Monday, 7 May 2018



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 Oxford 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 Italy 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.
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 Calydon’, a play of perfection in blank verse which soars with lyrical metre:

‘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 London 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 copies).
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). London. Eighteen Nineties Society. 1979]
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 Sahara, but merely into the desert a few miles out of Marakhesh. And we did not draw a circle, but a pentacle, which from a magical point of view is a very different matter.” (p.34) The author describes a lovely scene in which Arthur’s father, calling the author’s bluff visits Vine Cottage to meet the clumsy and seemingly awkward Vickybird and his wife Kathleen, drawn with a light touch of comedy; and young Arthur goes to Oxford and meets Vickybird’s equally eccentric Aunt Helen, the See-er for tea with her two mongooses, a parrot and a half-blind pine-marten – ‘She must, I thought, have been a very beautiful woman when she was young. Even now, with her height and slenderness accentuated by the long black gown, her tawny hair bound with a broad fillet of python-skin, she was strikingly handsome.’ (p. 69) In London she got to know Neuburg and Crowley and became interested in the occult and read the stars; she lived on credit and perpetuated the war between ‘Artists’ and ‘Philistines’. When the bailiffs came calling it was Arthur who took care of her precious things in his Oxford rooms until the University forbade him to visit her again. She died quite insane.
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 Crowley to speak and the Steyning poet opens up about himself and Crowley and tells Arthur that ‘one evening they were invoking Mars, and the ceremony started as usual with Crowley as the High Priest declaring, “The Temple is Open.” There were the appropriate liturgies and invocations, and then Vickybird, who had been given a drug which he did not specify, rose to ‘dance down’ the God. ‘Dancing down,’ as I understood it, involved the abnegation of the dancer’s own personality. He became a vacuum into which he drew the God.
“And then,” said Vickybird, “instead of declaring that the Temple was closed, he deliberately dismissed us. He pretended later that it was forgetfulness. But he could no more forget that than a Catholic priest could forget the Ite, missa est.” and he continues – ‘”The first thing I remember was squeezing back into my soul. It was like being in a very small room with an immensely powerful man who wanted to kill me by sheer pressure. I told you that you wouldn’t understand, and pray God that you never will. The God Mars is a killer and he wanted to use my body. I fought him for seventy-two hours before I gained possession of my body again.” (p. 163-4) Then of course we hear all about the Ione de Forrest episode on Thursday 1st August 1912, Neuburg’s lover who committed suicide – would Neuburg really have said something so cruel as ‘All right, kill yourself!’ to her plea of ‘If you go out of that door I shall kill myself!’ I don’t think so, but the young poet was under mental distress at the time and attached to Crowley so anything is possible. Vickybird blamed himself and Crowley for her death and guilt confined him to the obscure pastures of Steyning. Meanwhile, Arthur’s brother Robert dies and we hear all about the bohemians who inhabit London’s Fitzroy Tavern, The Plough, and the Marquis of Granby, painters, writers and models drowning their creative genius in alcohol. And of course he meets the socialite Betty May who informs him that Crowley is in London and determined to see the Beast he meets Crowley at the Eiffel Tower near the Fitzroy Tavern one evening after dinner and they settled a date for Crowley to give his lecture to the Oxford Poetry Society – its subject will be Gilles de Rais! Naturally the lecture is banned a few days before it is to take place and the lecture was published and circulated through the colleges. Arthur meets the Beast one more time in December 1929 at a cottage in Knockholt, Kent where the magician is staying with his wife Maria Teresa, and the two men do psychological battle over a bottle of brandy, Crowley turning on the old hypnotic charm and Arthur not falling for it, comically matching him across the table attempting to outstare the Mage!
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 London, when the poet had found new love and a new job as Poetry Editor for the Sunday Referee.
‘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.

This exquisite little book of poems (196 pages) by the American poet Jeanne Robert Foster (born Julia Oliver 1879-1970) was published in 1916 and it is divided into seven parts: I. ‘The Great Sea Fight and Occasional Poems’, II. ‘Sonnets’, III. ‘Songs, Ballads, Pastorals’, IV. ‘The Blazoned Rose’, V. ‘Silhouettes’, VI. ‘Orifiel’ a dramatic fragment and VII. ‘The Eve of Sanhain’.
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 moth
Trembles 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 tears
Of honey, the jasmine weeps;
Burning fall the tears of love.

Oh, how bitter
Is 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.

Published in 1941, William Seabrook’s oft’-cited book on witchcraft has become a staple of occult literature and is a fascinating read. William Seabrook (1884-1945) was an American travel writer with a life-long interest in the occult, a man who proudly admitted to having eaten human flesh and studied under various witch-doctors in Africa; he committed suicide by taking an overdose. Once the reader has got over the initial arrogance of the author in his Foreword ‘Exploding a Non-Sequitur perched on the Horns of a Dilemma’ one actually finds it quite an engrossing book. Its 299 pages are divided into three parts: I – ‘The Witch and her Doll’ which explores the origins and general use of the ‘witch doll’ in various cultures, such as the ‘Monstrous Doll in Africa’, the ‘Doll de Luxe in London’ and the ‘Nail-Studded Doll in Toulon’. Part II looks at the ‘Vampire and the Werewolf’, recounting such cases as Countess Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614), the ‘Vampire 1932 from Brooklyn, New York’, the ‘Panther-Man from the Ivory Coast’, the ‘Caged White Werewolf of the Saraban’, and the ‘Werewolf in Washington Square’. Part III ‘White Magic, Professor Rhine, the Supernormal, and Justine’ opens with a ‘Presentation of an Open Question, to which a Negative Answer may not be the Final Word’ and he gives examples from his own experiences such as the ‘Astral Body on a Boat’, ‘Upton Sinclair’s “Mental Radio”’, ‘W E Woodward with a Hatpin driven through his jaws’, Justine Dervish Dangling’ and ‘Justine in the Mask’ (Justine was his then girlfriend who assisted Seabrook in their experiments with ESP and exploring future Time events). The Appendix has a plethora of ‘Supplementary Notes, Anecdotes, and Illustrations’. It will not come as any surprise to the reader for the author spells it out endlessly that he does not believe in the existence of spirits and all the other ‘mumbo-jumbo’- connected with the occult or the ‘supernormal’ of which he says is ‘anything which occurs contrary to the fixed, known laws of time-space, the fixed, known rules of logic, or endours its supposed possessor with senses and powers outside those laws and rules as known up to now’. (p. 145) In fact, I found his opinions, although he has much knowledge and practise in the occult, quite infuriating, as he remains sceptical as to the effectiveness of witchcraft where there is no human intervention to cause the desired results: ‘when the intended victim believes the force attacking him is super-human the doll, for him becomes a fatal image of certain doom, and he tends more easily to crack up emotionally and functionally.’ (p. 46. ‘Wooden Doll in a Cave’) Of course there is always the human element when a natural or unnatural desire is set in motion and psychologically if the victim is aware that a ‘curse’ has been placed upon them the result will be that more effective, but to dismiss the world of spirits is absurd in my opinion. He maintains that all magical phenomena occurs solely through human ‘physical’ and ‘psychological’ intervention or ‘induced-autosuggestion’ and fails to understand the simplest laws of natural magic (or magick as I prefer to spell it) in which the practitioner must have faith in his or her intentions and observe the correct magical procedures to bring about those intentions just as if one were to cast a fly onto the surface of a stream, by the proper motions a salmon is landed. His arrogance does not let him understand the power of the mind during conjuration (invocation and evocation) – the God Mars is just as tangible as the Pope and just as deadly! Although he is correct in his assumptions that ‘dolls’ are merely symbols in sympathetic and imitative magic; a fetishistic point to focus the force or current of the will and create a magical link, in dark magic it is the focus of concentrated hatred and destructive thought.
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 Esopus Island, and I will be fed as Elijah was fed by the ravens.” (p. 175-6) He was indeed fed, but not by ravens, by kindly farmers for forty days!
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 New York in September, the next day Seabrook invited him to the Plaza for lunch and Seabrook asked him what he had gained from his forty days as a hermit to which Crowley said he would show him. They took a walk in the park – then 5th Avenue, near to the Public Library and crossed 42nd Street, ‘ahead of us was strolling a tall, prosperous-looking gentleman of leisure, and Crowley, silent as a cat, fell into step immediately behind him. Their footfalls began to synchronize, and then I observed that Crowley, who generally held himself pompously erect and had a tendency to strut, had dropped his shoulders, thrust his head forward a little, like the man’s in front, had begun to swing his arms in perfect synchronization – now so perfect that he was like a moving shadow or astral ghost of the other.
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 Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu and the death of Raoul Loveday. Despite such visual evidence he still clings to his sceptical stance although he does admit that Crowley had real powers and he comes close to admitting the possibility that ESP may be a genuine factor in experiments of thought transference, all this from a man who confesses to have ‘eaten cat in Naples and caterpillars on the Ivory Coast. I have also eaten stewed young man. I have drunk the sacrificial blood of goats and bulls at voodoo altars.’ (p. 181) A little erratic but thoroughly compelling!

The Amazon of Letters: The Life and Loves of Natalie Barney – by George Wickes.

Published in 1976 (I read the 1978 edition) ‘The Amazon of Letters’ is a compelling biography of the American writer, feminist and legendary lesbian socialite who made Paris her home, Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972). At first glance one can be forgiven for thinking the book a sprawling mass of nonsense about another frivolously wealthy, independent, sexually liberated young woman collecting lovers and admirers, particularly amongst the well-to-do and notable celebrity socialites who frequented the Paris salons, and who wrote almost unreadable atrocious poems and you would be half right! When first picking up a book I like to sit with it a while before I begin reading it, to get to know its idiosyncrasies and get a general idea of the landscape ahead; to awaken my sense to it and the ‘Amazon’ took a little longer than usual as I savoured its flavour and indulged in the foreplay before the intercourse! So, upon a second glance one gets the impression of the beautiful, brilliant and witty Miss Barney, the ‘sad and gentle page boy whose studies could be summarized in a couplet: my only books/were women’s looks’ (I. Origins. p. 17) as a female Don Juan seducing women; a scandalous cultivator and mediator of friendships and a master of the epigram (she met Oscar Wilde in 1882 when she was just five years old). In fact, it was in the spring of 1898 when she was twenty-two that she first went to France and saw and fell in love with the celebrated courtesan Liane de Poughy (Anne-Marie Chassaigne) whom she sought to rescue from her plight! Natalie dressed as a page boy with flowers to meet Liane, looking like ‘an angel from a painting by Fra Angelico.’ (p. 43) and so their love affair began! In 1901 Liane wrote ‘Idylle Saphique’ which portrayed Natalie as ‘Flossie’ and described their romance together. When Natalie’s father caught her reading a love-letter from Liane he sent her back to the States to mould her into ‘eligible marriage material’! It was not the first time her father had cause for concern for in 1900 Natalie published her first book, ‘Quelques Portraits-Sonnets de Femmes’, a volume of 34 poems dedicated to her female admirers such as Evaline ‘Eva’ Palmer, one of her early lovers; her father, Albert Clifford Barney attempted to buy-up all the copies and destroy them but Natalie fortunately managed to save several copies!
After her father’s death in 1902 Paris became her permanent home and her sexual hunting plain – she met her first real love: the English writer Pauline Tarn who wrote in French under the pseudonym Renee Vivien, a poet with a preoccupation with death! Renee would prove to be her greatest love which sadly ended tragically, told exceptionally well in chapters 5 and 6. She also became friends with the poet Pierre Louys and in 1902 produced her second book: ‘Cinq Petits Dialogues grecs’. She became acquainted with the prolific French writer and recluse, Remy de Gourmont in 1910; the author suffered from lupus and Capote describes him cruelly as ‘the ugliest man in Paris’ (p. 289) – Remy fell for Natalie’s charms and amusing wit just as many intellectual writers fell for her. Another great love of Natalie’s life was Lucie Delarue-Mardrus who was twenty-two when she first met Natalie and Eva through Vivien; Lucie was married to the orientalist, Dr. Joseph Charles Victor Mardrus, sometimes referred to as ‘Jesus Christ Mardrus’; Lucie and Natalie became inseparable and the love affair lasted from 1902-4 but the friendship lasted for life. The author also has much to say on another love – the Duchess de Clermont-Tonnerre: Elizabeth de Gramont, or ‘Lily’ who was close friends with Natalie from 1910-15 and of course there is  the famous Friday salons at Natalie’s home, 20 rue Jacob; the romance and love affair with the American painter Romain Brooks and her friendships with Bernard Berenson, Ezra Pound, Colette, Ford Madox Ford, Paul Valery, Mata Hari, Andre Gide, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Dolly Wilde, and hanging onto the fringes are James Joyce, T S Eliot and Marcel Proust, until we reach Natalie’s last lover Janine Lahovary who seems an unsavoury kind of woman but she did remain with Natalie to the end and took care of her – Natalie was a very wealthy woman!
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 in London’s Tidal Bay, 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 Somerset. 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 London. 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 England and her adventures make her the toast of the Endell Street Club and the Café Royal crowd.
She 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 Hastings free of drugs she finds out her husband has been unfaithful with a French woman and they get divorced.
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 London, poor and in her Soho room, Betty’s luck changes when a journalist offers to pay her £500 in return for her life story; the newspapers are filled with the scandals concerning Crowley, the Abbey and Raoul’s death! She then meets a strange woman by the name of Princess Waletka, a mind-reader and she travels to America with her, spending three months in her company and in her stage-show. Betty returns to England alone and gets engaged (again!) to a man named Carol, a sporting journalist whose mother is suitably unimpressed with Betty. They marry and there is a great stand-off between mother and daughter-in-law until one day when Betty is ill in bed she can take no more and Betty throws a cup of tea over her mother-in-law before rushing off to London. Her husband on hearing this resigns from his work, bundles her in a taxi and takes her back – she is bored of hearing about the sport (hunting, shooting and fishing) and of family history from Carol’s mother so Betty pitches a tent and opens a cake and sweet shop in the village, making all the confectionary herself, before growing tired of it and giving it up. One day Carol went out shooting rooks and Betty joined him, wringing the necks of those which were only wounded; a week later Carol is ill and Betty nurses him; her mother-in-law accuses her of killing her son and Betty at the end of her rope attacks her before doing what she does best – escaping back to London!
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 that Hopkins 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.
Dolben’s eccentricities were well known such as his liking for dressing as a monk – ‘Walford believed that Dolben had been mobbed in Birmingham. He went in his habit without sandals barefootHopkins wrote to Bridges. Although they only met once, Hopkins unrequited love for Dolben remained intense but at the time of Dolben’s death he had cooled towards him or at least gave the impression that he had, writing to Bridges that he would ‘someday like to see Finedon and the place where he was drowned.’ I have made that curious little pilgrimage myself to Finedon and laid my hand upon the cold stone of the young poet Dolben and left something of my sadness there with him.
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 Hopkins’ poems and the poetical structures he utilises in his Sprung Rhythm and analyses the aesthetic conceptions of ‘inscape’ and ‘instress’. We also hear Hopkins’ theories on Keats whom he compares to the young Shakespeare in his letter to Patmore dated 24th October 1887 and the letters from his friend Richard Watson Dixon almost read like the blushing declarations of the heart in their favourable friendship. This is a perfect little book about a curious man with a deep sense of devotion and vocation.

The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon, edited with Notes and an Introduction – by Claude Colleer Abbott.

Claude Colleer Abbott, who was Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Durham, has produced a splendid book which brings together the correspondence of two gentle minds and two poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon (1833-1900). Canon R W Dixon was a distinguished if overlooked poet and a great historian who attended King Edward VI School in Birmingham before going up to Pembroke College, Oxford (graduating in 1857); after his ordination he was assistant master at Highgate School (1861) for a short time and it was here where he met the seventeen year old Hopkins as a pupil who had won the school’s Poetry Prize in 1860. Dixon was a friend of the artist Edward Burne-Jones and the poet Rossetti. Dixon became a parish priest and wrote his monumental six volumes of ‘The History of the Church of England from the Abolition of the Roman Jurisdiction’ (1878-1902) and various volumes of poetry including ‘Christ’s Company and Other Poems’ (1861) which has touches of Browning and Tennyson; his rather dull ‘Historical Odes and Other Poems’ (1864), ‘Mano: A Poetical History’ (1883), ‘Odes and Eclogues’ (1884), ‘Lyrical Poems’ (1887), ‘The Story of Eudocia and Her Brothers’ (1888) and ‘Last Poems’ published posthumously in 1905. He was later vicar of Hayton, Cumberland, and of Warkworth, Northumberland.
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 Hopkins, his letters contributed to Nature; his interests in art and music and there are ‘Poems by R W Dixon copied by G M Hopkins. Many of these letters will seem familiar if you have read widely on Hopkins and so they almost appear as old friends. A very touching and affectionate book!

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 in Sussex he dreamt that his watch had stopped at 4.30 a.m. 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.
He 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).
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 from London’s St Paul’s and Merchant Taylor’s to Quernmore House, Bromley, Kent and Cranbrook Grammar School. He went on to the University of London and in July 1900 passed the 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.
Savage’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 Brussels and dated 25th November addressed to him from Christine, it simply said: ‘Poor little girl. Someone must write to her nicely to break the news.’ (p. 195) Middleton had killed himself with chloroform (which he probably took for his neuralgia) and ‘in order to make more sure of the effect of the chloroform he had stuffed cotton-wool in his nostrils.’ (p. 195) The following day his burial was arranged and he was buried at Calvoet Cemetery on the outskirts of Brussels. He died penniless, in pain and alone but thankfully his poems and prose are left to us such as his ‘The Ghost Ship and Other Stories’ (1912), ‘Poems and Songs’ (1912), ‘The Day Before Yesterday’ (1912) and his ‘Monologues’ (1913) for all the world to wonder at his masterful writing and in reading, honour the memory of a strange and enchanted man whose death was a miserable tragedy!

A Problem in Modern Ethics – by John Addington Symonds.

This 1896 publication is subtitled ‘an Inquiry into the Phenomenon of Sexual Inversion’ and Symonds steps delicately through the history of the ‘invert’ from the Christian opinion during the age of Justinian and throughout the world of literature with its pornographic and descriptive works such as Francois Carlier’s ‘Les Deux Prostitutions’ (1887) with its study of female prostitutes and homosexuality within the military; and of course he brings in the medical-forensic aspect of literature on the subject with Auguste Ambrose Tardieu (1818-1879) and the psychological does not escape his attention either with the impressive likes of Jacques-Joseph Moreau (1804-84), Benjamin Tarnowsky (1837-1906), Richard Krafft-Ebbing (1840-1902) and Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909). From the Historical and Anthropological world Symonds brings the figures of Moritz Herman Eduard Meier (1796-1855) and his ‘A Problem in Greek Ethics’, Julius Rosenbaum, Adolf Bastian (1826-1905), Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), Sir Richard Burton (1821-1890) and Paolo Mantegazza (1831-1910) to the arena while not forgetting the polemical writings of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895) and the poetry of Walt Whitman (1819-1892), on whom Symonds writes well and for me was probably the most interesting. In fact, I found it difficult to like this book despite Symonds’s authority on the subject and his engaging power as a writer; an inner hatred and aversion to much of what he says grew measureless and at several points I was for abandoning the book but with determination I continued, like the early Church which condemned such a natural expression of love yet practiced it profusely to become the vice of Popes and Kings alike. Symonds rightly suggests that the ‘invert’ or the homosexual (male or female) is not a product of any disease or mental disorder brought about by abuse, poverty or masturbation, but is in fact an innate condition. He brings to the table various actual accounts from ‘sufferers’ who tell their tales and we endure all the legal statistics churned out for those ‘Medical Psychologists and Jurists’ the book is ‘especially addressed to’. Frankly, I much preferred Symonds’s earlier work ‘A Problem in Greek Ethics’ (1873) and this volume became rather tedious and dull and the high moralistic attitude of thankfully long-dead, over-righteous hypocrites who planted the rotten seeds within the Church and the genteel population, who like good sheep were satisfied by the deeds of the shepherd… it all seems ridiculous and rarely do I regret reading a book but this volume has just won that coveted award!

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 Portsmouth. 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!

The Quiet Singer and Other Poems – by Charles Hanson Towne.

Charles Hanson Towne (1877-1949) was an American author, editor and poet, born in Kentucky the family moved to New York 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’.
And of course that old spectre Love rears its ugly head as in his ‘Love, the Victor’:

‘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,
Obedient still!’

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.

Beyond the Stars and Other Poems – by Charles Hanson Towne.

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 Columbia University (one of his students was J D Salinger) and his autobiography ‘So far, so good’ came out in 1945. Other poetic works include ‘Manhattan’ (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.

Jane Wolfe: The Cefalu Diaries 1920-1923.

Published in 2008 by the Temple of 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.
Sarah Jane Wolfe (1875-1958) was an American actress born in Pennsylvania, who in 1910 moved to Hollywood and played minor, supporting roles in silent films. A few years later she became interested in the occult and read Crowley’s magical publication The Equinox and she felt drawn to magick and contacted Crowley through the ‘International’ in which Crowley had published some of his works and a correspondence was struck up. Crowley became increasingly passionate towards Jane, there was something mysterious about her, about the name which seemed to signify a young, lithe and athletic wolf-like creature which appealed to him and a meeting was arranged at Bou Saada on 25th June 1920; Crowley then changed the meeting place to Tunis and sent a telegram to Jane which she did not receive and so while she sat it out in Bou Saada feeling foolish and dejected, Crowley was in Tunis wondering why this fascinating woman did not arrive! Jane, ever resilient and determined, took it on herself to travel to Cefalu and so she met Crowley in July and all the romantic illusions fell immediately away; Crowley was deeply disappointed and Jane thought Crowley and the Abbey filthy beyond belief. But, she had made the long journey there from Los Angeles and it was her will to be there and there she stayed and she proved a loyal and devoted student of Crowley and magick as the diaries show, she practices her Asana, Pranayama and Dharana techniques in meditation, recording her visions. Crowley accepted Jane as a Probationer of his magical order on 11th June 1921 and she took the name Estai; two days later on 13th June she undertook a 31 day Magical Retirement, taking a vow of silence and living in Crowley’s tent on the beach near the Abbey. Unfortunately the diary for this period is missing. But there is a wealth of insight into the magical training at the Abbey with a few descriptions of Abbey life and its ritual regime, the children, Leah Hirsig and Ninnette Shumway, the fleas and of course Crowley’s comments are invaluable such as here when on 29th May 1921, Frater Genesthai (C F Russell who was also a Probationer at the Abbey) did a Tarot Divination for Jane (Crowley is bemused as Genesthai ‘can’t do Tarot yet’); Jane types the results out for Crowley in her diary after which Crowley adds, like a teacher marking a schoolboy’s exercise book – ‘This is the most unintelligible drivel I have read for a long time.
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 College of Thelema’s ‘In the Continuum’ by Soror Meral who was admitted as a Probationer by Wolfe on 3rd June 1940. We have Soror Meral (Phyllis Seckler, 1917-2004) the magical student of Wolfe’s to thank for preserving these valuable documents which also contains Crowley’s comments written in pencil and produced here in facsimile. Wolfe’s magical diaries may be of little interest to those who do not appreciate Crowley’s system of Magick or Thelema but to those who do they are quite beautiful as we get close to her through the writing which contains copious spelling mistakes, some quite amusing such as ‘math of the poon’ for ‘path of the moon’ – all that opium can become distracting and take its toll on grammar and besides, all ‘Spelling is defunct;’ (Liber Al. III. 2.) I would have liked to see an abundance of footnotes but then I’m a footnote freak and one can never have too many! An enlightening read!

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!

The Female Impersonators – by Earl Lind.

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. ‘Mount Calvary’ 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!

Song Favours – by C. W. Dalmon.

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).

Monologues – by Richard Middleton.

This collection of thirty-two essays written by Richard Middleton and published in 1913 is really insightful and we get a glimpse of the table-talk of the large bearded man which was said to be most eloquent with witty turns of phrases and intelligent gems plucked from the world of literature. There are some dated expressions but the simple variety and spellbinding range of his thought make up for that as he talks about such things as ‘the decay of the essay’, ‘the tyranny of the ugly’, ‘the true Bohemia’, ‘suicide and the state’, ‘why women fail in art’, ‘the virtues of getting drunk’ and ‘the philosophy of gambling’. In ‘the gift of appreciation’ he delivers a masterful analysis of heroes and hero-worship and some of his essays have something prophetic about them. I found such enjoyment in these refreshing writings that I would refer anyone interested in learning the art of essay-writing to study them diligently and wonder in amazement at Middleton’s views of the world around him.

Shades of Eton – by Percy Lubbock.

Percy Lubbock (1879-1965) has written a fascinating account of his time at Eton in this volume published in 1923 (I read the 1932 ‘Life and Letters’ series) and he positively chimes with devotional love and admiration for the hugely influential gods of Eton, men of stature and simple characters but all towers of scholastic learning, such as the Reverend Edmond Warre (1837-1920), Headmaster of Eton from 1884-1905. Lubbock sketches the respectable Head with fond memories and deep compassion for the boys; then there is James John Hornby (1826-1909) Provost of Eton from 1884 till his death twenty-five years later; we are led through the dusty corridors and meet such estimable Masters as Edward Daniel Stone (1832-1916) the Greek and Latin Master, Pecker Rouse the mathematics Master and Frank Tarver the French Master. We are also presented to the Eton before Lubbock’s time and introduced to the scholar-poet of ‘Ionica’ fame, William Johnson Cory (1823-1892), a ‘difficult spirit’ who ‘in his day was a figure at Eton like none other…’ a man who ‘stayed as a stranger and a sojourner for his day.’ (p. 74) He was assistant Master in 1845 and resigned from Eton under some suspicion in 1872. Lubbock also goes on to mention the terribly gifted Greek scholar Walter Headlam (1866-1908) who was a poet and a Master of Eton; Headlam, a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, ‘forgot everything, forgot the hours and the days as he sat among his books, reading and reading; and a call into the open brought him out bewildered, staring wildly and comically; and then he caught up at last with the new discovery of the day, and plunged into chuckling enjoyment of it.’ (p. 76) Lubbock gushes over Francis Warre-Cornish (1839-1916), Librarian and Vice Provost of Eton from 1893 until his death, and his wife Blanche who were housed in the cloisters; Mrs Cornish delighted the boys with her talk and an invite to the Cornish household was a significant affair (Francis also wrote a splendid volume on William Cory which I heartily recommend). Lubbock’s tutor and House Master, the poet and novelist Arthur C. Benson (1862-1925) is also honoured by the pen of the author; Benson won a scholarship to Eton in 1874 and taught there from 1885-1903; Benson introduced the young Lubbock to Edmund Gosse and the author Henry James – Lubbock also wrote a volume on Benson’s Diaries which is very extensive and definitely worth reading! Other stars in the Etonian star system include the Reverend William Adolphus Carter (1815-1901), Bursar of Eton and the Reverend Edward ‘Badger’ Hale, the Science Master; Sir Walter Durnford (1847-1926), a House Master of Eton; Herbert Francis William Tatham (1861-1909), Arthur Campbell Ainger (1841-1919), the Latin Master and Edward Compton Austen Leigh (1839-1916) an Eton scholar in 1857; Leigh became the Lower Master from 1887 until he retired in 1905. But as with Benson and Cornish whom the author admires, it is with that worthy gentleman artist Henry Elford Luxmoore (1841-1926) whose garden at Eton was much talked about that Lubbock has great affection and admiration for. Luxmoore was an Eton Master from 1864-1908 and throughout these eighteen chapters Lubbock conjures the old Eton ghosts back to life, a race of sturdy men remembered fondly for their learning and enthusiasm.

The Craft of Fiction – by Percy Lubbock.

Originally published in 1921 (I read a 1963 reprint), The Craft of Fiction over 276 pages and eighteen chapters lifts the lid on the art and the craft of writing, in fact he goes into detail on the distinction between the writing of the novel as a ‘craft’ or an ‘art’. He looks at the form of the story, the scenes and the characters, the direction of the drama and the main themes in such classic novels as Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘War and Peace’; Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ and Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair’ to ‘Henry James’s ‘The Ambassadors’. Lubbock picks at each selected author’s scabs to reveal, as in ‘War and Peace’, Tolstoy’s method or representing time and its length to the reader and the truth of the character; Flaubert’s narration techniques – the voice of the author and the voice of the character; his ‘indirect’ drama and the authenticity of the character as opposed to Defoe who uses a more ‘direct’ method in his drama and utilises ‘historic truthfulness’. We are shown the ‘portrayal’ of Emma Bovary as a protagonist and the ‘character’ of her world; the ‘panoramic scenes’ of ‘Vanity Fair’ which unlike Dickens is not melodramatic and the chronology of the story. The author’s ‘pictorial descriptive method’ is also laid before us – Thackery makes his presence known on the page like Turgenev as a ‘reflective storyteller’, unlike Flaubert who remains hidden. This is all very interesting but I couldn’t help thinking that Lubbock was having too much fun with the reader showing off his impressive knowledge and critical analysis of some of the greatest novels ever written, and in nearly all cases from memory; he parades before us the likes of Stendhal, Maupassant, Fielding, Scott and Samuel Richardson; he winks knowingly as he pontificates on the narrator in the character of the first person, as in Dickens’s ‘David Copperfield’ and Meredith’s Harry Richmond; Lubbock scoffs with a glint in his eye, expounding the theory of the third person as in Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ and Henry James’s ‘The Ambassadors’; the conscious thought process of the characters and the ‘drama’ of the ‘mind’ before Lubbock wrestles the reader into submission with the method of dialogue – Henry James’s ‘The Wings of the Dove’ and the dramatic subject – ‘The Awkward Age’ and Walter Pater’s ‘Marius the Epicurean before striking the fatal blow with Balzac’s descriptive prose – the Human Comedy. Lubbock tears away at the illusion to expose the bricks and mortar of the writer's craft and reveal the magician's tricks and destroy the mystery which is all very well, yet at the end of the book one feels that nothing really has been desecrated and no sacred idols have been defaced, the writer's craft is still a noble mystery with or without the bag of tricks being displayed for the uninitiated!

A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass – by Amy Lowell.

Lowell’s first collection of poetry published in 1912 (I read a 1955 reprint) takes the title from Shelley’s poem Adonais: ‘Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, / Stains the white radiance of Eternity.’ She divides the collection into Lyrical Poems of which there are thirty-three, Sonnets which contains twenty-eight poems and ‘Verses for Children’. From the Lyrical Poems I found the most interesting to be ‘Before the Altar’ with its ‘Empty and silent, I / Kneel before your pure, calm majesty. / On this stone, in this urn/ I pour my heart and watch it burn, / Myself the sacrifice; but be / Still unmoved: Divinity.’ And from ‘Petals’ – ‘And the stream/ As it flows / Sweeps them away, / Each one is gone / Ever beyond into infinite ways. / We above stay / While years hurry on, / The flower fared forth, though its fragrance / Still stays.’ Also noteworthy are ‘Behind a Wall’ and ‘March Evening’ with its ‘Dying, forlorn, in dreary sorrow, / Wrapping the mists round her withering form, / Day sinks down; and in darkness to-morrow / Travails to birth in the womb of the storm.’ From the Sonnets which were moderately accomplished I liked ‘The Poet’ who ‘spurns life’s human friendships to profess / Life’s loveliness of dreaming ecstasy.’ which could almost be my own epitaph; ‘At Night’ and ‘To John Keats’ whom she hails as a ‘Great Master! Boyish, sympathetic man.’ I greatly enjoyed her blank verse but found her rhyming rhythms dull and tedious. I failed to see the affection that most lovers of poetry have for her but there were some great lines that rose above the waves of dreariness. In a rage of curiosity I persisted in the quest to discover what makes Lowell dear to many a poet’s heart and I then turned to her second collection published in 1914, ‘Swords Blades and Poppy Seed’ and still I was unmoved. I realise I am treading upon sacred ground for some, but there was nothing to hold me and I found it even more dull and tiring than her first collection! And so in desperation I turned to her third collection of 1916, ‘Men, Women and Ghosts’ which has many works written in her ‘polyphonic prose’ style and proved to be quite inventive,: ‘Figurines in Old Saxe’, ‘The Cremona Violin’, The Cross-Roads’, ‘The Roxbury Garden’, ‘Bronze Tablets’, ‘War Pictures’ which I certainly quite enjoyed; ‘The Overgrown Pasture’ and ‘Clocks Tick a Century’. By this time I was clutching at straws and I almost felt as if I could stomach Wordsworth! Terrible! In utter contempt and disappointment I shuffled slowly towards her fourth collection, ‘Can Grande’s Castle’ of 1918 with its ‘Sea-Blue and Blood-Red’, ‘Guns as Keys: And the Great Gate Swings’, ‘Hedge Island’ and ‘The Bronze Horses’ and I felt completely abandoned and dejected with disgust and frustration! Imagine a man crawling through the desert, dying of thirst who then sees a beautiful maiden carrying large vessels full of the promise of cool water, only to be offered mouldy cheese! But still I persisted like a wounded beast returning to the fight and moved to her fifth collection, ‘Pictures of the Floating World’ from 1919 and my persistence paid off for it was a delightful and even tremendous collection! The book is again divided into sections: ‘Lacquer Prints’, ‘Chinoiseries’, ‘Planes of Personality’ (‘Two Speak Together’), ‘Eyes, and Ears, and Walking’, ‘As Towards One’s Sleep’, ‘Plummets to Circumstance’, ‘As Toward War’ and ‘As Toward Immortality’. Amy Lowell (1874-1925) was a follower of ‘Imaginism’ and came to England in 1913 and 1914 where she met fellow writers Pound, D H Lawrence and H. D. (Hilda Doolittle). This is definitely her best collection with its flower imagery and it seems that the cigar smoking old oddity has a heart after all and there is an outpouring of love and romance! And so moved by the fire breathed into my soul by Lowell I skipped like a child towards her sixth collection ‘Legends’ (Poems translated from the Chinese by Florence Ayscough and English versions by Lowell) of 1921 which contains some quite lengthy prose poems which were so-so and a bit of a letdown really. As you can imagine by now I did not crawl towards her seventh collection ‘Fir-Flower Tablets’ also of 1921 and walked away with my soul intact and what little dignity I could muster!

The Farmer’s Bride – by Charlotte Mew.

Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) was an English poet and short story writer who appeared in the Yellow Book in 1894. This first collection ‘The Farmer’s Bride’ published in 1915 and known by the title ‘Saturday Market’ in the United States (originally seventeen poems, I read a 1921 edition with eleven new poems) brought Mew recognition as a poet and the collection swirls with restrained expression which is both powerful and passionate – it made her a cut above the other Georgian poets before she took her own life in 1928. The collection has an almost ethereal, spectral feel to it (I read the book with the scent of bittersweet nightshade upon my fingers, the strange tomato-like scent lingered in my nostrils for days afterwards) and it was an intoxicating read! There are some wonderful images such as this from the title poem ‘The Farmer’s Bride’ – ‘Shy as a leveret, swift as he, / Straight and slight as a young larch tree,’ and again ‘The soft young down of her, the brown, / The brown of her – her eyes, her hair, her hair!’ Marvellous indeed and we go on to the ‘new-born lamb’ that is dead in the field whom she describes as ‘The moon’s dropped child’ in ‘Fame’.
There is something horrible’ begins the poem ‘In Nunhead Cemetery’, ‘about a flower; / This, broken in my hand, is one of those / He threw in just now: it will not live another hour; / There are thousands more: you do not miss a rose.’ And it goes on: ‘There is something terrible about a child.’ Indeed there is! Still she continues like some pagan enchantress – ‘Now I will burn you back, I will burn you through, / Though I am damned for it we two will lie / And burn, here where the starlings fly / To these white stones from the wet sky -;’ Other excellent poems are: ‘The Fete’, ‘On the Asylum Road’, ‘The Forest Road’, ‘Madeleine in Church’, ‘On the Road to the Sea’ and ‘Arracombe Wood’. There was always the threat of madness with Mew (she made a pact with her sister never to marry in case she passed the bad genes on) and it rampaged along with death through her siblings. Prophetically, ‘The Quiet House’ ends ‘No one for me – / I think it is myself I go to meet: / I do not care; some day I shall not think; I shall not be!’ Splendid and anyone who can write like that and downs disinfectant to end their life has to be either absolutely mad or a complete genius, I know which I believe! Outstanding!

Earlham – by Percy Lubbock.

Published in 1922 (I read a 1927 reprint), ‘Earlham’ is the story of a house, Earlham Hall in Norwich, Norfolk, built in 1642 by Robert Houghton where the author, Percy Lubbock (1879-1965), a very powerful writer and critic, grew up as a child. Throughout the volume’s three parts: ‘Indoors’, ‘In the Garden’ and ‘Outside and Beyond’ it is the house, whether glimpsed from afar from some bosky dell near a stream or from within its rooms, which takes the centre stage and Lubbock, like some love-sick young romantic, praises every detail which he can recall to his mind such as the eleven-sided room where he slept and the nursery with its five doors; he swoons from one room to another summoning the odours and colours, the fabrics and the portraits and the ghostly personalities which inhabited and haunt the old hall in a wonderfully evocative eloquence which transports the reader into the past among the dusty heirlooms and shadows of the slightly sinister Great Room and the Blue Room before tripping along the hallway to the East Room near the nursery and the Ante-room Chamber before peering into the Chintz Room and the Green Room; we are drawn out into the garden along the Wilberforce Walk to view the Dutch Garden, the paddock and the Kitchen Garden before resting near the old ice house and moving on to the hot houses and the orchid houses. And of course a hall is not a home without its people and here we are introduced to the Gurneys, a Quaker family who lived there and thus the reader steps through worlds to peek through the windows at the strange assembly: the Gurneys were known and respected for Gurney’s Bank established 1770 and when John Gurney (1749-1809) married Catherine Bell (1755-1794) a member of the Barclay family, in 1775, Gurney’s Bank would become Barclay’s Bank in 1896. John and Catherine had thirteen children including Richenda Gurney who lovingly drew and painted numerous portraits of the house and Samuel Gurney (1786-1856) the present author, Percy Lubbock’s Great Grandfather who married Elizabeth Sheppard; their son John Gurney (1809-1856), Rector of St Mary’s Church married Laura Elizabeth Pearse in 1842 and they took over Earlham Hall when Joseph John Gurney died in the 1840’s. John and Laura had a daughter named Catherine Gurney (1850-1934) the author’s mother, who married Frederick Lubbock (1844-1927) a merchant banker in 1869, the son of Sir William Lubbock and Harriet Hotham and so the author is woven into the tapestry of Earlham just as the history is attached to the fabric of the building. This really is an affectionate and beautifully drawn portrait of a country house and Lubbock’s great love for the merest of details such as an old door knob and how it feels in one’s hand or the magical experience of exploring the gardens really allows the reader to immerse fully into this most intriguing and charming of volumes by a great writer whose ‘intimate nostalgia’ re-creates an increasingly disappearing vision of the past and its ancestral homes. Wonderful!

Roman Pictures – by Percy Lubbock.

Published in 1923, ‘Roman Pictures’ is Percy Lubbock’s only novel and its fifteen chapters begins with the narrator meeting an old school friend in Rome, at the Fontana Delle Tartarughe; the narrator’s friend, a man named Deering, a preening, pompous dandy who believes he has found the real Rome, not through its ruins and other tourist-haunted sites, but through its people and he advises the narrator to do the same, to forget about all one has learnt in books, in Hawthorne and Henry James, and one’s preconceptions about Rome. And so the narrator begins his journey like a pilgrim, discovering Rome through its English-speaking Catholic converts, its ascetic priests and Italian visitors whom Lubbock draws like crafted caricatures. Deering introduces our pilgrim to a young antiquarian priest named Maundy with the scent of the ecclesiastical archives about him who wrote a great deal of poetry at Oxford where he kept an ‘old silver oil-lamp burning night and day before a Greek statuette.’ Lubbock paints a satisfying picture of the young fin-de-siecle aesthete with his fondness for the poetry of Lionel Johnson and his favourite books ‘bound in apricot linen’ proudly displaying his collection of thirty-five different scented soaps. Maundy was introduced to the artist and aesthete Aubrey Beardsley in some eating-house in Soho and written a ‘sonnet of strange perfumes and fantastic gems’ dedicated to him, but later had ‘gone out into the dawn, and had wandered through Leicester Square to Covent Garden, and had bought a bunch of mauve carnations; and he had thought of sending them, with the sonnet, to the master who had inspired him – but then he had returned to his lodging and had burnt the sonnet, heaping the carnations for a pyre, having resolved to guard the experience, whole and rounded and complete, in the secrecy of a faithful memory.’ Next our pilgrim is introduced to an English dancer named Mr Jaffrey whom he meets at the Via Nazionale and a man who works at the Vatican named Cooksey and a scholar from the Vatican library named Mr Fitch. From each of these fastidious acolytes he winds his way through the Villa Borghese and is introduced to Teresa and her niece Berta who simply loves all things English, and Berta’s brother Luigi who is an oily character looking for a rich patron to help him up the social ladder and get to London; we find ourselves in the company of Madame Olga de Shuvaloff, a Russian in the Albano with her child Mimi and a German spinster from Dresden named Minna Dahl whom the narrator refers to as ‘Erda, the earth mother’. Then there is the gathering of English patriots abroad, Miss Nora Gilpin, an author who speaks perfect Italian and her friends at the Via Sistinia; and of course a real picture of Rome would not be complete without other English-speaking tourists to bring a piece of dear old England to Rome, such as Mr Bashford, Miss Gainsborough, Lady Mullinger, Mr Platt and Miss Gadge. But the narrator’s vision of Rome as a place of bohemian splendour is fulfilled when he is invited to the studio of the artist Mr Vickery, who has all the qualities of the old masters and the true artist; a man who it is said once kept company with the Browning’s, poets close to the heart of our narrator, yet he is too shy to ask the old painter about them but he is satisfied that he has seen something of the real Rome and discovered a real artist, disproving Deering’s comment that there are no real artists left in Rome anymore.
Lubbock, who sadly went blind in his old age, has written a brilliant and unusual travel novel about Rome and it was an absolute delight to read and I cannot recommend it enough!

In His Own Image – by Frederick Rolfe.

This is Frederick William Rolfe’s second book published in 1901 and it is a collection of thirty-two stories told within the framework of a novel by a young sixteen year old acolyte named Toto, a servant boy who is in charge of a small group of boys who attend upon the wants and needs of the priest Don Friderico who eagerly listens to the tales told by Toto. The book is dedicated to ‘Divi Amico Desideratissimo’, the Divine Friend much desired (who by the way was Rolfe’s friend Trevor Haddon) and that relationship is represented by the strong bond of friendship between Toto and his ecclesiastical master; a deep attachment we also find in Rolfe’s later novel ‘The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole’ written in 1908 and published in 1934. Within the collection of stories are six tales originally published in the Yellow Book in 1895-6 and published in book form as ‘Stories Toto Told Me’ in 1892, specifically: ‘About San Pietro and San Paolo’, ‘About the Lilies of San Luigi’, ‘A Caprice of some 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’, these stories have been collected with an additional twenty-six fables, all of which have Catholic, religious themes told with piety and humour, narrated by the young Toto through the Spring and the Summer (the six original tales were related before the Spring and Summer sections), stories such as: ‘About the Miraculous Fritter of Frat Agostino of the Cappuccini’, ‘Why the Rose is Red’, ‘About the Witch’s Head and Santignazio of Loyola’, ‘About the Love which is Desire and the Love which is Divine’, ‘Why Cats and Dogs always Litigate’, ‘About Divinamore and the Maiden Anima’ (Spring), ‘About doing Little, Lavishly’ and ‘About our Lady of Dreams’ (Summer). At 421 pages the reader will be richly rewarded in these tales by Frederick Rolfe, the self-styled Baron Corvo, one of the strangest and most intriguing writers you will encounter. I have found him a delightful author of exquisite works although I might add that having read his last novel ‘The Weird of the Wanderer’ (1912), being the Papyrus records (thirty-four, in fact) of some incidents in one of the previous lives of Mr. Nicholas Crabbe, of Crabs Herborough, Kent; a man who has utilised magical incantations of ancient Egypt and travelled back in time to a previous incarnation to find himself as none other than Odysseus, one would have to be a real enthusiast of the Baron to endure much of the tedious and dreary Egyptian cum occult drivel, but even at his worst there are few authors who can evoke such bitter paranoia and hatred so beautifully.


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