that ‘I also began from the very depths of my spiritual misery a very strange book of an entirely new kind; so much so that I describe it as ‘’A Novelissim’’. Its title is Not the Life and Adventures of Sir Roger Bloxam. It remains unfinished to this day; in fact it is hardly theoretically possible to finish it, strictly speaking. I have indeed serious qualms as to whether I have not overstepped the limits of truth in saying that I began it. To be safe, I should be content to say I wrote a good deal of it.’
During his time in New Orleans, Crowley was experimenting with morphine, cocaine and absinthe, which may explain the work’s disjointed effect upon the reader. The character of Sir Roger Bloxam is obviously Crowley and Pollitt is ‘Hippolytus’. ‘Porphyria Poppoea’ is Crowley’s anus; ‘Cardinal Mentula di Carraco’ is the great man’s penis and his testes are ‘Signor Coglio the Florentine’ and ‘Don Cojone of Logorno’, and so the book is not so much the ‘adventures’ of Sir Roger Bloxam but also the exploits of Crowley’s sexual organs. This book is a misunderstood and often overlooked masterpiece that is well worth studying! Delightful!

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater – by Thomas De Quincey.

First published in 1822 (and later enlarged in 1856) ‘Confessions of an English Opium-Eater’ by the English essayist and critic, Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) tells the autobiographical tale of his descent into laudanum addiction, which began at Worcester College, Oxford in 1804. Thomas became fully dependant on the drug in 1812, and the book details the psychological effects of opium upon the memory and how symbolic representations found in dreams can reveal interesting insights into the mind influenced by addiction. In Thomas’s case, the focus of his dreams was his sister who died in childhood and another recurring memory was that of Ann, a fifteen year old prostitute who befriended but suddenly left him alone in London where he was homeless and hungry. He had ran away from his Manchester Grammar School to Wales and London and he became a friend to the poets William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) and Robert Southey (1774-1843). This book became very influential to many writers, including Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) and Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) who like De Quincey suffered from their own addictions.
From the depths of the appalling opium nightmares De Quincey did manage to have some success in controlling the habit and the ‘Confessions’ is an interesting book on the pleasures and pains of opium. Its title may draw those curious souls seeking sensational revelations of debauchery but they will be sadly disappointed and its wordy prose style and classical references may become a little tedious and put some readers off. That said, the book is quite enlightening to those willing to stick with it!

The Collected Poems of Kathleen Raine.

Kathleen Raine (1908-2003) was an extraordinary poet and critic, married to the poet and sociologist Charles Madge (1912-1996). Her poetry has an intense spiritual quality, inspired by the wild, rugged landscape of Scotland where her mother was born. Her first published collection was ‘Stone and Flower’ in 1943, followed by ‘Living in Time’ (1946), ‘The Pythoness’ (1949), ‘The Year One’ (1952), ‘The Hollow Hill’ (1965), ‘The Lost Country’ (1971), ‘On a Deserted Shore’ (1973), ‘The Oval Portrait’ (1977), ‘The Oracle in the Heart’ (1980), ‘The Presence’ (1987) and ‘Living with Mystery’ (1992).
Kathleen also produced three volumes of autobiography and wrote critically on William Blake and the Neoplatonic tradition, which reflected the sense of beauty and intense mystical and visionary aspect of her poetry celebrating the vitality of the world around us.
‘Towards us out of the dark blew such sweet air/ It was the warm breath of the spirit, I knew, / Fragrant with wild thyme that grew/ In childhood’s fields; he led me on, / Touched a thin partition, and was gone.’ [The Hollow Hill].
The Collected poems were first published in 1981 and this later edition edited by Brian Keeble and published in 2000 by Golgonooza Press is of a very high standard and makes a beautiful gift for all lovers of poetry. Simply wonderful!

The Star in the West: A Critical Essay upon the Works of Aleister Crowley – by J. F. C. Fuller.

The Star in the West was written by Captain (later Major-General) John Frederick Charles Fuller (1878-1966) who was born in Chichester, West Sussex, and it came to be written as an entry for a competition devised by the poet and occultist Aleister Crowley. The best entry would receive a winning prize of £100 and the competition was announced in the press of the time as ‘The Chance of the Year! The Chance of the Century!! The Chance of the Geologic Period!!!’
Crowley was in Darjeeling when he received a letter from the young Captain Fuller of the First Oxfordshire Light Infantry, stationed at Lucknow, informing him of the Army officer’s wish to enter the competition.
In the spring of 1906, Fuller, who had fought in the South African War of 1899-1902, contracted enteric fever and was invalided home. During the summer, he met Crowley and his wife Rose at the Hotel Cecil in the Strand. By October of that year Fuller had finished his essay on Crowley’s poetic works which he began writing at Lucknow, titled ‘The Star in the West’ (Crowley, of course being the ‘Star’) and it was posted to Crowley at his Highland home, Boleskine, on the shore of Loch Ness. As there were no other entrants in the competition the essay won hands down and it was published the following year in 1907. Fuller never received the prize money, Crowley flaunted his wealth but behind the pretence of riches he was actually quite financially disadvantaged! Fuller being a gentleman he would probably not have mentioned such things as prize money. Besides, he was becoming enamoured of the man!
And so Fuller and Crowley became great friends, seeing each other most days to work on some writing or other. Fuller helped with the editing of the great magical periodical ‘The Equinox’, producing works such as ‘The Temple of Solomon the King’ (first four parts), ‘The Treasure House of Images’ (The Equinox, vol I, number iii, supplement) and ‘The Chymical Jousting of Brother Perardua with the Seven Lances that he brake’ (The Equinox, vol I, number i). He was also a very good draughtsman producing the marvellous images for the Four Watch Towers in The Equinox, vol I, number vii.
Fuller subscribed to the Rationalist Press Association which is probably how he came upon the advert for the competition. He had previously contributed a few poems and articles to The Agnostic Journal and he agreed with Crowley that Christianity was ‘historically false, morally infamous, politically contemptible and socially pestilential’ [Confessions. p.539] Fuller became the loyal devotee of Crowley’s poetry and his high praise and gushing adoration for him flows throughout The Star in the West: ‘’’Behold the Lion... hath prevailed to open the Book and to loose the seven seals thereof.’’ For until now ‘’No man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the Book, neither to look thereon.’’ Yet through the astrolabe of his mind and in the alembic of his heart Aleister Crowley has opened the book, breaking not only the first six seals, but the seventh also.’ [Preface to The Star in the West]. And again:
‘And I for one take it that the prophecy has now been fulfilled: Aleister Crowley is the artist Elias, the marvellous being whom God has permitted to make a discovery of the highest importance in his illuminative philosophy of Crowleyanity, in the dazzling and flashing light of which there is nothing concealed which shall not be discovered’. [‘Crowleyanity’ in The Star in the West]. Even so, Crowley was not altogether happy:
‘I could have wished a more critical and less adoring study of my work; but his enthusiasm was genuine, and guaranteed our personal relations in such sort that my friendship with him is one of the dearest memories of my life.’ [Confessions. p. 543]
‘He (Fuller) had originally intended his essay to conclude with the sixth chapter, and he had scrupulously avoided any reference to the magical and mystical side of my work; nay, even to the philosophical side so far as that was concerned with transcendentalism. But I showed him that the study must be incomplete unless he added a chapter expounding my views on the subjects. Thus chapter seven came to be written’. [Confessions. p. 540-41]
And so the seven chapters came into being, representing the Book of the Seven Seals and the chapters are named: I. The Looking-Glass, II. The Virgin, III. The Harlot, IV. The Mother, V. The Old Bottle, VI. The Cup and VII. The New Wine. Fuller also writes in great detail on the concept of ‘Crowleyanity’ and he looks at various philosophical points in connection with such great thinkers as: Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, and wonders at such cosmological and religious notions as Time, Space, The Qabalah, Buddhism, Agnosticism, Yoga, Mysticism and Ceremonial Magic.
However, their friendship began to disintegrate following the Jones v the Looking Glass libel trial which concluded on 27th April 1911, in which Crowley’s friend George Cecil Jones (1873-1960) sued the racing journal for claiming that his association with Crowley brought his own reputation into disrepute, Crowley being known as a publisher of pornographic literature and a suspect homosexual at a time when it was illegal (he was in fact bisexual). Jones lost the case and Fuller, not wishing to suffer the same humiliation and loss of reputation; cut his ties with Crowley and went on to became a brilliant military strategist, especially in tank warfare during the First World War. But for a short time Fuller really did believe that Crowley the poet was the new messiah of the Aeon of Horus – ‘It has taken 100,000,000 years to produce Aleister Crowley. The world has indeed laboured, and has at last brought forth a man.’

The Poems of Robert Browning (Wordsworth Poetry Library).

We can be forgiven for thinking of Robert Browning (1812-1889) as just another boring old ‘stiff-necked’ Victorian, and who in their right mind would accuse him of writing absolutely nothing of interest, despite living through one of the most fascinating periods of British history? In fact, Browning, by comparison to some of his contemporary ‘sentimental poets’ can be viewed as quite modern in his outlook with his varied interests in such things as spiritual, philosophical and metaphysical subjects.
Browning was influenced by the Romantics: Shelley, Byron and Keats and his first published poem ‘Pauline’ (1833) received little notice. He travelled to Russia in 1834 (and Italy in 1838) and his dramatic blank verse poem ‘Paracelsus’ was published in 1835, and a play, also in blank verse, ‘Strafford’ (1840) was produced at Covent Garden. But ‘Sordello’ a narrative poem in iambic pentameter couplets also of 1840 and set in Italy was poorly received and almost ruined his reputation as a poet beyond repair for a long time!
Browning corresponded with fellow poet and in my opinion the greater poet, Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861) in 1845 after admiring her ‘Poems’ of the same year. The relationship was kept a secret from Elizabeth’s father and the couple married and eloped to Italy in 1846, remaining there till Elizabeth’s death in 1861 (they had one child, a disappointment hardly worth mentioning).
Browning’s other works include: ‘Christmas Eve and Easter Day’ a poem in two parts of 1850 and ‘Men and Women’ a collection of fifty-one poems of 1855:
‘There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met/ To view the last of me, a living frame/ For one more picture! in a sheet of flame/ I saw them and I knew them all. And yet/ Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set, / And blew ‘’Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came’’.’ [xxxiv. From ‘Men and Women’ 1855].
Other collections are: ‘Dramatis Personae’ (1864) and ‘The Ring and the Book’ (1868-9), a collection of twelve books in blank verse.
He returned to England and more work followed such as his ‘Dramatic Idylls’ (1879-80) and he died in Venice in 1889. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Some of Browning’s subject matter can be obscure and ponderous yet he achieved lasting popularity in later life. But like that other giant of Victorian verse, Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), he was a truly great poet who can only be fully appreciated by a dedicated and detailed study of his works, which of course, for those interested in poetry, is the least one can do to honour his name! Wonderful!

The Simon Iff Stories and Other Works – by Aleister Crowley.

Published by Wordsworth Editions in 2012, this wonderful little book and accompaniment to the previous ‘The Drug and Other Stories’ contains the complete ‘Simple Simon’ stories featuring the wildly eccentric mystic detective Simon Iff. Crowley conceived the character of the hugely intellectual and cultured Iff as an idealised image of himself in old-age. Throughout these fascinating and engrossing stories, the great mystic applies his knowledge of philosophy, Taoism, logic and the principles of Thelemic wisdom in the art of solving the various crimes, like chess problems, that come his way. Not being a true devotee of the detective/crime novel, I thought perhaps I would lose interest, but my interest was sustained and of course, Crowley’s brilliant yet often dark wit and humour are an absolute delight, such as this from the story ‘Not good enough’, page 100 in The Scrutinies of Simon Iff:
‘In summer,’ he explained to them, after the first greetings, ‘meat heats the blood. I am therefore compelled to restrict my diet to foie gras and peaches.’
‘But foie gras is meat.’
‘The animal kingdom,’ said the mystic, ‘is distinguished, roughly speaking, from the vegetable, by the fact that animals have power to move freely in all directions. When therefore a goose is nailed to a board, as I understand is necessary to the production of foie gras, it becomes ipso facto a vegetable; as a strict vegetarian, I will therefore have some more.’ And he heaped his plate.’
The first six stories in ‘The Scrutinies of Simon Iff’ are set in England and France and features the marvellous ‘Hemlock Club’ to which Simon Iff is a member. The stories were published in a monthly periodical called ‘The International’ in New York, edited by George Sylvester Viereck; Crowley would become its contributing Editor from 1917-18, and thus in an act of self-promotion, added his own stories and magical essays within its pages. Crowley published the ‘Scrutinies’ under a pseudonym – Edward Kelly. The stories and their publication dates in The International are: ‘The Big Game’ (vol xi, 9. Sept 1917), ‘The Artistic Temperament’ (vol xi, 10. Oct 1917), ‘Outside the Bank’s Routine’ (vol xi, 11. Nov 1917), ‘The Conduct of John Briggs’ (vol xi, 12. Dec 1917), ‘Not Good Enough’ (vol xii, 1. Jan 1918) and ‘Ineligible’ (vol xii, 2. Feb 1918). Crowley says of the ‘Scrutinies’ and the Law of Thelema that:
‘The Scrutinies of Simon Iff are perfectly good detective stories, yet they not only show a master of the Law as competent to solve the subtlest problems by considerations based upon the Law, but the way in which crime and unhappiness of all sorts may be traced to a breach of the Law. I show that failure to comply with it involves an internal conflict. (Note that the fundamental principle of psychoanalysis is that neurosis is caused by failure to harmonize the elements of character). The essence of the Law is the establishment of right relations between any two things which come into contact; the essence of such relations being ‘’love under will’’. The only way to keep out of trouble is to understand and therefore to love every impression of which one becomes conscious.’ (Confessions. p 828)
The next collection of twelve stories is titled ‘Simon Iff in America’ and they were written, or at least ten of them were written, in December 1917. Crowley lived in America from 1914-1919 and it is a fascinating and magically productive period of his life. The stories are: 1) ‘What’s in a name?’ 2) ‘A sense of incongruity’. 3) ‘The ox and the wheel’. 4) ‘An old head on young shoulders’. 5) ‘The Pasquaney puzzle’. 6) ‘The monkey and the buzz-saw’. 7) ‘A dangerous safe trick’. 8) ‘The biter bit’. 9) ‘Nebuchadnazzer’. 10) ‘Suffer the little children’. 11) ‘Who gets the diamonds?’ 12) ‘The natural thing to do’.
In 1916, Crowley left New York for New Hampshire to stay at the home of his friend the astrologer Evangeline Adams, who owned a house she called ‘the Zodiac’ in the village of Hebron, near Pasquaney Lake (Newfound Lake). She had a small studio built near the house and Crowley stayed there from the summer to the autumn of 1916 and called it ‘Adam’s Cottage’ in his correspondence.
Many of the stories have biographical details drawing upon descriptions of his friends and lovers which are ‘golden nuggets’ to the Crowley enthusiast. The next collection, written around 1918, is titled ‘Simon Iff Abroad’ and the three surviving stories from the original four are: ‘Desert justice’; ‘In the swamp’ and ‘The haunted sea Captain’.
The following two stories, also from 1918, come under the title ‘Simon Iff, Psychoanalyst’: ‘Psychic compensation’ and ‘Sterilised Stephen’.
The character of Simon Iff appeared in Crowley’s first novel ‘The Butterfly-Net’ written in 1917 and published as ‘Moonchild’ by Mandrake Press in 1929.
As a departure from the ‘mystic detective’ series are a collection of eight stories which were mostly published in The International, called ‘Golden Twigs’. These stories of pagan belief were inspired by Sir J. G. Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion’. The stories and their publication dates are: ‘The king of the wood’ (written 30 Aug 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym Mark Wells. Vol xii, 4. April 1918). ‘The stone of Cybele’ (written 6-7 Aug 1916. Published in The Equinox, vol iii, 10. 1986). ‘The Oracle of the Corcian Cave’ (written 3-4 Sept 1916. Published in ‘Golden Twigs’ ed. Martin P Starr. 1988). ‘The burning of Melcarth’ (written 2 Sept 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym Mark Wells. Vol xi, 10. Oct 1917). ‘The hearth’ (written 13-14 Sept 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym Mark Wells. Vol xi, 11. Nov 1917). ‘The old man of the Peepul-Tree’ (written 10-11 Sept 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym James Grahame. Vol xii, 4. April 1918). ‘The Mass of Saint Secaire’ (written 31 Aug-1 Sept 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym Barbery de Rochechouart [author] and Mark Wells [translator]. Vol xii, 2. Feb 1918). ‘The God of Ibreez’ (written 8-9 Sept 1916. Published in The International under the pseudonym Mark Wells. Vol xii, 1. Jan 1918).
With an Introduction by William Breeze and 560 pages including notes and sources, ‘The Simon Iff Stories and Other Works’ is an indispensible addition to any collection! Inspiring and definitely intriguing!

White Stains – by Aleister Crowley.

First published in November 1898 in Amsterdam by the popular English publisher of erotic literature Leonard Charles Smithers (1861-1907) and printed by Binger brothers, ‘White Stains’ remains a little known work of erotica outside of Crowley aficionados’. At the time of its publication (only 100 copies were printed, most of which were destroyed in 1924 by British Customs) Crowley was just twenty-three years old with the world before him as a man of quite a significant inheritance. Because of the book’s content, Crowley had to issue ‘White Stains’ or the ‘literary remains’ under the authorship of George Archibald Bishop, a ‘Neuro-path of the Second Empire’. The name ‘Bishop’ is a reference to Crowley’s detested Uncle Tom Bishop, a devout member of the Plymouth Brethren, who looked after young ‘Alick’ (Crowley) when his father Edward died in 1887.
‘White Stains’ was considered ‘the filthiest in the English language’ by Mr Peter Fryer, an authority on erotica (Confessions. p.16), and the preface to the book leaves us with no doubt as to the orgiastic excess and debaucheries we are about to encounter: ‘The Editor hopes that Mental Pathologists, for whose eyes alone this treatise is destined will spare no precautions to prevent it falling into other hands.’
Many of the poems, which appear to be imitations of Baudelaire, Rimbaud and his beloved Swinburne, were written while Crowley was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge (1895-1898) and relate to some of his sexual escapades (though some are clearly products of a fertile imagination) during his vacations in Berlin, St Petersburg, Switzerland and Stockholm:

‘What time for language, when our kisses flow
Eloquent, warm, as words are cold and weak? –
Or now – Ah! sweetheart, even were it so
We could not speak!’ [At Stockholm]

And there are tender moments with his lover, Herbert Charles Jerome Pollitt (1871-1942):

‘His breath as hot and quick as fame;
To kiss him and to clasp him tight;
This is my joy without a name,
A strong man’s love is my delight.’ [A Ballad of Passive Paederasty]

At its publication, Crowley was taking his first steps into the occult when he became a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in London on 18th November 1898. White Stains is Crowley’s reaction to the opinions of the Austrian sexologist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebbing (1840-1902) in his ‘Psychpathia Sexualis’ of 1893. In it he claims that all sexual perversions and abnormalities are the result of illness and disease – Crowley disagrees, saying that they are ‘magical affirmations of perfectly intelligible points of view’, they are in fact, acts of sexual magic.
The collection of poems, vile and sublime, goes beyond the bounds of common decency into a hellish nightmare in which ‘the mysteries of death become more and more an obsession, and he is flung headlong into Sadism, Necrophilia, all the maddest, fiercest vices that the mind of fiends ever brought up from the pit’. [Preface]. There is a romance in disgust and a childish fascination with fellatio, sodomy, urophagia, cunnilingus, lesbianism, analingus, bestiality, sado-masochism, coprophagia, venereal disease, blood lust and necrophilia (‘Yea, thou art dead. Thy buttocks now / Are swan-soft, and thou sweatest not’.); in fact, the book contains all the pleasurable pursuits and virtuous acts in which the ordinary Englishman excels!

‘Let my fond lips but drink thy golden wine,
My bright-eyed Arab, only let me eat
The rich brown globes of sacramental meat
Steaming and firm, hot from their home divine’. [Go into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in]

‘I yield him place: his ravening teeth
Cling hard to her – he buries him
Insane and furious in the sheath
She opens for him – wide and dim
My mouth is amorous beneath’. [With Dog and Dame]

Despite the nature of the book, Crowley remained insistent that he wrote the book with a pure heart: ‘my essential spirituality is made manifest by yet another publication, which stands as a testimony of my praeterhuman innocence. The book is called white stains and is commonly quoted by my admirers as evidence of my addiction to every kind of unmentionable vice. Asses! It is, indeed, technically, an obscene book, and yet the fact that I wrote it proves the purity of my heart and mind in the most extraordinary fashion’. (Confessions. p. 139).
And the perpetrator of these crimes: a poet, who descends into madness and murder through his diabolical debaucheries! Crowley often used the device of an ‘imagined author’ to pin his sexual abominations upon and to use as a mouthpiece for his blasphemies. In White Stains, he ‘invented a poet who went wrong, who began with normal and innocent enthusiasms, and gradually developed various vices. He ends by being stricken with disease and madness, culminating in murder. In his poems he describes his downfall, always explaining the psychology of each act. The conclusion of the book might therefore be approved in any Sunday School’. (Confessions. p. 139).
Amongst the poems is one titled ‘A Ballad of Choosing’ and it shows the poet (Crowley) at a spiritual crossroads, rejecting Christ and ‘the vileness of his plea’. In ‘At Kiel’ he wonders ‘What is Eternity, seeing we hold this hour / For all the lusts and luxuries of shame?’ In ‘La Juive’ the poet imagines copulating with Christ’s spear wound, which ‘lay open for a lover’s prize – I violate the Crucified!’
The poet is a man who has ‘sold soul and body to Satan for sheer love of sin, whose mere lusts of perversion is so intense that it seems to absorb every other emotion and interest’. (Preface).
But Crowley is no Satanist; he is a man rebelling at society and howling at Victorian propriety, prejudice and Christian morals, in the only way his youthful self knew how – through his poetry. His whole life was about not conforming, breaking barriers and taboos; freeing the soul from restrictions. He saw only beauty in strength and despised weakness. In White Stains, Crowley has put into print what most of us have thought about at some time or another and for that he should be commended!

Mausoleums – by Lynn F. Pearson.

Published in 2002 by Shire Publications, ‘Mausoleums’ at only forty pages, is a fascinating little book which details the history of these memorial structures; we see the development from the great tomb at Halicarnassos built for King Mausolos of Caria by his wife Queen Artemesia in the fourth century BC, to the elegant temples and Georgian tombs attached to grand houses and parklands. Then there are the highly decorated Victorian mausoleums, rich with funerary architecture and symbolism, with their lavishly ornate interior vaults of stained glass, sculptures and ceramic tiles. Whether it is the simple obelisk tomb of a country churchyard or the massive mansions of the dead found in the great cemeteries such as London’s Kensal Green or Highgate, the author, Lynn Pearson, an architectural historian and photographer, has given us an excellent and well-researched guide to these beautiful monuments in our landscape.
Pearson brings together the different styles such as Gothic, neo-Classical, Egyptianate and Greek Revival and we are presented with some of the great names in architecture: Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), Robert Adam (1728-1792) and Augustus Pugin (1812-1852). Also included is a county by county ‘gazetteer of mausoleums in Great Britain’ of ‘special architectural or historic interest’. With many photographic examples, ‘Mausoleums’ is a really useful guide for anyone with an interest in the British way of mourning and celebrating death!

The Collected Poems of Norman MacCaig.

Norman MacCaig (1910-1996) was an exceptionally gifted Scottish poet who read classics at Edinburgh University and later became a school teacher. His first volume of poetry ‘Far Cry’ was published in 1943 and other works include: ‘The Inward Eye’ (1946), ‘Riding Lights’ (1955), ‘The Sinai Sort’ (1957), ‘A Common Grace’ (1960), ‘A Round of Applause’ (1962), ‘Measures’ (1965), ‘Surroundings’ (1966), ‘Rings on a Tree’ (1968), ‘A Man in my Position’ (1969), ‘The White Birds’ (1973), ‘The World’s Room’ (1974), ‘Tree of Strings’ (1977), ‘The Equal Skies’ (1980), ‘A World of Difference’ (1983) and ‘Voice-Over’ (1988).
‘The Collected Poems’ (1993) contains most of MacCaig’s poems which are inspired by the wild grandeur of the West Highlands and his life in Edinburgh. MacCaig is certainly a master of the poetic form and he weaves a magic of musical lyricism throughout his works. Definitely worth searching for!

The Complete Poetical Works of John Milton.

No study of English Literature can ignore the works of John Milton (1608-1674). Educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge, his poetry (which was written in Latin, Italian and English) rings with a subtle, lyrical harmony and he became a master of the blank verse poetic form, which had previously only been used for dramatic works. This massive collection contains all of his greatest works: ‘L’Allegro’, ‘Il Penseroso’, ‘Comus’, ‘Lycidas’, ‘Paradise Lost’ (1667) – he went completely blind in 1652! ‘Paradise Regained’ (1671), ‘Samson Agonistes’... In fact, if he had only given us the epic ‘Paradise Lost’ and left us with the truly beautiful image of Satan, then his rightful place among the world of great literature would have still been assured! Beyond mere recommendation – it is essential reading!

Ted Hughes Collected Poems.

I won’t hide the fact that I find something hideous in the heart of Hughes, a cold arrogance which is detestable, but there is no denying the power of his poetry!
The poems of Ted Hughes (1930-1998) have an almost pagan obsession with landscape, and like W. H. Auden, he had a deep fascination for industrial ruins and man’s intrusion upon the land.
Hughes was educated at Cambridge and it was here where he met the American poet (and in my view the greater poet) Sylvia Plath; they were married in 1956. Just seven years later the troubled Plath ended her own life and Hughes received a lot of hostility and blame.
His first acclaimed published volume of poetry: ‘The Hawk in the Rain’ (1957) shows his pre-occupation with nature and animals – ‘Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox / It enters the dark hole of the head. / The window is starless still; the clock ticks, / The page is printed.’ [‘The Thought Fox’, from The Hawk in the Rain].
Other collections followed such as: ‘Lupercal’ (1960), ‘Wodwo’ (1967) and ‘Crow’ (1970). In 1984 he was appointed Poet Laureate, following Sir John Betjeman. His ‘Birthday Letters’ (1998) looked at the relationship between Hughes and Plath and helped to redress the balance of blame that was heaped on Hughes following her death.
Hughes has achieved lasting greatness as a poet and his overpowering presence and moody countenance seemed to resonate with the landscape around him. He was a simple man with tremendous passions and the Collected Poems is an important volume for any lover of poetry!

The Winged Beetle – by Aleister Crowley.

First printed in 1910 by Turnbull & Spears of London in 350 numbered copies, ‘The Winged Beetle’ contains some of the finest poetry Crowley ever wrote. The book is dedicated to his great friend John Frederick Charles Fuller (1876-1966) who also designed the original cover; in fact, each of the poems are dedicated to persons known to Crowley such as Victor Neuburg, Frank Harris, Cecil Jones, Norman Mudd, Kathleen Bruce, Allen Bennett, Crowley’s wife Rose and even his mother! The poems cover a wide range of subjects and emotions and even contain biographical themes:

‘He had crucified a toad
In the basilisk abode,
Muttering the Runes averse
Mad with many a mocking curse’.
[The Wizard Way. Dedicated to J.F.C. Fuller]

‘In the Years of the Primal course, in
the dawn of terrestrial birth,
Man mastered the mammoth and horse;
and Man was the Lord of the Earth.’
[The Pentagram. Dedicated to George Raffalovich]

But of all the poems perhaps the most heartfelt has to be ‘Rosa Decidua’ dedicated to Lord Salvesen, the judge who presided at Crowley’s trial for divorce after the death of their child. A copy of the poem was sent to the judge – ‘This poem is, perhaps, my high-water mark in realism. It reveals my human self as I had never even attempted to do. I trace my agony through every writhe.’ [The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. P. 535]

‘This is no tragedy of little tears.
My brain is hard and cold; there is no beat
Of its blood; there is no heat
Of sacred fire upon my lips to sing.
My heart is dead; I say that name thrice over;
Rose! – Rose! – Rose! – ‘

And again:

‘Who asks me for my tears?
She flings the body of our sweet dead child
Into my face with hell’s own epitaph,
Profanes that shrine
Of infinite love and infinite loss,
My empty shrine, the one shrine undefiled,
My one close-clasped cross –
And hers as much as mine!’

This book will surprise many readers who are coming to Crowley’s poetry for the first time and it may even ignite a life-long interest and passion for the perplexing, yet often misunderstood enigma – Aleister Crowley! Astounding!

Roads, Tracks and Turnpikes – by David Viner.

‘Roads, Tracks and Turnpikes’ is an interesting 80 page booklet in the ‘Discover Dorset’ series of books. Published in 2007 by the Dovecote Press, the author, David Viner, a ‘museum and heritage consultant, freelance curator and writer’ takes us on a journey through the history of Dorset’s well-worn roadways. Many tracks are pre-history and there are the Roman roads, Saxon lanes connecting villages; green roads, Holloways, ancient ox droves, priests’ ways, bridleways and turnpikes built in the 18th and 19th century. How we move through a landscape and how those tracks develop over time is a fascinating subject. With plenty of illustrations, this is a well-researched and enjoyable read!

Over the Top: Great Battles of the First World War – by Martin Marix Evans.

‘Over the top’ is a very informative book which discusses in detail the events which led towards the outbreak of the Great War of 1914-1918. The author explains the development of trench warfare on the Western Front and the use of modern artillery, the machine gun and the tank.
In part one, ‘opening moves’ he looks at the Battle of Mons, Marne and the first Battle of Ypres; part two ‘the static war’ looks at Neuve Chappelle, the second Battle of Ypres, the Gallipoli Campaign, the Battle of the Somme, Messines and Passchendaele. Part three, ‘towards victory’ shows us the outcome of the ‘German Spring offensives’ and the attack by the allies.
All in all, this is a very readable little book with maps showing the lines during various stages of the battles, although I personally would have liked more illustrations. But at the end, it is the staggering number of lives lost in battle that touches the heart and the awful conditions those young men and boys had to endure! Fascinating and highly recommended!

The Cloud upon the Sanctuary – by Karl von Eckartshausen (translated by Isabelle de Steiger).

‘The Cloud upon the Sanctuary’ is a translation of the German mystic Karl von Eckartshausen’s (1752-1813) ‘Der Wolke vor dem Heiligthume’ of 1802. It was translated and published as a small book in 1896 by the English painter, writer and occultist, Madam Issabelle de Steiger (1836-1927). de Steiger was interested in Spiritualism and in 1878 she joined the Theosophical Society; ten years later she became a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The first publication featured a preface by the Scottish writer John William Brodie-Innes (1848-1923) who was also a leading member of the Golden Dawn in Scotland.
The book is ‘delivered’ to us in six letters and it speaks of the ‘Council of Light’, a hidden sect of initiates, or ‘Great White Brotherhood’ of enlightened ones; mystics who watch over humanity and guide it spiritually. The book was certainly a large influence in the life of the occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and it is beautifully written. But why should such a curious little book on Christian mysticism be so seductive to practitioners of the occult? We must remember that Eckartshausen wrote the book at a time when ‘Christianity’ was considered to be a ‘major religion’ and it was the accepted belief system for many people who still lived under the fear of damnation through the committing of sins; a ‘religion’ whose focus was to keep the ‘lower classes’ in order (and preferably un-educated) and to keep the ‘church’ in business!
There are moments of real enlightenment but for all its hints at an esoteric school of adepts I have to say I found the book disappointing. The Cloud upon the Sanctuary – the storm still rages!

The Green Garland – by Victor B. Neuburg.

The Green Garland published in 1908 is the first collection of poems to appear by the poet and occultist Victor Benjamin Neuburg (1883-1940). The poems, most of which first appeared in the ‘Agnostic Journal’ to which Victor contributed, have a rich lyrical quality to their rhythms and his verse throbs with all the vibrant energy and beauty of youth, joyous youth as he sings of nature and the ancient gods:

‘To-night, the wind shall play among the trees,
To-night, still waters shall reflect the sky,
To-night, the moonlight over wide strech’d seas
Shall rouse the slumb’rous earth with melody.’
[III. The Garden of Youth]

Other poems in the volume include: ‘The First Poet’, ‘The Eagle and the Serpent’, ‘Ballade of the Daisy’, ‘Carmen Triumphans’,’A Song of the Promise of Dawn’, ‘A Leaf from Walt Whitman’, and ‘Young Summer’. In ‘To Shelley’, Victor pays homage to the beautiful soul of the poet:

‘Brother and bard, thy voice’s thunder
Changed the grey sky of the past to white:
Still we listen in pain and wonder –
Still we weep in our hearts’ delight
When the golden sun at eve goes under
The earth’s red rim at the touch of Night.’

Many of the poems have a strong and positive mood with a typically romantic view of life but within some poems lurks the loathsome figure of death, as in ‘The Recall’ and in ‘The Dream’. Neuburg shows great potential as a poet in this first collection and who can fail to be moved by his vision of an optimistic future:

‘With arms extended to the stars, a song
Of freedom floats over the eager sea:
‘’The dawn approaches, though the night
was long!’’
[A Song of Freedom.]

The Triumph of Pan – by Victor B. Neuburg.

First published by The Equinox, London in 1910, ‘The Triumph of Pan’ is the second collection of poetry by Victor Neuburg (1883-1940). Neuburg was interested in the occult and he was under the influence of a fellow Trinity College, Cambridge man eight years his senior named Edward Alexander Crowley (1875-1947). Crowley was securing a name for himself as a poet, mountaineer and an occultist and he had met the twenty-three year old Neuburg at Cambridge in 1906. The young Victor became infatuated by the older poet who lavished praise and criticism upon Neuburg’s poems, and soon the two were lovers:

‘Sweet wizard, in whose footsteps I have trod
Unto the shrine of the most obscene god.’
[ The Romance of Olivia Vane. II.]

Seven of the poems in the collection are reprinted from other periodicals – ‘The Creation of Eve’, ‘A Lost Spirit’ and ‘The Cauldron’ are from the Theosophical Review; ‘An Origin’, ‘The Coming of Apollo’, ‘The Lost Shepherd’ and ‘The Lonely Bride’ are from The Equinox, Crowley’s biannual journal of magical knowledge, stories, poems and reviews that was published at the spring and autumn equinox beginning in 1909 and running for ten issues in volume one.
All the poems are dedicated to friends of the poet, such as Aleister Crowley, Norman Mudd, George Raffalovich, Ethel Archer, J.F.C. Fuller, Wilfred Merton, G.M. Marston and Austin Osman Spare etc. The title poem ‘The Triumph of Pan’ gives us an image of pagan beauty throughout its forty-four verses:

‘We found sleeping; yea, the Panic revel
Had drawn his spirit far;
Asleep, he bore the aspect of a devil;
Awake, the morning star
Flashed in his eyes; oh, scan
The vision of great Pan;
Thrust tongue and limbs against his pulsing side,
And thou shalt know the dayspring as a bride!’
[The Triumph of Pan. XIII]

Other poems include: ‘Sleep in the Hills’, ‘Selene’, ‘The Thief of Time’, ‘Osiris’, ‘Gipsy Tom’, ‘Under Magdalene Bridge’, ‘Music Pictures’, ‘Sigurd’s Songs’, ‘A Night Piece’ and the sensuous love lyrics of ‘The Romance of Olivia Vane’, a passionate poem to his lover ‘Olivia Vane’ (Crowley) in twenty-two verses. Together they have dwelt among the darkness and performed the rites of magic:

‘I have spoken; the four-fold word
In my soul hath been echoed and heard,
In my soul hath renewed the spring;
My soul is dark, and doth sing.’
[The Romance of Olivia Vane. IV.]

But it is love, eternal that is declared by the young poet to his ‘sweet wizard’:

‘Give me thy love and thy strength,
If it be for an age, for an hour.
For alas! we grow old, and at length
We love, and are shorn of love’s power.’
[The Romance of Olivia Vane. XIX.]

With ‘The Triumph of Pan’, Neuburg has surpassed his previous collection of 1908 ‘The Green Garland’ and never again will he achieve the mesmerising lyrical quality that he does under the genius of his magical lover, Aleister Crowley!

‘Raise high the Paean of the God of Man!
Io Triumphe! Hail to the new-born Pan!’
[The Triumph of Pan. XLIV.]

In Residence: The Don’s Guide to Cambridge – by Aleister Crowley.

Published in 1904 by Elijah Johnson of Cambridge, ‘In Residence’ is a collection of Aleister Crowley’s undergraduate verse which were mostly printed in such Cambridge periodicals as ‘The Cambridge Magazine’, ‘The Granta’, ‘Cantab’ and ‘Silver Crescent’.
The book is dedicated to Crowley’s fellow Trinity College, Cambridge friend Ivor Gordon Back (1873-1959), who ‘so worthily carried on the traditions of high thinking and noble living inaugurated by myself when at Cambridge. But I am too lazy to write an ode to him.’
Included amongst Crowley’s early poems are: ‘Ballade of bad verses’, ‘Ballade of the Mutability of Human Affairs’, ‘A Ballade of Farewell’, ‘Two Sonnets in Praise of a Publisher’, ‘To an Unappreciative University’, ‘A Sonnet of Spring Fashions’, ‘Ode to Gerald Festus Kelly’, and ‘Au Theatre du Grand Guignol’.

‘Tennis and cricket have come to stay,
Five o’clock is the time to bring
Tea and strawberry ice, and play
Various dulcet jargoning;
Lazy paddle all day to swing,
Lazy pipe to kill ennui’s germ,
Lazy, lazy everything: -
Sing heigh-ho for the glad May Term.’

[Ballade of the May Term]

The poem will appeal to anyone who is interested in or studying the works of Aleister Crowley, but on their own merit, to the casual reader, they may be difficult to appreciate. His early outpourings can seem like mere pegs on which to hang his growing ego and enormous intellect; the humour is typically juvenile and the rhymes are an inventive display of his learning. But to have lost these poems would have been a shame as they show Crowley’s early influences and poetic development and for that fact alone, ‘In Residence’ is a welcome tome to any collection!

Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums and Misfits who brought Spiritualism to America – by Peter Washington.

First published in 1995, ‘Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon’ is an interesting read, if a little rambling in places, on the subject of spiritual thinkers, New Age teachers, mysticism and Theosophy. Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), the Russian mystic, founded the Theosophical Society in 1875 in New York with Henry S. Olcott (1832-1907) and William Q. Judge (1851-1896). Its purpose was threefold: 1. The formation of a universal human brotherhood without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour. 2. The encouragement of studies in comparative religion, philosophy and science. 3. The investigation of unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
Blavatsky and the Theosophists took themselves far too seriously (see the poor misguided and manipulated ‘World Teacher’ Krishnamurti and all that old flannel!) and seem a little pompous today, drawing parallels with that other little known and humourless religion – Christianity! The author, Peter Washington, has a tendency to overindulge in details as he guides us through the leading lights of spiritualism and trawls through the charlatans and fraudsters, but on the whole he has done a fine job.
I found the book an excellent source of notes from which to research further, such people as: Annie Besant (1847-1933), Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), Peter D. Ouspensky (1878-1947), Charles W. Leadbetter (1854-1934), Anna Kingsford (1846-1888), George I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949), A. R. Orage (1873-1934) and Daniel Dunglas Home (1833-1886).
Washington has written a reasonably interesting history of the subject, but I can’t help thinking that the baboon of the title, which by the way was stuffed and resided at the home of Madame Blavatsky as some sort of Darwinian joke, would have had a different, more fascinating tale to tell!

Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley – by Richard Kaczynski.

Unlike other biographies about Crowley, ‘Perdurabo’ presents us with an all too human genius who devotes his life to the pursuit of magick and to living within the concepts of the Aeon of Horus. He is not some ‘devil-worshipping’ black magician, destroying souls in his wake, dragged into the slime of sensationalism as so much of the media and ‘third-rate biographies’ like to portray him; and neither is he raised to God-like status, so much so that we cannot relate to the man. Kaczynski, with his extensive research, paints a portrait of Perdurabo as a vast figure of a man, bent upon one course throughout his fascinating life, that of magick!
This book, like no other, really captures the Beast and helps us to ‘get under the skin’ of the subject, and to see with his eyes and feel with his heart, the emotional torments and physical pains; the poetic passion that love inaugurated and the financial difficulties and publication problems that drove the Mage onwards, into new frontiers of thought and spiritual progression.
We are astounded at his adventures; exhilarated by his mystical wanderings; amazed at his poetic vision and warmed by the great lights of his time whom he encountered (Pollitt, Eckenstein, Fuller, Neuburg etc.) and fell under his persuasive spell, only to break away and reveal Crowley’s human failings – Prophet of the New Age; poet and mountaineer, he was one hell of a man, and ‘Perdurabo’ by Richard Kaczynski comes closest to bringing the Beast to life, from his birth to his death – the journey is delightful, remarkable and sad! I cannot recommend this book highly enough for I consider it to be the definitive biography of Crowley which far surpasses Lawrence Sutin’s ‘Do what thou wilt’ and Martin Booth’s ‘A Magick Life’, which are both equally worthy! Highly recommended!

Reincarnation: Remarkable Stories of People Who Recall Past Lives – by Paul Roland.

Published in 2008, ‘Reincarnation’ by Paul Roland makes a delightful bedside companion with its simple and understandable tone and easy to digest chapters. The book begins by taking us from pre-history to Christianity, looking at aspects of the ancient world and the accounts found in Egypt and Greece; we explore the sacred Hindu texts of the East such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, through to the Buddhist Law of Karma, stopping off along the way at Islam and the Koran, Judaism, before returning to modern times and new developments in ESP.
Roland takes us on a journey which investigates astral projection, speaking in tongues, Deja Vu, Near Death Experiences (NDE’s) and Out of Body Experiences (OBE’s). You will also discover more about celebrity spirits, children’s past lives, regression (hypnotic regression and inherited memory), psychic readings and finally a self-regression exercise which all goes to make this book a no-nonsense, well-illustrated case for the existence of the human soul and its many incarnations! Fascinating!

The House on the Borderland – by William Hope Hodgson.

Published in 1908, the story begins when two gentlemen friends on a fishing trip in Ireland, suddenly come upon the ruined remains of a house near a lake. The two men discover an old diary which belonged to the owner of the house who lived there with his sister Mary and his dog Pepper. As the tale unravels we find evil in the form of hideous humanoid creatures and unmentionable horrors connected to the remote house which occupies a space on the borderland between dimensions. What follows is surely one of the most chilling tales in fantastic literature.
William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) created a new approach to the writing of horror with The House on the Borderland, inspiring and influencing that other great writer of the macabre, H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). Hodgson draws the reader into the tale with his disturbing vision of the future and the overwhelming turbulence of time and space; the thin veil which parts to reveal the dark entities that inhabit the unseen realms, waiting for an opportunity to penetrate beyond their own time and dimension into ours! A true classic!

The Boats of the ‘Glen-Carrig’ – by William Hope Hodgson.

Published in 1907, the story is an account written in 1757 of the events aboard the ‘Glen-Carrig’ which was lost at sea. The tale relates the mysterious adventures of the ship and its crew and those who survived and made it to shore. The story is atmospheric with wonderful nautical touches drawn from Hodgson’s own knowledge and experience as a sailor and we encounter giant monsters of the deep. However, the writing style is frustratingly archaic and may put some readers off starting or completing the book. But should you persevere, you will find Hodgson’s mesmerising descriptions of the sea and its mysterious world of weird inhabitants, ready to devour or destroy those who enter that world, a rather pleasurable experience!

The Yellow Wallpaper – by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

First published in 1892 by the sociologist and writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935), ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ became one of the most influential works of American feminist literature. The short story is written in a journal style by a woman who is confined to an upstairs room in a house ‘for her own good’ by her Physician husband John. He has rented the house for three months in order to provide a ‘rest cure’ for his wife who is suffering from a nervous depression. When they are together John is devoted to his wife but his work takes him away and she has nothing to do but indulge her fantasies, which John considers a ‘weakness’, and not conducive to getting well again.
She becomes increasingly obsessed with the ugly old yellow wallpaper and its nonsensical pattern; she even believes that she sees figures beyond the pattern. Her condition becomes worse and she grows suspicious of her husband and she becomes determined to free the woman whom she sees in the wallpaper, which shakes by moonlight as if the ‘creeping woman’ is attempting to escape. She sees herself in the ‘creeping woman’ as she descends into psychosis. On the last day of the ‘rest cure’ she locks the door of her room and when her husband returns home he finds the key and opens the door only to find her ‘creeping’ around the room on all fours, brushing against the dreaded yellow wallpaper.
Much of the story is taken from Gilman’s own experiences suffering from depression and prescribed a ‘rest cure’ with nothing to tax her ‘weak and feeble’ mind. The story can be seen as a warning against the so-called ‘rest cure’ and medical practices and attitudes of the time towards women, who were considered to be nothing more than weak, hysterical and easily drawn into fantasy. Gilman not only gives a voice for the rights of women to be heard, but she was also a pioneer when it came to changes in treatment of medical disorders such as depression. Marvellous!

Pushkin – by Henri Troyat.

Published in 1950, this biography of the Russian poet, dramatist and story writer, Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837) is a masterpiece in the art of biographical writing and Henri Troyat captures the great man and his times superbly. Pushkin is such a huge and heroic figure in Russian literature (he can be compared to our own Byron) that anything written about him is doomed to fall short of expectations. Of course he is best known for his verse narratives and lyric poems such as ‘Ruslan and Ludmilla’, ‘The Bronze Horseman’ and perhaps his greatest work: ‘Eugene Onegin’. Troyat, in over five-hundred pages, brings us through the tragic life of the poet from his birth in Moscow, his time in Odessa and St Petersburg, right up to that fateful day of the duel which killed him at the age of thirty-seven. Throughout this amazing journey of emotions, Pushkin, the real man and not just the myth steps forward, something only a great biographer can do! Outstanding!

A.E. Housman: The Scholar-Poet – by Richard Percival Graves.

Housman is a rare creature, for he combines the emotional sensitivity of the poet with the intellectual critical analysis of the scholar, and yet he remains a mystery. One man who shone a light upon that mystery with the publication in 1979 of ‘A. E. Housman: The Scholar-Poet’ was Richard Percival Graves, who shows a real passion for his subject. In opening this beautiful book we are commencing a voyage of discovery and we find that Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936), the eldest of seven children to Edward and Sarah Housman, was born in Fockbury, Worcestershire and he attended Bromsgrove School from 1870-77. He then attends St John’s College, Oxford, gaining his first class honours in Classical Moderations, but unfortunately failing his Greats in his final year and leaving Oxford without a degree. After ten years as a clerk in Her Majesty’s Patent Office he becomes Professor of Latin at University College, London and in 1896 publishes his now acclaimed classic ‘A Shropshire Lad’ book of poems. He is made Professor of Latin at Cambridge University in 1911 and his ‘Last Poems’ are published in 1922. He died at the age of seventy-seven in 1936 and his ‘Additional Poems’ were published posthumously the following year.
Graves has painstakingly researched his subject and is not afraid to raise the question of Housman’s sexuality and to delve into aspects of his life which the reticent poet would undoubtedly have wished to remain concealed. I consider this marvel of biographical literature; this thoughtful and touching tribute to Housman, a romantic ballad poet of great brooding tragedy, to be the definitive word! Delightful!

Fifty Soviet Poets – by Vladimir Ognev and Dorian Rottenberg.

Published in 1969, ‘Fifty Soviet Poets’ presents us with a selection of the great and not so great poets of the Soviet era, post nineteen-twenties, such as: Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Nikolai Asayev, Bella Akhmadulina, Boris Slutsky, Nikolai Zabalotsky, Sergei Mikhalkov...
The book includes side by side pages of the original Russian text along with the English translation, which is very useful for understanding the verse structure and rhyme scheme, not to mention the visual beauty of the Russian words and letters! With photos of the poets and compact biographies, at 536 pages this is a really lovely book for anyone who admires modern Russian poetry and the Russian language.

Oscar Wilde – by Richard Ellman.

Richard Ellman (1918-1987) is one of the great writers of biographical literature and this fantastic account of the life of Oscar Wilde, published in 1987 is a monumental achievement which has become a classic of the art form. Ellman’s enthusiasm and scholarship injects real interest and empathy for his subject which truly connects with the reader and leaves them quite astounded. We are presented with the great man, warts and all...
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) studied at Trinity College, Dublin before attending Magdalen College, Oxford. He won the Newdigate Prize with his poem ‘Ravenna’ in 1878 and became a disciple of the ‘Art for Art’s sake aesthetic movement headed by Walter Pater (1839-1894). His first volume of ‘Poems’ was published in 1881 and the following year he went on a lecture tour of the United States. Wilde’s carefully crafted plays: ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ (1892), ‘A Woman of no Importance’ (1893), ‘An Ideal Husband’ (1895) and his masterful ‘The Importance of being Ernest’ (1895) highlight the social hypocrisy of his time in the form of comedy and witty epigrams. His only novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (1890) is a modern take on the Faust legend. It seemed he could do no wrong and he was applauded and lionised wherever he went. But his star would fall back to earth with tragic consequences. Wilde fell in love with the son of the ruffian and scoundrel the Marquess of Queensberry, a handsome young man named Lord Alfred Douglas (‘Bosie’ as he became affectionately known by Wilde). In my view, ‘Bosie’ is a despicable thug and the second most hated man in literature, the first being of course that damned brute from Porlock who interrupted Coleridge’s composition of Kubla Khan! ‘Bosie’ exploited his relationship with Wilde for his own selfish ends and he went on to become an ignorant maniac like his father, ruining reputations. As a result of Wilde’s infatuation with his ‘darling boy’ he was convicted for homosexual acts in 1895 and served two years hard labour. He was declared bankrupt in prison and his marriage ended and he wrote his famous letter to ‘Bosie’ – ‘De Profundis’. On his release from prison in 1897 Wilde went to live in exile in France under the name Sebastian Melmoth and he wrote his ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’ in 1898 – ‘And alien tears will fall for him/ Pity’s long-broken urn’.
His fall from grace by an act of indecency left him a broken man whom society could never forgive and he died in Paris in 1900. His name has entered the realm of greatness and Ellman’s biography of the man is a book far beyond mere mortal praise!

The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth – by Robert Graves.

The White Goddess was first published in 1948 and it examines the theory that all true poets receive their poetic inspiration from the Muse, a Goddess of the Moon, the feminine principle which was prevalent in primitive cultures of Western Europe and Britain, particularly Wales and Ireland. This pagan worship of the Goddess became overlooked in the modern, logical age. Robert Graves (1895-1985) who would have been familiar with Sir James Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough’, strengthens his case through an in-depth investigation of folklore, mythology, religion and magic, looking at the origins of the mythic tales of antiquity in such chapters as: ‘The Battle of the Trees’, ‘Dog, Roebuck and Lapwing’, ‘The white Goddess’, ‘Gwion’s Riddle’, ‘Hercules on the Lotus’, ‘The Tree Alphabet’, ‘The Seven Pillars’, ‘The Bull-Footed God’, ‘The Number of the Beast’, ‘The Waters of Styx’, ‘The Triple Muse’, ‘War in Heaven’ etc. Although originally The White Goddess was not taken seriously by critics, Graves being a poet and not a scholar, it has become an influential source to writers and a fascinating journey through mythology, as only Graves knows how! Inspiring!

Genet: A Biography – by Edmund White.

Published in 1993, ‘Genet’ is a compelling biography of the French novelist, playwright, poet, art critic and political activist Jean Genet (1910-1986). White is on familiar ground as he dissects the bloated corpse of Genet in this superb life of the man, who after his early upbringing by foster parents, turned to crime which led the young Jean to prison and to the beginning of his writing career. His novels: ‘Notre Dame des Fleurs’ (Our Lady of the Flowers), ‘Miracle de la Rose’ (The Miracle of the Rose), ‘Pompes Funebres’ (Funeral Rites) and ‘Querell de Brest’ (Querelle of Brest) were written between 1942-1947, after which Genet, who suffered from depression and suicidal tendencies, is silent for seven years. He then composes his three great plays: ‘Le Balcon’ (The Balcony), ‘Les Negres’ (The Blacks) and ‘Les Paravents’ (The Screens) all within two years. His other great work is his autobiographical ‘Journal du Voleur’ (A Thief’s Journal) 1949.
Genet, who wrote with great openness about his sexuality, seemed to walk a fine line between saint and sinner and transcended the horizon of filth he encountered around him to create a thing of beauty and love, like a modern day Rimbaud. Edmund White’s devotion to his subject does not go un-noticed and it is only fitting that he should have the last word: ‘Genet himself aspired towards a sort of secular beatitude. He denied materialism, the machinery of career, the obligations of sustained friendship, even the vanity of artistic achievement, in order to render his life exemplary’. Damned good!

A Room of One’s Own – by Virginia Woolf.

Woolf published this feminist essay in 1929 and it is based on two lectures she gave, ‘Women and Fiction’. The essay looks at the way in which women have been neglected throughout history when it comes to education, social standing and financial independence. For women to achieve their creative ambitions of becoming great writers they must first have equal rights and independence along with the necessary privacy (something most women only dreamed of) of a ‘room of one’s own’. Woolf examines the works and circumstances of such writers as the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen in her argument that great art should be judged by its own merit and not on the sex of the artist. She really understands the struggle for women writers and she became an early protagonist in feminist and literary changes. Excellent!

G. M. Hopkins: A Very Private Life – by Robert Bernard Martin.

To many of today’s readers discovering the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) they can be forgiven for thinking he was more than just a little strange, especially in his often hard to understand poetry, but quite simply he was an extraordinary poet and an exceptionally sensitive man. This comes across in this beautiful biography by Robert Bernard Martin, first published in 1991 and we see a picture forming of the elusive poet. Hopkins was educated at Balliol College, Oxford where he wrote much of his early poetry (many of which he subsequently burnt in 1868 as a symbol of his devotion to become a Jesuit). Influenced by John Henry Newman (1801-1890) he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1866 and studied theology at St Bueno’s, North Wales several years later. After hearing of the loss of five Franciscan nuns onboard the Deutschland in December 1875, he was inspired to write his poem ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ in 1876 and went on the following year to compose his best known poems ‘The Windhover’ and ‘Pied Beauty’. He was ordained in 1877 and in 1884 appointed Chair of Greek and Latin at University College, Dublin. It was while he was at Dublin that he became ill and suffered a deep depression, a depression which probably took him mentally to thoughts of suicide, and it was while he was in this state of mind that he wrote his dark or ‘terrible’ sonnets. Most of the sonnets were composed in 1885 in utter frustration, such as ‘Carrion comfort’, ‘No worst, there is none’, ‘To seem the stranger’, ‘I wake and feel’, ‘My own heart’, and ‘Patience, hard thing’. He died of typhoid only four years later in 1889.
Hopkins developed his own technique for writing which he termed ‘sprung rhythm’, a manner in which speech is replicated based on stress. He also used what he called ‘inscape’ (the spiritual essence) and ‘instress’ (the energy which prolongs inscape) together with alliteration and assonance. Hopkins the poet was unknown during his life-time excepting a small circle of friends, and it was one such friend named Robert bridges who posthumously published his ‘Poems’ in 1918 and steadily initiated interest in the poems of G. M. Hopkins.
We can draw parallels between Hopkins and that other reticent poet A. E. Housman (1859-1936) for they both had an immense and overpowering sense of despair for an unrequited love; they were both extremely sensitive and intent to bury themselves in their work, for Housman it was ancient language and textual criticism, and for Hopkins it was the religious life. Towards the end, spending much of his time in solitude, a lonely figure, he wished only to leave little imprint upon the world, destroying letters, yet in poetic literature he was writing some of the most original and emotional verse at a time when the ‘cultured reading population’ were busy at the trough lapping-up the derivative sentimental drivel that was handed to them! An excellent biography highly recommended!

Do What Thou Wilt – by Lawrence Sutin.

Explorer, conjuror of inter-dimensional beings; writer of poems both sublime and obscene; mystic, chess master and sex addict, Aleister Crowley was a multi-faceted man and an enigma far ahead of his time. Lawrence Sutin shines a revealing light upon the life of this ‘strange and enigmatic man’ whom the world’s press dubbed ‘the wickedest man in the world’. Delightful!

Stevie Smith Collected Poems.

The poet and novelist Stevie Smith (1902-1971) seemed to spin her poems from material she found in her everyday surroundings, giving a voice to the concerns of ordinary people in her own distinctive way. She drew upon autobiographical details and wove them into her first collection which appeared in 1937 titled ‘A good time was had by all’. Several other collections followed but her best known work is ‘Not waving but drowning’ (1957). There was a strange quality to Smith, as if she were a time-piece, suddenly stopped yet still chiming with those delightful poems which thrill with a child-like curiosity about life and love. The collected poems were published in 1975 and I loved the sentiments in her work with those marvellous idiosyncratic sketches of hers. Truly amazing!

Terence Rattigan: A Biography – by Geoffrey Wansell.

This is a fine biography (originally published in 1996) of the playwright Terence Mervyn Rattigan (1911-1977) and Geoffrey Wansell captures the atmosphere of his times perfectly. Rattigan’s first success in the West End was his comedy ‘French without tears’ in 1936, followed by the well-known drama ‘The Winslow boy’ (1946) and the excellent ‘The Browning version’ (1948). His other works include: ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ (1952), ‘Separate Tables’ (1954), ‘Ross’ (1960) and ‘Cause Celebre’ (1977).
Rattigan’s middle-class ‘French-window dramas’ became unfavourable in the 1950’s and 60’s when the so-called ‘kitchen-sink’ dramatists such as Shelagh Delaney (1939-2011) and John Osborne (1929-1994) became popular. Despite this, Rattigan has proved to be a lasting influence and his plays which dealt with love in all its forms from one-sided passions, homosexual themes and unexpressed feelings are still loved by audiences the world over. Marvellous!

Virginia Woolf – by Quentin Bell.

‘Virginia Woolf’ by Quentin Bell, a nephew of the great writer, his father being the art critic Clive Bell (1881-1964) who married Virginia’s sister Vanessa, is an excellent work which ascends to the highest standards in the art of biography. Originally published as two volumes in 1972, Bell takes us through all the major stages of Virginia’s life from her early childhood and writings, through to the Bloomsbury Group, her marriage to Leonard Woolf (1880-1969) in 1912 and the mental illness which eventually drove her to end her life.
She was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in 1882 and she lived with her sister Vanessa and her brothers at Hyde Park Gate, London, before moving to Bloomsbury after her father Sir Leslie Stephen’s death in 1904. After her first novel; ‘The Voyage Out’ was published in 1915 and the Hogarth Press was set up with her husband Leonard two years later, she really came into her own creatively. Many of Woolf’s characters are drawn from life, from the people around her as an exploration of the relationship and intimacy she had with them and with the world around her. Her works include: ‘Night and Day’ (1919), ‘Jacob’s Room’ (1922), ‘Mrs Dalloway’ (1925), ‘To the Lighthouse’ (1927), ‘Orlando’ (1928), ‘The Waves’ (1931), ‘The Years’ (1937) and ‘Between the Acts’ (1941) which after completion she drowned herself in the River Ouse, near her home in Rodmell, Sussex on 28th March 1941.
Bell introduces the weird and wonderful characters which along with Virgina came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group, a very progressive and creative force in art and attitudes to sexuality, such as the biographer and essayist Lytton Strachey (1880-1932), a homosexual sado-masochist; the art critic and painter Roger Fry (1886-1934); the economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946); the bisexual novelist and critic David Garnett (1892-1981) and the painter Duncan Grant (1885-1978).
Quentin Bell’s ‘Virginia Woolf’ is a masterpiece of biography, drawing upon the extensive literary archives: letters, diaries, essays, polemics, and biographical writings and of course, the novels. It is an excellent introduction for anyone wishing to understand the background and genius of one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers! Excellent!

Auden – by Richard Davenport-Hines.

During the nineteen-thirties, the poet Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973) became a spokesman for his generation; a voice for the young left-wing intellectuals and he published his first collection of ‘Poems’ in 1930. The collection set the tone incorporating his radical and even political viewpoint, with themes suggesting that England was infested with spies and characteristically ‘buttoned-up’ by repressed instincts. Even at Christ Church, Oxford, Auden set himself up as a significant leader of the modern poets which included his friend and collaborator Stephen Spender (1909-1995), Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) and Cecil Day Lewis (1904-1972).
Auden was typically curious about ‘other countries’ and ‘other people’; he was very fond of Germany, travelling there with Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) before the war. He also visited Iceland with Louis MacNeice in 1936 and even found his way to China. In 1937 he spent two months in Spain supporting the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Isherwood collaborated with Auden on plays with a left-wing slant and in 1939 they went to live in the United States. Many people felt a sense of betrayal at Auden’s decision to leave when England’s course was set on war with Germany. In the States he met and fell in love with Chester Kallman (1921-1975), who also became his assistant in writing the libretti for Stravinsky’s ‘The Rake’s Progress’ in 1951.
After 1941 Auden’s more complex, later works became increasingly Christian in their tone. He was a master of the verse form, using both the traditional metre and new experimental rhythms. Davenport-Hines really gets behind the wrinkled exterior of Auden and taps into the psychology of the man, incorporating lots of illustrations in this well-written and fascinating biography!

The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence.

Although he is best remembered for his novels, D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) also produced some very expressive poetry. His early verse was written in mainly ballad form with simple rhyming scheme incorporating subjects Lawrence held close to him from his adolescence in Nottinghamshire. To be honest, I found some of his poems quite poor but perseverance pays off when one comes across a little gem! He wrote free-verse poems, many of which utilize animals and birds along with images of flowers which evoke a spiritual depth between nature and humanity.
His poem collections include: ‘Love Poems’ (1913), ‘Amores’ (1916), ‘Look! We have come through!’ (1917), ‘New Poems’ (1918), ‘Birds, Beasts and Flowers’ (1923), ‘Pansies’ (1929), ‘Nettles’ (1930) and ‘Last Poems’ (1932). The complete poems were published in three volumes in 1957 and I would say only Lawrence aficionados or genuine poetry lovers who can be a little forgiving will enjoy this book.

Ghost Detective – by A. H. Perkins.

Published in 2004, ‘Ghost Detective’ is the culmination of two years of research by Adrian Perkins, interviewing various people who have had actual paranormal experiences. Perkins shows a deep understanding and passion for all things that go ‘bump in the night’ and apparently wrote the book because he was tired of reading the same old ghost stories. And so he investigated new, unknown cases which he presents for us in this entertaining little book. Many of these curious accounts occurred in and around Perkin’s home county of Northamptonshire and he cannot be praised highly enough for bringing these tales to light. Despite the numerous spelling errors I would certainly rate this refreshingly interesting book as very good indeed!

Mrs Dalloway – by Virginia Woolf.

Mrs Dalloway was published in 1925 and the novel centres on one day’s events in London during June. Clarissa Dalloway, wife of the MP Richard Dalloway is throwing a party and so she goes to buy some flowers. Along the way we are given a description of Westminster’s sights and sounds and we are shown a sketch of Mrs Dalloway’s life through her memories and a glimpse of her inner-most feelings. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) utilises the interior monologue (stream of consciousness) technique for which she is best known and the novel develops through the dimensions of the character; Clarissa is brought to life from all angles and viewpoints. By contrast, we also meet the poor shell-shocked Septimus Warren Smith, who at the end of the day throws himself from a window to his death. The news of his death is carried to Clarissa’s party by a Harley Street Doctor.
The novel reveals a post war social system and captures the contrasting mood of its characters. A modernist classic and Woolf at her best!

The Years – by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf’s novel published in 1937 tells the story of a family, beginning in 1880, where a large Victorian London house, the children of Colonel and Mrs Pargiter are waiting for the death of their mother. We see the characters through various stages over several years up to the present time of 1936 where two generations come together for a family reunion. A must for all lovers of literature!

The Colected Poems of Edward Thomas.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917) wrote many books, mostly of biography and topographical subjects such as his wonderful book on Wales (1905). But it wasn’t until the encouragement he received from the American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) that Thomas turned to writing poetry. Many of his poetic themes centre upon the English countryside and the natural world and there is more than a tinge of sadness encompassing his pastoral scenes. His poems include: ‘As the Team’s Head Brass’, ‘If I should ever by chance’, ‘What shall I give?’, ‘And you, Helen’, ‘Old Man’, ‘After Rain’, and of course the celebrated ‘Adelstrop’, all of which are beautiful examples of the poet’s craft.
Thomas was killed at Arras in 1917 and I find myself turning to his poems at various intervals in my life, which is exactly how poetry should become involved in one’s life’s journey. Wonderful!

George Eliot, Selected Essays, Poems and other Writings – by A S Byatt (and Nicholas Warren).

It is unfortunate that I have always had a problem trying to understand or even like George Eliot (1819-1880) and having read this 1990 publication I am sad to say there is no change!

The Collected Poems of William Wordsworth.

It is indeed a brave soul who contemplates reading the entire output of William Wordsworth (1770-1850). I am almost ashamed (though not quite) to declare that I found his poems dull and tedious and so I failed to make any real progress into this vast volume of his vacuous verse! But I am not defeated – I shall give it the space of thirty years before I attempt such an arduous and un-rewarding task again; when perhaps my brain has become prone to some incurable disease and I am quite numb to the horrific notion of time being wasted so drastically!

Madder Music, Stronger Wine: The Life of Ernest Dowson, Poet and Decadent – by Jad Adams.

Ernest Dowson (1867-1900), a contemporary of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, wrote stories, poems, translations, and plays and sadly does not receive the recognition he so rightly deserves. His poems, which are chiefly love poems, devotional poems (Dowson became a Roman Catholic in 1891) and poems about the natural world, contain many much favoured lines. His first book ‘Verses’ (1896) contains his celebrated poem ‘Non Sum Qualis Eram’ otherwise known as ‘Cynara’, and his next book ‘Decorations’ was published in 1899. And who can forget his well-known ‘Vitae Summa Brevis’ (they are not long, the days of wine and roses’?) A truly remarkable man!

The Collected Poems of T S Eliot 1909-1962.

No appreciation of English poetry is complete without dipping into T S Eliot (1888-1965) and the Collected Poems by Faber is the perfect poetic pond! Fantastic!

The Well of Loneliness – by Radclyffe Hall.

Although Radclyffe Hall (1883-1943) published several novels and four volumes of verse, she is mostly remembered for her novel ‘The Well of Loneliness’ published in 1928. The novel’s open treatment of lesbianism brought about an obscenity trial and was subsequently banned. The book was republished in 1949 and has been hugely influential in the history of lesbian literature. Interesting!

Selected Bronte Poems – by Edward Chitham.

Anyone coming to the Bronte Poems for the first time can do no better than Edward Chitham’s marvellous book. Having met the great man who is one of the leading Bronte scholars, I can dispel all rumours that he is anything but a thoroughly nice man with a huge intellectual and literary critical mind! Excellent!

The Ghosts of Motley Hall – by Richard Carpenter.

‘Fish-Hooks’ and ‘Gloriana!’ Richard Carpenter has written a delightful romp in which the ghosts of Sir George Uproar (a 19th Cent. Army General), the White Lady (a mysterious wailing woman), Bodkin (an Elizabethan fool), Sir Francis ‘Fanny’ Uproar (an 18th Cent. Gentleman who died in a drunken duel) and Matt (a stable boy from the Regency period) attempt to outwit Mr Gudgin who looks after the house and grounds and the many potential buyers of Motley Hall, psychic investigators and threats to demolish or refurbish the stately Hall. The chapters refer to the episodes featured in the wonderful television series shown in the seventies which starred the marvellous Freddie Jones as Sir George, the beautifully haunting Sheila Steafel as the White Lady, the great Arthur English as Bodkin, Nicholas Le Prevost as dim but dashing Fanny, Sean Flanagan as Matt and the wonderful Peter Sallis as the meek and mild Gudgin. Poor old Gudgin who wants rid of the responsibility of looking after Motley Hall and to see it lived in again is able to see and hear the White Lady and so is always fearful of entering the house. Of all the ghosts, Matt is the only one who is able to go beyond the confines of the Hall into the grounds of Motley and so there is a little resentment and jealousy, but on the whole the ghosts get along together as best they can.
Motley, the grand old Hall itself is as important a character as the ghosts themselves because it becomes familiar, not unlike Rigsby’s boarding house or Arkwright’s corner shop; it is a comfortable setting for the drama to unfold within. The book is perfectly written with perfect characterisation and I only wish there was more – much more! Up the Uproars!

Anton Chekhov Plays.

The Russian story writer and playwright, Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) became very successful as a dramatist and his influence has had a lasting effect upon the English stage. His first successful play was ‘Ivanov’ (1887), but it is his later plays which secured his immortality: ‘The Seagull’ (1895), ‘Uncle Vanya’ (1900), ‘Three Sisters’ (1901) and ‘The Cherry Orchard’ (1904). Chekhov’s wonderful thought-provoking plays are heavy with symbolism and naturalism and they are rich in subtle sympathetic characterisation, which often portrays the ‘idle rich’ in comic, tragic and tender moments. Delightful!

The Symposium – by Plato.

The Symposium takes the form of a dialogue between such eminent Greek thinkers as Socrates, Aristophanes and other notable minds who gather at a banquet to discuss the nature of love. It is stated that three forms of love exist: the sensual, the altruistic and the wisdom-orientated. In essence, the profound emotion of love can be seen as the search for the purest spiritual experience. Plato, of course, is speaking of a primarily homosexual love, but its ideal can be translated into heterosexual love. Its influence can be found in the romantic, courtly love in the thirteenth century and in Medieval and Renaissance English literature. Aristophanes notions of hermaphroditism, which is essentially that each person is born a male or female half of a whole and that life is spent in pursuit of the lost half, is most interesting and the book is certainly a fascinating read!

A E Housman – by Keith Jebb.

A not altogether disappointing biography of the poet A E Housman by Keith Jebb considering ‘The Scholar Poet’ by R P Graves has set such a high standard!

The Collected Works of Arthur Machen – Edited by Chris Palmer.

Arthur Llewellyn Machen (1863-1947) is a colossus in the world of supernatural literature and the ‘Collected Works’, edited by Chris Palmer is an excellent introduction to the great man’s works. If you have not already read his ‘Hill of Dreams’ (1907), ‘The Great God Pan’ (1894), ‘The Novel of the White Powder’ or ‘The Novel of the Black Seal’ (both 1894) then you are doing yourself a great disservice and you should prepare yourself to be utterly astonished by Machen’s genius!

Modern Poems From Russia – by G Shelley.

Poems, which just so happen to be modern and Russian at the same time! Good!

The Collected Poems of Louis MacNeice – Edited by E R Dodds.

The Belfast born poet Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) was a versatile poet in the classic tradition that made great use of poetic devices such as assonance, half rhymes, repetition and internal rhymes. As a friend of fellow left-wing poets Stephen Spender (1909-1995) and W H Auden (1907-1973) [MacNeice collaborated with Auden on ‘Letters from Iceland’ in 1937] he is often linked with the so-called ‘Pylon School’ of poets which drew much of its influence and imagery from mechanical, industrial landscapes.
His first collection of poems ‘Blind Fireworks’ was published in 1929 and other collections include: ‘The Earth Compels’ (1938), ‘Autumn Journal’ (1938), ‘Plant and Phantom’ (1941), ‘Springboard’ (1944), ‘Holes in the Sky’ (1948), ‘Autumn Sequel’ (1954) and ‘The Burning Perch’ (1963). Excellent stuff!

Lord Alfred Douglas – by H Montgomery Hyde.

H Montgomery Hyde has written a very good biography of Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas (1870-1945) who was a ‘poet’ and an intimate friend of Oscar Wilde. In 1894 Douglas translated Wilde’s ‘Salome’ into English from the French and in 1914 published an account of his life with Oscar: ‘Oscar Wilde and Myself’, and later in 1940: ‘Oscar Wilde: A Summing Up’. A good book about an awful man!

A E Housman: Collected Poems and Selected Prose – by Christopher Ricks.

This collection of poems and prose by A E Housman (1859-1936) is both illuminating and surprising. Housman writes with extraordinary clarity on the subjects of poetry and textual criticism and Christopher Ricks has presented us with a rather fine selection! Recommended!

The Rise of the Russian Novel: Studies in the Russian Novel from Eugene Onegin to War and Peace – by Richard Freeborn.

Richard Freeborn looks at the development of the Russian novel from such classics as Pushkin’s ‘Eugene Onegin’, Lermontov’s ‘A Hero of Our Time’, Gogol’s ‘Dead Souls’, Goncharov’s ‘Rudin’ and ‘Oblomov’, Turgenev’s ‘Nest of the Gentry’ and ‘Fathers and Children’, Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, ‘The Idiot’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, to Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karanina’ and ‘War and Peace’. This is a really outstanding account of the history and importance of Russian literature and Freeborn really has produced a fascinating study!

Gertrude and Alice – by Diana Souhami.

This is an extremely interesting book which looks at the life and relationship between the American ‘writer’ Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) and her companion and lover, the fellow American Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967). Gertrude settled in Paris in 1902 and met Alice there in 1907, it was love at first sight and the two ladies became inseparable. Gertrude even made Alice the author of her own memoir – ‘The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas’ in 1933. If you are looking for a moving book on human relationship and enduring love then this fits the bill but if you are purely seeking literary excellence from Gertrude the ‘author’ then I’m afraid she falls very short of the mark, although much of her nonsense and tripe have their moments of wonder! A good read!

Goodbye to All That – by Robert Graves.

Published in 1929, ‘Goodbye to all that’ is the autobiography of Robert Graves, which gives us a glimpse of the early childhood and schooldays of the author before taking us on a fascinating journey through his experiences during the First World War. Graves had a ‘sense of duty’ as a soldier and here he delivers a critical account of war, painting a hellish vision of the daily life of the ordinary soldier in trench warfare; he evokes the horror of the Front with its barbed wire, shell-holes, mud and stench of death. Throughout the book there is a deep anger towards the English class system and the roaring jingoism of civilians far from the fighting. This is an exceptional book!

Myths of the Greeks and Romans – by M Grant.

It is very difficult to make a mess of ancient mythology, and this book does it impressively!

Autobiography – by Morrissey (Penguin Classics).

Published in 2011, this long awaited autobiography of the Manchester born singer and songwriter Steven Patrick Morrissey, (born 1959) is very skilfully written by Moz as he spits and scratches his way through 457 pages. Like him or loath him, you can’t deny the impact he has had on music, together with his band The Smiths (1982-1987) who have been hugely influential. He writes with authority upon the brutal Manchester education system of the 1960’s and 1970’s to which he suffered at the hands of several tyrannical teachers. We read about his great passion for the New York Dolls, Oscar Wilde, James Dean, animal rights and vegetarianism; we are immersed into the world of The Smiths in which the music business attempts various dirty, underhand tactics to abate the band’s success and Morrissey is constantly treated appallingly by the music press. And then there is the infamous court case which leaves a terrible taste in the mouth and the assumption that the three ‘inarticulate’ members of The Smiths (Marr, Rourke and Joyce) are particularly nasty pieces of work when it comes to loyalty!
This is a very good book but Morrissey still keeps his cards close to his Mancunian chest, but throughout all the heartless betrayal he seems to suffer at the hands of so-called ‘friends’ (probably not that close and realistically only acquaintances) he does not seem hopeful for humanity, but he just may be the saviour of the human race!

The Diary of a Nobody – by G and W Grossmith.

Published in 1892 and set in the 1890’s, the ‘Diary’ covers the minor misadventures in a fifteen month period in the life of one Charles Pooter who lives with his wife Carrie in their home in Brickfield Terrace, Holloway. Pooter is the archetypal English suburbanite, ambitious yet sensitive to minor humiliations. Absolutely wonderfully written and hilarious!

Yeats – The Man and the Masks – by Richard Ellman.

The mere thought of attempting to revue this staggering colossus is like desecrating the tomb of a Pharaoh and so all I shall say is that it is the definitive study of the poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) and Ellman, like the alchemists of old, turns every word into pure gold!

Poems Complete in One Volume – by John Masefield.

John Edward Masefield (1878-1967) was a sailor but aged seventeen he deserted ship and lived in America as a vagrant. On his return home to England, he began to write. He produced fifty volumes of verse, eight plays and more than twenty novels. His ‘Salt-water Ballads’ (1902) includes his famous: ‘I must down to the sea again’. His other works include: ‘Ballads and Poems’ (1910), ‘The Everlasting Mercy’ (1911), ‘The Widow in the Bye Street (1912) and ‘Reynard the Fox’ (1919). If you appreciate poetry then you can do no worse than devote a little time to Masefield!

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – by James Joyce.

Joyce has produced an autobiographical novel where the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus is shown from boyhood where he is bullied at school and through adolescence where he comes to a crisis of faith. Sexual guilt and a sense of his own purpose as a student show him his own poetic destiny. Very good!

The World’s Tragedy – by Aleister Crowley.

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) wrote the five ‘books’ which make up ‘The World’s Tragedy’ over a five day period at Eastbourne in February 1908. This, Crowley’s first attempt at autobiography, which was published in 1910, is his swipe at Victorian sensibilities and convention; he really picks at the hypocritical, murderous and fear-mongering scab of society – Christianity and its ‘morals’.
Crowley saw firsthand some of the psychological damage inflicted upon the child by Christ-centred psychopaths intent on brow-beating the literal word of the Bible through intimidation and the threat of eternal damnation through the torment of the soul. Crowley was raised in such a Bible-blinkered circle known as the Plymouth Brethren and sin was ever-present in the form of temptations by the devil.
Crowley considered ‘The World’s Tragedy’ as one of his greatest literary achievements and it is an excellent place to begin for anyone upon the quest of understanding more about the life of the Great Beast 666 – Aleister Crowley!

The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) was mostly self-educated but in 1838 she became ill and after two years in Torquay she returned to London and spent the rest of her life as an invalid. She secretly married the poet Robert Browning (1812-1889) in 1846 and they lived together in Italy. Elizabeth, the greater of the two poets in my opinion, published several collections: ‘The seraphim, and other poems’ (1838), ‘Poems’ (1844), ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ (1850), ‘Aurora Leigh’ (1857), ‘Poems before Congress’ (1860) and ‘Last Poems’ published posthumously in 1862. The Collected Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is an essential read for any lover of poetry and highly recommended. Astonishing!

Stephen Spender – by Hugh David.

This is a reasonably forgettable biography of the poet and critic Stephen Harold Spender (1909-1995). Educated at Oxford, friend of Auden, MacNeice and Isherwood, he lived for a time in Germany and his ‘Poems’ was published in 1933. He did propaganda work in Spain during the Civil war and became influenced by the Communist Party. Mildly interesting!

The Complete Poems of Alfred Tennyson.

In the world of English poetry, Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) is one of the giants who sit alongside Shakespeare, Keats, Byron and Shelley... Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, he wrote a substantial amount of poetry which includes: ‘Poems, Chiefly Lyrical’ (1839), ‘Poems’ (1833), ‘The Princess’ (1847), ‘In Memoriam’ (1850), ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ (1854), ‘Maud, and other poems’ (1855), ‘Idylls of the King’ (1859), ‘Ballads, and other poems’ (1880), and ‘Tiresias, and other poems’ (1885). His appeal may have dwindled with time but to not read his great works is surely a crime against literature!

The Old Ways – by Robert Macfarlane.

Published in 2012, ‘The Old Ways’ is a poetic pilgrimage to the pleasure of walking in which the author follows the ancient tracks, drove-roads, sea paths and Holloways through the wild landscape. Macfarlane brings to life his accounts of his journeys on foot with his distinct and rich powers of observation and description. Like his previous ‘The Wild Places’, he captures the essence of place and the people he meets along the way, invoking the old ghosts of the haunted hills and byways, reflecting on such timeless and celebrated authors and artists as Nan Shepherd (‘The Living Mountain’), Edward Thomas (‘Beautiful Wales’ and ‘The Icknield Way’) and the painter Eric Ravilious. The book is more than just a travel book; it is an evocation of the pathways which begin in the imagination and transcend into the wonder of nature all around us, mapping our own internal footfalls and giving us a sense of belonging. This book may change peoples’ perception of walking forever and Macfarlane’s endless passion is a delight. An instant classic!

Lancashire’s Ghost Stories – by Richard Holland.

This is a lovely little book exploring the great houses of Lancashire and the spooky stories attached to them. Holland provides just enough details to further one’s interest and perhaps even go out and research these tales yourself. Very good!

London Underground: Ghost Stories by – Jill Armitage.

Published in 2014, this book has some very good ghostly tales from the beginning of the history of London Underground right up to modern day London. The amount of tragedies: suicides, murder, accidental deaths and disturbed graves that have occurred it is a wonder we’re not all seeing ghosts down there! Good!

Sylvia Plath – Collected Poems.

Published in 1981, with an introduction by Ted Hughes, the collected works is an astounding body of work indeed! Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) is an utterly remarkable poet whose works can disturb and fascinate in turn, creating a ‘secret world’ in which the reader has stumbled upon.
Plath was born in Boston, Massachusetts and she married the English poet Ted Hughes in 1956. Her first volume of poetry ‘The Colossus’ was published in 1960 and her only novel ‘The Bell Jar’ followed in 1963, prior to her suicide. The collection ‘Ariel’ published in 1965 contains perhaps her best known works: ‘The Bee Meeting’, ‘Lady Lazarus’ and ‘Daddy’. Plath is essential reading for any enthusiast of poetry!

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

Most of these remarkable poems by the American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) were found after her death and there is a real sense of ‘intimate discovery’ and a contemporary feel to her work. Many of the poems are preoccupied with a mystical sense of the world around us and the quest for immortality and fame, which may interest modern readers all the more. Like many of the American poets of this period, in particular Walt Whitman, she is able to resonate with the modern mind and reading her collected works will definitely enhance anyone’s perception of poetry. Wonderful!

Rupert Brooke: His Life and His Legend – by John Lehmann.

Lehmann has written a very good biography of the poet Rupert Chawner Brooke (1887-1915) which is a real tribute to the author of ‘The Old Vicarage, Granchester’ and the war sonnet ‘The Soldier’ (‘If I should die’). Brooke was educated at King’s College, Cambridge and in 1909, he settled in Granchester. His first book of verse ‘Poems’ (1911) was well received but prior to the Great War he suffered a nervous breakdown and travelled in the United States and Canada as well as the Pacific. At the outbreak of war he joined the RNVR and took part in the Antwerp expedition, but his life, like so many others was tragically cut short when he died from blood-poisoning on the way to the Dardanelles and he was buried on Scyros. Recommended!

To the Lighthouse – by Virginia Woolf.

Published in 1927, the novel draws on Woolf’s early memories of family holidays in Cornwall. She based the maternal character, the gracious and practical Mrs Ramsay upon her own mother and the self-inflated, philosophical and poetry spouting Mr Ramsay is based on her father.
The novel is written in three sections beginning with ‘The Window’ which introduces us to the Ramsey’s on a summer holiday with their eight children and guests, such as the sluggish elderly poet Augustus Carmichael, Lily Briscoe, the painter and the academic Charles Tansley. James, the youngest of the Ramsay family dreams of visiting the lighthouse much to his father’s annoyance.
In the second part of the book, ‘Time Passes’, we are told of the death of Mr Ramsay and of his son Andrew, who died in the war.
In the final section of the book, ‘The Lighthouse’, we find Lily, Camilla and James finally reaching the long-awaited lighthouse! An absolute wonder of English literature!

Hammer of the Gods: Led Zeppelin Unauthorised – by Stephen Davis.

‘Hammer of the Gods’ takes us into the dark realms and ‘mythology’ of the rock band Led Zeppelin and really explores the band and its members, capturing the explosive atmosphere of the beginning of the super-group. Definitely one for the fans of the band and rock music, but generally a very good book about probably the best rock band ever!

Jimmy Page: Tangents within a framework – by Howard Mylett.

Published in 1983, ‘Tangents within a framework’ takes an in-depth look at the life and work of the enigmatic guitarist Jimmy Page. Mylett, who worked closely with Page, takes us through the great man’s early career with the Yardbirds, through the success (and excess) of Led Zeppelin and his solo work and even delves deep into Pages obsession with the occult. With plenty of pictures, this difficult to find book is definitely recommended for all Page and Zep fans!

Faust – by Goethe.

Faust, by Johann Wolfganf von Goethe (1749-1832) is a tale based on the medieval legend of a man named Faust, a wandering German necromancer of the 16th Century who sells his soul to the devil. In the Prologue of Part One (1808), we are in Heaven where we find the devil, Mephistopholes, who undertakes the ruin of Faust’s soul. Faust has grown tired of the world and becomes the servant of Mephistopholes, seducing Gretchen (Margaret) and hastening her death. Part Two (1833) is more complicated. We encounter the beautiful Helen of Troy whom Faust pursues, and their son Euphorion, who symbolises poetry and the joining of the Classical and the Romantic.
In the next section of Part Two, Faust, with the assistance of Mephistopholes raises a submerged strip of land from the sea. Faust is blinded, but he is satisfied that he has redeemed himself, before he falls dead. Hell then attempts to claim his soul, but he is rescued by the Angels. Excellent!

Edith Sitwell: Collected Poems.

Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) was a strange and eccentric creature and her collected works shows how the beauty of verse can reach the subtle depths of nonsense! Tiring!

Tales of Belkin and other Prose Writings of Alexander Pushkin.

Puskin’s ‘tales of the late Ivan Petrovich Belkin’ are beautifully presented in this Penguin Classic, introduced by John Bayley and translated by Ronald Wilks. Here you will find Pushkin’s memorable tales: ‘The Shot’, ‘The Blizzard’, ‘The Undertaker’, ‘The Postmaster’, ‘The Squire’s Daughter’, ‘The History of the Village of Goryukhino’, ‘Rostavlev’, ‘Kirdzhali: a tale’, ‘Egyptian Nights’ and ‘A Journey to Arzrum at the time of the 1829 Campaign’. Fantastic!

ESP, Beyond Time and Distance – by T. C. Lethbridge.

First published in 1965 by Routledge and Kegan Paul, ‘ESP’ by Thomas Charles Lethbridge (1901-1971) is a fascinating journey into the world of ‘Extra-Sensory Perception’. Lethbridge, born in Somerset, was an archaeologist and explorer, educated at Cambridge. He became interested in the paranormal when he moved to Devon with his wife, where he believed that their home ‘Hole House’ was haunted. He made many experiments in pendulum dowsing and the book examines his theory that objects transmit rays of energy which can be perceived through the art of pendulum dowsing. Sadly he was never fully accepted by scholars in the field of the paranormal and his theories remained somewhat ignored. Perhaps it is time for his rare genius to receive the recognition it so rightly deserves! Marvellous stuff!

The Gonne-Yeats Letters 1893-1938 – by Anna MacBride White and A. Norman Jeffares.

The poet W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) fell passionately in love with the Irish actress and beauty, Maud Gonne (1866-1953) and these letters (mostly Gonne’s as much of Yeat’s letters were destroyed) are a beautiful testament to the poet’s passion for the great lady. Maud was a strong, proud woman who believed deeply in Irish Nationalism. Yeats asked her to marry him but she refused and later married John MacBride, yet the fire in Yeat’s heart never extinguished and she influenced many of the poet’s great works. Interesting and beautiful, but a pity the correspondence is mostly one-sided and the poet’s voice remains silent!

The Poems of Catullus.

The Roman lyric poet Gaius Valerius Catullus (c.84-c.54) wrote many poems concerning love, showing a depth of sincere feelings; elegies and satirical epigrams and many other forms. During the Middle Ages his work became mostly forgotten until he was re-discovered in the 14th Century. His work influenced later poets such as Robert Herrick (1591-1675), Richard Lovelace (1618-1657) and Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892). Very enjoyable!

Russian Thinkers – by Isaiah Berlin.

Published in 1978, Isaiah Berlin’s ‘Russian Thinkers’ is a masterpiece on nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia formed from a collection of his essays such as the fascinating ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’ which discusses the Russian author Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) and the tension that exists between monist and pluralist interpretations of history and the world. Truly enlightening!

The Complete Works of Algernon Swinburne.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) was educated at Balliol College, Oxford where he mixed with the Pre-Raphaelites. His ‘Atalanta in Calydon’ a poetic drama published in 1865 was highly praised for its Greek imitation complete with choruses. This brought him great celebrity and other works followed: ‘Chastelard’ (1865), ‘Poems and Ballads’ (1866) which contains some of his more scandalous poems – ‘Dolores’, ‘Itylus’, ‘Hymn to Proserpine’, and ‘Faustine’ etc, describing Swinburne’s pre-occupation with Sado-Masochism and anti-Christian ideals. ‘A Song of Italy’ (1867), ‘Songs before Sunrise’ (1871), ‘Bothwell’ (1874), ‘Erechtheus’ (1876), ‘Mary Stuart’ (1881), ‘Tristram of Lyonesse and other Poems’ (1882), and ‘Marino Faliero’ (1885).
Swinburne was a master of many verse forms from the Classical metres, to burlesque and ballads. He also wrote a considerable amount of critical works and he had a lasting influence on many of the poets who were to follow him. No examination of English verse can be considered complete until one has meandered from the path and got lost in the dark woods of Swinburne’s terrain. Recommended!

Tennyson: The Man and his Work – by Michael Thorn.

The long life of Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) is a very interesting read for any lover of poetry and Michael Thorn has written a beautiful biography of the man. Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, Tennyson joined the Apostles, an exclusive intellectual society and it was here that he met Arthur Henry Hallam (1811-1833) and the two became close friends. Tennyson travelled on the Continent with Hallam in 1832, the following year, Hallam died abroad and Tennyson filled with grief began his great poetic tribute to his friend: ‘In Memoriam’ which was published in 1850, (he also named his son Hallam). In the same year Tennyson married Emily Sellwood and also became poet laureate, in succession to Wordsworth. His fame and celebrity was firmly established and poetical works poured from the great man, such as his ‘Ode on the death of Wellington’ (1852) and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ (1854); ‘Maud, and other Poems’ (1855) and ‘Idylls of the King’ (1859). His later years showed a sign of his popularity waning and following his death in 1892 he was buried in Westminster Abbey. Not having read other biographies of the poet I cannot really compare it but I can say that I enjoyed Michael Thorn’s book immensely. Very good!

Isaiah Berlin: A Life – by Michael Ignatieff.

An interesting biography of the political philosopher and historian Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) accounting his time at Oxford University and his understanding and thoughts on the nature of liberty and his ideas on analytical philosophy. Berlin was a great and influential mind and Ignatieff captures beautifully a time of great historical importance and change during his life. We are shown a glimpse behind Berlin’s facade though never enough to expose all of his weaknesses and desires. Fascinating and definitely not dull and stuffy!

Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History – by Adam Nicolson.

Adam Nicolson, grandson of Sissinghurst’s former and most famous occupants, the poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) and author Harold Nicolson (1886-1968), has written a wonderfully passionate and evocative account of the house and garden which details beautifully the lives connected to its landscape in Kent. For me, the history and development of the house and garden, especially during Vita and Harold’s duration there is fascinating, but some of the political red-tape and discussions concerning the property under its ownership by the National Trust, becomes tedious and Nicolson’s frustration at the obstacles he encounters and the slow pace of the project to re-form Sissinghust as a workable, self-sustaining farm is felt throughout many of its pages. If you love gardens and their history, this is definitely a book for you!

Pushkin – by John Bayley.

John Bayley, a professor of English at Oxford, is an excellent Pushkin scholar and this biography really brings to life the events of the great Russian poet and author of short tales, Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837). Bayley does a fine job of revealing Pushkin’s birth and beginnings in Moscow and sheds light on his exile and finally the day of the fateful duel which ended the poet’s life. Very enjoyable!

Ramble On: The Story of our Love for Walking Britain – by Sinclair Mckay.

Published in 2012, ‘Ramble On’ is an interesting book which charts the development of the popularity of walking for pleasure, from its working-class origins where cheap train travel offered escape and fresh air to the workers of the northern industrial cities during the weekend, through to the conflicts of private land owners to today’s financially rewarding ‘tourist’ and ‘day-tripper’ walks where just about anyone can soak up British heritage in exchange for ‘small payments and donations’. Walks influenced by literature and TV programmes: think of the Bronte’s and we have the delightful ‘theme park’ of Howarth to explore. McKay delves into the Kinder Scout trespass and the beginnings of organised rambling through the establishing of walking clubs. We also read of the development of the National Parks and the Long Distance Walks such as the South Downs Way and the Pennine Way etc; night walking, woodland legends, Youth Hostelling, ley lines and stone circles, the Grey Man of Ben Macdhui...
MacKay mixes a good measure of anger with his passion as all true walkers do (counting myself amongst the strange collection of oddities that enjoy the beauty of Britain by foot in all weather), for although a friendly and hardy bunch, sometimes drawn to the solitude and spiritual essence of the land, there is always a seething rage for any evidence of nature being mistreated and spoilt; for access denied to paths etc. In fact, it is people like MacKay and the adventurous ramblers who keep the arteries and byways of our land open for all to enjoy! Worth reading!

The Complete Poems of Matthew Arnold.

The complete collection of poems from Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) features ‘Dover Beach’, ‘Empedocles on Etna’, ‘Tristram and Iseult’, ‘The Scholar-Gypsy’, ‘Balder Dead’, ‘Merope, a Tragedy’, and other literary wonders which have disgraced an otherwise spotless career!

The Waves – by Virginia Woolf.

Published in 1931, ‘The Waves’ shows us the lives of six friends from childhood into late middle age: Bernard, Rhoda, Susan, Neville, Jinny and Louis. Woolf weaves her magic thread through the novel, opening up the characters’ personalities and attitudes to themselves and to each other. We find recurring phrases and images and sections of descriptive lyrical prose that rises and falls like the waves on the sea. It is considered one of her greatest novels and it is an essential and remarkable read!

The Complete Works of George Herbert.

George Herbert (1593-1633) was a poet of great metrical variety in his devotional verse. Most of his poems appeared in The Temple (1633) which expressed Herbert’s Christian faith. Along with John Donne (1572-1631) and Andrew marvel (1621-1678), George Herbert is considered to be one of England’s greatest metaphysical poets and a reading of his works will enhance one’s understanding of seventeenth-century verse.

The Complete Poems of Robert Frost.

Robert Frost (1874-1963), the American poet, came to England in 1912 and published his first volume of poetry ‘A Boy’s Will’ in 1913. Other works include: ‘North of Boston’ (1914), ‘Mountain Interval’ (1916), ‘New Hampshire’ (1923), ‘A Witness Tree’ (1942) and ‘In the Clearing’ (1962). Frost’s poems resonate with the American spirit and he became friends with the poet Edward Thomas; the two men seemed to have the same fiery temperament. In fact, Frost was an important influence on Thomas and encouraged him in his writing and for that alone he should be praised.

Night and Day – by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf’s second novel published in 1919 is set in London and centres on the character of Katherine Hillberry. She is the daughter of a well-known literary family, much like Woolf herself and she bases the character on her sister Vanessa. Kathleen’s movements and pursuits are in contrast to her friend Mary who is involved with Women’s suffrage, something Woolf herself was interested in. ‘Night and Day’ proves yet again, Virginia Woolf is a genius of the English literary novel!

Orlando – by Virginia Woolf.

Published in 1928 ‘Orlando’ is an inspired mock biography by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) which she bases on her great friend and lover, the poet and novelist, Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962), whom Virginia met in 1922. The novel traces the history of Orlando, the youthful aristocratic and beautiful protagonist through successive incarnations as both male and female characters over four centuries. An extravagant and marvellous masterpiece by Woolf!

Paranormal London – by Neil Arnold.

Published in 2010, ‘Paranormal London’ is a fascinating account of London’s strange and wondrous occurrences. With lots of illustrations and an interesting forward by David Farrant, President of the British Psychic and Occult Society at the time of publication. The book is divided into eight chapters: Beasts in our backyard; Phantom Assailants; the Highgate Vampire; Animal Apparitions; A Strange London Safari; Close Encounters of the London Kind; a Handful of Hauntings, and Miscellaneous Mysteries. Personally, I found the chapters concerning the Highgate Vampire, UFO’s and Hauntings more to my liking. Very good!

Silent Magic – Rediscovering the silent film era – by Ivan Butler.

Published in 1987 and with an interesting forward by Kevin Brownlow, ‘Silent Magic’ recalls the golden age of cinema and celebrates the nineteen-twenties, year by year. Ivan Butler was a major filmgoer and saw many of the films at their first screenings and he gives us his valuable impressions on classic silent films, many of which are now sadly lost. The book is well illustrated with stills from the greats such as ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, ‘Ben Hur’, ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ and ‘Diary of a Lost Girl’. Butler opens the door on the secretive world of Hollywood, the scandals and suicides and it’s an absolute delight to see such familiar and also forgotten stars such as: Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, John Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Lon Chaney, May McAvoy, Colleen Moore, Rudolph Valentino, Myrna Loy and the beautiful Greta Garbo, Clara Bow and Louise Brooks... Fantastic!

A Short History of Philosophy – by Robert C Solomon and Kathleen M Higgins.

The usual things you would expect to find in a ‘short history’ like: Pre-Socratic Philosophers – Thales, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus; Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz. Empericism, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche ‘God is Dead!’ Analytical Philosophy, Wittgenstein, Russell, Brentano, Husserl, Popper; Existentialism, Sartre... A well written book with lots to think about! What more could an enquiring young mind want? Enjoy!

Jacob’s Room – by Virginia Woolf.

Published in 1922, the novel centres upon the character of Jacob Flanders who dies in the First World War. Woolf obviously based the character upon her own older brother Julian Thoby Stephen, (born in 1880) who died in 1906. The book is seen as quite remarkable in its development of fiction with its indirect narration and poetic impressionism. Simply wonderful!

Bertrand Russell – by Caroline Moorehead.

An interesting biography on Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872-1970), the philosopher who wrote on logic, economics and politics. His works include: The Principles of Mathematics (1903), Principia Mathematica (with A N Whitehead, 1910); The Analysis of the Mind (1921), An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940) and Human Knowledge, its Scope and Limits (1948). This book really lifts the lid on the philosopher who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Good.

Young Betjeman – by Bevis Hiller.

This is a fine examination of the early life and work of John Betjeman (1906-1984), detailing his friendships with fellow poets W H Auden (1907-1973) and Louis MacNeice (1907-1963). It also describes the encouragement Betjeman received from the scholar and critic Maurice Bowra (1898-1971). Hiller has written a fascinating study of Betjeman with a few surprises too!

James Joyce Complete Poems.

Dear reader, repose, think not to propose
These poems as plain as the face on your nose,
That boredom blows! – How tiredness grows
Into sweet ‘quelque chose’ or comatose!
I suppose, Heaven knows! Joyce chose that prose
Tied up with soporific ribbons and bows
Nowhere goes! Nowhere goes!
Somnolence shows that lines in rows;
Verse that flows and goes where it goes
Is like counting sheep, somniferous woes
Are swift to Morpheus – sleep! compose!
But with numb brain, I close, for weariness throws
Her sheet of sleep upon me to doze!
Forgive Joyce’s pose as poet – greatness shows
A world of difference between poetry and prose!

The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti.

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) wrote poems chiefly of a fantastical nature in the form of ballads, sonnets, love lyrics and religious verse. Much of her work has a deep sense of melancholy, bordering on the downright morbid, which is no bad thing if one is drawn to such notions; there is also a tendency towards the erotic with heightened tension upon the spiritual (Christina was a high Anglican) and her most famous work is of course ‘Goblin Market’ published in 1862 in her collection ‘Goblin Market and Other Poems’. The title poem has a strong conflicting tension between sensuality and renunciation. Her other collections include: ‘The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems’ (1866) and ‘A Pageant and Other Poems’ (1881). Spellbindingly good!

Dubliners – by James Joyce.

James Joyce (1882-1941) published ‘Dubliners’ in 1914 and the book is a collection of short stories concerning aspects of life in Dublin. Joyce portrays a city unable to grow and develop within a stifled Ireland and the stories usually end with some sort of revelation or ‘epiphany’ in which the characters achieve a sense of awareness or enlightenment. A joy of modern literature!

Thomas Hardy – by Martin Seymour-Smith.

Martin Seymour-Smith has written a very good biography of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) who was born at Upper Bockhampton, near Dorchester, in Dorset. The son of a stonemason, Thomas became an architect and somehow lost his religious faith. In 1874 he gave up architecture for writing and married Emma Gifford. After Emma’s death in 1912 Thomas married Florence Dugdale in 1914. Hardy is probably England’s greatest tragic novelist and much of his work is set in the fictional West Country region of Wessex where the landscape features heavily in the drama of his stories. His most famous works are: Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Return of the Native (1878), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), The Woodlanders (1887), Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1896). He also published eight volumes of poetry. Hardy is a fascinating man and his novels demonstrate an acute sense of how social forces, mechanization and moral codes, impact upon his individual characters and their communities. A very good well written biography indeed!

The Birth of Tragedy – by Friedrich Nietzsche.

The German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) published his ‘Birth of Tragedy’ in 1872; the book was revolutionary in its theory which challenged the accepted idea of classical scholarship. The Birth of Tragedy argues against the ‘Appollonian’ theory in favour of a ‘Dionysiac’ view which accepts passion and pessimism as major forces of Greek literature. Nietzsche’s concepts are all very interesting but personally Nietzsche leaves me cold (much like George Elliot) and I consider him over-rated and tedious. But discover him for yourself and make your own opinions of the man and his work!

Wuthering Heights – by Emily Bronte.

Published in 1847 Wuthering Heights is the story of the destinies of the owners of the ‘Heights’, the Earnshaw family and the Linton family at the Grange. When the waif Heathcliffe arrives at Wuthering Heights intended to be brought up as one of the Earnshaw children, he finds only resentment and humiliation following Mr Earnshaw’s death, at the hands of Hindley Earnshaw, the young master of the Heights. Hindley’s sister, Catherine shares Heathcliffes wild and passionate nature but following a misheard conversation between Catherine and the housekeeper Nelly, Heathcliffe runs away only to return three years later a rich man... Definitely one of the greatest English Romantic novels!

Agnes Grey – by Anne Bronte.

Agnes Grey, published in 1847 by Anne Bronte (1820-1849) under the pseudonym Acton Bell, is the story of a rector’s daughter who becomes a governess to the children of the Bloomfield family, and then to the Murrays whose eldest daughter Rosalie is in stark contrast to the gentle and modest Agnes. Rosalie marries for wealth and prestige and is unhappy while Agnes marries the kind curate Mr Weston, and is very happy. Superb!

A Magick Life: A Biography of Aleister Crowley – by Martin Booth.

Magician, poet, mountaineer, adventurer and seeker of enlightenment through drugs and sex, Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was a larger than life character who inspired many of his contemporaries to go beyond the confines of existence and explore and expand the inner ‘magical’ faculty; even decades after his death, Crowley the icon, the ‘wickedest man in the world’, became a major force in the 1960’s counterculture revolution. Today, his prolific output increases in popularity as more people are drawn to his spiritual system of magical attainment. A Magick Life by Martin Booth is an intelligent and un-biased biography, he does not fall under the spell Crowley casts over many authors, as he dispels demonic myths and chronicles the facts of the ‘Great Beast’ accordingly. We are taken through 1890’s London and Cambridge, the Scottish Highlands and the Himalayas; Paris, New York and to Sicily where Crowley founded his temple, the Abbey of Thelema. Crowley, who is known to have had a great sense of humour and was able to laugh at himself and his image would surely enjoy Booth’s dry sense of humour! Sensational stuff!

Poetic Enlightenment from Southern England.

Published in 1997 by Poetry Now and edited by Andrew Head, this lovely little book of poetry has over one-hundred poems on various themes and issues from the great un-washed poets of Southern England. The book holds a particular fondness for me as it contains my first published poem. Thoughtful and inspiring!

Benjamin Britten – by Humphrey Carpenter.

Humphrey Carpenter has written a very enjoyable and interesting biography of one of England’s greatest composers – Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and he really gets behind the mythic status of the man. Britten, whose music has such a wide and immediate appeal to audiences, composed the vastly popular Peter Grimes (1945), Billy Budd (1951), Gloriana (1953) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960), which all highlight the man’s enormous talent for stagecraft. And of course there are his marvellous chamber operas such as: The Rape of Lucretia (1946), Albert Herring (1947) and the masterly sinister The Turn of the Screw (1954), not to mention his glorious opera Death in Venice (1973) and his choral work War Requiem (1962). Carpenter enthusiastically guides us through the master’s craft and his outstanding imaginative works; his relationship with Peter Pears and the various song cycles written for him; he captures Britten with all his mercurial sense of humour, his passionate nostalgia for childhood and most of all his great ability to understand and interpret the sentiments of humanity! Fantastic!

Auden in Love – by Dorothy J Farnan.

Published in 1984, Auden in Love is an insightful and beautifully written account of the love between the poet W H Auden and Chester Kallman. Their relationship was so intense and close, it lasted over three decades and it was nothing short of a ‘marriage’. There was an essential devotional aspect between them which at times was hard to understand, Kallman was not the nicest of people or partners in my opinion and behaved appallingly. But Auden loved him and this book unravels some of the mystery and intimate affection the great poet had for the younger man. Brilliant!

The Heart of the Master – by Khaled Khan.

Khaled Khan (Aleister Crowley) wrote the book in 1924 and it was originally published in the German periodical ‘Pansophia’ as ‘das Herz des Meisters’ in 1925. It was published in England in 1938 and Crowley’s inspired text is written in three parts: ‘The Vision’, ‘The Voice’ and ‘The Temple of Truth’. The book is an announcement, a declaration of the arrival of the New Aeon of Horus (begun in 1904) and its teachings and world vision; its significance through the context of the Tree of Life, the ten Sephiroth and then Tarot. Masterful!

Moments of Being – by Virginia Woolf.

Moments of Being was first published in 1976 and it contains Virginia Woolf’s only written autobiographical accounts in five previously unpublished works. ‘Reminiscences’ gives us her thoughts at the tragic loss of her mother and the affect it had upon her father and her sister Vanessa. ‘A Sketch of the Past’ was written shortly before Woolf’s death and these delicate and intimate memoirs are absolutely outstanding!

Auden Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928 – edited by Katherine Bucknell.

Katherine Bucknell has done a marvellous job in editing these early poems of W H Auden and for me, some of these ‘youthful creations’ hold more substance than some of his later ‘tired’ works. Others may disagree, but Auden’s intellect and developing mastery of the English language and the poetic form is there. For the Auden scholars there are many textual notes with historical and mythological ideas which Auden utilised. His early influences such as Thomas Hardy are unmistakeable with their rich intensity and subtle aura of sadness and longing...

Far into the vast the mists grow dim,
A deep and holy silence broods around,
Fire burns beyond the vaporous rim,
And crystal-like the dew bestrews the ground.

The last laggard star has fled the glowing sky,
Comes a quiet stirring and a gentle light,
A vast pulsating music, throbbing harmony,
Behold the Sun delivered from the gloom of night. [Dawn. 1922]

With twenty-two newly discovered poems this is definitely essential reading for any enthusiast of Auden’s work!

Simone Weil: Formative Writing 1929-1941.

Formative Writing, edited and translated by Dorothy Tuck McFarland and Wilhelmina Van Ness was published in 1987 and it contains a collection of texts written by Simone Weil (1909-1943), a writer on themes religious, political and philosophical. These essays, all written between 1929 and 1941, are: ‘Science and Perception in Descartes’ (1929-30), ‘The Situation in Germany’ (1932-33), Factory Journal’ (1934-35), ‘War and Peace’ (1933-40) and ‘Philosophy’ (1941). I enjoyed this book immensely and Weil is a very intelligent observer of human existence!

Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath – by Anne Stevenson.

A reasonably good book which explores Plath’s psychological issues and the difficulty between her own poetic voice and that of her husband, Ted Hughes, who is often accused of being responsible for Plath’s death. Personally, I found the book a little too biased in favour of Hughes whom it defends and lays the blame squarely upon Plath when undoubtedly the problems lay between Plath and Hughes. There are much better biographies of Plath out there (and there are worse) and at the best this is a mediocre account which unfortunately fails to deliver!

The Three Imposters – by Arthur Machen.

Arthur Machen (1863-1947) is one of the greatest writers on the macabre and if you are familiar with his work you will no doubt know what to expect from the master, and for those of you who have not had the delight of encountering the great Welsh wizard of the supernatural, an enduring magic awaits you!

Early Auden – by Professor Edward Mendelson.

This is an exceptional book by Professor Mendelson, a really detailed critical study of Auden’s early works prior to 1939. I found it absolutely fascinating and invaluable in studying Auden’s mesmerising poetic art!

The Voyage Out – by Virginia Woolf.

The Voyage Out is Woolf’s first novel, published in 1915 and the ‘voyage’ can be seen as the journey from adolescence to adulthood. It is the story of a young woman’s discovery of her own feelings and emotions concerning love. Rachel Vinrance is sailing from England with her family on her father’s ship to South America. Suffering from the stormy conditions en route, Rachel falls romantically in love with a man named Richard Dalloway with consequences which leave her utterly perplexed.
Upon her arrival at Santa Maria, Rachel sets off alone to discover who she is and she meets and falls in love with Terence Hewet, an aspiring writer. A stormy romance ensues but what misfortunes lie ahead? Very enjoyable!

A Hero of Our Time – by M Y Lermontov.

Completed in 1839, A Hero of Our Time was published in 1840 (and 1841). Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov was born in Moscow in 1814, an intense and passionate romantic by nature with a sceptical mind; he wrote poems, plays and tales in verse. ‘A Hero of Our Time’ comprises of chapters, the chapters entitled ‘Bella’ and ‘Maxim Maximych’ show the character of Pechorin through the eyes of those around him. There is the introduction to Pechorin’s journal, and a self-analysis of his mind. Chapter ‘Princess Mary’ is taken from his diary and chapters ‘Taman’ and ‘The Fatalist’ are records of some adventures, one in the Crimea and the other in the Caucasus. Lermontov died in a pistol duel with a fellow officer at the foot of Mount Mashuk in the Caucasus in 1841. Like Pushkin, Lermontov is a fascinating writer and ‘A Hero of Our Time’ is a very rewarding read!

The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1823 – by Ellic Howe.

‘The Magicians of the Golden Dawn’ published in 1972 by Ellic Howe is an excellent and very well researched history of the occult Order. There has been much speculation and mystery surrounding the foundation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden dawn, partly derived from the discovery of a certain magical manuscript written in cipher, which was supposedly found by Dr. W. R. Woodman (1828-1891) in 1887. Together with his fellow seeker of occult knowledge and wisdom Dr. William Wynn Westcott (1848-1925), they attempted to decipher the manuscript. The Doctors turned to the eccentric magical scholar Samuel Liddell ‘MacGregor’ Mathers (1854-1918) who managed to solve the ciphers riddle. It was discovered that the cipher contained the name of a Rosicrucian Adept named Fraulein Sprengel, whose magical name was ‘Sapiens Dominabitur Astris’ (SDA), living in Germany. Following Westcott’s correspondence with the mysterious Sprengel, the three occultists were granted permission to establish an English branch of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and so the Isis-Urania Temple was founded in London in 1888 and Woodman, Westcott and Mathers presided over it as Chief Adepts.
Following the death of Fraulein Sprengel all ties were cut with the German secret society and the English Order were left to make their own links with the ‘Secret Chiefs’. Dr. Woodman (‘Magna Est Veritas Et Praelavebit’ and ‘Vincit Omnia Veritas’) died and Dr. Westcott (‘Sapere Aud’ and ‘Non Omnis Moriar’) was forced to retire by Mathers (‘Deo Duce Comite Ferro’ and ‘S Rioghail Mo Dhream’) leaving him sole Head of the Order. Mathers claimed to have established the link with the Secret Chiefs in Paris.
Unlike other fraternities and secret societies such as the Freemasons, women were permitted to join and were equal in status to the men. Many great names flourished in the Order: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) ‘Demon Est Deus Inversus’, Annie Horniman (1860-1937) ‘Fortiter Et Recte’, Allan Bennett (1872-1923) ‘Iehi Aour’, Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942) ‘Sacramentum Regis’, Florence Farr (1860-1917) ‘Sapienta Sapienti Dono Data’ and of course Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) ‘Perdurabo’, who during the revolt of the Second Order, following the damning letter by Mathers which stated that Westcott had ‘never been at any time either in personal or written communication with the Secret Chiefs of the Order’, pledged his loyalty to Mathers and acted as his ‘plenipotentiary’ and attempted to seize the Vault of the Adepts!
Ellic Howe, being neither an ‘occultist’ or a ‘magician’ has written the definitive history of the Golden dawn with many rare examples of correspondence from private collections which helps to dispel certain myths and enlightens the reader to the true development of the Order, its ceremonial magic, internal struggles, deception and intrigue that those modern magicians encountered. From beginning to end: from the rites and initiations which were performed in the Outer Order and the magical grade system to the Second Order, the R.R. et. A.C., Crowley and the ‘Battle of Blythe Road’ and Mathers, who discovered the manuscript of the ‘Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin’ in the library of the Arsenal in Paris and translated it into English, his downfall and from the flames of the Golden Dawn rose the ‘Stella Matutina’.
In its final chapters the star diminishes in brightness and there is more internal squabbles between the ‘washed-out’, insipid Yeats, the gullible crank Dr. Felkin (‘Finem Respice’) and other ‘rebels’ who tore the heart out of the Golden Dawn until it finally limped into the early twentieth-Century where it imploded. I cannot praise this book and its author enough for this outstanding and remarkable work!

Jane Eyre – by Charlotte Bronte.

Published in 1847, ‘Jane Eyre’ is the story of a young orphan girl named Jane in the care of her aunt Mrs Reed, who treats her unkindly, which develops in Jane a defiant spirit. Jane is sent to Lowood Institution and is shown kindness by Miss Temple, the Superintendant, yet her years there are unhappy. Jane eventually becomes a teacher and then a governess at Thornfield Hall, to the illegitimate daughter of Mr Rochester, named Adele. Mr Rochester is a strong, tempestuous man who broods as some Byronic hero, indifferent to Jane, yet he admires her spirit, intellect and sharp wit. In time, they fall in love and after some resistance, Jane agrees to marry Mr Rochester but on the eve of the wedding, Rochester’s lunatic wife Bertha, who is kept on the upper floor of the Hall, escapes and Rochester confesses all to Jane. She leaves and is found near to death on the moors by the Reverend St John Rivers and his sisters Mary and Diana. Strangely, it turns out that they are Jane’s cousins and in fact, Jane has inherited money from her uncle. Jane almost consents to marry the Reverend and go to India with him to do missionary work, but thoughts of Rochester keep her from marriage. She feels he needs her so she returns to Thornfield Hall to find it in near ruin after a fire. She discovers Rochester, who was blinded and maimed trying to save Bertha from the flames. Jane marries him and happily his sight improves partially.
Jane Eyre is one of the most romantic novels in the English language and to not read it is surely a tragedy in itself!

The Divine Comedy – by Dante.

This is Dante’s great work, written in Terza rima, comprising of ‘The Inferno’, ‘The Purgatorio’ and ‘The Paradiso’. We find a description of Hell in the ‘Inferno’ which forms a graduated cone of successive circles where various categories of sinners are assigned. ‘Purgatorio’ describes Purgatory: a mountain which rises in circular ledges which house the repentant sinners. Upon the top of the mountain is the Earthly Paradise where Dante encounters Beatrice. Dante’s guide for his visit through Hell is the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC); Dante converses with lost friends and old enemies. ‘Paradiso’ shows us a vision of a world, beautiful, light and full of song. The poem is full of allusion and symbolism taken from Dante’s understanding of astronomy, history, philosophy and natural sciences. Wonderful!

The Complete Poems of Longfellow.

The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was a teacher at Harvard, and as a poet he became second only to Tennyson in popularity. His poetic works include: ‘Hyperian’ (1839), ‘Voices of the Night’ (1839), ‘Ballads and Other Poems’ (1841) which contains his famous ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’; ‘The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems’ (1847), ‘Evangeline’ (1849), ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ (1858), ‘Tales of a Wayside Inn’ (1863) containing ‘Paul Revere’s Ride’. In later life he published ‘The Mask of Pandora’ (1875), ‘Ultima Thule’ (1880) and ‘In the Harbor’ (1882). Very good!

The Golden Dawn: An account of the Teachings, Rites and Ceremonies of the Order of the Golden Dawn – by Israel Regardie.

Israel Regardie (1907-1985) first published ‘The Golden Dawn’ as four volumes in 1937-40 and this later publication (four volumes in one book) is a monster tome, very thoroughly researched presenting every aspect of ceremonial magic which was taught within the Order. I have personally found the book very useful in my own studies and practices and no library of the occult should be without this book! ‘By names and images are all powers awakened and reawakened’.
Regardie explores the complete system in these four collected volumes – volume I, book 1: Basic knowledge and practice, the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, various Lectures and the Middle Pillar exercise. Volume II, book 2: Rituals of the Outer Order – Neophyte, Zelator, Theoricus, Practicus and Philosophus. Book 3: Rituals of the Inner Order – the Portal Ritual, the Adeptus Minor Ritual, the Equinox Ceremony, symbols and the use of the Vault. Volume III, book 4: Primary techniques of magical practice and the magical weapons – the Ritual of the Pentagram, the Supreme Invoking Ritual of the Pentagram, the Ritual of the Hexagram and the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram. The Lotus Wand and the Consecration Ritual; the Ritual of the Rose Cross and the magic sword. Book 5: Principles of symbolism of ritual magic – z1: the Enterer of the Threshold, z2: Magical Formulae and z3: the Symbolism of Admission. Book 6: Ceremonial magic in practice – Evocation, Talismans and the Bornless Ritual. Volume IV, book 7: Clairvoyance, talismans, sigils, Tattwas and Rising on the Planes. Book 8: Divination – Geomancy and the Tarot. Book 9: Enochian magic.

‘I come in the Power of the Light.
I come in the Light of Wisdom.
I come in the Mercy of the Light.
The Light hath healing in its Wings.’

With many illustrations, Regardie has done a tremendously exceptional job of giving to the world a glimpse into the workings and ceremonies of one of the most infamous secret societies – an undoubted classic!

The White Peacock – by D H Lawrence.

Published in 1911, Lawrence’s first novel touches upon the lives of Laetitia ‘Lettie’ Beardsall (the novel is narrated by her brother Cyril Beardsall), Leslie Temple, who Lettie marries and George who Lettie turned down but is still drawn to sexually. George marries Meg and all seems to end in unhappiness but there are some lovely descriptions of the countryside and nature along the way. The novel works well enough and hints at the promise of greater things to come!

Mid-Victorian Britain 1851-75 – by Geoffrey Best.

Published in 1971, I found this a very interesting historical account of mid-Victorian Britain which takes an in-depth look at the economy and the environment, housing and the boom of the railway, public health; work and the class system, poverty and poor relief; education, religion, crime and social order. All in all this is a very good study and a good complement to have in one’s historical reference library!

The Story of Art – by E H Gombrich.

Published in 1950, this is still the definitive study of the history of Art. Professor E H Gombrich (1909-2001) really knows the subject and his passion explodes from every page and the influence of this book cannot be understated. It will serve as a true and full account of the human desire to create art from pre-history to the modern age. Breathtaking!

Northanger Abbey – by Jane Austen.

Northanger Abbey was published posthumously in 1888; twenty years after Austen began the novel. The novel’s intention was originally to poke fun at the popularity of Gothic Romances and authors such as the fantastic Anne Radcliffe (1764-1823) and her hugely influential ‘Mysteries of Udolpho’ (1794). The tale begins when Catherine Morland, the daughter of a clergyman is taken to Bath by her friends Mr and Mrs Allen. Catherine meets Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor and Catherine and Henry fall in love. Catherine is invited to Northanger Abbey, the Tilney’s medieval family estate. Once there, Catherine imagines Henry’s father, General Tilney to be involved in some sort of criminal activity (the General is only allowing the courtship and eventual wedding between his son and Catherine to take place because he believes Catherine’s family to be very wealthy). The General is told of Catherine’s humble background and she is sent back home. Disobeying his father, Henry follows her and proposes to her and she accepts. The General finally consents to the marriage when he discovers and favours Catherine’s real financial position. Throughout the main plot weaves various sub plots and relationships develop and friendships end. Marvellous!

Silas Marner – by George Eliot.

Normally I would give Eliot a miss but this 1861 novel about a linen-weaver, Silas Marner, driven from his community on a false charge of theft intrigued me. Silas is intensely lonely and his growing pile of gold is his only consolation in life. One day, Dunstan Cass, the squire’s son steals Silas’s gold and disappears. We then meet Godfrey who is unhappily married to a low class woman in a nearby town but he is in love with Nancy Lameter. Godfrey’s wife in a fit of revenge takes their child on New Year’s Eve to Raveloe, the village where Silas and the Cass family live. The woman dies in the snow but the child Eppie survives and finds her way to Silas’s cottage and he adopts her. A pond which has been drained over several years near Silas’s cottage reveals the body of Dunstan Cass and the gold he stole from Silas. Godfrey, married to Nancy, acknowledges that Eppie is his daughter, claiming her, but she refuses to leave Silas. This is an amazing story and one that may even make me re-consider my opinion of Eliot and even attempt to read more of her work! – but not too soon! Excellent!

Lord of the Flies – by William Golding.

An aeroplane carrying a group of schoolboys crashes on a desert island and they attempt to organise themselves into a democratic society, led by Ralph and Piggy. This fails, and Jack, who rules the group like a dictatorship under the threat of terror takes over. Two boys are killed as the boys revert to primitive behaviour. When an adult in the form of a rescue officer arrives, he is shocked at the extent of the savagery the group had reverted to and with the arrival of the adult returns the facade of civilisation. Tremendous!

The Professor – by Charlotte Bronte.

The Professor, written in 1846, was not published until 1857 and the story is based on Charlotte’s experience in Brussels. An orphan named William Crimsworth travels to Brussels in search of his fortune. He becomes a teacher at a girl’s school, teaching English and he falls in love with Frances Henri. The Catholic headmistress Zoraide Reuter attempts to manipulate William into loving her, which he resists and resigns from the school to find another job, and then he marries Frances. A very enjoyable novel proving yet again that Charlotte (and her sisters) can do no wrong!

The Old Wive’s Tale – by Arnold Bennett.

Bennett’s novel was published in 1908 and it is the story of two sisters Constance and Sophia Baines, daughters of a Bursley draper where they grow up experiencing all the incidents associated with the draper’s shop. Constance marries Samuel Povey the chief shop assistant and remains in Bursley. Sophia, the more passionate and imaginative sister, elopes with a commercial traveller named Gerald Scales who has come into much wealth. Gerald is an awful man and he takes Sophia to Paris where she witnesses life’s indignities and Gerald then deserts her. She tries to make a living and eventually becomes successful as a keeper of a lodging house in Paris where she stays through the great siege of 1870. The two sisters are eventually re-united and end their days together in Bursley. Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) is a wonderful writer who captures life’s events perfectly yet sadly he is too overlooked and I heartily recommend The Old Wive’s Tale!

Between the Acts – by Virginia Woolf.

This is Woolf’s last novel which was published after her death in 1941. Poyntz Hall, is a country estate owned by the Oliver family, where a village pageant is to be enacted, retelling the history of England through song, parodies and tableaux. Miss La Trobe directs the pageant and scenes of the pageant and the audience’s lives are interwoven, combining a mix of illusion with reality. Nothing short of the work of a genius!

Mansfield Park – by Jane Austen.

Jane Austen’s 1814 novel presents us with the Bertram family of Mansfield Park – Sir Thomas, a kindly gent, his two sons Tom and Edmund; his two daughters Maria and Julia, and the Price family. Sir Thomas undertakes the charge of his nine year old niece Fanny Price who stays with them at Mansfield Hall. Sir Thomas goes away to the West Indies and with him goes the stern attitude that governs the household. And so the scene is set for love to bloom and for rejections and elopements between suitors; romantic entanglements and everything we have come to expect and appreciate from such a marvellous writer as Austen!

Nature of the Beast – by Colin Wilson.

Nature of the Beast is certainly not the best biography of Aleister Crowley and Wilson slips into the usual pitfalls many biographers of the enigmatic Beast seem to do and serves his dish with a good dose of ‘sensationalistic’ sauce! But like a mysterious yet somewhat charming uncle whom nobody seems to talk about, Wilson can be forgiven and applauded for his attempt at producing a fairly decent introductory ‘starter’ to Crowley before moving on to the ‘main course’.

A Life of D H Lawrence – by Brenda Maddox.

Published in 1994, A Life of D H Lawrence by Brenda Maddox is an admirable biography of the Nottinghamshire born writer and she paints a fine picture of his childhood. David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) was one of five children born to a miner and ex-school teacher. Life was hard with the constant poverty and continuous quarrelling of his parents. But a scholarship to Nottingham University College gave Lawrence the chance to escape and study for his teacher’s certificate. Then came the remarkable novels – The White Peacock (1911), The Trespasser (1912), Sons and Lovers (1913), The Rainbow (1915), Women in Love (1916, published 1920), The Lost Girl (1920), Aaron’s Rod (1922), The Plumed Serpent (1926) and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928 private printing) and of course his poetic works – Love Poems (1913), Amores (1916), Look! We have come through! (1917), Birds, beasts and flowers (1923) and Pansies (1929). Maddox has written an excellent work of biography about a very controversial and considerably gifted writer. Very good!

Look Back in Anger – by John Osborne.

Osborne’s play was first produced in 1956 and published the following year and it is considered to be a landmark in theatrical history for its introduction of the ‘angry young man’ and its reaction towards the previous generation. John Osborne (1929-1994) sets the action in a one room flat in the Midlands occupied by Jimmy Porter and his wife Alison, two socially different people: Jimmy enjoys playing jazz and is a university educated young man, while Alison is the daughter of a Colonel. The drama unfolds through its three acts introducing Cliff the lodger and Alison’s friend Helena, thus we have the recipe for conflicting relationships between working-class, lower-middle class and domestic realism. Excellent!

Kilvert’s Diary – by R F Kilvert.

Robert Francis Kilvert (1849-1879) was the vicar of Bredwardine in 1876 and his three volume diary appeared in 1938-40 which Kilvert kept from 1870 until his death. In it he describes the beautiful borderland between Wales and England, recording the landscape and his parish with its parishioners and their daily troubles, from the poor to the gentry. Absolutely fantastic!

Haunted Northamptonshire Ghost Stories.

Compiled by Julia Skinner for Identity Books, this slim volume published in 2011 is a fascinating peek into the murky past of Northamptonshire’s gruesome and murderous history. The book contains many beautiful pictures from the Francis Frith collection, that marvellous Victorian photographer who captured life and all the architectural splendour of British villages, towns and cities. Wonderful, but like all good things, ends too soon!

The Mind and Work of Paul Klee – by Werner Haftmann.

Paul Klee (1879-1940) was the German-Swiss painter, graphic artist and writer who trained at the Academy of Fine Art in Munich from 1898-1901. After meeting Wasily Kandinsky (1866-1944), August Macke (1887-1914) and Franz Marc (1880-1916) in 1911, he took part in the second Blaue Reiter exhibition of 1912. Klee was awakened to a world of colour which struck him as a revelation when he visited Tunisia in 1914 before enlisting in the German Army during the Great War. From 1921-1931 he taught at the Bauhaus in Weimar and in Dessau. Haftmann understands Klee and his critical analysis of his prolific works in quite enlightening to any student of modern art, particularly Klee’s later compositions which reveal Klee to be the modern master he assuredly deserves to be!

Edward Thomas: A Critical Biography 1878-1917 – by William Cooke.

For me, the exceptional prose and poems of Edward Thomas resonate within more than any other poet, excepting perhaps Housman and Hopkins, because of his clarity of speech and his utter lack of rhetoric and exaggerated or ornamental verse. Thomas speaks from the soul and captures the essential beauty of his subject evoking a now almost unrecognisable pastoral England before the onset of the Great War. Cooke does an excellent job on his analysis of Thomas and it is much recommended.

Foul Deeds and Suspicious Deaths around Northampton – by Paul Harrison.

First published in 2007, Paul Harrison’s fascinating journey through some of Northampton’s historic criminal cases will delight and shock in equal measures. The book delves into such cases as the witchcraft trials during the sixteen-hundreds; the ‘man who was not Jack the Ripper’ of 1888; the East Haddon mystery (1892); the case of the drunken Doctors (1924) and the Rushden Tragedy of 1942, to name a few of the delights in store. Intriguing and horribly good!

Eric Gill – by Fiona MacCarthy.

Eric Gill (1882-1940) the British sculptor and engraver is an odd sort of individual, eccentric, unconventional and even downright repulsive in his behaviour (he had incestuous relationships with two of his sisters, two of his daughters and even joined sexually with a dog!) but his work is undeniably masterful in their craftsmanship. MacCarthy’s biography, published in 1989 illustrates Gill’s simplistic approach, integrity with his material, working directly with the stone, carving by hand and his religious attitude (he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1913) which seems to sit uneasy with the portrait of Gill the romantic medievalist and the more unpleasant side of his sexual nature. Marvellous!

Rodin: Sculpture and Drawings – by Catherine Lampert.

August Rodin (1840-1917) produced some of the most influential sculptures of his time, such as his first major work ‘The Age of Bronze’, exhibited in 1878; the unfinished ‘Gates of Hell’ commissioned for the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in 1880, from which came his most notable work ‘The Thinker’; ‘The Burghers of Calais’ (1885-1895) and the statue of ‘Balzac’ commissioned by the Societe des Gens de Lettres in 1891. Lampert has written a good biography of Rodin from ‘the Early Years and the Drawings from Dante’, the ‘Gates of Hell’, the ‘Monuments’ and Rodin’s ‘Late Years’. Recommended!

Russian Constructivism – by Christina Lodder.

Professor Lodder takes an in-depth look at Russian Constructivism with its geometric abstraction, founded in Russia in 1914 by the artist Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953). Also instrumental in the movement were Antoine Pevsner (1886-1962) and Naum Gabo (1890-1977) who published their Realist manifesto in 1920. The group, which also included the artist Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) applied their Constructivist principles of the purely abstract which utilised modern materials such as plastic and glass in their designs and architecture. Very interesting indeed!

A Book of Nonsense – by Edward Lear.

Edward Lear (1812-1888) published his Book of Nonsense in 1845 which contains his limericks and his own illustrations. He is known chiefly for The Owl and the Pussy Cat, and The Jumblies. Utter nonsensical joy!

Waiting for Godot – by Samuel Beckett.

Beckett (1906-1989) wrote ‘Waiting for Godot’, his first stage play, in 1952 and it is concerned with two tramps, Estragon and Vladimir who are awaiting the arrival of a third person named Godot who does not make an appearance. But it is the non-appearance which focuses the attention uponthe two tramps word play and the absurd portrayal of factors within the human condition, such as hope, delusion and ignorance. Outstanding!

The Loved One – by Evelyn Waugh.

Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) published this dark satire on the Californian ‘death and bereavement industry’ in 1952. The Loved One: an Anglo-American tragedy, paints a picture of British exiles after the war, upholding the dignity of the old empire and keeping a stiff upper lip in the far outpost of California. Dennis Barlow, a poet, works as a pets’ mortician at The Happier Hunting Ground and when one of his fellow ‘Brit abroad’ dies he finds himself embroiled in the artificial world of the Hollywood funeral business in the form of the celestial ‘Whispering Glades Memorial Park’. Here, Dennis meets the lovely corpse beautician named Aimee Thanatogenos who eventually falls for the poet’s charm until she learns of his deception (he has been sending her romantic poems which he has claimed to have written but were actually copied from a book of English verse). During her entanglement with Dennis, Aimee is also torn between the love of another man, the much admired master embalmer at Whispering Glades – Mr Joyboy, who lives with his mother and her pet parrot. Sadly, Aimee comes to a tragic end by her own hands and to dispel any scandal, Mr Joyboy and Dennis devise a plan to dispose of Aimee swiftly in The Happier Hunting Ground’s crematorium!
The Loved One is a perceptive and comic look at love, the division between Anglo-Americans and the facade of death and mourning. Excellent!

Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens.

Dickens first issued the novel in twenty monthly instalments between April 1836 and November 1837 when it was also published in book form. It tells the story of Samuel Pickwick, founder and general chairman of the Pickwick Club. A great adventure is about to unfold and Dickens brings some of his finest comic creations to life – Messers Tupman, Weller, Snodgrass and Winkle and of course the wonderful Mr Jingle! The book is one of my favourite novels and the comic exchanges and misinterpretations are hilarious. Some principle moments in the plot are: Pickwick and his companions travelling to Rochester where we are introduced to the devious yet charming rogue Alfred Jingle, a masterstroke of characterisation by the great author; there is a visit to the home of Mr Wardle at Dingley Dell; Jingle’s elopement with Wardle’s sister Emily and the pursuit and capture of the young lady. We meet Sam Weller who is engaged as Pickwick’s servant and travels with Pickwick to Bury St Edmunds where they are fooled by that rascal Jingle and his servant Job Trotter. They pursue him to Ipswich and later we meet Pickwick’s landlady Mrs Bardell and we enter the court case Bardell v Pickwick for breach of promise of matrimony. There is a visit to Bath and Pickwick’s imprisonment in the Fleet for refusing to pay the court costs and it is here where he finds again that dastardly Jingle and his servant Trotter. We also meet Sam Weller’s father Tony Weller, a coach driver, during the course of the novel; Stiggins, a deputy shepherd in the Ebenezer Temperance Association and two medical students named Bob Sawyer and Benjamin Allen. The novel ends on a happy note with the marriage of Emily Wardle and Augustus Snodgrass.
This is definitely one of the greatest English novels depicting some of the finest drawn characters which remain long after the novel as elements of the English psyche, reflected in those we see around us. An incredible masterpiece by a true genius of literature!

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – by Anne Bronte.

Published in 1848, Anne Bronte’s novel tells the story of Gilbert Markham, a young farmer who narrates this tale as he falls in love with Helen Graham, a beautiful young widow recently moved into the area with her young son Arthur. Helen becomes the object of much local gossip due to her solitary ways and her mysterious relationship with Mr Lawrence, her landlord. Gilbert attacks Lawrence and a distressed Helen reveals that she had married Arthur Huntingdon who had descended into a life of drunken debauchery. Helen escapes her suffering at the hands of her husband and takes her son to Wildfell Hall, which Lawrence, as it turns out to be her brother, has provided for her refuge. Helen’s husband becomes seriously ill and so Helen returns to nurse him through his final days. And so Markham, with no object to stand in his way, is free to resume his matrimonial intentions towards Helen. Nothing short of phenomenal!

Dared and Done: the Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning – by Julia Markus.

Two great poets and two great romantic lovers revealed! Julia Markus unravels a marvellous tale of intense courtship, romance and a secret marriage in 1846 through the unpublished letters of Elizabeth Barrett and other documents. The author brings a scholarly touch to this enduringly romantic biography which is deeply humane and wonderfully researched. Beautiful!

Dolphins – by Stephen Spender.

This is Spender’s last collection of poetry published in 1994 and there is an uplifting air about these assembled verse with a theme of nostalgia as Spender gathers up the magical threads of his life and draws upon his varied life events. Revealing!

Soviet Russian Literature: Writers and Problems, 1917-1977 – by Marc Slonim.

Marc Slonim (1894-1976), the eminent Soviet literary historian who has compiled a comprehensive study on the literature and a very respected back catalogue of research concerning Soviet era writing has produced a work of genius and so it is with great faith in the credentials of this Leviathan of critical analysis that we turn; there need be no fear, Slonim excels in erudition and critical experience when tackling such formidable modernist giants such as Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), Alexander Blok (1880-1921), Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), and more recently Yevgeny Yevtushenko (born 1932) and Andrei Voznesensky (1932-2010). Essential reading for anyone interested in this fascinating period of Soviet literary culture!

The Annals of Chile – by Paul Muldoon.

Published in 1994, The Annals of Chile is Paul Muldoon’s first book of poetry since his masterful 1991’s ‘Madoc: A Mystery’. Muldoon evokes characters from the past and the book is crowned by his long poem titled ‘Yarrow’. Muldoon’s shorter poems contain powerful images too, such as his ‘Incantata’, an elegy upon a previous love of the poet, and his splendid adaptation from one of Ovid’s episodes in his ‘Metamorphosis’. Amusing and vital, Muldoon captures the vibrant essence and growth of pain through a language of emotion. Recommended!

Selected Poems of Maria Tsveteyeva.

Maria Tsveteyeva (1892-1941) witnessed first-hand the Russian Revolution and her poems, like that of her contemporaries, Akhmatova and Mandelstam, resonate with the horror and struggle of those times: Tsveteyeva herself suffered a hard life of poverty until her suicide in 1941! Elaine Feinstein, who has painstakingly translated these poems into English for this edition of the Selected Poems, published by Oxford University Press in 1971, has made excellent work of re-creating the original mood and structure of the poet’s verse. Inspiring and magnificent!

A Rebours – by J K Huysmans.

A Rebours, which can be translated as ‘Against Nature’ or ‘Against the Grain’ was published in 1884 by the French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907). It tells the story of Jean des Esseintes, an aesthetic eccentric who narrates the novel. Esseintes has a distaste for decadent humanity and bourgeois society which is why he retreats into his own intellectual and aesthetic world, surrounded by his wondrous art collection. One famous passage sees Esseintes set precious stones into the shell of his living tortoise which inevitably causes the poor creatures death with the extra weight load. The book is filled with philosophical and artistic criticism and is a must for all art students affecting an aesthetic pose, (for which I too have been guilty), and for those dissatisfied with the mundane banality of modern society (still guilty). Amazing!

Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology – by Jean Paul Sartre.

The philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) published Being and Nothingness, his magnum opus on existentialism in 1943 and its main theme is that existence precedes essence. Sartre looks at key concepts such as the origin of negation, bad faith, the ‘look’ and the perception of the ‘self’ and those around us, and of course, what philosophical tract worth its salt would not dare to examine the role played by sex in our extraordinary existential make-up? All in all you will be wondering whether you are in fact really you; whether you were ever truly you or if you will indeed ever become you! That’s of course, when you have discovered the ‘what’ and the ‘why ‘of your being! Delightful!

John Betjeman: Letters, Volume 1 1926-1951.

Edited by Candida Lycett, Betjeman’s daughter who first published the letters in 1994, this volume reveals a man and a distinguished poet with a great sense of humour who tirelessly worries over financial troubles arising from wreckless spending. No doubt the book will be of immense interest to Betjeman enthusiasts of which I consider myself a dedicated ‘fence-sitter’ on the subject, thus I never made it to the Seraphim-intoxicated delights of the second volume (1951-1984).

At the Bay – by Katherine Mansfield.

At the Bay, published in 1922 is a modernist classic short story by the wonderfully talented and beautiful New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923). Right away, one is consumed and immersed in a world of extraordinary characters with their foibles and idiosyncrasies; their thoughts on life, death and their childhood memories. Mansfield is such a special writer to many lovers of her work and for enthusiasts of modern women’s writing in general. Monumental!

The Eyesight of Wasps – by Osip Mandelstam.

Translated by James Greene, Mandelstam’s collection of poetry ‘The Eyesight of Wasps’, published in 1989 has a forward by his wife Nadezhda, and Donald Davie with an introduction by Donald Rayfield. Mere words cannot express the literary treasures waiting to be unearthed in this delightful volume of poetry! Enjoy!

The Generous Days – by Stephen Spender.

The Generous Days was first published by David Godine as a limited edition in 1969, then Faber and Faber, that great and mighty factory of poetry and Random House brought out an edition in 1971. Spender eulogises with elegiac voice over friends he has known and friends no longer with us, including Virginia Woolf, Peter Watson, Herbert Read, Louis MacNeice, Henry Moor and of course dear old Auden. The collection condenses the margins between the physical and the seemingly spiritual: ‘His are the generous days that balance/ Soul and Body’. Marvellous!

In the Interlude: Poems, 1945-1960 – by Boris Pasternak.

Translated by Henry Kamen and published in 1962 with a forward by Maurice Bowra, these later works by Pasternak have nothing of the flowering urgency and revolutionary quality about them as with the poet’s earlier works, in fact, they are as shadows composed on a full and satisfied stomach and Kamen seems to have chosen his ‘translations’ from a Russian-to-English dictionary with a big wooden spoon and a blindfold! Poor!

Brideshead Revisited – by Evelyn Waugh.

Published in 1945, Waugh’s novel is narrated by Charles Ryder who meets the handsome ‘teddy bear carrying’ Sebastian Flyte as an undergraduate at Oxford. Charles becomes infatuated by Sebastian and his aristocratic Roman Catholic family. Sebastian’s parents Lord and Lady Marchmain live separate lives, his Lordship with his mistress in Venice and the devout Lady Marchmain at Brideshead with her son, the heir, Lord Brideshead and her two daughters Julia and Cordelia. Sebastian is doomed to a life of alcohol and all attempts to cure him fail and he finally ends up living in North Africa as a ‘saintly’ drunk. Charles becomes a successful architectural artist but is unhappily married. He falls in love with Julia, also in a doomed marriage and they make plans to divorce and marry. Unfortunately, Julia realises her deep Catholic feelings and cannot marry Charles, so they part never to see each other again.
There are some fantastic characters such as Rex Mottram who marries Julia after some wonderful exchanges with Father Mowbray on Catholicism after Cordelia has filled his mind with some very funny religious nonsense; there is the Oxford don Mr Samgrass who turns out to be a bit of a rotter; the greatly entertaining Anthony Blanche and his effete ways and Boy Mulcaster...
Written in three books, ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’, ‘Brideshead Deserted’ and ‘A twitch upon the thread’, Waugh has written an amazing and utterly charming novel capturing a period of English history which is forever gone! Delightful!

Kant: Selected Pre-Critical Writings and Correspondence with Beck.

Translated and introduced by G B Kerferd and D E Walford (with a contribution by P G Lucas) this 1968 publication is a good translation of Kant’s early works before his magnum opus the Critique of Pure Reason (1781). However, I do advise caution and a strong stomach as it is not easy to digest Kant’s early pre-critical twaddle!

Forwards and Afterwards – by W H Auden.

Forwards and Afterwards is a collection of Auden’s essays containing reviews he wrote for the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. Here, Auden astounds with his great intellect upon such eminent figures as Shakespeare, Paul Valery, Goethe and Edgar Allan Poe! Auden’s erudition and wit shines through this revealing collection where there will I am sure be something for all tastes!

The Translation of Memories: Recollections of the young Proust – by P F Prestwich.

Prestwich analyses the letters between the young Marcel Proust and his friends, the artist and journalist Marie Nordlinger and the composer and musician Reynaldo Hahn. I have to say although Prestwich has presented an interesting analysis of the correspondence I found it unrewarding; Proust fans, of whom I am informed there are a substantial few, will indeed love it, but without wishing to sound irreverent or to discourage the casual reader from attempting such a task, please make sure you have a good book in reserve should you fail to get beyond the contents page!

The Catcher in the Rye – by J. D. Salinger.

I had high hopes for this! It began a little crumby and then became lousy, but ya know, I stuck with it and boy, did I sort a enjoy it, not the sort a enjoy that ya get from a Dickens or a Hardy, I mean, how can it? But Holden’s a sort a ‘everyboy’, an ya gotta like ‘im an all, ‘aven’t ya?
Damn it! I shoulda read this crap thirty years ago for Chrissake, when I hated the world and every goddam sonuvabitch in it! Now, I’m old enough to know who the real phonies are: the politicians, always shootin’ the bull; royalty, make ya wanna puke; ‘celebrities’ and ‘stars’, ya jus know they done nothin’ for it, I mean, nothin’ special an’ all; bankers and all those other jerks, overpaid and underworked greedy morons and don’t get me onto ‘titled’ sons-a-bitches like ‘Sir I spend enormous amounts on things I don’t need’ or ‘Lord I’m better than you are’ and ‘Lady I’m gonna boss ya around cause I’m rich and own three counties and I can do what the hell I like’ – Kill ‘em all! Ah, there’s still fight left in the old bastard yet! I would go on but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

Women in Love – by D H Lawrence.

Lawrence’s novel published in 1920 examines the lives of four characters: sisters Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen and their respected suitors Rupert Birkin (Lawrence) and Gerald Crich. Set before the First World War, the Brangwen’s live in Beldover, a colliery town in the Midlands; Ursula teaches at the local Grammar School and Gudrun is returning from a London Art School. Ursula and Rupert, the School Inspector who has been in a torrid affair with Hermoine Roddice, a strong and domineering woman, fall in love and Ursula’a sister Gudrun meets Rupert’s friend Gerald, who as a boy accidently killed his brother. Gerald seems to be haunted by the spectre of death – his sister Diana drowns in the lake and his father Walter dies, leaving Gerald to run the mine. Gerald and Gudrun’s relationship is tempestuous and destructive and we are told that Gudrun only felt pity for Gerald, not love, and she accuses him of being able to love her wholeheartedly and completely. Rupert and Ursula marry much to her family’s alarm and she storms out of the house after being struck by her father. The two couples take a holiday in the Alps. Gudrun and Gerald break apart when Gudrun meets the German sculptor Loerke and feels drawn to him by their artistic connection. Following a scene where Gerald strikes Loerke and attempts to strangle Gudrun, he walks off into the snowy landscape, to his death.
Lawrence explores every nuance and facet of human emotion through his characters, through their philosophical beliefs and discussions upon love and the nature of physical and spiritual union between two people, in fact, the book can be seen as being written in two languages, that which is said and that which is unsaid.
This is a remarkable book and I found myself in sympathy with poor Gerald and almost danced with glee at the thought of him choking the life out of Gudrun, having shown such saintly restraint! Astounding!

Three Guineas – by Virginia Woolf.

Published in 1938, this is Woolf’s long essay written in the form of a letter to an unnamed man, in response to his question on how to prevent war. Two lesser questions also present themselves in the essay: ‘why does the government not support education for women?’ and ‘why are women not allowed to engage in professional work?’ Personally, I prefer the novels but my admiration for Woolf dare not let anything the great writer wrote go unread!

The Immoralist – by Andre Gide.

Gide’s novel, published in 1902, is narrated by Michel who is recovering from tuberculosis in Tunis while on his honeymoon with his wife Marceline. Michel is unreligious as opposed to his wife and he wakes up to the fact, that much like his friend Menalque, he stands outside society and has a strong desire for Arab boys. But do not judge in haste for this is no more an indecent or an immoral book inasmuch as the Bible is an indecent or an immoral book which to my eternal shame I have to confess to having read during a temporary moment of insanity, which upon recovery showed the error of my way! Intriguing!

The Problem of Pain – by C S Lewis.

The Problem of Pain was published in 1940 and in it Lewis attempts to reconcile the perception of pain and suffering with the Christian ideal of a loving and benevolent God; Lewis also takes into account the suffering of animals too. But with such a large subject as this there is going to be a huge theological dilemma which to many is an aspect of the religious life which fundamentally breaks down at the beginning, leaving a spiritual hole plastered-up by faith in a supposedly protecting deity, for in the end it is an unanswerable quest but the journey is an insightful one!

Oscar Wilde – by Philippe Jullian.

First published in Great Britain in 1969 and translated by Violet Wyndham, Philippe Jullian invokes all the charm, wit and hypocrisy of the Victorian drawing-room in painting this portrait of the brilliant writer and aesthete Oscar Wilde. Extensively researched, the author captures the mood of the times with marvellous descriptions of some of the leading figures surrounding Wilde such as his parents Sir William and Lady Wilde, Ada Leverson, Frank Harris, Sarah Bernhardt, Walter Pater, Andre Gide and Robert Ross etc and then there is the infamously mad and dangerous blackguard the Marquess of Queensberry who sets out to ruin Wilde because of the scandal erupting around the relationship between Queensberry’s son Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) and Wilde. The deranged and bullying Marquess follows Wilde, hunting and haunting him like a spectre from the shadows ever ready to cause a public scene. It was to come to its conclusion following the now legendary card left for Wilde by Queensberry at London’s Albermarle Club with the words ‘To Oscar Wilde, posing as a somdomite’ (sic) which of course was the beginning of his downfall. Had Wilde chose to ignore this then there may have been a very different outcome for Wilde, but he chose to take Queensberry to court, thus lighting the fuse of his own demise.
In the end it is the beautiful soul of Oscar Wilde, given several opportunities to escape his fate and flee to Europe, which remains like some romantic figure from a Greek tragedy to place his head in the guillotine and become a martyr for his art and his beliefs, to be paraded in the filth of the world’s press as a debauched monster and corrupter of ‘innocent’ young boys and men to be slain as the King of the Aesthetes! There is some sort of spiritual masochism to Wilde’s staying to face the inevitable conclusion of the trial; a strength of will which although falters in private moments, endured the persecution, hostility, loneliness, silence and ugliness of his two years in prison. It did not break his spirit but it definitely changed him, not his hunger for the sweet beauty of a young ‘Narcissus’ to pour his devotion upon, but his ability to write, for he says: ‘I have written all that I was to write, I wrote when I did not know life; now that I do know the meaning of life, I have no more to write. Life cannot be written, life can only be lived – I have lived.’
He was made into a scapegoat; London was tired of its aesthetes and their affectations, besides half the cabinet, the Church, who have long believed that sodomy is the only sin worth repeating and repenting, Public Schools and the armed forces were indulging in the same sexual relations as Wilde and heaven forbid that this should be made public!
Not much has changed in the intervening years, the hypocrisy is still there, we see it in the Church, in politics and in all institutions; the ‘love that dare not speak its name’ is almost accepted and now it converses above a whisper in more enlightened and civilised countries – we have the enigmatic and brave Mr Wilde to thank for this, for having the courage and determination to throw himself to the lions and thus bring the ‘unspeakable love’ from the shadows and into the drawing-rooms of England and the world.
Philippe Julian has written a charming and very thorough life of dear Saint Oscar, for that is how he should be viewed, to which we should all raise a glass of absinthe! Delightful!

Vita and Harold: The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson – edited by Nigel Nicholson.

This is a unique collection of correspondence written between 1910 and 1962 from Vita, the poet and novelist and her husband Harold, the politician and author. This is a truly wonderful account of the open relationship Vita and Harold shared (they were both sexually intimate with members of their own sex) and it details Vita’s love affair with Violet Trefusis and their life at Sissinghurst. With many illustrations this is a very extraordinary portrait of a marriage!

Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years – by Eleanor Farjeon.

Published in 1958, ‘Edward Thomas: the last four years’ is a beautifully written memoir by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) who met Thomas in the autumn of 1912. Farjeon incorporates her own diary entries and Thomas’s correspondence and we get a glimpse of Thomas as he shifts from prose to poetry following his meeting with the American poet Robert Frost in 1913. This book is definitely essential reading for any lover of poetry and of Thomas in particular. Excellent!

Jamaica Inn – by Daphne DuMaurier.

Following the death of her mother, Mary Yellan leaves the comfort of the farm at Helford and goes to stay with her Aunt Patience and her husband Joss Merlyn, the Landlord of Jamaica Inn. On her arrival, the Inn is dark and foreboding and her Uncle Joss is insulting and threatening, a menacing giant of a drunken, abusive husband to poor Aunt Patience. Mary unfortunately becomes drawn into the wicked and murderous world of Joss Merlyn and his band of outlaw wreckers who ignite fear upon the Cornish moors. Jamaica Inn is oppressive and inhospitable and no decent person will enter the premises, even the coaches speed past without stopping! Mary wanders the misty moors alone and the landscape around the Inn with its windswept heather and giant tors, bleak and gothic in its haunting beauty.
Mary puts all her trust and faith in the Vicar of Altarnum, a strange and solitary albino named Francis Davey. She has also fallen in love with her Uncle’s younger brother, Jem Merlyn, a horse thief with more intelligence than his elder brother; he is not the typical handsome, dashing and cultured hero we are familiar with in romantic novels for he is not very attentive upon Mary and his manner is quite changeable towards her. Because of this and because of his connection to his brother Joss, Mary is unable to fully trust Jem Merlyn yet she desperately wants him to not be involved with the wreckers and their murdering ways.
In the end it is the albino Vicar who has lain behind the wrecking after all, remaining anonymous to all except to Joss Merlyn who in turn ordered his gang to carry out the evil intentions of his ‘superior’ without raising suspicion. And so I began to warm to Mr Francis Davey, especially when he says: ‘Yes, I am a freak in nature and a freak in time. I do not belong here, and I was born with a grudge against the age, and a grudge against mankind. Peace is very hard to find in the nineteenth century. The silence is gone, even on the hills. I thought to find it in the Christian Church, but the dogma sickened me, and the whole foundation is built upon a fairytale. Christ Himself is a figurehead, a puppet thing created by man himself.’ – Ah, at last! I said to myself, an accurate representation of the clergy!
The novel, set in Cornwall, is a gothic adventure; a tour de forces in the vein of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and is equal in parts to anything the fantastic Mrs Radcliffe ever wrote! Although, I was left a little baffled and disappointed at the ending, for I knew that Mary choosing to travel with Jem Merlyn and deciding not to follow her heart and return to Helford and to a settled farming life woukld probably end in tragedy, it is not known, but I hope I am proved wrong! Jamaica Inn is a book which shines with brilliance from beginning to end; an outstanding triumph!

The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol.

Translated and annotated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Vollokhonsky, the Collected Tales contains Gogol’s Ukrainian Tales: ‘St John’s Eve’, ‘The Night Before Christmas’, ‘The Terrible Vengeance’, ‘Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and his Aunt’, ‘Old World Landowners’, ‘Viy’, ‘The Story of how Ivan Ivanovich quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich’; The Petersburg Tales: ‘Nevsky Prospect’, ‘The Diary of a Madman’, ‘The Nose’, ‘The Carriage’, ‘The Portrait’ and Gogol’s classic ‘The Overcoat’.
Gogol’s tales are dark and extraordinarily powerful in their atmosphere and these tales will give immense joy to the reader!

The Romance of the Forest – by Anne Radcliffe.

Anne Radcliffe (1764-1823) is the queen of the gothic romance and this three volume novel published in 1791 has all the familiar elements we have come to expect from the ingenious and macabre mind of the celebrated Mrs Radcliffe, such as the supernatural force with the romantic setting; a gothic inspired architectural landscape with some ruinous fortification or grand house; a female protagonist at the mercy of the elements surrounding her and a mysterious male counterpart with some hideous yet fundamental wickedness which will ultimately be exposed. Radcliffe’s novels are such a delight but perhaps today she has fallen a little out of favour having to compete with modern mental distractions, yet the simplicity of a good book and the capacity of the mind to conjure the fantastic realms and characters we find upon the page is part of life’s magic which lies within each of us. Radcliffe, for me is utterly wonderful and heart stopping in some of the cruelty that befalls her characters. Absolutely amazing!

Oblomov – by Ivan Goncharov.

Published in 1859, Goncharov’s novel introduces us to Ilya Oblomov, a member of the landed gentry and an archetypal man of inaction; a lazy, indecisive and lethargic character with no real interest to consume his passions. He lives off the earnings from his estate which is worked by the hundreds of serfs in his employment. He wants a quiet, untroubled life in which to enjoy fine wines and good food without exerting himself too much and preferably not at all! We all know someone like that and I dare say there is a little bit of Oblomov in all of us! A very well observed and humorous classic of Russian literature!

Marxism and Existentialism: Political Philosophy of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty – by David Archand.

Let me begin by saying it is very rare for me to choose a book and not be interested by it as I am a very selective reader who makes choices on instinct and careful decision, not impulsive selections and so the thought of having to read a intensely dull thriller or a gushing romance or something on, oh dear, sport, would bring me out in cold sweats and probably boils as large as ostrich eggs! Because of my decisions I rarely have a bad word to say about my choices because they are intentional choices, if I sense the slightest whiff of a bad book I avoid it like ebola!
I made the unfortunate decision to read this book and regretted it deeply. With no disrespect to the author, Mr David Archand, the book is a perfectly well written philosophical study and analysis of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty’s political thoughts...yawn! If you are under some incredibly boring academic’s thumb who insists upon reading it for the curriculum, then I fear you are already too far gone, but fortunately I had the profound philosophical wisdom to realise that life is just too damn short to portion it out to the likes of Mr David Archand and his ‘Marxism and Existentialism’!

John Betjeman: His Life and Work – by P. Taylor-Martin.

This is a very disappointing biography of the poet John Betjeman (1906-1984) published in 1983 and the stuffy Mr Patrick Taylor-Martin serves a very cold dish that does not honour the poet Laureate. There is such an abundance of biographies on Betjeman that one cannot go too far wrong in selecting something worthy but I would suggest looking elsewhere by an author who does not miss the point of Betjeman completely and has a little more enthusiasm for his subject! Poor!

Erik Satie – by Alan M. Gilmor.

Alan Gilmor’s book on the French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925) is a very interesting and revealing analysis of Satie’s influence upon contemporary music presenting us with a picture of a serious neo-classical composer and not some image of an eccentric jester. Gilmor also places Satie in the social context of his times and takes an in-depth look at his compositions such as the wonderful ‘Gymnopedies’ and ‘Gnossienes’. Gilmor is a scholarly and enthusiastic writer and I really enjoyed this account of Satie’s life and times; not having read the earlier publication on Satie by Rollo H Myer I cannot compare the two, but make no doubt about it, Gilmor has produced an outstanding work which will stand alongside the best biographies of the great composers!

Anna Akhmatova: A Poetic Pilgrimage – by Amanda Haight.

This is an extremely well-researched biography published in 1976 of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) who led a most extraordinary and difficult life, suffering the deaths of two husbands, one, Gumilev, was executed in 1921 and also a son who endured the hardships of the Soviet labour camp. Akhmatova produced some of the greatest love lyrics which explode with emotional energy like fragments of life captured in as little as eight lines. During the height of the persecution during the nineteen-thirties many of her close friends were imprisoned or ‘removed’, as in the case of her contemporary, her friend the poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938).
I adore Akhmatova the ‘half-nun, half-whore’ poet who will always be remembered for her profound masterpieces: ‘Requiem’ and ‘Poem without a Hero’, in fact, during the worst time of my life in the bitterest depths of despair and grief, it was to the poems of Akhmatova that I turned to through my tears for inner comfort.
Haight has produced a very tender and scholarly portrait of the distinguished poet which surely is one of the greatest testaments to her lasting love and respect! Highly recommended!

Katherine Mansfield: The Memories of L. M.

Published in 1971 this is the memoir of the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) by her trusted female friend Ida Baker (L. M.) whom she met while staying in London. Katherine attended Queen’s College, London from 1903-1906 where she began publishing short stories and sketches in the Queen’s College Magazine before she returned to New Zealand. Not staying long, she came back to England in 1908 and lived the life of a bohemian writer with a short marriage in 1909 to George Bowden. More stories followed which were published in her collections: ‘In a German Pension’ (1911), ‘Bliss and Other Stories’ (1920), her most notable collection ‘The Garden Party and Other Stories’ (1922) and finally the posthumous collections: ‘The Dove’s Nest’ (1923) and ‘Something Childish and Other Stories’ (1924).
Mansfield is such an important and gifted writer of many very remarkable short stories that she should not be overlooked and this is a good basic background sketch of the great author.

The Movie Treasury, Monsters and Vampires: Spine chilling creatures of the cinema – by Alan Frank.

Published by Octopus Books in 1976, I can remember purchasing this devilishly fantastic book as a young boy (thank you Woolworths, King’s Heath, Birmingham!) and for me it became my constant companion, initiating a passion for classic horror films and all things macabre which has been at the very heart of my being; I was already besotted by black and white film believing that the days when the world had no colour were far better and besides I’d always been an enthusiast of all things dead and dying... this book opened a door to wonders from the great Universal Pictures during their heyday in the thirties and forties, to RKO Radio Pictures and the Hammer Films of the fifties and sixties; to the immortals: Lugosi, Karloff, Lee and Cushing, and to the masters: Tod Browning, James Whale, Karl Freund, George Waggner, Jacques Tourneur, Val Lewton, Roger Corman, Terence Fisher... ‘Monsters and Vampires’ is an extraordinary account of the history of the horror film and coming back to this book I can see that my younger self could not resist being bewildered by such magnificent treasures in the temple of terror; the book astounds with its many well-chosen stills from films and Alan Frank, that guiding hand through the horror genre directs beautifully over several chapters following the introduction and through 160 pages: ‘Dracula is born: Bela Lugosi’, ‘The Prince of Darkness: Christopher Lee’, ‘A Variety of Vampires’, ‘How to make a Monster’, ‘The Beauty and the Beast’, ‘Monstrous changes’ and ‘Terror from another World’. There is much for the enthusiast whose heart resonates to the classic masterpieces: ‘Dracula’ (1931), ‘Frankenstein’ (1931), ‘The Mummy’ (1932), ‘Bride of...’, ‘Son of....’, ‘Ghost of ....’ and ‘House of Frankenstein’ (1935, 1939, 1942 and 1944 respectively), ‘Mark of the Vampire’ (1935), ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ (1936), ‘The Wolf Man’ (1941) ‘Cat People’ (1942), ‘I walked with a Zombie’ (1943), ‘Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man’ (1943), ‘Return of the Vampire’ (1943), ‘Curse of the Cat People’ (1944), ‘Night of the Demon’ (1957), ‘Dracula’ (1958)... I could go on forever!
A lot of people owe Mr Frank a great debt for the service he has done for the horror genre. Sadly, many of these old classics have become neglected in favour of High Definition guts ‘n’ gore which also has its place, but perhaps a new generation will one day discover the timeless quality of these celluloid gems and a new appreciation flood once again the very heart and essence of one’s being! Here I go again... ‘The Ghost goes West’ (1935), ‘I Married a Witch’ (1942), ‘The Undying Monster’ (1942), ‘Blithe Spirit’ (1945), ‘The Ghost and Mrs Muir’ (1947), ‘Dance of the Vampires’ or ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ (1967), ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973)... Mesmerising!

Bleak House – by Charles Dickens.

Dickens published Bleak House in monthly parts from 1852-1853 and the novel takes a satirical swipe at the Chancery Lane court system where we meet Richard Carstone and his cousin Ada Clare, both wards of court in the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The two cousins, living with their relative John Jarndyce, fall in love and secretly marry. The long-running case ends when fortunes run dry. We meet Sir Leicester Dedlock and his wife who has a secret: she once had a daughter with a Captain Howden and she believes that the child has died. She also believes the Captain to be lost at sea. But Lady Dedlock’s daughter loves and she is named Esther Summerson, a friend of Ada’s and we hear also that the Captain still lives. The lawyer, Mr Tulkinghorn sensing a mystery seeks to solve and expose it and he informs Lady Dedlock of his intentions, but he is suddenly murdered that same night! A former maid of her Ladyship is suspected of the murder and arrested. Not wishing to be the centre of a scandal, Lady Dedlock is found dead!
Along the way we also meet Mrs Jellyby; Jo, a crossing-sweeper; Krook who dies of ‘spontaneous combustion’ and Miss Flite the lunatic. This is a rambling monster of a novel and definitely my favourite with such incredibly drawn characters. Essential reading!

A Sicilian Romance – by Anne Radcliffe.

A Sicilian Romance is Mrs Radcliffe’s second novel published in two volumes in 1790. It recounts the tempestuous history of the noble house of Mazzini in Sicily and although it does not reach the same heights as her later novel, the classic of Gothic literature ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ (1794) the novel will no doubt delight all enthusiasts of the gothic genre. The author wrings every drop of terror and suspense from the page and weaves a romantic mystery in her own inimitable way. Wonderful!

The Monkey’s Paw – by W. W. Jacobs.

William Wymark Jacobs (1863-1943) published this macabre short story in 1902 and the tale concerns three wishes given to the owner of the monkey’s paw. The story has influenced many forms of the supernatural since its publication and is a classic appearing in countless anthologies. Not to be missed!

Hard Times – by Charles Dickens.

Published in 1854, it is the story of Thomas Gradgrind who lives at Coketown, an industrial city in the North of England. Thomas believes in the importance of facts, raising his two children Louisa and Tom in a Utilitarian fashion. Louisa becomes married off to a man thirty years her senior, a manufacturer named Josiah Bounderby, whom she does not love in the least. After an employee of Bounderby named James Harthouse attempts to seduce Louisa, she runs away to her father, who realising the inadequate effectiveness of his Utilitarian belief system, protects Louisa from her husband. Dickens at his best!

One of these fine days – by Myfanwy Thomas.

Myfanwy is the daughter of the poet Edward Thomas and Helen Thomas whose ‘Under Storm’s Wing’, in which some of Myfanwy’s childhood memories appear from this text, I still believe to be one of the greatest books ever written! ‘One of these fine days’ published in 1982 is Myfanwy’s personal memoir of life growing up with the poet (she was only six years old when Edward was killed at the Front on that fateful day in April 1917). Extraordinary and overwhelmingly beautiful!

The Wind in the Willows – by Kenneth Grahame.

Originally published in 1908, Graham’s timeless classic features characters who have become dear to our hearts: Mole, rat, Toad of Toad Hall and Badger. The Toad, Rat and Mole set off on an adventure to pay a visit to their friend Badger in the wild wood. Along the way Toad becomes obsessed with motorcars; Mole loses his way in the wood and Rat finds him and they visit the elusive Badger. Toad steals a motorcar and is sent to prison where he escapes dressed as a washer-woman. Toad Hall becomes occupied by the weasels and Toad and his friends manage to take it back and put Toad back in his rightful place. Magical!

Little Dorrit – by Charles Dickens.

Originally published in monthly parts from 1855-1857, Dicken’s novel tells the story of William Dorrit who is an inmate at the Marshalsea debtors prison, having been there for so long he has become known as the ‘Father of the Marshalsea’. William is a victim of the Circumlocution Office, an incompetent institution satirising the bureaucracy found within Victorian Governmental organisations. William’s only light in the darkness is his daughter Amy (Little Dorrit). Along the winding and ‘circumlocutionary’ storyline we meet the many marvellous characters such as Amy’s sister fanny and her brother Tip; Arthur Clennam whom Amy falls in love with; the sinister Flintwinch and his wife Affery; the good rent-collector Pancks; Mr and Mrs Merdle and of course the Meagles. Fantastic!

The Complete Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) is considered to be one of the great British Romantic poets writing such classic works as ‘Kubla Khan’ (1816), ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (1798), ‘Christabel’ (1816) and ‘Dejection: an Ode’ (1802). Coleridge was friends with that other celebrated and notable Romantic poet William Wordsworth and in my opinion the lesser poet! But apart from his more widely known works mentioned above I have to say that Mr Samuel Taylor Coleridge does not appeal to me very much. However, that is not to say that he should fall by the wayside upon the literary track way for there is much good to be found in his works for the student and enthusiast of the Romantics.

Songs of Love: The Letters of Rupert Brooke and Noel Olivier – by Pippa Harris.

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) the English poet best known for his famous poem ‘The Old Vicarage, Granchester’ began a correspondence with the young Noel Olivier (1883-1969) when she was just fifteen years old in 1909 (Brooke was twenty). Songs of Love by Pippa Harris is a remarkable romantic window upon a passionate relationship and definitely a book which should not be overlooked! The poet Rupert Brooke sadly died of blood-poisoning on the way to the Dardanelles during the First World War and he is buried on Scyros.

Dombey and Son – Charles Dickens.

Published in 1847-48, Dicken’s novel is the tale of Mr Dombey, a rich head of Dombey and Son, a shipping house recently given the gift of a son and heir to his empire, named Paul, but unfortunately at the cost of his wife’s life. Mr Dombey puts all his love and attention upon the boy who becomes sick after entering a school run by Dr Blimber, under whose strict discipline the boy dies. Florence, Dombey’s daughter is left aside and father and daughter become separated. An employee of Dombey’s, Walter Gay, is sent to the West Indies after falling in love with Florence. Walter is shipwrecked en-route and believed drowned at sea. Dombey re-marries a widow woman named Edith Granger who, following Dombey’s ill treatment runs off with another man at the firm named Carker to France. Dombey follows them and Carker is killed beneath a train; the firm of Dombey and Son suffers and fortunes are lost. Florence eventually marries Walter Gay who survived the shipwreck and Dombey, who has lost everything, finds some happiness when Florence returns to him and they reconcile their differences. A very entertaining novel with all the ingredients to hold the reader spellbound and definitely one of my favourite of Dicken’s novels!

A Taste of Honey – by Shelagh Delaney.

Delaney’s play is set in Salford during the nineteen-fifties and we meet its characters, seventeen year old Jo, a ‘working class lass’ and Helen her alcoholic mother accompanied by Peter her younger lover from London. Jimmy is the black sailor whom Jo has a relationship with and falls pregnant with his child. Jo finds refuge with her art student friend Geoffrey, a homosexual. This is really a remarkable play which challenges the reader and asks questions concerning sexuality, race, class and stereotypical gender roles. Definitely enlightening!

Black Beauty – by Anna Sewell.

Anna Sewell (1820-1878) wrote only one book during her life and it is a children’s classic published in 1877 which relates the story of the suffering and eventual contentment with a new owner of a black horse. Now, normally I would avoid anything which incorporates animals (unless in a comic human caricature such as in ‘Alice’ or ‘Winnie the Pooh’ etc) for I hate sentimental sickening anthropomorphic tosh, surely a revolting recipe for disaster you would think, but no because Disney does this sort of tosh so well according to all those lovers of creepy animals with human characteristics. I am afraid I am not a great endorsement for such nonsense but before all that rubbish appeared on screen Sewell had written a very gentle, unspoilt and moving account which can hardly fail to stir the emotions. Tremendous!

A Tale of Two Cities – by Charles Dickens.

Having one of the most famous first lines in the history of the English novel (not forgetting Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ of course) ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ concerns itself with French revolutionary Paris and London. A French physician named Dr Manette is attending a young mortally wounded peasant and his sister who were attacked by the Marquis de St Evremonde and his brother. And so begins a tale of love and intrigue, of prison and execution during the bloody terror of the French Revolution! Marvellous!

The Manifesto of the Communist Party – by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) lived during a time of great Capitalistic exploitation of the working classes and so through their humanitarian beliefs, the Communist Manifesto came into being in 1848. All great social systems are motivated by the economy and Marx believed that by breaking down the barriers between the classes and emancipating the worker from the productive process, thus overthrowing Capitalism for Socialism in which men and women are equal, without division, under a proletariat dictatorship. Inevitably socialism leads towards communism where all property belongs to the community and all business enterprises are publicly owned. But the theory buckles under the weight of its practice because man is inherently greedy and power-hungry; scratch the veneer of any society and you are sure to find a monster lurking close to the surface! Suddenly there is a shift in power and an autocracy has come into being and division of the classes appears once more. The concept is of course doomed to failure as can be seen in Cuba, North Korea, the former Soviet Union and China.
In Capitalism we find certain values such as freedom of speech, human rights and personal responsibility for our welfare. Socialism creates the distinction by lowering the standards and creating more poor; artists starve for there is less need and no incentive for creativity. It is an excuse to subdue the populace, the pawns upon the board, before the rise of some egotistical, paranoid butcher of the innocents leads the people to destruction again. History has repeated itself too often for it to be otherwise! On our own shores, it is only in recent years that the people have demanded new policies concerning accountability and greater openness in Government, because of the decades of abuse, lies and corruption that went unseen and unheard behind the walls of Parliament. In fact, this kind of behaviour became the normal procedure in Government and it was thought impossible to upset the status quo so long as the lies were covered-up and the people kept in the dark. But the damage has been done and the greed has gone on for too long; society is aware more than any other time of the awful crimes being committed daily in Government Office and no longer are they prepared to stay silent and not cause a scene; no longer are they prepared to turn a blind eye; no longer are they prepared to bow down to a financially-draining Monarchy. Britain has awoken to the obscene behaviour of its ministers, too removed from society and believing itself not only above the law but above the people they represent, the ‘ordinary’, ‘common’ and ‘ignorant’ person on the street. Those arrogant public-schooled criminals know no integrity, compassion or honesty; they do not even care about the country in whose Government they sit. Recent events have only highlighted the pompous, obstructive and nauseating spongers who sit in the House of Lords and if Socialism has taught us anything at all it is that if a society isn’t working then there must be an uprising and a change of the old order and that the drunken titled buffoons who only take from society must be removed! Getting that off one’s chest is almost as pleasurable as publicly hanging the thugs from Tower Bridge!
For all its faults and corruption, Capitalism seems to be the lesser of two evils and Marx and Engels two idealistic dreamers whose intentions were wholly pure!

Russian Modernism: Culture and the Avant-Garde 1900-1930 – by George Gibian and H. W. Tjalsma.

Published in 1976, ‘Russian Modernism’ is a selection of essays on literature, architecture and art and although quite interesting this is not a comprehensive study of modernist Russian culture and there are much better explorations of the subject to be found. Nevertheless, this is still a worthy companion to one’s studies!

A Marriage of True Minds: An Intimate Portrait of Leonard and Virginia Woolf – by George Spater and Ian Parsons.

Published in 1977 with a fine introduction from the marvellous Quentin Bell, Messer’s Spater and Parson have produced quite an essential book to be added to the long list of other worthy academic contributions to the Bloomsbury group and the Woolf canon, of which the greatest in my opinion is Quentin Bell’s biography of Virginia and Leonard’s autobiography in five volumes. Much has already been said on the subject and no doubt much more will be said throughout the approaching decades and centuries on this fascinating partnership and the luminous wonders which surrounded them. A Marriage of True Minds is a well written and researched book which lifts the lid from an old and favoured biscuit tin to reveal one more literary custard cream! This ‘intimate portrait’ is therefore a wonderful addition to any collection.

The Slender Tree: A Life of Alice Meynell – by June Badeni.

When I first encountered the poems of Alice Meynell it was as if I had discovered some secret doorway into a magical landscape: ‘New-made thy love, new-made thy kiss,/ New-made thy errand to my heart.’ [‘To Olivia, of her dark eyes] and I have been entranced by her work ever since.
She was born Alice Thompson in Barnes, Surrey on 11th October 1847 and she married the author and editor Wilfred Meynell (1852-1948) in 1877. Alice produced several works of poetry: ‘Preludes’ (1875), ‘Poems’ (1893), ‘Other Poems’ (private printing 1896), ‘Later Poems’ (1902), ‘Collected Poems’ (1913), ‘Ten Poems 1913-1915’ (private printing 1915), ‘A Father of Women and Other Poems’ (1917) and ‘Last Poems’ (1923). She was also the author of many essays which were collected and published: ‘The Rhythm of Life’ (1893), ‘The Colour of Life’ (1896), ‘The Children’ (1897) and ‘The Spirit of Place’ (1899). She died in London on 27th November 1922.
The Slender Tree, published in 1981 explores Meynell’s childhood in Italy and her conversion to Catholicism, hence why much of her poetry has a strong spiritual essence. June Badeni has written an excellent biography of Meynell which hopefully will help bring this much underrated poet to the attention of others. But perhaps Meynell herself should have the last word: ‘My human song must be/ My human thought. Be patient till ‘tis done. / I should not hold my little peace; for me/ there is no peace but one.’ [‘The Poet to the Birds’ from Last Poems]

Lillygay: An Anthology of Anonymous Poems – by Victor B. Neuburg.

Published by Neuburg’s ‘Vine Press’ at Steyning in 1920, Lillygay harks back to an Elizabethan age of a simplistic belief in nature and the sprites and spirits that inhabit the world – ‘Hail! Lovely nymphs, be not too coy, / But freely yield your charms; / let love inspire with mirth and joy/ In Cupid’s lovely arms’ [Bonfire Song]. There is also a sense of Tennyson and Browning about much of the poems which seem to have a naive charm of their own and Neuburg’s contributions, namely the ‘Dedication’, ‘Prologue’, ‘Lilly-white’, ‘Sick Dick or the Drunkard’s Tragedy’, ‘Rantam Tantam’, the ‘Epilogue’ and the ‘Colophon’, although interesting do not match his earlier works ‘The Green Garland’ (1908) and ‘The Triumph of Pan’ (1910). There are also some delightful little woodcuts by Eric and Percy West.

Mystic Bridge – by Edward Lowbury.

Edward Joseph Lister Lowbury (1913-2007) published this collection of poems in 1997. Born in Hampstead, Edward became a medical bacteriologist and a pathologist while venturing into poetry in his spare time. He went to live and work in Birmingham and became known as a ‘Brummie’ poet. Some of his poems are really quite amusing and intelligent and Mystic Bridge is definitely worth a read!

Caligari’s Children: The Film as Tale of Terror – by S. S. Prawer.

Siegbert Salomon Prawer (1925-2012) takes an in-depth look in this 1980 publication at the horror film and its psychological effects from early classics such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922), Frankenstein (1931), Vampyr (1932) and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (book 1886, film 1931). Prawer writes with wonder at the thrill of being immersed in these tales of terror from literature, film and drama, looking at the fascination of fear and the ‘uncanny’ and exploring beyond Caligari. A lovely book for all lovers of the horror genre!

The Ghost Orchid – by Michael Longley.

‘Ghost Orchid’, published in 1995 by the celebrated Irish poet Michel longley, following his previous collection ‘Gorse Fires’ (1991) which won the Whitbread Poetry Award, is a moving and passionate book of verse which recounts moments of his life and his concerns for modern Ulster using various stylised poetic forms and dialect. Longley has been accused of sitting in Seamus Heaney’s shadow but any lover of poetry who spends time with his poems will see that Longley shines just as bright and just as strong!

The New Age Movement: Religion, Culture and Society in the Age of Postmodernity – by Paul Heelas.

Paul Heelas, a notable scholar, takes a very serious and intelligent look at the history of the New Age Movement, tracing its growth and development and introducing some of the fascinating key characters involved with its ideas and various contemporary forms of spirituality. Published in 1996, the book is in three parts: ‘Portrayal’ where Heelas looks at the ‘manifestation’ of the New Age through such luminous beings as Alfred Orage (1873-1934) and Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891); its development and its significance which became vastly expanded during the ‘counter-culture’ of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, during the so-called ‘Age of Aquarius’. The ‘appeal’, which brings to light the certainties and the uncertainties of modernity; the ‘effectiveness’ by self-understanding and looking towards the future... No doubt, Paul Heelas certainly knows his stuff and the New Age Movement is an informative and celebratory account of the diversity of the human need to associate with a cause, a belief and to transcend the ‘normality’ in search of one’s personal spiritual quest. Excellent!

Hamewith: The Collected Poems of Charles Murray.

The Scottish poet Charles Murray (1864-1941) produced some rather interesting poetry and this collected works is edited and introduced by Colin Milton. Murray published three collections in his time which he acknowledged: Hamewith (1900 and 1909), A Sough o War (1917) and In the Country Places (1920), but this new edition thankfully includes his first attempt at a collection A Handful of Heather, of which only twelve copies were published in 1893. Unfortunately, Murray was not really to my taste but some readers may find it worthy!

Simone De Beauvoir: A Biography – by Deidre Bair.

Published in 1990, Deidre Bair’s biography of the French writer, existential philosopher and feminist, Simone De Beauvoir (1908-1986) is the definitive work and a landmark for Bair had De Beauvoir’s full cooperation during the last six years of her life. De Beauvoir is probably best known for being the author of the feminist classic ‘The Second Sex’ published in 1949 and for having a relationship with that other well-known existential philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980). Bair has written a fascinating account of the intellectual observer of society and I definitely recommend it!

Selected Poems of Louis Macneice – Edited by Michael Longley.

Michael Longley is a leading figure in the world of poetry and particularly contemporary Irish poetry and his thirty years as a published poet, with themes of love, death and war from his nine collections of verse gives him a sense of authority when editing the selected poems of Louis MacNeice (1907-1963). This is a fine collection of verse and MacNeice proves himself to be one of the great poets of our time – ‘My diehard countrymen like dray horses/ drag their ruin behind them./ shooting straight in the cause of crooked thinking/ their greed is sugared with pretence of public spirit./ From all which I am an exile.’ [Eclogue from Iceland]. Fantastic!

The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield.

The New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) created a unique body of work and is definitely one of the greatest writers of the modern short story. The Collected Stories contains all her written work: ‘In a German Pension’, Katherine’s first published collection of 1911 with its well-observed portrayal of life in pre-First World War Germany, remarkable for a young woman of twenty-one! ‘Bliss and Other Stories’ published in 1920; Mansfield’s famous collection ‘The Garden Party and Other Stories’ of 1922; ‘The Dove’s Nest’ posthumously published in 1923 which includes some of Mansfield’s unfinished writings, and finally ‘Something Childish and Other Stories’ also posthumously published in 1924, some of which have a real darkness attached to the stories. All in all, this ‘Wordsworth Classic’ edition is very reasonably priced so there is no excuse not to purchase this infinitely remarkable and mesmerising collection! Ignore her at your peril!

Songs of the Groves: Records of the Ancient World – by Victor B. Neuburg.

Published in 1921 by Neuburg’s ‘Vine Press’ at Steyning in Sussex, ‘Songs of the Groves’ is a worthy collection of verse from the one time friend, lover and ‘magical assistant’ of Aleister Crowley; but there is a sense of loss and failure and it is as if Neuburg has been drained of his passion, exhausted even! The collection comprises of various invocations to nature, love and physical coupling – ‘I scatter nard and myrtle leaves upon him! / cast myrrh on him! may all soft odours die/ With Adonis scent! the purple vestures don him/ - The delicate Adonis!’ [The Lament for Adonis] There are several poems in the collection I thought of a high standard such as: ‘An Hymn to Diana’, ‘The Wooing’ (from the Greek of Theocritus) and ‘The Garden of Pythagoras’ but perhaps the most interesting stanza is to be found in his ‘Hymn to Diana’ where he says: ‘Do you recall as I recall?/ For I remember still/ An old dark rushing waterfall/ By a green sombre hill,/ Or sombre then it seemed to be,/ Until you came to ravish me.’ Could Neuburg here be reminiscing about his journey through Spain with Crowley as they bathed in a waterfall? We know of their intimacy at the time so it is no stretch of the imagination to suppose that his great magical teacher and companion still sits within Victor’s heart.
There are some fine woodcuts from Dennis West and although Neuburg in my opinion is almost creatively spent we should do him the honour of providing him a space upon the bookshelf and dusting him off once and a while!

Ouspensky: The Unsung Genius – by J. H. Reyner.

Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky (1878-1947) was a Russian esoteric mathematician who became interested in the ideas and theories of his fellow Russian philosopher and mystic, George Gurdjief (1866-1949) with whom he studied for ten years. After his break from Gurdjief, Ouspensky taught his own system – the Fourth Way, which unlike other systems of attainment such as monastic and yogic, does not include seclusion from the world.
Reyner has written a very good book and you will probably find yourself researching avenues related to Ouspensky and Gurdjief that you didn’t think existed! But that is the beauty of such books which lead one in different directions through the many surprising footnotes. Interesting!

Larkspur: A Lyric Garland – by Victor B. Neuburg.

This is a collection of verse from the Vine Press published in 1922 and containing contributions from various poets. Apart from the Dedication (to the Rose Immortal), Prologue, Epilogue and Colophon, Neuburg submits his own work under pseudonyms such as: ‘The Amorous Shepherdess’ (Christopher Crayne), ‘The Ballad of Lyonesse’ (Paul Pentreath), ‘The Yellow Moon’ (Harold Stevens), ‘Giles and Jillie’ (Laurence Edwards), ‘Bowpots’ (Arthur French) and ‘Trollie-Lollie’ (Nicholas Pyne).
With woodcuts provided by Dennis West this is a mildly interesting collection though far from the earlier work of Neuburg which roar with the flames of youth and passion!

Dylan Thomas: The Code of Night – by David Holbrook.

Mr Holbrook delivers an exceptional work on Dylan Thomas and explores the beginnings of the poet’s art uncovering aspects of the great man’s personality and identity. Published in 1972, I found this a fascinating critical study of the poet and his work and Mr Holbrook is to be praised for this!

The Life of William Blake – by Mona Wilson.

William Blake (1757-1827) is one of those marvels of the English romantic period, and artist, poet and philosopher and a truly remarkable man! Even as a young boy Blake was aware of his visionary powers and he began to use personal symbols to express his unique, nonconformist mystical philosophy. He became an apprentice from 1772-79 where he made a study of Gothic art; following this in 1779 he entered the Royal Academy before working as a commercial engraver and developing his own printing techniques.
Blake produced his illustrated poems in colour, beginning with ‘Songs of Innocence’ (1789). He produced his intriguing engravings ‘The Book of Job’ and ‘The Divine Comedy’ before becoming the figurehead and wine guru to a group of admiring disciples which included the fabulous Samuel Palmer (1805-1881) and the great Edward Calvert (1799-1883), two of my favourite artists who were known as the Ancients. I have been fortunate to handle and examine Blake’s original works for myself at the British Museum and the spiritual energy surrounding these intricate, illuminated wonders is more than tangible to those sensitive enough to appreciate it! Mona Wilson has written a splendid account of one of Britain’s greatest artistic enigmas!

Swift Wings: Songs of Sussex – by Victor B. Neuburg.

Perfect from the Pastoral,/ Towering from the Tomb/ Sounds the Song Immortal/ In sempiternal bloom.’ [Prologue]
Published in 1921 by the Vine Press in Sussex, ‘Swift Wings’ is a personal journey of love for the poet’s home county where he expresses his joy and deep passion for his surroundings and inhales the beauty of nature and the unseen myths that abound – ‘Valhalla is here/ As the death of the year/ Lies over the seas and the grass and the sand.’ [Cliffs in Winter]
The poems included are: ‘Cuckfield’, ‘Shoreham Hills’, ‘Fieldway Coppice’, ‘Old Steyne’, Richard Jeffries’, ‘William Collins’, ‘Rottingdean’, ‘Hangleton’, ‘Ex Cathedra’, ‘Orchard Songs’, ‘Awakenings’, ‘Saddlescombe’, ‘Hymn to Astarte’ – ‘Astarte, may the grain drop/ To glad the rutting ram!’... I found this collection very enjoyable but Neuburg does tend to stick with the old familiar rhyme pattern and I found myself willing him to break from it and give the poems a greater intensity and freedom – ‘I shall return; the Green Star has me still,/ Brain, body, soul and heart. My spirit’s will/ From tranced sleep of splendour will be drawn/ Back to the Green Star of the Golden Dawn, / I shall return; even to White Hawk Hill.’ [White Hawk Hill] With woodcuts by Eric and Percy West and a cover design by Beatrice Linda Stanbrough, Swift Wings is a fine poetic collection!

Samuel Palmer – by James Sellers.

The English landscape painter and etcher Samuel Palmer (1805-1881) was introduced to William Blake in 1824, the most influential encounter of his life, and like Blake he had experienced personal mystical visions. As the central figure of the ‘Ancients’ living in the earthly paradise of Shoreham in Kent, Palmer’s landscapes depicted an ‘other-world’, primitive quality, intensely spiritual in their portrayal of nature. Later, his works became more pastoral and lost something of the mystical direction but his etchings retained a poetic, mystical wonder. He left Shoreham for London in 1835, married in 1837 and suffered the loss of his son Thomas in 1861. Following the tragedy the Palmers left London for Redhill in Surrey and Palmer returned to his earlier visionary works, yet they appeared darker in aspect. Some of his more notable works include: ‘Cornfield by Moonlight with Evening Star’ (1830), ‘The Magic Apple Tree’ (1830), ‘View of Tintagel’ (1848), ‘The Lonely tower’ (1880-81) and ‘The Cypress Grove from Eclogue V’ (1881). Samuel Palmer is such an inspirational artist that his influence can be seen in such artists as the masterful engraver and painter (and friend of Palmer) Edward Calvert (1799-1883), Paul Nash (1889-1946), Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), Eric Ravillious (1903-1942), Robin Tanner (1904-1988) and more recently Annie Soudain whose works contain the joy of nature in all their colourful and dramatic splendour. Wonderful!

The Haunting of Borley Rectory: A Critical Survey of the Evidence – by Eric J. Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney and Trevor H. Hall.

First published in the ‘Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research – volume 51, part 186, January 1956, alongside its book form by Gerald Duckworth & Co. The same year, this collation and analysis of the evidence is also known as the ‘Borley Report’. Dingwall, Goldney and Hall, all members of the S.P.R., set out in the report to give a thorough examination of the Borley Rectory haunting, from its early legends and the ‘paranormal’ incidents which occurred during the Rectory’s various incumbencies by the Reverends’ H. D. E. Bull (1862-92), H. F. Bull (1892-1927), G. E. Smith (1928-1930) and L. A. Foyster (1930-1935) and during the tenancy of Harry Price (May 1937-May 1938).
It was during the Rev. Henry D. E. Bull’s incumbency (with his wife and fourteen children) that the strange happenings began to be reported within the household and it was during the incumbency of Henry Bull’s son Rev. Harry F. Bull (after Henry’s death in 1927) that the four Misses Bull sisters visibly witnessed the ‘apparition’ of the phantom nun in the Rectory garden on 28th July 1900. Following Rev. Harry Bull’s death in 1927 the Rectory was empty until 1928 when Rev. Guy E, Smith and his wife took over the living at Borley. Just eight months into the Smith incumbency the Reverend had contacted the Daily Mail to settle the case of the Rectory’s haunting once and for all and have it investigated. Following a visit by a reporter named V. C. Wall on 10th June 1929, Harry Price (1881-1948) first enters the Rectory two days later.
The Smiths employed a fifteen year old maid named Mary Pearson who claimed to have seen the phantom coach and horses, a headless man in the garden and the famous ‘Borley nun’. Mary’s friend Fred Tatum (whom she later married) was frequently in the Rectory and it is easy to conclude that these young persons may have exaggerated and even ‘invented’ phenomena to create excitement and interest. After the Smiths left Borley the Rev. Lionel Algernon Foyster and his young wife Marriane enter the picture and witness some of the most explosive phenomena from bottles crashing down the stairs to fires apparently appearing in empty rooms! Lionel meticulously kept a ‘Diary of Occurrences’ with which he hoped to publish as a book entitled ‘Fifteen Months in a Haunted House’ (the manuscript of this was completed after May 1934) and from this he produced a ‘Summary of Experiences’ (written Jan-Feb 1938) for Harry Price to include in his book ‘The Most Haunted House in England’ (1940). Price doubted much of the phenomena believing Marriane was responsible for most if not all of the occurrences, indeed, he suspected that if she were not fraudulent then she was certainly the ‘focus’ of ‘something’ that caused the activity, similar to the famous Amherst case in the United States, at Teeds House from 1878-79.
There were many who tried to discredit Price such as the Daily Mail correspondent Charles Sutton who said he saw Price throw a stone and caught him with stones in his pockets during a visit to the Rectory (5th June 1929) but Price’s secretary Miss Lucie Kaye (later Meeker) who was with them on that occasion denied such disgraceful behaviour. Major Hon. Henry Douglas-Home also accused Price of deception following his visit in 1937, and also Miss Cynthia Ledsham.
Mrs Smith the Reverend’s wife interviewed in later life revealed many discrepancies in her testimony concerning Price. She did not believe in the haunting but her husband Rev. Guy E. Smith seemed to swing between belief and doubt and seemed more open-minded; both wanted to leave Borley due to its bad living conditions. Mrs Smith did not wish to appear by name in Price’s book (which of course she was) and so there would have been a genuine grievance between her and Price. She blamed him for ‘attracting’ poltergeist activity to the Rectory!
Then of course there is the fire which made the Rectory uninhabitable on 27th February 1939 while in the ownership of Capt. W. H. Gregson (this ‘prophecy’ was communicated by an entity calling itself Sunex Amures via a planchette reading of 27th March 1938 – the fire did indeed start in the Hall as stated at the reading) and the human remains which were found by Price and buried at Liston Churchyard in 1945.
When analysing all the evidence certain conclusions will occur to the reader: a) that Price had been accused of fraudulent behaviour aided by the credulity of others who supported the creation of supposed paranormal phenomena; b) that accusations against Price are untrue and the increase of phenomena following his arrival (of a type not previously recorded at the Rectory) only occurring in his presence, are due to the Smiths, Mary and Fred and that Price is unaware of the deception, and c) that phenomena is genuine, mostly made by discarnate beings (the nun, Rev. Harry Bull, and/or poltergeist etc.) and that Price instigated further, more violent ‘phenomena’ in his presence. We must also consider the famous ‘levitating brick’ captured in a photograph during a visit by Price, Miss Cynthis Ledsham and David Scherman, a photographer of ‘Life’ magazine, on 5th April 1944. The house was being demolished so this is easily explained, as Miss Ledsham suggests, by a workman (which they all saw) throwing the brick which appeared as if ‘levitating’ and should not have even been considered seriously as paranormal activity.
Price considered Borley the most extraordinary and best documented case of a haunting in the annals of psychical research, but Price was not beyond the manipulation of testimony (did Price ‘conveniently find’ the ‘medals’ to add historical detail and were the ‘excavation’ of human bone fragments authentically situated or placed to be found?) We can say without exaggeration that the history of the house and its haunting influenced much of the investigations, by the suggestion of previous happenings and the expectation of them re-occurring. The testimony of Rev. Harry Bull and the integrity of the evidence seem at first hand believable, although there was probably much denial of events due to the publicity this caused. That Price’s presence ‘activated’ poltergeist phenomena I think we can ignore, yet through all this we must remember that human ‘observation’ is fallible and open to exaggeration, misinterpretation and deception. Pre-conceived ideas, prejudices, expectations and even sensory defects (sight, hearing etc.) are factors, and we should not forget that emotional, physiological and psychological disturbances can altar perceptions and distort memory. Has the reliability of the witness been considered? Has the subjective value of evidence been applied? Is there a natural, scientific reason for the phenomena?
During his career Price exposed many so-called ‘mediums’ as fraudulent (which probably influenced his attitude to Marriane Foyster) and I believe he vigorously wanted the truth, if a little varnished by the glossy personality of Price. He was himself quite sceptical as to the existence of paranormal phenomena and manifestations yet he courted publicity and created ‘sensation’ in his wake. The Borley Report presents all the evidence and leaves the reader to faithfully make his or her own conclusions, but one thing is for certain (perhaps as Price wished it would be) and that is that the enigma of Borley Rectory and its mystery, the integrity of its ‘players’ and the notion that there may indeed have been ‘something there’ shall continue! A must for all Borley enthusiasts!

Seeing Things – by Seamus Heaney.

Published by Faber in 1991, this is Heaney’s ninth collection of poetry and its theme is the passing of time and the acceptance of the poet’s father’s death in 1986, taking the reader into a Virgilian vision of the afterlife – ‘Where does spirit live? Inside or outside/Things remembered, made things, things unmade? /What came first, the seabird’s cry or the soul/ - Imagined in the dawn cold when it cried?’ [Settings xxii] A remarkable collection from one of the greatest modern poets!

Journeys Out of the Body – by Robert Monroe.

Published in 1971, Robert Monroe’s ‘Journeys out of the body’ is an interesting record of the so-called ‘out-of-body’ phenomena, detailing experiments undertaken by the author. Robert Monroe (1915-1995) began experimenting with human consciousness in the 1950’s and during his research into sleep in 1958, he experienced his first ‘out-of-body experience’ (OBE). This is an intensely enjoyable and informative account of the astral body’s journey and vital reading in the understanding of the subject! Very rewarding!

Intimate Letters: Leos Janacek to Kamila Stosslova – Edited and translated by John Tyrrell.

The Czech composer Leos Janacek (1858-1928) wrote regular letters to Kamila Stosslova (1891-1935) whom he loved, despite both of them being already married! He was 63 to her 25 in 1917 and he fell hopelessly in love with her. His un-requited infatuation continued for eleven years, penning over a thousand letters, and he considered Kamila to be his ‘wife’, at least in his own imagination and she inspired Leos to compose some of the most thrilling and romantic music of the twentieth century: Katya Kabanova (1921), The Cunning Little Vixen (1924) and The Makropoulos Affair (1926) along with several other pieces based on Kamila. Few of Kamila’s letters survive as most were burnt on her orders, but we are told that nothing more ‘intimate’ than a kiss took place between them yet Janacek’s obsession for Kamila drove the creative force during the latter part of his life and the remarkable compositions left to posterity are the testament to the enduring power of his love and the devotional heights of his creativity it can induce! Marvellous!

Cold Light on Spiritualistic “Phenomena”: An Experiment with the Crewe Circle – by Harry Price.

This is a reprint with Preface from the May 1922 edition of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research and it is an exposure on the practice of ‘spirit’ photography. Harry Price and his assistant James Seymour have arranged a ‘sitting’ with the medium William Hope of Crewe and his attendant Mrs. Buxton. This ‘experiment’ took place at the College of the Society for Psychical Research at 10.30 a.m. on 24th February 1922. Price had four photographic plates prepared beforehand by the Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd. With their trademark ‘lion’ logo which would show up under X-Ray. The medium, Hope, took two of these plates and took two photographs of Price, seated. Following this, Price, Seymour and Hope entered the dark room to develop the pictures. One picture was found to show an ‘extra’, a female form looking over Price’s shoulder. The experiment ended at 11.20 a.m. The conclusion was that Mr. William Hope was guilty of deliberately substituting his own photographic plates for those of his sitter and one of those plates already had an ‘extra’ or spirit form impressed upon it. An interesting tale of trickery!

Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance – by Kenneth Silverman.

Published in 1990, Silverman’s biography of Poe is a masterpiece which resurrects the ghost of the writer of some of the finest Gothic literature which has been chilling weary souls for over a century and a half! Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was born in Boston, Massachusetts and orphaned at an early age. After he was taken to live at the home of John Allan he spent five years in England with that family. His first volume of verse ‘Tamerlane and Other Poems’ were published anonymously in 1828; In 1830 he entered West Point but the following year he was discharged ‘dishonourably’ for neglecting his duties. More poems were published and he became editor of various magazines; his first collection of stories ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque’ (1840) contained one of his most celebrated tales – ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.
The dark recesses of Poe’s life are reflected in his strange and wonderful tales where we find him striding the boundaries between the world of horror, science-fiction and the mystery detective novel. We encounter his disturbing obsession with death and mourning, especially the death of a young and beautiful woman; premature burial was a constant fear of Poe’s and he was often accused of being mad – ‘Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence – whether much that is glorious – whether all that is profound – does not spring from disease of thought – from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.’
Having a similar fascination with death and all things ‘macabre’ it was inevitable that I should encounter Poe in my childhood and I can remember the sense of ‘romantic terror’ he induced for we both spoke the same strange language – ‘From childhood’s hour I have not been. As others were, I have not seen. As others saw, I could not awaken my heart to joy at the same tone. And all I loved, I loved alone.’ Poe introduced me to the world of Gothic literature and to literature in general so there is much I have to thank him for and to Kenneth Silverman, who must be applauded for this astounding work!

The Intermediate Sex: A Study of some Transitional Types of Men and Women – by Edward Carpenter.

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) the socialist, poet, philosopher and sexual rights activist published his collection of essays ‘The Intermediate Sex’ in 1912 and it really is quite a frank (for its time) publication. Carpenter, in 176 pages, unfolds his and many others theories concerning homosexuality, or as Carpenter prefers to say the ‘homogenic’ and how it is inherent in certain types of men and women in various degrees, like the many shades between the primary colours. The author looks at the homogenic attachment and historic accounts of great figures who serve as examples of the homogenic type. He writes on the importance of ‘affection in education’ and champions the moral teaching aspect of peers and elder authority figures such as teachers who guide the young ‘hero-worshipper’ gently but firmly through the wilderness of childhood and adolescence. The author then goes on to investigate the ‘place of the Uranian (another word for the ‘intermediate’ or ‘third sex’) in Society’. All in all Carpenter looks to the future for the acceptance of ‘the intermediate sex’ and for the mental and physical development of humanity whereby society will be not just richer for the breaking down of barriers and changes in the law, but firmly on the next stage of the path of human development. Interesting!

Ghosts of Wessex – by Keith B. Poole.

This is Poole’s fourth book in his regional ‘ghost’ series published by David and Charles in 1976. The book covers the mysterious ghostly tales from Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Oxford, Somerset, Avon and Wiltshire. Good!

Rudi Schneider: The Vienna Experiments of Professors Meyer and Przibram – Forward by Harry Price.

Originally published in Bulletin V of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research in 1933, Price looks at the claims of the fifteen year old Austrian physical medium Rudi Scneider (1908-1957) about his telekinetic ability and his acts of ‘levitation’. Price looks at the experiments conducted by Professor Dr. Stefan Meyer and Professor Dr. Karl Przibram which took place between 1923-24; the Professors had detected that Rudi, under test conditions, was able to get his hand free and thus produce ‘phenomena’ for himself. As for the levitation, it was also found that he could free a leg and propel himself into the air, giving the appearance of levitation. It seems impossible to believe that anyone could be fooled by such absurd trickery, Price certainly wasn’t and he caught Rudi with his hand free in a photograph taken at the 25th séance on 28th April 1932.
Price includes the correspondence between himself and Rudi and in a letter from Professor Dr. Hans Thirring, a Viennese Physicist and Vice-President of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, he says ‘you were absolutely right in publishing your experiences with Rudi. Truth above all!’

Stella C: A Record of Thirteen Sittings for Thermo-Psychic and Other Experiments – by Harry Price.

Taken from the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, vol. xviii, number 5, May 1924, in which Harry Price conducted a series of thirteen experiments with the twenty-three year old medium Stella C and various sitters to record the differences in temperature during séances. The first sitting took place on 22 March 1923, followed by 29 March, 5, 12, 19 April, 3, 10, 17, 24 May, 7, 21 June, 27 September and finally 4 October.
The medium Stella C Cranshaw (1900-1986) was placed in test conditions which included recording the temperature of the séance room at the start and finish of the exercise; the medium’s pulse-rate was taken before and after each sitting; her health was noted, the weather conditions, the light source and its strength; the times the medium entered a trance state; the names of the sitters and their order of seating and the phenomena that took place such as the raps, psychic breezes, table vibrations, lifting and levitation. This is a remarkable case for the existence of telekinetic energy and or spirit involvement and it’s a pity that more experiments were not made. Very good!

Tony Harrison: Selected Poems.

Published in 1984, Tony Harrison is a master craftsman of his poetic art and his verse erupts with emotion which has the subtle undercurrent of dread, never far behind, much like dear old Larkin. Some of the poems included are: The Curtain Catullus, The Bonebard Ballads, The Rhubarbarians I, II, Stately Home, and Cypress Cedar. Great!

The Encyclopaedia of Occult, Paranormal and Magick Practices – by Brian Lane.

Published in 1996 this is a good introduction to the esoteric arts explaining the theory and the practice of ritual work in ceremonial magic; the use of the Tarot in divination; love spells and protection as well as the darker aspects of necromancy, its methods and its dangers. What little boy or girl could resist summoning up from the next world some benevolent being offering wealth, love and happiness at such a small price as the gift of one’s soul! A bargain!

A Book of English Poetry: Chaucer to Rossetti – by G. B. Harrison.

This excellent little book was published in 1937 by the eminent British Shakespeare scholar and critic, George Bagshawe Harrison (1894-1991). The book covers the period from the 14th – 19th Century of English poetry with over 200 poems by over 60 poets in chronological order. Harrison, Professor of English Language and Literature at Queens University and the University of Michigan, has compiled the quintessential collection for all lovers of great poetry!

Seven Ages: Poetry for a Lifetime – by David A. L. Owen.

This 1992 anthology is a collection of poems based on Shakespeare’s ‘seven ages’ as found in his ‘As you like it’ – infant, school, lover, soldier, wisdom, sixth age and last scene. There are some familiar favourites here and Mr. Owen (I purposely refrain from calling him Lord and refuse to acknowledge such a liberty, but I look beyond such discretions to which most if not all politicians succumb... but let us not hold it against him!) has chosen an admirable collection of verse for future generations to enjoy!

Shakespeare’s Sugared Sonnets – by Katherine M. Wilson.

Katherine M. Wilson has written some good books on English verse and this 1974 publication which takes an in depth look at Shakespeare’s sonnets and the mystery that surrounds them is highly recommended for all Shakespeare lovers and romantics at heart! Enjoy!

The Penguin Book of Russian Short Stories – by David J. Richards.

This is an excellent collection of short stories published in 1981 by the Russian scholar (Lecturer in Russian at Exeter University), chess champion and chess writer David J. Richards, which contains twenty of the greatest Russian writers from Pushkin, Leskov, Nabokov, Solzhenitsyn, Paustovsky, Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Chekov... How could such a thing disappoint? It doesn’t!

Seamus Heaney: New Selected Poems 1966-1987.

This winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Literature was published in 1990 by Faber and Faber and Heaney’s collection includes verse from his previous seven published volumes: ‘Death of a Naturalist’ (1966), ‘Door into the Dark’ (1969), ‘Wintering Out’ (1972), ‘North’ (1975), ‘Field Work’ (1979), ‘Station Island’ (1984) and ‘The Haw Lantern’ (1987). The collection also includes pieces from his 1983 ‘Sweeney Astray’. Unmissable reading!

The Romance of Youth and Other Poems – by Rev. E. E. Bradford D. D.

Edwin Emmanuel Bradford (1860-1944) of Exeter College, Oxford, was an English clergyman, poet and novelist and this collection of poems appeared in 1920. Bradford writes quite overtly on his romantic feelings for young adolescent boys at a time of great suspicion and repression due to the celebrity of the Wilde trial of 1895. But Bradford was liked and young ladies and old widows adored his poems which I found dull and insipid. I wanted to like him, the good Reverend, I wanted to discover something new and important and maybe spiritually transforming, but alas, I read the Romance of Youth and came away disappointed! He wrote other collections of poetry including: ‘Sonnets, Songs and Ballads’ (1908), Passing the Love of Women, and Other Poems (1913), ‘In Quest of Love, and Other Poems (1913), ‘Lays of Love and Life (1916) and ‘The Nee Chivalry, and Other Poems (1918), none of which I shall be reading. Weak!

The Zelator: The Secret Journals of Mark Hedsel – by David Ovason.

Zelator is the autobiography of a man named Mark Hedsel, who I can assure you, does not exist, he is merely a literary device, but what about David Ovason, surely he must be the subject of the autobiography? Not quite, David Ovason does not exist; it is a pseudonym for the wonderful yet mysterious Fred Gettings, whose ‘Visions of the Occult’ (1987) and ‘Dictionary of Demons: A guide to Demons and Demonologists in Occult Lore’ (1988) I read and enjoyed immensely in my youth. Sadly Fred took his own life in 2013 at the age of 75; let us remember him by keeping his works alive!

Studies in the History of the Renaissance – by Walter Pater.

Published in 1873, Studies in the History of the Renaissance is one of those enlightening and influential works which changed art and art culture, influencing English aestheticism. Walter Pater (1839-1894) writes wonderfully on Italian Renaissance art in a series of essays on such artists as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. The book was also the permanent inspiration to Oscar Wilde and his circle of aesthetes and it is easy to see why Pater and his work of beauty belongs upon the altar of every worthy art student and pretentious bachelor!

Proust – by Ronald Hayman.

Published in 1990, Ronald Hayman’s biography of Marcel Proust (1871-1922) the novelist and essayist, is a very ‘pleasant read’ giving us a peep into the strange world of the author of the remarkable ‘In Search of Lost Time’. Proust was a mother-fixated, asthmatic, closet homosexual with delusions of grandeur (and who isn’t in these enlightened times!); he was an exceptional writer and instrumental in the development of the novel. Hayman does a good job of bringing the old bedridden, wheezy snob to life! Good!

Against the Age: An Introduction to William Morris – by Peter Faulkner.

In this 1980 publication, Faulkner has written an excellent biography of William Morris (1834-1986) and his place within the Victorian period. There is particular importance on Morris the socialist, idealist writer of poetry and prose and the artistic designer of wallpaper and textiles associated with the British Arts and Crafts movement, with its strong emphasis on the medieval period. We also hear more about Morris’s involvement in political activism, which makes him an ‘all round good egg’ in my book! An enjoyable read!

C. S. Lewis: A Biography – by A. N. Wilson.

A. N. Wilson’s biography of C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) is certainly well-written and there has been much criticism, good and bad surrounding the work and the author’s opinions. C. S. Lewis was a remarkable writer of fantastic literature and he is considered a ‘saint’ to his acolytes in some religious circles but Wilson’s book is far from a hagiography! For a biographer to stamp his or her mark upon their work they must have a favourable light touch otherwise you will offend your readership and not connect with them; unfortunately Wilson strides across the page with heavy boots, and mucky ones at that! But this is not a bad book; we have the likes of other authors whom I will not name (ex-politicians and tenth-rate ‘celebrities’) to eagerly fill that category! Perhaps I should be more forgiving? Err, nope!

The Tale of Peter Rabbit – by Beatrix Potter.

Published in 1902, this is a classic children’s’ tale featuring the misbehaving Peter Rabbit and the gardener Mr. McGregor, whose vegetable garden Peter is particularly fond of entering, despite Peter’s father being caught there and ‘put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.’ Charming and timeless!

The Canterbury Tales – by Geoffrey Chaucer.

This highly celebrated 14th Century book opens with The General Prologue where we find twenty-nine pilgrims attending a meeting at Southwark’s Tabard Inn. The pilgrims decide to tell four stories each to entertain the group and lighten the journey; two stories travelling towards Canterbury and two on their return, the best storyteller receiving a free supper. What follows is one of the greatest collections of tales in the English language! Wonderful!

Andre Gide – by Albert J. Guerrard.

Published in the year of Andre Gide’s death at the age of eighty-one in 1951, Guerrard takes us through the high points and low points and the major themes of the author’s life, his novels, inner torments and guilt over his sexuality. Gide won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947 for his accurate portrayal of the human condition and his honest appraisal of the self. Guerrard is very competent and has produced a very thoughtful critique of a fascinating writer, through his personality and his literature. Highly recommended!

The Collected Poems of Arthur Rimbaud.

Published by Penguin in 1987, Rimbaud’s collected poems have all the angst and symbolist imagery that the French poets do so well. Personally I find him difficult to warm to but there is no denying that he is a truly visionary poet and his works should not be ignored, especially the remarkable – ‘A Season in Hell’.

German Expressionist Painting – by Peter Selz.

This 1957 publication was the first real exploration of German Expressionism and Peter Selz, the respected art historian and lecturer born 1919, documents the development of the aesthetic movement from 1900-1930, expressing the link between Bruecke and the Blaue Reiter. I have found Selz’s book of prime importance in my own research and studies of German Expressionism and the leading artists of the movement: Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Otto Dix (1891-1969), E. L. Kirchner (1880-1938), George Grosz (1893-1959), August Macke (1887-1914), Franz Marc (1880-1916) and the great Paul Klee (1879-1940). Recommended!

Eddy: The Life of Edward Sackville West – by Michael De-la-Noy.

Published in 1988, Edward Sackville West (1901-1965), the 5th Baron Sackville, novelist and music critic was the lesser known cousin of the more famous Vita Sackville West (1892-1962). Using diary entries and unpublished letters, Michael De-la-Noy (who sadly died in 2002 aged 68) probes beneath the aristocratic veneer of this homosexual, Catholic convert and minor light on the fringes of the Bloomsbury Group, who was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford to reveal a man of little talent in the way of writing novels but musically, rich in opinion and scholarship. A must for all Bloomsbury addicts!

Martin Chuzzlewit – by Charles Dickens.

This novel by Dickens published in 1844 tells the story of our eponymous hero who is in love with Mary Graham, an orphan girl taken in by his wealthy grandfather also named Martin. When the grandfather hears of this he causes Martin’s dismissal from his architect cousin Mr Pecksniff’s employment! Martin and his servant Mark Tapley head for the New World – the United States of America to seek their fortune. He encounters much hardship and misfortune in America and along this main story there are minor plots of blackmail, murder and suicide and we also encounter the unforgettable character of Mrs Gamp! An absolute classic from Dickens!

I, Claudius – by Robert Graves.

Published in 1934, Graves’s historical novel centres on the ‘autobiography’ of the Roman historian and later Emperor, Claudius, through the reigns of Augustus, Julius Caesar and Caligula, where upon whose assassination in 41 AD, Claudius became Emperor until his death in 54 AD. Claudius suffered from a severe stammer and various other nervous conditions which caused those who knew him to assume he was a harmless idiot, which of course he was definitely not! Robert Graves (1895-1985) has written the ‘Claudius’ novels almost out of a sense of personal duty and his passion is evident throughout this thoroughly absorbing historical fictional account of Claudius up until his accession as Emperor.

Claudius the God – by Robert Graves.

This is Robert Graves’s sequel to ‘I, Claudius’ published the following year in 1935 and if you have read the fore mentioned you will certainly want to know what happens after Claudius becomes Emperor of Rome (41-54 AD) and how it all ends! Masterful!

With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer – by Susannah Clapp.

Susannah Clapp has written a fine memoir of the novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989) best known for his ‘In Patagonia’ (1977) and ‘The Songlines’ (1987). Chatwin was either a man you loved or a man you hated and personally, I think he would have been difficult to get to know and like because he is too self-absorbed and stubborn, much like myself, but there is no denying the fact that he is one of the greatest travel writers sadly taken from us too soon from AIDS. For a more detailed account of Chatwin’s life I would suggest Nicholas Shakespeare’s excellent biography published in 1999, but for those of you just wishing to delve into some memories of the man in no particular order then Clapp’s publication will do just that! Good!

Nicholas Nickleby – by Charles Dickens.

Published in serial form from 1838-9, the nineteen year old Nicholas along with his mother and sister become penniless following the death of the father (and husband). Young Nicholas is sent to Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire where the wonderfully named Wackford Squeers mistreats and generally abuses at every opportunity the pupils under his reign of tyranny, masquerading in the form of ‘education’. Young Smike, a poor imbecile seems to receive most of Squeer’s cruel punishment until one day Nicholas thrashes Squeers and leaves the Hall with Smike. To earn a living he becomes an actor and then works for the Cheeryble brothers. There are some excellent characters from Dickens as you’d expect and a few surprises along the way too! Nicholas Nickleby only proves that when it comes to writing novels there is no-one quite like Dickens!

Crowley’s Apprentice: The Life and Ideas of Israel Regardie – by Gerald Suster.

Israel Regardie (1907-1985) was a well-known writer on occult matters and a friend and secretary to the great Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). Regardie wrote to Crowley following his reading of Crowley’s classic ‘Book 4’ and the ‘Great Beast’ asked Regardie to join him and become his secretary in 1928. Unfortunately, the partnership ended bitterly in 1932. Following the split from the master Regardie published his classic of the Qabalah ‘The Garden of Pomegranates’ in 1932 and he became a great source of knowledge and authority upon the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, publishing concerning the history and the workings of the secret society; he also published a biography of Crowley ‘The Eye in the Triangle’.
Suster has produced a great biography of Regardie in this 1989 publication to which I am sure we are all thankful, but there is a part of me wishing we had something similar about the fascinating occultist, historian and author of this work – Gerald Suster, who was born in 1951 in London’s Hampstead. He knew Israel Regardie and Gerald Yorke who in turn had known or worked with Crowley in some capacity. Suster published his biography of Crowley ‘The Legacy of the Beast’ in 1988 and sadly died in 2001. He was a true gentleman and had I been fortunate to have known him, a man I would have been honoured to call friend! May his star rise and ascend its rightful place!

Three Men in a Boat – Jerome K. Jerome.

Three men and a dog, a fox terrier named Montmorency, take two weeks boating holiday on the River Thames from Kingston Upon Thames to Oxford and back again. One of the men, is obviously based on Jerome, the other two are his friends George Wingrave and Carl Hentschel. This 1889 publication is a timeless classic whose humour has not aged, in fact, it’s one of the funniest things I have ever read! Excellent!

Letters to Felice – by Franz Kafka.

Published in 1967 (with an English translation appearing in 1973), the ‘Felice’ of the title is Felice Bauer whom Kafka corresponded with from 1912 when she was 24 and he was 29, until 1917. Kafka undoubtedly loved Felice (they were engaged twice in 1914 and 1917) and yet the letters are not conventional ‘love letters’ as you would expect but they are in every way compelling, filled with weird and wonderful expressions of love and affection. Despite personally being thoroughly bored by Kafka, his letters to Felice give us a glimpse into the everyday workings of a strange and powerful literary mind!

Little Essays Towards Truth – by Aleister Crowley.

This is Crowley’s collection of philosophical essays published in 1938 upon various qabalistic and Thelemic subjects: Man, Memory, Sorrow, Wonder, Beatitude, Laughter, Indifference, Mastery, Trance, Energy, Knowledge, Understanding, Chastity, Silence, Love and Truth. This publication, written by Crowley towards the end of his life is an exceptional work by a piercing mind which should be read by all with an interest in occult philosophies and Thelemic mysteries. Essential reading!

Anna Karenina – by Leo Tolstoy.

Published in 1878 from serialised instalments from 1873-7, ‘Anna Karenina’ is a sprawling tale by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) in which married Anna, has an affair with Count Vronsky, who wishes to marry her and they travel to Italy, yet back in Russia she feels isolated and friendless.
This eight part novel is a character-filled realist masterpiece by Tolstoy which utilises the ‘stream-of-consciousness’ technique favoured by the likes of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. The outcome of the heroine is no secret and whether you cry tears of sympathy and genuine pain for Anna or laugh hysterically with joy, or madness, at having made it so far through this monster of a novel, Anna Karenina is still one of the great novels of all time which will haunt, mesmerise and weary readers for centuries to come!

J. B. Priestly – by Vincent Brome.

This is the first real biography of John Boynton Priestley (1894-1984), the English novelist and playwright who wrote many notable works including The Good Companions (1929), Angel Pavement (1930) and An Inspector Calls (1945). Vincent Brome (1910-2004) the esteemed biographer published this well-received biography of Priestley in 1988 and although it is a marvellously well written and researched work I could not help thinking what a dull old bluff Priestley is and what a far more interesting personality Brome is by comparison and how I’d much rather be reading Brome’s autobiography ‘Confessions of a Writer’ (1970) instead!

Aleister Crowley’s Illustrated Goetia: Sexual Evocation – by Lon Milo DuQuette and Christopher S. Hyatt.

This publication from 1992 with illustrations by David P. Wilson explains the techniques involved in this splendid book on evocations. Goetia is the first book in the Lemegeton of Solomon the King in which the seventy-two demons are encountered. This book rejects much of the ceremonial observances and the lengthy procedures prior to such magical operations and condenses the essential essence of the magical evocation into the basic elements of the ritual. A word of caution is necessary, for whether one believes in the existence of demonic spirits or not, the energy stirred-up by such rituals can do serious harm to the foolhardy practitioner who is not thoroughly grounded and prepared by magical study, taking the evocations lightly! Be warned and approach accordingly!

The Enochian World of Aleister Crowley: Enochian Sex Magick – by Lon Milo DuQuette and Christopher S. Hyatt.

DuQuette and Hyatt’s 1991 publication explores Crowley’s use of the Enochian system of magic as given in his Liber LXXXIV vel Chanokh. This form of magic is greatly misunderstood and perhaps many are put off from performing it through all its talk of angels yet if you approach it with an open mind and study the text seriously, you will find, as I have found, this to be a very practical, powerful and effective method of magic! Highly recommended!

To Urania: Selected Poems 1965-1985 – by Joseph Brodsky.

Published in 1988, To Urania was the Russian born poet Joseph Brodsky’s third volume of poetry in English following his award of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Brodsky tackles the major themes from life, death and the nature of space – ‘And what is space anyway if not the body’s absence at every given point?’ [To Urania] Brodsky translated his own works from their original Russian into English and if you are an admirer of Auden you may find these selected poems to your liking!

The Accidental Angler – by Charles Rangeley-Wilson.

The journalist and author Charles Rangeley-Wilson has written an evocative and passionate account of his travels in search of fish in this 2006 publication. The author writes wonderfully well, incorporating snippets of philosophical observations as he travels to such places as Bhutan, Brazil and the Seychelles. This is surely destined to become a classic of fishing literature! Very good!

A Dylan Thomas Treasury: Poems, Stories and Broadcasts – selected by Walford Davies.

Dylan Thomas is such an extraordinary poet that of course any poems selected could not fail to bring a sense of joy, surprise and wonder and this selection by Walford Davies does just that. But if I were coming to Dylan Thomas for the first time I would certainly like ‘Under Milk Wood’ to be included, which it is not. However, this 2001 publication contains a good selection of the shorter poems but with so many other collections out there I would probably look elsewhere!

The Scented Garden of Abdullah the Satirist of Shiraz – by Aleister Crowley.

‘The Scented Garden of Abdullah the Satirist of Shiraz’ also known as the ‘Bagh-I-Muattar’ was privately printed in Paris in 1910 by Crowley under the pseudonym ‘Major Alain Lutiy’, the gentleman who ‘translated’ this rare and ancient Indian manuscript with the aid of ‘another’. Following the introduction there is a piece on the mss and the Sufi Doctrines before an essay by the Reverend P. D. Carey (Crowley) extolling the rapturous joys and virtues of sodomy and then there is the Poem itself.
Those who are inclined towards Crowley’s erotic verse will no doubt be familiar with the ‘Bagh-I-Muattar’, originally a rare work and whatever your opinion is it is invaluable for the note of affection revealed concerning Crowley for his lover Herbert Charles Jerome Pollitt (1871-1942).

Inventions of the March Hare: T. S. Eliot Poems, 1909-1917 – edited by Christopher Ricks.

‘Inventions of the March Hare’ published by the great literary critic and scholar (let us call him Sir, for he has earned it) Christopher Ricks in 1996 is one of those books Eliot aficionado’s covet highly. Ricks has put together over forty of the great American poets T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) poems in this wonderful collection. Eliot is one of the 20th century’s greatest modern poets considered perplexing, difficult and ‘more English than the English’ and these poems are taken from his notebook (the title ‘Inventions of the March Hare’ was Eliot’s but he scribbled it out) containing many unpublished early poems (juvenilia). Here we will find Eliot’s classic ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ among lesser known and unknown verse – ‘Interlude: In a Bar’, ‘Opera’, ‘Oh little voices of the throats of men’... Ricks has done a splendid job and Eliot scholars and fanatics at ‘the ultimate hour when life is justified’ [silence] will hail it as a work of genius, copiously annotated by the distinguished editor, revealing the inner workings of an emerging master of his art who reluctantly accepted a ‘world too strange for pride or shame’ [Burnt Dancer] Excellent!

The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel.

The Russian, Jewish writer Isaac Babel (1894-1940) is a giant amongst modernist writers of the short story and the collected stories, edited by Nathalie Babel, translated by Peter Constantine with an introduction by Cynthia Ozick, is a mesmerising journey through the work of a master whose life was sadly cut short following his arrest and murder during the Soviet era. The book features Babel’s great ‘Red Cavalry’ stories and his ‘Odessa Tales’ and his acclaimed ‘The Story of my Dovecot’. Recommended!

Peter Pan – by J. M. Barrie.

Yes this is a children’s classic; yes I felt compelled to read it and yes I detested it! I detest the whole concept of it in every form of media ‘entertainment’ and all depictions of it! It is a wonder that the evil sprite Peter, the ‘boy who never grew up’ hasn’t put countless readers through therapy! I just want to forget the whole sorry episode and damn Barrie to hell for delivering to us such a nightmarish monster in angelic boyish form!

A Sportsman’s Notebook – by Ivan Turgenev.

This is Turgenev’s collection of short stories published in 1852. Turgenev writes about the 19th century Russian peasant extremely well from his own observations and the awful way in which they were treated under the serfdom system. These twenty-five charming stories are: Khot and Kalinych; Yermolay and the Miller’s Wife; Raspberry Water; District Doctor; My Neighbour Radilov; Farmer Ovsyanikov; Lgov; Bezhin Lea; Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands; Bailiff; The Office; Loner; Two Landowners; Lebedyan; Tatyana Borisovna and her Nephew; Death; Singers; Pyotr Petrovich Karataev; Meeting; Hamlet of the Shchigrovsky District; Chertopkhanov and Nedopyuskin; The End of Chertopkhanov; Living Relic; The Clatter of Wheels; and Forest and Steppe.
I found this book an absolute delight to read and Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883) is one of my favourite Russian authors, purely for his perceptive powers of narrative! Read it and love it!

The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova – by Judith Hemschemeyer.

I completely adore the poetry of Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) and through all the moments of deep despair in life it has been to the poems of dear Akhmatova I have turned. This huge tome translated by Judith Hemschemeyer is the definitive collection of Akhmatova’s work in the English language and it will be a blessing to any admirer of her work or lover of poetry in general. If you are coming to Akhmatova for the first time I can do no more than direct you towards Judith Hemsgemeyer’s lovingly translated publication of 1990. Astounding!

Thomas Mann: A Biography – by Ronald Hayman.

The British biographer, critic and dramatist Ronald Hayman, has written a fairly competent biography of the German novelist Thomas Mann (1875-1955) despite a few inaccuracies which I overlooked. Thomas Mann wrote some fantastic novels: Buddenbrooks (1901), The Magic Moubtain (1924), Lotte in Weimar (1939) and Doktor Faustus (1947) and of course not forgetting his famous novella Death in Venice (1912). Mann spoke against the rise of Hitler and Nazism and he and his Jewish wife Katia lived in exile in Switzerland (later they emigrated to the United States before returning back to Europe). Hayman makes good use of Mann’s somewhat explosive diaries to reveal an ego-centric, hypochondriac who spent much of his time in homo-erotic daydreams! In fact, Mann’s life seemed to echo the struggle conceived in his ‘Death in Venice’ when the elderly writer Aschenbach lusts obsessively after the fourteen year old Polish boy Tadzio.
He was a terrible father by all accounts and there is a recurring theme of suicide which walks with the Mann family: two of Mann’s sisters committed suicide and the second wife of his brother Heinrich took her own life, but perhaps more startling, two of his six children committed suicide: Klaus Mann (1906-1949) and Michael Mann (1919-1977). There have also been rumours that accounts of incest existed within the Mann family, namely between Thomas’s wife Katia and her son Klaus and also between Klaus and his sister Erika (it is known that Klaus later had a sexual relationship with Erika’s first husband Gustaf). What a strange and nasty web is being woven here! But rather than shock, which of course it shouldn’t to modern eyes and ears which are almost constantly confronted by sexual themes and images, I find myself intrigued, for Hayman has not satiated my curiosity about Mann, he has merely whetted my appetite to learn more about this fascinating and controversial writer!

W B Yeats, A Life volume I: The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914 – by R. F. Foster.

This publication from 1997 is an astonishing achievement by the Irish academic and historian Roy Foster and he really unlocks the events of the first half of the great Irish poet W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) life. Foster, not wishing to let the poetry dominate his biography of Yeats life as many other biographers tend to do, concentrates on revealing aspects of the poet’s day to day processes for he was such a varied and complex man with many interests and passions. I can say without doubt that I enjoyed the book immensely as I have a particular fascination for Yeats and his occult ptactices within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Some readers will wish there was more focus on the poetry but so much has been said before concerning the critical analysis of his works that I feel this book is a Yeatsian breath of fresh air! No doubt, like me, once you have read this exceptional work you will eagerly hunger after its companion and relish the equally exceptional second volume of biography by Foster: W B Yeats, A Life, volume II: The Arch-Poet 1915-1939 published in 2003. Magnificent!

Heligan: The Complete Works – Secrets Locked in Silence – by Tim Smit.

Having been to Heligan and having an interest in gardens and horticultural history, I found this book an easy and enjoyable read. Tim Smit exposes some of the historical facts about the ‘Lost garden’, delving into records concerning the men who worked there and who lost their lives during the First World War. This pictorial record also looks at the extensive work carried out in the Flower Garden, Vegetable Garden and the Melon Garden along with some superb pictures of the ice sculptures exhibition set within the gardens entitled ‘Ghosts of Gardeners Past’ by the artist Heather Keir-Cross. There are plenty of photos documenting various stages of the garden being revealed and traditional skills, crafts and methods of an almost lost way of life. Very good but I wanted more!

The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution – by P. D. Ouspensky.

Published in 1950, Ouspensky’s five lectures which he wrote in 1934 for a series of talks concerning his research to date and thoughts on the question of how man can become a ‘different being’ are illuminating. But I must confess of all the ‘cranks and crackpots’ and I use the term affectionately to describe those who are brave enough to put forward non-conventional ideas and theories, Ouspensky failed to make much of an impression on me beyond mere curiosity. In fact, Ouspensky (1878-1947), Gurdjieff (1866-1949) and Blavatsky (1831-1891), although expressing fascinating psychological and spiritual ideas, have very little substance in my opinion, but if you are of a certain mind, and no doubt you are, you will read ‘The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution’ and affirm your own opinions and to hell with what other people think about it, as it should be!

Old Peter’s Russian Tales – by Arthur Ransome.

Published in 1916, Arthur Ransome’s, collection of Russian folk-tales, twenty in all, are told by ‘old Peter’ to his grandchildren: Maroosia and Vanya. Some of the delightful tales included are: The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship; Baba Yaga; Prince Ivan, the Witch Baby and the Little Sister of the Sun; Alenoushka and Her Brother... Absolutely wonderful!

Masterpieces of Sculpture from the Greeks to Modern Times – by Hans Koepf.

Published in 1966, edited by J. E. Schuler and translated from the German by Mervyn Savill, ‘Masterpieces of Sculpture’ by Professor Dr. Hans Koepf (1916-1994) the German architect, art historian and author, is a fascinating journey through the artistic development of sculpture from the ancient Greeks and through the classical, Hellenistic, Early Medieval, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Rococo and Neo-Classical etc. Koepf, who was a Professor at the University of Applied Sciences, Stuttgart (1950-1961) and Professor of Art History and Preservation at the Technical University of Vienna (1961-1986) is an authority on the subject who takes great care to trace the origins and various styles of sculptural representations through history. A wonder indeed!

Childhood, Boyhood, Youth – by Leo Tolstoy.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) wrote the beginning of this trilogy as a young man in his twenties. His first novel, ‘Childhood’ which was published in 1852, contains autobiographical reminiscences with some wonderful descriptions of the Russian countryside and growing up amongst the peasant communities. ‘Boyhood’, the second novel published in 1854 continues the story of Nikolenka and in the third novel ‘Youth’ (1857) the character is developed further. Tolstoy had originally intended a fourth novel which he did not complete and in later life he came to reject the trilogy, particularly ‘Boyhood’ and ‘Youth’ as over sentimental and insincere, but it shows Tolstoy’s great descriptive powers and character development – Nikolenka, like Tolstoy himself, identified with the lower classes but was also repulsed by them with their vulgar ways and mannerisms. Nevertheless, ‘Childhood, Boyhood, Youth’ is a wonderfully written and entrancing tale which will not fail to make the heart beat faster and eyes to become watery!

John Osborne Plays 1.

This first volume contains four plays of John Osborne (1929-1994): the classic ‘Look Back in Anger’ (1956), ‘Epitaph for George Dillon’ (1957), a play written before ‘Look Back in Anger’ with Anthony Creighton; the satirical and quite frankly not very good ‘musical’ ‘The World of Paul Slickey’ (1959) and Osborne’s last play ‘Dejavu’ (1991) which is a sequel to Look Back in Anger and continues the views of its protagonist Jimmy Porter. I found this book interesting but notable purely for the theatrical classic ‘Look Back in Anger’!

Christopher Isherwood Diaries Volume One: 1939-1960.

Edited by Katherine Bucknell, this massive volume looks at Isherwood’s diaries from his period of emigration from 1939-44; his post-war years (1945-56) and the late fifties (1956-60). A hugely interesting publication but personally my fascination with Isherwood begins and ends with his early career with Auden and his time in Berlin, for which see the excellent ‘Christopher and his kind’; having said that there are delightful moments where the thin web of hypocrisy; the vast sheet of ignorance and the great desert of arrogance become apparent as Isherwood is caught up in the false glamour and nonsense of Hollywood, that great factory of wealth and destroyer of dreams where pretence is everything! Good book though on the whole!

Practical Sculpture: Creating with Plastic Media – by Robert Dawson.

Published in 1970, the author Robert Dawson (1921-2012) is himself a British sculptor of some renown and distinction, born in North Wales; he lived in the Midlands and studied at Camberwell Arts School, Kennington City and Guilds Arts College and the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. Robert taught sculpture, pottery and three-dimensional design and he also wrote three fantastic books on sculpture: ‘Sculpture (How to do it)’ in 1968; this exceptionally good book (‘Practical Sculpture’) in 1970 and ‘Practical Carving in Wood, Stone, Plastic and Other Materials’ in 1972.
Robert was a great teacher who looked towards the possibilities of the future of design through its modern materials and ‘Practical Sculpture’ is a very easy to understand and read study of the subject. May these three books and the wonderful works ‘Bob’ created stand as a lasting legacy to a great and sadly missed artist!

The Complete Dramatic Works of Samuel Becket.

You either love or hate the dramatic works of Samuel Becket (1906-1989) and Faber’s ‘Complete Dramatic Works’ will give you the opportunity to explore your love or hatred further! The works contained here are the excellent ‘Waiting for Godot’, ‘Endgame’, ‘Happy Days’, ‘All that Fall’, ‘Acts without Words’, ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’, ‘Roughs for the Theatre’, ‘Embers’, ‘Roughs for the Radio’, ‘Words and Music’, ‘Cascando’, ‘Play’, ‘Film’, ‘The Old Tune’, ‘Come and Go’, ‘Eh Joe’, ‘Breath’, ‘Not I’, ‘That Time’, ‘Footfalls’, ‘ Ghost Trio’, ‘...But the Clouds’, ‘A Piece of Monologue’, ‘Rockaby’, ‘Ohio Impromptu’, ‘Quad’, ‘Catastrophe’, ‘Nacht und Traume’ and ‘What Were’.
Of course it’s all too easy to try to read too much into Becket, as if everything he wrote is something very profound indeed; I believe one should read Becket with the thought in mind of the absurdity of existence and the emotional ‘incantation’ or rhythm of ‘being’; of the importance of sound and non-sound, of movement and non-movement, but let’s not get into philosophy and spoil an otherwise simple review, for the Dramatic Works are curiously interesting but their true appeal I believe lies in their performance where the full nuance of Becket, the magician can be appreciated. Very good!

Art of the Byzantine Era – by David Talbot Rice.

David Talbot Rice (1903-1972) is the English art historian who was an authority on Byzantine and Islamic art, a ‘sophisticated and complex art’ and this study published in 1963 looks at the East Christian World before Islam; the Eastern World from the seventh century, at Sicily and Venice and the revival under the Palaeologue Emperors... A fascinating journey through the sumptuous world of Byzantium!

Siegfried Sassoon Diaries, 1920-1922 – by Rupert Hart-Davies.

Volume two of the three volume collection of Siegfried’s diaries (1981-85) published in 1983 by Faber is edited and introduced by the well-known published and Editor Rupert Hart-Davies (1907-1999). Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), the English poet chiefly remembered for his First World War poetry and memoirs and for his encouragement of his fellow soldier poet Wilfred Owen whom he met at Craiglockhart while convalescing from ‘shell-shock’, fastidiously kept a diary all his life.
Sassoon’s war poetry is filled with the horrors he witnessed in the trenches and his own contempt for the ‘old school’ officers sending brave young men to their slaughter while they themselves sat cushioned from the Front, in luxurious chateaux’s drinking fine wine and enjoying all the comforts an upper-class up-bringing afforded! In my own opinion, those portly ‘walrus-whiskered’, backward thinking, murdering ‘Colonel Blimps’ should have been put against a wall and shot, or better still slowly disembowelled! But that is a very different review and a personal ‘old wound’ of one who still suffers a century later! These three volumes by Hart-Davis are an invaluable resource for future research and an absolute delight to read!

Futurism: The Story of a Modern Art Movement, A New Appraisal – by Rosa Trillo Clough.

Rosa Trillo Clough is the author of the classic work on Futurism: ‘Looking Back at Futurism’ (1942) and this ‘new appraisal’ published in 1961 takes a further in-depth look at the avant-garde art movement which began in Italy following the publication of Filippo Tommasa Marinetti’s ‘Manifesto of Futurism’ in 1909. Futurism claimed such artists as Luigi Russolo, Carlo Carra, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini amongst its ranks and Rosa Trillo Clough’s book is essential to anyone with the slightest interest in Futurism, art and art history! Tremendous!

A E Housman: A Critical Biography – by Norman Page.

Professor Page MA, PhD, FRSCan, has written an absorbing critical biography of Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936), the boy from Bromsgrove and author of the hugely popular collection of wistful poetry ‘A Shropshire Lad’ in 1896. This 1983 publication utilises various unpublished material and paints a picture of Housman, the Latin scholar of St John’s College, Oxford (1877-81) and later Professor of Latin at University College, London (1892-1911) and Trinity College, Cambridge (1911-1936), but Page fails in my opinion to make better use of the research materials available to him. But this is not to discredit Page for this is still a fine work. We are aware, as the great R P Graves is aware and has shown us magnificently in his classic biographical work ‘A E Housman the Scholar Poet’ of 1980, that Housman was driven creatively by his unrequited passion for the heterosexual Moses John Jackson (1858-1923) whom he met at Oxford, especially the early works of Housman between 1892 and 1895. He is there famously like the very blood in Housman’s veins, flowing:

‘He would not stay for me; and who can wonder?
He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand and tore my heart asunder
And went with half my life about my ways.’
[Additional Poems. VII]

And again, at their parting:

‘Shake hands, we shall never be friends, all’s over;
I only vex you the more I try.
All’s wrong that ever I’ve done or said,
And nought to help it in this dull head:
Shake hands, here’s luck, good-bye.
But if you come to a road where danger
Or guilt or anguish or shame’s to share,
Be good to the lad that loves you true
And the soul that was born to die for you,
And whistle and I’ll be there.’
[More Poems. XXX]

And of course:

‘Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you as I promised
To throw the thought away.’
[More Poems. XXXI]

Page keeps his chapters concise from the ‘Introduction: All that need be known’; through to ‘A Worcestershire Lad’, ‘Oxford’, ‘The Years of Penance’, ‘Picked out of the gutter’, ‘Cambridge I’, ‘Cambridge II’, ‘The Scholar’, ‘The Poet’ to the ‘Epilogue’ and captures all the defining moments of Housman’s life.
Housman dedicated his Introduction to his ‘Last Poems’ to Moses just before that man died in 1922: ‘I publish these poems, few though they are, because it is not likely that I shall ever be impelled to write much more. I can no longer expect to be revisited by the continuous excitement under which in the early months of 1895 I wrote the greater part of my first book’. Housman had rushed through the process of publication to send Moses a copy before his last breath took him from Housman forever. Moses responded two weeks later on 23rd November 1922 from the General Hospital in Vancouver. When Housman received it he traced over the faint pencil with ink to preserve it. In answer Housman write to ‘Dear Mo’ saying ‘you are largely responsible for my writing poetry and you aught to take the consequences.’ [Trinity College, Cambridge. 4 Jan. 1923] Unfortunately Moses died ten days later of stomach cancer on 14 January 1923 before receiving Housman’s letter.
Housman had always acted as a father to the older Moses and in a letter to his friend A W Pollard he writes as if Moses’ death has given him some sort of release: ‘Now I can die myself: I could not have borne to leave him behind me in a world where anything might happen to him.’ [17 Jan. 1923. Trinity College, Cambridge]
It was the heroic Moses who inspired Housman to always prove himself and his scholarship, to publish his poems and it was Moses who left a life-long impression on gentle Alfred as he buried himself in academic pursuits. Having failed to attain his degree at Oxford, no doubt to the beautiful distraction of walking and talking long into the night with Moses, Housman blamed himself bitterly and saw himself as a failure in the eyes of Moses. It was the desire and longing, and perhaps the hope, which drove him continually to prove himself and impress ‘Dear Mo’ whom he dearly and genuinely loved; a love, which had it have been returned, may possibly have denied the world his timeless elegiac poetry. It is the greatest love story, unfulfilled and of all the English poets it is Housman I admire the most and cherish his beautiful lyrics! Norman Page has added another jewel to the Housman crown!

Bauhaus 1919-1928 – by Herbert Bayer.

Bauhaus was founded in Weimar, Germany in 1919 by the German architect and designer Walter Gropius (1883-1969). This famous but short-lived art school established the relationship between fine art and applied art, or in other words, design and industrial techniques. The school aimed to unite the arts through the creative process between painters, sculptors and other crafts man and women. Gropius assembled a fine collection of artist-teachers at the school such as the painter and designer Johannes Itten (1888-1967), the painter and sculptor Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) and the painters Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Paul Klee (1879-1940). The Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau in 1924 to the iconic building designed by Gropius and an architectural department was established in 1927 with the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer (1889-1954) as it’s Professor. In 1928 Gropius resigned and his choice to replace him and continue the Bauhaus was the Marxist Meyer. It was the beginning of the end for the Bauhaus and Meyer was forced to resign. The great architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) replaced Meyer but it was too late and the school closed in 1932. But the Bauhaus has remained as a benchmark in the world of architecture, furniture production, textiles and lighting etc. and they are still influential today! Their non-decorative, geometrical designs appeal to modern society.
The old derelict Bauhaus building was restored in 1976 and still produces design works. Its heyday may have long since gone, but its historical context in the world of art and design is established and books such as this by Herbert Bayer (1900-1985) are faithful to the memory of its integrity, its intentions and its remarkable concept!

Sickert: Paintings – by Wendy Baron and Richard Shone.

Walter Richard Sickert (1860-1942) was a British painter, printmaker, critic and teacher born in Munich. The family settled in London in 1868 and young Walter was destined to follow his father’s and his grandfather’s footsteps and become an artist after an initial dalliance with the stage, touring with Sir Henry Irving’s company until 1881. He entered the Slade School of Art and became a pupil of Whistler. During 1883 he worked in Paris with Degas and from 1899-1905 he lived in Dieppe.
After his return to England in 1905 he became a huge influence to the Camden Town Group. Sickert’s style was quite eclectic, taking his influence from Whistler (tonal modulations) and from Degas, the use of photography in compositions. Some of his later works depicting scenes of Victorian life are quite rough and loosely worked but are considered praiseworthy for their ‘expressionistic’ quality. Sickert has also ludicrously been a suspect in the Jack the Ripper case, which is also a fascinating theory to consider and then ultimately dismiss! An enjoyable read!

Great French Paintings from the Barnes Foundation: Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Early Modern – by Richard Wattenmaker and Anne Distel.

The Barnes Foundation, a private collection of masterpieces has produced many great works of art from Renoir to Gauguin in this stunning publication from 1993. Dr. Albert C. Barnes established his Foundation in 1922 which was strictly access only to academics and students alike. Now we are able to see these monumental pieces for ourselves; with truly amazing reproductions of the art works this is surely a book to behold and inspire! But no photograph can produce the full glory of the original painting (or sculpture) as it is intended to be viewed so I would suggest making the effort to actually see these works of art but failing that this book still has the power to thrill!

The Haunting of Sylvia Plath – by Jacqueline Rose.

Published in 1991, ‘The Haunting of Sylvia Plath’ by the highly regarded academic writer Jacqueline Rose, can be viewed as a somewhat controversial study of the extraordinary American poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963). In it, Rose ‘accuses’ Plath’s husband, the English poet Ted Hughes (1930-1998) and interprets some of Plath’s poems in ways which Hughes’ was definitely portrayed in a negative light and made his anger known to Rose!
Professor Rose, a graduate from St. Hilda’s College, Oxford is a very fine writer and this critical analysis of Plath and her work will definitely stand the test of time and should not be overlooked! Highly rated!

Elizabeth Frink: A Portrait – by Edward Lucie-Smith.

The British sculptor Dame Elizabeth Frink (1930-1993) created some spectacular works of art, influenced initially by the angular sculptures of Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966). Throughout the 1960’s Frink’s figurative works which mainly consisted of horses and their riders, or male nudes, took on a less angular and masculine form and became more smooth and feminine, yet her work still contained aspects of the outrageous and the bizarre, for instance as can be seen in her ‘goggle-head’ sculptures. Her main medium was bronze and many of her commissioned works can still be seen in our towns and cities. This book, written in collaboration with Frink and published in 1994, the year following her death, is an excellent introduction to the world of this truly remarkable woman and artist!

Vanity Fair – by William Thackeray.

I have to confess I had misgivings about reading ‘Vanity Fair’ but something drew me to it, just as I had been drawn to its author many years ago when I was ‘drawn’ to a particular grave in a certain London cemetery, and looked down to find I was standing on the final resting place of William Thackeray!
Vanity Fair, the title is taken from John Bunyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ (1678 and 1684), by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) was published in 1848 and although it is subtitled ‘A Novel Without A Hero’ it becomes very obvious which characters are destined, if not to become heroes of the novel, then certainly to attain our sympathy and devotion as readers of this ‘soulless puppetry’, of Capitalist acquisition and Society. The story traces and follows the fortunes of two women: Amelia Sedley, the daughter of a wealthy merchant in the City, and Rebecca (Becky) Sharp, the poor orphaned daughter of a French opera dancer and an artist. Having both attended Miss Pinkerton’s Academy, Becky sets out to capture Amelia’s portly brother Jos for a husband, which machinations fails and so she becomes a governess to the children of a vulgar old ‘gentleman’ Sir Pitt Crawley, who following his poor wife’s death offers Becky his hand in marriage, who turns him down and confesses that she is already married to none other than Sir Pitt’s youngest son, the soldier Rawden Crawley. There is plenty of scorn and disapproval and the couple are shunned from society until Becky, a clever opportunistic schemer keeps Rawdon from utter social and financial collapse. As for Amelia, her father has succumbed to bankruptcy and the marriage between Amelia and George Osborne, a military man and son of a rich city magnate has been called off. Despite this, the two lovers secretly get married, persuaded by George’s loyal military friend William Dobbin, who himself has fallen in love with Amelia. When news of the marriage reaches the Osborne household George is disinherited.
The three soldiers, George Osborne, William Dobbin and Rawden Crawley set off for Belgium, with Amelia and Becky beside them; Becky becomes intimate with Amelia’s husband George and later at the Battle of Waterloo George is killed in action and he is held up as a saint by his good friend William Dobbin to Amelia, who has a baby son named George, after his father. The son and widow go to live with her parents in near destitute poverty while at the other end of the spectrum, Rawdon and Becky are the toast of society living on ‘nothing a year’! Amelia is forced to give up her son George to his grandfather and ten years on, the good, moral-natured and gentlemanly William Dobbin, who has been in India with the one thought possessing him, that of Amelia and his love for her. Rawdon discovers Becky and Lord Steyne in a most compromising situation and he strikes the elderly Lord (and comically wants to pursue a duel with that old fellow). After the duel is averted, Rawdon leaves Becky and he becomes Governor of Coventry Island before he dies of fever. Amelia, who has held her departed husband George as the highest and purest example of man and husband refuses Dobbin’s hand in marriage and when the awful and disreputable Becky appears once more on the scene, Dobbin fails to convince Amelia of Becky’s true nature and the two part but not on good terms. But one day, Becky confesses to Amelia about George being unfaithful to her following the marriage and Amelia’s eyes are now open and she realises that her husband was not the saintly image of a man she had venerated. Now that this obstacle to her affections to Dobbin is removed, she is free to accept his hand in marriage, but will he still wish to marry her?
There are some remarkable passages in the book concerning the ease in which we all may succumb to poverty: ‘You and I, my dear reader, may drop into this condition one day; for have not many of our friends attained it? Our luck may fail; our powers forsake us; our place on the boards be taken by better and younger mimes – the chance of life roll away and leave us shattered and stranded. Then men will walk across the road when they meet you – or, worse still, hold you out a couple of fingers and patronise you in a pitying way – then you will know, as soon as your back is turned, that your friend begins with a “Poor devil, what imprudence he has committed, what chances that chap has thrown away! Well, well – a carriage and three thousand a year is not the summit or the reward nor the end of God’s judgement of men.’ [Chapter xxxviii – ‘A family in a small way’]
And in chapter LI – ‘In which a charade is acted which may or may not puzzle the reader’, Thackeray mocks society, fashion and the elect who are invited to the elegant parties: ‘Dear brethren, let us tremble before those august portals. I fancy them guarded by grooms of the chamber with flaming silver forks with which they prong all those who have not the right of the entree. They say the honest newspaper-fellow who sits in the hall, and takes down the names of the great ones who are admitted to the feasts, dies after a little time. He can’t survive the glare of fashion long.’
Thackeray as the ‘narrator-observer’ has many a wise word to say on materialism, greed and avarice: ‘The hidden and awful Wisdom which apportions the destinies of mankind is pleased so to humiliate and cast down the tender, good, and wise; and to set up the selfish, the foolish, or the wicked. Oh be humble, my brother, in your prosperity! Be gentle with those who are less lucky, if not more deserving. Think, what right have you to be scornful, whose virtue is a deficiency of temptation, whose success may be a chance, whose rank may be an ancestor’s accident, whose prosperity is very likely a satire.’ [Chapter lvii ‘Eothen’]
Thackeray is particularly good on his accounts of the Battle of Waterloo scenes and its aftermath where scavengers, relic-hunters are picking their way amongst the dead for trinkets and souvenirs to sell!
Vanity Fair is such an astounding novel that it should be on every curriculum as an example of satire and irony within the novel form and as a mirror reflecting our own characteristics and the ugliness of the beast called ‘society’. Excellent!

John Keats: A Life – by Stephen Coote.

Stephen Coote, the author of several splendid biographies on such figures as Charles II, Samuel Pepys and Sir Francis Drake, has written a very worthy life of the English poet and romantic John Keats (1795-1821) in this 1995 publication. Coote makes excellent use of the extensive collection of Keats’ letters and gets behind his background as an apothecary and training as a surgeon before exploring his literary career. Personally, I place Keats above the heads of Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth and he is only equalled by that other English romantic Shelley. Like that other often neglected fellow, Shakespeare, the immortal spirit of Keats should pulse through the blood of every true English man and woman, but I fear scratch one and we now find certain specimens of cretin, the ‘Katies’ and the ‘Justins’ and other laxatives... * amongst the perpetual flow of insipid tweets and the Youtubed, Facebooked and Googled nonsense! Keats was one whose ‘name was writ in water’ but some dim entities perhaps would be better off drowned in it! Great book, great man!

[*Insert names at your leisure for other species of moron are available]

Ted Hughes: New Selected Poems 1957-1994.

These ‘New Selected Poems’ contain many of Ted Hughes works from his published collections with a scattering of uncollected poems too and this fine introduction by Faber and Faber published in 1995 will serve those well who are unfamiliar with the poet’s work. Now I am no great admirer of Hughes but I could never deny that he is one of the giants in the world of poetry; a mythological behemoth and you will discover something immense within this excellent volume!

Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life – by Paddy Kitchen.

This 1978 publication by the novelist, biographer and art critic Paddy Kitchen (1934-2005) tends to overlook much of Hopkins’ poetic work in favour of exploring his spiritual life and excavating his sexuality. Not that this is a bad thing to do for there is a huge interest in his private life which I also share but to give such little attention to his brilliant and quite revolutionary poetry is unforgivable! Nevertheless, being such a devotee of Hopkins I would not let such an act of literary incompetence mar my interest in Kitchen’s biography for she has added more kindle to the great man’s flame of immortality!
Hopkins (1844-1889) is a genuine poet who suffers greatly and that suffering is laid before us in those remarkable ‘terrible sonnets’ of despair and desolation, where he wakes to ‘feel the fell of dark, not day’, having made it through the ‘black hours’. He accepted his fallibility and his inability to find comfort in God, whose radiance appears only at a moment of revelation, not at our seeking it. There is no-one quite like Hopkins and Paddy Kitchen only polishes one facet of the man and I would suggest one reads this volume alongside another to get a better understanding of Hopkins the man and the poet!

John Lehmann: A Pagan Adventure – by Adrian Wright.

Published in 1998, Adrian Wright has written an intensely interesting account of the life of John Lehmann (1907-1987), the English novelist, poet, biographer and critic who has unfortunately fallen a little out of favour and become a literary footnote. Lehmann was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge and after a short time in Vienna, where he was no doubt pleasantly occupied in the pursuit of handsome young men, he returned to England and founded ‘New Writing’, a literary periodical in 1936. He also worked with Leonard and Virginia Woolf as a managing director of their Hogarth Press from 1938-1946 and his first book of poetry ‘A Garden Revisited’ was published with them in 1931. After founding ‘The London Magazine’ in 1954 which he edited until 1961, he published his three volumes of autobiography: Whispering Gallery (1955), I am my Brother (1960) and The Ample Proposition (1966). A further volume In the Purely Pagan Sense was published in 1976 and it is an account of Lehmann’s homosexual adventures which his previous autobiographies did not account for, written in the novel form. Sadly Lehmann has been eclipsed by many of his contemporaries such as Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender and W. H. Auden and in A Pagan Adventure, Wright attempts to shine the light towards Lehmann and in the process illuminates a fascinating man of literature. I enjoyed the book immensely and recommend it highly!

The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston – by Siegfried Sassoon.

The Complete Memoirs, originally published in 1937 and re-published in 1960 by Faber, comprises of Sassoon’s semi-autobiographical trilogy: ‘Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man’ (1928), ‘Memoirs of an Infantry Officer’ (1930) and ‘Sherston’s Progress’ (1936). George Sherston (Sassoon) as seen in these memoirs gives us the full background of his youth (Fox-Hunting), of his time at the Front during the First World War (Infantry Officer) and in the final volume we see Sherston at Craiglockhart Hospital suffering from shell-shock. He travels to Ireland and then he is posted to Palestine before being sent back to France and the awful horrors of the trenches.
Sassoon (1886-1967) is much more than a First World War poet, he is a very good prose writer and these volumes found in the ‘Complete Memoirs’ will greatly reward the reader for their effort!

A Little Learning: The First Volume of an Autobiography – by Evelyn Waugh.

‘A Little Learning’ published in 1964 was left incomplete (Waugh died two years later in 1966), but it does cover Waugh’s boyhood and education at Hertford College, Oxford. Unfortunately I have not read enough of Evelyn Waugh’s novels to yet praise him or condemn him but as a person I find him difficult to warm to. He was born in 1903 and following Oxford he worked as an assistant teacher, unhappily and his novels include: Decline and Fall (1928), Vile Bodies (1930), Scoop (1938) and the excellent Brideshead Revisited (1945). Good but wished he had finished it!

Lewis Carroll: A Biography – by Michael Bakewell.

Published in 1997, Michael Bakewell’s biography of Lewis Carroll – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898) is an exceptional work and he really lifts the lid on the reclusive, stammering Oxford don’s character with its two extraordinary surfaces: that of the perpetual child and that of the business-like author, very much aware of publication procedures and taking pains over the illustrations by Tenniel. All this, Bakewell suggests, stemmed from his ‘Rectory childhood’, in which he was unwilling or unable to escape. Bakewell, who presents us with a critically un-biased account of Carroll, is also not afraid to tackle the thorny subject of Carroll’s interest in little girls – we know of his deep attachment to Alice Liddell (he asked her mother for permission to marry her!) and her influence over him creatively, but there were dozens of other ‘little favourites’ to follow from the child actress Isa Bowman, to Enid Stevens and Gertrude Chataway!
Christ Church, Oxford afforded Carroll the seclusion and the security and no doubt the time to pursue his many interests from his love of the theatre, his distribution of pamphlets and other ‘activist’ work on such subjects as vivisection and of course his interest in photography, which perhaps is the most disturbing for us to read about in our modern era where child-like innocence has been brutally torn apart by fiends under the cloak of ‘celebrity’ and monsters who abuse and kill such innocence!
 However we view Carroll, we cannot help but judge him by our own observations of today for history has shown what horrors lurk in the minds of some men and women with unhealthy interests in children. It is the focus of every parent and every person who works alongside children to protect them. We would never think of behaving in such a deplorable manner as previous generations have done with ‘young people’ and certainly not as those parents or guardians did in Carroll’s day! If it happened now, who could afford to be so trusting after what we know? But having said that and whatever the real truth behind Carroll’s obsession, it may have been innocent and I dearly like to believe so! This is a fabulous book about an incredible author and scholar who created a lasting legacy with Alice and there we shall leave it, not ignoring the big question mark as to his motives, but not so blind that we can’t see beyond it for we can only see half a picture from many miles of time away!

An Examination of the ‘Borley Report’ – by Robert J. Hastings.

Published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, volume 55, part 201 in March 1969, the re-examination was authorised by the SPR in 1965 due to the damning report as given in ‘The Haunting of Borley Rectory’ by Eric J. Dingwall, K. M. Goldney and Trevor H. Hall. The member of the SPR who decided to hold the torch and defend the paranormal investigator Harry Price (1881-1948) was Robert J. Hastings.
Hastings suggests and in fact goes on to prove that much of the ‘Borley Report’ as it had become known, was biased and painted Price in an unfavourable light with allegations of deception and misconduct as an investigator. Hastings looks allegations made by the newspaper reporter Mr Charles Sutton and examines the testimony of Mrs. Smith (widow of the Reverend Guy Eric Smith who was appointed to the living at Borley in October 1928). This re-examination which came to be known as the ‘Hastings’ report claims that most of the negative allegations against Price are due to his handling of the Borley case and the publication of his two books on the subject ‘The Most Haunted House in England’ (1940) and ‘The End of Borley Rectory’ (1946), which were not meant to be treated as researchable evidence but were merely for the general public. ‘But since these writings and papers had been deposited by Price at the University of London library where they could have been consulted by researchers during his lifetime, it is obvious that Price himself could not have regarded them as incriminating.’ [introduction. Hastings Report. p 77-78]
Hastings goes on to look at the ‘curious matter of the medals’ found at the Rectory and the excavated bone fragments; he clears up some of the confusion surrounding the different versions of the Reverend L. A. Foyster’s ‘diary of the phenomena’ experienced at Borley by himself and his wife Marianne before tackling the mysterious nonsense of the ‘flying brick’ incident and other minor allegations. With further testimonies from Mr. G. P. J. L’Estrange, Price’s friend and fellow investigator who compiled notes and diagrams in his famous ‘locked book’; Mrs. Lloyd Williams (who claimed to see the nun), Miss Rosemary Williams (of Borley Lodge who saw the apparition of a female in the window of the Blue Room at Borley Rectory on 26 March 1939) and of course Mr. Charles Sutton’s 1950 testimony and a memorandum of an interview with Sutton by Dr. Alan Gould in 1966 with the reply by Dom. Richard Whitehouse, make the ‘Hastings Report’ a fascinating and eye-opening read and helps to clarify many of the claims and missed opportunities in presenting the evidence in the previous examination, the ‘Borley Report’. Marvellous!

Futurism – by Caroline Tisdall and Angelo Bozzollo.

Caroline Tisdall and Angelo Bozzollo have produced a really well researched and clear history of the futurist art movement and this is definitely one of the better books which let’s face it, pretty much says the same thing about Futurism with the same illustrations and the same biographical details of those remarkable artists within the movement. Not bad at all!

True Ghost Stories – by Hereward Carrington.

The Jersey born paranormal investigator and member of the Society for Psychical Research, Hereward Carrington (1880-1958) has written an absorbing volume of supposedly true ghostly tales published in 1915. He has written a fascinating introductory chapter where he presents some interesting theories and asks the all important question: what is a ghost? He then goes on to explain certain historic investigations before delighting us with his remarks on ‘experimental apparitions’, ‘telepathic hallucinations’ and how the soul can leave and enter the body; ‘physical manifestations’ and haunted houses are also on the agenda! In chapter two – ‘Phantasms of the Dead’ Carrington delves into some ‘true’ accounts such as ‘the invisible hand’ and the ‘apparition of the radiant boy’. Among other things we also find the ‘ghost of Hampton Court’ and the ‘great Amherst Mystery’. I particularly liked chapter five’s ‘alone with a ghost in a church’! With a scattering of a few historical ghosts and phantom armies seen in France to complete the appendix, I found this delightful old book as relevant now to me as it probably was a century ago! Good!

Glasgow Girls: Women in Art and Design, 1880-1920 – by Jude Burkhauser.

This lovely book by Jude Burkhauser captures all the excitement at the turn of the century, when Glasgow, with its emerging artists from the Glasgow School of Art really was the artistic centre of the world for a time! The flavour of the art was decidedly Art Nouveau but it was distinctive to Glasgow and became known as the ‘Glasgow style’. We can see examples of this in the work of that master artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) but this delightful book looks at the unsung women artists, the ‘Glasgow Girls’ of the title, for which Burkhauser redresses the balance, women such as: Margaret (1864-1948) and Frances (1873-1921) Macdonald; Jessie Newberry (1864-1948); Ann Macbeth (1875-1948); Annie French (1872-1965); Jessie M. King (1875-1949); Margaret Gilmour (1860-1942); Bessie MacNicol (1869-1904); Norah Neilson Gray (1882-1931) and Stansmore Dean (1866-1944). Excellent!

The Book of the Damned – by Charles Fort.

Published in 1919 by the American writer interested in ‘anomalous phenomena’, Charles Fort (1874-1932), the Book of the Damned looks at the world of weird and anomalous happenings from strange objects that fall from the sky to UFO’s, and it is the first volume on this subject to record such bizarre and ‘anomalistic’ phenomena. I have to admit that I found the first half of the book which deals with strange ‘falls’ such as fish and other objects rather dull and tedious and Fort’s writing style I found very wearisome and I almost gave up on it completely! But I stuck with it and once Fort began talking about Poltergeists and UFO’s he was on familiar ground with me and my interest grew. Yes it is a ponderous monster of a book with what are seemingly endless lists of anomalous phenomena broken only by Fort’s explanations and theories, such as his ‘Super-Sargasso sea’ where all earthly lost things are located and rain down back to earth! In my opinion there is not enough documentary evidence that can support the claims for the casual reader (or professional practitioner in the paranormal field) to research, yet it is nevertheless an important volume in the study of parapsychology and paranormal phenomena which has influenced much of the work associated to discovering the ‘unexplained’!

Lermontov – by Janko Lavrin.

Published in 1959, Janko Lavrin (1887-1986) has written a marvellous biography of the great Russian Romantic poet Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841), a poet second only to the heroic Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) in his native Russia! Lermontov, who is mostly known outside of Russia for his masterful novel ‘A Hero of our time’ (1840) is a fascinating ‘Byronic’ romantic figure and Lavrin has written the definitive life of this exceptionally talented writer!

Baudelaire – by Claude Pichois and Jean Ziegler.

Professor Claude Pichois (1925-2004), one of the greatest scholars in French literature, has written an excellent biography of the French poet and literary rebel Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). Published in 1987, Pichois and Ziegler have produced a splendid work on the notorious author of Les Fleurs du Mal (1857) who lived his life in excess and courted scandal and outrage through his poetic works and his views! A must read!

Byways of Ghost-Land – by Elliot O’Donnell.

Published in 1911 by the well-known prolific writer on the subject of ghosts, Elliot O’Donnell (1872-1965), ‘Byways of Ghost-Land’ is a remarkable little book which expounds O’Donnell’s theories on the supernatural. The author, if he is to be believed, has had experience of many psychic phenomena and because of these experiences he became a ‘ghost-hunter’. His works give many personal autobiographical examples of his experiences which really are astounding if true accounts for he has witnessed such horrific manifestations, according to him! Whatever your opinion is of O’Donnell’s experiences, the book itself is enthralling, particularly when he deals with chapters concerning ‘the unknown brain’, ‘the occult in shadows’ and ‘sylvan horrors’ where he explains his super-sensory experiences of trees and the spirits which inhabit them. O’Donnell believes trees (along with certain sites in the landscape such as long barrows and other graves, places of disturbed ‘aura’ through battle and death etc.) to have an organic intelligence which makes them capable of sensory feelings and like all ‘beings’ can leave an ‘impression’ (ghost) or have a ‘spirit’ form long after the tree has died. I must say I have always believed in something along these lines and found this chapter enlightening! Perhaps he could have gone into more detail and said more in his chapter on ‘Vampires, Were-wolves and Fox-women’ but on the whole I was far from disappointed with Mr. O’Donnell and his Byways of Ghost-Land! Very good!

The Screwtape Letters – by C. S. Lewis.

Charles Staples Lewis (1898-1963) published his ‘Screwtape Letters’ in 1942, a novel which introduces the reader to the characters of Screwtape, a senior demon, and his nephew Wormwood, in a series of letters between them. The letters, thirty-one in all, point out the human failings to which we all succumb and explain Christian doctrine and the notion of sin. Wormwood has the task of guiding a man, known only as the ‘patient’, towards Hell and the Devil, away from the grasp of the enemy – God! There is a lot of intellectual and theological discussion which is very interesting and also much to laugh about as it is essentially a satire on humanity and Christianity. Excellent!

W B Yeats: The Man and the Milieu – by Keith Alldritt.

Published in 1997, this is an exceptionally well written biography of the poet by the British novelist, biographer and critic, Keith Alldritt which places the great man in the context of the history around him, from the stifled atmosphere of the Victorian era through to the rebellious years of the early twentieth-century to the nineteen-thirties. Probing into his ‘hermetic’ background, Alldritt brings us a less familiar portrait of Yeats for we are presented with the image of an ambitious man of letters with a strong and decisive mind, not the picture we usually have of Yeats as a fairy-chasing, limp and dreamy aesthete! Alldritt discusses Yeats’ unrequited love for the beautiful Irish nationalist Maud Gonne (1866-1953) who so often became the poet’s muse in much of his work. Alldritt has thoroughly researched his subject with diligent passion and opens a new door on the world of W B Yeats and his love affairs in this outstanding biography! Definitely a book not to be missed for any admirer of the great Irish poet!

Robert Graves: Life on the Edge – by Miranda Seymour.

I have always found Graves, like many of his book subjects, a mythic man of colossal intellect, and Miranda Seymour’s biography, published in 1995 reveals, through five parts influenced by various women in his life, a complex character that walked his own path in life, following his muse! Robert Graves (1895-1985) was a remarkable writer of prose and poetry, from The Greek Myths to his experiences during the First World War – ‘Goodbye to all that’ (1929), Seymour has written an astonishingly good biography of Graves which will in turn surprise some and entrance others! Fantastic!

Birthday Letters – by Ted Hughes.

Ted Hughes’ long awaited collection of poetry published following his death in 1998 has had mixed receptions but ‘Birthday Letters’ finally sees a response from the usually reticent poet on the death of his wife, the American poet, Sylvia Plath (1932-1963). Ted Hughes (1930-1998) has always been painted as the monster in their relationship and blamed for much of Plath’s illness and disturbing behaviour and even her eventual suicide. Now I am no great admirer of Hughes but I do not deny his importance in the world of poetry or his strength as a poet but if it came to a shoot-out between Hughes and Plath I would side with Plath, but perhaps now this whisper from the silence, as it is, from beyond the grave, goes a little into completing the story of her sad death and their fiery marriage. Very good!

Lewis Carroll: A Biography – Morton N. Cohen.

The American author and scholar, Morton N. Cohen has written several works on Lewis Carroll and he is a fine authority on the subject and in this 1995 publication, he has achieved a defining moment in the art of biography! Lewis Carroll: A Biography is a heart-warming and often humorous account of the scholar, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), which leaves a lasting impression on the reader of an excellently researched and passionately written work of art! Mr Cohen has given us a magical glimpse through the looking glass of one of England’s greatest children’s writers! Marvellous!

The Idiot – by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Dostoyevsky’s novel, the Idiot, was first published serially from 1868-9 and it tells the story of Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin who arrives in St Petersburg after spending four years in a Swiss clinic for his epilepsy or his ‘idiocy’. It is difficult to condense the several plot lines into a short review but basically Prince Myshkin is a Christ-like figure, suffering from his epileptic condition and being thought of as an idiot by those who do not understand; he is also torn between two women: Nastaya (the impure woman) and Aglaia (the pure woman), but throughout the book and at its end, Myshkin proves to be an honest and a good man whose integrity does not falter! This is one of the great Russian novels and therefore highly recommended!

Henry Moore: The Human Dimension – by Lynton Norbert.

Professor Lynton Norbert (1927-2007) has presented us with a good selection of Henry Moore’s works in this 1991 publication. Taken from the exhibition of the same name by the Henry Moore Foundation, there are some lovely illustrations of the great man’s sculptures and illustrations such as Moore’s picture of his sister Mary (1925) and his ‘Mother and child on a sofa’ (1946). Personally I prefer to see Moore’s sculptural works set into a landscape, that’s how they work for me, the gallery is too confining and too clinical for his sculptured ‘organisms’ to breathe and exist, but whether you are an admirer of Moore and his work or not, you will probably find something of wonder in Mr Norbert’s book!

An Adventure – by Charlotte Anne Elizabeth Moberly and Eleanor Frances Jourdain.

‘An Adventure’ published in 1911 is an account by ‘Elizabeth Morison’ and ‘Frances Lamont’, pseudonyms of the authors Charlotte Anne Elizabeth Moberly (1846-1937) and Eleanor Frances Jourdain (1863-1924), respectively, which tells the story of their visit to the Petit Trianon, at the Palace of Versailles on 10th August 1901 where they found themselves in an enchanted landscape, a landscape peopled by figures from the eighteenth-century, including Marie Antoinette. If it were purely a case of seeing these figures in their eighteenth-century costumes one could be forgiven for assuming it to be some sort of masquerade, but the ladies found themselves in a landscape of gardens and buildings which were of a previous time. Moberly and Jourdain spent a lot of time researching the plans and architecture of the Petit Trianon and the history of Marie Antoinette and the court of the period and they found that on 10th August 1792, the Tuileries Palace in Paris was under siege and the King’s Swiss guards were massacred – six weeks later saw the abolishment of the monarchy!
I read the second edition of 1913 which includes maps and plans, such as the Jardin de la Reine in Trianon of 1780; the Plan du Jardin Anglais of 1783; the Plan des deux Trianons of 1835 and the diagram of Moberly and Jourdain’s route taken on that fateful day, 10th August 1901. I was so engrossed in this beautiful book that I read it all in one sitting, mesmerised! Tremendous!

Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics, from Plato to Wittgenstein – by Frank A. Tillman and Steven M. Cahn.

This huge volume, over seven-hundred pages, was published in 1969 by academics Tillman and Cahn and it takes a look at the fascinating world of art and aesthetics, from the Ancient Greeks and Romans with their perceptions of art, to the modern day. If I had the time and half a brain I would read it all over again! Interesting!

Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms – by Sally Festing.

This 1995 publication, a biography of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) by Sally Festing was unfortunately disappointing. Hepworth, a master of ‘form’, lived and breathed a strange alchemy of creating ‘forms’ in ‘space’ and sadly Festing has created nothing of real insight! I would definitely not recommend this book as it is a poor effort and not worthy to carry the artist’s name upon the cover!

Dylan Thomas: His Life and Work – by John Ackerman.

John Ackerman’s 1996 biography of Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) is a real work of love, tracing the poet’s connection to his beloved Welsh landscape of his birth, Swansea, Fernhill Farm, Blaen Cwm Cottage and Lougharne. Much acclaimed, ‘Dylan Thomas: His Life and Work’ is a joy from beginning to end!

D H Lawrence: Life into Art – by Keith M. Sagar.

Sagar can be considered an expert on Laurence and so we are certainly in safe hands. Published in 1985, Keith M Sagar, the author of several books on Laurence, has produced an outstanding biography of the author and poet which would grace any bookshelf! Very much recommended!

The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam.

Translated by scholars Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin and published in 1972, the Selected Poems is an excellent introduction to one of Russia’s greatest modern poets. Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) had a strange power with words, using concise stanzas which have a remarkable intensity, not unlike Akhmatova, Tsveteyeva and Pasternak. The Selected Poems will reward the reader with an eternal love for the magic of poetry! Beautiful!

Futurist Art and Theory 1909-1915 – by Marianne W. Martin.

Published in 1968, Marianne W. Martin adds another volume on Futurist art and theory to the increasing pile of books already on this subject and she does it very well! Memo to self: I must remember never to read any more works on Futurism ever again as I have already exhausted my capacity to feign surprise!

T. S. Eliot: The Man and His Work – by Allen Tate.

John Orley Allen Tate (1899-1979) the American poet and essayist has produced a fine biography of Eliot, published in 1967. But what is it about Eliot? Why are we still so fascinated by him and his work? Well, this biography by an author who just has too many damn names for his own good goes a little into prizing open the coffin lid to peep into the cracks and crevices, disturbing the poet’s bones and having a bloody good time with his stinking corpse! Read on!

W. B. Yeats: A Life – by Stephen Coote.

Published in 1997, this biography by Stephen Coote, sweeps away any misconceptions about the great Irish poet and discusses the huge influence Maud Gonne had on his life and work; the poet’s nationalistic pride and energy towards a new ‘free’ Ireland. Coote explores Yeats’ interest in the Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky, the ceremonial rites of the Hermetic Order of the Golden dawn and later his attraction to Spiritualism. Coote, educated at Magdalene College, Oxford, is the notable author of several biographical works, chiefly: William Morris, Samuel Pepys, Sir Francis Drake, Lord Byron and John Keats and he has become a writer of experience and intellectual criticism worthy of his subjects! Very good!

The Lord of the Rings – by J. R. R. Tolkien.

The Lord of the Rings comprises three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring; The Two Towers, and The Return of the King and it was published in 1954. It is a sequel to Tolkien’s The Hobbit, written between 1937 and 1949. It would be unwise to give a synopsis of the novel as it so well known but if by chance you are unfamiliar with the quest for the Ring and you should come by this book then you may find that it changes your life, so be warned! I was brought up in the same location which inspired Tolkien to write his novel and for me, the wonderful descriptions of nature were a joy to read and immersed me with thoughts of my childhood. One cannot help but fall under the influence of the Ring and be totally engulfed in the story and attached to the characters. A giant of fantastic literature and essential reading!

The Chronicles of Narnia – by C. S. Lewis.

Anyone who has ever read the ‘Chronicles’ will understand how deep they become embedded in one’s heart. The ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ are (and should be read in this order): The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), Prince Caspian (1951), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), The Silver Chair (1953), The Horse and the Boy (1954), The Magician’s Nephew (1955) and The Last Battle (1956). These delightful, thought-provoking and magical stories are beyond the banality of a review, they are wonderful, so obtain them, read them, enter their world and unlock another chamber of your soul!

Fathers and Sons – by Ivan Turgenev.

Turgenev’s 1862 novel tells the story of Arkady Kirsanov, who returns home to his father, Nikolai, after graduating from the |University of St. Petersburg. Arkady is accompanied by his friend Bazarov, a medical student and both men are exponents of ‘nihilism’. They both become attracted to Madame Anna Odintsova; Bazarov declares his love for her, but she does not respond to him. The two fellows head to Bazarov’s parents and almost fight each other following a joke; they go back to Madame Odintsova’s and return to Arkady’s family home, Maryino. Arkady leaves and falls in love with Odintsova’s sister Katya; they get engaged. Arkady’s bourgeois brother Pavel and Bazarov fight a duel, leaving Pavel with a leg wound. Bazarov, while performing an autopsy, cuts himself and eventually dies of blood poisoning the next day. Arkady and Katya get married! Turgenev at his best!

The Nest of the Gentry – by Ivan Turgenev.

Published in 1859, ‘Nest of the Gentry’ by Ivan Turgenev is the story of Fyodor Ivanych Lavretsky who is brought up by his wicked aunt. He studies in Moscow and notices a beautiful woman at the opera named Varvara Pavlovna; they marry and live in Paris but Varvara begins an affair. Fyodor discovers the betrayal and returns home to his family estate. Varvara dies and Fyodor is then free to marry his cousin’s daughter, Liza, but before this can take effect, Fyodor finds his ‘dead wife’ very much still alive and at his family estate! Liza, hearing this, spends the rest of her life in a convent as a nun! How can it fail to entertain? It doesn’t fail and is simply beautiful! Enjoy!

Ghosts I Have Seen and other Psychic Experiences – by Violet Tweedale.

‘Ghosts I have seen’, published in 1919 is a fascinating account of the many strange and wondrous experiences which occurred to a very remarkable lady. The author, the novelist and poet Violet Tweedale (1862-1936), born in Scotland, had the profound ability to see and sense ‘ghosts’ as well as seeing people’s auras. She had interests in Theosophy (she counted H. P. Blavatsky as one of her friends) and Spiritualism and she was also a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Isis-Urania Temple) which she joined in September 1889. With over three-hundred pages and twenty-four chapters each with its own delightfully enticing title, such as ‘Silk Dress’ and ‘Rumpus’; The Ghost of Broughton Hall; Pompey and the Duchess; I Commit Murder; The Angel of Lourdes, and The New Jean D’Arc, ‘Ghosts I have seen’ is a wonderfully engrossing volume of factual psychical experiences by a woman of society who seemed to have known absolutely everybody worth knowing! Mesmerising!

The City of the Soul – by Lord Alfred Douglas.

Published in 1899 (I read the third edition of 1911). I would say this is a collection of Douglas’s best compositions: ‘The City of the Soul’, ‘The Ballad of Saint Vitus’, ‘Wine of Summer’, ‘Ode to Autumn’, ‘Two Translations from Baudelaire’, ‘Perkin Warbeck’, ‘The Garden of Death’, ‘The Sphinx’, ‘To Shakespeare’, ‘A Summer Storm’, ‘Jonquil and Fleur-De-Lys’, ‘Rejected’ and ‘Ode to my Soul’.
It is no secret that I detest Douglas for his part in the great man’s downfall but City of the Soul has some fine youthful ballads with a hint of passion for the craft, if shrouded in his admiration and affinity with Baudelaire, although there is no evil or even dark wanderings through his verse, just a mere boy hanging onto the coat-tails of the genius Wilde who he destroyed! Mildly amusing!

Beyond the Borderline of Life – by Gustavus Myers.

Published in 1910, ‘Beyond the borderline of life’ is a comprehensive study of the advances made and the acceptance by leading scientists of the day of Psychical Research; eminent scientists such as: Professor William James (1842-1910) of Harvard University; Professor Giovanni Virginio Sciaparelli (1835-1910) the astronomer; Professor Pio Fao (1848-1923) the pathological anatomist; Professor Angelo Mosso (1846-1910); Camille Flammarion (1842-1925); Professor Charles Richet (1850-1935) the physiologist, and professor Pierre Janet (1859-1947) to name a few.
Gustavus Myers (1872-1942) looks at some remarkable cases such as Professor Filippo Bottazzi (1864-1941) and the medium Eusapia Paladina (1854-1918); Professor Hugo Munsterberg’s (1863-1916) exposure of the fraudulent behaviour of Paladino along with Hereward Carrington’s (1880-1958) reply to the accusation. There is also an interesting section on ‘concordant automatisms’ or ‘cross correspondences’ in which various mediums: Mrs Leonora Piper (1857-1950), Margaret Verrall and her daughter Helen attempt to communicate with the spirit of Frederic W. H. Myers (1843-1901), the founder of the Society for Psychical Research, and Dr. Richard Hodgson (1855-1905). Myers investigates the nature of phenomenon such as telepathy, clairvoyance, automatic writing, materialization and levitation and there is a brief background introduction into the history of the SPR and its pioneer investigators: Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913), Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940), Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900) and Edmund Gurney (1847-1888). All in all this is a very enjoyable and informative read!

Inferences from Haunted Houses and Haunted Men – by John William Harris.

This slim book (at only eighty-seven pages) was published in 1901 by John William Harris (1849-1932) and he takes an in depth look at thought transference and finds a close link between the senses of hearing and sight during this state of ‘hypnosis’. He cites Miss Ada Goodrich Freer and John Crichton-Stuart’s book ‘The Alleged Haunting of B____ House’ (1899) which examines the haunting of Scotland’s most haunted house, Ballechin House in Perthshire, looking at the audible phenomena and making the assumption that it is all or mostly linked to ‘hypnotic telepathy’ causing the individuals to experience ‘hallucinations’. I found his conclusions, interesting yet hard to believe as he states hypnotism from a distance plays upon the chronological ‘historical’ connection and in turn causes fraudulent physical phenomena. While I have no doubts as the efficacy of hypnotism it cannot explain all the so-called ‘haunted house’ phenomena such as apparitions. The author states that ‘in intercourse with other people, some effort is commonly made to secure their attention; this no doubt is connected with the greater facility for causing one’s own apparition to be presented.’ [p. 50] while such theories have an element of scientific fact it cannot justify perceived phenomena and Miss A. G. Freer (1957-1931), herself a very interesting character, cannot be wholly reliable.

The Haunted Hour: An Anthology – by Margaret Widdemer.

Published in 1920, this huge volume of poetry on the theme of ghosts and haunting includes such worthy poems as: Walter De La Mare’s ‘the Song of Soldiers’ and ‘the Listeners’; Longfellow’s ‘the Phantom Ship’, ‘Haunted Houses’ and ‘the Beleaguered City’; Amy Lowell’s ‘Haunted’; Christina Rossetti’s ‘After Death’; A. E. Housman’s ‘the True Lover’; W. B. Yeats’ ‘the Folk of the Air’ and Walter Scott’s ‘the Eve of St. John’.
Reading Margaret Widdemer’s anthology was sadly more a chore than a joy and I thought her choice of verse and authors could have been better represented. Disappointing!

Historic Ghosts and Ghost Hunters – by Henry Addington Bruce.

This 1908 publication by the American author and journalist Henry Addington Bruce (1874-1959) is a nice little collection of actual well-known ghostly encounters which begins with the famous case known as the Devils of Loudun before going on to the Drummer of Tedworth; the Haunting of the Wesleys; the Visions of Swedenborg; the Cock Lane Ghost; the Ghost seen by Lord Brougham; the Seeress of Prevorst; the Mysteries of Mr Home; the Watseka Wonder; a Medieval Ghost Hunter, and finally Ghost Hunters of Yesterday and To-day. From all the evidence the author draws his conclusions and states regretfully that most if not all of the strange phenomena can be said to have been caused by human agency and not the shades of the dead, such as children playing tricks on adults or telepathic hypnotic suggestion which he fully believes in.
Looking back over the century from our current standpoint we can see the enormous leaps forward in psychical science which utilises modern technology to capture evidence. We are still young in the world of the paranormal and what happens after we die but I foresee a day when evidence will reveal conclusive proof of the existence of the spirit, a conversation with a visible full-body apparition, now wouldn’t that be something! An enjoyable read!

The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook – by Sandy Robertson.

First published in 1988, the Aleister Crowley Scrapbook has a forward by the late Colin Wilson and includes numerous interesting photographs of the Great Beast and some of those around him such as Allan Bennett and S. L. MacGregor Mathers. There is also a fascinating account: ‘A Memoir of 666’ by Alan Burnett-Rae and sections on Crowley’s art, his Abbey of Thelema, and his influence in the world of film and music. All in all this is a great little book!

The Nightside of Nature or Ghosts and Ghost Seers (Volume I) – by Catherine Crowe.

This 1848 publication was fantastically popular at the time and its author the English novelist Catherine Crowe (1803-1876) draws many parallels with German philosophers on the subject of ghosts, haunting and the spirit after death, great thinkers such as: Dr. Kerner, Dr. Stilling, Dr. Werner, Dr. Escenmayer, Dr. Ennemoser, Dr. Passavent, Dr. Scubert, Dr. Von Meyer... a lot of doctors! Within these 446 pages Crowe covers: the Dweller in the Temple; Waking and Sleeping and how the Dweller in the Temple sometimes looks abroad; Allegorical Dreams, Presentiments; Warnings; Double Dreaming and Trance; Wraiths; Doppelgangers or Doubles; Apparitions, and ending with the Future that awaits us. Crowe takes a scientific approach with an open and enquiring mind and includes countless examples of actual cases within her text to build up her argument for better scientific research into such phenomena. The fact that only six years later in February 1854 Crowe was found walking through the streets of Edinburgh, naked, believing that the spirits enabled her to become invisible is neither here nor there and does not diminish the intellectual integrity of the author for she recovered from her temporary insanity! The Nightside of Nature is a marvellous achievement and completely fascinating if you are of a paranormal persuasion!

The Nightside of Nature or Ghosts and Ghost Seers (Volume II) – by Catherine Crowe.

Also published in 1848 Catherine Crowe continues in much the same brilliance as she does in her first volume and with the 404 pages she looks at: the Power of Will; Troubled Spirits; Haunted Houses; Spectral Lights and Apparitions attached to certain families; Apparitions seeking the prayers of the living; the Poltergeist of the Germans and Possession; Miscellaneous Phenomena and the Conclusion. Although both volumes were printed at a time when study in the paranormal was very young Crowe is very forward thinking and open to explanations and awaiting new discoveries; she is not set in her ways when it comes to belief in the afterlife and ghosts as she complains many of the British thinkers and scientists are, she, like her German counterparts only wish to reveal the truth and part of that insight is to be open to explore every notion no matter how absurd it may seem. With this attitude in mind Crowe became an important ambassador for the study of Psychical Research and her two volumes are still very impressive reading today! Excellent!

Fiends, Ghosts and Sprites including an account of the origin and nature of belief in the supernatural – by John Netten Radcliffe.

The English surgeon and President of the Epidemiological Society, John Netten Radcliffe (1826-1884) published this curious volume in 1854 and it covers a world of fascinating supernatural beings and myths which he categorises with interesting details, giving many accounts from actual cases. Radcliffe discusses such things as: natural phenomena, Greek and Roman deities; Hindoo, Persian, Chinese and Tahitian deities; mythological conceptions; Socrates; the deification of men; mythologies from scripture; image worship; apparitions; hobgoblins, boggards, charms, omens, hallucinations and dreams... The author inserts examples of poetic allusions to strange and wondrous beings from Milton and Shakespeare etc and there is certainly enough here to hold the interest and perhaps instigate further research in other directions! Good.

Magick without Tears – by Aleister Crowley.

First published in 1954, seven years after Crowley’s death, Magick without Tears has a forward by Karl Germer who edited the book, a book which was to be the last book written by the great occultist Aleister Crowley and it shows the extraordinary lucid, pure and piercing mind the author had right up to the end of life. The book is a fascinating and revealing collection of eighty letters on various magical, philosophical and spiritual subjects to enquiring students covering many themes from: What is Magick? The Qabalah: the best training for memory; the Secret Chiefs; sex morality; the elastic mind; and vampires, to the Gods: how and why they overlap! Magick without Tears is very insightful and essential reading material for any student of magick or Thelema written in a plain, understandable format. A classic of magical literature!

Ulysses – by James Joyce.

Joyce’s comic masterpiece was published in Paris in 1922 (after being serialized in the New York magazine ‘The Little Review’ in 1918) and the novel takes us through the events of just one day in Dublin on Thursday 16th June 1904 and through to the early hours of Friday morning where the sights and smells of that grand old city really come to life. In the first three sections (there are eighteen sections comprising the book, each written in its own style depending on the character and their mood etc) we meet the artistic character of Stephen Dedalus, a teacher who we also met in Joyce’s previous work ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’; we also meet the main protagonist Leopold Bloom (Poldy), a Jewish advertising salesman, a modern-day Ulysses wandering the streets of Dublin on some very ordinary yet epic quest. And then of course there is Leopold’s ‘adulterous’ wife Marion Bloom (Molly) who is often talked about but who we don’t really meet until the final moments of the novel.
This extremely difficult yet rewarding novel was considered obscene in England and America but it was eventually hailed as a modern classic of experimental literature which utilises the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique and shows Joyce the literary genius at his erudite best. But the glory of the novel is left to the wonderfully earthy ‘Goddess’ as Molly gives her famous soliloquy, a tour de force unbroken stream of unpunctuated, rambling thoughts and emotions beautifully interspersed with that simple yet effective ‘yes’; a rich and frank and yes sexually explicit but beautiful and Molly is only atoms away from being actual flesh and walking from the page in this astonishing magical invocation of a character – ‘...when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.’ Sometimes baffling and bewildering but breathtakingly brilliant!

The Law is for All – by Aleister Crowley, edited by Israel Regardie.

First published in 1975, The Law is foe All is a collection of Crowley’s old and new comments on Liber Al vel Legis, the Book of the Law which was received by Crowley on three consecutive days (8-10 April) in 1904. The book holds a particular appeal for me as it was my first real encounter with the Book of the Law and the first time I saw the reproduced facsimile of the original manuscript in Crowley’s hand and of course the colour plates of the Stele of Revealing. Regardie does great work in editing the book, bringing the comments together in order to better understand the complex nature of this the most Holy of Thelemic texts. There are other books available but The Law is for All is a very good source book and still probably the best we have at the moment. An essential companion to the understanding of the Law of Will!

The Secret Book of the Black Arts – by Henry T Williams.

Published in 1878, ‘The Secret Book of the Black Arts’ or to give it its full title: ‘The Secret Book of the Black Arts containing all that is known upon the Occult Sciences of Daemonology, spirit rappings, Witchcraft, sorcery, astrology, palmistry, mind reading, spiritualism, table-turning, ghosts and apparitions, omens, luck and un-lucky signs and days, dreams, charms, divination, second sight, mesmerism, clairvoyance, psychological fascinations etc. also giving full information about the Wonderful Arts of Transmuting Base to Precious Metals and the Actual Manufacture of the Precious Gems such as Jasper, Ruby, Emerald, Onyx, Amethyst, Sapphire, etc. etc. together with a mass of other matter giving inner views of the arts and sciences whether recondite and obscure, or plain and practical.’ The book covers quite a lot in its 228 pages and the author Henry T Williams cites such classic tomes as: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, published 1776-89, The Discoverie of Witchcraft by Reginald Scott (1584) and De Praestigiis Daemonum by Wierus [Johann Weyer] (1563), but apart from the chapters on witchcraft I found the monotonous pages devoted to divination in all its forms and the sections on mind reading and fortune telling quite dull and although the book’s title speaks of ‘dark arts’ and ‘demonic doings’ there is very little to get excited about; more a sheep in wolf’s clothing and Henry T Williams, what does the ‘T’ stand for: ‘tiresome’, is better known for his gentle writings on travel, homes and gardens! A curious book, yes but only ‘mildly grey’!

Diary of a Drug Fiend – by Aleister Crowley.

Published in 1922, this is Crowley’s first novel and it concerns his true accounts of drug taking and his Thelemic theories on addiction and cure. In the story we meet Sir Peter Pendragon, an ex medical student who has attained a great fortune through his inheritance. Peter meets and falls in love with Louise Laleham and they both explore the delights of cocaine. They eventually marry and spend their honeymoon travelling through Europe where their drug intake escalates. Back in England they suffer financial difficulties and become drawn into the world of magick. Peter attempts to take his own life and Louise takes care of him as he recovers. With no end in sight they both decide to end their lives together by swallowing Prussic acid but they meet with Basil King Lamus (Crowley) who decides to help the unfortunate couple conquer their addictions. The novel is divided up into three ‘books’: I ‘Paradiso’, II ‘Inferno’ and III ‘Purgatorio’ and it contains accounts of Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema. A very interesting story capturing those drug-fuelled days of the twenties with some fascinating glimpses into Crowley’s Thelemic doctrines!

Moonchild – by Aleister Crowley.

Crowley’s novel was published in 1923 and it is the story of a young woman named Lisa la Giuffria, a thinly disguised Mary D’Este (Soror Virakam) who assisted Crowley with the writing of his Book 4 (Magick in Theory and Practice); she falls in with a character named Cyril Grey, a white magician based on Crowley and together they do magical battle against a black magician and his fellow magicians. Cyril has desires to bring about the conception of a ‘moonchild’, a spiritual being who will influence the future of humanity and the fate of the earth, but the black magician wishes to prevent the moonchild from being born. Surprisingly good!

Some Haunted Houses of England and Wales – by Elliott O’Donnell.

Published in 1908 this fine book contains a good selection of lesser known ghostly phenomena from poltergeists to spectral animals. Mr O’Donnell presents the facts of such haunting as: The Green Bank Hotel (Bardsley), No: ___ Southgate Street (Bristol), Mulready Villa (near Basingstoke), No: __ Park Street (Bath), The Minery (Devon), Thurlow Hall (near Exeter), the Guilsborough Ghost, Wolsey Abbey (near Gloucester), No: XYZ (Euston Road, London), Panmaur Hollow (Merioneth), Catchfield Hall (the Midlands), Burle Farm (North Devon), Carne House (near Northampton), Harley House (Portishead), the Way Meadow (Somerset) and No: __ Hackham House (Swindon). The appendix looks at the screaming woman of Tehiddy and Park House (Westminster).
Elliott includes some really good spine-tingling paranormal cases that he has either experienced for himself or received through statements by witnesses. The accounts are not too long and hold one’s attention throughout and Elliott O’Donnell has a reassuringly comfortable and intimate manner in relating his stories. Very good!

The Ghost World by T. F. Thistleton Dyer.

The Reverend Thomas Firminger Thistleton Dyer MA(1848-1928) has written a valuable and insightful book on the subject of what happens to the soul after death. Published in 1893, The Ghost World attempts to throw some light on such perplexing matters as: the soul’s exit from the body; why ghosts wander; phantom lights, headless ghosts; raising and laying ghosts; ghosts of the drowned; ghost seers and second sight; compacts between the living and the dead; the Banshee, sea phantoms; haunted houses and localities, wraiths and haunted trees etc. Thistleton Dyer has written extensively on folk-lore and he approaches the subject with enthusiasm and a scholarly mind which all in all makes this a delightful book indeed!

Finnegans Wake – by James Joyce.

Published in 1939, Joyce’s extremely difficult novel relates the dreams of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, a Dublin tavern-keeper, his wife Anna Livia Plurabelle and their three children: Shem, Shaun and Isabel through the course of a Dublin night. Joyce’s revolutionary style utilises portmanteau words, neologisms, allusions and puns which rise and fall in a cyclical pattern throughout the four parts of the ‘wake’. I had great expectations about this as it has been on my list of books to read since my fascination for literature began as a boy and I had so enjoyed Joyce’s phenomenal classic ‘Ulysses’, but alas, from the first page frustration set in and joy turned to anger and the most difficult book in the English language was about to claim another victim! Nevertheless, sheer will power alone gave me the strength to turn those deplorable pages of this huge literary enema and despite wanting to resurrect the decomposing corpse of the Irish man of letters and mangle and desecrate it into oblivion and damn his soul to hell to boot, I made it to the end and rejoiced and celebrated life and regretted the countless hours and days devoted to this soul-destroying, nonsensical, tongue-twisting nightmare of a novel! Never again!

Beautiful Wales – by Edward Thomas.

Having purged myself of the foul taste in my mouth which was Finnigans Wake I sought a sweeter elixir and who better to go to than the wonderful Edward Thomas. Beautiful Wales, published in 1905 is the result of one of the poet’s walking tours in that most glorious country. Thomas sets the tone with his preliminary remarks on men, authors and things in Wales and talks of entering Wales before delighting us with his masterful descriptions in such chapters as ‘a Farmhouse under a mountain, a fire, and some firesiders’ and ‘Two Ministers, a bard, a schoolmaster, an Inn Keeper, and others’ before looking at Wales month by month. The book has 74 colour landscape illustrations by the renowned Scottish artist Robert Fowler (1853-1926) which really are magical and together with the author’s keen eye for nature and historical details and folk myths, makes a truly wonderful reading experience.
Here is Thomas writing on pages 166-167 about a lane he turned into near Lake Llyn-y-Fan Fach ‘of which more than twenty yards were seldom visible at one time; and I lost sight of everything else. Tall hedgerow elms and orchard trees held blue fragments of the sky among their leaves and hid the rest. Here and there was a cottage among the trees, and it seemed less the work of human hands than the cordon and espalier trees, apple and pear, and the fan-shaped cherry on the wall, with glowing bark. July, which had made the purple plum and the crimson bryony berry, had made it also, I thought. The lane was perhaps long enough to occupy an hour of the most slow-paced tranquil human life. Even if you talked with every ancient man that leaned on his spade, and listened to every young linnet that was learning to sing in the hazels, you could not spend more than two hours in passing along it. Yet, more than once, as I was pausing to count the white clusters of nuts or to remind myself that here was the first pale-blue flower of succory, I knew that I took up eternity with both hands, and though I laid it down again, the lane was a most potent, magic thing, when I could thus make time as nothing while I meandered over my centuries, consulting many memories that are as amulets. And even as I walked, the whole of time was but a quiet, sculptured corridor, without a voice, except when the tall grasses bowed and powdered the nettles with seed at my feet. For the time I could not admit the existence of strident or unhappy or unfortunate things. I exulted in the knowledge of how cheaply purchased are these pleasures, exulted and was yet humiliated to think how rare and lonely they are, nevertheless. The wave on which one is lifted clear of the foam and sound of things will never build itself again. And yet, at the lane’s end, as I looked back at the long clear bramble curves, I will confess that there was a joy (though it put forth its hands to an unseen grief) in knowing that down that very lane I could never go again, and was thankful that it did not come rashly and suddenly upon the white highroad, and that there is no such thing known to the spirit as a beginning and an end. For not without cool shadow and fragrance was the white highroad.’
Thomas the poet is recognisable throughout this excellent work and the soul and the heart feel richer for having read ‘Beautiful Wales’!

Ionica – by William Johnson Cory.

First published in 1858, the collection of poems comprises 48 suitably sentimental verses by the little known poet (who composed the ‘Eton Boating Song’ in 1865) William Johnson Cory (1823-1892). Cory, born in Great Torrington, attended Eton and Cambridge and went on to become a Master at Eton. The poems were re-published in 1877 as ‘Ionica II’ with a further 25 poems and then in 1891 ‘Ionica’ was again published containing most of the poems from the previous books plus new poems comprising in total 85 poems. I read the 1905 third edition with a very good biographical introduction and notes to the poems by Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925), a fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. Many would probably find Cory dry and over sweet for today’s taste but I have to say I was drawn to his enthusiasm and passion for the art of the lyric ballad and found him somewhat like Housman, a brilliant Latin scholar but without the poetic guts: ‘Oh mortal, too dear to me, tell me thy choice, /Say how wouldst thou die, and in dying rejoice?’ (Melliren. 1860) and again from the same poem: ‘Whatever thy death may be, child of my heart, /long, long shall they mourn thee that see thee depart.
There has been much said on Cory’s passion for childhood and particularly his delight in the company of young boys but I could find nothing distasteful to stain his character except his annoying (and to me nauseating) mawkish meandering poems to children such as: ‘Two fragments of childhood’, ‘A study of boyhood’ and ‘To two young ladies’ etc. Carrollean whispers aside, there is enough stirring sentiment to satisfy the most steadfast and enthusiastic of bed-wetter who has not yet felt the gentle touch of a good woman, or indeed a bad one; nor felt the strong and passionate embrace of some young Hercules, but it is with the immortal line which begins Cory’s translation of Callimachus’s (310-240 BC) ‘Heraclitus’ which rings like a passing bell in the distant lands of death: ‘They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,’ – Cory is no Keats but I would rate him highly as an interesting and delightful read!

The Collected Poems of Lord Alfred Douglas.

There are some interesting pretentions to poetry contained in this 1919 publication and a few almost quite good poems such as ‘The Dead Poet’ (1901), ‘Dies Amara Valde’ (1902) and this from ‘To a Silent Poet’:

‘Didst thou compel the sun, the stars, the sea,
Harness the garden horses of the spheres,
And make the winds of God thy charioteers
Along the roads of immortality?’

The book also contains his celebrated ‘The City of the Soul’ which is no ‘Les Fleurs du mal’ (1857) but attempts to make a passable impression of being so. Douglas is a despicable pretender; a Judas and it is hard to find real passion in anything he does because being such a minor talent dining-out on the fact that he crucified the greatest literary intellect of his time and continues dirtying the already stained sheets of their mythological relationship by saying that he loved Wilde is hard to accept. Despite his loathsome and festering soul crawling leech-like over everything that was decent and blackening it by his touch he has become part of literary history and must be tolerated even if he cannot be truly honest about his accounts with Wilde. A mediocre poet with a few almost good poems under his belt!

The Icknield Way by Edward Thomas.

This beautiful book published in 1913 with eight colour and fifty-one line illustrations in the text by A. L. Collins traces Thomas’s walk along probably the most ancient of track ways in Britain. Once the author gets over the initial lengthy history, myth and tradition of the route and sets out on his walk the reader actually experiences all the delights of the outdoors through the poet’s keen descriptive powers: ‘The old lady who lived in the cottage next door said, as if she were stating a well-known fact in the natural history of Ashbury, that she had no apples, that they were very troublesome to knock down, that none had fallen from the trees during the day, and that – she was perfectly certain – there would be none until the morrow. On the morrow I hoped to be many miles from Ashbury, and so I wished her a good afternoon in spite of the rigid sabbatarianism of her trees.’ (p. 297)
 The ten day walking route takes Thomas from: Thetford to Newmarket by Lackford and Kentford; Newmarket to Odsey by Ickleton and Royston; Odsey to Edlesborough by Baldock, Letchworth, Ickleford, Leagrave and Dunstable; Edlesborough to Streatley on the Upper Icknield Way by Wendover, kimble, Whiteleaf, Gypsies ‘ Corner, Ipsden and Cleeve; Ivinghoe to Watlington on the Lower Icknield Way by Aston Clinton, Weston Turville, Chinnor and Lewknor; Watlington to Upton by Ewelme, Wallingford, Little Stoke, the Papist Way, Lollingdon, Aston and Blewbury; Streatley to Sparsholt on the Ridgeway by Scutchamer, Knob and Letcomb Castle; Sparsholt to Totterdown on the Ridgeway by White Horse Hill and Wayland’s Smithy; Streatley to East Hendred by Upton and Hagbourne Hill Farm; East Hendred to Wanborough by Lockinge Park, Wantage, Ashbury and Bishopstone.
The book shows Thomas the prose writer also as Thomas the poet for there are many passages which read like poetry, for example here is what Thomas has to say at the end of a day’s walk as he listens to the rain outside: ‘I lay awake listening to the rain, and at first it was as pleasant to my ear and my mind as it had long been desired; but before I fell asleep it had become a majestic and finally a terrible thing, instead of a sweet sound and symbol. It was accusing and trying me and passing judgement. Long I lay still under the sentence, listening to the rain, and then at last listening to words which seemed to be spoken by a ghostly double beside me. He was muttering: the all-night rain puts out summer like a torch. In the heavy, black rain falling straight from invisible, dark sky to invisible, dark earth the heat of summer is annihilated, the splendour is dead, the summer is gone. The midnight rain buries it away where it has buried all sound but its own. I am alone in the dark still night, and my ear listens to the rain piping in the gutters and roaring softly in the trees of the world. Even so will the rain fall darkly upon the grass over the grave when my ears can hear it no more. I have been glad of the sound of rain, and wildly sad of it in the past; but that is all over as if it had never been; my eye is dull and my heart beating evenly and quietly; I stir neither foot not hand; I shall not be quieter when I lie under the wet grass and the rain falls, and I of less account than the grass. The summer is gone, and never can it return. There will never be any summer any more, and I am weary of everything. I stay because I am too weak to go. I crawl on because it is easier than to stop. I put my face to the window. There is nothing out there but the blackness and sound of rain. Neither when I shut my eyes can I see anything. I am alone. Once I heard through the rain a bird’s questioning watery cry – once only and suddenly. It seemed content, and the solitary note brought up against me the order of nature, all its beauty, exuberance, and everlastingness like an accusation. I am not a part of nature. I am alone. There is nothing else in my world but my dead heart and brain within me and the rain without.’ (p. 280-281) and ending the chapter: ‘In a little while or in an age – for it is all one – I shall know the full truth of the words I used to love, I knew not why, in my days of nature, in the days before the rain: “Blessed are the dead that the rain rains on.”’ (p. 283) The book is an absolute delight to read and made more poignant because of the enormous loss to literature when Thomas was killed during the First World War, but what remains of him in his works we must treasure for always! Wonderful!

Out of Hours, Poems, Lyrics and Sonnets – by John Moray Stuart-Young.

John Moray Stuart-Young (1881-1939) is a gifted poet and ‘Out of Hours’, published in 1909 was written in West Africa, in ‘the bush’. I was pleasantly surprised with the author’s work which seemed to rise above the average pinnacles of poetic fascination for youth and the adoration of male beauty and the heart-rending visions of love –

The day has been one of rain,
All night the roofs have drip’d,
All day has my solace been pain,
All night shall my soul be whip’d –
Man and dream and shadow,
World and shadow and dream!


I was particularly impressed with his sequence of fourteen sonnets ‘Sonnet Close’:

All mental pains the mortal soul endures;
And thus it is that fibres leap anew:
I must, I must absorb myself in you, -
Must take the joy this solitude secures.
Could but the rapture that the thought procures
Be lifted to completion, Will to Do
Would bring a peril passionate; for few
There are who know the thrill such love ensues!
The fault lies in this fervent atmosphere:
Self-schooled, self-scarred, I am too fierce for day!
Night is my anodyne, - as seas may play
Silkily silent when the moon shines clear,
But in the day of storm bring clamorous fear,
Lash deaf mine ears and blind my face with spray!

[sonnet VI]

Having read some of his other works such as ‘The Seductive Coast: Poems Lyrical and Descriptive from Western Africa’ (1909) and ‘Minor Melodies: Lyrics and Songs’ (1921) I am of the conclusion that this 131 page collection is the ‘magnum opus’ of his lyrical gifts! Terrific!

A Crown of Friendship and Other Poems – by Fabian S. Woodley.

This 1921 collection of poems by Fabian Strachan Woodley (1888-1957) is his first and only publication of his poetry and damn well good it is too! Born in Gloucester, Woodley attended Cheltenham College and went on to Oxford University in 1907. During the Great War Captain Woodley won the Military Cross in 1916 for his bravery. Like John Moray Stuart-Young, William Johnson Cory and the Rev. E. E. Bradford, not to mention numerous other Uranean poets, Woodley is consumed by his feelings towards his own sex and particularly the pure innocence and angelic beauty of youth:
Then – so near
Was your loved presence that my soul’s still deeps
Trembled to tempest; like a barque I rode
Helpless upon the waves of that passionate sea –
I said My secret lies with God and Me!
I longed to hold you in my arms, to kiss
The curve of your soft cheek; I dared not speak
Lest from our hearts true unison might evolve
A discord that we never would resolve;
But when I thought “Must Friendship end in this?”
You suddenly raised your face – and claimed my kiss!”

[To G. O’c.]

This endearingly beautiful collection comprises the following poems: ‘Song’, ‘Viola’s Birthday’, ‘De Mortuis’, ‘Sunset’, ‘Nocturne. Trafalgar Square’, ‘To Pan’, ‘The Wind’, ‘Oxford (3.8.20)’, ‘Oxford (29.7.20)’, ‘Oxford (to P. B.)’, ‘After Plotinus’, ‘For a Birthday’, ‘The Cloud’, ‘The True Philosophy’, ‘To Pierrot’, ‘Parting’, ‘To My Mother’, ‘My Mother’s Sleep’, ‘On Seeing the “Mercurio in Riposa” in the British Museum’, ‘My Garden’, ‘The Beautiful’, ‘Vision’, ‘To G. O’c’, ‘To a friend who told me I was happy’, ‘A Boy’s Love’, ‘To A. L. (in Elizabethan vein)’, ‘To A. K. M.’ – verses written during the war: ‘Into Action’, ‘Stand To!’, ‘To Lieut. O. D.’, ‘Quis urst Deus?’, ‘The Sunset Message’, ‘Loos, July, 1916’, ‘Aftermath’, ‘The Fighting Spirit’.

Bertha: A Story of Love – by Charles Edward Sayle.

The English scholar and librarian at Cambridge University, Charles Edward Sayle (1864-1924) published his first collection of poems ‘Bertha’ in 1885. The book is slim at 86 pages and it was issued anonymously. There is nothing particularly remarkable about the collection but it does have some fine sentiments about the promise of love and its tragic loss in some tender and melancholy lyrics. Poems include: ‘Love – (Love; Roundel; The Trysting-Tree)’. ‘Love Parted – (A Song of Separation; Parting; Love Forbidden; Love’s Chamber; Parting for ever; Apres Tant de Jours)’. Love Dead – Love Dead; The Trysting-Tree; Roundel; Sea Song; Etude en Realiste; Parting; The Last Echo;)’ ‘Poema Propempticon (Bertha)’; ‘Poema Propempticon (Lectori)’.

Oscar Wilde and Myself – by Lord Alfred Douglas.

This very interesting account by Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas (1870-1945) of his association with the great playwright and wit, Oscar Wilde was published in 1914 following the author’s libel trial in 1913 in which he took offence at certain remarks or suggestions made by Arthur Ransome in his book ‘Oscar Wilde: A Critical Study’. Douglas lost the libel case and so it appears that ‘Oscar Wilde and Myself’ is a very convenient hook on which to hang his grievances, plead his defence and an excuse to discredit Ransome’s critical biography. But not are we to read his version of events and applaud poor ‘Bosie’ the distinguished gentleman for his sincere friendship and kindness shown to that scoundrel Wilde; that unblemished beautiful boy who ‘since Wilde’s downfall’ has ‘lived under conditions of which it is to be hoped few persons have had to experience’ (p.45). Such an astonishing admission is a genuine act of cowardice and we are to praise the scandalous ‘Bosie’ for his infallible behaviour during the condemnation of the great artist Wilde and the abject misery following the trial of 1895. The literary world blames the ‘impeccable Bosie’ for his callous behaviour and his reason for publishing this book, he says is that ‘my enemies have compelled me to defend myself, and if, in the course of that defence, I have had to tear away some of the undeserved laurels which have been heaped upon his [Wilde’s] brow and dissipated some of the undeserved incense which has been offered up at his shrine, I have done him no wrong and I feel that I may conceivably have made a slight contribution in the literary and general good.’ (p. 298).
While the indefatigable ‘Bosie’ is generally questioning Ransome’s study of Wilde, he himself is not afraid of dishonouring his friend Oscar by discrediting Wilde’s literary output, from his poems which he pulls apart with relish to ridiculing his plays – I quite agree that as a poet Wilde is merely an accomplished poet imitating superior poets such as Milton and his works are really exercises; it is not until the gem of his genius ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ that he reaches the maturity lacking in his earlier works. Douglas does praise the ‘Ballad’ as his one true great poem that will stand for all time but he leaves little in his destructive wake. And so, not only are we to assume that ‘Bosie’ is the better poet but also that he is the better person for being born into aristocracy as opposed to Wilde’s pretence to being of aristocratic ancestry; the young man stands in the shadow of greatness, spitting upon it while venerating himself and believing he has surpassed the stature of Wilde! We are also treated to his incensed rage at Mr Robert Baldwin Ross (1869-1918), Wilde’s literary executor for publishing an incomplete version of ‘De Profundus’ in 1905 which Wilde wrote at Reading Gaol from January to March 1897, and for withholding much of the ‘letter’ which was addressed to Bosie and so should have been Bosie’s property by rights. De Profundus was presented to the British Museum and sealed for fifty years until 1960. It was first published in ‘The Letters of Oscar Wilde’ in 1962, edited by Rupert Hart-Davis.
Bosie spends much of the book ranting at Ross and distancing himself from Wilde and his ‘vicious’ behaviour: are we to believe that no sexual intimacy took place between the younger and the older gentlemen? Are we to believe that the angelic Bosie knew nothing of the ‘love that dare not speak its name’ or what it refers to? Bosie certainly does, despite himself having a brief ‘liaison’ with George Ives 91867-1950) in 1893 and no doubt there were many other ‘indiscretions’ with numerous other young men. In fact, he completely refrains from confessing any such behaviour turning his back on Wilde in the process as if he were not just some larger than life literary man expressing his sexual proclivity for his own sex, unfortunately during an unenlightened time of repressed mania for such things, and he were instead some corrupting force molesting innocent children and eating babies! The conceited fool! To deny knowledge that Wilde had such inclinations until the time of the trial when Wilde supposedly confessed his guilt to him is fantastic and the word of a coward. But why should we expect a completely honest account of events, Bosie had embraced Roman Catholicism in 1911 and he takes 298 pages deifying his self while washing the blood of Wilde from his hands! Like some high moral judge he sits among the embers of Wilde’s genius, raking through the accumulated greatness of his tattered ruins that was left, tarnishing it with his accusations and criticism. But like all good bloody battles, it is wonderful to watch or read and ‘Oscar Wilde and Myself’, mostly ghost-written by Thomas William Hodgson Crosland, is a wonderful work of semi-fiction and fact – Saint bleeding Bosie missed his opportunity to give an accurate account, even at the detriment of his own reputation, which was already beyond repair, and spit in the eyes of his detractors.
Despite his questionable integrity, Lord Alfred Douglas serves a fine feast at the high table with an excellent menu of captivating dishes: ‘Oxford’, ‘Lost Illusions’, ‘Wilde in society’, ‘The Lord of Language’, ‘Our mutual friends’, ‘Lord Queensberry intervenes’, ‘The Wilde Trials’, ‘Hard Labour and after’, ‘Naples and Paris’, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’, ‘The Truth about De Profundis’, ‘My Letters to Wilde’, ‘My Letters to Labouchere’, ‘The Article in the Revue Blanche’, ‘Fifteen Years of Persecution’, ‘Wilde’s Poetry’, ‘The Plays and Prose Works’, ‘For Posterity’, ‘The British Museum and De Profundis’, ‘Ransome’s Critical Study’, ‘My actions for Libel’, ‘ The Picture of Dorian Gray’, ‘Literature and Vice’, ‘Crosland and “the First Stone”’, ‘A Challenge to Mr Ross’, ‘Wilde in Russia, France and Germany’, ‘The Smaller Fry’, ‘To be done with it all’.

The Songs of Bilitis – by Pierre Louys.

‘Les Chansons de Bilitis’ was first published in France in 1894. The author, Pierre Louys (1870-1925) claimed that this collection of erotic, mostly lesbian poetry were translated by him from an ancient Greek manuscript written by a woman named Bilitis which was found in a tomb in Cyprus. In fact, the publication deceived many of the leading scholars of its day into thinking it was genuine. The 143 poems (and 3 epitaphs) are written in the style of Sappho and the book is in three sections: Bucolics (Bilitis in her childhood at Pamphylia and her first stirrings of sexual experience), Elegies (Bilitis expresses her desire for women and the various encounters she has at Mytilene); Epigrams (the final phase of her life in Cyprus).
I read the 1926 version of the book and there are some really sensual passages together with the delightful ‘art-deco’ illustrations by Willy Pogany (1882-1955). An erotic classic!

The Complete Magic Primer – by David Conway.

I found this book interesting and very useful in my own magical work. Published in 1988 this is a very thorough grounding in theory and in practice of the techniques of magic. Good!

Stories Toto Told Me – by Frederick Rolfe.

These six stories steeped in Catholicism and tales of the Saints was published in 1898 by Frederick William Rolfe (1860-1913) also known as ‘Baron Corvo’. I found the stories: ‘About San Pietro and San Paolo’, ‘About the Lilies and San Luigi’, ‘A Caprice of the Cherubim’, ‘About Beata Beatrice and the Mamma of San Pietro’, ‘About the Heresy of Fra Serafico’, and ‘About one way in which Christians Love one another’ most entertaining and Rolfe writes well, if a little unconventional. The book was later expanded in 1901 to thirty-two stories and published as ‘In his own image’. Definitely worth reading!

The Marble Fly – by Jamie McKendrick.

These poems published in 1997 are McKendrick’s third collection following his ‘The Kiosk on the Brink’ (1993) and ‘The Sirocco Room’ (1991). The forty poems reflect the author’s interests and concerns in the classical world and natural history. Born in Liverpool, McKendrick won the Forward Poetry Prize with this collection and I quite recommend it!

Don Tarquinio: A Kataleptic Phantasmatic Romance – by Fr. Rolfe.

This historical novel published in 1905 by the eccentric English writer Frederick William Rolfe (1860-1913) tells the story of a day in the life of Prince Don Tarquinio, a fifteen year old Roman boy in 15th Century Renaissance Rome. Tarquinio’s family have been banned from Rome by orders of the Pope and Don sets out to restore honour to his family and win the heart of his beloved maiden. There is an amusing and energetic passage in which Tarquinio, dressed as a slave runs along the Appian Way across Campagna as a messenger carrying a ‘secret’ invisible message written upon his back which can only be read when soot is rubbed upon his flesh and washed with water. Rolfe writes very well and his descriptions of historic dress and the sights and sounds of 15th Century Rome at the time of the Borgias are a pleasure to read: ‘The cool fresh breath of Lady Night greeted my nostrils, and caressed my flesh as I ran.
The hum of the City very soon was left behind. I heard nought save the sighs of the sleeping earth and the quick delicate patter of my well-shod footsteps.
The aromatic flavour of herbs growing by the roadside was on my lips: from time to time my protruded tongue tasted the cool sweetness.
All my body tingled with the pleasure of swift movement.’ (p. 158-159).
He runs past the Sulphur Springs, Albano, past the Lake to Ariccia, Cinthyanum to Velletri and to the Palace with the message for Pietrogorio. On his homeward journey back to Rome he rides to Cinthyanum with a ring to present to the postmaster there as a sign that all the horses in the city are bought up by the Cardinal of Valencia...
Rolfe is probably an acquired taste but I found something really beautiful in his writing and through it all there was a strange sense that there is something forbidden about this mesmerising book. Exquisite!

Extracts from the Letters and Journals of William Johnson Cory – edited by F. W. Cornish.

Published in 1897 and edited by fellow scholar Francis Warre-Cornish (1839-1916) this huge tome at over six-hundred pages has various letters (beginning 1838) from the scholar and poet William Johnson Cory (1823-1892) to various academics, friends, parents and his brother the Rev. C. W. Furse, archdeacon of Westminster, together with entries from his journal.
Cory was elected King’s scholar at Eton in 1832, Newcastle scholar in 1841; elected scholar of King’s College, Cambridge in 1842. A Craven scholar in 1844 succeeding to a Fellowship of King’s the next year and awarded his B. A. He was appointed assistant Master at Eton in 1845 and inherited the estate Halsdon in 1870, leaving Eton two years later. He resigned his Fellowship at King’s in 1872 and took the name of ‘Cory’ the same year. Leaving Halsdon, he settled in Madeira in 1878 and married Rosa Caroline the daughter of Rev. George de Carteret Guille, Rector of Little Torrington in Devon. A son Andrew was born the next year and the family returned to England in 1882 and settled in Hampstead.
‘I am now as old as a Roman consul or the victor of Waterloo. How many hundreds of men are at this time of life confessedly disappointed men, biting their fate as the snake bit the file. I am better off than two-thirds of barristers, engineers, sea captains, and parsons of my age – if only in this, that I have quenched all vain desires. No virtue, only a calculated unworldliness, a Stoic resignation, a poetical skimming of the pot, a proud crushing of vanity.’ (p. 211 from a letter addressed King’s College Cambridge, 9th January 1868)
Cory was a brilliant teacher and his letters and journal entries are filled with fascinating thoughts and observations on Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, Latin poetry, Sketches from his walking tour of Scotland and the Lake District; Shakespeare and of course Cambridge life with the odd outpouring of his cloistered uranian yearnings. Perhaps not to everybody’s taste but interesting nonetheless!

The Book of Thoth – by Aleister Crowley.

Being The Equinox volume III, number 5, The Book of Thoth was published in 1944 and it describes Crowley’s Thoth Tarot cards which he and Lady Frieda Harris (1877-1962) co-designed. The book consists of four parts: the theory of the Tarot, the Atu (keys or trumps), the court cards, and the small cards. The book is written in line and consistent with Crowley’s thelemic theories upon the Book of the Law and his system of magick and I would say it is essential reading for anyone interested in his magical symbolism and the development of the tarot in general. Excellent!

Walking a Line – by Tom Paulin.

Published by Faber in 1994, this is Paulin’s fifth collection of poetry and he achieves the perfection which distinguishes him as a real poet but do not take my word for it as I have been known to exaggerate! Good.

My Days and Dreams: Being Autobiographical Notes – by Edward Carpenter.

Edward Carpenter (1844-1929) has written a very satisfying and interesting account of his extraordinary life in this 1916 publication which takes him from childhood at Brighton and Trinity College, Cambridge to his curate-ship and his eventual abandoning of clerical orders; to his move northwards where he taught and his settling down at Millthorpe. Carpenter speaks much about his long poetic work ‘Towards Democracy’, his unconventional life and sexuality; his beliefs in socialism and the influence and meetings with Walt Whitman and William Morris. He also talks about his enthusiasm for sandals, vegetarianism, manual labour, the Bhagavadgita and market gardening. A fascinating journey indeed!

Eight Lectures on Yoga – by Aleister Crowley.

Published in 1939 as The Equinox volume III, number 4 and taken from a series of eight lectures Crowley gave in London, the book is in two sections: ‘Yoga for Yahoos’ and ‘Yoga for Yellowbellies’. Crowley has written the book under the name Mahatma Guru Sri Paramahansa Shivaji and the first section of the book is divided into four parts: the first principles, Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama; the remaining four parts in section two looks at the more advanced techniques and philosophical aspects of yogic exercises. All in all this is an absolutely brilliant book on the subject written in a witty and enjoyable manner by one of England’s greatest writers on the esoteric arts.

The Woodland Life – by Edward Thomas.

This book published in 1897 is two-hundred and thirty-four pages of utter delight and Thomas with his unique poetical powers describes such wonders of the English countryside within such beautiful chapters as ‘The Sweet o’ the Year’, ‘Lydiard Tregose’, ‘A Wiltshire Molecatcher’, ‘May Song’, ‘Wild Fruits’, ‘In Autumn Woods’, ‘Winds of Winter’, ‘A Touch of Winter’, ‘Winter in Richmond Park’, ‘A Pine-Wood near London’, ‘A Surrey Woodland’ and ‘A Diary in English Fields and Woods’. From the moment one begins to read The Woodland Life the author’s passion shines through to leave one utterly mesmerised by his descriptive abilities yet it is a poignant reminder of what a gentle and wondrous writer the horrors of the First World War took from us. Outstanding!

The Rites of Eleusis: As Performed at Caxton Hall – by Aleister Crowley.

The book records the seven public performances given at London’s Caxton Hall during October and November of 1910 of Crowley’s rites or invocations attributed to the seven planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Venus, Mercury and Luna. These rites (being Liber DCCCL) included Miss Leila Waddell on the violin and Victor B Neuburg dancing. The book, published in 1990 by Mandrake Press, illustrated by Dwina Murphy-Gibb and edited by Keith Richmond was produced at only one-thousand copies and is a treasure to behold for any devotee of the great Aleister Crowley!

Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the 17th Century: Donne to Butler – by Herbert J C Grierson.

Metaphysical poetry is a poetry which has been inspired by a philosophical conception of the universe and the role assigned to the human spirit in the great drama of existence.’ So says Sir Herbert John Clifford Grierson (1866-1960) the Scottish literary scholar and critic in his introduction to this classic 1921 publication; and who are we to argue with Grierson who has made a life’s study of the metaphysical poetry of the seventeenth century? In fact, his introduction goes into great depth and he brings up such luminaries as John Donne and George Herbert; Donne he says was the first great metaphysical poet and Andrew Marvell was a most interesting poet who lay between Donne and Drydon and at his very best was a finer poet than either! I quite agree having read through the fine selection of verse Grierson has selected and edited and categorised under three headings: Love Poems, Divine Poems, and Miscellanies. Some of the poets included are: Samuel Butler, Thomas Carew, john Cleveland, Abraham Cowley, Richard Crashaw, John Donne, Sidney Godolphin, George Herbert, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Richard Lovelace, Andrew Marvell, John Milton, Katherine Philips, Sir John Suckling, Henry Vaughan and Sir Henry Wotton. A learned and glorious classic of the subject!

Eminent Victorians – by Lytton Strachey.

Published in 1918, Strachey’s classic of biography tears away at the Victorian facade to find its venerated heroes and heroines nothing more than human monsters like the rest of us. He looks at the life and careers of Cardinal Manning (1808-1892), the great man behind the Oxford Movement and the leap from Church of England doctrine to Roman Catholicism; Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) and her revolutionary reform of army hospitals and nursing; Dr. Thomas Arnold (1795-1842) with his radical changes to the Public School system and to teaching, and finally the author looks at the end of General Gordon (1833-1895) and the dichotomy between the power of the sword and the spirit.
Strachey originally outlined twelve figures for biography in 1912 called Victorian Silhouettes and was surprised at the sometimes less than noble qualities of his eminent studies and so he spends two-hundred pages unceremoniously dissecting the heroic and bloated corpses of his subjects with more than a sprinkling of wit and a dash of irreverence, in fact, the great beard of Bloomsbury wades in elbow-deep in blood and guts hacking through the veils of valour to find Victorian hypocrisy with a soupcon of national arrogance and a propensity towards war. Eminent Victorians is a stone pylon in the field of biography and highly recommended!

Arthur Machen: a Novelist of Ecstasy and Sin – by Vincent Starrett.

Vincent Starrett, born Charles Vincent Emerson Starrett (1886-1974) was an American writer and journalist who wrote many tales on the supernatural and contributed to Weird Tales. This 1918 publication was originally printed in ‘Reedy’s Mirror’ on 5th October 1917, a Missouri literary journal edited by William Marion Reedy (1862-1920). 250 copies of the first edition of ‘Arthur Machen: a novelist of ecstasy and sin’ were printed and it includes two previously unseen poems by Machen: ‘The Remembrance of the Bard’ and ‘The Praise of Myfanwy’. This short and intriguing work sees Starrett eulogising upon the great Arthur Machen and highlighting his exceptional gift for creating an enduring suggestion of the macabre touched by the glamour of ecstasy in such of Machen’s classic novels as ‘The Hill of Dreams’ and ‘The Great God Pan’.
Starrett is more than a convert to Machen and he simply sings his sensual song, praising the Welsh wizard like a sweet child unto his Lord! A marvellous piece of introductory writing with some biographical details which springs forth like a minor orgasm in a long literary career spanning a series of very well written ejaculations! Briefly excellent!

The Witches’ Goddess: The Feminine Principle of Divinity – by Janet and Stewart Farrar.

First published in 1987, Janet (born 1950) and Stewart Farrar (1916-2000) divide this work into three sections which examine the various aspects of the Goddess: part I – Discovering the Goddess: the Goddess in history seen as the earth and the moon symbolism; the menstruating Goddess; the Moon Goddess; the Bright and the Dark Mother and also the Triple Goddess. In part II – Invoking the Goddess, we see the various ritual invocations involved in summoning the Goddess in her many forms, such as Aphrodite, Isis, Demeter and Persephone, Brighid and Hecate. Part III – Goddesses of the World, is an alphabetical list of the female principle of divinity. Interesting!

The Witches’ God: Lord of the Dance – by Janet and Stewart Farrar.

Following on from their previous publication ‘The Witches’ Goddess’, the Farrar’s rightly address the balance with this 1987 ‘The Witches’ God’. The book is also divided into three sections and there is a fascinating introduction upon the Wiccan God. Part I – Faces of the God, looks at the archetypal God in pagan history such as the Sun God and the Horned God, etc. Part II – Invoking the God, gives various elements of the ceremonies involved to ‘invoke’ the male deities with specific rituals, such as Pan, Zeus, Osiris, Thoth, Shiva, Herne/Cernunnos, Ra and Amun-Ra. In part III – Gods of the World, there is a detailed alphabetical directory of historical deities; the Appendix looks at how to cast and banish a circle and shows an ‘Egyptian Ritual’. An informative and very useful book indeed!

The Old Curiosity Shop – by Charles Dickens.

Dickens’ 1841 novel is the story of Little Nell Trent who lives with her poor grandfather in the Old Curiosity Shop. The grandfather has borrowed money from the ugly and cruel dwarf, Daniel Quilp, surely one of Dickens’ most hideous creations, money which the old man wastes on gambling in a vain attempt to restore his fortune for the sake of Little Nell. When Quilp discovers how the old man is wasting the dwarf’s money, Quilp sets himself up in the Old Curiosity Shop, taking over the premises. Nell and her grandfather flee in the night in search of better things to walk and beg their way through hardship on the road, yet the misery of being homeless is tempered by the fact that they still have each other.
Quilp, believing that the old man is a miser with a fortune hidden away, hunts high and low for them and devises certain plans to trick the old man out of his wealth. Without giving too much away for those of you who have not had the pleasure of the novel, the adventures of the old man and Little Nell are wonderfully told and the end is truly heartbreaking, rendering Dickens’ masterpiece a classic of Victorian sentimentality. Along the way we encounter such a wealth of characters such as: Sampson Brass the attorney and his sister the ‘divine Miss Sally’; Kit Nubbles who is as honest as the day is long yet treated appallingly by Sampson under the guidance of that evil-minded monster Quilp; there is also Dick Swiveller, Mr and Mrs Garland, the ‘Marchioness’ who lives below stairs at the Brass household as a skivvy; Mrs Jarley who owns the waxworks and Codlin and Short, the Punch and Judy men.
‘But surely Dickens is old fashioned and not relevant in the modern world’ I hear you cry! Not at all, in fact the Victorian grotesques with their mannerisms and their personalities that Dickens brought to life so well on the page are still with us today, we are surrounded by Quilps, Pickwicks, Bounderbys and Pecksniffs; the people have not changed, only the times have changed, now you will find them attached to phones and tablets immersed in social media but the old emotions and sentiments are still there! Terrific!

Hieroglyphics: A Note upon Ecstasy in Literature – by Arthur Machen.

Machen’s clever analysis of the true meaning of literature appeared in 1902 (I read the 1912 edition) and through 202 pages, six chapters and an appendix, he lays down his theory according to certain rules of literary logic on which works are fine literature and which are merely well-written works of literature. Arthur Machen (1863-1947) who in my opinion is one of the greatest writers on the macabre, along with Poe, Lovecraft and M R James, writes in a conversational manner as if giving a series of intimate talks to a friend and re-visiting them on later instalments. He makes the distinction between art and artifice stating that ‘artifice is of time’ and that ‘art is of eternity’ and he brings to the table certain works of literature for examination to see whether it falls within the laws of fine literature with its art and emotion, such as Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, Dickens’ ‘Pickwick Papers’, Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’, Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ and Rabelais’ ‘Gargantua and Pantagruel’ or if it falls within the boundary of good literature with its artifice and feelings: Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair’, Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ and Hardy’s ‘Tess’ and ‘Jude’ etc. Machen argues that for a written work to be fine literature it must have certain elements within the narrative such as a journey holding mystery and surprises within the plot as well as an overwhelming sensation of ecstasy; Dickens’ characters find their ecstasy through intoxication and there is evidently many instances of such ‘shifting of consciousness’ in literature and the revealing of symbolism, as in ‘Pantagruel’ and the Holy Bottle. Machen says that ‘if all our joys are from above, from the other world where the Shadowy Companion walks, then no mere making of the likeness of the external shape will be our art, no veracious document will be our truth; but to us, initiated, the Symbol will be offered, and we shall take the Sign and adore, beneath the outward and perhaps unlovely accidents, the very Presence and eternal indwelling of God’ (p. 170). Machen’s style may not be to all tastes as it can seem a little condescending but this is a fine piece of literary analysis indeed!

Thesaurus Incantatus: The Enchanted Treasure – by Arthur Machen.

‘Thesaurus Incantatus’ or to give it the full title ‘The Enchanted Treasure; or the spagyric quest of Beroaldus Cosmopolita, in which is sophically and mystagorically declared the first matter of the stone: with a list of choice books on alchemy, magic, talismans, gems, mystics, Neoplatonism, Ancient worships, Rosicrucians, occult sciences, etc. etc.’ was published in 1888 and its 72 pages deal with the Cabalistic mysteries and the quest of Canon Beroaldus, the alchemist. Beroaldus discovers The Fruit of the Tree of the Second Juice with its seven fountains: the Fountain of the Spiritual Sol; the Fountain of the Spiritual Luna; the Fountain of the Spiritual Venus and the Fountain of the Spiritual Mercurius; fountains five, six and seven are not what you would expect, i.e. Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, but mirrors in which each man sees what he desires – ‘In the sixth hour of the night search nothing but thyself, and thou shalt find the first matter of the stone, and in no other place in the whole wide world shalt thou find it.’ Mildly interesting, but I found the list of books on alchemy and magic etc. more interesting and most invaluable!

The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain – by John Henry Ingram.

John Henry Ingram (1842-1916) the English biographer who had a deep fascination for Edgar Allan Poe shows in this 1886 publication his enthusiasm upon the subject of haunted homes, with over a hundred homes and legends such as Peele Castle, Dosmery Poole, Bolling Hall, Okehampton, Lambton Castle, Waddow Hall, Hinton Ampner Manor House and many, many more. With 667 pages this is absolutely fascinating!

Strange Roads – by Arthur Machen.

This small book (only 54 pages) published in 1923 contains two stories by Machen: ‘Strange Roads’ and ‘With the Gods of Spring’. There are some delightful little sketches by Joseph Simpson R.B.A. (Strange Roads) and H. R. Millar (With the Gods in Spring). In ‘Strange Roads’ the author recounts many such roads as in the one near Marlborough with its talk of fairies and near the Norman (12th century) ruined castle of Manorbier in Wales. In ‘With the Gods in Spring’ the author remembers travelling in his youth to Usk in the land of Gwent, Wales with his friends Bill and Jack. Good!

True Tales of the Weird: A Record of Personal Experiences of the Supernatural – by Sidney Dickinson.

Dickinson (1851-1919) published this volume of stories in 1920 and there is a fine introduction by R. H. Stetson (Professor of Psychology at Oberlin College) and there is a note by the Assistant Secretary of the American Society of Psychical Research, Gertrude Ogden Tubby.
Within its 234 pages you will find such stories as: A Mystery of Two Continents; A Spirit of Health; the Miracle of the Flowers; the Midnight Horseman; and the Haunted Bungalow (12 chapters comprising such titles as: the Condemned; the Crime; the Fight and Capture; the House on the Hill; On the Wings of the Storm; a Ghostly Co-Tenancy; the Dead Walks; the Goblins of the Kitchen; a Spectral Burglary; Rest, Rest, Perturbed Spirit; and the Demon of the Dark.
Unless you are very serious and passionate about reading such ghostly accounts I would not bother with this as it is less than entertaining and there are much better accounts to be found!

‘Twixt Earth and Stars: Poems – by Marguerite Radclyffe- Hall.

‘I know that through the waves of air,
Some part of all I feel for you,
Must surely travel swift and true,
Towards the heart for which I care
So dumbly, and before it lay
The words my lips shall never say.

This collection of poems published in 1906 by the celebrated author of ‘The Well of Loneliness’ has some interesting verse in its 128 pages such as ‘In a Garden’, ‘If you were a rose and I were a sun’ ‘Love Triumphant’, ‘A Lament’, ‘A Sea Cycle’ (16 poems) etc.
I desperately wanted to like this book and clung to hope till the last page in search of one line which would be its saving grace, but alas it was not forthcoming! There were no surprises among its very juvenile and simple rhyming and thus I left its covers feeling very unsatisfied and more than a little disappointed!

A Sheaf of Verses: Poems – by Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall.

This 1908, 144 page collection of poems had a few verse of interest such as her ‘Ode to Sappho’ but it is unfortunate that Miss Radclyffe-Hall never reaches the heights of sublime wonder as Shelley attains and seems to linger in the depths just below that other dreary dullard, Wordsworth! Poor!

Songs of Three Counties and Other Poems – by Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall.

With an introduction by R. B. Cunninghame-Graham, this 77 page collection of poems published in 1913 and dedicated to the Marchioness of Anglesey is actually quite good! The author includes many topographical poems which are reminiscent of Housman in their melancholy wistfulness and remembrance of love: ‘Rustic Courting – walking out’ and the Shadow of Raggedstone’ etc. Yes there were a few moments of actual enjoyment but not much; in comparison to her previous collections I was positively in the grip of what one might call actual pleasant surprise but still I felt as if I had sat down to dinner expecting a lavish three-courses and was only served stale bread and cold beans, which is a huge compliment for the author’s poetry I am told and I decide not to put myself through such torment as to expect anything touching upon ‘fair’ or even ‘good’ by reading her other collection ‘Poems of the Past and Present’ (1910), the mystery of which shall forever consume me!

Renascence and Other Poems – by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

First published in 1917 (I read the 4th edition, 1921) this collection of poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) is bewitchingly beautiful! The title poem which was written in 1912 when Edna was twenty years old resonates with a haunting fatality and acceptance of the world:
‘Whispered to me a word whose sound
Deafened the air for worlds around,
And brought unmuffed to my ears
The gossiping of friendly spheres,
The creaking of the tented sky,
The ticking of Eternity.’

And again as she writes upon the death of a loved one in ‘Interim’: ‘How easily could God, if He so willed, /Set back the world a little turn or two! /Correct its griefs, and bring its joys again!

There is a strange and overpowering mood to the poems which seems to linger in sad thoughts and like that other great American poet Walt Whitman, there is a sense of modernity and the future throughout these miracles of literary magic:

She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.
She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun ‘tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of coloured beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.
She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.


Also in the collection are six very fine Sonnets which include her poem ‘Bluebeard’ with its ‘empty room, cobwebbed and comfortless.
I simply loved this collection and its author and felt as if I have been waiting my whole life to discover Edna St. Vincent Millay, and now that I have her I shall keep her! Spellbindingly beautiful!

A Few Figs from Thistles: Poems and Sonnets – by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Published in 1920, this short collection of verse by Edna St. Vincent Millay echoes the magnificence of her previous collection ‘Renascence’ and within these thirty-two pages of mesmerising wonder you will find her Four Sonnets: I) ‘love, though for this you riddle me with darts’ II) ‘I think I should have loved you presently’ III) ‘Oh, think not I am faithful to a vow’ and IV) ‘I shall forget you presently, my dear’. Delightful!

Second April – by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Dedicated to the author’s ‘beloved friend Caroline B. Dow’ and published in 1921, ‘Second April’ is a rather marvellous collection of poetry indeed! The author seems to have a fascination and an almost intense fixation with death: ‘Let them bury your big eyes/In the secret earth securely’ [Elegy] and:

‘This my personal death? –
That my lungs be failing
To inhale the breath
Others are exhaling?’

[The Poet and His Book]

And once again:

‘Mine is a body that should die at sea!
And have for a grave, instead of a grave
Six feet deep and the length of me,
All the water that is under the wave!
And terrible fishes to seize my flesh,
Such as a living man might fear,
And eat me while I am firm and fresh, -
Not wait till I’ve been dead for a year!’


I found particular fascination and awe in all of the poems and as an example of her work is this one haunting echo among many:

“Thin Rain, whom are you haunting,
That you haunt my door?”
Surely it is not I she’s wanting;
Someone living here before –
“Nobody’s in the house but me:
You may come in if you like and see.”
Thin as thread, with exquisite fingers, -
Have you seen her, any of you? –
Grey shawl, and leaning on the wind,
And the garden showing through?
Glimmering eyes, - and silent, mostly,
Sort of a whisper, sort of a purr,
Asking something, asking it over,
If you get a sound from her. –
Ever seen her, any of you? –
Strangest thing I’ve ever known, -
Every night since I moved in,
And I came to be alone.
“Thin Rain, hush with your knocking!
You may not come in!
This is I that you hear rocking;
Nobody’s with me, nor has been!”
Curious, how she tried the window, -
Odd, the way she tries the door, -
Wonder just what sort of people
Could have had this house before...


Other poems include: Passer Mortuus Est; Rosemary; To a Poet that Died Young; Elaine; Ode to Silence and ‘Memorial to D. C. (Vassar College. 1918): Epitaph; Prayer to Persephone; Chorus; Elegy; Dirge and the Sonnets: I) We talk of taxes and I call you friend II) Into the golden vessel of great song III) Not with libations, but with shouts and laughter IV) Only until his cigarette is ended V) Once more into my arid days like dew VI) No rose that in a garden ever grew VII) When I too long have looked upon your face VIII) And you as well must die, beloved dust IX) Let you not say of me when I am old X) Oh, my beloved, have you thought of this XI) As to some lovely temple, tenantless XII) Cherish you then the hope I shall forget.
I found something truly wonderful in Edna St Vincent Millay and am changed for all time by it, and as she says herself (in The Poet and His Book) ‘Lift this little book, /Turn the tattered pages, /Read me, do not let me die!’ – I won’t! I most dearly won’t!

Yellow Clover: A Book of Remembrance – by Katharine Lee Bates.

Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929) was an American poet and songwriter and these poems were published in 1922 in honour of her friend Katharine Coman (1857-1915). There are some interesting poems in the collection such as: ‘Our Driftwood Fire’, ‘Felices’, ‘At Holmenkollen’, ‘In Cedar Hill Cemetery’, ‘The Path of Sorrow’, ‘Westering Heart’, ‘The Gates of Death’ and ‘In Bohemia: A Corona of Sonnets’, but I found these poems ‘to or about my friend’ deeply unsettling because Bates lived with Coman for twenty-five years in a relationship which we can only suppose was very loving and mutually stimulating and yet I did not feel any great emotion or intense passion in these poems towards Coman; the collection lacks that intimate expression from one soul to another when it has been hurt and deeply wounded by loss and so for me the collection failed to record the response to the ending of a life and of a love or to echo the wonder of the joys which surely abounded between them. But saying that, these are still fine poems; perhaps seven years after Coman’s death was too long for these are merely the cold embers where the fire has gone out!

Aria Da Capo: A Play in One Act – by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Published in 1919 and including the author’s note on the playing of the play, Aria Da Capo is a play in one act which sees many misunderstandings and tragedy. The persons of the play are: Pierrot; Columbine; Cothurnus, Masque of Tragedy; and Thyrsis and Corydon, two shepherds.
Pierrot and Columbine are at a feast and Pierrot is delighting in the food; a play within the play starts up and we find Thyrsis and Columbine building a wall from coloured tissue paper between two chairs on the stage, thus dividing the sheep, but they realise that the pool of water is on the one side, that which is owned by Thyrsis. Corydon kills Thyrsis, strangling him with a necklace but Thyrsis has already poisoned Corydon who also dies. And so begins the original play once more with Pierrot and Columbine at the feast. Wonderful!

Two Slatterns and a King: A Moral Interlude – by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

This dramatic poem published in 1921 features the King; Chance the Vice; Tidy the False Slattern and Slut the True Slattern. The Prologue and the Epilogue are spoken by Chance and the story tells of a King who decides to marry the maid with the cleanest kitchen. It transpires that the King marries Slut the True Slattern because she decided that day out of boredom to clean her kitchen for the first (and only) time and the King was impressed with her work; but unfortunately Tidy the False Slattern had had a bad day in which her attempts to clean her kitchen and do her daily chores went all wrong and so the King visited her kitchen when it was in a state and he believed her to be an untidy and dirty Slut who did not lift a finger to keep her kitchen clean. When the King learnt the truth he regretted marrying the True Slattern! Amusing!

The Lamp and the Bell: A Drama in Five Acts – by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Edna St. Vincent Millay proves herself to be a fine dramatist with this outstanding play in five acts. There is much to keep the interest of the reader with the courtly goings on of Lorenzo, the King of Fiori and Mario, the King of Lagoverde and Guido, the Duke of Versilia; we find love triangles and affections thwarted and death! But most beautiful of all is the relationship and profound love between Beatrice ‘Rose-Red’, King Lorenzo’s daughter from a previous marriage (who later becomes Queen) and Bianca ‘Snow-White’ the daughter of Octavia, King Lorenzo’s second wife, in a former marriage. The interchanges between the lovers and the sentiments are beautifully expressed making this drama a very magical experience indeed! Superb!

The Book of Repulsive Women: 8 Rhythms and 5 Drawings – by Djuna Barnes.

This small collection of verse and illustrations by the American writer Djuna Chappell Barnes (1892-1982) was published in 1915 and edited by Guido Bruno ‘in his garret on Washington Square, New York.’ The eight poems are dedicated to her mother and are: ‘From Fifth Avenue Up’, ‘In General’, ‘from Third Avenue On’, ‘Seen from the “L”’, ‘In Particular’, ‘Twilight of the Illicit’, ‘To a Cabaret Dancer’, and ‘Suicide’. Barnes is more famous as a writer of novels, particularly ‘Nightwood’ in 1936, but these poems are still of immense interest to anyone concerned with women writers in the early twentieth century!

Poems – by Marianne Moore.

The poems in this 1921 24 page collection include: ‘Pedantic Literalist’, ‘To a Steam Roller’, ‘Diligence is to Magic as Progress is to Flight’, ‘Those Various Scalpels’, ‘Feed Me, also, River God’, ‘To William Butler Yeats on Tagore’, ‘He made this Screen’, ‘Talisman’, ‘Black Earth’, ‘“He Wrote the History Book”, it said’, ‘You are like the Realistic Product of an Idealistic Search for Gold at the Foot of the Rainbow’, ‘Reinforcements’, ‘Roses Only’, ‘In this Age of Hard Trying Nonchalance is Good, and’, ‘The Fish’, ‘My Apish Cousins’, ‘When I Buy Pictures’, ‘Picking and Choosing’, ‘England’, ‘Dock Rats’, ‘Radical’, ‘Poetry’, ‘In the Days of Prismatic Colour’, and ‘Is Your Town Nineveh?’ This is my first experience of the American poet Marianne Craig Moore (1887-1972) and although her poems are precise pictures, stylish and detailed in their observations with a high importance on the visual effect of her compositions on the page, I found them just too busy with imagery and overwhelming to keep my interest, but that is not to say that the poems are not brilliant in their modern conception of verse, they are, with lovely images as this from ‘Roses Only’ – ‘It is better to be forgotten than to be remembered too violently, your thorns are the best part of you.’ Good, but just not to my liking I’m afraid!

The Secret Glory – by Arthur Machen.

Arthur Machen’s novel ‘The Secret Glory’ was published in 1922 yet he had completed the story around 1907; he dedicated the novel to Vincent Starrett who greatly appreciated Machen’s writings and The Secret Glory, although not reaching the heights of his Hill of Dreams or The Great God Pan, is most certainly one of his finest stories! Machen’s skill as an author pulls the reader into its more than three-hundred pages from the beginning and the tale concerns a young boy of fifteen named Ambrose Meyrick, who is an orphan and living with his Uncle George Horbury, a Master at Lupton School which Ambrose attends. We are in distinctly Jamesian territory as Machen describes the system within the Public School and the scholars inhabiting its dusty corridors; we hear about the game of Rocker, a more violent form of football invented at Lupton School on the quarry field and the scandal and rumour which surrounds George Horbury who has automatically assumed he will be the next Headmaster of Lupton when the current Head Mr Henry Vibart Chesson D.D. resigns. Horbury wanted to rid the School of its bad influences and those Masters who opposed his ascendancy to Headmastership, but it was not to be as he failed to secure the position.
Ambrose is a dreamy boy who sees nature as something sacred and has an interest in antiquities and Celtic lore. At the school he does not particularly excel in his studies and he is caned by the Master and bullied by the other scholars. Ambrose has visions and mystical experiences and he becomes fascinated by the Holy Grail and as a young man he runs away to London becoming a strolling actor with Nelly Foran, a servant woman whom he believes he loves and they stay at a lodging house enjoying the finer things in life which makes a man of the boy, so to speak. He believes he has sinned and returns home to his native Gwent in Wales. At the end of the novel we discover Ambrose travelling in the East where he is set upon and crucified upon a tree while the locals are ‘enraged as if said, by the shining rapture of his face’ plunge their spears into him and kill Ambrose Meyrick! I enjoyed the story immensely and it has left a lasting impression upon me which is something I find Machen often does! Excellent!

The Haunted House: A True Ghost Story – by Walter Hubbell.

‘The Haunted House: A true ghost story, being an account of the mysterious manifestations that have taken place in the presence of Esther Cox, the young girl who is possessed of devils, and has become known as the great Amherst Mystery’ was published in 1879 and is a classic case in the annals of parapsychology. This slim book at only 65 pages recounts the story of eighteen year old Esther Cox (1860-1912) and the haunting which occurred from 1878-79. The author, Hubbell, stayed some six weeks at the house in Amherst and faithfully records the unexplained incidents.
Chapter I: The Home of Esther Cox, sets up the true story of Esther and what life at number 6, Princess Street, Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada was like, where she lived with her sister Olive and her husband Daniel Teed, their two young sons Willie and George; Esther’s sister Jane (known as Jennie), her brother William, and Daniel’s brother John.
Chapter II: The Fatal Ride, explains what happened on the night of 28th August 1878 when Esther went for a ride in a horse-drawn buggy with her young man Bob McNeill and how he assaulted her at gun-point and was at the point of shooting her in the heart at her reluctance to step out of the buggy when the sound of approaching horse and wagon wheels disturbed him and he drove her back home through the rain.
Chapter III: The Haunted House, records how a week after this assault, on 4th September, Esther and her sister Jane who slept in the same bed heard the sound of something moving in the mattress and put it down to a mouse. The next night the same thing happens again and they witness a box jumping into the air. On the following day (6th September) Esther is feverish and went to bed at 8.30 (her sister Jane retired at 10) and at 10.15 Esther jumped out of bed, apparently possessed; blankets would fly from the bed and Esther’s face and body swelled-up. Dr. Caritte was called for. It was the beginning of the strange happenings which included the words ‘Esther Cox, you are mine to kill’ witnessed by the Doctor and other members of the family, written above Esther’s bed.
Chapter IV: The Walking of the Ghost continues the events at Princess Street and when Esther went to stay with John White and his wife, four months after the first manifestations.
Chapter V: The Author and the Ghosts explains Hubbell’s first meeting with Esther on 11th June 1879 and a series of lectures he gave on the case which ended on 20th June. The next day he was back at the house to investigate the phenomena.
Chapter VI: Conclusion, details a visit between the author and Esther who was staying at her new home, a farm in the woods with the Van Amburghs; Esther was there for eight weeks before she returned back to the cottage in Amherst and there were no manifestations or disturbances. The book is absolutely fascinating but it does raise many issues such as why wasn’t Bob McNeill found and questioned as to what happened during that terrible night with Esther in August 1878? Was he seemingly possessed himself as the author seems to suggest and by an act of evil intention, possibly attempted (or actual) rape and attempted murder, the demonic entity transferred to Esther from Bob? We cannot be sure, but we are sure that Hubbell has written a very interesting account of the whole disturbance which will continue to fascinate and perplex.

A Manual of Occultism – by Sepharial.

Published in 1914 by Sepharial, or to give him his actual name – Dr. Walter Gorn Old (1864-1929) the English astrologer and Theosophist, has written a comprehensive study of the occult in two parts – Part one ‘The Occult Sciences’ comprises of an in-depth look at Astrology (over four sections); Palmistry; Thaumaturgic Art: the Kabala (sic); the Calculatory Art; of evil spirits; Man’s Spiritual Freedom; on Talismans and Numerology; Hypnotism and Mesmerism. Part two ‘The Occult Arts’ comprises of Divination; the Tarot; Cartomancy and various methods; Crystal Gazing; Preliminaries and Practice; Visions and Interpretations; some Experiences; Geomancy; Casting and Judging the Figure; Symbols in the Twelve Houses; Psychometry (dowsing); Dreams; Sortileges; Alchemy and Kabala (sic): Gemetria, Notaricon and Temurah.
There is a lot of useful information within these 356 pages of occult knowledge to give any budding witch or warlock something to think about!

The Great Amherst Mystery: A True Narrative of the Supernatural – by Walter Hubbell.

Hubbell’s expansion upon his previous work ‘The Haunted House’ (1879) was published nine years later in 1888 and it includes his sworn Affidavit, dated 13th February 1888 stating that what he records was actual evidence either witnessed by him or faithfully recorded from other eye-witnesses etc. Following the 'Preface' we read of the 'Home of Daniel Teed' the shoemaker and foreman at the Amherst Shoe Factory before delving into the origins of the 'Great Amherst Mystery'. 'Followed by a Ghost' tells of the entity’s ability to travel and also communicate with raps and scratching and the threats to burn the house down (fires were started in several locations). 'My Strange Experiences' gives the author’s account of what he witnessed such as objects thrown from nowhere in various rooms of the cottage and the next chapter, 'Esther Cox' give some biographical details about the young woman who was haunted by the intelligent spirit. The book ends with a 'Retrospective' and includes some very interesting old newspaper articles about the case.
The book is a more rounded account and obvious parallels between Amherst and Borley and Esther Cox and Marriane Foyster can be drawn. Hubbell seems to shy away from information concerning Bob McNeill which possibly could have shed a lot more light upon the haunting, but saying that it is still the best written account of the Great Amherst Mystery and has become an absolutely absorbing classic of paranormal research!

An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch – by Martin Van Buren Ingram.

Published in 1894, the journalist Martin Van Buren Ingram (1832-1909) writes a good and full account of the mysterious haunting that befell the Bell family of Adams, Tennessee. He uncovers the history of the area around the Red River from its early settlers and introduces us to the Bell family: John Bell Senior and his wife Lucy, and particularly to their daughter Betsy Bell. According to the facts, the haunting began in the summer of 1817 when John Bell Senior noticed a strange dog-like beast staring at him. John Bell fires a shot at it and the thing runs off and since that moment john Bell and the family begin to see and hear things at their home. The activity intensifies and the witch or poltergeist that is named Kate seems to be anywhere and everywhere all at the same time, knowing everything about the town’s inhabitants. The witch declares that she wants John Bell Senior dead for some reason which is hard to understand for he appears to be a good, god-fearing man; but John’s wife Lucy is favoured by the witch as a fine example of womanhood. Poor Betsy Bell; she was engaged to a local man named Joshua Gardner and the witch took a disliking to this engagement and so she is attacked most nights by the Witch with no peace in which to sleep, having her hair pulled and her faced slapped. Her friend Theny Thorn witnesses many of these attacks.
In the chapter ‘Our Family Troubles’ the author provides a full account from the diary of Richard William Bell from the moment the witch begins her whisperings and prophecies to the many examples of the witch making fools of those who believe there is buried treasure, guiding them on errands to locate such things and laughing at them; also the many guises of the witch from ‘Black dog’, ‘Mathematics’, ‘Cyporcryphy’ and ‘Jerusalem’ and accounts of actual hand-shaking with the witch; Lucy’s illness and the witch singing to her and bringing her hazelnuts and grapes and finally the ‘poisonous vial’ which details the last illness and death of John Bell Senior whereby the witch states that she poisoned him in his sleep. The witch departed in 1821 and promised the family she would return seven years later and so she did, staying just two weeks!
Whatever the true history of this fantastic and slightly long-winded claim, it is hard to believe that some sort of deception was carried out as there were so many witnesses to the haunting; the hatred for the father, John Bell Senior and the love for the mother Lucy points, I would say, to the phenomena arising in Betsy Bell herself, but that is only my opinion and to make up your own mind you must first invite the Bell witch into your home in the form of this very interesting and somewhat perplexing ‘authenticated history’! Enjoy!

The Defeat of Youth and Other Poems – by Aldous Huxley.

These twenty-two sonnets published in 1918 are really quite well-written and shows much talent in the twenty-four year old Huxley. The poems include: The Defeat of Youth, Song of Poplars, The Elms, Summer Stillness, Love Song, Minoan Porcelain, The Decameron, In Uncertainty to a Lady, The Life Theoretic, Topiary, Points and Lines, Scenes of the Mind, L’Apres-Midi D’un Faune, and The Louse-Hunters. Although very competently written I did not like Huxley’s poetry and found it lacking the poetic spark, as he says himself in ‘Complaint of a Poet Manque’: ‘I’m not a poet: but never despair! / I’ll madly live the poems I shall never write!’ Quite right!

Modern Magic – by Maximilian Schele De Vere.

De Vere (1820-1898) gives a very thorough guide to the occult arts in this 1873 publication and in under five-hundred pages dabbles in Witchcraft, Black and White Magic, Dreams, Visions, Ghosts, Divination (second sight, oracles and prophecies, the divining rod), Possession (vampirism), Magnetism, Miraculous Cures, and Mysticism. The author really invokes the whole classical ancient world and the Bible together with many modern day accounts to illustrate his work and so should be rewarded for his efforts by not dismissing this book on ‘Modern Magic’ as just another in a long line of books on ‘hocus-pocus’ but a very well researched and informative volume indeed!

Horoscope of the Moon – by Zophia Ilinska.

This 1992 poetry collection by the Polish poet Zophia Ilinska nee Brochocka (1921-1915) draws upon the complexity of her difficult life; she came to England aged seventeen and settled down, living in St Mawes, Cornwall from the nineteen-forties; she married Olgierd Ilinska in 1943 and he died the same year (she married again in 1945 to Harley Moseley). The poems seem very personal and she writes a beautiful elegy upon the death of her son along with poems about her life in Cornwall (she died in St Austell). Hauntingly beautiful!

Crome Yellow – by Aldous Huxley.

Huxley’s first novel ‘Crome Yellow’ was published in 1921 and it is the story of a young poet named Denis Stone who visits his friends the Wimbush family and their guests at their country estate at Crome. The owner is Mr Henry Wimbush who lives there with his wife Priscilla, a spiritual woman with interests in the occult, and their niece Anne, whom Denis is in love with. Other guests at the house are Jenny Mullion, a part-deaf young lady who is forever retreating into her red journal where she secretly draws caricatures of the people around her (Denis later discovers this and is horrified to see caricatures of himself); Mary Bracegirdle, who is in love with another guest – Ivor Lombard, a social butterfly; Mr Scogan, a cynical man forever philosophising upon life; the artist Mr Gombauld, whom Anne has a secret liking for and Mr Barbecue-Smith, a novelist who in his own words writes one-thousand, five-hundred publishable words an hour!
Not a great deal happens in Huxley’s social satire upon the gentry and their world of so-called aesthetes and intellectuals, in fact it’s all rather dull with Mr Scogan talking for the sake of his own pleasure in hearing himself and no-one really interested in what he has to say and the other characters trying to be brilliant and interesting and all falling rather flat; the country house of course is an excellent tried and tested theatre in which to play out this nonsense and for me Denis seems a bit of a weak character. Interest mounts a little when they hold their annual Crome Charity Fair and we see the Rector Mr Bodiham and his good wife being ‘disgusted’ at the girls in their bathing costumes during the pool races. It’s always good to get up the nose of the church and the pious, sanctimonious hypocrites who inhabit such a relic!
For me, the most interesting and compelling aspect of the novel is the book Henry Wimbush has written, his ‘History of Crome’ from which he delights in reading to the guests. It took him twenty-five years to write and research and nearly four years to print! It is a history of the Lapith and the Wimbush family going back over three and a half centuries from Frederick Lapith to the death of Henry’s father William Wimbush. Very good!

Lady into Fox – by David Garnett.

David Garnett (1892-1981) published this first novel in 1922 and in it we see Mrs Sylvia Tebrick nee Fox, who married Richard Tebrick in 1879 at the age of 23 turn into a young vixen. It occurred in 1880 when she was just 24 and she was out walking with her husband in the woods. He takes her home under his coat and shirt and she is still recognisable as his beautiful wife although she is in the form of a fox. Richard pays off the servants and lets them go and to protect his wife shoots the two dogs; man and vixen sleep together but gradually Sylvia becomes less and less human and her instincts become more fox-like; her characteristics change over time and she wants to be free and escape the loving and protective hold of her husband, whom she on one occasion bit while trying to tunnel under the garden wall. Richard reluctantly lets his wife go free into the wild and she has five cubs that Richard comes to name, love and play with. Eventually Sylvia dies when hunting dogs savage her and Richard tried to save her but also became wounded in the process; he recovers and lives a long life. A strange tale which surprised me in my enjoyment of it! Charming!

Phantasms of the Living: Volume One and Volume Two – by Edmund Gurney, Frederick W. H. Myers and Frank Podmore.

This is a classic of paranormal investigation, a rambling two volume work comprising almost one and a half thousand pages of remarkable ‘evidence’ in the form of cases histories, letters, diagrams and experiments published in 1886. The chapters listed in volume one are: I) Preliminary Remarks, grounds of caution, II) The Experimental Basis: Thought Transference, III) The Transition from Experimental to Spontaneous Telepathy, IV) general Criticism of the Evidence for Spontaneous Telepathy, V) Specimens of the Various Types of Spontaneous Telepathy (also a Note on Witchcraft), VI) Transference of Ideas and of Mental Pictures, VII) Emotional and Motor Effects, VIII) Dreams: part one – The Relation of Dreams to the Argument for Telepathy, part two – Examples of Dreams which may be Reasonably Regarded as Telepathic, IX) ‘Borderland’ Cases, X) Hallucinations: General Sketch, XI) Transient Hallucinations of the Sane: Ambiguous Cases, and XII) The Development of Telepathic Hallucinations.
In volume two, published in the same year, we find the chapters continuing: XIII) The Theory of Chance Coincidence, XIV) Further Visual Cases Occurring to a Single Percipient, XV) Further Auditory Cases Occurring to a Single Percipient, XVI) Tactile Cases, and Cases Affecting more than one of the Percipient’s Senses, XVII) Reciprocal Cases, and XVIII) Collective Cases. Following the Conclusion there are Notes (by Mr Myers) on a suggested Mode of Psychical Interaction. The Supplement has a further nine chapters with many more examples of cases.
As fascinating as these volumes are we cannot ignore critical examination and many of these so-called cases could have been handled in a more scientific manner and recorded appropriately, however, it is such a huge monolithic work in the field of Psychical Studies that it should not be ignored. I found it most intriguing, but perhaps most intriguing of all are the lives of the authors themselves, as in the case of Frederick William Henry Myers M. A. (1843-1901) a founder of the Society for Psychical Research, a homosexual who fell in love with his wife’s cousin, who drowned herself; and Frank Podmore M. A. (1856-1910) a member of the Society for Psychical Research who separated from his wife following a homosexual scandal and he died by drowning. And of course Edmund Gurney M. A. (1847-1888) who overdosed on chloroform! All befitting ends for three extraordinary gentlemen! Excellent!

Early British Trackways, Moats, Mounds, Camps, and Sites – by Alfred Watkins.

This small but very informative book was published in 1922 by the great man of vision who discovered and advocated his system of Ley lines, Alfred Watkins (1855-1935). It is the published form of his lecture which he gave to the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club at Hereford in September 1921. There are illustrations by the author and many fantastic pages on such things as the ‘Antiquity of the Ley’, ‘Earth-Cuttings’, ‘Water-Sighting Points’, ‘Mark-Stones’, ‘Traditional Wells’ and ‘Roman Roads’... Watkins makes you want to pack your map and set off in a line of discovery! Excellent!

The Life of Oscar Wilde – by Robert Sherard.

Robert Harborough Sherard (1861-1943) was an English journalist and writer of poetry and novels who befriended Oscar Wilde and so this book published in 1906 is an excellent account of their relationship. Throughout the eighteen chapters and almost five-hundred pages, Sherard holds up the banner for Wilde in one hand while in the other holds the sword, yet some of his statements, although well-intentioned, seem as if he is seeking excuses for Wilde’s behaviour; he lays the blame first at Oxford University and its undergraduate lifestyle for corrupting young Oscar. He then goes on to blame Oscar himself, excusing his ‘deeds’ and ultimate disgrace and dishonour, due to his ‘epileptiform affliction’ of which he apparently has no control whatsoever, or any knowledge of their consequences. Further to this he says it was a sort of madness, a ‘psychopathia’ in which alcohol triggered his epileptic behaviour. I would say it’s a little naive of Sherard to say Oscar did not know the consequences of his actions or in deed what those actions were, but we must not forget the time in which the book was written, a time in which the church still had enormous power and held its threats of eternal damnation over the heads of all those who wished to express themselves differently. Now, in our more understanding society, or so we like to think, the condemning of any man or woman for the simple act of expressing their sexuality seems abhorrent, yet it still occurs!
The author paints some delightful scenes in which Wilde travels through the United States on his lecture tour and also through Paris and there is a very wonderful chapter in which one of the warders at Reading Gaol gives his account of Oscar’s time there and the author praises highly the work and devotion of Wilde’s friend Robert Ross, who remained at Wilde’s side through all the hardship, the prison sentence and beyond. There are some fine illustrations of Wilde, his friends and contemporaries – there is no mention of that scoundrel ‘Bosie’ who in my opinion should have been the one in prison, not because of his sexual behaviour, but because he was certainly not a gentleman, he was thoroughly rotten and dishonourable!
In the appendix are some very good examples of Wilde’s lectures: ‘Oscar Wilde at Chickery Hall’ from The Nation (12th Jan 1882), ‘Oscar Wilde’s Lecture in English Provinces on the “House Beautiful”’, ‘Oscar Wilde’s Lecture in Dublin on “The Value of Art in Modern Life”’ and ‘Oscar Wilde’s Lectures in Dublin on “Dress”’. Definitely an essential book for all lovers of Oscar Wilde!

Oscar Wilde: A Critical Study – by Arthur Ransome.

Dedicated to Robert Ross and published in 1912, Arthur Ransome (1884-1967) the English author and journalist, gives us a different approach to Wilde and his work. He begins his work with a brief biographical summary, a sort of door mat to wipe your feet on before we enter the author’s study for a further dressing down. Ransome then begins to lecture at us starting with the poems – yes we know that Wilde was not a great poet and that his first book of poems contained ‘imitations’ from such greats as: Pater, Milton, Arnold, Swinburne, Morris, Browning, Rossetti, Dante, Marlowe. Keats... Wilde was young and perhaps too hastily published his volume of verse with their poems, heavy with allusion and ‘borrowings’ which caused whisper of plagiarism, yet the public loved the book and embraced Wilde, if at arm’s length! Ransome then goes on to talk about ‘Aestheticism’ before blowing his nose on Wilde’s ‘Miscellaneous Prose’ and spilling his tea all over Wilde’s social and critical writings – ‘Intentions’. But Rancid is not done yet, he delights in chucking his dirty bath water all over the plays and then urinating over ‘De Profundis’; our grubby little author caused much controversy with his excerpts from that manuscript and caused a sensation as Arthur Rancid became involved in a libel case with Lord Alfred Douglas in 1913. After over a year it came to trial and Rancid won! Douglas was not named in the book but he was inferred as a man who ‘owed some, at least, of the circumstances of his [Wilde’s] public disgrace’.
I am not saying this is a bad book, just in my opinion, a disrespectful book and if you too also think it is a terrible blasphemy, then please do take it up with the author, Mr Arthur Rancid, who can be found at the following address: St Paul’s Church, Rusland, Cumbria, England.

The Wild Garden or Our Groves and Shrubberies made beautiful – William Robinson.

William Robinson (1838-1935) was a pioneer in garden landscaping and horticulture and this classic book published in 1870 sets out his theories on garden design. The book is divided into four parts: ‘Explanatory’, ‘Hardy Exotic Plants’, ‘Selection of Hardy Exotic Plants’ and ‘Garden of British Wildflowers’. Robinson’s planting advocated a natural planting system replacing the formal beds and borders using mixed hardy perennials and annuals for seasonal flowering. Although today it seems quite a natural way of planting at the time it was quite revolutionary and the influence of the book cannot be underestimated! Outstanding!

Breaking into Heaven: The Rise and Fall of The Stone Roses – by Mick Middles.

This 1999 publication by Mick Middles is a fascinating journey charting the rise of one of the greatest bands to come out of Manchester – The Stone Roses. Middles takes us through Ian Brown and John Squire’s early life in Timperley and their interest in punk; Brown’s obsession with kung fu and their later fascination with scooters and scooter gangs. We read about the beginnings of their post-punk band The Patrol and a later incarnation as The Waterfront; the formation of The Stone Roses and their meeting and acceptance of their manager, club owner and entrepreneur Gareth Evans. The ground-breaking debut album in 1989 and the three big gigs: Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom, the Ally Pally and Spike Island. Signing with Silvertone; F M Revolver and the new ‘paint job’ and the following court case of 1990. The Geffen Records deal; the follow up album: The Second Coming. Evans sacking; the loss of Reni; Squire’s departure and life after The Stone Roses for Ian, John, Mani and Reni. Middles has written a truly engrossing account of the band within these 240 pages and the book shines an unfavourable light upon John Squire, the seemingly reticent guitarist and artist who comes across as quite devious. Throughout it all it is Ian who seems to stick to his principles and not get lost in Rock ‘n’ Roll’s egotistic seedy charade or succumb to the white powder!
My own reminiscences of the band is of my brother and I getting into them around 1988; it was like punk all over again, not the later plastic phoneys, but the originals of 76, ‘unintentionally’ ripped clothing held with safety pins, only with the Roses it was old flares, baggy tops and floppy hair, way before the band-wagon rolled into town and spoilt it as it usually does. It felt great to be young and part of a mostly undiscovered and growing scene, a new wave which surged into the student bedsits with that now classic eponymously titled debut album in 89. Dreary Birmingham at the time held onto its devotion to rock and harboured a few fey shoe-gazing musos so it was quite magical to spot a like-minded soul sporting rain-sodden flares through town instigating recognition through eye-contact and perhaps a nod – that was enough! The Roses, like the Sex Pistols before them and Oasis after them, made young lads want to form or join bands and I was no different. Johnny Marr made me want to play the guitar but it was The Stone Roses that made being in a band seem like the best thing in the world!
I went to see the Roses at Wolverhampton Crown Court the day after seeing Ride at Birmingham’s Irish Centre in April 1990 – I met the band and got their signatures and it didn’t matter that I hadn’t slept in forty hours! Then I went to see them at Spike Island, turned up the day before to see them sound-checking and my brother and I had a smoke and chat with Ian (some security guy was getting above his station hassling some fans and Ian stepped in and put him in his place); Mani was playing football and John and Reni were on stage practicing. Bez from the Happy Mondays wandered aimlessly past in some sort of a daze I remember! That night I slept on some cardboard as the strobe lights on stage cut through the darkness and the chill from the River Mersey swept in. I didn’t sleep much and it’s probably the coldest I have ever been. The next day, frozen and awoken by some scouse lads offering us ice-cold orange juice, the sun eventually appeared and it got so hot I had sunstroke! After a hell of a long wait listening to DJ’s and endless beats, the Stone Roses came on. It wasn’t perfect, the wind snatched most of the songs from the awful PA system but we were there and it felt like we were part of history, as indeed we were! Following the euphoric eruption of ‘I am the Resurrection’ and the fireworks it was over.
After the long wait for the second album, Oasis sneaked in through the back door and so did Brit-Pop. Oasis were Roses fans too so there was some sort of acknowledged lineage. I went to see Oasis at Birmingham’s Jug of Ale pub in Moseley in March 1994, just four days after playing on the same stage myself. My brother and I managed to have a smoke and chat with Noel and Liam backstage, they had the same arrogance and self belief and I knew they would be massive.
Music over the last twenty-five years owes a lot to the Stone Roses who held the world in their hands and casually tossed it aside! If you were there, or if you can’t remember if you were there or not, ‘Breaking into Heaven’ by Mick Middles will certainly help you relive those gloriously heady days when being young meant everything; a time which truly began with that landmark debut album – The Stone Roses! Brilliant!

Green Arras – by Laurence Housman.

Green Arras is the first collection of poetry by Laurence Housman (1865-1959) which was published in 1896. Laurence, brother of the more famous Alfred, has produced a beautiful book with some very skilful and delightful illustrations by his own hand. The first poem, a dedicatory poem to his sister Clemence Housman, showed fine promise of what is in store for the fortunate reader: ‘I hang my green arras before you/ Of the lights and the shadows I wove:/ Could the worth of my gift but restore you/ One half of your watchings and love!’ And there are indeed some very good poems such as ‘Antaeus’, ‘The Gazing Faun’, ‘The School of Pan’ and ‘The Modern Proteus’ but sadly I found most of the poems a little tired and uninteresting, which is a pity because I held such hope after the initial dedicatory poem and so wanted his verse to soar and lift me to the heights of Parnassus, instead I trudged through some very lovely meadows and waded through some dappled streams which is the least one should expect from a fine author of worthy verse! Disappointing!

Spikenard: A Book of Devotional Love-Poems – by Laurence Housman.

Housman’s second book of verse published in 1898 is a seventy-two page collection of Christian poetry which in my opinion far outshines his first collection Green Arras. There are some beautiful poems such as ‘The Mystery of the Incarnation’ with its ‘Down from amid dark wings of storm/I set My Feet/To earth’, and ‘God’s Mother’, ‘The Holy Face’ and ‘A Prayer for the Healing of the Wounds of Christ’. These twenty-three devotional love poems, although not evoking a sublime transcendence at the passion of Christ, do have a rich spiritual quality which can produce moments of wonder: ‘Against all outward secrecy I pray, /Let all such secrecy be put away! /Since Thou In all my secrets seest me,/ Thine, not the world’s, let all my secrets be!/ So, in Thy secret Ear when they are named,/ I shall be naked yet not ashamed:/ And my great gain be this dear privacy - /When I shut out the world, to shut in Thee!’ Quite beautiful!

Edward Cracroft Lefroy: His Life and Poems including a Reprint of Echoes from Theocritus – by Wilfred Austin Gill.

Published in 1897 by Wilfred Austin Gill (1856-1899), Professor of Classical Literature and Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge and King’s College, London, this biography of his friend the Rev. Edward Cracroft Lefroy (1855-1891) with a ‘critical estimate of the sonnets by the late John Addington Symonds’ is an excellent work indeed! We have Gill’s fine memoir of Lefroy beginning at Blackheath and Oxford and detailing his clerical life with some really interesting passages on his literary works before slowly fading into the sunset with Lefroy’s early death. He had been a weak child and knew as early as 1882 that his heart was not strong and that he should expect a short life – he died in 1891 at the age of thirty-six! Lefroy was educated at Keble College, Oxford from October 1874 and ordained at Old Lambeth Church, London in June 1878. Unfortunately due to his constant ill health he had to resign in November 1878; he became Curate of St. German’s, Blackheath in February 1897 (resigning unwillingly in July 1880) and Curate of St. John’s Church, Woolwich in September 1880 (resigning from ill health in July 1882).
Having read through his life and career we are about to ascend the summit of his poetic achievement – ‘Echoes from Theocritus and Other Sonnets’ (originally published in 1885). The reprint, with its Miscellaneous Sonnets – thirty sonnets not included in the 1885 volume, is dedicated to his friend Wilfred Austin Gill and there really are some outstanding sonnets which many great poets of their day acclaimed as masterful! The Miscellaneous Sonnets with their praise of heroic athletes such as cricketers and footballers are actually very skilful sketches of the sportsmen he liked to admire. Gill is mesmerizingly silent as to Lefroy’s sexual proclivity which we know to mirror the Greek notion of love and beauty, probably because Gill himself shares Lefroy’s ideals and the critical estimate by John Addington Symonds all but hammers home the realisation of the truth without obvious clarity!
It is a pity that Edward Cracroft Lefroy is not more widely known for his sonnets, like Shakespeare and Milton before him, truly achieve monumental beauty – ‘Call him noble, call him brave,/ Call him genius, if you will;/ But to call him from his grave/ far transcendeth all your skill.’ [The Dead Poet. 1878] Beyond mortal praise for it lies in the realms of the Gods!

Antinous: A Poem – by Fernando Pessoa.

Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) the Portuguese poet, writer and critic wrote his poem Antinous in Lisbon in 1915 and it was published three years later in 1918. The poem describes the death of young Antinous with his ‘bare female male-body like a god’ and his ‘fingers skilled in things not to be named’ and the terrible sense of loss felt by the Emperor Hadrian. The young boy-god lies dead upon the couch as the rain falls outside and Hadrian remains at his side. In despair, the Emperor, with his ‘nights widowed of love and kisses’ gently lets his ‘cold lips run all the body over’ where he ‘scarce tastes death from the dead body’s cold.’ The Emperor declares that he will have a great statue of Antinous erected in his honour for ‘love, love, my love! thou art already a god.
Those of you who are familiar with the Great Beast Aleister Crowley will recall that Pessoa was interested in the occult and spiritualism and the two men met in Lisbon in 1930. Between them they had the idea of the ‘Boca de Inferno’ incident in which Crowley left a cryptic ‘suicide’ note! Glorious days indeed!

The Unexpected Years – by Laurence Housman.

Published in 1937 by the illustrator, art critic, writer and dramatist Laurence Housman (1865-1959), ‘The Unexpected Years’ is a really intriguing autobiography dividing its 392 pages into simple chapters: ‘Early Years’, ‘Pre-War Years’, ‘War Time’, and ‘Post-War Years’. We learn of Housman’s happy childhood with his siblings in Bromsgrove and his school days; his interests in art and his illustration work; his instrumental role in the Women’s Suffrage Movement; his love of cats and some rather marvellous tales concerning his feline friends; his poetry and the writing of his novels; his dramatic writings: many of Laurence’s dramatic works (and he wrote a great deal) were banned due to their religious or royal themes. But most fascinating are his reminiscences about his older brother and arguably the more famous A E Housman, particularly the years before his death in 1936. There was no loss of love between them as some have suggested and Alfred Housman’s success with his poetry collection ‘A Shropshire Lad’ may have assigned Laurence to remain mostly in its shadow, the fact is that Laurence always admired and looked-up to his older brother, seeking his approval and criticism wherever possible! Although Laurence held such love for his brother, perhaps the greater love was held for his dear sister Clemence Housman (1861-1955) who like Laurence was an illustrator, writer and activist in the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Brother and sister lived much of their life together and following the First World War they lived in the village of Ashley in Hampshire in a cottage before moving to Street in Somerset in 1924.
Apart from his two older siblings there is very little mention of love and romance for there is no hint of intimacy and he may come across as a little cold but it was a time when some things could not be said although it may be assumed and we may assume all too well that Laurence like his brother Alfred held great affection for his own sex and perhaps preferred to keep things of that nature purely personal, which from the standpoint of nearly a century into the book’s future, was perhaps a wise decision!
I was quite astounded at how prolific he was and then the realisation hit me that he was fortunate enough not to get married and thus saved himself countless hours which could have been devoted to marital misery! The Unexpected Years is an unexpected pleasure!

The Quest for Corvo – by A. J. A. Symons.

Published in 1934 by Alphonse James Albert Symons (1900-1941), himself a very fascinating individual: bibliophile, biographer, epicure and dandy! The author, it appears, discovered the mysterious writer named Frederick William Rolfe (1860-1913) also known as ‘Baron Corvo’ in 1925 through his acquaintance with an equally intriguing and remarkable fellow named Christopher Sclater Millard (1872-1927), an Oxford graduate (Keble College), Jacobite, Socialist, Assistant Editor of the Burlington Magazine and dealer in rare and ‘unusual’ books. Millard leant Symons a copy of ‘Hadrian the Seventh’ by Corvo, or so we are led to believe, and Symons was instantly entranced by the book and its author. And so began the ‘Quest’ to unearth more about the mysterious Baron Corvo; a quest which takes us through Rolfe’s calling towards Roman Catholicism and his vocation to become a priest which remained unfulfilled and the various writing ventures and collaborations throughout his pitiful life. Symons or ‘A. J.’ weaves through Corvo’s intricate life and investigates the attack upon Corvo in the Aberdeen Free Press of 1898 and trawls through the personal collections of Corvo archives kept by his one time friends such as Harry Pirie-Gordon (1883-1969), and meets Corvo’s brother, the barrister Herbert Rolfe. Other sources include friends and admirers such as: Frank Swinnerton, a reader for Chatto & Windus from 1910-25, Shane Leslie, Charles Kains-Jackson (1857-1933) who knew Rolfe at Christchurch, Hampshire; Sholto Osborne Gordon Douglas (1873-1934), Trevor Haddon, Father Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914), Churton Taylor, Professor Richard MacGillivray Dawkins (1871-1955), Canon Lonsdale Ragg (1866-1945) and the Reverend Stephen Justin, all befriended Rolfe in some way and became benefactors but most if not all suffered insults as to their treatment of Rolfe.
Symons does some excellent work in uncovering Corvo’s past from his time at Oscott Roman Catholic College in Birmingham at the end of 1887 (he was there a very short time) and his stay at Scots College in Rome where he studied briefly before being expelled; and then we discover him at Christchurch, Hampshire in 1890 before he moves to Aberdeen in 1892 and thence to Holywell in North Wales during 1895. Corvo relies on the finances of friends and he is perpetually disappointed with book publishers and so he retires to Venice. The hardship he suffers is beyond belief for he goes days without eating and has to sleep in an open boat wearing the only tattered clothes he possesses. It is no wonder that he suffers from paranoia and sees enemies all around him. He writes furiously, mostly letters of insult to those friends he feels have injured him and when finances are blessed upon him he squanders it on unnecessary luxuries, parading wealth like some 15th century cardinal. Then of course there are those infamous Venetian Letters written during 1909-10 to Charles Masson Fox (1866-1935)!
This is indeed a sad tale of a very extraordinary man who perhaps can be considered a genius and Symons proves himself above and beyond the ordinary biographer with the Quest for Corvo which is an utterly mesmerising, intense masterpiece of biography!

Oscar Wilde: A Study from the French of Andre Gide – by Stuart Mason.

Stuart Mason was the pen name of Christopher Sclater Millard (1872-1927) an excellent scholar of Wilde and his works and this book with his fine introductory notes and bibliography of Wilde was his first published work in 1905. The book is dedicated to his friend Donald Bruce Wallace of New York, with whom in the summer of 1904 they visited Bagneux Cemetery where Wilde had been interred. It was a ‘pilgrimage of love’ and they ‘watered with tears the roses and lilies’ that they ‘covered the Poet’s grave’.
Andre Gide (1869-1951) first met Oscar Wilde in 1891 and they met often throughout 1891-92. They next met in January 1895 at Blidah where they were staying at the same hotel and of course they talked about the scandal that was ensuing around Wilde. The great Irish author seemed indifferent and was fully prepared for some sort of consequence; he was determined to return back to England despite Gide trying to deter him. There next meeting occurred following Wilde’s prison sentence, he was now Sebastian Melmoth living in Berneval, France near Dieppe, a shadow of his former self. Throughout this lovely book Gide entertains us with his faithful renditions of Wilde’s talk which were mostly related in delightful stories.
Gide first published this study of his friend Oscar Wilde in a monthly literary review called L’Ermitage, in June 1902 which was afterwards reprinted with slight alterations in a volume of Gide’s critical essays entitled ‘Pretextes’. This volume is the first to be translated into English and includes a sonnet ‘To Oscar Wilde’ by Augustus M. Moore; a list of published writings by Wilde with Bibliographical notes on the English editions. There is also included two letters by Gide and one of Wilde’s rare unpublished poems from Oxford. A charming and beautiful book!

Oscar Wilde: Art and Morality, A Defence of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” – Edited by Stuart Mason.

Published in 1908 and edited by Stuart Mason who is none other than the great Christopher Sclater Millard (1872-1927), an authority and scholar on Wilde and his works and the author of the ‘Bibliography of Oscar Wilde’ (1914), we are gently guided from one pompous critical review of Wilde’s only novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ which first appeared in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890 and was extended and published in book form the following year, to the next column of unflattering reviews. Mr. Wilde writes with genteel politeness in the defence of his novel explaining his views and concepts of art and morality; newspapers such as ‘The Daily Chronicle’ and ‘The Scots Observer’ and periodicals such as ‘Light’ (a spiritualistic review) and ‘Punch’ all have something to say on the lines of decency and upon the ‘gentleman of letters’ who had the audacity to publish such a ‘poisonous’ book! Mr. Walter Pater’s review of ‘Dorian’ is most interesting, along with other charming critical analysis of the book: A ‘Letter from a London Editor’; Profuse and Perfervid; A Revulsion from Realism; The Romance of the Impossible; ‘The Athaeneum’ on Dorian Gray; The Morality of Dorian Gray; and Mr. Robert Buchanan on Pagan Viciousness. Mason also kindly provides a ‘Comparative Table of Chapters’ and ‘Passages which appear in the 1890 Edition only’ along with a bibliography and translations.
Of course Wilde is correct in his justification of ‘Dorian’ not being an immoral book and that the adoration given by the artist Basil Hallwood towards his artistic muse and handsome young subject Dorian Gray, a man that fires Hallwood’s painterly powers and fills his every thought, is a noble and artistic expression of love in an aesthetic sense. The hedonistic views of the corrupting force in the novel, Lord Henry Wotton, are merely the thoughts of a bored and mildly wicked aristocrat who enlightens Dorian to the joys and temptations of the flesh and the exuberance of youth, with its yearning to discover new sensations. Such behaviour in the Victorian era with its ‘fin de siecle’ and ‘decadence’ became distasteful and there was a growing initiative within the Church to suppress the influence of such works and to protect the innocent public because God help them, they are so easily led into corruption and sin, sentiments which acted purely out of fear, not genuine concern for decency! There is always something suspicious when a ‘body’ or organisation becomes overly concerned about upholding another’s moral welfare!
Dorian Gray, like ‘Fanny Hill’ (1748), ‘Justine’ (1791), ‘Sins of the Cities of the Plain’ (1881), ‘Teleny’ (1893), ‘Songs of Bilitis’ (1894), ‘Lolita’ (1955) and ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ (1960) are no more immoral than Mrs. Beeton and her renowned ‘Book of Household Management’ (1861) – obscenity is in the eye of the beholder and it can be found anywhere, even in the Bible, which has had a more disturbing and corrupting influence on humanity than any novel in the history of mankind! ‘Oscar Wilde: Art and Morality’ is a delightful book and a book to be savoured slowly following a celebration of the Black Mass and between acts of wild unnatural lusts and the drinking of fresh human blood! Most enjoyable!

Nineveh and Other Poems – by George Sylvester Viereck.

This collection of poems published in 1907 and dedicated to the English author and poet Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947) is simply a remarkable volume for a twenty-three year old to produce. The author, George Sylvester Viereck (1884-1962) was a German born American writer, poet and journalist who founded the periodical ‘The International’, of which Aleister Crowley was a contributing editor for a while, and another publication called ‘The Fatherland’, a pro-German paper during the First World War. Nineveh and Other Poems seduced the reader into Viereck’s world of Christian allegory, mystical and magical Egyptian symbolism combined with the erotic and satanic visions drawn from the fairy realm of his mind. The poems, mostly decadent in nature, invoke Wilde, Swinburne and Baudelaire and throw in a measure of Shelley and Keats into the pot. The book is divided into sections: Salutation; Nineveh; The Book of Idols; A Ballad of Sin; Golgotha; The Garden of Passion; In the Agora; Male and Female Created He Them; The Magic City; The Haunted House, and The Three Sphinxes. In the poem ‘The Empire City’ he sets before us New York with its ‘steel-ribbed monsters’ and ‘Babylonian towers’ which seem to rise into space; a city that ‘dreams in iron’ with ‘thoughts of stone’. The poem ‘Nineveh’ speaks about ‘painted women’ who are ‘bedecked with silks and jewelled things’; vampire-women whose ‘beauty is of Ashtoreth’. Viereck achieves a superb lyrical quality with poems such as ‘Kakodamon’, ‘The Smile of the Sphinx’ with its Poe-like rhythm; ‘When Idols Fall’, ‘The Scarlet Flower’, ‘Mr. W. H.’ (in reference to Shakespeare’s mysterious man of the sonnets), ‘The New Colossus in 1907’, ‘Aiogyne’, ‘Aiander’, ‘To Swinburne’ and ‘The Poet’. Viereck was hailed like some new messiah if one reads the reviews (also printed in the front of the book) but he seemed to flounder, yet Nineveh reminds us that this young man distilled a strange alchemy into a simple volume of poems!

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose Selected and Edited by W. H. Gardner.

First published in 1953 (I read the 1970, Penguin edition) this is an excellent study of Hopkins works by the scholar and fellow Catholic Dr. W. H. Gardner. The book is dedicated to the memory of the poet Robert Bridges (1844-1930) who saw the greatness in Hopkins’ poetry and brought him to the attention of the world in his ‘Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ of 1918, which he edited. Hopkins is undoubtedly one of our greatest poets in my opinion and I find it very difficult to read such of his poems as ‘God’s Grandeur’, ’Carrion Comfort’, ‘No worst, there is none’ ‘To seem the stranger lies my lot’, ‘I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day’ and ‘Patience, hard thing!’ and not be uplifted by the enormous emotion pitched below the surface of these jewels of human consciousness. Gardner does a fine job of explaining the poems in his preface with Hopkins’ notion of ‘Sprung Rhythm’ and its ‘hangers’ and ‘outriders’ of added syllables to fit the meter etc. Once beyond the genius of the poems with its four early poems (1865-1866): ‘The Alchemist in the City’, ‘Let me be to Thee as the circling bird’, ‘Heaven-Haven’ and ‘The Habit of Perfection’ and the Poems (1867-1889) we enter the delicious realm of Hopkins’ diaries and journals! In these Hopkins writes with such clarity and perception that only a true poet could master, for he unmasks nature to reveal its outward reflection of its inner complexity like some Elizabethan hermeticist, he observes natural phenomenon to discover the intrinsic quality, its individual distinctness or its esoteric meaning and characteristic; through such examinations of nature the poet finds a deep perception and illumination of external form which transcends the physical world and enters upon the spiritual. Hopkins translates this into his poetry where he discovers the ‘inscape’ of a thing that is its individual distinctiveness or ‘oneness’ and then realises its ‘instress’ or the energy which feeds the inscape; the unifying force, an impulse – sensation of inscape which informs the senses.
From his prose we find some magnificent writings such as: ‘On the origin of beauty: A Platonic dialogue’ (1865), ‘The Principles of Foundation’ which looks at the specific exercises as taught by the Spanish founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) and ‘Comments on the Spiritual Exercises’ (of St. Ignatius Loyola). From his ‘Diaries and Journals’ we see Hopkins the man enjoying his holiday in Switzerland in 1868 and making notes on the origin and meaning of words etc. The ‘Selected Letters’ have been well chosen by Gardner and gives us a glimpse of Hopkins’ daily life at Oxford, Roehampton in Surrey and also Wales. He writes with Catholic concern to Rev. Dr. J. H. Newman about being received into the Church and how his parents want him to delay for six months, yet Hopkins is adamant in his decision; there are letters to his father and mother and sister Kate; letters to his dear friend and fellow poet Robert Bridges concerning literature and writing styles etc.; to the Rev. R. W. Dixon (1833-1900) author of ‘Christ’s Company’ (1861) a book Hopkins greatly admired and letters to the writer Coventry Patmore (1823-1896).
Like other Anglo-Catholics, he practised the milder forms of asceticism. Like Milton, he strove to attain a perfect chastity of mind and body, not merely in the interests of character, sanctity – “immortal beauty” as he called it’ [Introduction: W H Gardner]. Strange and beautiful and absolutely Divine!

Cyril and Lionel and Other Poems: A Volume of Sentimental Studies – by Mark Andre Raffalovich.

I have to admit that I came upon this book and its author quite by chance as I was looking for another ‘Raffalovich’ and so it was a pleasant surprise! The other ‘Raffalovich’ in question was none other than George Raffalovich (1880-1958), the author of ‘Planetary Journeys and Earthly Sketches’ (1908) and member of Alesiter Crowley’s magical order where he took the magical name Frater Audeo et Gaudeo (I dare and I rejoice); a contributor to Crowley’s magical periodical ‘The Equinox’. However, it seems that the ‘Gods’ have other ideas in mind and have presented to me this other ‘Raffalovich’ who happens to have the quite unremarkable forenames Mark Andre and lived between 1864 and 1934! So, who is this other usurper to the name ‘Raffalovich’? It seems he is (or indeed was) a French poet who studied at Oxford in 1882 before coming to London and opening his salon where he met Oscar Wilde and also his great love with whom he spent the rest of his life (they both died the same year) the poet and priest John Gray (1866-1934), the inspiration for Wilde’s ‘Dorian Gray’.
Raffalovich became a Catholic in 1896. His first book of poems which I have had the pleasure of reading is ‘Cyril and Lionel and Other Poems’ published in 1884. The author has a very natural rhythm though his rhymes are a little lacking in inventive expression but that is not to say his verse is not fine in any way, in fact, I found his lyrical beauty quite sublime as if he were commanding some peculiar spell:

‘A wanderer through worldly woes, I thought
I knew life’s ways until your beauty wrought
That sudden change of love for you in me.’ [Cyril. XIV]

I was lulled into his incantation and swept into his world where meaningless gestures become ‘melted in soft shame.’ [After Flirting], There are tender moments as in Endymion, where the ‘youth whose sleeping limbs entrance/The lord of sleep in moonlight and romance,’ [Cyril. VII] and evocations of the human current where passion seems to inhale and exhale – ‘My love is bound by the equal fate/to hate and love, to love you and to hate.’ [Love and Hate. Cyril. XLI]
There are some marvellous poems in this collection such as: ‘Cyril’, ‘Narcissus’, ‘To a Man’, ‘To one they call guilty’, ‘Shame and Beauty’, ‘The Renewal of Love’ and ‘To the best beloved’ and some really superb passages of pure romantic thought, but as the Gods have directed me here and the magic of each page was purely below the surface, glinting in the shallows as it were, I should not expect everyone to find the beautiful fragments within quite to their taste as they were to my own!

The Green Carnation – by Robert Smythe Hichens.

Published anonymously in 1894, The Green Carnations is a witty parody of the conversation of Oscar Wilde and ‘Bosie’ among assembled guests. Robert Smythe Hichens (1864-1950) was an English journalist and writer who met Wilde during 1893-4 and the book has many authentic conversations and epigrams from the great man’s mouth. Wilde of course was suspected of being the author of the book and he set out a letter of denial to the Pall Mall Gazette on 2nd October 1894; it was also used at his subsequent trial against him. The story (there is not much of a plot I am afraid) centres on a gathering being held by twenty-eight year old Lady Locke at her country cottage, an annual event known as ‘the Surrey week’. Locke, who stands to inherit a great fortune, is in love with the twenty-four year old almost twenty-five Lord Reginald Hastings (Lord Alfred Douglas ‘Bosie’). Hastings has come with his older friend and close companion Esme Amarinth (Oscar Wilde), a notable wit and man lionised by society. Lady Locke is a widow (she was married to a military man when she was seventeen) and she has a view to marrying Lord ‘Reggie’ Hastings. Other guests are Madame Valtesi and Mrs. Windsor and we also meet the curate Mr. Smith. Reggie has composed an ‘Anthem’ and is very keen to play it at Chenecote Curch on Sunday along with the boys’ choir. The way Esme Amarinth turns the conversation with the curate towards Reggie and his marvellous anthem is simply breath-taking and gives us a glimpse of the astonishing calibre of Wilde’s conversational manoeuvres. Throughout the fifteen chapters there is some wonderful wordplay and a continuous stream of epigrams which although brilliant must have become a little tedious to be confronted with so much intellectual fluff and aesthetic wit but nevertheless, Wilde wore his genius for all to see and only his very close friends would have caught any signs of tragedy about him when he was not being ‘brilliant’ for his audience. Lord Reggie does indeed ask Lady Locke for her hand in marriage and after spending time with him and realising that although he was extraordinarily handsome he was not a serious man and he only had love for himself and for Esme; he would definitely not make a good suitor for marriage; Reggie is nothing more than a superficial shadow of Esme Amarinth and the green carnations they wear is a symbol, a ‘badge’ that she cannot and will not understand. She declines Reggie’s offer and tells him why, he in turn is quite perplexed and a little embarrassed and he and Amarinth leave for London together the next day. The ‘Surrey week’ was over!
Casual readers may find this not to their liking but Wilde enthusiasts will find something to take away and cherish, even if it is just a faded glimpse of his genius as seen through the eyes of Robert Hichens! Delightful!

Love Lyrics – by Alan Stanley.

Published in 1894 this is a really well written collection of poems by the very mysterious and obscure poet Alan Stanley. The poems are: At Evening; To a Child; Love in Autumn; The Old Story; Surrender; A Dream; At Monaco; The Dawn Nocturne (August Blue); Now dies the Sun; An Old Picture; A Night Club and a Valse; From North to South (Sappho to Aloeus); Love at Hinksey; A Requiem; At Bournemouth; To a Poet; Love’s Gifts (A Nocturne); An Idyll at Marseilles; Wreckage; In a Northern Town (Two Impressions); A Night Thought; A Traveller to his Lady; A Tragedy; Two Rispetti; Love’s Song, and a dedication To G_____. The poems have a sensuous touch like this from his ‘The Dawn Nocturne’ which Stanley wrote after seeing the painting ‘August Blue’ (1893-4) by the artist Henry Scott Tuke (1858-1929):

‘Stripped for the sea your tender form
Seems all ivory white,
Through which the blue veins wander warm
O’er throat and bosom slight.
And as you stand, so slim, upright
The glad waves grow and yearn
To clasp you circling in their might,
To kiss with lips that burn.
Flashing limbs in the waters blue
And gold curls floating free;
Say, does it thrill you through and through
With ardent love, the sea?’

And here – ‘What ailed love that he should thus take flight, /And leave me where the fading roses lie, /In the dear garden of our dead delight?’ [A Night Thought]
The poems have a very modern feel to them and a simple form which makes it hard to believe they were written before the twentieth century – ‘White arms were thrown about my head, / And I felt subtle fingers twine/ Within these tresses brown of mine, / Yet still I lay as one half-dead.’ [A Dream] and there is a definite sense of tragedy about the poems too –

‘Lo! the pale moon by gentle breezes led
Drifts like a wraith, ere night has yet begun,
All grows so hushed, the very world seems dead,
Now dies the sun.’ [Now dies the sun]

Very good and the mystery of the author shall remain!

The Stone Roses and the Resurrection of British Pop – by John Robb.

Published in 1997 (I read the 2001 edition) and at 395 pages this is a very detailed biography of the band from its punk origins and that magical debut album to those big gigs, managerial problems and court cases, and finally to ‘The Second Coming’ and eventual split. John Robb, a musician and a journalist who knew the Stone Roses in their early days has written an excellent tribute to one of the greatest bands to emerge from the late eighties and shake up the world of guitar-based music. One thing the Stone Roses were good at was exploring different genres of music and incorporating it into their own unique flavour of pop/rock/dance like an alchemical process. But like all bands eventually the real world bursts the bubble with the opportunity to enjoy the new wealth, family comes along and babies and mortgages and suddenly that whole being in a gang scenario making perfect music seems harder to accomplish. One becomes lazy and the hunger to create and the fire inside is hard to rekindle.
It’s all here, in chronological order, year by year with dates which for me being a little obsessive over is a wonderful thing; despite the few minor typos, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who was into the band at the time and to any young student of music doing the ground work before putting their own band together... Fantastic!

My Sea and Other Poems – by Roden Noel.

The English poet Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel (1834-1894) was the son of the First Earl of Gainsborough and ‘My Sea and Other Poems’ was his last collection published posthumously in 1896. At seventy-six pages including an introduction by Stanley Addleshaw (Oxford 1895), this is not a bad book at all! His poems mainly have a nautical theme or they extol the joys of nature; the contents are: My Sea, My Sea; Inconsistent; Wild Love on the Sea:

Ho! With storm to the windward, and breakers to lee,
They go swimming with Death, who go sailing with me!

Nocturne; At Porthcurno:

‘O dance of wild green billow,
Winning spells ye have,
Each following his fellow,
Clash, confound your foam
In your aerial home,
Refluent from the stone
On following wave to run,
Immingling treble laughter
With his that follows after!’


‘And surely he cannot be far
From here where such sweet voices are!
I will follow where you lead,
Flow over me, or wind your weed,
In a cave I’ll learn your rede;
Where reposing at full length
I may recover youth and strength.’

Eros in May (written June 1889); Isandula; Midnight (begun Nov 1888, finished May 1889):
Absorbed within the infinite, / deforming evils fallen away, / No dishonouring care can stain, / The ideal only rule and reign!

Light Love by the Sea-Glory; To______; To a Comrade; To _____ (written 9th August 1893); Grey Eyes (Aug 1889); Mystic Music (April 1893) and Natura Naturans, where Noel delights in the splendour of nature far more superior in my opinion to that old scribbler Wordsworth:

‘...a grim ghoul
Head-tentacled, with fungus-blotched rude bark,
(In such a scene the Druid poured young blood!)
But not one leaf upon its monstrous age;’

A pleasant surprise and a good starting place to explore further this lesser known poet!

Xantippe and Other Verse –by Amy Levy.

‘Xantippe and Other Verse’ was published in 1881 by an extraordinarily gifted young English poet and novelist named Amy Levy (1861-1889). Amy was the first Jewish woman to attend Cambridge University in 1879 and this first collection of verse shows a remarkable maturity and hints at greater work to come. ‘Xantippe’ (a fragment) is written in the voice of Socrates’ wife and other poems in the collection include: ‘A Prayer’; ‘Ralph to Mary’; ‘Felo de Se’ with apologies to Mr. Swinburne; ‘Sonnet’; ‘Translations from Geibel’; and ‘Run to Death’ – a true incident of Pre-Revolutionary French History. Here is a short example from her ‘Sonnet’:

‘The dark has faded, and before mine eyes
Have long, grey flats expanded, dim and bare;
And through the changing guises all things wear
Inevitable Law I recognise:
Yet in my heart a hint of feeling lies
Which half a hope and half a despair.’

Amy suffered lifelong depression and on 10th September 1889 at the age of 27, she took her own life and the loss to the world of literature was enormous!

A Minor Poet and Other Verse – by Amy Levy.

This is Levy’s second book of verse published in 1884 (I read the 1891 edition, 102 pages) and throughout we find a dark thread of melancholy meandering between the stanzas. In the poem ‘A Minor Poet’ Levy writes about the suicide of a poet and the discovery of the body by a friend Tom Leigh: ‘The women say, of course, he died for love; /The men, for lack of gold, or cavilling of carping cities.’
Other poems include dramatic monologues, lyric poems and philosophical verse: ‘To a Dead Poet’, ‘Xantippe’, ‘Medea’, ‘Sinfonia Eroica’ (to Sylvia), ‘To Sylvia’, ‘A Greek Girl’, ‘Magdalen’, ‘Christopher Found’, ‘’A Dirge’, ‘The Sick Man and the Nightingale’, ‘To Death’, ‘A June-Tide Echo’, ‘To Lallie’, ‘In a Minor Key’, ‘A Farewell’, ‘A Cross-road Epitaph’, ‘Epitaph’ and ‘Sonnet’. Amy was a lover of women and many of the poems hark back upon recollections of love and youthful romantic feeling:

‘And I used to pace with a stealthy tread
By a certain house which is under a hill;
A cottage stands near, wall’d white, roof’d red –
Tall trees grow thick – I can see it still!

How I used to watch with a hope that was fear
For the least swift glimpse of your gown’s dear fold!
(You wore blue gowns in those days, my dear –
One light for summer, one dark for cold.)’ [In a Minor Key]

Reading Amy Levy’s verse is a beautiful experience and her work seems to grow tremendously throughout the three volumes that were published during her life and shortly after her suicide. Superb!

A London Plane-Tree and Other Verse – by Amy Levy.

This is Levy’s final collection of verse published in 1889 shortly after her death – the proofs were read and corrected by Levy just a week before her suicide in September 1889. These ‘last words’, short poems like glimpses caught suddenly over 108 pages are a lasting testament to the colossal and tragic ending of a life. The book is dedicated to her friend Clementina Black and is divided into four sections: ‘A London-Plane Tree’, ‘Love, Dreams and Death’, ‘Moods and Thoughts’ and ‘Odds and Ends’. The book also contains the poem ‘To Vernon Lee’, her lover whom she met in 1886 and this simple expression of love ‘At Dawn’:

‘In the night I dreamed of you;
All the place was filled
With your presence; in my heart
The strife was stilled.
.......All night I have dreamed of you;
Now the morn is grey. –
How shall I arise and face
The empty day?’

A Modern Faust and Other Poems – by Roden Noel.

Published in 1888 by Roden Berkeley Wriotheseley Noel (1834-1894) the English poet and Cambridge Apostle, ‘A Modern Faust’ seemed like an interesting read initially, his lengthy metaphysical poem ‘A Modern Faust’ running to two-hundred and nine pages (the book was only 255 pages!) was a poor imitation of Browning and Byron at best! The book is dedicated to his friend Horatio Forbes Brown, the Scottish historian and I shall list the poetical contents of the book merely as a warning sign should you accidently step too far this way! – ‘A Modern Faust’, ‘To My Mother’, ‘Fowey’, ‘The Merry-go-round’, ‘Ah! Love ye, one another well!’, ‘Lost Angel’, ‘I love you, dear’, ‘Hands that wander’, ‘The Little Imbecile’, ‘Arise’, ‘A Casual Song’, ‘The Child’s Journey’, ‘The True King’, ‘The Month of the Nightingale’, ‘Returning Thanks’, and ‘The Polish Mother’ (a dramatic monologue). No doubt some will find inspiration and some poetic spark to ignite their senses and it’s true he does have a poetic gift with his writing about nature (damn that Wordsworth and his abusive blight upon nature’s beauty!) but I found nothing but an old fool with too much wealth and time on his hands to dabble in poetic expression; but I will not give up on the old boy for he has two saving graces which redeem him to me, one: although he was married he was a great cavorter of men and enjoyed many a sexual dalliance with them, as appears to have been the occupation of many of his ancestors also!, and two: he had interests in the paranormal being a founding Vice-President for the Society for Psychical Research, so there is definitely hope for the petty scandalous Roden Noel! Disappointing poems in this collection but the suggestion of something greater to come shall compel me to investigate further!

Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol – by Steve Jones and Ben Thompson.

I was fortunate to read a signed copy of this 2016 publication, not that this changes its literary merit in the least but for me, a confirmed Sex Pistol fan for at least three decades it made a very good book that little bit more special! There is a Foreward by Chrissie Hynde who was there at the beginning of punk when she met the early Pistols and Steve Jones, although as he admits suffered through lack of education in his reading and writing, has produced a fantastic rock ‘n’ roll autobiography to rival Rotten (John Lydon) and Glen Matlock! The book (308 pages) is divided into three parts: 1: ‘Before’, 2: ‘During’ and 3: ‘After’ and it is a fascinating read from beginning to end; we encounter the young Steve in his childhood and discover the sexual abuse he suffered and his turning to stealing anything that took his interest. There is his interest in music and fashion which he wanders in and out of like a young chameleon before forming a band which became the Sex Pistols with his friend Paul Cook on drums and Glen Matlock who worked at McLaren’s and Westwood’s shop ‘SEX’ on the King’s Road; The meeting with Lydon (Rotten) and his ‘audition’ for the band. We have his thoughts on Johnny Rotten (Lydon) and of Sid Vicious, in fact Jones has a lot to say on many things and the book is more a philosophical dialogue with the reader and with himself as he admits to and attempts to overcome his addictions: crime (stealing), drugs and sex! The sexual content is very frank and I have never read a book written with such honesty and there is a ‘confessional’ quality to Steve’s ‘coming clean’ to his crimes. I could never hope to be so honest about all the wicked things I have done in my life, not until I am sure that death shall swiftly release me from such embarrassment and shame! To survive all the hardship and personal setbacks which befell him is a sign of his true strength and ‘Lonely Boy’ is a wonderful read for anyone interested in punk, music and life! Pure brilliance!

The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole – by Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo).

It sometimes takes a whole lifetime to discover and appreciate Frederick Rolfe for he is not terribly well known but once he is known, aficionados tend to sanctify his memory and the spectacular works he left behind for us. ‘The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole’ (the title is from Plato’s ‘Symposium’ – The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole is called Love) was written in Venice in 1909 and not published until 1934. I read a 1986 edition with an introduction by A. J. A. Symons and a Foreward by Philip Healy.
1909 was a difficult year for Rolfe, known as ‘Baron Corvo’, it was a year of abandonment by his ‘friends’ and he came close to starvation, living in Venice. He had been rejected for the Catholic priesthood he so desired and was personally attacked by an Aberdeen newspaper and all his bitter hatred became focused and channelled into this novel, a novel about romance! Its twenty-seven chapters tell the story of a growing love between Nicholas Crabbe (Rolfe) and a sixteen-almost seventeen year old girl named Ermenegilda Falier and known as Zilda. Crabbe discovers Zilda following the earthquake at the village of La Tasca where Zilda lived; now orphaned by the earthquake, Crabbe rescues her in his boat. The earthquake actually occurred at Messina in Southern Italy on 28th December 1908 and Rolfe witnessed its destructive power. To avoid any scandal Zilda dresses as a boy ‘Zildo’ and becomes Crabbe’s gondolier. Rolfe writes much of the novel from an autobiographical stance and he disguises other characters in the book such as the Reverend Bobugo Bonsen who is in fact Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) and Mr. Harricus Peary-Buthlaw, Grand Lieutenant of the Order of Sanctissima Sophia, who is actually Mr. Charles Henry Clinton Pirie-Gordon (1883-1969). Rolfe vents his anger in the novel towards those he considered not only friends but lovers also and he presents us with pages of correspondence which took place between Rolfe and his acquaintances or his ‘enemies’ and various publishers etc. If you are familiar with ‘The Priest and the Acolyte’ written in June 1894 by John Francis Bloxam you will no doubt have an inkling as to the nature of Crabbe’s romantic yearnings and I would advise reading some sort of biography of Rolfe to fully understand the more obscure points in the novel and appreciate its autobiographical details. The more one reads into the novel, the feeling of being forsaken, financial hardship and starvation among the beautiful descriptions of Venice, the darker the storm clouds grow and the greater the despair which closes in upon Crabbe towards his death bed. But in the final chapter the clouds depart and the sun falls once more upon Crabbe in the beautiful face of Zildo who we find has loved him all along and the ‘Desire and Pursuit of the Whole was crowned and rewarded by Love.’ Magnificent!

Tuberose and Meadowsweet – by Mark Andre Raffalovich.

This is Raffalovich’s second book of published poems from 1885 and it is mysteriously dedicated to ‘A. St. J.’ Having high expectations after reading the author’s first book of poems ‘Cyril and Lionel and Other Poems’ published the previous year I was not disappointed to find ‘Tuberose and Meadowsweet’ highly accomplished and quite beautiful with its tender lines of love such as this from his poem ‘To the one I love’ which opens the collection: ‘O keep the past, he will not stay,/Lull him with love’s benumbing anodyne,/ Whisper thy litany soft line by line,/ With praise and prayer and drowsy wine.’ There is a flavour of Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’ here but that was eleven years away from publication. And there are other examples of very tender expressions of love too as found in his excellent poem sequence ‘Mystic Love’:

‘Since love has come against you nearly risen,
From places where he slumbered lovely-eyed,
Must deep desire of love then be my prison?’ [vii]

And again in the same poem later we find:

‘O not with rotting corpses, things that moulder,
O not with death, the lank anatomy,
Am I to be dreamt of: but on thy shoulder
My hand will linger, dead, and hardly colder
Than in my life my fondest touch of thee.’ [xii]

Raffalovich submits himself to the sadness of the inevitable conclusion of love and the climax of passion in the melancholy ‘Love at first sight’:

‘For when we meet, before we part,
And lose each other as we must;
Between two beatings of the heart,
What strange excess of life shall thrust
The whole of ecstasy and lust?’

In another poem ‘Flower of Love’ he distinguishes that the love he has is something to be hidden where he and his lover ‘sing where loneliness secludes/the sighing moonlit space for us to meet.’ A similar thought is expressed in his excellent poem ‘Piers Gaveston’ which ends:

‘The wind shakes in their hair a golden flame.
Upon them falls each withered withy-leaf.
The first is Beauty clad in Love’s proud weeds,
And Love the second with the badge of grief,
A thorny wreath rose-red, a breast that bleeds.
The third is Sorrow: but men call him Shame.’

Other poems contained within its 120 pages include: Absence – Magic Hair – Angel of Desire – Nihil Mea Carmina – To Narcissus – Meadowsweet and Honeysuckle – Foxglove – Stromony – Defiance – Tuberose and Meadowsweet – Two Moods – A Song of Waiting – Sad September – Mal D’Amour – A Prayer – To One Asleep – Crane’s Bill – A Lover’s Apology – Hybiscus – Flower of the Sea – Flower of Death – Flower of the Past – On the Borderland of Sin – Syringa – Edelweiss – At a Private View – Self-Betrayed – Farewell – Flower of the Nettle – Hand in Hand – Mimosa – Flower of the Wind – Love in a Mist – Clematis – Adonis – To Mrs. L___ - Ivy Leaves – To Mrs. ___ - Zelmane – Penthesilea – Pelargonium – The Silent Pool – Love lies Bleeding.
An excellent second publication of verse by a very worthy and remarkable poet!

In Fancy Dress – by Mark Andre Raffalovich.

This is the author’s third collection of poems published in 1886 and he continues the theme of romantic love and expressions from the heart. I was very taken with his sequence of eighteen sonnets ‘The World Well Lost’ and was instantly reminded of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s wonderful ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ from 1850 with its technical approach and mesmerising lines, Raffalovich achieves complete mastery of the sonnet form:

‘You with the eyes that never have said No,
I with the eyes that never ask for Yes;
Where in the world should such strange lovers go
Whose world of love has such strange silences?’ [v]

Other poems in the collection are: ‘As you like it’, ‘Beyond Refuge’, ‘Cynthia’, ‘Poor Bliss’, ‘To Iris’, ‘Programmes one penny each’, ‘Claud Vervain’s Farewell’, ‘In Rosa’s Chamber’, ‘Friends and Lovers’, ‘Silence and Tears’, ‘Charity’, ‘Faith’, ‘Hope’, ‘Rose leaves when the rose is dead’, ‘Hafiz in London’, ‘Love’s Enemy’, ‘Lovelace’, ‘Esme’, ‘Tantalus’, ‘Hope Remembered’, ‘To Mrs. ___’, ‘A Reproach’, ‘Traveller’s Joy’, ‘Mrs. Churson’, ‘ To ___’, ‘Galahad’ and this splendid wonder: ‘Ganymede of Ida’:

‘Death, lamentation, music, flowers and song,
Worship and scent and much idolatry,
Incense that burns all day and all night long:
For those the world’s desire – but not for thee.
Thy perfect limbs we praise, but not with sighs:
On thy Hellenic brows, O tearless lad,
Unaltered oleanders Grecian-wise,
Serene and faultless and forever glad.
But ah! for Syrian Adonis slain
Blood-red anemones we twine indeed;
And hyacinths narcissus-like mean pain.
Such flowers should never fade for Ganymede,
But where the ancient waters close and smile,
For Hylas and the Darling of the Nile.’

‘In Fancy Dress’ is the third of three absolutely fantastic published collections by Mark Andre Raffalovich and I praise and recommend them highly!

The Flute of Sardonyx – by Edmund John.

This is the first collection of poems from the English poet Edmund John (1883-1917) published in 1913 and he dedicates the book to ‘P__ S__ M__ who was first and shall be last in my heart, and to all those who love beauty and who love love’. I had never heard much about John as there is little information available so did not know what to expect but I was very pleasantly surprised after getting through the ‘Introduction’, mere drivel from the notable minor English poet Stephen Philips (1868-1915) to find a poet with great sensitivity and feeling; a man of inspirational depth whose poetic gift reminds one of Keats. The book opens with ‘Prelude’ with its ‘raindrops on the gorse’ which ‘seem like dead pearls, like crystal pale half-lit’ before he attacks the splendour of ‘Benediction’ dedicated to his parents, where ‘asphodel/ and roses of the noon/ grow wan and weary soon.’ The next poem is ‘Spring’ followed by ‘The Acolyte’ where we find the ‘dim dirge of the dreamless dead in sleep/ chanting in medieval tunes’ and this fine measure of love expressed in his wonderful ‘Before Dawn’:

‘Love, on my tired lids lay your lips a space,
A little space, enough to give me rest
From dreaming how they clung to mine, hard prest,
So that their pain of youth may half efface
The pain of hours that they themselves have blest.’

The next poem is ‘At Bethlehem’ (on a picture by Sandro Botticelli) but it is the next jewel ‘The Amulet of Seven Hours’ dedicated ‘to F__’ in this virgin crown of verse that touches briefly the human condition when it comes to interaction and the perception of earthly love: ‘Those we love best we crucify, / the dead live longer in a bitter grave.’ Quite right! The pagan beauty continues: ‘Cassia’, ‘Rain’ (To D__ M__, Jan 1912), Holocaust’, ‘Fragment’, ‘Song D’ennui’, ‘Passional’ (To E__ L__), ‘Winter’, ‘Poeme Erotique’, ‘The Burden of Spent Hours’ (To A__), ‘Cameo’, ‘Our Lady of the Ivory Tower’, the excellent ‘Salome’ and ‘Dawn upon a Long, Low Hill’ (To S__ de M__), ‘Ballade’, ‘Love Triumphant’, ‘Dream’, ‘Nocturne’ (To R__ L__), ‘Nostalgia’, ‘Chart du Marais’, ‘Ballad of Loss’, ‘Song’, ‘Vesper’ (To K__, Dream-born), ‘Tropical’ (To C__ R__), the wonderful ‘A Litany’, ‘After Sunset’ and ‘Slumber Song’ and this fine piece ‘Memorial’ (To A__ B__):

‘Of those who hear dead voices in the storm,
And far faint echoes from the hidden sea,
Who love forbidden things and phantasy,
And sins in sleep, and joys that have no form.
Alas, thy garden is all desolate,
Ruin of rain and waste of weary wind,
Wrack of red roses only canst thou find,
And lonely lilies frail and delicate.’

Edmund John shows a high level of competency with his verse and there really are some beautiful moments and memorable lines but although the book is cited as influential in Uranian circles I found it to be a quite obvious first published work with perhaps a few juvenile flourishes which should have been rectified; because of this the collection falls just short of masterful but there is more than enough hints at greatness to remain devoted to John and to stay with him on his poetic journey! Quite exceptional!

The Wind in the Temple – by Edmund John.

This is John’s second published book of poems from 1915 which is dedicated to the author Maud Churton Braby, in fact, all the poems are dedicated to someone or other by their initials. Following the success of his previous collection ‘The Flute of Sardonyx’ (1913), John has, in my opinion, produced a greater collection of verse which begins with this beautiful poem – ‘Autumn’ (To T. J.) for which I make no excuse for reproducing in its entirety:

‘...A broken blossom, a dead rose enshrined
In odours of the wood, brown briers twined
About an ancient stone...
A leaf of withered amber in the wind
Drifts on alone.

In the still hollows the curled vapours seem
To mourn; and on dim grass sunk to a dream
Of shrouded amethyst,
Like fallen stars white scattered petals gleam
Through the blue mist.

The wood is soundless, save where gems are shed
From dripping branches, soft like laughter sped
Away from eyes that weep
On the pine-carpet and the dead leaves spread
By hands of Sleep.

Singing is fled, frail music of the merle
Is lost like Love; and like a dead child’s curl
A curved gold rose-leaf rests.
Each needle of the pines has its own pearl
Of vanished quests.

The last sad fires of purple heather set
In a grey pall of mist, seem like Regret,
Whose blood, fallen and proud,
Traces strange crimson symbols even yet
Upon its shroud.

...A yellow fern; a mystic silent sea
Of bracken, pale, breast-high; a fallen tree
Half-veiled by the moist breath
Of the dim forest, calm as though there be
Content in death...

Black ancient pines watch round a pool of glass
Set in the forest’s heart; the ashen grass
Dreams deathlike on the slope
Where Autumn crept last night to see Love pass,
And buried Hope.'

John is indefatigable and gives nature a mystic quality which almost equals Yeats, I should say with his mesmerising wordplay and lines ‘dreamless twilight’, ‘hyacinthine sky’ and ‘Plutonic breath beneath the moon’s still light’ and there is a definite touch of sadness that winds through the poems, a sense of longing and unattainable love:

‘Wind, wind in the leaves –
No more? And do the sighs of night delude
With whisperings of some long-dead multitude
Whose robes the moonlight waves?’ [‘In the Wood’ (To S. L.)]

Other poems are: ‘Phantasy’ (To C. H. S. J.), ‘Ichabod’ (To W. R. S. J.), ‘Lux Perpetua’ (To R. R. W. on a fragment, preserved in Athenaeus, of an Ancient Legend of Samos), ‘Aftermath’ (To W. G. F.), ‘Death-Song’ (To S. S.), ‘On Debussey’s “Shepherd Boy”’ (To R. A. H.), ‘Ballade of Farewell’ (To V.), ‘Carpe Diem’ (To old Omar, in his grave of withered vine leaves), ‘A Song of Life’ (To M. J.), ‘In Memoriam’ (To E. S. Obit April 11th 1913. Written Bexhill on that day) and the wonderful ‘Litany of the Seven Devils’ (To M. C. B.) with its first lines (and the first line that opens each stanza): ‘There are Seven Devils in my heart,/ that sleep through wintry days,
The book ends with ‘Poems from the War’, three poems reflecting John’s own journey at the Front (he volunteered as a soldier in December 1915 and was invalided out in 1916). The poems are: ‘The Huns, 1914’, ‘Ave Indi’ and ‘In Memoriam’ (To Field Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar, obit Nov, 1914).
Edmund John was a schoolmaster, he Head of a Private School and those that knew him say that he was a kind and gentle man; his poems and talk (and correspondence) seem to be always predicting his death and just two years later in 1917 he died at the age of thirty-three in a hotel in Sicily. His poetry shows the influence of Swinburne and I believe John is an important poet who has not received the recognition he deserves; he is something special, a man of sensuous, haunting lyricism and mystic brilliance! Spellbinding and excellent!

Love in Earnest: Sonnets, Ballades, and Lyrics – by J. G. F. Nicholson.

The English poet and school teacher John Gambril Francis Nicholson (1866-1931) published this first collection of poems in 1892 and he dedicates the book to his mother who ‘incited one to its publication but fell asleep ‘ere she saw its fulfilment.’ The book is divided up into its particular sections such as: ‘Sonnets’, ‘Ballades’, ‘Rondeaus’ (‘Secret Love’), ‘Lyrics and Songs’, ‘Sonnets for Pictures’ (‘Ten Sonnets on the Ancient Marinere’) and ‘Miscellaneous Sonnets’. The first part: ‘Sonnets’ is of particular interest as he dedicates the fifty sonnets to ‘W. E. M.’ this is William Ernest Mather (1877-1899), one of Nicholson’s young lovers and it is here that the author lays open his heart with very tender expressions of love and loss – ‘my greatest fault is loving you too well!’ [III. Hopeless Love] and IV ‘Held in Bondage’, V ‘My Soul’s Garden’, VI ‘Revealed in Visions’, VII ‘Barriers Between’, IX ‘Spell-Bound’ and XXVI ‘Dark Days’ – ‘You shun me, dearest, and your downcast eyes/ Forget to beam upon me as of yore,’.
This is a sprawling monster of a book at 230 pages but for me it was the sonnets that begin the book which captured my interest and held me ‘spellbound’ in their magic and apart from the odd surprising and delightful poem, the rest of the book became quite mundane and lost that initial energy for me, however, it is an enormously influential and important book in the genre of Uranian love poetry and definitely not one to be missed!

Walter Headlam: His Letters and Poems – by Cecil Headlam and Laurence Haward.

This interesting book published in 1910 may not be to everyone’s taste for it is the biography of a classical scholar and unless you lean towards academic subjects you will find it dry and unrewarding. That said, I thoroughly enjoy this sort of stuff and felt completely immersed in Headlam and his Greek studies. The book is in two parts, part one is ‘Memoir and Letters’, biographical details of the scholar poet Walter George Headlam (1866-1908) by his younger brother Cecil Headlam (1872-1934) and what a fine tribute it is too! Cecil relates his brother’s story from his birth in London on 15th February 1866 and his education at Harrow School (he had a keen mind and wanted three lives – ‘one for music, one for literature, and one for art’. p. 58) and his years at King’s College, Cambridge from 1884-87 (II) , his travels such as Florence in the autumn of 1889 (III Vacation); his election to a Fellowship at Kings in 1890 where he remained for the rest of his life, receiving his M.A. in 1891 and DLitt in 1903; the discovery of the ‘Mimes of Herodas’ papyrus in 1891 and Walter’s work in restoring the textual corrections: ‘Headlam’s ideal, then, was to invade every province of knowledge, and apply what he found there to illustrate the masterpieces of Greek Literature.’ (p. 51-51) Then of course we have his last years (IV) where he was tragically cut short and died of a twisted intestine, all in 163 pages. Headlam was somewhat of a ‘playful hypochondriac’, he liked to see people’s reactions and he had a good sense of humour, but he was prone towards melancholy and becoming immersed in his work to the point where he had to be ‘dug out’ of his rooms; he had apprehensions and feared that death would take him before he could accomplish his great works! His favourite pastimes were music, cricket and hunting. The letters interspersed throughout the text makes interesting reading, especially those to his sister Ida Headlam which is quite charming.
The next part of the book is ‘Poems’ where we find fifty-two of Walter’s poems in little over 100 pages and beautiful they are too! I found the smell of death about the poems which hung around like rotting lilies that swept me into raptures, a remnant of a Gothic mind and an unwholesome liking for death which permeates my being – here is the second verse to his poem ‘To ___’ from March 1895:

‘O divinest Heavenly Aphrodite,
Here on earth incarnate I behold you,
Lovelier, more serene and mighty
Than my lips have told you,
Far beyond my dreaming found
In my arms to fold you.’

Other poems of interest were ‘Anniversary’ (Feb/March 1893), ‘English Memories’, ‘Lament’ – in memoriam John Addington Symonds, with its ‘who doesn’t dream now of returning/ half my soul that he was taken’ (April 1893), ‘Prometheus Bound’ (1894), ‘Nausicaa’ and ‘Pindar, Pythian, II’. There are some good notes supplied and an excellent and thoroughly researched 60 page Bibliography by his friend Laurence Haward. Walter will be remembered for his translations of his Aeschylus and particularly his works: ‘Fifty Poems of Meleager’ (1890) and ‘The Book of Greek Verse’ (1907). Astounding!

Silverpoints – by John Gray.

The English aesthetic poet John Gray (1866-1934) published his first book of poems ‘Silverpoints’ in 1893. Gray was a friend of Oscar Wilde and was said to have inspired Wilde to create the character of Dorian Gray for his novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. Gray became a convert to Roman Catholicism and eventually became a priest; he was also the lover of the greater poet Mark Andre Raffalovich. When Raffalovich died on 14th February 1934, Gray obediently followed him just four months later, dying on 14th June 1934. Following high expectations for the poems I was sadly disappointed and found them very mediocre. Many of the poems are translations from the French and ‘imitations’ from more established French poets such as Paul Verlaine, Stephane Mallarme, Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire; in fact, of the 29 poems in the book, 13 are translations and only 16 are original poems by Gray. He dedicates his poems to the likes of Arthur Sewell Butt, Felix Feneon, Ellen Terry, Robert Harborough Sherrard, Oscar Wilde, Andre Chevrillon, Arthur Edmonds, Pierre Louys, Frank Harris and the wonderful Ernest Dowson. There were a few poems which I though quite accomplished such as: ‘Jules Laforgue’, ‘Green’, ‘Fleurs’, ‘Femmes Damnees’, ‘Le Voyage’ and ‘A’Cythere’ but on the whole Gray’s first volume lifts no spirit and ascends no higher realm for the mood, like the poet is decidedly ‘grey’!

Orchids – by Theodore Wratislaw.

This slim volume of poems published in 1896 by the British poet Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933) consists of 48 poems by the author over just 55 pages. This was much to my favour and I enjoyed immensely the poetic delights of the book such as his ‘Orchids’ with its final two stanzas:

‘Bathed in your clamorous orchestra of hues,
The palette of your perfumes, let me sleep
While your mesmeric presences diffuse
Weird dreams: and then bizarre sweet rhymes shall creep

Forth from my brain and slowly form and make
Sweet poems as a weaving spider spins,
A shrine of loves that laugh and swoon and ache,
A temple of coloured sorrows and perfumed sins!’

Another poem, ‘La Fleur du Jardin D’ici Bas’ (to George Ellwanger) begins deliciously ‘odour of woman faintly wrought/ in folds of silken bodices/ that hide the fain and supple throat!’ – how wonderful! And again, his ‘Sonnet Macabre’ which begins: ‘I love you for the grief that lurks within/ your languid spirit, and because you wear/ corruption with a vague and childish air, / and with your beauty know the depths of sin.
In ‘Hesperides et Ultra’ the author talks of a lady’s trembling breasts being ‘snared’ in her ‘low-cut corsage’, like ‘azure doves’ that are ‘prepared to fly/ from amorous hands of lovers hot to seize/ or scare them from their vain securities’; then he compares them to ‘full moons’ and ‘mellow apples for the teeth to try’ and ‘pearls’ under water. Other poems of worth I thought were: ‘Nocturne’, ‘Aestas’, ‘Asleep’, ‘Brynhildr’ and ‘Hope’. Previous to ‘Orchids’ Wratislaw published three volumes of poetry: ‘Love’s Memorial’ and ‘Some Verses’ (both 1892) and ‘Caprices’ (1893) which would be interesting to resurrect and compare with this utterly splendid collection! Fantastic!

Musa Consolatrix – Charles E. Sayle.

Charles Edward Sayle (1864-1924) published this collection of poetry in 1893 and it is dedicated to his great friend John Haden Badley (1865-1967). The poems show a developed sophistication and a vast improvement I thought to his previous work ‘Bertha: A Story of Love’ (1895) which I thought was terrible for most part, but here we have some quite technical lyric verse which really sings musically. Poems such as: ‘Tenui Penna’, ‘Vates’, ‘Passion and Friendship’, ‘Continual Comfort’, ‘Rome’, ‘Before a Mirror’ and ‘To Two Friends’ really show a mature style; I did not find his ‘Portraits’ (five poems in honour of their dedicatee, such as John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and Marguerite of Angouleme etc.) as interesting, but other poems, namely: ‘Sonatina Poetica’, ‘The Rubens Rose’, ‘Chrysanthemums’, ‘Thistledown’, ‘To Her Garden’, ‘A Sonnet’ (to Edward Dowson), ‘Puck’, ‘The Ordination of a Greek Priest’ and ‘Fontes Aquarum’ were all very well executed and the whole book became almost, but not completely, quite enjoyable!

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver – by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Published in 1922 this is the author’s short poem about a poor widow woman who cares for her young son who is terribly skinny and without a shirt or a pair of trousers. The only possessions the two of them have are a chair and a harp with a woman’s head upon it that ‘nobody would take’. The mother played the harp and began to weave with it, first a child’s jacket then another, then she wove a red cloak, a pair of trousers, boots, a hat, mittens and a shirt; the mother died following the magical harp-weaving, she died ‘in the harp-strings/frozen dead.’ Quite beautiful!

Spiritual Adventures – by Arthur Symons.

Arthur Symons (1865-1945) was a critic, poet and essayist who published his collection of short stories ‘Spiritual Adventures’ in 1905 (I read the second edition of 1908). Symons dedicated the book to Thomas Hardy and the seven stories together with the author’s autobiographical sketch ‘A Prelude to Life’ held me engrossed from the beginning to the end of its 352 pages! Following the initial autobiographical sketch which I must say struck a chord with me because the sentiments echoed much of my own feelings about life and relationships, Symons slips effortlessly into his mesmerising stories which I felt had a hint of the magic one encounters when reading the works of the great Arthur Machen, although not anywhere near the standard of genius. The first story, ‘Esther Kahn’ is about a young woman who wants to become an actress; she is from a poor Jewish family and is determined to follow her dream, despite going against the wishes of her family. She meets a man who sees something in her abilities and he encourages her but she falls in love with him, a love he cannot return. Following the loss of her unrequited love through her heartbreak she finds her ‘note’ and becomes a great actress. In the second story, Christian Trevalga, we meet the young musician of the title, a pianist who suddenly loses grip on reality and finds he can perceive music as no other, visually, and he is diagnosed insane and sent to an asylum. In ‘The Childhood of Lucy Newcome’ we find Lucy, an imaginative child who watches her mother die when she is just twelve years old. Her father becomes listless and loses his job. They become very poor and he is in much debt but he seems to recover a little and goes out one day for a walk. The child returns home to find her father is in bed having been struck by a mail-cart and he dies at home later. The fourth story is ‘The Death of Peter Waydelin’ which is concerned with an artist named Peter Waydelin who dies aged twenty-four. The story is written as if from a friend who reminisces about Peter and their time together at Bognor with their conversations about art. Not long after the holiday Waydelin falls ill and his friend visits him at his lodgings in Islington (not a very nice place it seems which suits his artistic notions) where he finds the artist ill in bed and his wife Clara apparently unconcerned and on her way out. Two days later the friend visits the artist who lives among ugliness again and finds him a little recovered. They talk and Waydelin explains that he is ‘haunted by colours’. On the following day’s visit Waydelin is visibly weaker and his wife is busy entertaining guests and singing in the next room, he dies like a martyr with his wife and friend in attendance and she breaks down in her understanding of how serious the illness was. In ‘An Autumn City’ we are shown a well-travelled man named Daniel Roserra who falls in love when he is forty years old with a woman named Livia Dawlish. After the marry he takes her to Paris where she just loves the shopping and the socialising; they return to London but Daniel wants to show her some of the places that has touched his heart in his travels so they decide to go to Arles for the autumn. Once there Livia finds it depressing and hates the cold and the rain and slowly the love between them fades. Realising how much his wife hates Arles and unable to make her feel the same way, Daniel takes her to Marseilles where there is lots of sun and she can wear her hats and be happy while he is bored by it! In ‘Seaward Lackland’ we encounter a young boy, Seaward, who knows his Bible inside out; in fact, his mother after losing one son and another son who ran off to America, promised Seaward to the Lord, dedicating him to God. Seaward had no real friends but he loved the sea and helped his father on the fishing boat. The boy went to Chapel one Sunday and had what can only be called a spiritual awakening and became a preacher and gave his first sermon. Not long after he had a strange vision of an evil spirit speaking to him saying that he has sinned and that he would be damned; Seaward thought hard about this vision and what the sin could possibly be and he determined that he had sinned against the Holy Ghost which was unpardonable. Seaward spoke to the minister of St. Ives who explained more concerning the sin against the Holy Ghost which is a complete denial of God! He knew he had not committed this sin but after much thought and enlightenment he knew it was his duty to commit that sin and deny God in his sermon before his congregation! He does and he is shunned as an outcast and thought possibly mad. One day he slips under a cartwheel which crushes his chest and he sends for the minister to come to his death-bed. Seaward explains that he denied God ‘because he loved God more than he loved himself’ and so he died. In the final story, Extracts from the Journal of Henry Luxulyan’ we discover, through his journal which has been sent to a friend, that Henry Luxulyan became a librarian at the home of the Baron and Baroness von Eckenstein. Henry had always been obsessed with his own death and was a morbid individual with a fear of women; in fact they revolted him, having spent three years with a woman named Clare who left him. Having become poor Henry was forced to sell his precious books but hearing of his unfortunate position the Baroness offered him work cataloguing her library and a place to live with her and her husband. He of course accepts and finds the Baron quite disagreeable and artificial with a love of sport while the Baroness who has a facial disfigurement sits reading her books all day. The Baron and the Baroness are not close; in fact there is no love between them, just the facade of love. She is an intelligent woman with similar interests to Henry and the two become friends over time. As they become closer and a trust grows and deepens between them, the Baroness tells Henry how she became disfigured. She says that she fell in love with a man whom her husband the Baron was unaware of but returning home early one day caught her in his arms. When she went to speak to him later he threw acid in her face which ate at the left side of her cheek and her eye. Love began to blossom between the Baroness and Henry but before long there is a period of silence where the Baroness seems uninterested in his company. Henry cannot think why. Suddenly, Henry’s old love Clare returns and wants to see him. He wishes to help her as he learns she has been left by the man she went with and is now poor. After informing the Baroness of his wishes she becomes jealous and he is made to promise not to see Clare and she bursts into tears of emotion. In time Henry falls ill with fever and goes to Venice for some peace to recuperate, but alone in Venice he dies. We read later that the Baroness also dies in Rome when the recipient of the journal travels there to meet the Baron and the Baroness!
This is an amazing book by a fantastic writer who sees beyond the ordinary to the strange nuances that dance between time and relationships; he examines the fascinating interior being of his characters and discovers their true existential connection with the exterior world through a spiritual connectivity which we may call simply love! Excellent!

Not Necessarily Stoned, but Beautiful: The Making of Are You Experienced – by Sean Egan.

Published in 2002 by Unanimous, this is an in-depth look at the recording of Jimi Hendrix’s debut album ‘Are You Experienced’ in 1967. Sean Egan looks at both the US and the UK versions and includes interviews and comments by friends and lovers of the guitarist/musician and those around him during the making of the album. Egan outlines a brief biography of the great man and explains how he was brought to London by Chas Chandler from the band The Animals who was interested in managing him and the forming of The Experience; Egan also attempts to bring a scholarly method to his book by cataloguing in the text the various rehearsals and live performances and their dates, which is good but there is a horrendous printing error on page 167 which repeats page 166 and the chapter is left unfinished, hanging in the air on page 169; for me it spoilt a moderately enjoyable book by showing that someone wasn’t careful enough to spot such an obvious and glaring mistake. Forget about reading about Hendrix, go and listen to the album and the rest of the magical recordings he produced!

Hidden Witchery – by Nigel Tourneur.

There is not much known about the writer ‘Nigel Tourneur’ for it is a pseudonym that he used but we do know that he wrote this magnificent book ‘Hidden Witchery’ which was published in 450 copies in 1898 by the Fin de Siecle publisher Leonard Smithers. ‘Tourneur’ an English decadent possibly of Scottish origin, sets these seven short symbolist tales and his dramatic piece ‘The Potion’ in the distant past, in the days of chivalry where knights rode horses and fought with swords. Beneath the romantic and sensual entanglements are deep sexual desires of obsessive love and gruesome thoughts of vengeance which when carried out are shocking in their explosions of violence. The tales within this beautiful book are: ‘The Apogaeon of Cupid’ (May 1894-Jan 1896), ‘The Leman’s Love’: i. Issola again Prepareth her Lover; ii. Her Lover Meeteth a Shameful Death; iii. Hatred Slayeth Itself; iv. Issola Redeemeth the Unshrived Soul (Oct 1894-Nov 1895), ‘The Tithe at the Moorstone’ (Walpurgis Eve – 30th April, 1896), ‘The Passing of Lilith’ (Lammastide, 1895), ‘At the Sign of Kypris’ (Lammastide, 1896), ‘In the Hidden Hours of the Night’ (Martinmas, 1895-96), ‘At the Cross-Roads on the Moor’ (Eastertide, 1897) and ‘The Potion, or The Tragical Ending of the Loves of Viola, Duchess of Siena, and Marzio, Seigneur d’Alibert, her Sometime Lover’ (Lammastide, 1897).
These stories, with their delightful ink illustrations by Will G. Mein (1868-1939) are very enjoyable and Tourneur, whoever he really was, was a great writer of fantasy which leaves a lasting and memorable impression upon the mind of the reader! Wonderful!

A Book of Bargains – by Vincent O’Sullivan.

Vincent O’Sullivan (1868-1944) was an American born writer who was a friend of Oscar Wilde; ‘A Book of Bargains’, a collection of supernatural-inspired stories was his first published collection of macabre fiction in 1896 and a strange and grotesque collection it is too! The tales: ‘The Bargain of Rupert Orange’, ‘My Enemy and Myself’, ‘The Business of Madame Jahn’, ‘A Study in Murder’, ‘Original Sin’, ‘When I was Dead’ and ‘Hugo Raven’s Hand’ are splendid pathological gore-spattered stories involving Faustian pacts with the Devil, the macabre re-animation of corpses, sadistic and brutally obsessive love which often leads to murder and the strange and compelling ratiocination behind it all. With a Frontispiece illustration by the wonderful Aubrey Beardsley, ‘A Book of Bargains’ is absolutely extraordinary!

Ernest Dowson 1888-1897: Reminiscences, Unpublished Letters and Marginalia – by Victor Plarr.

This is a most extraordinarily enlightening book published in 1914 by the English poet and friend of Dowson’s, Victor Plarr (1863-1929). Ernest Dowson (1867-1900) was a very gifted poet and a gentle-natured man and Plarr (a member of the ‘Rhymers’ Club’, as was Dowson) really brings aspects of the ‘morbidly shy’ poet to life through the letters and reminiscences; of course he does not mention the great tragedy which occurred in 1894 when his father suffering from tuberculosis died from an overdose and the following year when his mother, who was also ill, hung herself. It is no wonder that the beautiful young poet with the genuine ‘soul of Keats’ succumbed to bouts of utter despair and loneliness and ‘took to drink’ after losing all interest in life, but he has left behind him a store of work that will outshine many of his contemporaries. With a comprehensive bibliography by H. Guy Harrison, this is an excellent place to begin one’s discovery of the quiet genius that was Ernest Dowson! Magnificent!

The Poems of Ernest Dowson.

Having read Victor Plarr’s masterful ‘Ernest Dowson 1888-1897: Reminiscences, Unpublished Letters and Marginalia’ I felt it my duty to re-familiarise myself with Dowson’s poetic works and this book published in 1905 is a fine example of his magical gifts! There is a very worthy memoir by Arthur Symons (1865-1945) who was, like Dowson, a member of the ‘Rhymers’ Club’, four illustrations by the artist Aubrey Beardsley and a portrait by William Rothenstein. First of all we are presented with Dowson’s first collection of poems, ‘Verses’ from 1896 with such poems as his ‘Nuns of the perpetual Adoration’, nuns that ‘put away desire,/and crossed their hands and came to sanctuary;/and veiled their heads and put on course attire:/because their comeliness was vanity.’ – ‘To one in Bedlam’ with their ‘delicate mad hands’; ‘Amor Umbratilis’, ‘Non sum quails eram bonae sub Regno Cynarae’, ‘Vain Hope’, ‘Extreme Unction’ and ‘Impenitentia Ultima’. Then we are given his one act fantasy ‘The Pierrot of the Minute’ from 1897 which is quite beautiful, and lastly his collection of poems from 1899 ‘Decorations’ which includes ‘The Three Witches’, ‘Saint Germain-en-Laye (1887-1895) and ‘In a Breton Cemetery’ to name a few. To any poet who appreciates the art of verse the name of Dowson is perpetually present in the heart and swift to lips in praise; ignoring Dowson is not just a literary crime, it is denying the existence of a rare beauty which may possibly increase your understanding and knowledge of life and everything! Or then again, it may just make you a better human being!

Poems – by Lionel Johnson.

This ‘imaginatively titled’ first collection of verse published in 1895 by the English poet Lionel Pigot Johnson (1867-1902) left very little to be desired I am afraid. Johnson, a scholar of Winchester College and an admirer of Walter Pater became a Catholic convert in 1891 before declining into alcoholism and departing the world in 1902, aged just thirty-five. The poems were tedious, so tedious in fact that I could have been reading Matthew Arnold without realising, but there was one light for me rising like a flame amongst the dark sludge of his Latin-impregnated works and that was ‘The Dark Angel’ which was written in 1893 – with its ‘ever on the wing, /who never reaches me too late!’ whose ‘envious heart’ will not ‘allow/delight untortured by desire’:

‘Thou art the whisper in the gloom,
The hinting tone, the haunted laugh:
Thou art the adorner of my tomb,
The minstrel of mine epitaph.’

And it ends:

' Do what thou wilt, thou shalt not so,
Dark Angel! triumph over me:
Lonely, unto the Lone I go;
Divine, to the Divinity.’

Ireland with Other Poems – by Lionel Johnson.

Out of mere curiosity I turned to this second volume of poems by the poet Lionel Pigot Johnson and came away more disparaging than his first collection! In fact, I was bored! And I hate to say that for there is usually something of worth to give even the dullest of versifiers a slither of redemption, but alas, this 1897 collection numbed me into stupor... Even Johnson’s poems about death, a subject I am much enamoured about and usually sends me into sweet raptures, failed to stir me! 156 pages of passionate disappointment!

Some Winchester Letters of Lionel Johnson – by Francis Russell.

I know what you are going to say! ‘Having been to Hades and back in reading Johnson’s two volumes of verse: “Poems” and “Ireland with Other Poems”, why would anyone in their right mind continue such an unrewarding and relentless task, unless they were a masochist?’ Well I am stubborn and refuse to acknowledge that Johnson is a complete waste of time; maybe there is more to him than an initial perusal of his poems, perhaps there is gold to be found in his prose? These letters, written by Johnson between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, was published in 1919 and the letters are addressed mysteriously to ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’. Who are ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ and why such mystery? Well ‘A’ is the author of the book himself, the 2nd Earl John Francis Stanley Russell (1865-1931), ‘B’ is John Haden Badley (1865-1967) and ‘C’ is none other than the poet Charles Sayle (1864-1924). Johnson is apt to gush at times like a young love-struck girl, full of romantic yearnings towards his correspondent, nothing too unusual in that for he was contemplating a life in the church where male admiration of each other (and erotic tendencies) is a ubiquitous requirement. In the letters which begin in 1883 from Winchester College, we find a young mind in search of spiritual faith as he discusses and compares Buddhism and Christianity, mentioning his philosophical doubts in both. Johnson has thoughts on many subjects from the possibility of the existence of ghosts to Swedenborg and poets such as Shelley, Whitman and Browning, of the latter he says: ‘He studies and analyses the soul, and drags it to light, and shows the good inherent in it, and the nobility and comfort to be found even in trivial everyday lives’ [letter: 16 Oct 1883. p. 24]. On death and suicide he has this to say: ‘I think the frame of mind in which people commit suicide is one which is to be cultivated: I mean that longing to have done with the things of the world, and precipitate oneself into the illimitable vacancy of death, for then we can really rise above the desire for death by dying, as Paul says, daily in the flesh. Of course the flesh resists, is meant to resist by its nature: of course we must sometimes fall, and keep the memory of the fall: but yet, as I have said, the state of remorse is a higher state. And it is possible to overestimate the extent of the past fall and disgrace: it is often wise to leave the past to itself and yearn forwards into the future. For every act is unspirituality – the best word, being negative, as all sin is – let an act of spiritual intention, if not attainment, be set as atonement. The light is not given to throw its rays into the past night: it brightens the dawn and continues to rise until it reach the zenith: it sinks, in nature, but not in the supernatural. So we need not really despair because of accusing memories: rather let us leave them alone, and create fresh ones.’ [letter: Windsor Forest, 20 Dec 1883. p. 48]
I am beginning to like this young intelligent man and having read the next confession I am about to forgive him his trespasses into poetry and fully absolve him! – ‘I have often gone into churchyards, and even, when possible, vaults and charnel-houses, to try and hear the truth from the lips of spirits, to force the paraphernalia of death to unfold their secrets’ [letter to J H Badley, 18 Feb 1884. p.60] Music to the ears of an old necrophiliac like myself! There’s nothing like a beautiful corpse in a state of putrefaction for... but I digress. On the subject of his own behaviour and sexual awakening he says – ‘I cannot violate my own nature. Asceticism is wrong as a rule of life, sensuality is wrong as a disorder of life: but asceticism is right when the moment cries out with Faust, “Entbehren sollst du”; and sensuality when it whispers “eat and drink, for to-morrow we die”. [letter to J H Badley, 26 April 1884. p. 78] He is very forward thinking on his comprehension of sin, for he says ‘nothing is common or unclean: there is no sin and no devil.’ [letter to J H Badley, 4 May 1884. p. 81] This is remarkable for a Victorian, shackled to the remnants of a decaying Christianity to suggest, for many Victorians preached the dangers to the soul through the breaking of so-called ‘sins’ while it was left to a few forward-thinking and enlightened ‘decadent’ individuals such as Wilde, Frederick Rolfe, Renee Vivien, Natalie Clifford Barney and Eric Stenbock etc. to swim against the tide, sometimes to their own torment and downfall. Finally, in another letter to Badley, dated 24 May 1884 [p. 99] Johnson has this to say on Death and Love: ‘why do you think that “poets sing you fancies” about these two? Surely there is a “reason in nature”. Love is perfected in death: not by the casting of the flesh, tho’ that is a higher state, because it is the next state scientifically: (while we are fleshly, flesh is good): but love is perfected by the transition to the land of otherwhere, the land of dreams and fancies, where poets live, while yet on earth.’ Some do still inhabit this sacred space and those of us who dream continue to shape and protect it with our love, our love for words, our love for nature and out love for humanity, much as Lionel Pigot Johson had chosen to do! This book is a charming and delightful read and I have found it in my heart to exonerate him and although nothing would induce me to read his damned poems again, I salute and recognise a fellow spirit!

Opals – Olive Custance.

Being of a simple romantic nature, in a retarded sense, I find an indefinable joy in minor displays of love’s sentiments, and no finer sentiments can be found upon the page than this first collection of poems ‘Opals’ from 1891 by Olive Custance (1874-1944). The volume begins with ‘Love’s Firstfruits’:

‘And the fruit framed in girlhood’s life of leaves
Hung warm and sweet, flushed crimson from the Sun
Of girlhood’s Summer, so the Autumn cam
And with it came a Gatherer strong and bold
Who raised a longing hand to reach it down,
That little fruit of love.’

Other poems are: ‘The Song Spinner’; ‘Twilight’ with its beautiful lines: ‘A woman weeping in a silent room/ full of white flowers that moved and made no sound. / these white flowers were the thoughts men never tell, / and the room’s name is mystery, where you weep’. ‘Ideal’, ‘The Blue Mist’, ‘With a book of Fairy Tales’, ‘Delight’, ‘Glamour of Gold’:

‘Her soft shy breathing ‘neath the lace
That falls even to her feet...
The curves of her slim body trace –
See her supremely sweet –‘

‘Villanelle’, ‘Sunshine’, ‘Virelay: Regret’, ‘A Lament for the Leaves’, ‘Autumn Night’, ‘Spirit Speech’, ‘June’, ‘Harvest Noon’, ’A Sleep Song’ with its lovely ‘curved lids, fringed with lashes thick and long,/ droop heavily – sleep, dream, a brief hours space’. ‘Fantasy’, ‘In a Boat’, ‘ Comforted’, ‘Dreamed Tryst’, ‘The Poet’s Picture’, ‘An Impression’, ‘A Dream’, ‘Bereft’, ‘A Madrigal’, ‘Rain Music’, ‘Doubts’, ‘A Mood’, ‘A Pause’, ‘Sunset and Sunrise’, ‘Flirtation’, ‘The Song Bird’, ‘An April Mood’, ‘The White Statue’, ‘Blind Love’, ‘A Lilt of Tears’, and ‘The Music of Dvorak’. Custance, part of Wilde’s aesthetic movement, went on to become the wife of Lord Alfred Douglas in 1902 and in this her first volume of verse she handles the poems with a delicate, light touch of feminine sensitivity which is simply beautiful!

Rainbows – by Olive Custance (Lady Alfred Douglas).

Published in 1902 the book contains such exquisite gems as: A Song of Beauty: ‘By what enchantment were you doomed to range/ the forests of this world, where joys are few? / My heart is like a hound that follows you.’ Songs of a Fairy Princess, – A Girl’s Love: ‘Since shapes in shadow are but dimly seen/ by those who in the summer sunlight stand, / I can but quell those sordid things and sad/ that mar the great sweet world, and come between/ all simple human hearts in every land.’ The Secret, After the Dance, The Song, The Heart of a Child, The Kiss, After Rain, A Dancing Girl, The White Witch, In Praise of Love, Antinous, The Silence of Love, Love and Death, April Twilight, A Song of Youth, and The Girl in the Glass. Some readers may find the simplicity of Custance’s poems a little out-dated and not challenging enough but she has a great ability to render in a few words a beautiful and charming notion that comes to mind such a glimpsing a face of a stranger or the mesmerising delight of seeing the sunlight and shadows in an autumnal garden; she has a graceful quality which is blissfully exquisite!

The Inn of Dreams – by Olive Custance (Lady Alfred Douglas).

This collection of poetry published in 1911 has a dedicatory poem to Comtesse de noailles and we find Lady Douglas’s usual obsessions with beautiful woman and handsome men and the delight of nature and place – ‘I was pale and sad in the South like the olive trees/ that droop their silver heads by the dusty roads...’ [In the South] and with death as in the poem ‘I am weary, let me sleep’: ‘Let me dream that I am dead,/ nevermore to wake and weep/ in the future that I dread.../ for the ways of life are steep.../ I am weary, let me sleep.’ Night is also a favourite theme: ‘Night has become a temple for my tears.../ the moon a silver shroud for my despair’ [Grief]. Other poems include: The Autumn Day, Daffodil Dawn, The Prisoner of God, St Anthony, Black Butterflies, Hyacinthus, Hylas, Blue Flowers, Endymion, and St Sebastian. Lady Olive’s beauty in life is left preserved for us in death upon the page! Tremendous!

On the Threshold of a New World of Thought: An Examination of the Phenomena of Spiritualism – by W. F. Barrett.

The eminent English physicist and parapsychologist Sir William Fletcher Barrett (1844-1925) published this small volume (127 pages) in 1908 after initially refusing to publish it and waiting twelve years for its appearance due to the conflicting opinions as to the authenticity of the psychic medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918). Barrett had many interests in the field of paranormal research from Mesmerism, telepathy and poltergeists to dowsing with divining rods and he was one of the founding members of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882 before founding the American SPR two years later. This book stresses the importance of psychic research and the progress already achieved through scientific explorations of spiritualism. Barrett was a man of science and a man of God and ‘On the Threshold of a New World of Thought’ makes clear the opposition of both science and religion towards spiritualism, stating that there are two distinct aspects in the study of spiritualism, namely a question of the facts, which is the scientific approach, and a ‘belief and hope founded on the facts’ which is a question of faith. The author recounts some of his own experiences sitting with mediums such as the celebrated Daniel Dunglas Home (1833-1886). On why many people refuse to believe in an after-life or the efficacy of spirit communication he says that ‘a natural and proper reservation of mind always accompanies the reception of evidence which is opposed to the general experience of mankind.’ [p. 31] He also goes on to look at Newton and his methods of Natural Science; hallucination and thought-projection/telepathy before delving into the fourth dimension in space and the mediumistic psychic state together with the conditions of the séance. He has some interesting things to say on the concept of ‘consciousness and sensations’, passivity and possession, before presenting the facts concerning the medium Mrs Piper, explaining to us the dangers which can occur during the séance, such as exhaustion in the medium and the risk to the health and even the life of the medium, not to mention the possibility of deception by the spirits!
There are several appendixes to the book: a) Superstition and the Supernatural; b) Necromancy and Spiritualism; c) General Boldero’s account of the séance with Miss Jamieson; d) Evidence of Personal Identity after Death, and e) Eusapia Palladino. Although a very fascinating book if you are a devotee of the subject I do not think it would appeal to the general reader as it can be somewhat dry and devoid of character which probably represents Barrett’s personality more than anything. My own opinion is that Barrett let his passion for research cloud his scientific mind when it came to the possibility of fraudulent behaviour and it is known that on more than one occasion he was duped into believing the validity of the medium or mediums (such as the Creery Sisters) and so cannot be wholly reliable but saying that he was a pioneer at the frontier of parapsychology and so should not be dismissed altogether as he has much of interest to relate to the student and enthusiast of the subject.

Twenty Years Experience as a Ghost Hunter – by Elliot O Donnell.

I have had this book on my list of works to read for some time now and finally got round to it! Published in 1917 (with eight illustrations by Phyllis Vere Campbell and H C Bevan-Petman), the author, Elliott O Donnell (1872-1965) is a man after my own heart for he seems to live and breathe ghosts and spooky phenomena. He was born in Bristol to and Irish Reverend and an English mother and became interested in the supernatural at an early age. The book describes in seventeen chapters and 260 pages the author’s account of his experiences in many countries from Ireland where he had his frightening experience of being strangled by a wraith in Dublin to Scotland, Wales and the United States where he travelled to San Francisco, Denver, St Louis, New York and Chicago hunting ghosts and people who had experienced strange phenomena; he also relates cases from London’s East End, Wimbledon Common, Hounslow Heath, Regent’s Park; Liverpool, Birmingham, Harrogate, Sussex and Newcastle and makes special mentions of spiritualism, the world of animal and vegetable spirit vibrations, war ghosts and a ‘case from Japan’. O Donnell like to sprinkle auto-biographical facts throughout many of his books and ‘Twenty Years Experience as a Ghost Hunter’ is no different, for I found elements where he describes his life and his paranormal encounters most interesting indeed. He also throws in information concerning his amateur acting career on the stage and what he says about the terrifying experiences he has suffered at the hands of unseen terrors are quite unbelievable. He tells us that he is not psychic and that being of Irish descent he has inherited a sensitive nature and is able to feel the other world and its vibrations; he also tells us that he rarely went looking for spirits and that they almost certainly found him which is strange when he spent twenty-years ‘hunting’ ghosts. For me it is not a question of do spirits exist and are locations really haunted for I have had my own experiences to eradicate any doubt having seen to date at least four full and partial apparitions visibly and having had numerous instances of psychic and paranormal phenomena occurring, for me it is the lack of evidence; the fact that he was never considered a serious investigator by the Society for Psychical Research or examined in any way suggests many people and organisations were dubious about his claims. Nevertheless, I can’t help liking Mr. O Donnell! He was not a spiritualist and did not believe in calling forth spirits of the dead for proof to those gullible souls here on earth and to the financial advantage of some doubtful medium. It is my belief that O Donnell certainly was psychic and that something had attached itself to him for whom we can attribute the series of footsteps heard around him at times either walking or running towards him or away from him. But the author does not record actual names and places and we only have his personal sense impressions together with any eye-witness account re-counted by the author as he recalls it; there is no real scientific method to his research and so he can be easily discredited as embellishing his experiences or what is worse, fabricating them completely. Whatever your views are on Mr. O Donnell he writes a damn fine tale and if only half of the horrific occurrences actually happened to him then he is some sort of ghost magnet; wherever he went and whatever he did he was never far from thinking about ghosts and haunting and that makes him for me an exceptionable and fascinating man!

The Foundations of Spiritualism – by W. Whately Smith.

This unassuming little book at a little over one-hundred pages from 1920 is the author’s first publication and in it he attempts to show the historical foundations and advancements achieved in the belief in discarnate spirits and their communications with mediums. In part one Mr. Smith, a parapsychologist, presents us with the ‘Evidence for Survival’ and goes on in parts two and three to show the ‘Process of Communication’ and the ‘Conclusions’ drawn. But what is Psychic Phenomena? When the author speaks of ‘phenomena’ he is of course distinctly talking of ‘physical phenomena’ which relates to ‘Telekinetic’ and ‘Parakinetic’; he is also mindful of phenomena which is said to be of an ‘Automatistic’ nature and all other phenomena such as Telepathy, Hallucinations and Apparitions; in fact, he has quite a lot to say on the subject of telepathy. Concerning the survival of the personality after death, he has this to say: ‘It is not perhaps possible to exclude from among the various a priori possibilities that of a personality surviving death, in a sense, but being so greatly modified in the process as no longer to be recognizable as an individual – even by itself.’ (p. 21-22) I would not personally agree with all of the author’s statements but there are many interesting hypothesis and he does reference many worthy passages from long established theories to corroborate his views, although at times I thought some of the author’s arguments quite ponderous and verbose which leant gravitas to the subject but sadly dated it too! There are some interesting thoughts on the ‘controls’ of the medium, the communicator and the informative value of the messages being received, but in the end we are left asking ourselves, what are the reliable conclusions to the process of discarnate personality communication and just how does one discriminate between true and false? How indeed!

A Theory of the Mechanism of Survival: The Fourth Dimension and its Applications – by W. Whately Smith.

This is the author’s second publication from 1920 and in nine chapters (216 pages) he presents the reader with some astonishing and even ground-breaking theories concerning the fourth dimension. Walter Whately Smith (1894-1947) makes a thorough study of the dimensional aspect of space and in the first chapter ‘The Meaning of Four-Dimensional Space’ he gives some good examples and quite basic knowledge of the various dimensions and shows how through the acceptance and belief in a second and third dimension, relative to each other, it is inevitable to conclude that a fourth dimension must also exist. He goes on to explain his theoretical assumptions further by looking at the scope of application and probable importance of the ‘Higher-Space’ concepts; the application to certain of the facts elicited by psychic research and some other possible applications of the hypothesis; the vitality and the will and the higher-space in connection with physical science – what is the connecting link between the two dimensions of the third and fourth and what, if any, are the religious aspects of the hypothesis? Smith goes to great lengths to establish that his speculations concerning the survival of the human personality after death; the ‘etheric double’ and such things as ‘apports’ which is the ‘penetration of matter by matter’ can be explained on a molecular ‘atomic’ level, where solid matter (energy) can be disrupted and re-assembled again by the existence of the fourth dimension in space [the object moves from third dimensional space, through the fourth dimension and reappears again in the third dimension]. He draws the distinctions between the dimensions, for they are separate – one-dimensional space is the line; two-dimensional space is the surface; the third dimension in space is the physical body and the fourth dimension in space is the conscious mind, the ego, which must naturally be connected to the third. All this is very well but he does not present any real evidence although he has provided something for future research by the mathematical and geometrical analysis of the nature of dimensions. Many readers who are familiar with current understandings and theories as to the existence and origins of such thoughts on dimensions will already understand much of what the author is here suggesting for it is almost a century old and many claims have become established thinking. A good introduction to the subject!

The Fountains of My Story: Arthur Machen and the Making of a Museum – by Mark Lewis.

Published in 2017 by Three Imposters in an edition of only 250 copies, this little booklet at a mere 56 pages presents the reader with a lecture given on 9th July 2013 by the author, Mark Lewis at the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon, Wales, where he is a senior curator. The lecture was given to mark the 150th anniversary of Arthur Machen’s birth in Caerleon and Lewis, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and an Honourable Research Fellow at Cardiff University, discusses the synergy between Machen and Einstein’s philosophies and the influence of the environment, or landscape (psychogeography) upon Machen’s writing where he captures the ‘spirit of place’. The author also looks at the relationship between Machen and the Museum and the influence of its exhibits on his work. With Machen we are never far from discovering the ‘Supreme Mystery which gave shape to all’; to find the hidden cosmology beyond the veil of the sensible form of nature. Machen is a writer with whom I have a life-long passion and having visited the Museum in Caerleon and viewed the artefacts which Arthur Machen (1863-1947) saw it is easy to understand the great power and mesmerising effect the collection had upon him! Definitely one for Machen addicts!

The Measurement of Emotion – by W. Whately Smith.

This publication from 1922 (with a Foreward by William Brown), Smith’s third book, diligently details the experiments carried out at the Psychological Laboratory in Cambridge to determine the effects and emotional factors in mental activity. Smith looks at the emotional and ‘affective tone’ a term he has coined to replace the word ‘emotion’ and follows with a quantitive study using experiments upon memory, first using words and secondly using nonsense syllables. He looks at the properties of complex-indicators and word association along with experiments on the effects of alcohol. Smith, throughout the course of 184 pages attempts the impossible – to hold the readers’ attention to the end of the book and he fights a good battle as he sings lyrically about the body’s ‘endosomatic sensations’ and the changes that occur, which is the emotion (affective tone) which is naturally affected by situations and stimulus to determine the conscious mental state: ‘The particularity of this emotion is, therefore, precisely proportional to that of the reaction, dependent in turn upon the situation and the organism.’ (p. 23) the emotion, positive and negative, is recorded by the psycho-galvanic reflex which measures skin changes – ‘a true measure of the intensity of emotion aroused’ (p. 28). It would take a very strong and determined soul to attempt this book to the end and remain enthusiastic for the subject, sadly my ‘affective tone’ slipped silently into a negative aspect and eventually surrendered having yawned my way through many of the chapters with a total lack of interest!

The Life and Death of Radclyffe Hall – by Lady Una Troubridge.

Published in 1945 (I read the 1961 edition), this biography of the lesbian writer (she would I am sure prefer the word ‘invert’) Marguerite Radclyffe Hall (1880-1943) is a fascinating glimpse into her world by the woman and lover closest to her, Lady Una Vincenzo Troubridge (1887-1963). Lady Una met Radclyffe whom she refers to as ‘John’ throughout the book in 1915 when the author fell in love with her and she recounts many tales and incidents in Radclyffe’s young life previous to their meeting, no doubt heard first-hand from the author and gleaned from friends and acquaintances. She recalls ‘John’s’ first great love, Una’s cousin Mabel Batten (known as ‘Ladye’); the older ‘Ladye’ was an amateur singer and they met in 1907 in Germany where they soon became lovers and it was Mabel who gave Radclyffe the name ‘John’. ‘Ladye’ died in 1916, the year following Radclyffe and Lady Una’s meeting and romance and in 1917 they were living together. The couple never remained long in their homes as they were always moving during their time together and travelled much in Europe. In 1934 Radclyffe met and fell in love with the fiery Russian nurse Evguenia Souline and although Lady Una knew about this tempestuous relationship she remained devoted to Hall throughout her life which is a testament to the strength of her deep affection to the author. Lady Una goes on to mention aspects of Hall’s writing career from the poetry which Radclyffe thought was not her best work to the novels: The Unlit Lamp (1924), ‘The Forge’ (her first published novel in 1924),and of course ‘The Well of Loneliness’ (1928) which brought her instant acclaim and notoriety. She mentions that the writing of her 1932 novel ‘The Master of the House’ caused Radclyffe to suffer from strange ‘stigmata’s’ on the palms of her hands due to the religious nature of the book! In fact, they both became members of the Society for Psychical Research and did their own experiments as to the nature of spirit communication etc.
Lady Troubridge declares that she is no great writer and she writes the book in the form of a long letter without chapters which works well and invites the reader into her intimate accounts of Hall’s life; she writes in a very matter of fact way and she does not hide behind some pretentious literary facade to protect the image of Hall, she tells her story as she remembers it from her point of view which after Hall herself, is the greatest source we could have. Her love and devotion to Hall is unquestionable – she remained loyal to the author during and after Hall’s infatuation with Evguenia Souline (who died in 1958) and she followed Hall’s last wishes to the letter when she destroyed the author’s final novel in progress and when Hall became ill, Troubridge dutifully nursed her and helped by typing Hall’s dictation during the author’s failing eyesight – this is an immense story of love and courage which warms the reader’s heart! Astounding!

The Flowers of the Forest – by David Garnett.

This is the second of three volumes of autobiography, being volume two of ‘The Golden Echo’ – The Flowers of the Forest was published in 1955 by the author David ‘Bunny’ Garnett (1892-1981). Garnett was one of the fringe members of the Bloomsbury Group and the book begins prior to the First World War with casual meetings of the Bloomsbury circle and their shenanigans. He paints some fine portrait sketches of Duncan Grant who became Garnett’s lover (‘Bunny’ was bisexual) and of Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, Francis Birrell, Dora Carrington, Vanessa Bell, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Maynard Keynes and Frieda and D H Lawrence, the latter comes across as a complete obnoxious prig! Garnett also recalls his meetings with the bohemian ‘Tiger Woman’ herself, Betty May and his first and only time trying cocaine with her at his flat in Pond Place; he later goes on to mention her following her marriage to the brilliant young Oxford scholar, poet and occultist Raoul Loveday (1900-1923) and the scandalous activity at Aleister Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema in Sicily.
There are some very amusing reminiscences from when Garnett and Duncan Garnett, as conscientious objectors during the First World War, chose to become farm labourers and worked on the land in Suffolk and Sussex, such as the time when Garnett had to dig the grave to bury Mr Heck’s the farmer’s beloved horse ‘Old Prince’, but Mr Hecks sold the flesh to the dog kennels and the hide was also sold, so poor old Garnett had to fill the huge grave back in! Also the time when Duncan was charged by a very mad and angry cow which he hit on the nose with his shovel, narrowly missing being gored by the beast! He also talks about their time at Charleston farmhouse near Firle in East Sussex, the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and of course his meeting, romance and marriage to the illustrator Rachel ‘Ray’ Marshall (1891-1949) in St Pancras in 1921 along with tales of running his own bookshop with Francis Birrell near the British Museum; he also delights the reader on describing his writing career with his first book ‘Dope Darling’ in 1919 and the publication of his hugely successful novel ‘Lady into Fox’ (1922). All in all David Garnett comes across as a shy and intelligent man who was self-effacing when it came to his own writing and this second instalment of his auto-biography is beautifully written with the great and the good of Bloomsbury whirling in and out of his life – a truly fascinating man indeed!

Laws of the Spirit World – by Khorshed Bhavnagri.

This is a really fascinating and intelligent book published in 2009 by Khorshed Bhavnagri (1925-2007). It begins with an introduction to Korshed and her husband Rumi and sadly we are informed that they lost both their grown-up sons Vispi and Ratoo in a car crash. Korshed and Rumi were devastated and lost their faith in God and all joy for life until the spirit world re-affirmed their faith, this came about through spirit communication with their two sons Vispi and Ratoo. Ans so begins an interesting journey into the laws of the spirit world as given by messages from the sons to their dear parents through automatic writing. The book looks at various aspects of spiritual progress from kama and reincarnation and prayer. The book asks questions and provides answers from the spirit on such subjects as: why do some people die young? Why are some souls misled by negative souls? Why past life memory is not revealed; spirit guides; why some people fear spirit communications – why you choose to be born on earth, and suicide is a sin. We are told that our physical life here on earth is a training ground or school where we learn through many lifetimes of mistakes and pain how to become a ‘high good soul’ and rise closer to God – by the way, there is no religion in the spirit world and they worship one God!
A lot of this book made perfect sense to me and seemed to confirm long-established ideas and beliefs of my own and it is definitely thought-provoking and rewarding; but surely we can all live good lives in harmony with each other here on earth and be terribly serious and still have fun? Yes, but earth is an amalgamation of positive and negative souls and when a negative person dies their astral form refuses to move to the spirit world fearing judgement and punishment and remains earth-bound continuing its negative influence upon the living. But fortunately good souls and loved ones from the spirit world do come down to us especially when we genuinely call to them for help to protect us from evil! The laws of the spirit world are just that, laws to help heal the living and to help those wishing to change from negative ways which hurts one’s own soul and those around them. This book won’t cure all the horrible actions of the world but it just may bring a few lost souls back to God and help improve the positive/negative balance of the physical world for the better!

Laughing Torso – by Nina Hamnett.

This 326 page book of reminiscences dedicated to Harold Nicolson and Douglas Goldring (with 23 illustrations) published in 1932 by the artist Nina Hamnett (1890-1956) is definitely an entertaining read as she parades a cast of glittering celebrities before us from the world of art and music such as Walter Sickert, Lucien Pissaro, Wyndham Lewis, T E Hulme, Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier Brzeska, Modigliani, Augustus John, Andre Gide, Ford Madox Ford, Stravinsky... in fact it reads like a who’s who of notable and fashionable personalities from the golden era of the early twentieth century culture! Hamnett, who was born in Wales, tells her story through sixteen chapters where we find her at the Pelham Art School from 1906-7 and in London at the School of Art until 1910. She studies art in Paris at the Vassilieff Academy and exhibits at London’s Royal Academy and the Salon d’Automne in Paris. In fact Hamnett spends most of her time in France with other starving and penniless artists enjoying the social life of the cafes and meeting other artists both struggling and successful. Many of you will know of this book through its connection with Aleister Crowley as he is mentioned several times throughout, especially the remark about his temple [Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu] and a baby going missing, intimating that a sacrifice took place there p.173-5. She also mentions Betty May and Raoul Loveday p. 175-6 and Cecil Maitland and Mary Butts. The throw-away remark seems perfectly harmless and would hardly blacken Crowley’s already tarnished reputation but he saw an opportunity to make some money and brought a libel case against Hamnett and her publisher Constable and Co in April 1934 and lost which contributed to his bankruptcy the following year. Yes this is an interesting book with its continuous comings and goings of the great and the good and the not so very good of the art world, but I thought it lacked passion. Hamnett was a strong woman to go it alone in the unprotected Bohemian wilderness of Paris and we know she enjoyed the sexual relations of both sexes, but none of that seems to come through in the book, it is all very insipid and genteel and we don’t get much idea as to the sordid behaviour which obviously took place. I know it was written in a more refined age but a little spice would not have gone amiss! Still, it was an interesting if a little dizzying adventure to read!

The Contemplative Quarry – by Anna Wickham.

This is Wickham’s second collection of poems published in 1915 following her initial volume ‘Songs by John Oland’ in 1911. She was born in Wimbledon and named Edith Alice Mary Harper in 1883 and she had a troubled life which echoes through her poems; much of her verse rings with a strong feminist yearning to break free from the male-dominated world of poetry and their hold upon the fabric of life in society:

‘we, vital women, are no more content
Bound, first to passion, then to sentiment.’ [The Revolt of Wives]

These 41 poems show Wickham’s skill at delivering quite beautiful and striking verse with strong emotions, such as ‘Tortured Matter’, ‘The Hermit’, ‘The Cherry-Blossom Wand’, ‘Meditation at Kew’, ‘The Affinity’, ‘The Faithful Amorist’, ‘To a Young Boy’, ‘The Slighted Lady’ and ‘Self Analysis’. Tragically Wickham took her own life in 1947 but those wishing to know more about this remarkable woman should turn to Jennifer Vaughan Jones’ book ‘Anna Wickham: A Poet’s Daring Life’ (2003).

The Man with a Hammer – by Anna Wickham.

Wickham’s third book from 1916 is dedicated to the author Anita Bartle Brackenbury (1875-1962) and it really is a marvellous collection – many of her poems are short as in just four lines so in only 96 pages we are presented with 167 poems! Following on from The Contemplative Quarry, Wickham stamps her foot once more for women’s rights and for the perfection of her womanhood:

‘I am a woman, with a woman’s parts,
And of love I bear children.
In the days of bearing is my body weak,
But why because I do you service, should you call me slave?’ [The Angry Woman]

Throughout the poems the author has a positive outlook yet she asks many melancholy questions concerning life and love, marriage and women’s role in the world:

‘If she could take two types of man,
Man that she loves, and man that she desires,
And fuse them in a magic pan,
Over the holy fires,
She might by Sorcery discover
A perfect Lover.

But she must build her Paradise above her,
Inherit Heaven after she is old,
For she can find no pleasant Love to love her,
The world is void of pleasure, and death-cold.’ [Necromancy]

Other worthy poems in the collection are: ‘A Woman in Bed’, ‘The Recluse’, ‘To the Silent Man’, ‘The Sad Lover’, ‘Nervous Prostration’, ‘The Walk’, ‘The Ghost’, ‘sea to the Waning Moon’ and ‘The Song of Women’. Excellent!

The Little Old House – by Anna Wickham.

The fourth book by Anna Wickham published in 1921 is just 54 pages long and it seems to me that she has lost the energy of her previous collections and I was very disappointed to find weak verse with some very simple rhyming. But of course you may disagree with my opinion and you are perfectly welcome to do so, in fact, I hope you find something which I was not able to find!

Mallow and Asphodel – by Robert C Trevelyan.

This collection of poems from 1898 is the first published work of the English poet and translator Robert C Trevelyan (1872-1951). Robert was educated at Harrow and studied classics and Law at Trinity College Cambridge (he was a member of the Cambridge Apostles) and his friends in Bloomsbury circles knew him as ‘Bob Trevy’. The poems in this short collection (55 pages) are of a scholarly classical nature in the tradition of epic lyrical poems and the first of these is ‘Epimetheus’ with its Tennysonian ramblings – ‘brambly wood-ways wild’ and its ‘Olympian corridors’ echoing with ‘immortal laughter’. The other poems are: ‘Archilochus’, ‘The Playmates’, ‘Juno’s Peacock’, ‘For a Fan’, ‘Quern Songs’ and the delightful ‘Orpheus’:

‘If, when oblivion o’er my pain was thrown,
A luxury of pensive pleasure ran
Through all my senses...’

It certainly did! Trevy went on to publish many collections and translations from the Greek classics so there is a fount of pleasure to be found in this minor yet distinguished poet!

The Poems of Digby Mackworth Dolben edited with a Memoir – by Robert Bridges.

This is an extremely interesting book published in 1911 by the English poet Robert Bridges (1844-1930) who also became Poet Laureate from 1913 until his death. He writes with much affection for his friend and fellow poet Digby Mackworth Dolben (1848-1867) and his lengthy memoir is a fine tribute to his memory. Bridges and Dolben were distant cousins and they studied at Eton College together and the frail Dolben became infatuated with the Order of St Benedict and took to wearing a monk’s habit while he earnestly contemplated becoming Roman Catholic. The memoir reproduces many of the letters that Dolben sent to Bridges and one gets a real sense of the young man and his spiritual dilemmas. Dolben had the beauty of Keats within his soul and like Thomas Chatterton was doomed to die young and his brief life touched many hearts, none less than the great G M Hopkins (1844-1889) who was spellbound by the young poet who died by drowning at the tender age of just nineteen! After Bridge’s splendid memoir are the poems, such as: ‘Homo Factus Est’, ‘The Eternal Calvary’, ‘The Lily’, ‘The Annunciation’, ‘Sister Death’, ‘Poppies’, ‘He would have his Lady sing’ and ‘Core’. With 258 pages and copious notes to the poems and the memoir, this is an outstanding work which will delight any lover of the written word and just as any true Englishman’s mind is never far away from the thought of ladies’ underwear, the mind of the sensitive poet ever reflects upon Digby Mackworth Dolben!

South Wind – by Norman Douglas.

This rambling beast of a novel at 464 pages published in 1917 was an absolute delight to read and the author immediately draws in the poor victim, erm, I mean devoted enthusiast of the novel and keeps them from beginning to end as if in some magic spell! The British author, the great travel writer born in Austria, Norman Douglas (1868-1952) was himself a strange and eccentric character who was charged with indecent assault in London during 1916 upon a sixteen year old boy; in fact he merely kissed the boy and gave him ‘some cakes and a shilling’ – the boy of course made a complaint to the Police and following Douglas’s arrest he jumped bail and lived in exile in Capri, Naples and Florence before another scandal forced him to leave Italy in 1937 for France before returning to Capri in 1946 where he died in 1952. But I am not here to judge the author, nor should any great art be judged in so short-sighted a manner for that way lies censorship and many literary masterpieces would remain unwritten!
The novel begins on board the ‘Mozambique’ where we meet the Bishop of Bampopo, one Thomas Heard returning to England from his diocese in Central Africa. The ship is bound for the Island of Nepenthe, near the Italian coast, a fictitious island the author based on Capri and named after the ‘drug of forgetfulness’ in Greek mythology. He meets a 39 year old obnoxious, fat priest on board, a monsignor named Don Francesco. Another person on board heading for Nepenthe is Mr Muhlen, a flashy, overdressed man who owns a hotel on the island, somewhat course in his talk and snobbish. On their arrival we are slowly introduced to the various complex islanders such as the Duchess of San Martino and Mr Ernest Eames, an English historian and bibliographer who lives a somewhat quiet and simple life on the island like some scholarly hermit; Denis Phipps, a young poet and college man; Mr Keith, a rich old man with a young spirit who owns the Villa Khismet on the island; Miss Amy Wilberforce, an English Lady who has taken to drink (and to shedding her clothes and exposing herself); Lady Steynlin, of Dutch origin and the Financial Commissioner for Nicaragua, Mr Freddy Parker.
The Bishop, Mr Heard, has arrived the day before the great feast of the island’s Patron Saint – St. Dodekanus and he is also on the island to visit his cousin, Mrs. Meadows. In chapter three we learn all about the history of the island and of St. Dodekanus and a local historian named Monsignor Perelli who wrote the ‘Antiquities of Nepenthe’ to which Mr Eames the historian is fanatically annotating with lengthy footnotes; we also learn about Good Duke Alfred, a tyrannical ruler of Nepenthe! It seems there has always been a loose attitude to certain delights of life upon the island and this is put down to the South Wind of the title, the Sirocco which blows and corrupts the island into raucous acts of immorality. Sounds which resemble an earthquake greet our visitor Mr Heard on the day of the feast which is actually the noise of canon fire signalling the start of the feast of Saint’s Dodekanus! Mr Heard and the philosophical Mr Keith are at the latter’s villa and they share their views on education before going to the play at three o’clock, a play which has twelve scenes showing the life of Saint Dodekanus (as shown in the twelve scenes of the frieze in the church commissioned by Duke Alfred). Following the play our two gentlemen visit the Alpha and Omega Club and we discover its history and the history of its President Mr Freddy Parker and the strange and potent whisky he brews known as ‘Parker’s Poison’.
The day after the feast Mr Heard visits the Old Town in search of his cousin Mrs Meadows; on finding her not at home at the Villa Mon Repos where she lives, he meets Count Caloveglia and they talk delightfully together! In the next chapter we encounter Mr Edgar Marten, a mineralogist and he is discussing certain facts of life with the young college man and poet Denis, who is quite sullen (Mr Keith wants to enlighten Denis and make him worldlier and suggests he spends a night alone in the ‘Cave of Mercury’ which is said to be haunted). We also learn more about the mysterious Mr Eames who shares certain affinities with the rich Mr Keith in their academic appraisal of Monsignor Perelli and the ‘Antiquities’ – is Eames on the island as an exile following a scandal, just like the author himself, a scandal which took place in London’s Richmond Park in England where he is wanted by the Police – is his real name Hodgson Daniels? We are also told of his relationship twelve years ago on the island with a very large woman who took financial advantage of him, an affair to which the mention of balloons seems to bring him out in torrents of shame and embarrassment.
Mr Keith gives a dinner party and we are informed about the Russian colony upon the island known as the ‘Little White Cows’ led by a visionary monk like figure called Bazhakuloff and we hear of Madame Steynlin who supports the Russian contingent. Denis, the moody poet does indeed decide to stay a night by himself in the Cave of Mercury which is said to be haunted by the souls of those sacrificed there by Duke Alfred; upon reaching the cave at midnight he hears voices within and recognises one as the mineralogist Mr Marten, the other is a female, probably Angelina, a promiscuous fifteen year old girl who is a maid of the Duchess’s whom the hapless Denis has fallen in love with, and so he walks away rather forlorn and tragic. Then suddenly burglaries begin to occur as both the Duchess and Miss Wilberforce are robbed and Mr Heard finally gets to meet his cousin Mrs Meadows. Following the death of the Commissioner Mr Freddy Parker’s Lady we hear about Count Caloveglia and his antique statue – the Locri Faun, which turns out to be a forgery by the Count; he is attempting to sell it to the American millionaire Cornelius van Koppen, who annually visits the island and wants it for his museum. Suddenly the volcano erupts on the mainland and we find Mr Heard and Denis climbing a mountain together; Denis is depressed and Mr Heard is worried that he may be suicidal and intend to jump from the summit, or will he like Mr Keith suggested murder someone for the experience, someone like Mr Heard! Denis lies down to rest and Mr Heard takes in the view from a vantage point, he can see his cousin’s home, the Villa Mon Repos, and there, walking near the precipitous cliff edge is his cousin Mrs Meadows and Mr Muhlen; suddenly he sees that Mr Muhlen is no longer there anymore; did he fall or was he pushed? Did his cousin commit murder? On Mr Heard’s recent visit to see his cousin he himself suggested how easy and convenient it was having such a precipitous path where one could push one’s enemies to their doom! Surely we should all have a precipitous path for just such a function! We later find out that Mr Muhlen was Mrs Meadow’s first husband named ‘Retlow’ and he was probably blackmailing her in some way. Mr Heard remains quiet about the murder and mentions it to no one; he even begins to admire his cousin for what she did – surely the Bishop cannot return to his ecclesiastical work having been exposed to such influences of immoral behaviour; he could never return to the church after such fantastic revelations of life! Definitely one of the most enjoyable novels I have ever read with elements of humour and great learning – Douglas is superb and should be more widely known! Excellent!

Dreams and Journeys – by Fredegond Shove.

Fredegon Shove (1889-1949) who studied at Newnham College, Cambridge from 1910-13, published only two collections of poetry in her life time and this is her first volume, published in 1918 and dedicated to Lina Mirrlees. These thirty poems about nature and mortality have a simple naive charm about them: ‘Woods twisted with despair, nor fallen tree, /the flying shadow or the falling leaf,/ are new, but they have long been known to me’ [Memory] and of course, death, my favourite subject makes frequent appearances –

‘My skeleton one day will lie
Underneath the stiff wild grass
Through which the sweet breezes pass
On to immortality –
...When my skull is crumbled quite,
Will my dancing ghost be free.’ [In the Churchyard]

Other poems of worth include ‘A Birch Tree’, ‘The Work of Ages’, ‘the New Ghost’, ‘The Message of Age’ and ‘Waking Dreams’:

‘Dumb wizened stars whose glory’s done
I used to hold them in my hand,
And think about this universe
Which is too big to understand.
The sensual world that hangs beneath
In ulcerous imitation of
That visionary world where death
Is not; neither deceit, - the tick
That tortures the unhappy quick
Of death’s foul mind
To ugly, ugly counterfeit
Of life – pure life that I have known
To shine so radiant thro’ a stone
The light has almost struck me blind!
How long – how long before I die
And into understanding fly,
................................................ escape
From life’s half strangles outer shape.’


Daybreak – by Fredegond Shove.

Shove’s second volume of poetry dedicated to her sister Ermengard Maitland and published in 1922, is at just forty-three pages and containing twenty-three poems, a lacklustre collection which does not reach the heights of her first volume ‘dreams and Journeys’ and delves once again into nature decorated with Christian mysticism. Poems include: ‘Liturgy’, ‘Night and Morning’, ‘The Miracle of the Flowers’, ‘Snowdrops’, ‘The Willow Tree’, ‘Separation’, ‘love as He is in the World’, ‘Winter in the Garden’, ‘the Harp of Wonder’, ‘The kingdom of Heaven’, ‘Sunset’, ‘Morning in November’ and ‘Twilight in November’. The only poem which seemed to reach any poetic Parnassus for me was ‘Hoops at Dusk’ and all the rest were very poor and disappointing!

Interludes and Poems – by Lascelles Abercrombie.

This is the first collection from the Georgian poet and literary critic Lascelles Abercrombie (1881-1938) published in 1908; the poems are in the dramatic lyric style associated with Browning and Tennyson, written in the modern metaphysical manner using colloquial speech – the poems in the first part ‘Interludes’ are: ‘The New God: A Miracle’, ‘Blind’, ‘The Fool’s Adventure’, ‘An Escape’ and ‘Peregrinus’. In the second part ‘Poems’ are: ‘Soul and Body’, ‘The Trance’, ‘Ceremonial Ode’, ‘All Last Night’, ‘December 31st’, ‘Hope and Despair’, ‘Roses can Wound’, ‘Fear’ and ‘Indignation An Ode’. I struggled to like Abercrombie’s poetry but in the end came to the conclusion that he is just damn boring!

Romanticism – by Lascelles Abercrombie.

Abercrombie shows that what he lacks as a poet he more than makes up for as a literary critic! In this 1926 publication the author reproduces three lectures he gave at Birkbeck College, University of London in the same year. By looking at the Romantic Movement of the eighteenth century and the difference between Romanticism and Classicism, a difference which he states is not a real antithesis for the antithesis of Romanticism is Realism, not Classicism; he presents a sound theory and critical analysis of ‘Romanticism’. He looks at the development of the romantic notion as seen in nature by dramatic landscape and distant views, ‘distance’ is the key word for as opposed to close inspection, distance provides the viewer with scope to ‘imagine’ and dream-up certain areas of vision, or to ‘romanticise’ what is seen. The author leads us through the Elizabethan poets who developed romantic and heroic situations and characters in their works, such as: Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), John Norris (1657-1711) and Sir John Suckling (1609-1642) – Romanticism may be, he says ‘a theory of living: perhaps even a theory of being’ (p. 40). With a further look at the emergence of faeries in such works by Elizabethan poets and dramatists Robert Herrick (1591-1674) and of course William Shakespeare, he concludes the first lecture. In the second, we discover Empedokles (sic) and Shelley and Byron, perhaps who we most associate with Romanticism with their ‘life perfectible through love’ and the ‘mystical theme of individual mind through love knowing and entering into God’. Here we find Nietzsche and Swinburne! Abercrombie also takes into account the art of landscape and the assertion of the ‘self’, the ego of the artist or the individual; the ‘inner’ (Keatsian) and the ‘outer’ (Byronic) experience through introspection. Wordsworth may have been part of the Romantic Movement and have had Romantic tendencies but he can hardly be called a Romantic Poet in the way that Shelley and Byron were! Romanticism is many things, it can be found through terror in Gothic novels, through the passion and the sublime and through the power of landscape; it is an aesthetic of the imagination and a reaction against Classicism – in a word it is a revolt against the Enlightenment itself! Fascinating!

Odes and Other Poems – by John Cowper Powys.

This is a first volume of poetry published by the English novelist, philosopher and critic John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) in 1896; Powys, of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is a strange and interesting fellow with some unorthodox notions and philosophical viewpoints – there’s almost the hint of a new-age warrior about him, a sort of pagan yearning. Although much of his poetry is derivative it’s really not bad and I found myself quite enchanted by such poems as ‘To the Great God Pan’:

‘Ah, great god Pan, that pipst by reedy mere!
Goat-footed, but with music in thy soul
Whereat Apollo waxes pale to hear,
And the sad Earth leaps to thy song’s control’

It is a fine tribute to dear Pan and worthy perhaps of Keats with its ‘clay of ancient chaos’ which ‘clings to thee’. Also in praise of the great Keats are such lines as this from ‘The Last Day of March’: ‘Ecstatic trembling in the air/tell where the skylark bathes him there/in azure dew’; and ‘Ode to Proserpine’ with its ‘gentle maidens won from dreamless sleep’. Other poems include: ‘In Memoriam’, ‘To W B Yeats’, ‘To Xanthe’, ‘Sonnet’, ‘To Apollo’, ‘ To Nora’, ‘To John Keats’, ‘Spring’, ‘ To Charles Lamb’, ‘Song of the North Wind’, ‘To A C Swinburne’, ‘The True Poet’, ‘To Sleep’, ‘Death’ and ‘To William Cowper’. I was greatly impressed by this initial discovery of J C Powys and ‘plucked Amaranth blossoms by Elysian streams/and kissed the starry skirts of Dian’s gown’ [‘To Thomas Hardy’] and in this vein of wonderment I chose to read Powys’s other collections: ‘Poems’ (1899), ‘Wolf’s-Bane Rhymes’ (1916), ‘Mandragora’ (1917) and ‘Samphire’ (1922) to my great disappointment for I felt that Powys became successively worse and sank into the lonely mire that is Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) clutching at Swinburnian reeves, floundering in poor rhymes and slightly better blank verse. For me he did not reach the triumph of his ‘Odes’ and many of his poems were over-saturated with mythological imagery and philosophical fluff (‘Poems’) or sentimental sprinklings of Christian nonsense (‘Mandragora’). His poetry was like having sex with an inexperienced partner – a dreadful anti-climax! But all is not lost for there is hope in John Cowper Powys yet! He produced some very exciting and slightly weird novels! Powys was born to a large family which included two younger brothers who also became successful authors; Llewelyn (1884-1939) and Theodore Francis (1875-1953) and also a sister, Philippa (1886-1963) who wrote novels and poetry. In this literary climate John Cowper went on to write several distinguished novels from his first publication in 1915 ‘Wood and Stone’ through to his great ‘Wolf Solent’ (1929), ‘A Glastonbury Romance’ (1932), ‘Weymouth Sands’ (1934) and ‘Maiden Castle’ (1936); but it is his strangely frank and revealing ‘Autobiography’ (1934) for which he is also remembered (he does not include any female figures in the book) as it tells of his curious sexual pleasures and perversions such as his fondness for having young women dress as boys and sit on his lap while he fondles them – sounds like an excellent party game! There is indeed a wealth of discovery to be unearthed in Mr John Cowper Powys and I shall resist the temptation of the novels for now and resurrect the remainder of his corpse and rattle his bones to the joyous language of his ‘Autobiography’! Tremendous!

The Pity of Love: A Tragedy – by Theodore Wratislaw.

The British poet Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933) published this dramatic poem in 1895 and it describes in three scenes the imagined historical events and actual murder of the Swedish Count, Philip von Konigsmarck (1665-1694). Persons of the drama include: Augustus, Duke of Cell and Elector of Hanover; George, the Electoral Prince of Hanover and later King George I of England; Count von Platen and his wife Elizabeth von Platen; Sophia Dorothea the Electoral Princess of Hanover and wife of George; Philip von Konigsmarck and Aurora von Konigsmarck, his sister. The stage is set at the Duke’s Palace at Celle in July 1694 (the murder occurred on 2nd July of that year); Philip is in love with Sophia, wife of Prince George of Hanover, who reciprocates that love for him; Elizabeth, wife of Count von Platen, suspects that Sophia is having an affair and mentions her concerns to the Duke, who is Prince George’s father. Philip and Sophia had arranged for a sign to be sent saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Philip to indicate that she wished him to come to her bed chamber that night or not; they are overheard by Elizabeth who informs the Duke of this. A letter is indeed despatched to Philip who responds hastily and enters Sophia’s bed chamber that night, but Sophia denies having written such a letter although the handwriting is similar and they both deduce that Elizabeth is behind the forged letter! And so the trap is set! The Duke’s men are waiting for Philip who sees no alternative but to fight, sword in hand for the woman he loves even at the almost certain outcome of death and so he faces his enemies and makes a brave fight of it but is eventually thrust through by the sword. Sophia comes to his dying side and he expires in her arms! Wratislaw is a very good writer and there are some beautiful tender moments in the drama between Philip and Sophia. The author is also responsible for other volumes which deserve high praise for their poetic merit: ‘Love’s Memorial’ (1892), ‘Some Verses’ (1892), ‘Caprices’ (1893), ‘The Republic of Plato’ (1894) and ‘Orchids’ (1896).

Invocation: War Poems and Others – by Robert Nichols.

Robert Malise Bowyer Nichols (1893-1944) was an English poet and playwright more memorably known for his war poetry. Following Winchester College he attended Trinity College, Oxford before serving as an officer with Royal Artillery in 1914; he took part in the Battle of Loos and the Somme before being invalided out in 1916 due to shell-shock. This first volume of his poetry ‘Invocations’ published in 1915 and dedicated to his father John Bowyer Buchanan Nichols (also a poet) has some very strong and powerful images of war and unlike some other ‘war poets’ he does not romanticise or overload the horror, his verse walks a line between the everyday plight of his men in the trenches and the surrounding hell of warfare:

‘Courage born of Fire and Steel,
Thee I invoke, thee I desire
Who constant holdst the hearts that reel
Before the steel, beneath the fire.’ [Invocation]

And it goes on to the conclusion that ‘guns must be guns/Intone a final requiem’.
His ‘Five Sonnets upon Imminent Departure’ are rather good: I. ‘Look up, O stricken eyes that long have pored’, II. ‘I have no strength now save in my new will’, III. ’You, my unwitting love, I see debate’, IV. ‘Begin, O gins, your giant requiem’ and V. ‘If it should hap I being summoned hence’. Other strong poems are: ‘Night by the Sea: 1915’, ‘Moonlight’, ‘Epitaph’, ‘Before Jerusalem’, ‘Echoes from the Heroic Chorus’, ‘Crisis’, ‘Chant Prospective of To-Morrow’s Burthen’, ‘Loss’, ‘The Soldier’, ‘Sonnet’ which begins – ‘Now when I feel the hand of Death draw near’ and ‘The Chink’ which ends appropriately:

Guard and build what we began, Man’s Jerusalem for Man.’ Poignant and masterful!

Ardours and Endurances – by Robert Nichols.

Published in 1917, this is Nichol’s second volume of poetry chiefly war poems but it does also include two more books of verse also from 1917: ‘A Faun’s Holiday’ and ‘Poems and Phantasies’. The first book ‘Ardours and Endurances’ has some really well-written verse describing the infernal horror of battle and the lead up to it in poems in the first section ‘The Summons’ such as ‘Farewell to Place of Comfort’ and ‘Night Bombardment’; the pace steps up and we are among ‘The Assault’ charging over no-man’s land with our heads down into a hail of lead from the Maxim guns, this is emotional stuff and the energy Nichols invokes from the slaughter of brave men could only be captured by one who had witnessed the suffering and the comradeship first-hand. This is a magnificent depiction of battle with its seemingly insignificant loss of life and flesh thrown at guns in an unholy and murderous attempt to silence the pounding and the constant rattling! The book continues with ‘The Last Morning’ and ‘By the Wood’ and the name of Robert Nichols should be more widely known and not just as a war poet for he writes with compassion in a modern sense which is not immersed in sentimentality. The next book ‘A Faun’s Holiday’ is pretty standard fare and we are in mythological territory with the faun and the centaur. The third and final book ‘Poems and Phantasies’ is a triptych – first panel: ‘The Hill’; second and centre panel: ‘The Tower’ and the third panel: ‘The Tree’. Also in the book are ‘Four Songs from the Prince of Ormuz’, ‘The Gift of Song’, ‘Fragments from a Drama on the subject of Orestes’, ‘Black Song’, ‘Man’s Anacreontic and Other Poems’, ‘The Black Bird’, ‘Transfiguration’, ‘Plaint of Pierrot ill-used’, ‘Danae – mystery in eight poems’ and ‘The Ecstasy’. Rather good!

Aurelia and Other Poems – by Robert Nichols.

Published in 1920 this volume distances itself from Nichol’s earlier war poetry and he achieves a more modern style which is a little difficult in places and perhaps reflects the influence of more contemporary poets such as T S Eliot and Ezra Pound. The book begins with ‘Four Idylls’: I. ‘Seventeen’ (for Anne); II. ‘The Sprig of Lime’ (for Edward Marsh); III. ‘The Deliverer’ (for Max Beerbohm) and IV. ‘Night Rhapsody’ (for Florence Lamont); next come the ‘Sonnets to Aurelia’, twenty-two sonnets in all which are really quite beautiful and show Nichol’s fine handling of the sonnet format. Other outstanding works are: From ‘The Budded Branch’ (for Nora Denny, whom he married), ‘Two Songs of the Enigma’, ‘Plaint of a Humble Servant’, ‘The Little Room’, ‘The Flower of Flame’ and ‘Yesterday’. However, the war does not escape the volume altogether for there are some poems suggesting the terrible memory of the past in poems as: ‘November’, ‘Winter Overnight’ and ‘Soul and Song’. The book ends with the closing lines from ‘Polyphemus his Passion: A Pastoral’ and ‘Swansong’. Nichols went on to produce drama but had little success; but for me, his first book ‘Invocations’ (1915), his second book ‘Ardours and Endurances’ (1917) and the sonnets from his ‘Sonnets to Aurelia’ (1920) really achieve a mark of distinction and I would definitely recommend these!

Yours Loyally: A Life of Christopher Sclater Millard – by Maria Roberts.

I first became acquainted with the name of Christopher Sclater Millard while reading A. J. A. Symons’ excellent book ‘The Quest for Corvo’ (1934) and I instantly fell in love and became fascinated by a fellow enthusiast of Oscar Wilde! ‘Yours Loyally’ published in 2014 is a well researched biography of Millard who also went by the pseudonym Stuart Mason and Maria Roberts draws upon many sources from various collections to bring this lesser-known man of letters and Oscar Wilde bibliographer to life through twenty-two chapters and 305 pages together with an annotated bibliography and extensive notes. Christopher Sclater Millard was born in Basingstoke in November 1872, the son of the clergyman Dr. James Elwin Millard and Dora Frances Sclater, he attended Bradfield College in 1884 before going on to Queen Mary’s Grammar School in Basingstoke in1886; in 1890 he went up to Keble College, Oxford to read Theology, graduating in 1894. He went on to study at Salisbury Theological College and also became a committed Jacobite. Following his father’s death in 1894 Christopher abandoned his clerical career and became interested in Roman Catholicism. He taught at Ladycross Catholic Preparatory School before teaching at his own educational institution in Woodford Wells in Essex until 1904, a year in which he made a pilgrimage to France with Robert Harborough Sherard (1861-1943) who was a friend of Wilde’s ,to see the sites associated with Oscar – they visited their hero’s grave at Bagneux. Christopher also sympathised with Wilde for he was also homosexual and quite open about his sexuality at a time when fear of discovery meant prison and hard labour. In fact, Christopher spent two occasions in prison for gross indecency: he was arrested in April 1906 after he invited the local baker’s son Sidney Jackman and his friend Percival Arthur Ludlow to his cottage where Christopher made sexual overtures to Percival who left and complained to the authorities (Sidney was apparently not so unfamiliar with such behaviour and stayed longer!) and Millard spent three months with hard labour at Oxford Prison; on the second occasion he was arrested in January 1918 also for gross indecency which was said to have occurred at his flat in Molyneaux House off Edgware Road two years previously – the Police issued a warrant in March 1916 for his arrest but Christopher unaware of the proceedings was in Northumberland working on a farm before travelling to Edinburgh. He then enlisted in the Royal Fusiliers and went to France to complete his training and preparation for the Front, but he was so ill he had to be sent back to England and was eventually discharged in the summer of 1917; while living not far from Molyneaux House at 4 Melcombe Place, he was recognised and arrested and found guilty and subjected to twelve months (no hard labour) at Wormwood Scrubs Prison.
Through his Wildean researches, collecting of Wilde ephemera and rare editions of his works and his own publications on the subject, Millard became an authority on the great genius and became a friend and often employee of Wilde’s friend and literary executor Robert Ross (1869-1918), both were hounded severely by that vicious, traitorous thug Alfred Douglas who persistently denied his sexual involvement with Wilde and spent the remainder of his life harassing those who sympathised with Wilde (poor Robbie Ross went to his grave haunted by Alfred’s relentless persecution of him!) Following his release from Prison during Christmas 1918 Christopher, an eternally impoverished lover of books became a bookseller who found it hard to part with many of his treasures and he died in November 1927 from an aneurism. He was buried at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green with the ‘simplest possible ceremony and the least possible expense.
He will be remembered for his excellent works about Wilde such as ‘Oscar Wilde: A Study’ (1905) a translation of Gide’s ‘Pretextes’, ‘Bibliography of the Poems of Oscar Wilde’ (1907), ‘Oscar Wilde: Art and Morality’ (1908), ‘Oscar Wilde: Three Times Tried’ (1912) and ‘Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement’ (1920) but he shall be mostly remembered for the outstanding Olympus of Wilde bibliography at over six-hundred pages – ‘Bibliography of Oscar Wilde’ (1914). Roberts paints a rather touching picture of Millard the brave and considerate friend to many whose gentle generosity and intelligent thoughts touched those around him and his passion for Wilde is still felt today among enthusiasts to whom the name Christopher Sclater Millard or in fact ‘Stuart Mason’ are a beacon of excellent scholarship! His only ‘crime’ in life was to love other men in a truly barbaric and unfeeling episode of British history which from the comfortable perspective of a century on we can view with utter inhumanity, yet still the persecution exists around the world, we are not totally free from puritanical regimes. Perhaps I would have liked to see a better produced book, there were a few text errors and the binding leaves a little to be desired (Millard would be quite appalled at such an unassuming and obvious poor quality of printing); nevertheless, I found this book totally consuming and engrossing and a joyous experience! Very good!

A Bibliography of the Poems of Oscar Wilde – by Stuart Mason.

Any enthusiast of Oscar Wilde will be familiar with the name of Stuart Mason for he is of course Christopher Sclater Millard and the full title of this 1907 publication is ‘A Bibliography of the Poems of Oscar Wilde, giving particulars as to the Original Publication of each Poem, with Variations of Readings and a Complete List of all Editions, Reprints, Translations, etc.’ Originally printed in 475 copies and consisting of 195 pages this is an Oscar Wilde book-lover’s dream with ‘Portraits, Illustrations, Facsimiles of Title-pages, Manuscripts, etc.’ Millard dedicated the book to ‘S. M. Amico desideratissimo S. M.’ (no doubt ‘S. M.’ is Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff (1889-1930) who had a romantic and sexual relationship with Millard – ‘most desired friend’ of ‘S. M.’ Sclater Millard or Stuart Mason). This beautiful book contains Wilde’s poetical output (not the poems themselves but rather the description of various editions and prints, text alterations and word substitutions, revisions and differences in punctuation along with parodies of Wilde’s verse), poems such as ‘Ravenna’ (1878), ‘Poems’ (1881), Notes on the Uncollected Poems 1876-1893; Notes on the Translations 1875-80, ‘The Sphinx’ (1894), ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ (1898) with editions printed in London and editions printed in America; Translations: French, German, Greek, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Yiddish; Magazines, Bibliography and Anthologies published in London and America; a Chronological list of the Poems with an Index to the First Lines and an Alphabetical Index of the Titles. This is Millard at his most passionate, lovingly and exhaustively researching Wilde’s poetic output and his enthusiasm and almost erotically charged scholarly determination pulses throughout the volume; those easily aroused, like me by the beautiful overpowering nature of books, by the handling of their precious bindings and inhalation of their intoxicating vapours of antiquity must restrain their overwhelming desire to throw themselves into abandoned veils of passion at the sumptuous and sensual descriptions of Wilde’s wonderful works! This is a crowning glory in the bibliographic art and Millard, who almost single-handedly contributed to the rehabilitation of Wilde’s reputation as a literary figure must be applauded! Excellent!

Bibliography of Oscar Wilde – by Stuart Mason.

Stuart Mason, otherwise known as Christopher Sclater Millard published this fantastic beast of bibliographic beauty which runs to over six-hundred pages in 1914 after ten years of extensive research. Millard accumulated a fine collection of Wilde’s manuscripts, letters and rare editions during that time and was also assisted by his friend and fellow Wilde scholar and collector, Walter Edwin Ledger (1862-1931). Ledger was also keen to produce a bibliography of Wilde and Robert Ross suggested that Millard write to him, which of course he did on 27th November 1904; he received the reply two days later and thus began a long friendship and correspondence; they actually met for the first time at Ledger’s Wimbledon home on 8th December 1904. Ledger, a closet homosexual was initially interested to collaborate on the bibliography with Millard but following Millard’s arrest and conviction in 1906 for gross indecency their friendship cooled a little as Walter did not want to draw attention to his own sexuality or get mixed up in any sort of scandal. Any interest Walter had in working with Millard on the bibliography soon waned and he could not be persuaded otherwise by Millard; Walter was even reluctant to meet Millard but his reluctance did soften with time. However, the friendship did remain and Walter put his extensive collection and personal research at Millard’s disposal to use for the Wilde bibliography. Millard acknowledges Walter’s assistance in the book’s preface dated 25th May 1914. This is truly a work of art and a labour of love by Millard and every page turned is a passion-filled, pleasurable experience – there is a fine note by Robert Ross to introduce the book which is written in three parts: Part I includes ‘Periodical Publications etc, in Alphabetical Order; Part II lists the Works issued in Book Form: Original Editions and Authorised Reprints; Collected Editions, Pirated Editions and Selections. Part III details the Biographies and Studies etc. There is an overwhelming amount of information in this glorious tribute to Wilde such as notes on Oscar’s time at University; his reception into the Catholic Church; published letters to, concerning and from Wilde to various press and publications of his day; facsimiles of title pages, Oscar’s handwritten notes, manuscripts and signatures etc. In fact, there is something here for all enthusiasts of Wilde; casual readers may find it dull and tedious but those who delight in the world and wit of Wilde will, like me, periodically peer into its magnificent splendour and celebrate the great man and the defender of his memory – Christopher Sclater Millard! Excellent!

Sea Garden – by H. D.

H. D. is the American poet Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961) and this first collection of poems was published in 1916. H. D. was a leading member of the Imagist movement along with Ezra Pound (1885-1972) and Richard Aldington (1892-1962) whom she married in 1913. Unfortunately the marriage was not a success and Hilda became more open about her bisexual relationships. She had deep interests in Greek mythology and psychology and this beautiful slim volume shows some elements of these interests and her style is sparse and tight, ridding her work of superfluous words which gives the rhythm a musical quality which is very distinctive and natural. In this poem for example, ‘The Helmsman’ there is a sense of the loss of nature – ‘we forgot – we worshipped,/ we parted green from green,/ we sought further thickets,/ we dipped our ankles/ through leaf-mould and earth,/ and wood and wood-bank enchanted us –‘ and again later in the same poem: ‘we forgot – for a moment/ tree resin, tree-bark,/ sweat of a torn branch/ were sweet to the taste.’ Other poems of distinction are: ‘The Gift’, ‘Loss’, ‘Garden’, ‘The Cliff Temple’, ‘Orchard’, ‘Sea Gods’, ‘Acon’, ‘Night’, ‘Prisoners’, ‘Sea Iris’, ‘Hermes of the ways’, ‘Pear Tree’ and ‘Sheltered Garden’:

‘I want wind to break
Scatter these pink stalks,
Snap off their spiced heads,
Fling them about with dead leaves –
Spread the path with twigs,
Limbs broken off,
Trail great pine branches,
Hurled from some far wood
Right across the melon patch,
Break pear and quince –
Leave half-trees, torn, twisted
But showing the fight was valiant.’

The Loom of Youth – by Alec Waugh.

Alec Waugh (1898-1981) is the older brother of the more famous Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) and this first novel from Alec published in 1917 is semi-autobiographical and deals with his schooldays at Sherborne School in Dorset; The Loom of Youth is also inspired by The Harrovians by Arnold Lunn (1888-1974) published in 1913. The novel, (I read the 1920 edition) which has a Preface by the author Thomas Seccombe (1866-1923) is divided into four books: 1) ‘Warp and Woof’, 2) ‘The Tangled Skein’, 3) ‘Unravelling the Threads’, and 4) ‘The Weaving’; through 27 chapters we learn about the exploits and adventures of young Gordon Caruthers and his fellows from his first day at Fenhurst School in Derbyshire and the comings and goings of the Masters. Fenhurst is an old public school, proud of its sporting legacy and history and throughout the novel we learn how these poor, frightened and bullied youths are taught that there is not much to life except sporting glory and many of the Masters are fanatical on the point of insanity as to how well one achieves sporting excellence on the field. In fact, nothing matters more than the School’s honour in this archaic system where young boys make erotic attachments to other boys, something Waugh only hints at lightly and ragging the Masters and Prefects, cribbing, fagging etc. Gordon is of this mould and he slowly begins to appreciate poetry, especially the new school of poets such as Keats, Swinburne and Byron with their passion and rebellious natures, as opposed to the old school of Wordsworth, Browning and Tennyson. The notion of sporting prowess being superior to academic success fills me with utter despair, sport is only a game and good for teaching fair play and honesty but to distinguish it more important than scholastic attainments is preposterous, but nevertheless this is what happened in many public schools where to not like or be good at sport made one an outcast; it still continues in playgrounds around the country. The novel is interesting for some of its insights into the secretive world of the public school and the quest for ‘fame’ amongst ones’ peers in the pursuit of pathetic practical pranks which become very tiresome indeed. Waugh writes quite well on how these privileged, idle and detestable excreta in human form wallow in luxurious misery as destiny shapes for them an easy, influential and financially disproportionate future and this possibly once controversial novel is an inoffensive read. But it does show how the present echoes the past for the House of Lords and the House of Commons and all institutions of Law and Justice etc. are still populated by these same ‘privileged, idle and detestable excreta in human form’! Mildly interesting!

Heliodora and Other Poems – by H. D.

Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961) published her fifth volume of verse, ‘Heliodora and other poems’ in 1924 during a particularly frantic tangled web of deceit and an interesting period of her life. Towards the end of the First World War following her brother Gilbert’s death at the Front, she met and had a relationship with the composer Cecil Gray (1895-1951), a child resulted from their passion named Frances Perdita Aldington born 1919 and Cecil and Hilda separated. When Hilda’s husband the poet Richard Aldington (1892-1962) whom she had met in 1911 and married two years later returned from the Front he was not too impressed with her behaviour and they separated, eventually divorcing in 1938, although they remained on friendly terms. Also during this time Hilda had met the rich novelist and poet known as Bryher, her actual name was Annie Winifred Ellerman (1894-1983) and they had a deep and loving relationship, living and travelling together until 1946; Bryher married the author and publisher Robert McAlmon (1895-1956) in 1921 which was nothing more than a marriage of convenience and Bryher, Robert and Hilda enjoyed the delights of a ménage a trios; Bryher and Robert divorced in 1927. From all this chaotic lust emerged this 130 page collection of poems in 1924 with her own distinctive verse such as: ‘Wash of Cold River’, ‘Holy Satyrs’, ‘Lais’, ‘Heliodora’, ‘Helen’, ‘Centaur Song’, ‘Oread’, ‘The Pool’, ‘Thetis’, ‘At Ithaca’, ‘We Two’, ‘Flute Song’, ‘After Troy’, ‘Cassandra’, ‘Toward the Piraeus’, ‘Moonrise’, ‘At Eleusis’, ‘Telesila’, ‘Lethe’, ‘Sitalkas’, ‘Hermonaux’, ‘Orion Dead’, ‘Odyssey’, ‘Hyacinth’, ‘Chorus of Ion’ and ‘Nossis’:

‘he said,
“I want a garden,”
and I thought
he wished to make a terrace on the hill,
bend the stream to it,
set out daffodils,
plant Phrygian violets,
such was his will and whim,
I thought,
to name and watch each flower.’

Tremendous and beautiful and highly recommended to all lovers of great poetry!

The Unknown Eros – by Coventry Patmore.

Coventry Kersey Dighton Patmore (1823-1896) published this collection of 46 poems in 1877 and just as his previous poem ‘The Angel in the House’ (1854-63) was inspired by his first wife Emily whom he married in 1847 (she died in 1862), poems in this collection also echo with her memory such as: ‘The Azalea’, ‘Departure’, and ‘A Farewell’. Patmore married again in 1864 to a Roman Catholic woman named Marianne whom he met in Rome and he also became a Roman Catholic. We generally consider Victorian poets to cling to the rigours of sentimental Victorian ideals and to restrain their passionate emotions but Patmore weaves a thread through the collection which rings with erotic mysticism and although subtle there are moments of beauty to be found –

‘O, Unknown Eros, sire of awful bliss,
What portent and what Delphic word,
Such as in form of snake forbodes the bird,
Is this?’ [The Unknown Eros]

Although Patmore wasn’t quite to my taste I could sense the feeling of liberation in his poems which during their publication must have tasted rich and sweet to the poetic palette, it is after all considered his finest volume of poetry and worth its place among greater and more substantial poets! Fairly good!

Some Verses – by Theodore Wratislaw.

Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933) published this slim (just over twenty pages) volume of poems in 1892 at his own expense and it contains some really lovely verse; I rate Wratislaw quite highly as a poet as I am fond of his light touch and romantic sentiments and ‘Some Verse’ although small in volume is large in beauty to those who admire the author. The book contains some exceptional work: ‘A Moment’s Bliss’, ‘A Vain Desire’, ‘Envy’, ‘A woman’s Thoughts’ with its splendid lines – ‘yet we mould not circumstance,/ Your fault or mine or irony of fate,/ Thus was our love; and now it is too late.’; ‘Reminiscence’, ‘The Modern Siren’, ‘Morning’, ‘Far Apart’, ‘Requiem’, ‘Lady Jenny’, ‘and the excellent ‘The Mad Sphinx’ with its:

‘Yes! All I loved has passed and I remain,
Old phantom striving through the fearful night
To kiss its shadow, filled with doubt and pain:
I am a star that lingers till the light.

I am the lips that kiss the frozen glass
Dividing them from unforgotten days:
I am the tune condemned To roam and pass
Upon the winds and rest on wrecks and strays.’

But the haunting little poem ‘Sentimentalism’ with its three stanzas which begins the volume encompasses the sedate passion Wratislaw evokes and I make no excuse for presenting it here and holding a future light of adoration upon a past work of art –

‘I love – and you, if you remember well –
These long autumnal twilights faintly shed
That slowly die while slow the vesper bell
Shakes solemn notes across the river’s bed.

Do you as I in chill forsaken hours
Find blown from gardens of your memory
Strange faded fragrance of ungathered flowers,
And with their scents remember wistfully

Soft steps that passed between the resting herds,
Along dim meads beneath the silent sky,
Light touch of hands or lips, light whispered words
That I shall not forget until I die?’

Keynotes – by George Egerton.

This first collection of short stories was published in 1893 by the author George Egerton, the pen-name of Australian born Mary Chavelita Dunne (1859-1945). She dedicates the volume which has a beautiful ink illustration by Aubrey Beardsley for its cover, to a former lover, the Norwegian writer and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1920) Knut Hamsun (1859-1952), saying ‘In memory of a day when the west wind and the rainbow met. 1892-1893.’ The collection, published by the renowned John Lane of The Bodley Head, with its portrayals of women as the strong protagonist and its depictions of social and psychological realism became a minor sensation of the fin-de-siecle and was both applauded and ridiculed. The stories themselves, ‘A Cross Line’, ‘Now Spring has Come’ (inspired by her love affair with Hamsun), ‘The Spell of the White Elf’ and ‘A Little Grey Glove’ reach out towards the reader in an almost unearthly and fantastic celebration of the New Woman as we get behind her inner complexity; the characters reveal their psychological and emotional consciousness and there is an expression of movement throughout the stories which is a longing for some fabled quest or a searching desire for change and freedom from the restraining confines of late Victorian repression and propriety. Other stories in the volume, ‘An Empty Frame’, ‘Under Northern Sky’: ‘1. How Mary Larson Exorcised a Demon’, ‘2. A Shadow’s Slant’ and ‘3. ‘An Ebb Tide’ are also executed in a modern almost experimental form for there is a sensation of being immersed into the feminine experience, into the momentum of the writing which really, for its time, speaks of woman’s desires and woman’s sexuality and the relationships between men and women and the division of class. It is hard to believe these wonderful stories were written in the late Victorian period for they are ahead of their time and have the elements of sensual passion and character revelations associated with later modern writers such as Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) and D H Lawrence (1885-1930). I cannot recommend this masterpiece of writing highly enough for I have fallen deeply under its author’s spell! Magical!

Discords – by George Egerton.

This is George Egerton’s (Mary Chavelita Dunne) second collection of short stories published in 1894 and for me I found her writing far supersedes he previous masterpiece ‘keynotes’ of 1893. At just over 260 pages her stories continue the struggles she sets out in her ‘keynotes’ namely, the reclaiming of women’s minds and bodies from male-dominated oppression which were held to be the Victorian ideals of femininity and womanhood. There are some really marvellous tales here such as the brilliant ‘The Psychological Moment at Three Periods: The Child’; ‘The Girl’ and ‘The Woman’; the exemplary ‘Her Share’, ‘Gone Under’, ‘Wedlock’ and ‘Virgin Soil’ and the outstanding ‘The Regeneration of Two’ whose nameless heroine is transformed following a meeting with a nameless poet hero, as she re-discovers her femininity and inner strength through self-improvement and development. Many of the stories are filled by great anguish, abuse and maternal desire as the female protagonists search for sexual liberation and substance to their souls as they find their voice in an increasingly modern world where the new woman is changing rapidly to reflect current thoughts on relationships and marriage, which is seen as an exploitative system where the woman is submissive to man’s demands which she resists within. There are some beautiful tender moments in Egerton’s writing and always revelations which yield sympathy at her descriptive powers and genius for telling a good story. To have written one successful masterpiece (keynotes) is skilful enough but to have written two shows the extent of her enormous inspiration and writing ability. Wonderful!

The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson – edited by Percy Lubbock.

The English academic author, poet and essayist Arthur Christopher Benson was born on 24th April 1862 and today he is probably only remembered, if at all, for writing the words to Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. Benson was the eldest son of Edward White Benson (1829-1896) who was Archbishop of Canterbury and Arthur was also the brother of fellow sibling authors: Edward Frederic Benson (1867-1940), Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914) and Margaret Benson (1865-1916) the Egyptologist who suffered a severe mental breakdown in 1907; in fact, A. C. was one of six children, all of whom never married and like his father and sister Margaret he suffered debilitating bouts of manic depression. Young Arthur was taught at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge and then became a teacher at Eton from 1885-1903, becoming a Master there in 1897 aged thirty-five. He lectured in English Literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge before becoming a Master there from 1915-1925. Benson was a complex individual who seemed to squabble with his female friends and alienate them while endearing himself to his male friends whom he admired greatly; he detested certain aspects of school life and was gripped by an almost melancholic fever and fear of succumbing to the ‘Benson madness’ which seemed to curse the family. Benson began keeping a diary in 1897 while he was a Master at Eton, influenced no doubt by reading the ‘Extracts from the Letters and Journals of William Cory’ (1897) – William Johnson Cory (1823-1892) was an English poet and teacher and like Benson a fellow of Eton and King’s College, Cambridge; he is also remembered for his poetry collection ‘Ionica’ (1858). From his first tentative steps into recording his thoughts and details of daily life he went on to keep a diary all his life and at one-hundred-and-eighty journal volumes and approximately four-million words it is one of the longest diaries ever written. The task of editing this massive undertaking fell upon the English critic, biographer and essayist and Benson’s friend and fellow of Eton, King’s and Magdalene Colleges, Cambridge, Percy Lubbock (1879-1965). Lubbock, like Benson was also a friend of the author Henry James and published his two volumes ‘Letters of Henry James’ in 1920. ‘The Diary of Arthur Christopher Benson’ (which includes eight illustrations) was published in 1926 and Lubbock presents us with a perfect character sketch in his introduction and its fourteen chapters are which are set out in years periodically beginning in 1897 and ending in 1925 (some chapters account for several years) are handled extremely well by the editor who extends and clarifies upon matters mentioned in the diary and points of interest. We find Benson nervous at the prospect of meeting Queen Victoria (he compiled the Letters of Queen Victoria which was published in 1907) and he warms to her charm and manner; in fact, Benson seems to be a very popular man who encounters many interesting and distinguished figures in society such as the writer Henry James (1843-1916) whom he met at Rye in 1900, a year in fact of great ‘nervous depression’ for Benson who was filled with doubts and questions; then in 1904 he visits the aged poet A. C. Swinburne (1837-1909) at his home in Putney, and the list of the great and the good troop through Benson’s life and career like a who’s who of notable and famous figures. One of his greatest friends, ‘Monty’ is the eminent scholar and the greatest writer of the ghost story in the English language, M. R. James (1862-1936) with whom he enjoys many touching moments. Benson also favours the company of undergraduates and a firm friend is the Magdalene student reading history and mountaineer, George Mallory (1886-1924).
Benson’s internal thought process is fascinating and although he is viewed as the typical ‘ascetic’ bachelor don, we get a sense of his inner struggles and disappointments: ‘What went moving through my thoughts like a strain of music was the memory of the love of Browning and his wife. The letters are marvellous – so gasping, so incoherent, so affectedly depreciatory, yet they set the heart aglow, because the real thing is there, the love “because I am I, and you are you.” It is a thing which many people feel, very few can express. Of course it is all transcendentalised and intellectualised in these letters – but that is the central flame. What would I not give, I thought, for such a love! How have I missed it? I suppose the answer is that I have had my share and more than my share of fine things – and I have somehow missed my way among them.... But the more I grow to feel, as I do, that no personal identity survives the grave (yet I cannot bear to give up the hope) the more I desire but once to have the great devotion. That is the worst of imagination. It makes one feel as if one could experience it, while I think in my heart that I am not capable of it.’ [Hinton, December 16, 1906. p. 151] The following year, 1907-08 saw Benson concerned for his sister Maggie who fell into a severe depression, and like his sibling, Arthur also fell into a great void of darkness and mental torment and feared for his own sanity, but no matter what terrible pain he underwent he always managed to pull himself free and would immerse himself in his writing which acted as a sort of therapy for him, but he was never really sure of his literary ability: ‘I am taken as a mild literary hack, who turns out a lot of sentimental and rather mawkish books. I am simply accepted as a don with a certain output of writing which men of taste don’t read. I don’t resent this, though I wish it were otherwise. I am just labelled as a more or less well-known writer; but the result is that everyone knows just what I am, and they are accordingly civil. I have my place, in fact – not a big place, but a definite place...’ [3rd February 1913. p. 249]
There have been many suggestions concerning Benson’s sexuality and although Lubbock does not include any passages which confirm any beliefs (he was an honourable friend who wanted to uphold Benson’s reputation and achievements) there is an entry written in 1914 which says much about Benson’s notion of himself: ‘I seem to be floating about experiencing most comforts and prosperities, and yet always on the surface of everything. Love, religion, art, ambition – I have an inkling of all, yet have never dived to any depth or been carried away. I have never been in love; I have abandoned myself to luxurious sentiment, but never “hungered sore”; I have never really had a personal mystic apprehension of God, never understood art, always at the least moment despised ambition; and the other side of the medal is that I have always been really preoccupied with myself.’ [Magdalene, Easter Sunday, 12th April 1914]
Towards the end of his life Benson was involved in many social engagements, College work, dinners and meetings (he was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature) and all whom encountered him thought highly of the scholar and author. He died on 17th June 1925 and although Lubbock has edited a marvellous collection of Benson’s diary entries [see also ‘Edwardian Excursions: From the Diaries of A. C. Benson, 1898-1904. ed. David Newsome, London. John Murray. 1981] one can’t help thinking that there is much more to be said about this fascinating and truly haunted man of letters and a beautifully produced volume set of his complete diaries would be the only fitting tribute to his memory! Spectacular!

Drift: Verses – by Horatio F. Brown.

This two-hundred page collection of poems published in 1900 has some very well written pieces by the Scottish-born historian Horatio Robert Forbes Brown (1854-1926). Brown, of New College, Oxford is famous of course for his excellent historical writings on Venice: ‘Life on the Lagoons’ (1884), ‘Venetian Studies’ (1887), ‘The Venetian Printing Press 1469-1800’ (1891), ‘In and around Venice’ (1905) and for his biography of (1895) and letters and papers of (1923) John Addington Symonds (1840-1893). The poems in ‘Drift’ are divided into ten sections: [1] ‘Songs from the West’ which includes ‘To a Great-Western Broadgauge Engine and its Stoker’ (May 1891), ‘Whitesand Bay’ (in memory of three men of the 2nd Devon Regiment. Drowned Aug 11 1893), ‘Pan and the Faun’ and ‘Farewell’ with its beautiful line ‘Loving or loved, you must arise and go.’ [2)]‘The Song of Caedmon’ (1882), [3] ‘In Wiesen’ which includes his poem ‘Oberhalbstein’: ‘All has been said, been done – needs no explaining – /Ages ago; /Only the quintessence of love remaining /For us to know.’ There is also the lovely poem ‘At Sur Cuort’:

‘There, then, we sat; and while the rushing river
Made music to the stories that you told,
Between us two, for ever and for ever,
The pledge of love which never shall grow old,
Was silently exchanged; no word; no sign;
Only my heart felt yours, your heart felt mine.’

[4] ‘The Ice God’ (1880), [5] ‘Stray Lyrics’ – ‘Love Immortal’, ‘The Message’, ‘Aspiration’, ‘The Sea Calls’, ‘In Memoriam T. E. B. (29 Oct 1897), ‘Garibaldi’ (Venice, 3 Jan 1882), ‘In Memoriam ignoti cujusdam’, and it also includes the highly homo-erotic poem ‘Bored’ with its charming refrain: ‘I liked their footman, John, the best.’ [6] ‘The Ballad of Eginhard’, [7] ‘A Railroad Medley’ (Chamonix 1878), [8] ‘In Memoriam C. G. M.’ (1879) – ‘Forget not yet’, ‘I cannot tell’, ‘Alas! I gave not’, ‘O Mother mine’, ‘Sleep beside thy waters’, ‘O God, thou mighty spirit’, [9] ‘A Dream’ and [10] ‘Julian’. Brown writes some quite beautiful lines and many of his poems fall into the classical structures we find with Browning and Tennyson, yet there are some truly strong sentiments within this strangely compelling collection of verse. Not bad at all!

The House of Quiet: An Autobiography – by Arthur Christopher Benson.

Published in 1904 (I read the 1907 edition), The House of Quiet is an interesting and rather beautiful book which encompasses all the joys of solitude, the pleasure and sense of well-being, both mentally and spiritually when one is immersed in and travelling through the wonders of nature; the sacred ‘elemental’ spirit of a place and the aura of emotion that these spaces hold onto and relate to others. Benson, a very gifted and prolific writer states in his preface that the book is a ‘message to the weak rather than a challenge to the strong’, very commendable, and he has created a quiet and studious protagonist who consists of such human weaknesses without ambition who nervously exists like some shade in the world; it is a book for those whose ‘life, by some stroke of God’ seem to be ‘dashed into fragments, and who might feel so listless, so dismayed, that they could not summon up courage even to try and save something from the desolate wreck’. Benson has a tendency towards the melancholic and a charming, even feminine perspective upon the world which he describes so lovingly and hauntingly – ‘And for one thing I can be grateful – that the still spirit of sweet and secret places, that wayward nymph who comes and goes, with the wind in her hair and the gleam of deep water in her eyes – she to whom we give many a clumsy name – that she first beckoned to me and spoke words in my ear beneath the high elms of Grately Mill. Many times have we met and spoken in secret since, my Egeria and I; many times has she touched my shoulder, and whispered a magic charm.’ (Chapter 6. p. 30) The nameless narrator of the novel who lives at the parish of Golden End echoes Benson’s own beliefs concerning the internal reasoning of the purity of life, the tranquillity of nature and finding peace and contentment in one’s surroundings through the spiritual essence of nature; seeking God in the silence where the intrusion of others becomes painful – ‘I like to loiter in the churchyard ground, to step over the hillocks, to read the artless epitaphs on slanting tombs; it is not a morbid taste, for if there is one feeling more than another that such a visit removes and tranquillises, it is the fear of death. Death here appears in its most peaceful light; it seems so necessary, so common, so quiet and inevitable an end, like a have after a troubled sea. Here all the sad and unhappy incidents of mortality are forgotten, and death appears only in the light of a tender and dreamful sleep.’ (Chapter 30. p. 202-203) Those of us who share these feelings and can distinguish the vibrant nuances about us such as the change of light and subtle differences in colours and texture until the senses are overwhelmed with information, so much so that an intense spiritual ecstasy occurs which try as one might is very hard to relate to others, especially when others fail to realise the magic of nature or notice the simplest forms which they are perpetually unaware of, until one is made to feel ‘different’ and one retreats into a world of silence in relation to these feelings, a ‘house of quiet’. In chapter 31, the narrator describes his despair due to his melancholia which appears as if from no-where at unpredictable moments and leaves him debilitated, so much so that he must escape from social situations to be alone; evidently Benson is drawing upon his own experiences of the depressive moods and moments of encroaching doom when he describes these inner tortures and his intense desire to rid himself from his struggles and dark torment. Throughout the novel Benson delivers his thoughts on Christ and ecclesiastical points of Catholicism and the narrator, like Benson is a scholar devoted to his academic work has given up all hope of finding love yet in the final chapters, of which there are thirty-nine, he becomes besotted with a charming young woman and intends to ask for her hand in marriage but death cruelly snatches any hope of happiness from him as he loses his hold upon the beautiful world that has entranced his quiet moments and equally caused him much distress. Wonderful!

Hadrian the Seventh – by Frederick Rolfe.

Published in 1904, this is Rolfe’s most popular (if popular can be used in conjunction with a man so unconventional in literary terms as Rolfe) and celebrated novel which is loved and hated in equal measures. In it we find the perverse protagonist George Arthur Rose, a studious English man of deep and curious intellect who seems to mirror Rolfe’s rather strange and extraordinary life and experiences. Rose is a man who feels slighted and injured by the Roman Catholic Church as he was rejected in taking his Holy Orders to join the priesthood twenty years ago; he is filled with resentment and anger at the treatment and betrayal, as he sees it, by his friends who have abandoned him in his lonely, drab existence which he shares with his cat. Despite his terrible hardship and sufferings Rose stays true to his vocation until one day he is rescued from his life of loneliness and literary poverty when he is paid a visit by the Bishop of Caerleon, Francis Talacryn and the Cardinal-Archbishop, Dr. Courtleigh who attempt to make amends for the Church’s harsh treatment of Rose and they realises his ambition to become a priest. And so he is accepted into the priesthood and visits the Vatican with the Bishop. A new Pope is in the process of being elected but an ecclesiastical impasse has come about preventing a new Pope being voted. In a strange twist of fate Rose is elected Pope and he takes the name Hadrian VII.
Rose is a complex character who is psychologically able to divide himself into different aspects of himself and create pseudonymous alter-egos to provide for the whole; he undertakes literary and artistic work which he is little paid for and often not paid at all for and he invents things which in other hands would provide financial security but in his all his inventions become so many dreams which remain in darkness. As the English Pope Hadrian VII he is a man of pride and humility who interferes with the political machinations of Europe; he denounces Socialism and to provide necessary funds for the poor sells off the Vatican treasures while charming his way through St Peter’s and entertaining Kings and Princes alike; he is fastidious in his personal hygiene and smokes endless hand-rolled cigarettes as he is drawn into the dichotomy of explaining the behaviour of George Arthur Rose refuting certain journalistic attacks upon his previous existence and as Pope Hadrian has to deal with a would-be blackmailer before succumbing to the tragedy of assassination.
Frederick Rolfe (1860-1913) the self-styled ‘Baron Corvo’ delivers a novel which is a semi-dramatised autobiography and those who have researched and read his other works such as ‘The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole’ (1934) and those about him (‘The Quest for Corvo’ by A J A Symons, 1934) will no doubt recognise many of the situations and experiences Rose goes through; the author presents us with his own version of events, a literary ‘self-justification’ or an apologia for his often outlandish and seemingly wicked behaviour. Many of the characters are drawn from those Rolfe encountered in his life and often fought with in some way or other, such as Father C. S. de Vere Beauclerk who is represented in the book as Father St. Albans or Mr. Gerald G Jackson who is portrayed as Mr. Whitehead; all those whom Rolfe had a grievance and saw as the originators of the injustice he suffered throughout his lifetime. The book encompasses Rolfe’s ecclesiastical hopes and dreams and fulfils a paranoiac sort of exorcism and absolution of actual or imagined sins. I have to admit that I found some of the lengthy lists of Cardinals and other Roman Catholic pomposity a little tedious but Rolfe’s masterful handling of language (there are some wonderful verbal exchanges) kept my interest and there were some really outstanding and surprising moments; Rolfe spits venomous bile from his foaming mouth and spatters the pages with his own unique and eccentric writing skills, spilling his intellectual array of Greek and Latin along the way with his own vibrant and inventive use of compound words. Hadrian the Seventh is a novel of conspiracy and curiosity with great touches of satire which is either viewed as a masterpiece or complete self-indulgent fantasies by a rather strange and curious man indeed – the decision rests upon the reader, as it should be!

Elsa: I come with my songs – The Autobiography of Elsa Gidlow.

This frank and revealing book is dedicated to ‘all the lovers and loving friends/ who inspired this autobiography’; published in 1986 it is generally considered to be the first published ‘lesbian autobiography’ and its author, the poet Elsa Gidlow is an extraordinary woman and an excellent writer. The book (which I began reading appropriately on the Isle of Wight while making the pilgrimage to the grave of the poet Swinburne) is divided into three parts: ‘Seeker’, ‘Allies’ and ‘Freeholder’ and it captures the essential magical spirit of the author in her delightful and inspiring conversational manner. She was born on 29th December 1898 in Hull, Yorkshire to parents Samuel Gidlow and Alice Gidlow nee Reichardt. In 1904 the family emigrated to Quebec in Canada on the S.S. Manitoba and eight years later they moved to Montreal. Elsa realised she was drawn to her own sex from an early age and after many tender infatuations she consummated her desire sexually with her first real love, a French-Canadian named Marguerite Desmarais. They were introduced by Elsa’s close friend, Roswell George Mills (1896-1966) an open homosexual who also introduced her to the works of Wilde, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarme, Swinburne, Maeterlinck, Beerbohm and Huysmans. Also at this time she became obsessed and distracted by an unattainable woman who seemed to encourage her but did not physically reciprocate her passion, named Estelle Cox. Elsa and Roswell published a magazine in 1917 called ‘Les Mouches Fantastiques’ which saw the author’s poems in print and sometime later she became assistant editor of ‘Factory Facts’ an in-house magazine, but she yearned for female companionship to share her artistic expressions and interests – ‘I continued to be instructed as best I could in that woman’s wasteland. I learned one lesson that has continued to live with me: we survive for the most part in a world of shared solitudes, seeking each other’s solitudes for what warmth and comfort human presence gives. We develop strength from acceptance of the fact that until we are able, in the real, gut sense, to “live alone” we are not even ready to live with another. Too often, need seduces us into love.’ [p.122. A Desert of Men]
Although sensitive to the world around her Elsa was somewhat of a pioneer when it comes to travelling alone and being independent during a time when women were not emancipated and free or supposed to do such things, she moved to New York City in 1920 when she was twenty-one years old; simple decisions now but brave and even unheard of by many then! She moved from one job to the next and never really earned enough to enjoy anything but simple pleasures and basic essentials having to send money back home to her mother (her father Samuel was paid for travelling to locations and giving talks on health and safety in the workplace yet he gave his wife Alice a pittance for household expenses); Elsa dreamt of better things and having a deep admiration for the author Frank Harris (1856-1931) who was the editor of Pearson’s Magazine, she wrote to him and he offered her the position of assistant editor. In 1923 her volume of poetry ‘On a Grey Thread’ was published with its openly lesbian themes and love poems addressed to women (the previous year she had met and become the lover of a Canadian woman named Muriel Symington); it made little impression on the literary world and she became depressed and suicidal. Insanity seemed to run with abandon throughout the Gidlow family: her brother Eric went mad and cut his wrists with broken glass in an asylum and died; her young sister Phyllis who was frail and beautiful like a Burne-Jones maiden also went raving mad and died; her sister Ivy rejected food and took to undressing in public before she was sent to Verdun Insane Asylum (where her brother Eric was sent) where she remained and died; her sister Ruby went through some serious mental episodes yet managed enough to marry and have a child and move to Toronto; her brother Stanley entered an unhappy marriage, his wife divorced him and he died after being hit by a car, possibly suicide; her sister Theodora (Thea), although frail, survived – ‘I had had to fight ill health. There were times of defeat and desperation when madness loomed, when there was an underground pull to give up. But dreams I would net surrender. If I had given up hope, madness might have triumphed.’ [p. 406. An Award & a Warning]
Following on from this time of despair Elsa entered a new chapter of her life in 1924 when she met and fell in love with Violet Winifred Leslie Henry-Anderson (1882-1935) whom she called ‘Tommy’; Tommy moved in with Elsa and to all effects and purposes lived as a married couple in an open and unrestricted relationship which was very loving. They left New York for San Francisco where Elsa helped to distribute Frank Harris’s two-volume autobiography ‘My Life and Loves’ which had been banned in the US. Elsa also travelled alone to Europe with Tommy’s understanding and blessing on the Canadian Pacific Liner SS Australia, leaving on 12th September 1928 and after seven days arrived in Cherbourg, France. In Paris she met fellow lesbian writer Radclyffe Hall and Lady Una Troubridge and in Berlin she met Magnus Hirshfeld at the Institute of Sexual Research but in Berlin a heavy depression descended upon her; the atmosphere although gay and sexually liberated had an undercurrent of oppression; following the return to Paris the depression instantly lifted. In fact, Elsa was away for twelve months and had time to visit poor relations in Nottingham and see London before joining the Empress of Scotland at Southampton for the return voyage. It was onboard that she met and was instantly attracted to Kitty Rowles; Kitty fell in love with Elsa and although Elsa was sexually drawn to her she only had love in her heart for Tommy! But it would not be the first time Elsa was tempted by other women, in August 1929 she met a married woman named Irmgaard and was drawn to her sexually, they were embracing in the bedroom when Irmgaard’s husband walked in on them – Elsa apologised and it seemed not to damage the marriage. Elsa saw it as yet another example of how ‘She’ the spirit of womanhood can manifest in other women and attract Elsa to her! Despite these minor romances Tommy and Elsa remained together for thirteen years until Tommy’s death in the summer of 1935 from lung cancer aged fifty-one.
From July to October 1934, Elsa (and her dog Sancho) spent time alone to write and spiritually connect with herself on Hay Island, St Lawrence, Quebec: ‘I was mostly alone for the four months I was there. My time was spent writing, four to five hours each morning, later attending to the pleasant chores of daily living: house and garden care, relaxing occupations after the more concentrative work. In the afternoons I responded to Sancho’s pleading eyes with a walk, before supper, a swim.’ [p. 270. The Pursuit of Happiness]
In fact, all of her life, Elsa received precognitive ‘psychic’ vibrations of an intuitive nature, of looming disasters which were going to happen around her, even sensing that her sister Ruby was pregnant and was having an abortion (Thea admitted to having an abortion too before Elsa left for Europe).
Two years after Tommy’s death she met Vee Deeming in 1937 who was twenty-one years old but the passion ended and they did not remain friends. Elsa bought some land for $700 in Marin County, a house on Redwood Road, Fairfax and by the Winter Solstice of 1940 it was hers: ‘I called it “Madrona”. I spent the Yule season there, though the house was not really habitable. I felt a deep need for a transformative ritual, one that in the fortieth year of my life would set me on a fresh course. Seated beside the hearth of the empty house I knew it would begin there. I was alone in the midwinter dusk. Torrents of rain beat into decay what was left of stalks and leaves of the past season and dripped through the roof of the first shelter that was my own. A surge of hope began to replace the defeat that had undermined my will to continue. The latter seemed washed away in the deluge outside as I kindled a roaring blaze in the cold fireplace for the first time. It was triumphal retort to the roaring wind outdoors.
I have said I was alone. Yet, as added twigs and dry boughs, then madrone logs, the firelit room became peopled by presences: spirits of women. Women I had known: mother, grandmother, elder aunts, and back, back, back, all the women through the ages who had kindled and tended sacred and domestic fires. The elements that feel to me most kindred are water and earth. Fire seemed an opposite power, yet fascinating. That dusk of my fortieth year I began to see why.’ [p. 289-90. Chains of Fire]
When the remains of my Solstice Fire had cooled, I wrapped them in foil, tied with a piece of red ribbon and placed them on a shelf above the growing woodpile. This became the first of all the subsequent Solstice Fire logs, each to kindle the next, for all the years of my life up to the present. When I finally moved to the place I call Druid Heights, the most precious of all I took with me was the residue of the last fire in Madrona.’ [p. 290-291]
Elsa became friends with the Irish performance artist, revolutionary, nature priestess and poet Ella Young (1867-1956); she had been active in the Irish Easter Rising of 1916; Elsa saw her as a great druidic bard and Ella recognising Elsa’s artistic spirit, befriended her. The next great love to enter Elsa’s life was Isabel Grenfell Quallo (born 1893), an African woman who shared Elsa’s love of nature and gardening – they spent ten years together as a loving couple and Isabel was there for Elsa following her mother’s stroke aged seventy-eight and taking care of her: her mother Alice took her last breath in Elsa’s arms!
Mother gone, her room empty, Isabel and I freed from the daily and nightly duties, we first felt a corresponding emptiness. On the little table where her bed had been was a bowl of yellow roses. I stood looking at them. They simply lived, bloomed, faded, and at the end gave themselves back to earth. For a long time, contemplating them, I grew empty of questions. Isabel was beside me. We came closer together. Suddenly, the emptiness was filled with a rage of loving. We could not get enough of one another. We explored our bodies for ultimate gratification until, satiated, I felt thrown back to my questioning.
With the menace of death ever looming, was this affirmation of love in all its aspects answer enough: to live life passionately, seeking no further in arid philosophies as I was prone to do? Lifelong, I had been groping towards ultimate meaning. What meaning was there beyond this: to bloom in beauty. It was always what Mother had aimed for. Frustration of that urge was her source of sorrow.’ [p. 338. The Change of Life] She was equally philosophical upon entering the menopause: ‘That I no longer rendered blood tribute for my womanhood made me no less a woman. I was still sister to the moon and felt its waxing and waning on my emotional tides. The change I began to notice was that I had more control over my moods. There was a gradual shift from demands of the body to emphasis on a wider range of spiritual needs.’ [p. 347]
Elsa tirelessly grew in spirit and developed new strengths: in 1954 she moved from Fairfax to the house which would become Druid Heights, a self-sufficient collective commune of like-minded individuals striving to achieve a different way of life upon ecological lines utilising crafts and non-chemical ‘organic’ gardening; she met and had a lasting friendship with the philosophical author Alan Watts (1915-1973) and even experimented with LSD with him. In the late 1960’s flowered a new love for a young twenty-something virgin named Gretchen Muller following a correspondence which Elsa came to eventually view as restricting both of their natural growth and gently let her go; she also spent five weeks travelling to Japan and China, climbing the Great Wall at the age of eighty-three! This remarkable and tender poet died in California on 8th June 1986 aged eighty-seven and this book, this eternal last kiss from the poet, ‘Elsa: I come with my Songs’ with its 422 pages and its fifty-one chapters is such a tremendous and rewarding read that it will enhance the life and understanding of the reader and no doubt, like it shall with me, magically direct me towards her poetic output as Elsa Gidlow becomes another beautiful lifelong companion! Magnificent!

From a College Window – by Arthur Christopher Benson.

This collection of eighteen essays published in 1906 (I read the 4th edition 1908) is a well-constructed and thoughtfully presented selection of Benson’s simple wisdom ranging from his views on ‘art’, ‘education’ (of which he is extremely passionate about) and ‘books’. He turns his delicate mind towards the subject of the ‘criticism of others’ and argues that criticism of one’s fellow friends is essential when done without the taint of mockery or exaggeration of peculiarities and physical features; in fact it clarifies one’s understanding and enriches one’s appreciation of friendship when one receives different perspectives of a personality. The author also goes on to give his philosophical and metaphysical observations on ‘the point of view’, ‘on growing older’, ‘sociabilities’, ‘conversation’, ‘beauty’, ‘egotism’, ‘authorship’, ‘ambition’, ‘games’, ‘habits’, ‘spiritualism’ and ‘religion’; on ‘priests’ he is particularly forward-thinking, advocating the advantage of female priests. On ‘the simple life’ he has much to say on the pretence of the worldly rich to be ‘living’ the ‘simple life’ in their rural retreat that they occupy just two weeks in the year and believe they are leading an exemplary and spiritual existence when in all reality, these scabs of society are more concerned with being seen to be living the simple life. Twelve of these essays appeared in the Cornhill Magazine and some of his views may appear dated but little changes and Benson’s perceptions are really quite stimulating.

Le Cahier Jaune: Poems – by Arthur Christopher Benson.

This privately printed collection of poems (just two-hundred copies) appeared in 1892 when Benson was thirty years old. The slim volume at just over fifty poems is quite an accomplished work for a first volume of poems and after an initial reluctance to enter Benson’s poetical world, due no doubt to an over-saturation of Victorian poetical bunkum and simple sentimental couplets, I delved in and found to my joy something quite worthy in the way of juvenile verse. Like all sensitive scholars before him with poetic aspirations he treads the philosophical fine line between love and mortality and chimes with the glorious infatuations of nature. All the poems are dated with their places of composition from Cambridge 1883 onwards and Eton 1890 etc. I particularly liked: ‘Miserrimus’ (Cambridge 1883), ‘Angulus Terrarum’ (Cambridge 1884) and ‘Amberley Castle’ (Amberley 1883).

Poems – by Arthur Christopher Benson.

Published in 1893, these sixty poems, twenty-three of which appeared in his previous privately printed volume Le Cahier Jaune of 1892, shows a mature progression as the author writes upon the subjects of nature, friendships and Christian theology, the Lord of Life, who shall ‘Make music of our weak regrets,/ And crown our impotent desire.’ [To My Father, Eton, April 1893] There are some fine poems which exemplify the author’s admiration for the natural world such as ‘Toad’, which has a Whitmanesque modernity about it, and ‘Berries of Yew’: ‘Poor patient tree, that dost distil and cherish/ By thy dark alchemy no gift of grace; / We too are doomed to bear the fruits that perish, / Yet we have dreams of some diviner place. – Lord of sorry waste and impotent endeavour, / Raise us, embolden us to strive in vain;/ Surely for hence, hereafter, and for ever/ We shall reap the harvest of our fruitless pain.’ Poems such as ‘My Friend’, ‘The Dead Poet’, ‘Shadows’, ‘Church Windows’ ‘In the Iron Cage’, ‘Stand Alone’ and ‘The Voices of the World’ are well handled with Benson’s increasing poetic strength and he conjures beautiful gifts from delightful moments as in ‘On the Hill’: ‘Woodland and hill together run/ Where earth and sky combine. / There beats not, underneath the sun, / A lonelier heart than mine. – For love acquired or duly paid/ Is not the same as given, / And they on earth of love afraid/ Are half afraid of heaven.’ Good!

Lyrics – by Arthur Christopher Benson.

‘Lyrics’ is the next volume of poetry to appear in 1895 and Benson produced eighty poems of surprising quality; the poems invoke a world of incessant joy and wonder for nature as he explores the boundless beauty of flowers, where ‘celandines’ are ‘faithful’ and ‘violets’ are ‘tender’ [‘At Tan-yr-Allt’] and he gently unfolds his admiration for bird and beast and the dim woodland edges before descending into haunted realms peopled by phantoms once known to the poet. Poems such as ‘An English Shell’ show a remarkable accomplishment, for in it the poet imagines himself to be an unexploded shell, fallen into a field near Sebastopol during the Crimean War, until one day a ploughman strikes it and is killed along with his team: ‘Why did he tempt me? I had lain/ Year by year in the peaceful rain, / Till my lionlike heart had grown/ Dull and motionless, heavy as stone; - / Mocking, he smote me: - Then I leapt/ Out in my anger, and screamed and swept/ Him as he laughed in a storm of blood, / Shattered sinew and flying brain, / Brake the cottage and scarred the wood, / Roaring across the plain.
These poems work by a subtle transference of the delicate energies transmitted, indirectly, and in that way they hold a spark of the man, an element of his magic which leaves us with the impression that Benson himself, throughout his life, was arguably a brilliant yet greatly haunted man! Benson enthusiasts will no doubt perceive great wonder in his verse but even Benson himself agreed that his poetry was merely a precursor to his prose which expanded his poetic language in a different and less restricting direction. It is for each of us to find the poetry which stirs and moves us within and to align ourselves to that poetic principle and explore it further.

Lord Vyet and Other Poems – by Arthur Christopher Benson.

Published in 1897, this seventy-three page collection of poems is dedicated to the Honourable Maurice Baring and it contains forty-one poems, seventeen of which are sonnets. The poems in this collection are of a high standard and Benson continues to grow and develop his poetic expression; in ‘My Old Friend’ we even find echoes of Housman – ‘Each inmost thought was known to each / By some impetuous divination: / We found no need of flattering speech, / Content with silent admiration.’ I enjoyed many of the poems, particularly ‘In Eton Churchyard’, ‘Evensong’ and from the sonnets: ‘Self’, ‘Keats’, ‘The Poet’, ‘Death’ and the beautiful ‘O Lacrimarum Fons’: 'True tears are sorrow’s guerdon, for they prove / The work of suffering, that the sacred dart / Hath struck, and shivered the incredulous heart, / And pierced the secret amplitude of love.’ Astonishing!

The Professor and Other Poems – by Arthur Christopher Benson.

Having set myself the task to read all of Benson’s poetry collections I find myself at this 1900 publication which is dedicated to Benson’s sister Margaret. The slim volume contains: ‘The Professor’, a collection of poems where Benson gets to spread his poetic wings; a series of poems which has the thread of loneliness and despair about them and we even catch glimpses of Tennyson with his use of ‘grange’ and ‘casements’ but there are some tender little pieces here: ‘Enough! the fatal hour is sped / Above your pure and drooping head; / The secret of the dark who knows? / You know it, may not tell it, Rose.’ [‘The Rosebud’ from The Professor]; ‘Thomas Gray’ which is the usual fair and ‘Ode in Memory of Mr. Gladstone’, a predictable over-sentimental slice of Victorian bosh and bluster which like most poets of his day mythologised the mundane and Benson worships Gladstone as some God-like warrior; and then there is ‘Monnow’ a simple ode to a stream. All in all not a bad little collection but I fear the poet grows steadfastly weary and his passion grows dimmer!

Peace and Other Poems – by Arthur Christopher Benson.

And so the light is all but extinguished in this 1905 publication which sees another forty-one of the author’s poems finding freedom from his cloistered study; I found little here to fill me with the joy I found upon first encountering his verse except a few stars in the dreary heavens such as ‘Icarus’ and ‘The Shadow of Death’, but there was one saving grace to pull the volume from the detestable mire of feeble complacency and that was ‘Burnham Beeches’ which begins: ‘Pleasant glades of Burnham, with your beeches’ flaring glories, / With your high and heathery upland, and sweet leafy dell, / I have often wondered thro’ you, very joyful and high-hearted, / But I come to-day in sadness, for I come to say farewell.’ Disappointing.

The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers.

This volume of the Selected Poetry of the American poet Robinson Jeffers was published in 1938 and runs to over six-hundred pages; dedicated to his wife Una Jeffers whom he met in 1906 and married in 1917, the book contains the poet’s selected pieces from his collections – ‘Tamar and Other Poems’ (1924), ‘Roan Stallion’ (1925), ‘Cawdor’ (1928), ‘Dear Judas’ (1929), ‘Thurso’s Landing’ (1932), ‘Give Your Heart to the Hawks’ (1933), ‘Solstice’ (1935), ‘Such Counsels You Gave to Me’ (1937) along with New Poems and Fragments. Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) was a poet intensely fascinated by the Californian coast; the shoreline and the magic of the landscape, the stones and the fabric of nature inspire Jeffers like some mystical visionary Homer of the New World as he writes about the insignificance of man within the magnitude of nature, the ‘inhumanism’ dwarfed by centuries of colossal time:

‘South of the Big Sur River up the hill
Three graves are marked thick weeds and grasses heap,
Under the forest there I have stood still
Hours, thinking it the sweetest place to sleep…’ [part V of ‘The Truce and the Peace’]

His ‘Tamar’ is a long poem or ‘saga’ written in seven parts like the epic narrative poetry of old; a modern mythology in blank verse; but Jeffers is no Browning or Tennyson re-telling the legends of antiquity, he grasps the truth of now and like Whitman before him his verse sweeps across the mystical experience of life and builds its foundations in the landscape, much as Jeffers did himself when he built his home ‘with his own hands’ Tor House and Hawk’s Tower in Carmel California – ‘Lend me the stone strength of the past and I will lend you/ The wings of the future, for I have them.’ [‘To the Rock that will be a Cornerstone of the House’ from Tamar. p. 83]
Much as I admire Mr Jeffers as a poet, for he courses an especial sacred region between the faery-haunted world of Yeats and the turbulent wilderness of Hughes, his name had been revolving through my brain for many years and so I built up a romantic expectation; a deep and solemn yearning which almost, as I have found with many poets, became an occult desire, I found it hard to embrace him fully and there were only a handful of really intense poetry for me which captured the lyricism I thought was missing in much of his work, works of beauty such as this from the Poems Written in Ireland and Great Britain (1931) ‘Descent to the Dead’ sequence from ‘Give Your Heart to the Hawks’ [p. 462], ‘Shane O’Neill’s Cairn’, ‘Ossian’s Grave’, ‘Ghosts in England’, ‘Shakespeare’s Grave’ and ‘The Bed by the Window’ from ‘Thurso’s Landing’ [p. 362] ‘I chose the bed downstairs by the sea-window for a good death-bed/ When we built the house’. Jeffers is fired by nature and he makes the connection between the cosmic breath of life, the essence of Being and the impermeable substance of the landscape, man’s intrusion and inevitable death –

‘Come in the morning you will see white gulls
Weaving a dance over blue water, the wane of the moon
Their dance-companion, a ghost walking
By daylight, but wider and whiter than any bird in the world.
My ghost, you needn’t look for; it is probably
Here, but a dark one, deep in the granite, not dancing on wind
With the mad wings and the day moon.’ [‘Tor House’ from Cawdor. p. 197]

Autobiography – by John Cowper Powys.

This astonishing autobiography by the poet, philosopher and novelist John Cowper Powys (1872-1963) was published in 1934 and dedicated to his mother Mary; the volume (652 pages) is formed of twelve chapters and covers sixty years of his life in the most frank and revealing dissection of a man; he unbuttons the cloak of his perceptive Being to describe one neurosis after another (he had a fear of dying in a train crash so travelled only in first class believing he would be protected) and to recall startlingly and for its time of publication a very truthful account of his psycho-sexual aberrations. He was born 8th October 1872 in Shirley, Derbyshire, the son of the Reverend Charles Francis Powys (1843-1923) and Mary Cowper Johnson, a descendant of the poet William Cowper (1731-1800) and he was one of eleven children [his brothers Llewelyn Powys (1884-1939) and Theodore Francis Powys (1875-1953) became writers, and so did his sister Phillippa Powys (1886-1963)] The young John was sent to Sherborne College Prep. School where to escape the bullying he pretended to be mad. In 1891 he went up to Corpus Christi College Cambridge till June 1894 and he sums up his three years at Cambridge as ‘what I carried off from Cambridge was nothing that I got from that ancient university always so much more beautiful to me than Oxford, nor was it anything that I got from my friends, none of them really very intimate except the brilliant Harry, [Harry Lyon] and even from him I ran away, nor was it anything I got from books, for I did not read a single volume of the least importance to me all the while I was there, nor was it anything I got from trying to write, for what I wrote was prose like “Corpus Unveiled”, or poetry like “Suns and Suns of Sad and Soulless Seeming”. What I carried off when, as the phrase runs, “I went down,” was – strangely as it may sound in view of my impulsive ardours and my emotional Boswellisms – a most formidable mental power of hiding up my real identity until I could get away alone, and then of pouring forth my whole soul – that soul of which the Voltairean art-priest with whom I had made friends, could find no trace encounter along the most desolate country road. Yes! wherever I go I shall carry with me to the end what I learnt from Cambridgeshire while I was at Cambridge.’ [p. 201]
Following his time at Cambridge Powys took a lecturing job in the role of German Professor at a girls’ school in Brighton and he became more fastidious and neurotic – Powys was obsessed by the attractive long-legged forms of young girls: ‘Schools of girls – shoals of girls… flocks and flurries of girls…’ [p. 205] even the word ‘girl’ thrilled him to spiritual-sexual ecstasy and conjured within him the sacred images of elemental sylphs and nymphs – ‘fleeting, floating, fluttering fantasy of femininity, a kind of Platonic essence of sylph-hood, not exactly virginal sylphid-ness, but the state of being-a-Sylph carried to such a limit of tenuity as almost to cease to have any of the ordinary feminine attributes.’ [p. 205] It is strange how Powys with his Rabelaisian desires fails to mention the actual women in his life such as his mother and later his wife Margaret whom he married in 1896, or even Phyllis Playter whom he met in 1921 when she was just twenty-six and they embarked upon an affair; in fact, the only ‘real’ women he mentions are his encounters with mad women and the chorus girls he saw at the Burlesque. Powys is a really fascinating and complex man, a man who as a boy made a vow ‘between the stars and the urinal’ to be a poet; a man who takes ‘pleasure which there is in life itself’ as Wordsworth says; he is a voyeur who receives a sense of great erotic joy to stare at girls (he spent countless days and hours ogling the girls’ legs upon Brighton Beach and thinking about his imaginary sylphs) and his sexual preferences were for these sylph-like creatures to sit upon his lap whilst dressed as boys as he caresses them, but he is not a ‘homosexualist’ as he is fond of informing us, despite the almost loving and subservient attachments he formed with beautiful, strong, intellectual men he ‘hero-worshipped’ and his own sensual flow of femininity – one of the recipients of this masculine hero-worship was the poet Alfred de Kantzow (born 1827) whom he does not fully name in the book and who published the poetry collection ‘Ultima Verba’ in 1902, Powys was devoted to him ‘like a woman’ for ten years. In a way Powys reminds me of Frederick Rolfe with his deep passions and eccentricities – Powys actually met Rolfe near the Rialto in Venice where Powys’s gondola collided with that of Rolfe’s, and there lying upon his leopard skins was Baron Corvo, a ‘Being who might very well have passed for the Faun Praxiteles.’ [p. 411] He goes on to say that ‘what I am so intensely attracted to, what I worshipped in those days to a point of idolatrous aberration, are hardly of the feminine sex at all! It is as if I had been born into this world from another planet – certainly not Venus: Saturn possibly! – where there was a different sex altogether from the masculine and feminine that we know. It is of this sex, of this Saturnian sex, that I must think when in the secret chambers of my mind I utter the syllable “girl”.’ [p. 206] Powys lectured at five Eastbourne girls’ schools and continued to summon upon him the vision of his sylphs – ‘it was evidently only at pantomimes or where I could find young ladies lying on soft grass, or on warm pebble stones, or on pleasant sand, that I could enjoy real fetish-worship, my intense religious idolatry, of those aspects of the feminine shape – I could never admire it all in all – which so enraptured me.’ [p. 243]
Powys believed all his life that he was a magician manoeuvring the subtle interactions between man and matter, in fact, like Powys I was also aware at a young age that this etheric agency we exist in has the possibility to be manipulated – ‘what I would say of myself is that I have a morbid fastidiousness, a super-refined, almost maidenly detestation of the grosser aspects of normal sexuality. It seems quite simple to me. In my own human cult for impossibly slender sylphs I resolve myself – like all true contemplative ecstatics – into the element I contemplate.’ [p. 275] For the first time in my life I have found someone with a sympathetic attitude to my own pleasures and magical philosophy which has been with me since birth; someone who describes the same ecstasy found in nature and man-made objects which have a magical relevance – ‘my attitude to everything I worship, to the sea, to the mountains, to the earth, to the sun, to the moon, to Homer, to Shakespeare, to Rabellais, to Don Quixote, to lichen growing upon tree-stumps, to moss growing upon stones, to smoke rising from a cottage chimney, must be of this same fine, tenuous intensity; an intensity terribly shy of large, warm, human normality, and always flickering round and about the magic candles of the exceptional.’ [p. 206]
Powys published two volumes of poetry in the nineties: ‘Odes and Other Poetry’ (1896) and ‘Poems’ (1899) both of which he unashamedly calls derivative. In 1905 with his hook-nosed face like flint Powys turned away from England and journeyed to America where he lectured on various literary subjects in the United States until the 1930’s. I find much of Powys’s magical philosophy during this time reminds me of those adepts of the Golden Dawn and of that other remarkable man and genius Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) in particular who was also in America during the time of the First World War and whose ‘Confessions’ is an outstanding achievement in autobiography; Powys says about his own magical ability that there is ‘no amount of “manic elation,” or “paranoia,” or “megalomania,” [that] can explain the fact that I am the most unlucky person in the world to insult or malign. The evidence of this – of my being able, I mean, and quite unconsciously too, to exercise some kind of “evil eye,” on people who have injured me – has so piled upon me all my life that it has become a habit with me to pray to my gods anxiously and hurriedly for each new enemy!’ [p. 408-9] In fact, it is evidently possible to surmise that Crowley and Powys did indeed know of each other for they had a magical connection between them in the form of a shared friendship for the writer and biographer Louis Umfreville Wilkinson (1881-1966) who wrote under the pen name Louis Marlow. Powys would invoke and conjure around him elemental ‘beings’ for he was as a God summoning his servitors to do his ‘white magic’ – ‘our intensely-concentrated thoughts can become “elementals,” faintly-living entities, that is to say, whose dimly-vitalized shapes, once projected from the creative energy of a person’s imaginative will, can go on existing and acting in some etheric dimension of that psychic plane in which all so-called “matter” floats.’ [p. 631]
It is reassuring to read that such strange desires and sexual notions not only existed but were being discussed in Powys’s autobiography, written in 1934 just before he left the United States to settle in Wales, where most autobiographies of the time were almost always exclusively there to interpret the deeds of the personage and in what order they occurred with little importance upon the psycho-sexual elements of the subject. I find a strong affinity with Powys the sensualist with his almost maniacal impulse to describe his bowel evacuations and need for seclusion while performing this holy task and his continued discomfort from stomach ulcers who writes this modern and brave impression of himself with his superstitions and magical, even pagan ritualistic behaviour, his compulsion to wash his hands and his phobia of urinating in public; his mental ecstasy and sexual sadistic desires; his fetishizing of objects into sacred eidolons of worship; his philosophical and thaumaturgic impressions of the world around him and of the world of spirit – ‘we inherit other things from our remote ancestors; why should we not inherit particular memories? Why should we not inherit, buried fathom-deep in the soul, certain intensely vivid moments of awareness, moments that were experienced by the men of old time hundreds, even thousands of years, before we were born?’ [p. 436] these and much more of Powys’s personality echoes many of my own thoughts, perversions and oddities that I had come to believe were exclusive to me but it is gratifying to know that Powys the pioneer who transformed the art of autobiography, Powys the author of the poetry collections ‘Wood and Stone’ (1915), ‘Wolf’s Bane’ (1916), ‘Mandragora’ (1917), ‘Samphire’ (1922) and the novels ‘Wolf Solent’ (1929), ‘A Glastonbury Romance’ (1932), ‘Weymouth Sands’ (1934) and ‘Maiden Castle’ (1936) has left so much of himself behind for future sadistic, sensual creatures to appreciate! Definitely one of the greatest autobiographies ever written and one that should not be ignored! Magnificent!

Confessions of Two Brothers – by John Cowper Powys and Llwelyn Powys.

This two-hundred and sixty-five page volume published in 1916 is divided between the brothers John (1872-1963) and Llewelyn (1884-1939) Powys; in the first half John Cowper Powys does a fine job of dissecting and analysing himself without actually revealing anything about his life, instead we get constant excuses for his strange psychological behaviour and ‘confessions’ as to his spiritual and philosophical beliefs. In fact, if Mr John Powys were writing today he would surely be diagnosed with Autism in some form or another! He is a man born for sensations and not actions, as he says himself: ‘I have no passion for life, and I regard death as an escape from a thousand annoyances.’ (VII. p. 90) Following the eleven chapters dedicated to John and his egotistical outbursts which are really quite interesting but not so much as his fantastic ‘Autobiography’ of 1934, we have the seven chapters of ‘confessions’ from Llewelyn Powys, the essayist and journalist who unlike his more shall we say ‘introverted’ brother is less capable of self-analysis in the manner of psychological reasoning but more willing to record the actions of his life and even present us with his diary entries as a School Master and as a Private Tutor; we have his words about his time in America where he lectured and unfortunately contracted tuberculosis; there is also his ‘Consumptive’s Diary’ beginning in November 1909 and his convalescence in Switzerland; his travels to Venice with his brother John and his time in East Africa. All in all this is quite an interesting book as a general introduction to these two fascinating brothers!

The Soliloquy of a Hermit – by Theodore Francis Powys.

Yes, this is another brother of the literary Powys family – Theodore Francis Powys (1875-1953) the novelist and short story writer who was inspired in much of his writing by the works of John Bunyan and the Bible and here in this 1916 publication it can be seen in abundance. The author writes the Soliloquy as a Priest and strips away his mundane mortal coverings of vice and many other of life’s interesting stimulations to reveal a Christian mystical hermit paralyzed by the moods of God; his dull existence and own imagined ‘holiness’ flees from any sign of love and real beauty to pray to God, a God claimed for itself by Christianity (as if God, if there were such a thing would choose one pitiful religion over another!) and not realising that praying to God has exactly the same desired effect as praying to a cabbage, but at least in the cabbage there is some sort of physical ‘idol’ or representative of an idea which we can accept, unlike the one-sided flow of love and worship towards ‘God’ which for millennia has never produced so much as one positive result! But who am I to say that the convenience of Christianity is anything but beneficial to the spiritual progress of mankind, for after all what a great concept it is that gives the aristocracy an excuse to be very wicked and suddenly repent of their sins and be forgiven and for the Church to have control over the peasants who as we all know cannot restrain their passions and their proclivity to savagery and murder – the idea of ‘Hell’ is a wonderful thing to beat the lazy and unintelligent poor with and the promise of ‘Heavenly Paradise’ would keep the filthy populace, those no better than pigs in rags who cheer for the Monarchy and bow to the Church, in line! But I digress and I have no desire to go into Biblical inconsistencies and contradictions and it is no secret that I see the world from a pagan perspective with gods and demons and every conceivable being in-between – I am not here to degrade Christianity for as I grow older I warm towards it and find joy in the rituals and ceremonies and who cannot be stirred by the Passion of the Christ and the strong sentiments of love and forgiveness! all I can say is that I neither enjoyed nor disliked this book!

Opals and Pebbles – by John Gambril Nicholson.

Published in 1928 this is the fourth book of verse from the uranian Essex born poet John Gambril Nicholson (1866-1931) and like the poet’s previous collections, ‘Opals and Pebbles’ continues along the same familiar themes close to the author’s heart, namely his romantic infatuations with young boys. The collection contains descriptive verse, lyrical verse, dramatic verse, introspective and reflective verse, humorous and occasional verse, translations from the German and German versions by B. K. Esmarch. The author, an English School Master who taught in several schools including Buxton (1884-7), Ashton (1887-8), Arnold House School, Chester (1894-6) and Stationers’ School, Hornsey, North London (1896-1925) is decidedly unashamed of his romantic inclinations and in poems such as ‘My Garland of Ladslove (to Victor; with a volume of verse)’ he declares his undying passion for the youth – ‘When I am old this love of ours/ Will crown me with a ray of glory;/ You’ll wear this wreath of rhythmic flowers/ When life is quite another story.’ [August 1910] Victor is Frank Victor Rushforth (1888-1945) the thirteen year old object of his affection who later became a Captain in the 7th Rajput Indian Regiment and received the Emperor of India medal for his work in the Indian civil service; Victor went on to marry in 1915 aged twenty-seven, Margaret Winifred Bartholomew (1885-1983) who was awarded an OBE for her work in psycho-therapy. Victor was not the only recipient of the poets’ uranian desire for he dedicates his fifty numbered sonnets in his first volume ‘Love in Earnest’ to W. E. M. who is of course William Ernest Mather (1877-1899) who died young when he was thrown from his horse; Mathers was a pupil at Rydal Mount School in Colwyn Bay from 1888-90 where the poet also taught from 1888-1894. Another exquisite cherub that unlocked the poet’s Pandora’s box of intimate yearning was William Alexander Melling (1878-1962) who also attended Rydal Mount from 1891-94 and he inspired the poet in his second volume of poetry ‘A Chaplet of Southernwood’ (1896). I think it would be unwise to judge from our modern perspective the depth of these Greek influences and the significance of these ‘relationships’ which gathered momentum from the 1880’s and into the beginning of the twentieth-century following the Wilde scandal, usually between well-educated, academic men who sought aesthetic beauty and those pupils seeking guidance and scholastic knowledge, the tutor-pupil relationship. I believe many such relationships to have been harmless harnessing nothing more than a spiritual desire and an admiration for youth than a physical transgression; a channelling of the stimulus of sexual energy through imagined (and sometimes actual) intimacy directed towards creative inspiration – many a romantic poem has been conjured from the noblest sentiments and joyous desires which in turn transcend the spiritual essence into the Parnassian heights of ecstasy of an unattainable passion. It is certainly wrong to make accusations based on this for we should surely condemn and dismiss an awful lot of beautiful work of art and literature: censorship on moral grounds is deplorable!
Sadly I found much of the poetry quite weak (apart from a few triumphs such as ‘A Rose in June’, ‘All Soul’s Eve’ [from the German of Ferd. Von Saar], ‘Physical Energy’ and ‘Invenies Alium Alexhim’ of September 1913) and like his first collection ‘Love in Earnest’ (1892) there are too few moments of sweet intoxication (his sonnet sequence from his first volume being a beautiful exception). If only, as he believes Victor will say upon the receipt of the volume of verse in My Garland of Ladslove, ‘he had been as true a lover/ As he believed himself a poet!

The Collected Poems of Edmund Gosse.

This 1911 publication by the English poet and author Edmund Gosse (1849-1928) is an interesting collection although as Gosse says himself a ‘little old fashioned’ to the modern poetic minds of 1911! He writes beautifully in his preface, almost excusing himself for re-publishing these dead old books and introducing them to a new generation who may still find something of worth within their dry and dusty pages. Within the covers we find his first collection ‘On Viol and Flute’ (1873) which although derivative shows a competent poet stretching his muscles over such tender pieces as ‘The Praise of Dionysus’, ‘The Ballade of Dead Cities’, ‘The New Endymion’ and ‘Desiderium’. This is followed by his ‘New Poems’ (1879) and ‘Firdausi in Exile’ (1885) with its poem ‘To Austin Dobson’ (June 1885) and the tediously long at fifty-four verses but quite enjoyable ‘Firdausi in Exile’ with its ababcbcb rhyme structure; also in the collection is ‘The Ballad of the Upper Thames’ (48 verses) and ‘The Death of Arnkel’. We move on through ‘Sonnets and Quartorzains’, ‘Liber Cordis’ with its ‘The Tide of Love’ and ‘Our Wood in Winter’ to reach ‘In Russet and Silver’ (1894) where such delights as the title poem, ‘The New Memnon’, ‘Chattafin’ and ‘The Swan’ can be found. We saunter through ‘Memorial Verses’ and enter ‘The Autumn Garden’ (1908) where we are encouraged to lay down and inhale ‘The Intellectual Ecstasy’ and ‘The Violet’; in the final section ‘Sonnets’ we find the author’s miscellaneous poems written in Norway. Gosse, whose greatest work was his autobiographical ‘Father and Son’ of 1907 was a good friend of Swinburne, R L Stevenson, Henry James and Thomas Hardy all of which are far superior to him in literary terms, but although these poems are of their time and are dry, devoid of intensity and lacking in passion, there is something beneath the surface, a magical spark which says here was a good and sensitive man merely performing his poetic will which cannot be ignored as so many have done to their own detriment or acclaims. Definitely worth a read!

The Life of Llewelyn Powys – by Malcolm Elwin.

This biography of the English author, essayist and journalist Llewelyn Powys (1884-1939) was published in 1946 by Malcolm Elwin (1903-1973) – who is he? I hear you cry. Well Mr Elwin is a celebrated if somewhat controversial literary biographer, critic and editor who studied at University College, Oxford and apart from various books of letters such as those from John Cowper Powys to his brother Llewelyn which he edited, he is mostly known for his outstanding study of Annabella Milbanke (1792-1860) in ‘Lord Byron’s Wife’ (1962). Elwin divides the spoils of his knowledge concerning Llewelyn Powys throughout sixteen chapters: ‘Origins’, ‘Montacute Boyhood’, ‘Sherborne’, ‘Cambridge and After’, ‘Clavadel’, ‘The Last Montacute’, ‘African Exile’, ‘Interlude at Weymouth’, ‘Bridlegoose in America’, ‘At the White Nose’, ‘The Cradle of God’, ‘Impassioned Clay’, ‘Struggle for Life 1’, ‘Struggle for Life 2’, ‘Clavadel Again’ and a ‘Postscript’ adding a chronology of Llewelyn’s life and a list of his books for good measure!
Llewelyn was born on 13th August 1884 at Rothesay House, Dorchester, Dorset; he attended Sherborne Prep School in 1895 and Sherborne School from 1899-1903. He then matriculated at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (1903-1906) where he met his life-long friend and fellow author Louis Umfreville Wilkinson (1881-1966) who wrote under the pseudonym Louis Marlow. In April 1907 he became an assistant Master at St Peter’s School, Broadstairs and an assistant Master at Bromsgrove School from Nov 1907-April 1908. It was in December 1908 that Llewelyn accompanied his brother John to the United States on a lecture tour until April 1909; it was during this adventure that Llewelyn contracted Tuberculosis and was sent to Clavadel Sanatorium in Switzerland to recover, returning to England in 1911. He accompanied his brother John who had his own health problems in the form of stomach ulcers which often crippled him; a brother whom Llewelyn dearly loved and admired to Venice in the summer of 1912 (with Louis and Frances Wilkinson). From September 1914 to June 1919 Llewelyn was at his elder brother Willie’s sheep farm (14,000 sheep and 30.000 acres) at Gilgil in East Africa to help recover from his consumption, returning to England in August 1919 – when he noticed a cat in agony he had to compel himself to kill it: ‘flogging it with a heavy cedar stick. After a few blows it lay dead with its mouth a little open and its legs extended – I was reminded of the scene in the spare room. A mother’s death or a tabby cat’s death, it is the same.’ [African Exile. p. 121] Another visit to the United States ensued in August 1920 with John again to New York where Llewely met Alyse Gregory in the autumn of 1921 – they were married at Kingston, New York in September 1924! They returned to England in May 1925. Llewelyn travelled to Jerusalem in 1928 for literary research and throughout all this time his old trouble, the consumption often got the better of him. He was heartbroken at the death of his brother Bertie in March 1936 who of all the Powys family had seemed the healthiest. Llewelyn deteriorated in his own health and was once more sent to Switzerland to recover in 1936 and he died at Clavadel on 2nd December 1939.
Elwin is very attentive to his subject and writes extensively with great care and knowledge about Powys and makes excellent use of his sources – diary entries, letters, published volumes and personal interviews to flesh-out the skeleton of the distinguished, practical, sensitive and awfully handsome Llewelyn who suffered terribly throughout his adult life with his condition; a man who will no doubt be remembered to posterity for writing some rather wonderful and unique works of literature such as: ‘Black Laughter’ (1924), ‘Skin for Skin’ (1925), ‘The Cradle of God’ (1929), ‘Apples be Ripe’ (1930), ‘Impassioned Clay’ (1931), ‘Glory of Life’ and ‘Earth Memories’ (1934), ‘Dorset Essays’ and ‘Damnable Opinions’ (1935), ‘Rats in the Sacristy’ (1937) and ‘Love and Death’ (1939). With 283 pages and 7 illustrations, Elwin’s biography is a well-written account of a too often neglected master of English literature. Superb!

Alcmaeon, Hypermestra, Caeneus, - by E. P. Warren.

This 110 page book dedicated to ‘Master T. Warren’ was published in 1919 by the American art and antiques collector Edward Perry Warren M.A. (1860-1928) of Harvard College; New College, Oxford and Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Warren (who also wrote under the pseudonym Arthur Lyon Raile) is of course famous for owning the Roman ‘Warren Cup’ with its ancient pornographic depictions and for publishing his three volumes of ‘The Defence of Uranian Love’ (1928-30). The three mythological stories in this volume are beautifully written and the reader sinks into the ancient world and its murderous machinations with relative ease: ‘Alcmaeon’, one of the Epigoni was the son of Amphiaraus, one of the Seven against Thebes and his mother, Eriphyle, who was given the Robe and the Necklace of Harmonia (presumably as a gift for her treachery against her husband whom she persuaded into battle) for which Alcmaeon slays her with his sword; Alcmaeon was reluctant to become leader of the Epigoni and with feelings of guilt over his matricide he becomes plagued by the Erinyes and flees and finds King Phegeus, marrying his daughter Arsinoe, whom he gives the Robe and the Necklace of Harmonia to. As madness consumes Alcmaeon he goes to the river where he marries Callirrhoe, a daughter of a River God; Callirrhoe wants what is rightfully her – the Robe and the Necklace of Harmonia! Alcmaeon returns to King Phegeus and after he is given the treasure by Arsinoe, he is pursued and murdered by the King’s two sons, who are in turn killed by Alcmaeon’s two sons by Callirrhoe; Arsinoe has followed them and finds the dead body of Alcmaeon covered with earth. In the second tale ‘Hypermestra’ we find the daughter of Danaus, an ancestor of the Danaids, the brother of Aegyptus, wishing to prolong her virginity but her father doubts her and accuses her to which a statue of Aphrodite speaks and confirms her purity, thus saving her life. The final tale is a lovely story about ‘Caeneus’; a young girl named Caenis after being ravished by Poseidon is granted a wish from him in return and she wishes to be a young man which Posieden dutifully complies and so the young warrior ‘Caenus’ proves himself in heroic deeds of battle before he returns to the form of a girl again, hearing the great tales of the unknown hero to which she later admits to. These are very worthy and well-told tales which bring these mythological characters to life and show that for all the passage of time and progress we are all just a mass of primitive human emotions and complex cerebral doctrines which govern our physical awareness and relationships to one and other! Good!

The Pathetic Fallacy: A Study of Christianity – by Llewelyn Powys.

Published in 1930, ‘The Pathetic Fallacy’ is a bold book which looks at the origins of Christianity from its Hebrew roots through to the medieval period and into the modern era, discussing the principle concepts of the religion. There are some very interesting chapters on the legend of the Resurrection, Saint Paul and the spreading of Christianity with its historical Apostolic succession, to the ‘Gnosticism and the Doctrine of Marcion’, the ‘Arian Heresy and the Athanasian Creed’, ‘St Jerome and St Augustine’, ‘John Wycliffe, John Huss and Martin Luther’, Protestantism and concluding with the ‘Passing of Christianity’. Powys delights in telling us that Jesus of Nazareth made a thorough study of the scriptures and the psalms, particularly the Book of Isaiah with its emphasis on the notion of sacrifice; John the Baptist, we are informed, encouraged Jesus to become the Saviour or the Messiah to fulfil the prophecy and so we are given a portrait of Christ as some magnetic and ‘innocent’ personality willing to exploit a situation to put forth his own religious ideals, his new doctrine; ideals which were shaped and cemented in the wilderness where one either went mad, became spiritually enlightened or both! It is hard to believe that two thousand years have not completely eradicated such abominations as the ‘Virgin Birth’ or the ‘Ascension’ and written them off as fairy stories designed to bolster a belief that ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ’ was certainly the Son of God; if indeed the Nativity was predicted and witnessed by three wise men then surely it is a logical assumption to say they would have followed Christ through his childhood into manhood and help guide him? Little is known of Christ before the age of thirty when he was baptised by John the Baptist. In fact, Powys places the spreading of Christianity and the formation and consolidation of the Church squarely at the feet of Saint Paul, a persuasive man who before his great awakening and conversion on the road to Damascus was ‘an aspiring egoist’ called by the Hebrew name of Saul who himself persecuted Christians and witnessed the stoning of Saint Stephen – ‘St Paul took the religion of the early Christians with its simple faith in the Messiah and lifted it into the realm of high mystical import.’ (p. 38) Writing several decades after the death of Christ Paul exaggerated the resurrection in an act of Christian propaganda; yes we can say without much doubt that something ‘miraculous’ did occur or was made to seem as if it had when the stone was rolled away to reveal that Christ no longer inhabited his tomb and we can say with certainty that his followers in fits of religious mania, hysterical hallucinations and shear stupidity circulated rumours of the Ascension and time gave credibility to myths and legends of the Christ which the early Christians were eager to believe; centuries were to pass and the Church formed on the basis of Christ’s Passion grew fat and wealthy on the promise of salvation and fairy tales such as the ‘Raising of Lazarus’ which must of had some basis in fact, supernatural tales which were preached to the illiterate, superstitious peasants who were more than eager to die for their Lord, in fact willingly did they march to their deaths like lemmings especially during the Christian persecution under Nero in which disciples were suppressed! Powys cites St Peter as another defining factor in the creation of the Church and says that St Paul took from St Peter ‘the simplicities of the faith and converted them into reasonable, unreasonable ecstasy adapted to the needs of the human heart.’ (p. 39) The author goes on to explain that the worship of the Persian sun deity Mithras has many similitude’s with Christianity for the worshippers of Mithras had their Eucharistic ceremony which utilised bread and wine and used a bell, candle and holy water, before bringing to the table other notables such as St Justin the Martyr and the Carthaginian theologian Tertullian. He does not go quite as far as to hint (for let us not forget this is 1930) that the Vatican in that Eternal City of Rome, probably holds ‘controversial evidence’ locked away in some Vatican vault which proves to the contrary all that we think we believe about Christ and the early Christians: we have the Gospels, let us look no further than that! How many so-called ‘relics’ survive into the present day (mostly from medieval origins) to strengthen miraculous claims and beliefs in an Almighty God; how many fragments of the True Cross, splinters from the crucifixion have been passed along the centuries? How many saintly finger nails adorn little sacred boxes in glass cabinets? In a world without the means to capture and present factual technological evidence in the form of sound and vision which cannot be denied, a world where oral tradition and the written word are the only source of proof available, we can only acknowledge that something occurred and there is great inaccuracy surrounding it – how indeed would we know of the existence of something called Michel de Montaigne if it were not for the books he published and perhaps by the ‘undeniable evidence’ of his actual stool in a jar! To our modern eyes and ears Christ has become increasingly westernised to reflect an English sense of decency, of good manners and morals (which are as out-dated as the British Empire) but he was certainly an ordinary man who was born and lived in the ancient Middle East and driven by human desires and emotions and human failings – it is his humanness that we can grasp should we wish to believe, unlike those Ancient Greek Gods of immortality – Christ died, as we all shall die, perhaps delusional and afraid or content to believe in something which gives us strength unto the end where we may finally let the dust settle!
Some will no doubt find Powys blasphemous but The Pathetic Fallacy is an enlightening book which removes some of the fairy sparkle of the centuries to reveal the origins and misconceptions of the early Christian movement with its resistance and collective strength which went on to convert whole nations to the words of Christ’s love and a beatific vision of everlasting peace on earth! Superb!

Glory of Life – by Llewelyn Powys.

This little forty-five page book published in 1938 was ‘written in a cornfield’ during the month of September on the Dorset Downs ‘under a cloudless sky and in full view of the English Channel’. It was originally published in 1934 by the Golden Cockerel Press with wood engravings by Robert Gibbings. Powys writes philosophically and passionately upon the sensuality of existence declaring that the notion of ‘God’ is superfluous and dead – thus religion is also dead and extinguished! He states that Atheism is the ‘true religion’ because there is no evidence to prove the existence of the ‘immortal spirit’ and the theory of ‘life after death’. He argues very poetically and profoundly that love in all its forms between two people is the only real attainment for man and for woman; a love with all the grand assemblages of passionate lust where there is a beauty in the flesh and the ecstatic fiery delights of copulation; a glory in the caress of intimacy and a deep joy for the magnificent beauty of nature, these are the true ideals to be ‘worshipped’ – ‘for at the end of it all – what are we? A herd of dream cattle, images of breath, passing shadows that move swiftly across the world’s pastures to a graveyard where, at a single clap, eternity is as a day and a day as eternity.’ (p. 44) Quite lovely!

A Baker’s Dozen – by Llewelyn Powys.

This excellent collection of thirteen essays by the celebrated writer Llewelyn Powys was published in 1941, just two years after his death and it begins with a fine introduction by the author’s brother, the equally exceptional John Cowper Powys. Alongside some really lovely line illustrations by Llewelyn’s sister Gertrude Mary Powys, most of these reminiscences, (which he dedicates to Hildegarde Watson ‘because of her love of the Hudson River, of the forests of Maine’ and ‘of the mountains of Switzerland’) are concerned with the beauty of the English countryside which Llewelyn joyfully remembers as if it were yesterday and recounts in his unique and wonderful prose; a prose bursting with poetic passion, the same passion one finds in Edward Thomas, for example. Essays such as ‘The New Year’ with its pagan origins and traditional mythology; the splendour of boyhood immersed in nature’s wonder of ‘Herring Gulls’ and ‘The Harvest’; ‘The Village Shop’, ‘The Memory of One day’, ‘Childhood Memories’, ‘Weymouth Harbour’ and ‘The Haymaking Months’ blossom with the author’s fond journey into the past; other sketches such as ‘Tintinhull Memories’, ‘A Montacute Field’ and the excellent ‘Montacute Hill’ and ‘A Somerset Christmas’ where one can almost perceive the tears of longing in the author’s eyes, and not forgetting Llewelyn’s essay ‘Buffalo Intruders’ which reads like a faded postcard from long ago about his time on his brother’s sheep farm in Africa. What a bountiful store of memories ‘A Baker’s Dozen’ is! Delightful!

Rats in the Sacristy – by Llewelyn Powys.

Published in 1937, this marvellous book which Llewelyn Powys dedicates to the philosopher and poet George Santayana (1863-1952) and which also includes fourteen delightful illustrations by his sister Gertrude M. Powys and a preface by his brother John Cowper Powys, takes a fascinating journey through the centuries weaving a philosophical thread in a chain of thought from one gigantic mind to another. Powys paints beautiful sketches of such eminent and unorthodox thinkers and theologians between 1350 BC into the seventeenth century, drawing upon the likes of Akhenaton, Confucius, Aristippus, Ecclesiastes, Lucretius, Lucian, Julian the Apostate, Omar Khayyam, Niccolo Machiavelli, Francis Rabelais, Thomas Deloney the 16th century novelist and balladeer, Robert Burton and the scholar Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) famous of course for his book ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’. Powys triumphs as he reaches into the past to explore the idiosyncrasies and motivations behind such minds with their corresponding parallels in ideology stretching beyond their grasp into the unattainable realms of philosophy and metaphysics; into regions which occupy the religious, moral, educational and political ground of humanity. It all makes one’s little life seem quite insignificant in comparison but this is a charming and perfect antidote to the cold, cruel, dark nights of winter!

Left Hand, Right Hand! An Autobiography – by Osbert Sitwell.

This is the writer and poet Osbert’s, or to give him his full name and title, Sir Francis Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell (1892-1969), the fifth Baronet Sitwell, first volume of autobiography published in 1946 and the title, he explains is so given, because ‘according to the palmists, the lines of the left hand are incised unalterably at birth, while those of the right hand are modified by our actions and environment, and the life we lead.’ The volume, which is divided into two books: Book I ‘The Cruel Month’ and Book II ‘Let there be Light!’, runs to 280 pages with 23 photographs and seems to skirt around the whole business of Osbert being received into the world; in fact, it says an awful lot about the family members that have passed before him and surround him and in Book I we find the ‘Roots of the Tree’, ‘My Father’s Side’ and ‘My Mother’s Side’ where we encounter a long line of distinguished saints and sinners stretching back to the thirteenth century; a cavalcade of ghostly ancestors and Sitwell descendants such as the first Baronet (which was created in 1808) Sir Sitwell Sitwell (1769-1811) who married Alice Parke in 1791 and then Sarah Stovin in 1798 and the second Baronet, his son Sir George Sitwell (1797-1853); then we come to the more interesting Sir Sitwell Reresby Sitwell (1820-1862) the third Baronet and his wife Lady Louisa Lucy Hely-Hutchinson, daughter of the Hon. Henry Hely-Hutchinson; then there is the formidable and eccentric antiquarian and Member of Parliament Sir George Reresby Sitwell (1860-1943) Osbert’s father, the fourth Baronet who was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford and had a great interest in garden design. He married in 1886, Lady Ida Emily Augusta Denison, the daughter of William Henry Forester Denison who became the first Earl of Londesborough; also amongst the gargoyles and grotesques are the lame Archibald, Osbert’s great grandmother’s youngest brother; Osbert’s sister, the writer and poet Dame Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) and his literary brother Sir Sacherverell Sitwell (1897-1988) the sixth Baronet. What I found most enjoyable, apart from the cloistered existence of some of the eccentric characters in the Sitwell family and the parade of Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and retainers and hangers-on and talks on ‘gout’ and the lives of ‘crossing-sweepers’ are the descriptions of the great Houses and Gardens such as the Sitwell family home of Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire and those of Scarborough and of course the landscape gardens dreamt up by figures such as Sir George Sitwell, Osbert’s father, a lovable oddity of a man who comes to life in these and subsequent volumes, of which there are several more! He published in 1909 his ‘Essay on the Making of Gardens’ and was not averse to having whole lakes moved or hills swept away to create his magical landscapes! In Book II Osbert makes his awkward appearance and there are some well-drawn descriptions of life at the great houses and of the workings below stairs – ‘Rags and Bones’, ‘Gemini Rising’, ‘Sacred and Profane Love’, ‘Let there be Light!’, ‘Entry of the Muses’ where we find Osbert’s artistic influences and his fondness for literature and art; there are a few pages dedicated to the great comedian Dan Leno (1860-1904) and sightings of his ghost! In ‘The Sargent Group’ Osbert looks at the close association of the family to the American portrait painter who lived in London, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) who more than once painted the family. The Appendix contains an interesting account on ‘the Capture of a Spirit’ given in two articles reproduced from The Evening Standard for Monday 12th January 1880 and the Daily Telegraph of Tuesday 13th January 1880 and details an exposing of the medium Florence Cook during a séance in which she masqueraded as a spirit named ‘Marie’ by Sir George Sitwell who noticed the ‘spirit’ was wearing a corset and concluding that apparitions do not need such contraptions for their figures, grabbed the ‘ghost’ who was none other than Florence! Also in the Appendix are interesting pieces such as ‘From the Lives of the Norths’ by the Hon. Roger North; ‘Babil and Bijou’ and ‘Louisa Lady Sitwell’ which is a letter to Osbert Sitwell about his Grandmother by Dame Ethel Smyth. An absolutely fascinating book indeed!

The Scarlet Tree – by Osbert Sitwell.

Being the second volume of Sitwell’s autobiography, ‘Left Hand, Right Hand! – The Scarlet Tree was published in 1946 (I read the 1959 edition) and is dedicated to Maynard Hollingworth (1880-1966). As before the volume is divided into two books – Book III: ‘Chambers of the East’ which contains the following chapters: ‘The Running Shadow’, ‘Chambers of the East’, ‘The Mountain Ash Berries’ and ‘The Indian Room’ and Book IV: ‘The Happiest Time of One’s Life’ with four more chapters: ‘The Happiest Time of One’s Life’, ‘Retreats Upon an Ideal’, ‘A Brief Escape into the Early Morning’ and ‘Between Seasons’. Young Osbert makes his further appearance and describes his fears during the night at the gloomy home of the Sitwells, Renishaw, recounting tales of ghostly encounters such as his great great grandfather Sir Sitwell Sitwell who from deathly realms visited the dark Hall calling for his wife as he lay dying downstairs in a four-poster bed and the ghost of a young boy who wakes the inhabitants of the house from their sleep with ‘cold kisses’; a ghost, in fact, who was generally believed to be Henry Sacheverell who drowned at Wakefield on 26th August 1724 aged fifteen. When not concerned with spectral phantoms, Osbert relates some very fascinating aspects of his father Sir George Sitwell such as his interests and scholarly research into such charming subjects as: ‘Leper’s Squints’, ‘Sweet Preserves in the Fourteenth Century’, ‘Wool-Gathering in Medieval Times and since’, ‘The Introduction of the Peacock into the Western Gardens’ and ‘The History of the Fork’; it is also a delight to learn that in his youth at Eton, Sir George invented ‘a musical toothbrush which played “Annie Laurie” as you brushed your teeth, and a small revolver for killing wasps.’ (p. 151) and we learn about Sir George’s illness which sent him off on long journeys and of Osbert’s mother, Lady Ida Sitwell’s frivolous behaviour with money, giving it away in forms of gifts to so-called friends who sponged from her and led her astray – she loved nothing more than giving expensive gifts! We are told about the beached whale on Scarborough just prior to the coronation of Edward VII, a ‘Leviathon’ who resided their in its decomposition on the sand as the local boys carved their initials into its flesh with their pen-knives and families made their pilgrimage to see the monster! Osbert also became friends with Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa before he was a famous film star and the young boy unflinchingly tells of his struggle with the concept of hell, to which his father one day, dispelling his fears, informed him that ‘if you go to hell, you’ll certainly find all the people you most admire there already – Wellington, Nelson and the Black Prince - , and they’ll discover a way of getting you out of it soon enough!’ [p. 86. The Mountain Ash Berries] At his grandmother’s house Wood End he was equally scared of its nocturnal phantasms before he encountered physical tortures in the form of bullying at his preparatory school where new boys are referred to as ‘scugs’ and viciously beaten by the other pupils to which many of the Masters and parents turned a blind eye; it was not uncommon for young boys to return home sporting black eyes, cuts, bruises and missing teeth! In the chapter concerning his early schooldays, ‘The Happiest Times of One’s Life’ he refrains from mentioning the actual name of the school but we know it to be Ludgrove School, a preparatory boarding school in Berkshire – Osbert with his detestation of sports and games and his strange habit of collecting pen nibs was destined to be singled out as an outcast and thus become unpopular amongst his peers; being backward in his educational development he had no aptitude for learning and wasted most of his time reading nineteenth-century novels. The poor boy became ill when he was eleven years old and was confined to his bed for three months in his recovery, a time which he declares to be very important in his development mentally and perhaps spiritually in respect of his psychological outlook on life – he fails to say anything concerning his sexual feelings during his young years at school and so we learn nothing of his early sensual and romantic inclinations. As part of his recovery from the illness he travelled with his father, brother Sacheverell and sister Edith to Italy; in Venice, although he didn’t know it at the time, he learnt that the writer Frederick Rolfe, also known as Baron Corvo was staying with mutual friends Dr. and Mrs. Van Someren who kindly took the poor author into their flat (Osbert was to see Corvo some years later in Florence, saying he was ‘carefully dressed, and with several elaborate rings on his hands.’ p. 245) In ‘Between Seasons’ we find young Osbert attending Eton College where he studied from 1906-1909 and he relates some interesting Etonian escapades and mentions fellow pupils such as the composer Philip Heseltine (1894-1930) who went by the name of Peter Warlock, and Philip Sassoon (1888-1939) a 3rd Baronet, politician and art collector whom Osbert ‘fagged’ for!
The volume, with its 319 pages and 24 photographs ends with a series of Appendixes: ‘The Verlst’s’, ‘Father to Son’, ‘The History of the Cold’ by Sir George Sitwell, ‘Pater’s Match’ and ‘The Camorra Trail’. It is inevitable that some will view Osbert as a cold and unemotional dullard who lived a privileged life writing utter rubbish with his two siblings, Sacheverell and Dame Edith Sitwell, and in some respects this is true, but although a little long-winded and archaic in places, ‘The Scarlet Tree’ is quite informative on the period between the Victorian and Edwardian in England concerning women’s’ fashions and aristocratic households and I find his father Sir George the real subject of these early reminiscences the most fascinating! Being a selective reader I am guided by my inner demon from one book to the next and can thoroughly recommend reading these autobiographies in order as I have been compelled to do! Very good!

Great Morning – by Osbert Sitwell.

Being the third volume of Sitwell’s autobiography, ‘Left Hand, Right Hand! – Great Morning was published in 1948 and is dedicated to his friend and contemporary Alex – Field-Marshall Viscount Alexander of Tunis. The volume, which consists of 324 pages, is divided into two books: Book V ‘Mars Victoryall’ with the following chapters: ‘The Hous of Mars Victoryall’ (sic), ‘The Bevy’, ‘Interludes and Diversions’ and ‘Horses on Parade’; the next section, Book VI ‘The Rose and the Thorn’ has the following chapters: ‘The Dominion of the Senses’, ‘Great Morning’, ‘Before the War’ and ‘Pothooks in the Sand’ together with several Appendixes – ‘Wood End in the Seventies’ by Sir George R Sitwell, ‘A “Fatal Gift of Shrubs” and some Roses’ (Sir George’s correspondence concerning shrub and tree planting), ‘A Demonstration’, ‘A Visit to Renishaw’ and ‘Julian Field’ the swindler who attempted to dupe Lady Ida Sitwell.
The book begins well and the reader is immediately immersed into the world of the Cavalry Regiment to which Osbert was forcibly persuaded to join by his father Sir George Sitwell who preferred his son to have a disagreeable career: Osbert hated horses and hated the barracks at Aldershot. He later went on to join the Grenadier Guards and was stationed at the Tower of London and began to enjoy his time in the Regiment as in his free time he could visit the theatre or the ballet and read novels; he describes his routines and purchasing of the uniform with great delight. We learn about Osbert’s friendship with the great architectural designer Edwin Lutyens and how he was taught to shoot by the gamekeeper Mark Kirby who entertained him with tales of poaching, and of his love for modern music. Throughout the volume Osbert paints a picture of his father, Sir George Sitwell, as some crabbed, gothic, medievalist ensconced in his tower; a gargoyle of Renishaw quibbling over a shilling here and a shilling there and perpetually grumbling over Osbert’s allowance and worrying over his extravagance despite spending thousands of pounds himself on his garden visions at Renishaw, his castle in Italy and other landscape projects. Then there is the case of Osbert’s mother, Lady Ida Sitwell becoming involved with a swindling money-lender and blackmailer named Julian Osgood Field; Osbert informed his father of the scandalous behaviour and Sir George refused to pay her debts and the lawsuits followed throughout 1912-15.
In Book VI we find Osbert’s involvement during 1912-14 amongst the great and the good of modern theatre, ballet and music and witnessing some of the major works being performed such as the modernist Russian ballets: ‘Petroushka’ ‘The Firebird’ and ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’ by Stravinsky and Diaghilev, whom he met, and also Nijinsky in ‘Le Spectre de la Rose’; the dancer Massine (or Miassine) in ‘La Legende de Joseph’ and also seeing such wonders as ‘Scheherazade’, ‘Le Coq d’Or’ and ‘L’ Apres-Midi d’un Faune’; Osbert was a huge ballet enthusiast and saw Karsavina and Fokine. He also saw Ravel (‘Daphnis and Chloe’), Richard Strauss and Chaliapin whom he knew and he also met some of the great impresarios, composers and writers such as: Thomas Beecham, Claude Debussy, Frederick Delius, William Walton, Robert Ross and George Moore. The volume ends upon the eve of war with the last minute doubts as to Germany’s willingness to go to war and the huge financial loss it would prove and the belief that if it did happen it would be over within a few weeks or months at the least! All in all this is a very interesting account of Osbert’s life up until the outbreak of war and of his father’s eccentric behaviour. Very good!

Laughter in the Next Room – by Osbert Sitwell.

Being the fourth volume of Sitwell’s autobiography, ‘Left Hand, Right Hand! – ‘Laughter in the Next Room’ was published in 1949 and is dedicated to his friend and lover David Horner, of whom there is little mention. This further instalment consists of 380 pages and 25 photographs and drawings and in Book VII: ‘Three Lions in a Grove’ we learn about Sitwell’s love of reading and his beginnings as a writer. In Book VIII: ‘Le Galop Final’ there are tempting chapters titled ‘The first stone in the sling’, ‘Façade’ which describes the author’s involvement in the modern performance with his sister, the poet Edith Sitwell and its reception by the art and theatre world; ‘’The General Strike’ and ‘Laughter in the next room’. The book begins after the war in 1918 and Sitwell paints some delightful portraits of his Bloomsbury friends and associates: Lady Ottoline Morrell, Clive Bell, Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry; his good friend Lytton Strachey, Mark Gertler, D H Lawrence and his wife, Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, Lydia Lopokova and David Garnett. In fact, the book reads like a who’s who of the great and the good of the early twentieth century art world from Arnold Bennett, the poet Herbert Read, the Vorticist artist Percy Wyndham Lewis, T S Eliot, Ezra Pound, W B Yeats, Edmund Gosse, Isadora Duncan and Aldous Huxley to name a few. Following the war Osbert contracted Spanish Influenza three times and it affected his heart and when he left the army he cast his uniform in a hamper upon the waves of the sea – his bearskin, the symbol of the Grenadiers, he gave to his housekeeper and cook to make a muff with! He does not seem to remember much of his time in the trenches and what battalions he was with but he compared his time at the Front in Flanders as preferable to being at school! He writes about the Bombardment of Scarborough and his second period at the Front aged twenty-two from July 1915-April 1916 and the five days Battle of Loos where his friend was killed; he continues his memories of battle at Ypres where he wrote his first poem ‘Babel’ which was published in the Times in May 1916 (and also reproduced in this volume). In the autumn of 1917 he met George Bernard Shaw and seemed a little tongue-tied in front of such an imposing literary figure. Sitwell recalls his time in politics as a Liberal candidate for Scarborough but more amusing are his sketches of his father and the often fractious encounters where the author is continually searching for peace and quiet in which to read and to write, moments of sheer farce!
In 1919 he was editing ‘Art and Letters’ and organising an ‘Exhibition of Modern French Art’ at the Mansard Gallery, such works by Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Soutine and Leger which many condemned and attacked in the press on moral grounds. In February of that year he was at Christ Church, Cambridge with his friend the poet Siegfried Sassoon and his brother Sacheverell and they met the young sixteen year old composer William Walton, who seemed very shy and always in search of a piano and somewhere to hide and play it continually! Another composer Osbert met was Alban Berg in Salzburg which leads nicely onto the performances of ‘Façade’ in 1922 and the furore surrounding it. The final chapter, ‘Laughter in the next room’ is really most delightful as it draws once again character portraits of his parents and such notables as the composer Constant Lambert who visited the family home, Renishaw in 1925 and Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, whom he met in the summer of 1929 when Stein was giving a lecture at Oxford. His father, Sir George Sitwell, who had installed the following notice at his home: ‘I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of the gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night’, seemed to have acquired new interests of study in later life such as ‘Practical Farming’, ‘The Use of Ceremony in Byzantine Court Life’, The Origin of the Medieval Romances, The Buildings of the Emperor Frederick II in South Italy’ and ‘The Black Death’. Sir George even went to see Mr Gordon Selfridge concerning his invention – ‘The Breakfast Egg’ which was a yolk of smoked meat, a white of compressed rice and a shell of synthetic lime – he returned from the meeting decidedly silent and the matter was never mentioned again, one can only guess at Mr Selfridge’s reaction to such a wondrous invention! There are also some hilarious moments such as his mother’s Swiss maid Frieda who is encouraged to yodel but she is so shy she has to do it behind a screen. Sir George and Lady Ida are eventually persuaded to go and live in Italy at the ‘Castle’ Sir George bought for Osbert which allows his children the freedom to pursue their writing careers unhindered and for Sir George to continue his researches into: ‘Reresby and Sacheverell Pedigrees’, ‘The History of the Acciaiuli’, ‘The Black Death at Rotherham’, ‘English Pilgrims in Tuscany in the Fourteenth Century’, ‘The Use of the Bed’, ‘Chaucer’s Presumed Visit to Boccaccio’, ‘Acorns as an Article of Medieval Diet’, ‘Ogher the Dane’, ‘Byzantine Herbals’, ‘The Best Methods of Making Wine’ and ‘Pig-Keeping in the Thirteenth Century’. We hear about the affects of the Second World War in Italy and how many of the English inhabitants left but Sir George decided to stay, locked in his own vision of medieval romance and nostalgia as he viewed the beautiful countryside of Italy from the relative safety of his tower, until his death in 1943. To end the book Osbert attaches an ‘Envoy’ where he explains his reasons for writing the autobiography and hints at further works published posthumously a century after his death which may bring into focus his romantic inclinations and sexual desires, for all mention of love is non-existent on his part, due no doubt to the embarrassment it may have caused himself and to those around him. There is a fascinating Appendix concerning ‘The Exhibition of Modern French Art’ 1919 by Clive Bell, dated 16th August 1919 (a notice and correspondence in The Nation); a sketch of Sir George Sitwell by Evelyn Waugh and a piece entitled ‘Primavera and Fellow-Guests’. ‘Laughter in the next room’ concludes Osbert’s memoirs and I must say I have immensely enjoyed reading all four volumes of Sitwell’s autobiography (his fifth volume, ‘Noble Essences’ published in 1950 is concerned with the people that came within the Sitwell circle and its fringes) and it is invaluable for the delightful and humorous antics of Sir George Sitwell and the glimpses into the world of the aristocracy and the important historical events that occurred during the life of the author. Beautifully written although lacking in romantic adventures which would have raised the emotional level of the volumes, Sitwell has produced a work of art which will for ever assure him of immortality! Masterful!

Vile Bodies – by Evelyn Waugh.

This is Waugh’s second novel published in 1930 and it satirises the lives of the ‘bright young people’ and of British society during the inter-war years. There are some really well-drawn characters by the author such as the protagonist Adam Fenwick-Symes who is engaged to Miss Nina Blount but being somewhat financially embarrassed are unable to marry (Nina will not marry Adam until he is wealthy). Adam suddenly becomes lucky and wins one-thousand pounds at gambling and informs Nina and so the wedding can go ahead, but Adam gives the money to a drunken Major who suggested the money to be put on a horse and hence he would become very wealthy indeed! Not too surprisingly the money and the Major disappear and Adam spends the next thirteen chapters and the ‘Happy Ending’, from one alcohol-fuelled fashionable party to another wondering as to the fate of the drunken Major, a likeable con-man and encountering him or hearing of him at different stages of the novel, and the delightful comic excuses. We also meet Nina’s father Colonel Blount of Doubting Hall who has impressive bouts of memory lapses especially when Adam comes to call upon him several times seeking permission to marry Nina and there is much confusion and misunderstanding as to Adam’s identity, once mistaking him for a vacuum salesman and even handing Adam a cheque for one-thousand pounds signed later Nina notices – ‘Charlie Chaplin’!
There is also the minor character of Simon Balcairn, the Earl of Balcairn who works for a newspaper as a gossip columnist called ‘Mr Chatterbox’ who is slighted at not being invited to a party and puts his head into the oven and commits suicide, described by Waugh with much relish; and the greatly irresponsible Miss Agatha Runcible who during the motor car race is in the pits with Adam as part of the pit-stop team, carelessly smoking near to the open petrol containers and throwing her buts away willy-nilly, paying no attention to the race and only concerned with drinking at the refreshment tent. She later takes control of the racing car, number thirteen when the driver is injured and subsequently leaves the race route and crashes the car, ending up in hospital with nervous exhaustion. Other characters are Miles Malpractice and Captain Ginger Littlejohn who is also in love with Nina and eventually marries her, he being wealthy and after a comic conversation whereby he informs Adam of his decision and Adam decides to sell him his share of Nina for seventy-eight pounds, sixteen and two-pence to pay his hotel bill!
There is also the sub-plot about the making of a very dubious film about the life of John Wesley in which Colonel Blount plays a small role and later unwisely invests in. In the final pages of the book, the ‘Happy Ending’ the drunken Major, now a General and Adam are re-united as soldiers in the army on the brink of another war and the question of a thousand pounds or even the thirty-five thousand pounds (for the horse he backed was a winner) seems immaterial!
Vile Bodies is a hilarious romp parodying the hedonistic, empty lives of its characters with the emphasis on fun and alcohol and parties; a satire, often told in snappy telephone conversations, which highlights the importance of money and what it can buy and the need to have endless amounts of it to be accepted into society and to feel materialistically fulfilled. A delight of a read which should be compulsory!

Decline and Fall – by Evelyn Waugh.

Evelyn Waugh’s (1903-1966) first novel published in 1928 (the same year that the author was received into the Roman Catholic Church) is written in three parts and recounts the career of Paul Pennyfeather who is sent down from Scone College, Oxford due to ‘indecent behaviour’ following an encounter with a drunken college mob who mistake him for being a member of the notorious Bollinger Club and leave him minus his trousers! He is thus seen as a thoroughly disreputable fellow and forced to abandon his career in the church (and forfeit his inheritance) and become a schoolmaster at Llanabba Castle in Wales. There are echoes of Waugh’s own career here as after his time at Hertford College, Oxford where he studied Modern History (1922-1924) he became a teacher at Arnold House Boy’s Preparatory School, North Wales in January 1925.
Llanabba is run by Doctor Augustus Fagan who lives there with his two daughters and we meet the other schoolmasters: Captain Grimes who seems to live only for fun and the bewigged Mr Prendergast who has doubts in the church and the mysterious Philbrick. Paul becomes well-liked amongst the boys, not least of all Peter Beste-Chetwynde whom he attempts to teach Latin and music to despite knowing nothing about music. Grimes marries Doctor Fagan’s daughter Flossie and becomes disillusioned with marriage and decidedly un-liked by the Headmaster – prior to the couple’s honeymoon his clothes are found and he is assumed drowned, although no body is found. It turns out that he faked his death to escape his marriage and his life at Scone! This scene recalls Waugh’s own suicide attempt in 1925 following his own struggles in his career when he left his clothes and a note on the beach and entered the sea only to return after encountering a swarm of jellyfish! No doubt Waugh is also drawing upon his own memories of his time at Lancing College, West Sussex as a pupil and as an undergraduate at Oxford.
Paul falls in love with Peter’s mother, Margot, a millionaire high society lady, ten years widowed and they agree to marry but Paul is arrested prior to the wedding at the Ritz Hotel and following his trial at the Old Bailey subsequently imprisoned for seven years at Blackstone Gaol for his activities in the white slave trade which Margot herself has been mixed up in unknown to him until then; Paul accepts his sentence to protect Margot from the scandal of being involved with prostitution and having her ‘ladies’ in the South American brothels brought to light. Margot heads for Corfu and at the Prison Pennyfeather meets Philbrick who was at Scone and told many tales and Mr Prendergast with his wig who is the Prison Chaplain. Later in the novel Mr Prendergast is horribly murdered (decapitated) by an insane inmate with a religious mania. Paul Pennyfeather is sent to Egdon Heath Penal Settlement where he finds Mr Grimes as an inmate for bigamy! Grimes escapes into the mist of the heath on one of the warder’s horses and is presumed dead in the mire, although no body is found! Paul is let out of Egdon Heath to have his appendix taken out (which has already been removed) and sent to the nursing home run by Doctor Augustus Fagan M. D. and it is fixed that he should die under the anaesthetic, (the prison warders have been aware of the plan which we can only assume was made possible by large sums of money changing hands) or at least appear to and thus escape; Margot’s (she has since married and is now Lady Metroland) yacht is waiting to take him to Corfu.
After a length of time Paul returns to England and to Scone College under his own name pretending to be his own distant cousin to resume his theological studies. Frivolous and cynical, Waugh casts a cold eye over the social climate of the twenties and its hedonistic generation in one of his most successful novels. Tremendous!

Of Human Bondage – by William Somerset Maugham.

Published in 1915, Maugham’s novel draws heavily on the autobiographical and it tells the story of Philip Carey, a young boy with a club-foot whose mother Helen Carey died when he was nine years old and his father, a doctor, is also dead; the boy is taken into the care of his mother’s brother, Uncle William Carey, the Vicar of Blackstable and his wife Louisa. Aunt Louisa was unable to have children and although she finds it initially difficult to show the boy affection, comes to love him more and more while the Vicar remains distant and determined as to the boy’s education and future, already mapped out as a University education and a life in the church. Philip is sent to boarding school where he undergoes the usual cruelties and tortures of the other boys because he is different and walks with a limp and cannot join in the sports activities like the others. It is here where his belief in God is sorely tested as he prays that God will cure his club-foot and when his prayers go unanswered he is under the false impression that he is not devoted to God enough or praying hard enough, a misconception that the Vicar instils in the boy. At school, Philip works well and is on the way to receiving a scholarship to Oxford but he decides to turn it down and go to Germany to study. Back at Blackstable Philip’s sexual awakening is answered by the form of Miss Emily Wilkinson, an older woman and a friend of Mr Carey, who falls in love with Philip and after they have sex and a persistent and one-sided correspondence on her part, Philip cools to the idea of any romantic notions in that direction. It is here we first glimpse his un-gentlemanly conduct which seems a little out of place yet he is following in the footsteps of his peers who selfishly see women as sexual objects to be discarded once the satisfaction has been attained. On his return he is persuaded to take an apprenticeship in London which he detests but it offers him an opportunity of travelling to France and his mind becomes set on studying art in Paris, which he does. He meets many bohemian art students who devoutly spout the current artistic theories of their day he and falls in with their way of life until a fellow student named Fanny Price falls in love with him, a love he does not reciprocate. Fanny takes her own life in her drab little room and Philip is haunted by the lifeless body hanging by the neck. He comes to the conclusion, rightly so, that he will never be a great artist and decides to leave France and study medicine like his late father. Philip enrols as a student at St Luke’s Hospital and it is while he is a student that he encounters a waitress in a tea shop named Mildred Rogers. Philip falls desperately in love with Mildred, a common yet rather attractive young woman who is vain and selfish, yet Philip is blind to her vulgar behaviour and he attempts to woo her which inevitably fails; Mildred sees Philip as a gentleman with means to show her a good time and to buy her expensive gifts, which he does, but the truth of the matter is that she is a hideous slattern who just uses men to get what she wants on her terms. Mildred, uncaring of Philip’s feelings announces that she is going to be married to a German man named Emil Miller and Philip tries desperately to forget her, which he is unable to and he even contemplates suicide. He fails in his medical studies and realises that he has been much too generous with his money which is slowly dwindling.
In the meantime, Philip meets Norah Nesbit, a writer of trashy novels who goes by the pen name Courtenay Paget. Norah falls in love with Philip and is willing to give everything to him when suddenly Mildred comes back on the scene and Philip treats Norah appallingly, deceiving her and seeing Mildred who is pregnant and in trouble as Emil did not marry her, in fact he was already married and has gone back to his wife. Philip supports Mildred and introduces her to his friend Harry Griffiths, a man who took care of Philip when he suffered from Influenza; of course Harry and Mildred fall head over heels in love and they run away together leaving poor Philip devastated. He later meets Mildred again and she has fallen pregnant by Harry who has washed his hands of her and she has become a prostitute; Philip is sympathetic towards her plight and decides to help her by taking her in off the street and gives her a room in return that she does his cooking and cleaning. He is no longer in love with Mildred but he grows fond of the baby. Mildred attempts to re-kindle Philip’s love for her once more but he rejects her and one day in her rage she leaves the flat with the baby while he is out but not before destroying every possession he owns. Philip leaves his rooms and tries to move on with his life and knuckle down to his medical studies but it isn’t long before Mildred enters his life once more when she wants his medical opinion and he diagnoses her with syphilis, although it is not disclosed in so many words in the novel, the result of Mildred returning to the oldest profession. The baby is dead and she is reluctant to give up her ways and so she exits the novel leaving the reader wondering as to her fate.
Philip becomes friends with a man named Thorpe Athelny, an interesting character obsessed with Spain. After making a bad speculation on the Stock Exchange, Philip is broke and having to walk the streets as he can’t pay his rent; he is hungry and miserable and unable to continue his studies. As he usually goes to the Athelny’s for Sunday dinner, Thorpe is aware of his plight and asks him to stay with them which he does and Thorpe also helps him get a position as a floor walker at the department store Thorpe works at. Having a flare for design, Philip is promoted to the clothing design department where he draws fashionable gown designs for ladies. After two years of wishing his Uncle William would die and leave him his inheritance, the old man finally does the decent thing after clinging for dear life to his wretched meanness towards Philip. With his renewed fortune of several hundred pounds, Philip continues his medical studies and becomes a Licensed Doctor after seven years since first entering the profession. He takes a temporary job as a locum with Dr South, a cantankerous, lonely old widow man who strangely takes a liking to Philip and offers him a partnership. Philip refuses with grand ideas of travelling the world but after joining the Athelny’s hop-picking in Kent, he becomes attracted to their eldest daughter, nineteen year old Sally, a healthy and beautifully buxom young woman whom he has known since she was fourteen. Sally and Philip embrace and they make love. Sally works as a shop girl and she is afraid she may be pregnant; Philip after much deliberation decides to do the right thing by her and marry her. They meet at the National Gallery and Sally tells him that it was a false alarm, Philip is free to go sailing round the world without a care but he realises that he loves Sally and wants to settle down with her; he asks her to marry him and she says yes.
The novel, which is dreadfully long, has all the rich diversity of lives being lived around the time of the Boer War and prior to it and the author captures all the complexities of love in all its fragile ferocity and the utter barbarism of human relationships. The reader’s affinity to engage and empathise with the characters is constantly shifting, swinging like a pendulum from one tragic consequence to another and from one example of kind behaviour to the next such as the treachery displayed by Griffiths towards Philip when he lies to him saying that he feels nothing for Mildred and in his next action he is running off with her; or Philip’s reaction towards Miss Wilkinson and towards Norah Nesbit, women who have shown him great love and tenderness, and Mildred’s re-paying Philip’s kindness by destroying everything he owns… William Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) forces the reader into the psychological effects of these self-obsessed and restless characters and holds a mirror up to the reader which transcends time! Excellent!

Brave New World – by Aldous Huxley.

‘Brave New World’, the title taken from the words spoken by Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is the fifth novel written by Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) and published in 1932. The novel is set in the future during AF 632 (Anno Ford begun in the year 1908 when Henry Ford produced his first Model T motor car; Ford is held a s a sort of deity and the sign of the Christian cross has had its top removed to produce a capital letter ‘T’ – AF 632 is then AD 2540). This dystopian future is a world where embryos are artificially grown in laboratories (incubation) and ‘decanted’ into bottles, eradicating the need for human sexual reproduction, an abhorrent and primitive idea to the future World State. Children in communal nurseries are conditioned and monitored as their behaviour is manipulated by sleep-learning (‘hypnopaedia’) where phrases are repeated during sleep to induce certain thoughts and behavioural programming; such notions as ‘parenthood’, ‘mother’ and ‘father’, the idea of monogamous love and natural childbirth have become pornographic smut and the social stability of the World State is based on a caste system in which embryos are assigned their caste or class dependent on intellectual status or determined duties of manual labour, as if Huxley is anticipating the Nazi eugenics programmes only a decade hence from writing the novel in 1931. To pacify society a drug called Soma is distributed which has calming effects and its indulgence is accepted and heartily encouraged.
In the story we meet Bernard Marx, a psychologist who works with sleep-learning who is somewhat different and thus unpopular; Lenina Crowne, a popular, promiscuous (she is one of the sterile women who enjoys numerous sexual relations) young woman who works in the hatchery, and Helmholtz Watson, a writer friend of Bernard’s. Lenina and Bernard decide to take a holiday at a Savage Reservation in New Mexico to see the villagers of Malpais and their old ways of life with its ugly old age and diseases; its children produced by sexual copulation and natural childbirth and its strange beliefs in religious and spiritual beings such as Jesus Christ. Lenina is appalled with the filth and takes a Soma holiday and Bernard discovers Linda, a woman from the World State who visited the Reservation some years ago but became lost and was accidentally left at the village; she neither fitted in with the villagers – allowing her body to be had by all whom desired it as was the way in the World State and thus incurring the fury of the village women who were monogamous, and neither could she return to the World State as she had produced a child by natural birth and would be thus humiliated and ostracised; the child John, whom she taught to read has read the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, a book banned in the World State along with the Bible and all forms of high art, because they are ‘old’ and the people would not understand them. Bernard receives permission to evacuate Linda and John from the Reservation and they return to London. Bernard’s boss, Thomas, the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning is not happy with the savages brought into civilisation and threatens Bernard with exile to Iceland; an exile that befalls all heretics, dissidents and free-thinking radicals, but the Director is humiliated when Bernard brings Linda to the meeting and Linda recognises him as ‘Tomakin’, the man she went to the Reserve with all those years ago and the man who is John’s father, by natural copulation; the Director of course retires in his shame. John seems to bond with Helmholtz but not with Bernard whose slight flirtation with popularity at the discovery of the savages quickly resides when John, the ‘Savage’ refuses to attend a party with Bernard to be paraded as a freak, much to the annoyance of the eminent gathering Bernard had summoned. John becomes attracted sexually to Lenina and it seems mutual but John has been conditioned through the reading of Shakespeare to the notion of romantic love and Lenina offers herself freely to the pleasure of all who desire her; she attempts to seduce him and John erupts into anger and attacks her, calling her a ‘strumpet’ and she, indoctrinated into her behaviour is unaware of her misconduct. John’s mother Linda dies and John disrupts the distribution of Soma by throwing it out of a window declaring that the population is free now but the crowd become angered and Bernard, Helmholtz and John are seized and taken to the Resident World Controller of Western Europe, Mustapha Mond where they are threatened with exile. John, refused permission to go into exile with Helmholtz and not wanting to be the subject of further experiments, finds himself an old abandoned lighthouse in a deserted region where there is nothing but nature, something society takes no notice of in the World State. He plants seeds and lives a solitary existence until one day he is seen whipping himself in an act of ascetic flagellation. He becomes an object for sightseers and news reporters and before long there are hundreds wanting to view the ‘savage’ who whips himself. Lenina comes to the lighthouse and when John sees her he attacks and whips her and the crowd, fuelled by Soma become frenzied with ‘blood-lust’. The next day more onlookers’ turn-up to see the savage perform his whippings but instead he is found hanging in the lighthouse tower, Mr Savage had killed himself!
Although the book is well-written and has become a Dystopian modern classic I found it difficult to feel anything for the characters and to be honest futuristic Utopian/Dystopian novels aren’t my thing because in attempting to create the perfect society one instinctively fails and an oppressive totalitarian regime is set in place; a single government to which the individual becomes subservient and institutions subordinate. But it is evidently possible to see where Huxley is coming from in his cold view of the future for we are presently at a stage between the savagery of the Reservation and the World State of technology where unlike the casual sex expressed quite unemotionally by the future society, a sexual copulation which has become yet another function, it is more likely to assume that sex acts of the future which are purely self-indulgent will be of a cyber-robotic sexual nature for we are already on the road to artificial intelligence. Genetics are a basis in fact even if controversial and opposed to on ethical principles, yet it will inevitably become a factor for future ‘embryonic design’ in the future. Linda can be seen as an ideal of the modern woman with her attitudes to sex and nothing so very revolutionary for since men and women learnt that babies were the result of copulation they have been attempting various forms of ‘safe sex’ so that they could have all the hedonistic sexual promiscuity of carnal pleasure without the awkward and undesirable consequences! Where do we draw the line between what is a drug and what is not a drug, the natural and the synthetic? If anything, ‘Brave New World’ allows us to think ahead of ourselves and to negotiate various futuristic paths that we shall inevitably travel such as the notion of religion and God to the future mind, the inevitable colonising of other planets and space travel and of course contact with other beings from other worlds, all is our destiny should we not in the meantime destroy this Brave New World of ours!

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Priest and Poet – by John Pick.

This enjoyable little book published in 1942 takes an in-depth look at the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) and the relationship between his poetic art and his religious convictions. Dr. Pick introduces us to the ‘Star of Balliol’ who unassumingly like that other young poet John Keats immersed himself in a life of sensations rather than of thought, but it was at Oxford that our subject suppressed the indulgence of eye and ear to the natural beauty that surrounded him and became interested in the Tractarian or Oxford Movement. Hopkins went up to Balliol in October 1863 and he became a follower of Dr. Edward Pusey (1800-82) the English theologian and leader of the Tractarians. Being drawn to the sensuous beauty of nature, religious asceticism forced him to reject the senses and we can see this as his undergraduate conflict. Having lost his Anglican faith Hopkins felt the compulsion towards Rome and Catholicism, much to his parents’ displeasure; his conversion occurred during September 1866 and he was received a month later following a series of correspondence and a consultation in Birmingham with John Henry Newman (1801-90). On 7th September 1868 he entered Manresa House the Jesuit Novitiate in Roehampton, Surrey, and became devoted to the spiritual life and the exercises of St. Ignatius.
In January 1884 he was elected a fellowship with a Chair in Greek and Latin at the Royal University of Ireland – ‘His sensitivity and his high-strung temperament in part predestined him to suffering.’ (p. 110) In the chapter ‘Dublin and Desolation’ Pick does well to describe the heavy workload of marking the seemingly endless examination papers and the poet’s ill-health; he seemed to descend further during 1884-5 suffering from anxiety and depression; there is a darkness, a personal suffering and a sense of isolation; an ordeal as in St John’s Dark Night of the Senses, but, the author states, Hopkins was not a ‘mystical writer or mystical poet’, perhaps not, but the theme of God and the Spirit floods his soul and everything he writes. We must not forget also that it was almost twenty years since he lost his beloved fellow poet Digby Mackworth Dolben (1848-1867) the cousin of his friend Robert Bridges (later Poet Laureate from 1913-30) by drowning aged just nineteen before going up to Oxford and in a sense some of his later poems can be seen as love-letters in reply to those ‘dead letters’, unanswered letters sent by Hopkins to Dolben whom he met at Oxford while the younger poet was seventeen: ‘Cries like dead letters sent/ To dearest him that lives alas! away.’ (from ‘I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day’) yet the author fails to fully investigate this small detail perhaps hoping to draw a curtain over the issue of Hopkins’s sexuality. Then in 1887-9 Hopkins had more problems with his eyes and we can say without doubt that he was undergoing some sort of spiritual ‘interior desolation’ which resulted in the poems, those heart-wrenching ‘dark sonnets’ of 1885 such as ‘Carrion Comfort’, ‘No worst, there is none’, ‘To seem the stranger’, and ‘Patience, hard thing’ – In a letter to his friend Robert Bridges he wrote: ‘All impulse fails me…. Nothing comes: I am a eunuch – but it is for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.’ The author needs only to look within to understand the deep and sensuous longing Hopkins must have felt for it is something particularly human and the damning of desire almost always results in an outpouring of creativity and a keen sense of spiritual understanding through rigorous bodily restrictions, self discipline and denial. The book does well to get to grips with Hopkins’s Jesuit calling and explains the motives and inspiration behind the poems but as to the nature of the man it falls short. Another book I read in conjunction with this and which goes much further in the exploration of his sexuality and poetic impulses is ‘Secreted Desires, the Major Uranians: Hopkins, Pater and Wilde’ by Michael Matthew Kaylor, published in 2006 which takes a fascinating look at such things as ‘Problems so beautifully ingenious’: Hopkins and ‘Uranian Problematics’ and ‘Beautiful Dripping Fragments – A Whitmanesque Reading of Hopkins’s “Epithalmion”’. I would suggest reading them both to get a better and more rounded understanding of a great and misunderstood poet!

Poems & Poemes – by Natalie Clifford Barney.

This slim volume of verse (half written in English and half in French) published in 1920 was sad to say quite a disappointment; many of the poems were mediocre and there was little in the way of expressive lyrics. Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972) was a wealthy American writer who lived in Paris and she was open about her sexuality, having numerous romances with such personages as fellow poet Renee Vivien (Pauline Tarn 1877-1909) and the painter Romaine Brooks (1874-1970). Of the poems perhaps a score are worth mentioning: ‘The love of Judas’, ‘More Night!’, ‘With two dwarf Japanese Maples’, ‘The Flute Player’, ‘A Parisian roof garden in 1918’, ‘A Sonnet to my Lady with the Jaundice’ and ‘Lines taken from poems I shall not write’; there are a few jewels amongst the glittering glass beads such as ‘Ah! Night!’ written on May First 1915: ‘ – A love too vast in aught to be contained,/ Helpless and great: a poet’s youthfulness,…’ and ‘Here, visible as sleeping Eros, lies/ A book of dreams and broken memories,/ A living past for which blind Love has eyes?’ (Advertissement). In the French there are: ‘Femme’, ‘Tierce-Rime’, ‘J’Avais Craint La Neige’, ‘Suffisance’, ‘Vers Libres’, Effluve Diun vieux Livre’, ‘Mes Morts’, ‘L’Aube’, ‘La Premier Depart’, ‘Equinoxe’, ‘Nuit Bachique’, ‘Sonnet D’Autrefois’ (Genre Anthologie!) and ‘Meduses’. It is wretched of me to say and I do not like condemning literary work but there is nothing noteworthy here and I found it all quite dreadful, a case of the author’s life outshining her work!

A Problem in Greek Ethics – by John Addington Symonds.

John Addington Symonds wrote his Problem of Greek Ethics in 1873 and ten years later privately printed just ten copies; it was later printed in 1908 and the book is subtitled: ‘an Inquiry into the Phenomena of Sexual Inversion’, which is a fascinating read on the subject of ‘boy-love’ in Greek society and as represented in Greek art. The author has fully researched his subject and has a wide knowledge of mythology, looking at Homer, who we are told had no knowledge of ‘paiderastia’ as the author insists on writing it, but with all the evil associations the modern ear has attached to it, therefor I shall refer to it as the more acceptable ‘Greek love’ to discriminate between the vulgar lust without adoration, the seduction connected with power, for the art of virtuous affection of equal taste, age and station; breathlessly we are whisked from Achille’s treatment of Homer and the romance of Achilles and Patroclus through to the notion of the heroic idea of masculine love, a militaristic bond of affection which inspires the lover and the beloved to heights of bravery. The author writes with great enthusiasm upon the vulgar associations (the effeminate, none-masculine manner which is looked down upon) and how it was introduced into Hellas, Crete and Laius and how boy-love spread from Crete to Sparta before exploring the myth of Ganymede and the discrimination between the two loves: vulgar and heroic. We are informed of the various mythological tales based on Greek love such as that of Rhadamanthus, Damon of Pythias, Theseus and Perithous of Orestes; in fact, nearly all the Greek Gods except for Ares are famous for their romantic loves: Poseidon and Pelops, Zeus and Ganymede (and Chrysippus), Apollo and Ayacinth, Pan and Cyparissus, Hypnos and Endymion, Herakles and Iolaus (and Hylas). We glide through semi-legendary tales of love – Harmodius and Aristogeiton and on to Dorian, Spartan, Cretan and Boetian customs before alighting on the customs of Elis, Megara, Hybris and Ionia. There is a very interesting section on Greek love in poetry of the lyric age: Theognis and Kurnus, Solon, Ibycus, Anacreon and Smeridies, Pindar (with his lofty conception of adolescent beauty) and Theoxenos before being immersed into the classic works of the Attic stage – Myrmidones of Aescylus, Achille’s lovers, Niobe of Sophocles and the Chrysippus of Euripides. Swiftly we are escorted through the speech of Pausanias, Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes ‘Clouds’, Lucian’s ‘Amores’, the Palaestra, the Lysis, the Charmides and on through the concept of the Gymnasia and Brothels and into the pleasures of the Platonic doctrine of Greek love: Socrates, erotic mania and chivalrous love (Dante’s Vita Nuova)… Greek liberty and Greek love was extinguished at Chaeronea; and we arrive at Philostratus and the fine arts, particularly Greek sculpture where the Greeks admitted that ‘male beauty displays harmonies of proportion and melodies of outline more comprehensive, more indicative of strength expressed in terms of grace, than that of woman.’ The author goes on to express that the male body is ‘more seductive to the senses, more soft, more delicate, more undulating. The superiority of male beauty does not consist in these attractions, built in the symmetrical development of all the qualities of the human frame, the complete organisation of the body as the supreme instrument of vital energy.
Towards the end of the book the author gets to grips with the psychological analysis underlying Greek mythology before expounding on the moral attitude to homosexuality among Greek women which was seen as a less dignified expression of devoted love before we are washed up with the tide of the Tiber to discover that Greek love does not exist in Rome where it has been superseded with lust and the notion of desire and restraint has been all but abandoned and that Christianity has superimposed chivalrous love and the significance of the matriarch upon the modern world. In our own time we have seen the corruption and abuse not just in society but in high office such as the church, government, the world of entertainment and the armed forces; the very notion that anything decent of mind and body can be shared between an adult male (or female) and an adolescent is absurd and anything connected with spiritual or intellectual intimacy is an abomination, a crime not only against nature but against all codes of moral decency; that intimacy has existed since mankind began whether openly or suppressed, surrounded in secrecy and it shall go on because beneath all the social and psychological conditioning which condemns a thing as wrong there is that which says it is right and a natural instinct or compulsion which should be expressed freely – but of course a certain curiosity and willingness to understand has brought you to this book and here we will let any question of philosophical morality rest within your own mind as it should be! This is a well-written and comprehensive study of the subject and John Addington Symonds has composed a work of great distinction!

My Life and Loves – by Frank Harris.

This is the first volume of the autobiography of Frank Harris (1855-1931) published between 1922 and 1927 in four volumes. Privately printed, ‘My Life and Loves’ is ‘in spite of all its shortcomings and all its faults: it is the first book ever written to glorify the body and its passionate desires and the soul as well and its sacred, climbing sympathies.’ (‘Forewords’ xviii) Frank Harris (real name James Thomas Harris) was an English writer and editor who edited the Evening News (1882-6), the Fortnightly Review (1886-94) and the Saturday Review (1894-8). The volumes were banned due to their sexually explicit content; to give you a flavour of some early instances may I suggest: ‘When he rubbed himself and the orgasm came, a sticky milky fluid spirted [sic] from Strangeway’s cock which Howard told us was the man’s seed.’ (p. 15) or perhaps: ‘at last I got on her between her legs and she guided my prick into her cunt (God it was wonderful!)’ (p. 15) or maybe this little episode from school: ‘The two Monitors in our big bedroom in my time were a strapping big fellow named Dick F…, who tired all the little boys by going into their beds and making them frig him till his semen came. The little fellows all hated to be covered with his filthy slime, but they had to pretend to like doing as he told them, and usually he insisted on frigging them by way of exciting himself. Dick picked me out once or twice but I managed to catch his semen on his own night-shirt, and so after calling me a “dirty little devil” he left me alone.
The other monitor was Jones, a Liverpool boy of about seventeen, very backward in lessons but very strange, the “cock” of the school at fighting. He used always to go to one young boy’s bed whom he favored [sic] in many ways. Henry H… used to be able to get off any fagging and he never let out what Jones made him do at night, but in the long run he got to be chums with another little fellow and it all came out. One night when Jones was in Henry’s bed, there was a shriek of pain and Jones was heard to be kissing and caressing his victim for nearly an hour afterwards. We all wondered whether Jones had had him, or what had happened. Henry’s chum one day let the cat out of the bag. It appeared that Jones used to make the little fellow take his sex in his mouth and frig him and suck him at the same time. But one evening he had brought up some butter and smeared it over his prick and gradually inserted it into Henry’s anus and this came to be his ordinary practice. But this night he had forgotten the butter and when he found a certain resistance, he thrust violently forwards, causing extreme pain and making his pathic bleed. Henry screamed and so after an interval of some weeks or months the whole procedure came to be known.’ (p. 26-27) Charming! And the moral of which tale is that one should never forget one’s knob of butter! But you get the general picture as to the content! In fact, Harris (an odious little man in my opinion) plods, pokes and frigs his way through every chapter, of which there are fifteen, and conceitedly exaggerates his own sexual stamina and importance as a lover of women.
Bored with school he leaves and takes a ship to the United States of America and has a ship-board romance with a girl from Aberdeen named Jessie who is heading for New York, the first of many girls Harris manages to get his hand up their skirts and onto their intimate parts! In America he finds highly paid work doing dangerous work on bridge foundations under water and also money working the shoe-shine; in fact he is hard-working and determined to become successful and wealthy! He leaves Jessie after he is offered work in Chicago as a Night Clerk in a Hotel and he rises up the ranks becoming quite indispensable and seemingly respectable! But he soon leaves this on a whim and becomes a cow-puncher making good money on the cattle trail (about six and a half thousand dollars). He is there at the Great Fire of Chicago before heading to Lawrence, Kansas where he has his first real sexual experience with a married woman, Mrs Lorna Mayhew, who is sexually unsatisfied and unhappy with her wealthy husband. At the same time Frank is seducing sixteen year old Kate Gregory, his landlady’s daughter and neither of them is aware of the other. He is expelled from the University of Kansas and decides to study Law. Mrs Mayhew and her husband leave Kansas and Frank then turns his attention to fifteen year old Lily for his sexual gratification behind Kate’s back! With his friend Professor Smith who encourages him scholastically he visits the poet Emerson – ‘a nice old fellow, but deaf as a post.’ The Gregory’s leave for Colorado and Frank and Kate drift apart. Harris and Smith then go to Philadelphia and in 1875 Harris returned to Lawrence and passed his examinations to enter the Bar and became a citizen of the United States. Back in Philadelphia there was a visit by Walt Whitman who gave a talk on Thomas Paine (1737-1809) to which Frank went and took notes as a member of the Press, speaking to him afterwards. Meanwhile Frank learns that his elder brother Vernon is in a New York Hospital after trying to commit suicide by shooting himself! Harris spent two weeks caring for him, finding him somewhere to live and work, but realises he will not amount to anything!
His next sexual conquest is a young woman named Rose in Lawrence whom he is seeing as well as Lily! And then of course comes number three – Sophy Beveridge known as ‘Topsy’ a young woman whose black mother Frank helped when she was sick and so Sophy in her gratitude gives herself to him completely! Professor Smith becomes ill and persuades Frank to leave and go to Europe and continue his studies and after reading Emerson Frank became convinced and confirmed in his decision to leave and so he gave up his work as a partner in a law firm and two days later after saying goodbye to Lily and Rose, he left with Sophy for San Francisco where they parted. He took a ship and stopped at Alexandria, Cairo and Cape Town before alighting in France and staying in Paris. His friend from the States Ned Bancroft came out to him there and they stayed together in Paris for six months, living beyond their means and Ned acquiring gonorrhoea into the bargain as a Parisian memento!
Frank came to England and to Tenby in Wales to stay with his sister and father; Frank was ill from exhaustion and malaria. There he has sex with Eliza Gibby, the eighteen year old maid servant of his sister and also with the next door neighbour, a Doctor’s widow’s daughter named Maria known as Molly whom he gets engaged to (when Molly leaves for Dresden and the engagement is broken off Frank turns his attention to Molly’s younger sister Kathleen!) Frank accidentally takes an overdose of Belladonna, 60 grains where 1 grain is fatal: ‘enough to kill a dozen men.’ The Doctor pumped his stomach and over time Frank came through it and survived, taking three months convalescence. Frank then becomes a Master at Brighton College and he meets and becomes friends with Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) of Chelsea.
All in all Mr Harris is exceedingly frank concerning his sex life and seems driven to obsession in his hunger and search for young women and the delight he has in putting his hands up their skirts to feel their ‘sex’ and the joy of arousal as if it is a sport. There is of course mild titillation in his descriptions on his sexual encounters but all in all his attitude to women leaves a lot to be desired yet he is writing during a more unenlightened period when it comes to equality so perhaps we can forgive him a little for this and applaud his frankness while taking much of his ‘confessions’ with a pinch of salt! It all gets very tedious and monotonous and Mr Harris with his overblown ego is unreliable in his exhaustive quest for sex, but it is a fascinating piece of periodic writing nonetheless!

The World, the Flesh and Myself – by Michael Davidson.

Published in 1962 (I read the 1977 edition with a Foreword by James Cameron from which all quotations are given) ‘The World, the Flesh and Myself’ is a very bold and faithful autobiography in eighteen chapters by the journalist Michael Davidson (1897-1976) which rakes over the fascinating embers of his life and career. I came to know of Davidson from my reading of works by or about Christopher Sclater Millard, an authority on the works of Oscar Wilde. Right away Davidson lays his cards on the table and bravely declares: ‘This is the life-history of a lover of boys.’ And he goes on to say that from ‘boyhood I’ve been a paederast, in the literal Greek meaning of that word, and have been to prison for being one – never though (and the credit is nature’s, not mine) a paederast in the peculiarly one-way sense to which even the Oxford Dictionary restricts it. Perhaps ‘paidophile’ would be a nicer term.’ (p. 3).
Michael was born in Guernsey in 1897 and came too England in 1908 after his Aunt Annie’s death and came to Bitterne in Hampshire; we learn some family details of his brother Eardley and his sister Nancy, and the fact that his Uncle Alan Davidson, a cousin of his father, ‘jumped in front of a tube train on the Piccadilly Line’!
He was educated at Lancing College from 1908-1912 and it is here that his emotions were awakened to the possibilities of love: ‘my highest, most intense, pleasure or happiness is of the mind; and comes from seeing, being with, touching, looking into the mind of, a boy who, emotionally, mentally, rather than bodily, is simpatico; and from visually absorbing the multiple delights of his nakedness. Any sexual act, which may, and generally do, accompany, follow or precede this mental joy are adjuncts – prologue or epilogue to the essential monograph of the mind. It was at Lancing that I first had this experience, which I call love.’ (p. 52-53) The love of course is that which usually springs amongst adolescent boys at public school where ‘arm-in-arm, always arm-in-arm, one went round and round the cloisters, meeting one’s acquaintances, discreetly descrying the bloods, and above all making eyes at the tarts, the “tweetles”, the pretty boys.’ (p. 56) In 1912 he saw the Titanic sail from Southampton before it sank and around the same time when Michael was almost fifteen he fell in love with a young boy two years his junior named Ernest Claude Manson whom he’d first noticed in the chapel and amongst the cloisters: ‘the moment that I first saw Manson naked in the swimming bath that I first perceived the fierce joy, the mental exaltation that surged up from looking at naked boys: a fascination I’ve never ceased to feel and have always sought to experience. In those days it was boys a year or two younger than I; since, myself halted for good, so to speak, in emotional adolescence, it’s been adolescents.’ (p. 61) The ‘furtive looks’ lasted eighteen months until he discovers the erotic charge of sexual passion – ‘I was about 16 when I first discovered almost by accident the tempestuous bliss of the orgasm.’ (p. 68)
On 3rd August 1914 he joined the army giving up his place at Cambridge for October of that year. He joined the 9th Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment, in Chichester before we read about his first seduction of a boy named Steve, ‘the boot-boy at the pub, about 14: ugly, unenthusiastic, and not very clean.’ (p. 75) He was given a temporary commission in the 43rd and 52nd Light Infantry, the Oxford and Bucks, his Uncle Colonel Eardley’s Regiment. Following a few weeks leave where he rode to hounds in the New Forest (fox-hunting) on a horse named Emperor, but never saw a fox killed! He was sent to Fort Brockhurst, Gosport for officer training. All his life Michael seems to make loving and strong attachments which over time dissolve – ‘All my life, like a child at a pantomime, I’ve been so agape at the new episode that I’ve forgotten the one before – another trait of adolescence, I suppose; and many fine friendships have withered away through my fault – my fondness hasn’t diminished, but I’ve been too selfishly absorbed to look back, to take the trouble to write or telephone; and then as time goes on that awful sense of guilt shuts finally the door.’ (p. 79) After signing up for the Machine Gun Corps where he had seen a notice saying officers wanted, to be ‘mounted’, he went to Bovington Camp in Dorset. He moved to another wooden camp near the beginning of 1916, aged eighteen, near Belton Park, Grantham, as part of the Somme Offensive preparations, 53rd Company, where he was ‘transport officer’ in charge of eight horses, twenty mules, saddlery, harness and vehicles. After a friend of his got into ‘bother’ he helped and was rewarded with a transfer to the Grenadier Guards; around May 1916 he sailed from Southampton where he’d seen the Titanic sail and alighted in France with romantic notions of the Crusade! The following day reality hit home with the horrors of the trenches and he hated it! He was at the Somme’s Delville Wood before going to another Division as Second in Command, Nieuport between Dunkirk and Ostend. In the winter of 1917 he was at Paschendaele when a shell fragment hit his neck and tore into a nerve which paralysed his right arm and sent to London to a Hospital for Officers, in Vincent Square and to a Convalescent Hospital for Officers at Roehampton. In February 1918 he became twenty-one and received his inheritance which amounted to between one and two thousand pounds which he spent over the next year or so. He returned to the Front early in 1918 and in the summer was posted to the Bucks and Berks Yeomanry, Machine Gun Regiment; he stayed in the army after the war as a Lieutenant in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry and left in 1919 to travel to South Africa on the City of Dunkirk!
In Africa he worked on a farm fighting the scourge of the Tsetse-fly: after a ten day Game Drive he returned to find that the farmer’s wife, Mrs Young had discovered his ‘pornography’ which he had acquired on board the City of Dunkirk during the twenty-four days at sea, and so he left and went to Durban where he seduced a sixteen year old Welsh boy named Mervyn and together they became partners in a pig farm! Travelling to England to request a thousand pounds from his mother’s inheritance he returned to Durban and of course the farm was a disaster and sold at a loss and the money wasted; the relationship fell apart too after they were seen in bed together by a nosey and austere English Major who lived nearby and made unannounced visits. He rode round all the neighbours to report the ‘disgusting things he’d seen.’ (p. 129) Michael then went to Johannesburg and worked for Mrs Ecks who ‘desired him’ doing nothing in particular and she tried to cure him of his obsession for boys by sending him to a psycho-analyst, a cure he had no wish to undergo! In 1922 he returned to England and to Norwich to see his sister Nancy and at the age of twenty-six he was introduced to the sixteen year old poet W H Auden and their poetical relationship grew over the next two years of correspondence. While Michael was living in London’s Gower Street he met Christopher Sclater Millard (and also A J A Symons) and became a regular face in London’s Bohemian Society while working at the Clarendon Press. Then while he was in Berlin he met a fourteen year old boy named Werner (Michael was thirty) who became his new love before he got engaged to a mad, self-destructive female artist named Felicia Browne in 1928! The following year he was working in Geneva with the International Labour Office which he stuck for eighteen months while going back and forth to Berlin to see Werner. He left in 1930 for Zimmerstrasse where he translated a German book into English (the first in a series of six books) ‘Youth in Soviet Russia’.
In the summer of 1932 he was camping at the Uedersee where Werner joined him for weekends to escape the escalation of Nazism and it was in the same year that he joined the German Communist Party. His next young love was Kurt whose stepfather was a Nazi sympathiser who went to the Police and Michael managing to evade the law took a train to Prague and then to London by way of Vienna, Zurich and Basle as the Police and the SA searched for him! In 1935 he married a German woman in St Pancras Town Hall to give her English Nationality and then they parted; the next year he was living in a room in Camden Road where he was followed by detectives and arrested in the company of Bill Jones and charged; he was bailed by his friend Charles Ashleigh and remanded for a week. He pleaded guilty to the offence and was sentenced to four months with hard labour at Wormwood Scrubs from October 1936-February 1937 (a fact which was kept from his mother) which he describes in full in chapter 12. When he left prison he worked as a proof reader living in Kilburn and found himself watched by the police so at the end of 1937 he went to Morocco and here begins his life of travel and reporting on world events! Of course a new love entered his life in the form of a boy about fourteen named Mustapha and they smoked hashish in their joyous rapture until war broke out in 1939! And so Michael went to Tangier (leaving Mustapha) and so began his work in espionage! His first foray was a failed attempt where he dressed as an arab and tried to get back to Mustapha and was arrested and jailed and finally deported and sent to Glasgow via Iceland (eight days at sea) and then to London but before he left he was informed by his brother of his mother’s death! He collected the remainder of his inheritance, a thousand pounds and began work