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Algernon Charles Swinburne: A Study – by Theodore Wratislaw.
Published in 1900 this 212 page volume is a brilliant critical analysis of A. C. Swinburne (1837-1909) the ‘singer of abnormal loves’ and his poetry, by the little known British poet Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933); concerning his poetry he goes into quite some depth and breathes new life into some of his more tired compositions. The author gives us a brief biography of the flame-haired poet, Algernon Charles Swinburne who in facial features resembles a missing-link between Poe (1809-49) and Paderewski (1860-1941), later alighting perhaps upon Charles Dickens (1812-70), was born in London in 1837 and educated at Eton and Balliol (he left Oxford without his degree). At
he became acquainted with D. G. Rossetti, Edward Burne Jones and William Morris
and published his ‘Undergraduate Papers’ in 1858 which consisted of essays on:
‘The Early English Dramatists’ (Marlowe and Fletcher), ‘Church Imperialism’ and
‘The Monomaniac’s Tragedy and Other Poems by Ernest Wheldrake, Author of Eve: A
Mystery. 1858’. In Oxford
he met the poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864) whom he admired immensely.
When he was twenty-three he published ‘The Queen Mother and Rosamund’ (1860),
two plays, the former the Shakespearean influenced play concerning Catherine de
Medici and the latter, a Browning-esque drama in five scenes about the mistress
of Henry II. Italy
Published in 1900 this 212 page volume is a brilliant critical analysis of A. C. Swinburne (1837-1909) the ‘singer of abnormal loves’ and his poetry, by the little known British poet Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933); concerning his poetry he goes into quite some depth and breathes new life into some of his more tired compositions. The author gives us a brief biography of the flame-haired poet, Algernon Charles Swinburne who in facial features resembles a missing-link between Poe (1809-49) and Paderewski (1860-1941), later alighting perhaps upon Charles Dickens (1812-70), was born in London in 1837 and educated at Eton and Balliol (he left Oxford without his degree). At
His next work, ‘Dead Love’ of 1864, is a prose story about a French Lady named Madame Yolande who falls in love with the dead body of a French gentleman! But it is his masterpiece of 1865 which cemented Swinburne’s name in literary history – ‘Atalanta in
a play of perfection in blank verse which soars with lyrical metre: Calydon
‘O fair-faced sun, killing the stars and dews
And dreams and desolation of the night,
Rise up, shine, stretch thine hand out with the bow
Touch the most dimmest height of trembling heaven,
And burn and break the dark about thy ways,
Shot through and through with arrows; let thine hair
Lighten as flame above that flameless shell
Which was the moon, and thine eyes fill the world
And thy lips kindle with swift beams; let earth
Laugh and the long sea fiery from thy feet…’
[Prologue. Atalanta in Calydon.]
Wratislaw swoons like a blushing schoolgirl over ‘Atalanta’ where we find Althaea, thinking of her son Meleager, dying with his ‘loveliest loving lips’ and ‘little lightening eyes’ and well he should for it is a masterful work of art by a highly skilled poet, a poet on everybody’s lips whose dark mystery is born where the ‘hoofed heel of a satyr crushes/ the chestnut-husk at the chestnut-root’. The play is, as Wratislaw rightly says ‘as musical as Shelley, as noble as Sophocles, as pathetic as Shakespeare’. (p. 24) Then, ‘when the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces…’ Wratislaw turns his attention to ‘Chastelard’ (1865), a dramatic poem which he rates highly; ‘Chastelard’ is the first in a trio of Mary Stuart plays, the others being the historic drama in five acts, ‘Bothwell’ (1874) and ‘Mary Stuart’ (1881), but it is with the poet’s magnum opus, his ‘Poems and Ballads’ of 1866 that Wratislaw sings with ecstatic wonder over its originality and its variety of metre combined with its lyric quality and erotic imagery woven in rhythm and rhyme in such poems as: ‘The Triumph of Time’, ‘Dolores’, ‘Laus Veneris’ with its Tanhauser theme, ‘Itylus’, ‘Anactoria’, ‘Hymn to Proserpine’, ‘Ilicet’, ‘Faustine’, ‘The Garden of Proserpine’, ‘Hesperia’ and ‘Felise’. The volume caused praise and scandal in equal measure. Leaving ‘Poems and Ballads’ (which was also published in a second series in 1878 and a third series in 1889) he has good things to say about ‘Songs before Sunrise’ (1871) and ‘Songs of Two Nations’ (1875) before moving on to ‘Erectheus’ a tragedy in Greek imitation of 1876 which he finds ‘intolerable’; neither does he like ‘Studies in Song’ (1880) with its fifty stanzas of sixteen lines each. The long narrative in heroic couplets of ‘Tristram of Lyonesse’ of 1882 comes under his watchful eye and he discredits Tennyson’s ‘objective prejudice’ in his ‘The Last Tournament’ from ‘Idylls of the King’ and Matthew Arnold’s ‘stupid doggerel’ in his ‘Tristram and Iseult’ (1852) and elevates Swinburne’s telling of the lovers tale to the height of Wagner in his musical rendition which some would say is sacrilegious but Swinburne captures the mood of the romance between Tristram and his beloved Queen Iseult of Brittany, their marriage and his death perfectly.
The later works come under the author’s scrutiny such as ‘A Century of Roundels’ (1882) and ‘A Midsummer Holiday’ (1884) which are easily dismissed and he fixes his attention upon ‘Marino Faliero’ of 1885, a quite unremarkable dramatic poem upon which he scatters passionate petals of praise before slumping disparagingly through the poet’s most recent work to date (1900): ‘Locrine’ (1887); a mediocre play titled ‘The Sisters’ (1892), ‘Astrophel’ (1894), ‘The Tale of Balen’ (1896) and finally ‘Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards’ (1899). It can be seen that Swinburne has lost the fiery passion of youth, the erotic inspiration of the likes of Byron and Baudelaire, and withered, faded into a pale version of Browning.
The second half of the volume is concerned with Swinburne’s prose: ‘Notes on Poems and Reviews’ (1866), ‘William Blake’ (1868), ‘Under the Microscope’ (1872) and his excellent ‘Essays and Studies’ of 1875 which is a high watermark in literary criticism. This is followed by ‘George Chapman’ (1875) the Elizabethan dramatist, ‘Notes on Charlotte Bronte’ (1877) and then comes the highly praised ‘A Study of Shakespeare’ (1880), ‘A Study of Victor Hugo’ (1886) whom Swinburne greatly admires – alas Wratislaw does not share the enthusiasm; ‘Miscellanies’ (1886) in which he sings of his admiration for Charles Lamb and attacks Byron, literally demolishing his work and calling into question his quality as a man! But Swinburne is not done yet, in ‘Studies in Prose and Poetry’ (1894) it is Keats, that beautiful boy whom he wields his sword against, mercilessly attacking him for what he sees as his ‘abject unmanliness’.
Swinburne clings to life for another nine years so we do not have the luxury of knowing what Wratislaw would have made of his ‘A Channel Passage and Other Poems’ (1904), ‘The Age of Shakespeare’ (1908) and ‘Shakespeare’ (1909) but we can guess. In the ‘Epilogue’ he says that Swinburne is the ‘greatest living English poet’ and that his early works with their erotic emotion are greater than Tennyson or Browning, or at the very least equal to them but he fails to mention (and who can blame him with the object of his study and his admiration still resisting death) that Swinburne succumbed to alcohol and other excesses which almost destroyed him around 1878 and if it were not for his friend (whom Wratislaw touches upon in the Prologue) Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832-1914) he would have died before his later achievements. In 1879 he moved to the Pines in Putney with Watts-Dunton who weaned him from the drinking and restored his health. It is easy to let personal opinions cloud one’s critical judgement and Swinburne’s enthusiasm for Shakespeare, Victor Hugo and Walter Savage Landor (another notable Wratislaw does not share enthusiasm for) may be a point in case, but who is to say that Wratislaw is not guilty of the same critical errors in his own admiration for Swinburne and his works? Much of Swinburne’s ‘appetites’ it has been suggested were merely a pose adopted to create an air of wild excesses, yet here is something unspeakable about Swinburne of which it is not spoken! But who is this man Wratislaw? Who is this admirer who dares to trample in the temple of decadence? Perhaps a brief outline of the author’s life is in order as many will not have heard of Wratislaw, the elusive ‘decadent’ of the eighteen-nineties ‘fin de siecle’ who was himself greatly influenced by Swinburne in his poetry. Theodore William Graf Wratislaw, (the ‘Graf’ is German for ‘Count’), was born in Rugby, Warwickshire on 21st April 1871 and educated at Rugby School from 1885-88. After leaving school he entered his father’s firm of solicitors; his relationship with his father was always strained. His first volume of self-published poetry ‘Love’s Memorial’ appeared in 1892 together with a second volume ‘Some Verses’, both printings limited to 35 copies. Wratislaw saw himself as a decadent poet and in the early nineties dallied on the fringes of Oxford University’s homosexual aesthetes, known as the Uranians, such as Charles Kains Jackson; and he became friends with Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Symons, Lord Alfred Douglas and the ‘tender soul’, Ernest Dowson. In 1893 he moved to
and published his third collection of poems ‘Caprices’, in a run of 120 copies.
In September of that year he spent a weekend as Oscar Wilde’s guest at
Goring-on-Thames where he probably made little impression upon the great wit
but he did become known amongst certain literary circles and his poems were
published in The Strand magazine and The Yellow Book. In November he passed his
final law exams and briefly returned to Rugby before returning to London in the
autumn. Two years later in 1895 he published ‘The Pity of Love’, a verse play
and in August of that year entered the civil service at the Estates Duty Office
at Somerset House in London which he described in a letter of 1914 as ‘penal
servitude’. In May 1896 his fourth collection of poetry ‘Orchids’ was published
as a limited edition. In 1899 he married a Jewish London opera singer named
Sarah Esther Caroline Harris (born 1875) who contracted tuberculosis and died
in 1901 aged twenty-six. He published his much praised study of Swinburne in
1900 and in April 1908 he married his second wife, Theodora Russell (nee
Bankes, born 1875) which was a disaster and they divorced in 1912. He became
bankrupt in 1914 but fortunes began to turn when he met the wealthy Ada Ross
(born 1878) and they were married in May the following year. They moved to York
Lodge, Walton on Thames in Surrey in 1927 and three years later, after
suffering ill health he retired from the Duty Office, began an unfinished
memoir called ‘Salad Days’ and died on 13th September 1933 following
his last published work, a translation of Francois Villon’s ‘Two Ballades’ (60
Wratislaw, who has been sadly too overlooked as a poet, has written an admirable introduction to Swinburne and his works and I consider his slim literary output as something rather strange and beautiful, not merely because I so happen to share the same birthday as Wratislaw, but because through all the commonplace annoyances of life he adhered to his poetic principles. Like the author, I too was infatuated with Swinburne in my undergraduate days and ‘touched gently’ the gate of the poet at The Pines in Putney where the poet died on 10th April 1909, aged 72; two decades later I ‘hath sat upon the great man’s grave at Bonchurch and inwardly wept and warbled my inadequacies and unworthiness as a fellow poet!’ A marvellous book indeed!
Caprices: Poems – by Theodore Wratislaw.
This slim volume of 44 poems which drips with ‘eighteen-nineties decadence’ was published at the end of 1893 in 120 copies by Gay & Bird. It is Theodore Wratislaw’s third published work after ‘Love’s Memorial’ and ‘Some Verses’ both 1892 and these ‘symbolist’ impressions in verse sing with his favourite themes: the pleasure of music halls and dancing (he was infatuated by dancing girls) – ‘You, fair as heaven and as rainbow bright, /You, queen of song and empress of the dance, /Flower of mine eyes, my love, my heart’s delight!’ (The Music Hall); the transient nature of love: ‘Sweet love, thy heart is red and deep,/O take me in thine arms to sleep/Within this bosom all the night.’ (Song in Spring), and ‘In the crepuscule’s dying gleam/Love’s tears and kisses vainly pass:/Our days have faded like a dream, /And like a dream our nights, alas.’ (The Relic).
But throughout the collection there is the distinctive scent of death, as in this poem ‘Trance’:
‘Ah! Press thy heart to mine and lay
Thy lips upon my lips and heed
No whit the griefs that rose today
Nor those the dawn is sure to lead.’
And the poem continues in darker mood – ‘Swooning deathwards blend/Our spirits in one perfect kill!’
Wratislaw also touches upon his own death in the poem ‘Inscription’ (he is only twenty-two years old) and imagines his body in the ground, as a stranger passes; his lifeless shell sleeping amongst the ‘silent dead’ beneath ‘withered flowers and faded ivy wreath,’ – beautiful.
Like Dowson’s remarkable works there lingers a dark melancholy which permeates the collection and seems to cloud the poems in a sad and wistful mist that shall ‘weep for pleasures dead too soon,’ (Odour) as in the poem ‘Le Piano Que Baise’ where the poet asks: ‘What is this sudden lull so quickly born/That slowly sways my poor heart to despair?’
Many of the poems recall the sea and flowers which he uses to good effect but it is the overwhelming sense of desire and inner longing which remains un-satiated: ‘O flower of flesh, O beauty rare,/Yield up thy pagan grace to me!’ (In Summer) and when it is satiated he wearies ‘of the heat of hell, /The perfumed palace of thy love;’ (Satiety).
The mention of ‘perfume’ evokes the two poems ‘Opoponax’ and ‘Frangipani’ named after perfumes, something the decadents, with their love of the ‘artificial’, especially Oscar Wilde, held in high importance – Wratislaw was Wilde’s guest for a weekend in September 1893 at The Cottage, Goring-on-Thames which he rented from June to October of that year; Wilde’s family and Lord Alfred Douglas (‘Bosie’) stayed there (Bosie worked on a translation of Wilde’s ‘Salome’): ‘Oscar proposed to spend the morning on the river and later on joined me, clearly spraying himself with a scent which filled the room. I inquired its name. “It is white lilac.” he said. “A most insidious and delightful perfume.” [Oscar Wilde: A Memoir. Theodore Wratislaw (John Betjeman and Karl Beckson).
. Eighteen Nineties Society. 1979] London
Wratislaw, who is not homosexual – ‘God is with me, God who for my right/Of old took arms against the sodomite!’ (L’Eternal Feminin) is probably most well-known for his uranian poem ‘To a Sicilian Boy’ which captures perfectly the atmosphere of the fin de siecle’s sexual ambivalence and predilection towards taboo subjects:
‘Love, I adore the contours of thy shape,
Thine exquisite breasts and arms adorable;
The wonders of thine heavenly throat compel
Such fire to love as even my dreams escape:
I love thee as the sea-foam loves the cape,
Or as the shore the sea’s enchanting spell:
In sweets the blossoms of thy mouth excel
The tenderest bloom of peach and purple grape.
I love thee, sweet! Kiss me again, again!
Thy kisses soothe me, as tired earth the rain;
Between thine arms I find mine only bliss;
Ah let me in thy bosom still enjoy
Oblivion of the past, divinest boy,
And the dull ennui of a woman’s kiss!
Wratislaw has so often been classed as a uranian poet on the basis of this one poem when really he was on the circumference of the Oxford poets and although in some ways these poems fail to strike the perfect chord (some readers may even find him dull) I find these simple and in many cases short verse rather enchanting!
Eros’ Throne – by George Ives.
This little book of poems published in 1900 by George Cecil Ives (1867-1950) contains forty poems over ninety-five pages, some of which are quite good. Ives, a campaigner for penal reform as well as a poet, manages to capture, intentionally or unintentionally, an odour of confinement amongst his verse (mostly written between 1898 and 1899), many of which are love songs – ‘The fairy span of heavens bow,/ Valhalla’s bridge to Spirit-land,/Shines while the cloister-arch lies low/And rock-piled cities are but sand;’ (‘A Recollection’). Amongst the sense of claustrophobia comes a quite moving piece entitled ‘An Eton Boy’ which deifies a ‘widow’s only son; crushed by a train when returning to school.’ A boy with ‘fifteen summers’ work so well/ To break the mould of the spirit ere clay was hard.’ A boy whose unstained soul death came and ‘snatched the agile form, untimely in earth laid.’ Unfortunately I found that many of his so called ‘love poems’ failed to attain any level of conviction: ‘So true love lifts the weight of all the world/ In scorn of gravity and man’s restraint,/And casting up the many-towered hill/He bids it circle as a satellite.’ (‘Mark how the Sea’) or this from the end of ‘My Soul’ which almost becomes a religious experience, or would have been in a greater poet’s hands: ‘And blessed and cursed are those who feel/Condemned to greatness, thus, to pain,/Where Nature makes its mute appeal,/And stars give not their light in vain.’ Other poems reek with a sense of darkness (or just a little shade) such as ‘For the Funeral’, ‘The Plague’ and the delightful ‘The Autumn Bud’ and ‘In Camera’ and this revelatory stanza from ‘Shrine of Huitzilopochtli’: ‘Man hath a soul, they say, and yet no beast/Hath dug down to the depth of his disgrace/To offer up the font of human love/Before the nightmare spectre of his brain.’ Perhaps the greatest work in the volume is ‘Eros’ Throne: The Ascent of Life and Love’, an ambitious piece in nineteen parts which goes from ‘Boyhood’, ‘Girlhood’, ‘Divergence’, ‘Will’, ‘Emotion’ and ‘Beauty’ etc. The first section, ‘Boyhood’ contains these rather good lines: ‘Under all the sun’s vast vision/ He is the most lovely.’ and ‘Sappho sang in vain to Phaon, /Venus mourned her sylvan boy, /And another than Briseis/Steeped in blood the plains of Troy.’ Not a bad collection but I thought much of it fell short of the mark and there was that overwhelming smell of the prison which lingered and spoilt my enjoyment, but on the whole no too bad!
The Magic of My Youth – by Arthur Calder-Marshall.
Published in 1951 by the novelist and critic Arthur Calder-Marshall (1908-1992), ‘The Magic of My Youth’ is a beautifully written autobiography which moves serpent-wise through the threads of the author’s past, gently alighting upon distant visions and occurrences, but mostly the book recounts his fascination with magical and spiritual themes and his acquaintance with ‘Vickybird’ (Victor Neuburg, the poet and disciple of occultist Aleister Crowley) – ‘having spent the first fifteen years of my life in ignorance of Crowley’s existence, I became aware of him from four separate sources in the course of six months: from a Sunday newspaper, from my brother at Oxford; from a vision of the Tiger Woman, Betty May, in full Bacchanal at a Bloomsbury Hotel and, most remarkable of all, from the Steyning Poet.’ [Neuburg] (The Poet and the See-er: The Illusionist of Islington. p.19.) Calder-Marshall summons up the way in which magic (or magick as it is rightly spelt) seems to occur naturally, as if events are subtly manipulated so that the desired intention is brought to pass, almost unobserved; this is described perfectly in the tale told by Tom Driberg concerning ‘Cosmo the Great Illusionist’ in the opening chapter, the Prelude. The author evokes a picturesque vision of Steyning in the 1920’s and of the poet, Neuburg, who ‘each morning’ would ‘emerge from Vine Cottage with a string bag and an obese white bitch and make for the High Street.’ (p.23) Vickybird really comes to life through Calder-Marshall’s tender descriptive touches: ‘He carried an ash stick, and he was always dressed in a Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, with stockings which rode in rucks around his spindly legs, and shoes so old that the leather was cracked.’ With his ‘thin venous hands’ and a ‘head which, by nature disproportionately large for his body, was magnified by dark Medusa locks which rose from his scalp and tumbled curling down his forehead.’ The bedraggled poet with his razor cuts and threadbare clothing must have been quite a sight in quaint old-fashioned Steyning!Young Arthur and his brother Robert, four years his senior, made friends with the odd poet as children and later when Robert went to Oxford Arthur learnt all sorts of tales handed down from ‘Bobby’ concerning the adventures of the harmless and amusingly eccentric poet, Victor Neuburg and his relationship with notorious magician Aleister Crowley – “In the first decade of the century, it appears that he went into the middle of the Sahara with Aleister Crowley and, drawing a circle in the sand, they summoned up the Devil.” (p.31) As in all books which reference the Beast Crowley the usual sensational diabolic nonsense surfaces because as humans we naturally gravitate towards the exaggerated truth spiced with a little ‘invented myths’ which is after all more interesting than the mundane. Neuburg corrects Arthur on their meeting, saying “in the first place, we did not go into the middle of the
There are some fascinating reminiscences of Arthur aged fifteen living in Bloomsbury when his brother was at Oxford, of seeing the ‘Epstein model’ Betty May, the Tiger Woman, which leads us naturally into Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu and the young St John’s College, Oxford poet who married Betty May: Raoul Loveday (1900-1923) whose ‘poetry was as wildly romantic as his love-making. He admired immensely decadents like Dowson and Lionel Johnson who hid the pretty in grandiloquence, bridging the gulf between reality and splendour with alcohol. He drank whisky by the toothglass.’ (p. 111) A man who, Calder-Marshall tells us was ‘more than half in love with death.’ (p.113)
At Oxford Arthur performs a ‘Black Mattins’ in his college rooms and rumour of the Black Mass swept through the colleges and an hour after it was performed he was sent for by the Dean and asked if a Black Mass took place and if he had ‘the Consecrated Host and a defrocked priest.’ Actually it was a harmless ‘Esbath’ celebration, but he was almost sent down for it! He became Secretary of the Oxford Poetry Society and he invited Neuburg to give a talk which he at first declined but accepted on the promise of a suit from Arthur to wear for the occasion. He was originally to lecture on Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ but decided upon ‘Poetry and Poesy, or the Making, Mating and Matching of the Word’, spending two months in preparation for it; the lecture was terrible but Neuburg felt invigorated by it and deemed it a wonderful success! Arthur tells Vickybird that he intends to invite
“And then,” said Vickybird, “instead of declaring that the
Towards the end of the book Arthur writes his first rejected novel having taken three months to create it and he takes a six weeks teaching job as Senior Classics Master at Bogglesham Grammar School. In the Epilogue, ‘The Ship Comes In’, there is a delightful re-acquaintance between Arthur and Vickybird in
‘The Magic of My Youth’ has been a wonderful experience and Calder-Marshall practices no pretence and indeed it shall be a book I will turn to again. Being a great admirer of Crowley it is nice to get this different perspective of him from one who met him; a picture which does not place the great magician centre stage but like a prowling tiger around the circumference and of course anything on Neuburg is a delightful revelation as there is not enough on this gentle magician-poet. The author keeps the narrative light and introduces some wonderful moments of humour throughout the 226 pages. This really is an immaculate little book (my copy has acquired a ‘loving energy’ from sensitive hands and a delicate aged aroma familiar to all book lovers!) Excellent!
Wild Apples – by Jeanne Robert Foster.
One of the most striking poems which opens the book is ‘When I am Dead’ in which the author asks – ‘Do I wish my name to be a Master-Word, /Whispered whenever the awe and terror of power is stirred.’ And she answers: ‘No, none of this, - /Neither beauty nor power, - for the groping hands of men/Will scatter my dust from its quiet place, and re-create me again.’
There are some very accomplished poems such as the worthy memorial poem to the poet Robert Lamier: ‘So brief his flight, so short his nesting time/Hardly within him had ripe genius moved;’ – there is the essence of Yeats (in fact she dedicates the poems to the poet’s brother, the artist J. B. Yeats R.H.A. 1871-1957) and her poem ‘W. B. Yeats – Reading’ has some magically inspired lines which conjure the great Irish bard, who ‘rose/in the lamp’s flare, grave as the dark waters;/forgetful of each face, sense winged beyond/The preen of curios eyes and whispered praise.’ She describes his voice ‘murmuring of Dooney and of Innisfree’, who made a dream ‘Not of thyself, but of the Mystic Rose/Thou singest, and the Vessel of the Grail.’ Other Yeatsian poems in the collection such as: ‘The Fairy Woman’, ‘Riders to the Sea’, ‘Songs of Bally Shannon’, ‘The Emigrant’ and ‘The Stranger in the Glen’ all have a sense of the other world beyond the veil where there is ‘drooping numbness with narcotic calm.’ (‘Moonrise’)
The author has a light touch too as can be seen in the frail poem ‘Moth Flowers’:
The pale mothTrembles in the white moonlight;
Thus my heart trembles with love!
The rose petals fall –The red petals of my heart;
On, the breath of love!
Cool, sweet tearsOf honey, the jasmine weeps;
Burning fall the tears of love.
Oh, how bitterIs the White Poppy, Death;
There are no more dreams of love.
In another poem she compares herself to a ‘Wayside Flower’ that ‘loves and lives/and all itself to love so freely gives,’ a flower that ‘droops and dies,’ yet ‘bravely dying knows not pain/If only memory of its grace remain.’ Many poems also show a desire for motherhood (alas she was infertile) and she weaves a delicate thread of magic such as in ‘The Eternal Triangle’:
'Do not speak –Twilight burns on the hills; exorcise now
Those phantoms of old loves; death comes apace
And Spring no more will rim the barren bough.
Here swings the censer; here the incense burns;
Here the Eternal Athanor of Power,
Body supreme, transmuter of our dross –
The Rose Alchemical – the Magic Flower.’
It will come as no surprise that a year previous to the publication of ‘Wild Apples’ the author was in a relationship with the occultist Aleister Crowley whom she met on 10 June 1915; she took the magical name ‘Hilarion’ and was also known by Crowley as the ‘Cat’ because of her feline nature and physical appearance. Aficionados of Crowley will know that she is the magical mother of Frater Achad (Charles Stansfeld Jones 1886-1950) who crossed the magical Abyss at the Autumn Equinox of 1915 to become a Master of the Temple; the spiritual ‘child’ prophesied in Liber Al vel Legis, but that is another matter and it should not influence the poems.Throughout the book the author, the possessor of extreme feminine beauty, clings to her mystical beliefs in a spiritual loneliness and longing for God: ‘The bosom of God/From whence I came, /To which I have been eternally returning.’ (‘Refuge’) She is also a competent writer of sonnets and one also finds the influence of Poe where lingers an odour of the grave: ‘I would the seeping graveyard rain/Could wake thee into life again, /And while in hell I burn thou couldst/In some red rose forget thy pain.’ (‘The Soul’s Farewell’) These poems may not be to everyone’s liking (let’s face it, there are some pretty awful ones too) but there is a mood which pervades the book and that mood is for change, a spiritual transformation or enlightenment and a physical longing for love and God – “Zariel: ‘Old worlds spin down to vapour in the void/And new worlds rise, but Law remains unchanged.’” (‘Orifiel’) Quite lovely!
Witchcraft: It’s Power in the World To-Day – by William Seabrook.
In part III – ‘Our Modern Cagliostros’ he mentions three ‘white magicians’ in the world today, who have real power, two of whom he came to know: I. George Gurdjieff (1866-1949), who seemed to have power over his acolytes to cause them to perform unbelievable feats of acrobatic skills and physical endurance; II. Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), the founder of the Great White Brotherhood whom he met through Frank Harris in 1917 in New York, and III. Pierre Arnold Bernard (1875-1955), a yogi known as the ‘Great Oom’ and founder of a ‘love cult’ whom Seabrook did not meet and has little to say about. Interestingly he gives examples of his meetings with Crowley, whom he describes as ‘a strange, disturbing fellow, with a heavy pontifical manner mixed with a good deal of sly, monkey-like, and occasionally malicious humour. He wore an enormous star sapphire on the forefinger of his right hand, and had his head shaved’ (p. 173) He goes on to give details about Crowley’s ‘Magical Retirement’ for forty days and nights, travelling up the Hudson River in a canoe with his tent to Esopus Island:
‘The provisions looked suspicious and since we’d paid for them we decided to inspect them. They consisted of fifty gallons of red paint, three big house-painter’s brushes, and a heavy coil of rope. We investigated further. He hadn’t bought so much as a tin of beans or a loaf of bread. He’s blown every cent for the red paint. He had nothing in his pockets except the ticket for the trip up the river.
“What are you going to eat, for crying out loud?” we asked, and he replied, in his heaviest pontifical manner:
“My children, I am going to
‘all summer excursionists going up and down the river saw painted on the cliffs south of Kingston two enormous legends:
Every Man and Woman is a Star!
Do What Thou Wilt shall be the Whole of the Law.’ Seabrook adds that he had ‘rigged himself a sling, and painted, we were told, from sunrise to sundown. Thereafter he had sat cross-legged on the ground in front of his tent.’ (p. 176) After Crowley returned to
As we neared the end of the block A.C., in taking a step forward, let both knees buckle suddenly under him, so that he dropped, caught himself on his haunches, and was immediately erect again, strolling.
The man in front of us fell as if his legs had been shot out from under him – and was sprawling.’ (p. 177) He also mentions Jane Wolfe’s (although he does not name her) experiences at
The Amazon of Letters: The Life and Loves of Natalie Barney – by George Wickes.
After her father’s death in 1902
Part II ‘Epilogue’ is a series of interviews by the author, George Wickes, two with Natalie in 1971, the year before she died, and several with Berthe Cleyrergue, Natalie’s servant since 1927; Janine Lahovary, friends, Jean Chalon, Francois Chapon and the American student Cheryl Hughes. The delightful reminiscences continue in part III from Eyre de Lanux, Virgil Thomson, Bettina Bergery, Truman Capote and Janet Flanner.
Wickes has produced a mesmerising journey through the Paris of the fin-de-siecle and beyond and a picture of the pagan, Hellenistic culture at the centre of that world and of the creative and intellectual salons unfolds and amidst the perfume and the philosophy and the talks on books is a charming, hedonistic lover of women who made a lasting impression in the minds and hearts of all those who came to know and love her – a witty and fascinating read!
Tiger Woman: My Story – by Betty May.
Betty May has led an exhausting and adventurous life and she was only 36 when ‘Tiger Woman’ was published in 1929. Throughout the eight chapters of the book we find a headstrong, earthy and quite child-like personality, almost a victim of her own fate who intrudes upon one improbable moment to the next; she could not help but become a figure of hedonistic notoriety – ‘I have never tried to be ordinary and fit in with other people. I have not cared what the world thought about me, and as a result I am afraid what I thought has often not been very kind.’ (Introduction) Betty and her three siblings were raised in squalor and misery inShe gets engaged to a man named Arthur and the next day gets engaged to marry Dick and lives with his parents in a village Rectory for three months, utterly bored – she escapes and returns to London and on seeing Arthur she agrees to marry him in a week’s time. The night preceding the eve of the wedding she is at the Café Royal where she meet her friend ‘Bunny’ who declares his love for her – they get married on the same day she was to marry Arthur! They honeymoon in Scotland and she finds Bunny is a cocaine addict and Betty succumbs to the drug also – they are thrown out of the hotel and back in London live at the home of Stewart Gray, the man behind the ‘back to the land’ movement. At the outbreak of war Bunny joins up and when he goes to France in December 1914 she is bored in Richmond, working at a hairdresser’s and a tobacconists; she fears she has contracted leprosy (from one of the hair nets manufactured in China) and she and Bunny agree to divorce (as it turns out Bunny dutifully dies in battle) and Betty escalates into a world of dope and drink and even becomes psychotic and suicidal. Before Bunny’s death she had met an Australian Major who fell for Betty and they get married and he attempts to help her get off the drugs and alcohol. While she is living in
London , but because of her misbehaviour she
was sent to live with her cruel and drunken father (he had a penchant for
bashing cats’ brains out against walls) who lived in a brothel with a Jewish
woman named Sarah. The father showed no sign of love towards Betty and was
eventually arrested (by his own father who was a Police man) for living off
immoral earnings and given two years in prison and Betty went to live first
with an Aunt on a barge and later with an Aunt on a farm in Tidal Bay . Following a sexual encounter with an
older man, a Master of the local Grammar School she was sent out into the world
and naturally drifted towards Somerset .
She wasn’t long in London when her beautiful yet wild looks began to attract
attention and when she failed to submit to the abuse, assaults, bribes and
threats of a man who proclaimed to love her, he took her by taxi to a club in
Leicester Square and pushed her down the stairs – it was her first glimpse of
the smoky underworld of London’s nightlife with its dancing and jazz music and
she became intoxicated by it. She began to frequent clubs such as the Endell
Street Club and the Café Royal where artists such as Jacob Epstein, Augustus
John and the art critic Roger Fry hung-out and held court amongst the bohemians
like Nina Hamnett and the artist’s models. Suddenly, Betty goes to Bordeaux on
a whim (all her adventures seem to be on a whim) with a man she later finds out
to be a ‘white slaver’ and she manages to escape his clutches; homeless and
hungry, she finds work dancing at a Café before being abducted by a street gang
leader known as ‘White Panther’ and taken to Paris where she becomes a member
of his gang and she is referred to as ‘Tiger Woman’. One of her more shocking
and shameful episodes concerns Betty leading a young English undergraduate on
and taking him to the gang’s headquarters where he is robbed and dumped outside
Paris; the young man informs the police who raid the HQ (the gang had prior
notice and fled). Betty is blamed and given an ultimatum: bring back the man or
suffer the consequences (in other words they would kill her) so she hunts the
man and finds him and lures him to the gangs new HQ and she is forced to brand
the young man with a hot knife on his breast before he is again dumped in
Monmartre. Again he goes to the police, the HQ is raided and gang members are
taken into custody – Betty returns to London and her adventures make her
the toast of the Endell Street Club and the Café Royal crowd. England
She gets noticed by the sculptor Jacob Epstein who makes the bust of her known as the ‘Savage’ which brings her minor celebrity (and artistic immortality) until she met a brilliant, young Oxford undergraduate in 1922 named Raoul Loveday; within a month they were married. Raoul, who had secured a First in History at St John’s College, Oxford was interested in Egyptology and the occult and he soon became acquainted with the notorious Aleister Crowley who asked him to join him at his Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu, Sicily; Betty is fearful but afraid of losing Raoul to the magician decides to go with her husband and they both travel to the Abbey in November 1922. She describes life at the Abbey (if you are fond of cats look away!) as she fights the hold Crowley (whom she does not name but refers to throughout as the ‘Mystic’) seems to have over the young Raoul and we are escorted through the events which lead up to poor Raoul’s death just three months after arriving from drinking unclean spring water. Back in
Throughout the book Betty leaps from one wild adventure to the next, willing to settle down with first this man and then that man, but it was inevitable that she would fail at marriage, even the most ardent lover would find it difficult to cage a tiger. The absence of a father-figure in childhood seems to me the single point which continually propels her into marriage and into a Freudian un-satisfaction of being dominated and conforming to what is expected and acceptable. She walks blindly into matrimony just as she walks blindly into the excesses of London’s ‘bright, young people’, obliterating the memory of war’s devastation, and in this she is in many ways, a modern woman, quite fearless and determined, easily prone to boredom and fierce when needs to be. She does not look for sympathy; she places her story down for the world to gawp at and merely says accept it for it is who I am! Much of her tale concerning the Abbey differs to Crowley’s version of events in his ‘Confessions’ – Crowley was not always wholly reliable and prone to exaggerate while I think Betty does tell the simple truth, if perhaps a little clouded by time as she never mentions keeping a journal which would have been of vital importance for the sake of historical accuracy, nevertheless, ‘Tiger Woman’ is the account of someone who did not fall for Crowley’s magical personality and someone who breezed through life at the cruel hand of fate and accepted it, good or bad! An astounding story and an extraordinary life indeed!
Gerard Manley Hopkins – by G F Lahey.
Published in 1930 (I read the 1969 edition) this fascinating little book of a mere 172 pages does credit to the author who obviously has a strong appreciation for Hopkins and his work and he shows us a precocious, delicately honest and sensitive child who is aware of ‘moral disorder and physical ugliness’; he brings the young Hopkins into the light and exposes his youthful character which is not the serious, brooding aesthete one assumes but a playful and stubborn adolescent absorbed in the world around him; the world of nature and the frailties of humanity – at school he observed that everyone drank too much liquid so he decided to abstain from drinking all liquid for a week; the result of course was that he collapsed but his determination and his will to endure proved almost beyond human physicality; he did the same with less drastic results with salt! Acts of such self-denial would become a common theme throughout his life. The young Gerard was a dreamer and a lover of poetry, a ‘fairy child in the midst of a commonplace, workaday world.’ During the Christmas term of 1863 he went up to Balliol College, Oxford where he studied under Jowett, Riddell and Pater, becoming a disciple of Pusey and Liddon, and he made some of his great friendships here such as his cousin and fellow poet Robert Bridges (later Poet Laureate), Digby Mackworth Dolben and William Addis. Dolben of course is an interesting personality in himself; a young man who had a ‘mind no less penetrating than his friend’s [Hopkins] and a soul equally sensitive to the seductive glow of nature and of art!’ Lahey says that his ‘personality was intense and affectionate, but buoyant and romantic.’ (p. 27) Like Hopkins, Dolben became a Puseyite and under the name of Brother Dominic he joined the Third Order of St. Benedict organised by Rev. Joseph Leycester Lyne. ‘I have written letters without end’ [to Dolben] Gerard reports to Bridges, ‘without a whiff of answer.’ (p. 28) These are of course the celebrated ‘dead letters’ to ‘dearest him’ and the same sense of romance permeated Hopkins’ chivalrous desire for Dolben as Dolben’s attachment to a boy at school whom he wrote love poems to. One would have to be unbelievably naive to assume thatDolben’s eccentricities were well known such as his liking for dressing as a monk – ‘Walford believed that Dolben had been mobbed in
was not overcome by terrible erotic
thoughts for Dolben and would have wanted a deeper intimacy between them and it
is probably correct to say that he was warned against such a relationship, a
relationship which must remain by correspondence only if he desired to walk a
spiritual path. Intense friendships were forged in the all-male society of
public schools and colleges – if you have taken the trouble (as I have done) to
wade through that fairly innocuous curio published in two volumes in 1881 which
tells of the adventures of Jack Saul or the recollections of a Mary-Ann, under
the unassuming title ‘Sins of the Cities of the Plain’ (‘milking a cow will
never seem the same again!’) you will realise that homosexual practises did not
begin and end with the Ancient Greeks! But too much importance is placed upon Hopkins ’ sexuality or
lack of it and his work should stand for itself as poetic masterpieces. Hopkins
In the third chapter ‘Hopkins and Newman’ we are presented with the correspondence between them and the meetings which took place and the four letters from H P Liddon to Hopkins dated 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th October 1866 imploring Hopkins not to be hasty in his decision to be confirmed into the Catholic Church – Hopkins was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Newman in Birmingham on 21st October 1866. We get a sense of Hopkins the man through his friendship and correspondence with the poet Coventry Patmore who greatly appreciated Hopkins’ mental criticisms of his poetical works, even to the point that he tossed his manuscript of ten years work called ‘Sponsa Dei’ into the flames on Christmas Day 1887 after Hopkins’ critical comment that to publish it would be ‘telling secrets’. (p. 66) The author takes an in-depth look at
The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon, edited with Notes and an Introduction – by Claude Colleer Abbott.
Published in 1935 (I read the 1955 second impression) these letters which begin with Hopkins’ first introductory letter to Dixon dated 4th June 1878 from Stonyhurst College, Blackburn in which there is high praise for the older poet and many kind words of admiration and so begins a firm friendship between these two crusty, literary men of God; in fact, an honourable trust is established and Dixon values Hopkins’ critical judgements of his poems greatly and both are gracious towards each other as throughout the charming correspondence which throws up subjects on poetic form such as Hopkins’ notion of ‘Sprung Rhythm’ the sonnet and poetic metres (something he goes into great detail about); Keats, Tennyson, Milton, Carlyle and Wordsworth all get their glory – there are some interesting views of fame too, not to mention poem recommendations. They managed to meet once after several attempts which their heavy workloads prevented and Hopkins’ calls Dixon ‘shy’ in the letter following their meeting which really brought the old Canon to life. It is true to say that Dixon was the first to really recognise Hopkins’ ‘terrible pathos’ and great poetic ability; he even attempted to have Hopkins’ poem ‘The Loss of the Eurydice’ published in a Carlisle newspaper which provoked the younger poet to protest against it, resolved to the renunciation and sanctity of his ecclesiastical work under the discipline and self-surrender of St Ignatius. There are a few holes in the tapestry as some letters are missing which should have been preserved but nevertheless, what remains gives a telling picture of two deeply religious, thoughtful and literary-minded men – Dixon’s last letter is dated 7th July 1887 from Northumberland and Hopkins’ 29th July 1888 from University College, Dublin – Hopkins died on 8th June the following year aged 44. The Appendix contains ‘A Prayer’ by
An Experiment with Time – by J. W. Dunne.
The British philosopher, soldier and aeronautical engineer, John William Dunne (1875-1949) published his astounding theories on the nature of time and consciousness which he termed ‘serialism’: ‘An Experiment with Time’ in 1927 (I read the 1934 3rd edition) to a welcome audience already becoming familiar with Einstein’s Relativity and the concept of quantum mechanics. Dunne became curious about ‘time’ as a young boy and endeavoured to explain an adequate theory to determine whether time or the chronological order of things (past, present and future) can be viewed as in pre-cognitive dreaming to perceive future events. His first ‘episode’ of pre-cognitive dreaming, or ‘clairvoyance’ occurred in 1898 when at his hotel inHe draws on the conceptual theories of the British mathematician Charles Howard Hinton (1853-1907), British Astronomer, Professor Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) and the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and concludes that Time has many levels, a multi-dimensional theory of Time in which the time-line of the observer and a higher time-line of the observer’s ‘conscious mind’ which experiences Time, or the movement of Time, co-exist, in fact, infinite dimensions relative to various perceptual states occur. ‘The Time dimension, for any given observer, is simply the dimension in which his own world-line happens to extend through the four-dimensional continuum.’ (p. 147) The theory illustrates the notion of death in which the physical body is separated from the first dimensional level of Time but the ‘consciousness’ remains on a higher, second dimensional level, which is an interesting theory but it does not explain the perception of future events fully and essentially the concept is flawed. He outlines his theory admirably in part four ‘Temporal Endurance and Temporal Flow’ and makes a clear definition of ‘Serial Time’ but time has shown in modern philosophical studies that the multi-dimensional theory of Time is incorrect. Dunne published four more works along similar lines: ‘The Serial Universe’ (1934), ‘The New Immortality’ (1938), ‘Nothing Dies’ (1940) and ‘Intrusions’ (1955).
he dreamt that his watch had stopped at and on waking he found his watch had stopped at precisely 4.30
a.m. having re-wound his watch he returned to sleep and on waking found that
his watch had only lost a few minutes so it was logical to assume that he woke
at 4.30 a.m. having had the dream impression at the same time and the few
minutes lost were due to his winding of the watch. Dunne then began keeping
detailed records of his dreams which he found contained images of previous and
future events in his life to ascertain whether there existed a displacement of
time in the fourth dimension, whereby minor events can be observed. His early
hypothesis demonstrates that the state of being ‘awake’ in reality caused a
mental barrier to all knowledge of the future which led him to the supposition
– ‘what was the barrier which, in certain circumstances, debarred him from the
proper and comprehensive view?’ (p. 69) Several experiments with others
discounted the theory that temporal experiences or pre-cognitive phenomena was
a supernormal faculty and that it was a ‘normal characteristic of man’s general
relation to Time.’ (p. 91) He also records ‘waking experiments’ which also
proved fruitful. Sussex
I have unfortunately not read much on modern theories of the subject as yet but my own opinion is that any theory should take into account spatial-gravitational influence, human biological ‘sentient’ awareness (with the small and limited range of sensual stimuli inherent) and species-specific perception (temporal 'presence') to determine the nature of Time; of course other factors shall yield new information and paths of investigation but as to ‘seeing the future’ and even the concept of Time-travel, which I believe is a genuine future possibility of mankind, but that of course is a whole new paradox and only Time will tell! A compelling case indeed!
Poems and Songs – by Richard Middleton.
Like so many things I stumbled upon the name Richard Middleton accidentally. I had never heard of the name of Richard Middleton (1882-1911) until I came across him while reading a book of uranian verse, ‘Men and Boys: An Anthology’ edited by Edward Slocum and published in 1924 in which was reproduced his poem ‘The Bathing Boy’ which Frank Harris called ‘finer than Herrick, nearly as beautiful, indeed, as The Grecian Urn,’ well not quite, but it is particularly lovely: ‘And so I wept; I have seen lovely things,/ Maidens and stars and roses all a-nod/ In moonlit seas, but Love without his wings/ Set in the azure of an August sky,/ Was all too far for my mortality,/ And so I wept to see the little god.’ and something about him reached out to me and so I began another voyage of discovery! Richard Barham Middleton was born in Middlesex in 1882 and he worked as a bank clerk from 1901-07, a position which he detested; at night he moved in Bohemian circles. ‘Poems and Songs’ (1912) is the only collection of his published poetry (published posthumously) which is an accumulation of his work from various magazines such as The English Review, and it has an Introduction by his friend, Henry Savage. The volume, which he dedicates to another friend Frank Harris (I read the second impression, also 1912), contains seventy-five poems which have a richly haunting, melancholic sense about them which remains long after the poem’s initial reading, (there are some fantastic lines also which stand alone): ‘We are but moments in the tide of love, / Yet are we one with love’s eternity.’ (‘To H. S.’) and in ‘Lament for Lilian’ we find: ‘The yearning of the morning for the night, / The timeless passion of the hemispheres.’ And again later in the same poem: ‘A human blossom glad for human eyes/ Made pagan by a child’s serenity.’ – truly beautiful poetry! His verse chimes with musical tones that lifts the heart and speaks of despair – ‘And when in dreams my lips repose on hers/ Kissing the pretty words that nestle there, / Her sweetness numbs my aching brain and stirs/ Like a dim sound of her, the dream-hushed air,’ (One More Song’). Middleton, like some large and bearded pirate had a child-like enthusiasm and he evokes a lost pagan energy of childhood as here in ‘Chant-Pagan’: ‘No son of man shall fear you, / No woman shall come near you, / Your lips may cry from your riven sky, / And the lovers shall not hear you.’ And again in ‘On a Dead Child’: ‘A little rose among the little roses, / And no more dead than they,’ Many of his poems have inspired imagined dedications to girls such as ‘To Dorothy’, Marjorie, Marguerite and Diana etc. and he fantasised about a young and beautiful image of the ideal girl, a maiden pure of heart and he inwardly raged towards his passionate ideal: ‘The love that made you mine shall bear/ Harsh fruit before the end of this, / For in the darkness you shall hear/ An echo that is none of his, / And you will droop with sudden fear/ Beneath his fond, adulterous kiss.’ (‘Epithalamium’). His poems, which are mostly love poems often echo the bitter longing and romantic wistfulness one finds in Housman, but there is no English stoicism here as he opens his heart like some morbid Browning. In ‘To C. M.’ which begins ‘Dear dreamer, with the wonderful wide eyes, /You are not mine to love,’ there is the realisation that he cannot attain the love he desires, and in the next stanza we find ‘I know I am as nothing in your place/ Of sombre love and strange, magnificent flowers, / But I have loosed your hair about my face/ To witch my midnight hours;’ what a wonderful line that is – ‘To witch my midnight hours’, and it ends: ‘There is a bitterness in love for me, /For every kiss shall burn my flesh with fire, / I am a prince of thwarted ecstasy, / Of unasuaged desire. / Yet would I know your new-bewitched skies, / Dear dreamer, and your passionate, wide eyes.’ From such devotional verse we know that Middleton drew inspiration from the young girls he knew (it seems he had more in common with Frank Harris than their editorial work for Vanity Fair) such as Lilian, Christine and Irene where he is ‘grieving in the graveyards of the moon’ (‘Irene’). That Middleton had an obsession with death there is no doubt and we find it in lines such as ‘Come, Death, and free me from these earthly walls/ That heaven may hold our final festivals/ The white stars trembling under!’ from ‘Love’s Mortality’ and again in ‘To Melisande’ – ‘Let down your hair, let down your hair, / I’ll make my shroud of it.’. Other poems of note are: ‘The Ballad of the Bacchanals’, ‘New Love’, ‘On a Dead Youth’, ‘Pagan Epitaph’, the Elizabethanesque ‘Any Lover, Any Lass’, ‘The Silent Lover’, and the passionate ‘After Love’. There are echoes of Poe in ‘The Dream’ with its lips, - ‘cold as stone’ – ‘Nightlong I heard the passing-bell/ And knew the mourner’s smart.’…’All night your icy kisses fell/ Upon my grieving heart.’
Middleton’s inner turmoil is revealed in the poem ‘The Ascetic’s love Song’: ‘She doth not call me old, in her embrace/ My body is made lovely, intricate/ With throbbing veins and nerves that interlace/ My bones with threads of fire; more passionate.’
It will come as no surprise that Middleton, a melancholic depressive who will be mostly remembered for his collection of supernatural tales ‘The Ghost Ship and Other Stories’ (1912) took his own life at the age of 29 in Brussels on 1st December 1911, and ‘Poems and Songs’ is an enchanting volume of splendid poems by a very gifted yet tortured poet!
Richard Middleton: The Man and His Work – by Henry Savage.
Throughout the twelve chapters of this delightful book published in 1922 there is a sense of real friendship by the author, Henry Savage for his friend the poet Richard Barham Middleton (1882-1911) whose sad and short life Savage draws for us beautifully. Middleton attended various schools fromSavage’s reply was dated 1st December and it was found unopened in Middleton’s room at 10 Rue de Joncker – the same day, Savage received the telegram from Middleton’s landlady, Mme Grey informing him that his friend was dead. The following day (2nd December) Savage and a friend Randal Charlton travel to Brussels and Charlton breaks down the door that the police have sealed and collects Middleton’s papers and letters, amongst which was found a farewell message on a postcard intended for Savage but not posted: ‘Good-bye! Harry I’m going adventuring again, and thanks to you I shall have some pleasant memories in my knapsack. As for the many bitter ones, perhaps they will not weigh so heavy now as they did before. “A broken and a contrite heart, oh Lord, thou shalt not despise.” Richard.’ (p. 193) On another message written on an envelope received at
St Paul’s and
Merchant Taylor’s to Quernmore House, and Bromley,
Kent . He went on to the Cranbrook Grammar School and in July 1900 passed the University of London Oxford and Cambridge
Higher Certificate examinations (elementary and additional mathematics, English
and Natural Philosophy). He was a dreamer, a child-like figure with a love of
cricket – his friend Louis J McQuilland said of him that he was a ‘shaggy Peter
Pan with a briar pipe’ and in looks he certainly was with his shock of black
hair and wild beard. Of his own childhood Middleton says ‘I do not lament, and
I hope I shall never have to endure that state of aggrieved helplessness
again.’ And he goes on to say that ‘the whole atmosphere was charged with ugly
mysteries like an Ibsen play, and I was too introspective to be a happy child.’
(taken from and unpublished autobiography, quoted on p. 4) In early 1901 he
became a temporary clerk in the offices of the Royal Exchange Assurance
Corporation and nine months later became a permanent member of staff – he was
with them for five years and he hated every minute! He haunted the cafes as a
clerk and lost money on horses and bought countless books and wrote poetry. At
the age of twenty-three in 1905 he replied to an ad in the ‘Academy’ seeking
members for a new club, a society called the New Bohemians; he was invited to
the Prince’s Head for the ‘initiation into the mysteries’ and attended their
Thursday night gatherings (McQuilland was its secretary). Along with Frank
Harris and Austin Harrison, he asked Housman to lunch and they were sadly
disillusioned with the reality of the poet. Flying the family nest at Hampton Court in
1906, Middleton took two rooms at 7
Blackfriars Road and transcended into the bohemian
poet counting among his friends the likes of Henry Savage, Arthur Machen,
Randal Charlton, T Michael Pope and even Lord Alfred Douglas. He resigned from
his work as a clerk with the intention of making money from his pen, not an
easy task and there were moments of great depression for him: ‘You see I am
cheerful and I rejoice that it takes as little to make me happy as it does to
make me suicidal.’ (p. 68) Frank Harris who knew him quite intimately from
their editorial roles at Vanity Fair said that his ‘characteristic attitude was
a dignified, somewhat disdainful acceptance of life’s perverse iniquities.’ (p.
78) It is probably doubtful that he ever tasted the wondrous sensations of real
love without squalid attachment and not some vision of his ideal which acted as
muse to the poet; Savage discloses that he was ‘most powerfully attracted
towards the young girl who first inspired him, and later, and yet more
powerfully, towards that other – the Christine of his poems – through whom the
greater part of his poetic work was accomplished.’ (p. 79-80) Middleton
confesses to Savage in a letter that he wants ‘to love something or other
anyhow: Love kills the ego with a surfeit of egoism, and I appreciate but do
not like mine.’ (p. 81) Between 1908-9 he suffered much poverty and pain from
his neuralgia and we even find a mention of him meeting the notorious Aleister
Crowley on page 129! He got behind in his rent and ‘starved for four days and
walked back from Brighton’ (p. 130) and so in
early 1909 he took lodgings at 3
Alexandra Road, Wimbledon
before returning back to his parents in the summer at St
Albans. Savage suggested a holiday in Brussels and Middleton is at first reluctant
but they go in February 1911 and in Brussels
they take a room at 10 Rue de Joncker where after Savage’s return home to England,
Middleton remained. His book of poems ‘Dust and Dreams’ failed to make an
impression on publishers, in fact, no book of his was published during his
lifetime! In Brussels
he became more despondent and his letters to Savage are filled with his
melancholy anguish such as here, dated 5th November 1911 – ‘I myself am so much in the
deeps that I grow more hopeful. This is no paradox, but a plain statement of my
attitude towards existence. To-morrow I shall have been here four weeks, four
weeks of drunkenness and riggishness and unbroken idleness. During the whole of
that period I have been distinctly ill and very unhappy. I have no nerves left
and my stomach is completely disordered.’ (p. 177) Savage implores him to
return home but Middleton resisted the temptation of doing so, perhaps seeing
it as yet another sign of failure and decided to stay for ‘another month and
see how things go.’ adding ‘When I feel the need I shall create God for myself;
and I shall certainly not make him in my own image.’ Middleton seems to sink
lower and lower and his mood turns quite dark – ‘I do not wish that I were
dead: I wish that I had never lived…’ (from a letter dated 15th
November 1911. p. 185) His girls, Christine and the others who were chorus
girls left Brussels on the following day for Bordeaux and he could not say
goodbye; perhaps something ugly had occurred for in the same letter (15th
November) he adds ‘Poor Christine had better marry her Swiss boy…’ His next
letter (20th November) sees him in a more cheerful mood and he says
that he has started writing prose again – ‘The girls have gone and I hope I
have done with love for a long, long time.’
A Problem in Modern Ethics – by John Addington Symonds.
The Ghost Ship and Other Stories – by Richard Middleton.
This delightful volume of strange tales published in 1913 after the author’s death the previous year introduces the reader to the magical and somewhat disturbing world of Richard Middleton, who masterfully weaves these fantastic pieces with moonlight and fairy dust to create a sometimes nonsensical, sometimes perplexingly horrific world. Had he lived he would have surely established himself among the likes of Machen, Blackwood and Le Fanu, as it is the title story has secured him lasting fame in the world of supernatural writing. In fact, it is Machen who writes the preface to the volume and his enthusiasm and delight at the tales is touching as he explains a little of the ‘alchemy’ behind the tales and the ‘puzzle’ within them. ‘The Ghost Ship’, the best known story, is narrated by John Simmons, an inhabitant of Fairfield Village, a most peculiarly haunted village frequented by numerous ghosts where the story is set following the Great Storm in the spring of 1897 (Jubilee Year). The Landlord of the Fox and Grapes has found that a great wooden sailing ship has been blown into his turnip field, fifty miles from the sea at
On Jubilee Day, the Captain of the ship, Captain Bartholomew Roberts, fires off
a round of canon and blasts a hole in Farmer Johnstone’s barn. Drunkenness becomes
rife amongst the villagers and the ghostly population since the ship dropped
anchor in the turnip field. When it left during the second great storm of that
year it took all the young ghosts with it leaving the female ghosts to weep for
its arrival which of course it does not return. A strange and mesmerising tale
indeed! Other stories in the volume are: ‘The Drama of Youth’, ‘The New Boy’,
‘On the Brighton Road’, ‘A Tragedy in Little’, ‘Shepherd’s Boy’, ‘The Passing
of Edward’, ‘The Story of a Book’, ‘The Bird in the Garden’, ‘Children of the
Moon’, ‘The Coffin Merchant’, ‘The Soul of a Policeman’, ‘The Conjurer’, ‘The
Poet’s Allegory’, ‘Who shall say - ?’, ‘The Biography of a Superman’, ‘Blue
Blood’, ‘Fate and the Artist’, ‘The Great Man’ and ‘A Wet Day’. Machen declared
(of The Ghost Ship) that he ‘would not exchange this short, crazy, enchanting
fantasy for a whole wilderness of seemly novels’ and I quite agree, for this is
an intensely rewarding read and these fabulous tales will remain long after the
book is finished! Portsmouth
The Quiet Singer and Other Poems – by Charles Hanson Towne.
Charles Hanson Towne (1877-1949) was an American author, editor and poet, born inAnd of course that old spectre Love rears its ugly head as in his ‘Love, the Victor’:
the family moved to Kentucky when he was
three and he remained there to become a well-known ‘New Yorker’. ‘The Quiet
Singer’ was published in 1908 and consists of eighty-seven poems (I read the
1914 edition) including the forms of quatrains and sonnets and sections titled:
‘Songs of New York’ and ‘Songs out of the Orient’. My enthusiasm waned and my
attention wandered in places as much of the poetry is derivative but there are
a few wonders which describe elements in nature and human expressions, such as:
‘I shall know, ere you will guess/ (Though with life I have no part),/ What new
golden loveliness/ Stirs within the old earth’s heart,’ from ‘A Distant Star’
which ends: ‘And the dreams that I shall dream,/ In that Spring when I am
dead,/ May arise until they seem/ Blossoms white and blossoms red!’ There is
also a sense that the author yearns towards God as in ‘Aere Perennius’ which
begins ‘As long as the stars of God/ Hang steadfast in the sky’. New York
‘No strength of mine can hold thee back, O Love!I thought that I was safe beyond the will;
But after long, long years, lo! here am I,
Other noteworthy poems include: ‘A Rose Whispers’, ‘The Great and Silent Things’, ‘Villanelle’, ‘The House of the Heart’ with its wonderful ‘Your footfall in my heart’s great vacant ground,/ Your voice to sing and sing forevermore’ and this from ‘Haunted’: ‘I am the ghost of that pure deed/ You might have done, but did not do;/ I am the ghost of that good seed/ You might have sown when Life was new.’ Not bad at all and Towne is an admirable writer of the sonnet of which here are five and the simple beauty of ‘After reading Keats’ and ‘How bravely now I face the marching days’.
Youth and Other Poems – by Charles Hanson Towne.
Towne attended City College in New York and went on to become editorial assistant at Cosmopolitan and then assistant editor of the ‘Smart Set’ in 1901 before taking on the mantle of editor from 1904-7 and later Harper’s Bazaar. This collection of poems was published in 1911 and the volume (just 82 pages) is dedicated to his friend Richard Le Gallienne. The long poem ‘Youth’ which takes up half of the book has some worthy lines and there are a few poems which interested me such as ‘Love’s Ritual’, ‘Night’, ‘Midsummer’, ‘At the end of September’, ‘Of Death’ and ‘Shelley’s Skylark’ – ‘From empyrean heights for ever shall fall/ Thy silver madrigal.’ Overall I found the collection quite poor but still worth reading.
This collection of thirty-one poems published in 1913 seems to be an improvement on his previous ‘Youth and Other Poems’ and the long poem ‘Beyond the Stars’ written in blank verse is quite outstanding as verse goes and Towne lifts his poetic derivations into new heights of near originality – ‘I clomb beyond the sun, beyond the moon;/ In flight on flight I touched the highest star; / I plunged to regions where the Spring is born, / Myself (I asked not how) the April wind, / Myself the elements that are of God.’ Other poems fall into the mundane rhyme which in Towne’s hands seems a little lacklustre but they are not beyond minor praise: ‘Peace’, ‘The Ballad of Shame and Dread’, ‘Love hath a Chalice’, ‘Two Songs of London’, ‘An Easter Canticle’, ‘April Madness’, ‘How softly runs the afternoon’, ‘An August Night in the City’, ‘Penance’ and ‘The Dead March’. Towne went on to teach poetry at
(one of his
students was J D Salinger) and his autobiography ‘So far, so good’ came out in
1945. Other poetic works include ‘ Columbia
(1909), ‘Today and Tomorrow’ (1916) and ‘A World of Windows’ (1919) which I
shall leave for posterity to decide whether his verse rises above the
amateurish consistency he aims to achieve. Manhattan
Published in 2008 by theSarah Jane Wolfe (1875-1958) was an American actress born in
the Silver Star and compiled and introduced by Dr. David Schoenmaker who is the
founder and Chancellor of that Magical Order, ‘The Cefalu Diaries’ contains the
bulk of the surviving diaries handwritten and typed by Jane Wolfe during her
magical training under Crowley at the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu. Temple
Wolfe went on to help found South California’s Agape Lodge of the OTO, in fact she was Lodge Master and she died at the age of 83 in 1958 and throughout her magical career she remained a devoted friend of Crowley to the end, of which there were few. For an excellent biography of Wolfe one can do no better than go to the
Autobiography of an Androgyne – by Earl Lind.
Published in 1918 under the assumed name of ‘Earl Lind’, the author, who also goes by the names of ‘Ralph Werther’ and ‘Jennie June’, has written a fascinating account of his double life as a respectable if somewhat effeminate university-educated office worker and as an androgyne – a man-woman or as we would term it today, a transgender male. The book is edited with an introduction by Alfred Waldemar Herzog (1866-1933) who had the book published ‘as a psychological study’ after it was refused countless times by other publishers. Earl Lind, or perhaps it is more correct to call the author Jennie June and refer to her as a woman for she is indeed female mentally and psychologically and only part masculine physically, inscribed the book to ‘Nature’s Step-Children – the sexually abnormal by birth – in the hope that their lives may be rendered more tolerable through the publication of this Autobiography’. Born in Connecticut in 1874, Jennie June, a most learned individual, reveals the often sad and disturbing events of her life in the pursuit of fulfilling her natural instincts as a woman, although shunned by society as an abnormal and disgusting ‘monster’. She informs us of her childhood as a sensitive and misunderstood boy who wanted to be a girl and please the other boys in displaying feminine characteristics. From a young age Jennie was highly sexual and addicted to fellatio (her father thrashed her with his boot when she was discovered under a desk in the act). She attended the University in the City of New York in 1891 and so the need for a double-life was called for as Ralph, a man who spoke several languages and studied and as Jennie who paraded herself around the Bowery and other seedy locations in pursuit of male attachments of the virile labourer and criminal type; she emphasised her weakness and spoke as a baby-girl, flattering the men she encountered, impressed with their strength and physical beauty. Highly emotional, Jennie was prone to fall in love with one charming young thug after another and repeatedly robbed, beaten, blackmailed, threatened, raped and on some occasions almost half murdered! She suffered regular bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts and as a deeply religious person implored God to make her wholly woman – at the age of twenty-eight she was castrated. She found some solace hanging around the soldiers, the strong, brave masculine types she adored at their camps where she was known as a ‘fairy’; she would worship these ruffians even at the cruel hands of their cruelty and be beaten beyond recognition, such was her masochistic desire to be dominated. The sexual acts are written in Latin which gives it an air of respectability; a sense of the ecclesiastical in a profession where Latin covers many a sin. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself throughout the 265 pages that this was occurring in the 1890’s and not the more recent past. Also included in the appendix are the author’s thoughts on Oscar Wilde and ‘Impressions of the Author by a Business Associate’. Alfred Herzog who found the subject matter ‘nauseating’ says wrongly that there is little scientific or literary value in the work and wanted to edit the autobiography, ‘butchering’ it in his clumsy hands. Thankfully it stands pretty much as Jennie June wrote it, for the ‘general reader’ and for those like Jennie who suffer the same sentence through life. Now we look upon such people with more compassion and understanding of their natures, but towards our enlightened stance, many have been viciously beaten, incarcerated and murdered. Herzog, although he had the foresight to have the volume published, seems the more repulsive for his failure to understand the nature of the androgyne, or ‘invert’ as he also terms it and future publications would suffer no loss at his removal from the volume and the remarkable story of Jennie June should stand alone as a curious and deeply moving tale of courage and of man’s ill-treatment against that which he does not understand!
Again Lind, (Jennie June) in the second part of her autobiography published in 1922 and again, the jewel has been tarnished by the filthy hands of Alfred W Herzog in his attempt at editing and providing an introduction which shall be overlooked. Jennie relates her ‘Sequel to the Autobiography of an Androgyne and an account of the author’s experiences during his six years career as instinctive female impersonator in New York’s Underworld; together with the life stories of androgyne associates and an outline of his subsequently acquired knowledge of kindred phenomena of human character and psychology’. Written in eight parts over 295 pages with 17 illustrations, The Female Impersonators summarises much of Jennie’s life as given in the Autobiography of an Androgyne with some new revelations and an interesting look at androgynes in mythology and history such as Apollo, Hermaphroditos, Ganymede, Socrates, Plato, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Michelangelo and Raphael; she also assumes, to my utmost displeasure and violent rage, that Francis Bacon was the author of Shakespeare’s works on the defence that Shakespeare was too masculine to have composed such ‘androgynistic characters’ and to be the author of those beautiful sonnets – never underestimate a Warwickshire man! Of great interest also are the biographical details of other female impersonators such as ‘Frank – Eunice’ and ‘Angelo – Phyllis’ (poor Phyllis became another murdered statistic) and ‘Newspaper Accounts of Murder of Androgynes’, ‘Medical Writers on Androgynism’ and some verse penned by Jennie. Those of you wanting to know more can turn to Jennie’s third volume of autobiography, ‘The Riddle of the Underworld’ (1922) a ‘closing volume of the trilogy depicting the life-experience of a bisexual university “man”’.
The Day Before Yesterday – by Richard Middleton.
This volume of 33 astounding short stories by the hugely talented author Richard Middleton was published in 1912 after his suicide and each miniature masterpiece confirms Middleton’s genius as a writer and also the great loss to literature after his death. Middleton, who was something of a child himself in many ways observes the world in these stories through the eyes of a child who wonders at all the strange and often inexplicable delights of nature; of the world of imagination and make-believe which flourishes in childhood and diminishes with the grown-ups or ‘Olympians’ as the author calls them. Stories such as ‘The Enchanted Place’, ‘The Magic Pool’, ‘Children and the Spring’, and ‘On Digging Holes’ reveal the magic the author conjures as childhood interacts with the natural world around them where every woodland glade is a haunted dell; where treasure lurks beneath each spadeful of earth and pirates drink and sing deep in coastal caves; the simplicity of imagining a small pool as a boating lake and sailing walnut shell boats upon it; stories of far away imaginative travel as in ‘The Magic Carpet’ or sworn allegiance to one’s choice in the boat race in ‘Oxford and Cambridge’; the author also writes from the standpoint of an adult either reminiscing about the joys of childhood as in ‘On Nursery Cupboards’, ‘Real Cricket’, and ‘On going to Bed’ or entering their innocent play as in ‘A Secret Society’ or just writing fantastic pieces as ‘A Distinguished Guest’ about a cat the author took care of for a short time which is simply wonderful! Charming and spellbinding, Middleton is marvellous and these stories are some of the most beautiful I have ever read which captures the magical essence of childhood and the naïve delicacy which makes everything appear other-worldly and much more interesting than the ordinary way in which things are viewed and experienced.
The Crucifixion and Other Poems – by Benjamin George Ambler.
This volume of verse published in 1880 contains along with the title poem, 64 miscellaneous poems and 11 sonnets over 140 pages but for me it was the title poem ‘The Crucifixion’ which anchored this book in the sea of almost greatness and lifted it from the murky depths of the really awful and almost unreadable! The poem is in four scenes: 1. the ‘Hall of Judgement’ which sees Christ confronted by Pilate; 2. ‘The Temple’ where Judas makes his appearance; 3. ‘
where Christ is crucified between two robbers and Peter mingles with the crowd
and the Angel Gabriel, and 4. ‘The Sepulchre’ where we meet Mary Magdalene, the
two Angels in the tomb and Christ once more. Apart from this initial poem I
found little to get excited about and although I find a lot of satisfaction in
unearthing an obscure or neglected poet, I usually always find some worthwhile
beauty somewhere and there were several small examples here I thought, such as
in the poems ‘Invocation’, ‘Shadows of Life’, ‘Graves’, ‘In Memoriam – the
Princess Alice’, ‘The Dying Poet’, ‘The Night Winds’, ‘A Requiem’ and ‘Ode to
Silence’ with its gentle ‘Sadness incarnate, for the dark eclipse/ Must fall on
all, the sunny moments spend/ Themselves, thus swiftly pass, all pleasure hath
an end.’ Disappointing and unadventurous! Mount Calvary
Charles William Dalmon (1862-1938) is a little read Sussex Poet and ‘Song Favours’ at a little under a hundred pages and published in 1895 is the author’s second published work. John Betjeman found much to enthuse about Dalmon, the 1890’s decadent who contributed to the Yellow Book. The poems, many of them revisit the theme of King Arthur; have a tendency to drift towards W. B. Yeats and William Blake in their magical symbolism and faery-haunted folklore and mythology such as ‘Pan Eating Honey’: ‘Stops to pipe a tune;/ Now to sing a ditty; / Now to look and smile at me/ Out of love and pity.’ Other poems of worth are ‘Night Shades’, ‘Narcissus’, ‘The Sussex Muse’ and ‘Nimue’ which has echoes of Tennyson – ‘The white owl crossed the moon path on the mere,/ And sank into the shadow silently./ Transformed, and fallen, with no lover near - /Ah! Lady Nimue,’ The book ends on a round of Drinking Songs and other published volumes worth searching out are: Minutiae (1892), Flower and Leaf (1900), A Poor Man’s Riches (1920), Singing as I go (1927) and The Last Service (1928).