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Algernon Charles Swinburne: A Study – by Theodore Wratislaw.
Published in 1900 this 212 page volume is a brilliant critical analysis of A. C. Swinburne (1837-1909) the ‘singer of abnormal loves’ and his poetry, by the little known British poet Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933); concerning his poetry he goes into quite some depth and breathes new life into some of his more tired compositions. The author gives us a brief biography of the flame-haired poet, Algernon Charles Swinburne who in facial features resembles a missing-link between Poe (1809-49) and Paderewski (1860-1941), later alighting perhaps upon Charles Dickens (1812-70), was born in London in 1837 and educated at Eton and Balliol (he left Oxford without his degree). At
he became acquainted with D. G. Rossetti, Edward Burne Jones and William Morris
and published his ‘Undergraduate Papers’ in 1858 which consisted of essays on:
‘The Early English Dramatists’ (Marlowe and Fletcher), ‘Church Imperialism’ and
‘The Monomaniac’s Tragedy and Other Poems by Ernest Wheldrake, Author of Eve: A
Mystery. 1858’. In Oxford
he met the poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864) whom he admired immensely.
When he was twenty-three he published ‘The Queen Mother and Rosamund’ (1860),
two plays, the former the Shakespearean influenced play concerning Catherine de
Medici and the latter, a Browning-esque drama in five scenes about the mistress
of Henry II. Italy
Published in 1900 this 212 page volume is a brilliant critical analysis of A. C. Swinburne (1837-1909) the ‘singer of abnormal loves’ and his poetry, by the little known British poet Theodore Wratislaw (1871-1933); concerning his poetry he goes into quite some depth and breathes new life into some of his more tired compositions. The author gives us a brief biography of the flame-haired poet, Algernon Charles Swinburne who in facial features resembles a missing-link between Poe (1809-49) and Paderewski (1860-1941), later alighting perhaps upon Charles Dickens (1812-70), was born in London in 1837 and educated at Eton and Balliol (he left Oxford without his degree). At
His next work, ‘Dead Love’ of 1864, is a prose story about a French Lady named Madame Yolande who falls in love with the dead body of a French gentleman! But it is his masterpiece of 1865 which cemented Swinburne’s name in literary history – ‘Atalanta in
a play of perfection in blank verse which soars with lyrical metre: Calydon
‘O fair-faced sun, killing the stars and dews
And dreams and desolation of the night,
Rise up, shine, stretch thine hand out with the bow
Touch the most dimmest height of trembling heaven,
And burn and break the dark about thy ways,
Shot through and through with arrows; let thine hair
Lighten as flame above that flameless shell
Which was the moon, and thine eyes fill the world
And thy lips kindle with swift beams; let earth
Laugh and the long sea fiery from thy feet…’
[Prologue. Atalanta in Calydon.]
Wratislaw swoons like a blushing schoolgirl over ‘Atalanta’ where we find Althaea, thinking of her son Meleager, dying with his ‘loveliest loving lips’ and ‘little lightening eyes’ and well he should for it is a masterful work of art by a highly skilled poet, a poet on everybody’s lips whose dark mystery is born where the ‘hoofed heel of a satyr crushes/ the chestnut-husk at the chestnut-root’. The play is, as Wratislaw rightly says ‘as musical as Shelley, as noble as Sophocles, as pathetic as Shakespeare’. (p. 24) Then, ‘when the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces…’ Wratislaw turns his attention to ‘Chastelard’ (1865), a dramatic poem which he rates highly; ‘Chastelard’ is the first in a trio of Mary Stuart plays, the others being the historic drama in five acts, ‘Bothwell’ (1874) and ‘Mary Stuart’ (1881), but it is with the poet’s magnum opus, his ‘Poems and Ballads’ of 1866 that Wratislaw sings with ecstatic wonder over its originality and its variety of metre combined with its lyric quality and erotic imagery woven in rhythm and rhyme in such poems as: ‘The Triumph of Time’, ‘Dolores’, ‘Laus Veneris’ with its Tanhauser theme, ‘Itylus’, ‘Anactoria’, ‘Hymn to Proserpine’, ‘Ilicet’, ‘Faustine’, ‘The Garden of Proserpine’, ‘Hesperia’ and ‘Felise’. The volume caused praise and scandal in equal measure. Leaving ‘Poems and Ballads’ (which was also published in a second series in 1878 and a third series in 1889) he has good things to say about ‘Songs before Sunrise’ (1871) and ‘Songs of Two Nations’ (1875) before moving on to ‘Erectheus’ a tragedy in Greek imitation of 1876 which he finds ‘intolerable’; neither does he like ‘Studies in Song’ (1880) with its fifty stanzas of sixteen lines each. The long narrative in heroic couplets of ‘Tristram of Lyonesse’ of 1882 comes under his watchful eye and he discredits Tennyson’s ‘objective prejudice’ in his ‘The Last Tournament’ from ‘Idylls of the King’ and Matthew Arnold’s ‘stupid doggerel’ in his ‘Tristram and Iseult’ (1852) and elevates Swinburne’s telling of the lovers tale to the height of Wagner in his musical rendition which some would say is sacrilegious but Swinburne captures the mood of the romance between Tristram and his beloved Queen Iseult of Brittany, their marriage and his death perfectly.
The later works come under the author’s scrutiny such as ‘A Century of Roundels’ (1882) and ‘A Midsummer Holiday’ (1884) which are easily dismissed and he fixes his attention upon ‘Marino Faliero’ of 1885, a quite unremarkable dramatic poem upon which he scatters passionate petals of praise before slumping disparagingly through the poet’s most recent work to date (1900): ‘Locrine’ (1887); a mediocre play titled ‘The Sisters’ (1892), ‘Astrophel’ (1894), ‘The Tale of Balen’ (1896) and finally ‘Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards’ (1899). It can be seen that Swinburne has lost the fiery passion of youth, the erotic inspiration of the likes of Byron and Baudelaire, and withered, faded into a pale version of Browning.
The second half of the volume is concerned with Swinburne’s prose: ‘Notes on Poems and Reviews’ (1866), ‘William Blake’ (1868), ‘Under the Microscope’ (1872) and his excellent ‘Essays and Studies’ of 1875 which is a high watermark in literary criticism. This is followed by ‘George Chapman’ (1875) the Elizabethan dramatist, ‘Notes on Charlotte Bronte’ (1877) and then comes the highly praised ‘A Study of Shakespeare’ (1880), ‘A Study of Victor Hugo’ (1886) whom Swinburne greatly admires – alas Wratislaw does not share the enthusiasm; ‘Miscellanies’ (1886) in which he sings of his admiration for Charles Lamb and attacks Byron, literally demolishing his work and calling into question his quality as a man! But Swinburne is not done yet, in ‘Studies in Prose and Poetry’ (1894) it is Keats, that beautiful boy whom he wields his sword against, mercilessly attacking him for what he sees as his ‘abject unmanliness’.
Swinburne clings to life for another nine years so we do not have the luxury of knowing what Wratislaw would have made of his ‘A Channel Passage and Other Poems’ (1904), ‘The Age of Shakespeare’ (1908) and ‘Shakespeare’ (1909) but we can guess. In the ‘Epilogue’ he says that Swinburne is the ‘greatest living English poet’ and that his early works with their erotic emotion are greater than Tennyson or Browning, or at the very least equal to them but he fails to mention (and who can blame him with the object of his study and his admiration still resisting death) that Swinburne succumbed to alcohol and other excesses which almost destroyed him around 1878 and if it were not for his friend (whom Wratislaw touches upon in the Prologue) Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832-1914) he would have died before his later achievements. In 1879 he moved to the Pines in Putney with Watts-Dunton who weaned him from the drinking and restored his health. It is easy to let personal opinions cloud one’s critical judgement and Swinburne’s enthusiasm for Shakespeare, Victor Hugo and Walter Savage Landor (another notable Wratislaw does not share enthusiasm for) may be a point in case, but who is to say that Wratislaw is not guilty of the same critical errors in his own admiration for Swinburne and his works? Much of Swinburne’s ‘appetites’ it has been suggested were merely a pose adopted to create an air of wild excesses, yet here is something unspeakable about Swinburne of which it is not spoken! But who is this man Wratislaw? Who is this admirer who dares to trample in the temple of decadence? Perhaps a brief outline of the author’s life is in order as many will not have heard of Wratislaw, the elusive ‘decadent’ of the eighteen-nineties ‘fin de siecle’ who was himself greatly influenced by Swinburne in his poetry. Theodore William Graf Wratislaw, (the ‘Graf’ is German for ‘Count’), was born in Rugby, Warwickshire on 21st April 1871 and educated at Rugby School from 1885-88. After leaving school he entered his father’s firm of solicitors; his relationship with his father was always strained. His first volume of self-published poetry ‘Love’s Memorial’ appeared in 1892 together with a second volume ‘Some Verses’, both printings limited to 35 copies. Wratislaw saw himself as a decadent poet and in the early nineties dallied on the fringes of Oxford University’s homosexual aesthetes, known as the Uranians, such as Charles Kains Jackson; and he became friends with Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Symons, Lord Alfred Douglas and the ‘tender soul’, Ernest Dowson. In 1893 he moved to
and published his third collection of poems ‘Caprices’, in a run of 120 copies.
In September of that year he spent a weekend as Oscar Wilde’s guest at
Goring-on-Thames where he probably made little impression upon the great wit
but he did become known amongst certain literary circles and his poems were
published in The Strand magazine and The Yellow Book. In November he passed his
final law exams and briefly returned to Rugby before returning to London in the
autumn. Two years later in 1895 he published ‘The Pity of Love’, a verse play
and in August of that year entered the civil service at the Estates Duty Office
at Somerset House in London which he described in a letter of 1914 as ‘penal
servitude’. In May 1896 his fourth collection of poetry ‘Orchids’ was published
as a limited edition. In 1899 he married a Jewish London opera singer named
Sarah Esther Caroline Harris (born 1875) who contracted tuberculosis and died
in 1901 aged twenty-six. He published his much praised study of Swinburne in
1900 and in April 1908 he married his second wife, Theodora Russell (nee
Bankes, born 1875) which was a disaster and they divorced in 1912. He became
bankrupt in 1914 but fortunes began to turn when he met the wealthy Ada Ross
(born 1878) and they were married in May the following year. They moved to York
Lodge, Walton on Thames in Surrey in 1927 and three years later, after
suffering ill health he retired from the Duty Office, began an unfinished
memoir called ‘Salad Days’ and died on 13th September 1933 following
his last published work, a translation of Francois Villon’s ‘Two Ballades’ (60
Wratislaw, who has been sadly too overlooked as a poet, has written an admirable introduction to Swinburne and his works and I consider his slim literary output as something rather strange and beautiful, not merely because I so happen to share the same birthday as Wratislaw, but because through all the commonplace annoyances of life he adhered to his poetic principles. Like the author, I too was infatuated with Swinburne in my undergraduate days and ‘touched gently’ the gate of the poet at The Pines in Putney where the poet died on 10th April 1909, aged 72; two decades later I ‘hath sat upon the great man’s grave at Bonchurch and inwardly wept and warbled my inadequacies and unworthiness as a fellow poet!’ A marvellous book indeed!
Caprices: Poems – by Theodore Wratislaw.
This slim volume of 44 poems which drips with ‘eighteen-nineties decadence’ was published at the end of 1893 in 120 copies by Gay & Bird. It is Theodore Wratislaw’s third published work after ‘Love’s Memorial’ and ‘Some Verses’ both 1892 and these ‘symbolist’ impressions in verse sing with his favourite themes: the pleasure of music halls and dancing (he was infatuated by dancing girls) – ‘You, fair as heaven and as rainbow bright, /You, queen of song and empress of the dance, /Flower of mine eyes, my love, my heart’s delight!’ (The Music Hall); the transient nature of love: ‘Sweet love, thy heart is red and deep,/O take me in thine arms to sleep/Within this bosom all the night.’ (Song in Spring), and ‘In the crepuscule’s dying gleam/Love’s tears and kisses vainly pass:/Our days have faded like a dream, /And like a dream our nights, alas.’ (The Relic).
But throughout the collection there is the distinctive scent of death, as in this poem ‘Trance’:
‘Ah! Press thy heart to mine and lay
Thy lips upon my lips and heed
No whit the griefs that rose today
Nor those the dawn is sure to lead.’
And the poem continues in darker mood – ‘Swooning deathwards blend/Our spirits in one perfect kill!’
Wratislaw also touches upon his own death in the poem ‘Inscription’ (he is only twenty-two years old) and imagines his body in the ground, as a stranger passes; his lifeless shell sleeping amongst the ‘silent dead’ beneath ‘withered flowers and faded ivy wreath,’ – beautiful.
Like Dowson’s remarkable works there lingers a dark melancholy which permeates the collection and seems to cloud the poems in a sad and wistful mist that shall ‘weep for pleasures dead too soon,’ (Odour) as in the poem ‘Le Piano Que Baise’ where the poet asks: ‘What is this sudden lull so quickly born/That slowly sways my poor heart to despair?’
Many of the poems recall the sea and flowers which he uses to good effect but it is the overwhelming sense of desire and inner longing which remains un-satiated: ‘O flower of flesh, O beauty rare,/Yield up thy pagan grace to me!’ (In Summer) and when it is satiated he wearies ‘of the heat of hell, /The perfumed palace of thy love;’ (Satiety).
The mention of ‘perfume’ evokes the two poems ‘Opoponax’ and ‘Frangipani’ named after perfumes, something the decadents, with their love of the ‘artificial’, especially Oscar Wilde, held in high importance – Wratislaw was Wilde’s guest for a weekend in September 1893 at The Cottage, Goring-on-Thames which he rented from June to October of that year; Wilde’s family and Lord Alfred Douglas (‘Bosie’) stayed there (Bosie worked on a translation of Wilde’s ‘Salome’): ‘Oscar proposed to spend the morning on the river and later on joined me, clearly spraying himself with a scent which filled the room. I inquired its name. “It is white lilac.” he said. “A most insidious and delightful perfume.” [Oscar Wilde: A Memoir. Theodore Wratislaw (John Betjeman and Karl Beckson).
. Eighteen Nineties Society. 1979] London
Wratislaw, who is not homosexual – ‘God is with me, God who for my right/Of old took arms against the sodomite!’ (L’Eternal Feminin) is probably most well-known for his uranian poem ‘To a Sicilian Boy’ which captures perfectly the atmosphere of the fin de siecle’s sexual ambivalence and predilection towards taboo subjects:
‘Love, I adore the contours of thy shape,
Thine exquisite breasts and arms adorable;
The wonders of thine heavenly throat compel
Such fire to love as even my dreams escape:
I love thee as the sea-foam loves the cape,
Or as the shore the sea’s enchanting spell:
In sweets the blossoms of thy mouth excel
The tenderest bloom of peach and purple grape.
I love thee, sweet! Kiss me again, again!
Thy kisses soothe me, as tired earth the rain;
Between thine arms I find mine only bliss;
Ah let me in thy bosom still enjoy
Oblivion of the past, divinest boy,
And the dull ennui of a woman’s kiss!
Wratislaw has so often been classed as a uranian poet on the basis of this one poem when really he was on the circumference of the Oxford poets and although in some ways these poems fail to strike the perfect chord (some readers may even find him dull) I find these simple and in many cases short verse rather enchanting!
Eros’ Throne – by George Ives.
This little book of poems published in 1900 by George Cecil Ives (1867-1950) contains forty poems over ninety-five pages, some of which are quite good. Ives, a campaigner for penal reform as well as a poet, manages to capture, intentionally or unintentionally, an odour of confinement amongst his verse (mostly written between 1898 and 1899), many of which are love songs – ‘The fairy span of heavens bow,/ Valhalla’s bridge to Spirit-land,/Shines while the cloister-arch lies low/And rock-piled cities are but sand;’ (‘A Recollection’). Amongst the sense of claustrophobia comes a quite moving piece entitled ‘An Eton Boy’ which deifies a ‘widow’s only son; crushed by a train when returning to school.’ A boy with ‘fifteen summers’ work so well/ To break the mould of the spirit ere clay was hard.’ A boy whose unstained soul death came and ‘snatched the agile form, untimely in earth laid.’ Unfortunately I found that many of his so called ‘love poems’ failed to attain any level of conviction: ‘So true love lifts the weight of all the world/ In scorn of gravity and man’s restraint,/And casting up the many-towered hill/He bids it circle as a satellite.’ (‘Mark how the Sea’) or this from the end of ‘My Soul’ which almost becomes a religious experience, or would have been in a greater poet’s hands: ‘And blessed and cursed are those who feel/Condemned to greatness, thus, to pain,/Where Nature makes its mute appeal,/And stars give not their light in vain.’ Other poems reek with a sense of darkness (or just a little shade) such as ‘For the Funeral’, ‘The Plague’ and the delightful ‘The Autumn Bud’ and ‘In Camera’ and this revelatory stanza from ‘Shrine of Huitzilopochtli’: ‘Man hath a soul, they say, and yet no beast/Hath dug down to the depth of his disgrace/To offer up the font of human love/Before the nightmare spectre of his brain.’ Perhaps the greatest work in the volume is ‘Eros’ Throne: The Ascent of Life and Love’, an ambitious piece in nineteen parts which goes from ‘Boyhood’, ‘Girlhood’, ‘Divergence’, ‘Will’, ‘Emotion’ and ‘Beauty’ etc. The first section, ‘Boyhood’ contains these rather good lines: ‘Under all the sun’s vast vision/ He is the most lovely.’ and ‘Sappho sang in vain to Phaon, /Venus mourned her sylvan boy, /And another than Briseis/Steeped in blood the plains of Troy.’ Not a bad collection but I thought much of it fell short of the mark and there was that overwhelming smell of the prison which lingered and spoilt my enjoyment, but on the whole no too bad!
The Magic of My Youth – by Arthur Calder-Marshall.
Published in 1951 by the novelist and critic Arthur Calder-Marshall (1908-1992), ‘The Magic of My Youth’ is a beautifully written autobiography which moves serpent-wise through the threads of the author’s past, gently alighting upon distant visions and occurrences, but mostly the book recounts his fascination with magical and spiritual themes and his acquaintance with ‘Vickybird’ (Victor Neuburg, the poet and disciple of occultist Aleister Crowley) – ‘having spent the first fifteen years of my life in ignorance of Crowley’s existence, I became aware of him from four separate sources in the course of six months: from a Sunday newspaper, from my brother at Oxford; from a vision of the Tiger Woman, Betty May, in full Bacchanal at a Bloomsbury Hotel and, most remarkable of all, from the Steyning Poet.’ [Neuburg] (The Poet and the See-er: The Illusionist of Islington. p.19.) Calder-Marshall summons up the way in which magic (or magick as it is rightly spelt) seems to occur naturally, as if events are subtly manipulated so that the desired intention is brought to pass, almost unobserved; this is described perfectly in the tale told by Tom Driberg concerning ‘Cosmo the Great Illusionist’ in the opening chapter, the Prelude. The author evokes a picturesque vision of Steyning in the 1920’s and of the poet, Neuburg, who ‘each morning’ would ‘emerge from Vine Cottage with a string bag and an obese white bitch and make for the High Street.’ (p.23) Vickybird really comes to life through Calder-Marshall’s tender descriptive touches: ‘He carried an ash stick, and he was always dressed in a Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, with stockings which rode in rucks around his spindly legs, and shoes so old that the leather was cracked.’ With his ‘thin venous hands’ and a ‘head which, by nature disproportionately large for his body, was magnified by dark Medusa locks which rose from his scalp and tumbled curling down his forehead.’ The bedraggled poet with his razor cuts and threadbare clothing must have been quite a sight in quaint old-fashioned Steyning!Young Arthur and his brother Robert, four years his senior, made friends with the odd poet as children and later when Robert went to Oxford Arthur learnt all sorts of tales handed down from ‘Bobby’ concerning the adventures of the harmless and amusingly eccentric poet, Victor Neuburg and his relationship with notorious magician Aleister Crowley – “In the first decade of the century, it appears that he went into the middle of the Sahara with Aleister Crowley and, drawing a circle in the sand, they summoned up the Devil.” (p.31) As in all books which reference the Beast Crowley the usual sensational diabolic nonsense surfaces because as humans we naturally gravitate towards the exaggerated truth spiced with a little ‘invented myths’ which is after all more interesting than the mundane. Neuburg corrects Arthur on their meeting, saying “in the first place, we did not go into the middle of the
There are some fascinating reminiscences of Arthur aged fifteen living in Bloomsbury when his brother was at Oxford, of seeing the ‘Epstein model’ Betty May, the Tiger Woman, which leads us naturally into Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu and the young St John’s College, Oxford poet who married Betty May: Raoul Loveday (1900-1923) whose ‘poetry was as wildly romantic as his love-making. He admired immensely decadents like Dowson and Lionel Johnson who hid the pretty in grandiloquence, bridging the gulf between reality and splendour with alcohol. He drank whisky by the toothglass.’ (p. 111) A man who, Calder-Marshall tells us was ‘more than half in love with death.’ (p.113)
At Oxford Arthur performs a ‘Black Mattins’ in his college rooms and rumour of the Black Mass swept through the colleges and an hour after it was performed he was sent for by the Dean and asked if a Black Mass took place and if he had ‘the Consecrated Host and a defrocked priest.’ Actually it was a harmless ‘Esbath’ celebration, but he was almost sent down for it! He became Secretary of the Oxford Poetry Society and he invited Neuburg to give a talk which he at first declined but accepted on the promise of a suit from Arthur to wear for the occasion. He was originally to lecture on Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ but decided upon ‘Poetry and Poesy, or the Making, Mating and Matching of the Word’, spending two months in preparation for it; the lecture was terrible but Neuburg felt invigorated by it and deemed it a wonderful success! Arthur tells Vickybird that he intends to invite
“And then,” said Vickybird, “instead of declaring that the
Towards the end of the book Arthur writes his first rejected novel having taken three months to create it and he takes a six weeks teaching job as Senior Classics Master at Bogglesham Grammar School. In the Epilogue, ‘The Ship Comes In’, there is a delightful re-acquaintance between Arthur and Vickybird in
‘The Magic of My Youth’ has been a wonderful experience and Calder-Marshall practices no pretence and indeed it shall be a book I will turn to again. Being a great admirer of Crowley it is nice to get this different perspective of him from one who met him; a picture which does not place the great magician centre stage but like a prowling tiger around the circumference and of course anything on Neuburg is a delightful revelation as there is not enough on this gentle magician-poet. The author keeps the narrative light and introduces some wonderful moments of humour throughout the 226 pages. This really is an immaculate little book (my copy has acquired a ‘loving energy’ from sensitive hands and a delicate aged aroma familiar to all book lovers!) Excellent!
Wild Apples – by Jeanne Robert Foster.
One of the most striking poems which opens the book is ‘When I am Dead’ in which the author asks – ‘Do I wish my name to be a Master-Word, /Whispered whenever the awe and terror of power is stirred.’ And she answers: ‘No, none of this, - /Neither beauty nor power, - for the groping hands of men/Will scatter my dust from its quiet place, and re-create me again.’
There are some very accomplished poems such as the worthy memorial poem to the poet Robert Lamier: ‘So brief his flight, so short his nesting time/Hardly within him had ripe genius moved;’ – there is the essence of Yeats (in fact she dedicates the poems to the poet’s brother, the artist J. B. Yeats R.H.A. 1871-1957) and her poem ‘W. B. Yeats – Reading’ has some magically inspired lines which conjure the great Irish bard, who ‘rose/in the lamp’s flare, grave as the dark waters;/forgetful of each face, sense winged beyond/The preen of curios eyes and whispered praise.’ She describes his voice ‘murmuring of Dooney and of Innisfree’, who made a dream ‘Not of thyself, but of the Mystic Rose/Thou singest, and the Vessel of the Grail.’ Other Yeatsian poems in the collection such as: ‘The Fairy Woman’, ‘Riders to the Sea’, ‘Songs of Bally Shannon’, ‘The Emigrant’ and ‘The Stranger in the Glen’ all have a sense of the other world beyond the veil where there is ‘drooping numbness with narcotic calm.’ (‘Moonrise’)
The author has a light touch too as can be seen in the frail poem ‘Moth Flowers’:
The pale mothTrembles in the white moonlight;
Thus my heart trembles with love!
The rose petals fall –The red petals of my heart;
On, the breath of love!
Cool, sweet tearsOf honey, the jasmine weeps;
Burning fall the tears of love.
Oh, how bitterIs the White Poppy, Death;
There are no more dreams of love.
In another poem she compares herself to a ‘Wayside Flower’ that ‘loves and lives/and all itself to love so freely gives,’ a flower that ‘droops and dies,’ yet ‘bravely dying knows not pain/If only memory of its grace remain.’ Many poems also show a desire for motherhood (alas she was infertile) and she weaves a delicate thread of magic such as in ‘The Eternal Triangle’:
'Do not speak –Twilight burns on the hills; exorcise now
Those phantoms of old loves; death comes apace
And Spring no more will rim the barren bough.
Here swings the censer; here the incense burns;
Here the Eternal Athanor of Power,
Body supreme, transmuter of our dross –
The Rose Alchemical – the Magic Flower.’
It will come as no surprise that a year previous to the publication of ‘Wild Apples’ the author was in a relationship with the occultist Aleister Crowley whom she met on 10 June 1915; she took the magical name ‘Hilarion’ and was also known by Crowley as the ‘Cat’ because of her feline nature and physical appearance. Aficionados of Crowley will know that she is the magical mother of Frater Achad (Charles Stansfeld Jones 1886-1950) who crossed the magical Abyss at the Autumn Equinox of 1915 to become a Master of the Temple; the spiritual ‘child’ prophesied in Liber Al vel Legis, but that is another matter and it should not influence the poems.Throughout the book the author, the possessor of extreme feminine beauty, clings to her mystical beliefs in a spiritual loneliness and longing for God: ‘The bosom of God/From whence I came, /To which I have been eternally returning.’ (‘Refuge’) She is also a competent writer of sonnets and one also finds the influence of Poe where lingers an odour of the grave: ‘I would the seeping graveyard rain/Could wake thee into life again, /And while in hell I burn thou couldst/In some red rose forget thy pain.’ (‘The Soul’s Farewell’) These poems may not be to everyone’s liking (let’s face it, there are some pretty awful ones too) but there is a mood which pervades the book and that mood is for change, a spiritual transformation or enlightenment and a physical longing for love and God – “Zariel: ‘Old worlds spin down to vapour in the void/And new worlds rise, but Law remains unchanged.’” (‘Orifiel’) Quite lovely!
Witchcraft: It’s Power in the World To-Day – by William Seabrook.
In part III – ‘Our Modern Cagliostros’ he mentions three ‘white magicians’ in the world today, who have real power, two of whom he came to know: I. George Gurdjieff (1866-1949), who seemed to have power over his acolytes to cause them to perform unbelievable feats of acrobatic skills and physical endurance; II. Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), the founder of the Great White Brotherhood whom he met through Frank Harris in 1917 in New York, and III. Pierre Arnold Bernard (1875-1955), a yogi known as the ‘Great Oom’ and founder of a ‘love cult’ whom Seabrook did not meet and has little to say about. Interestingly he gives examples of his meetings with Crowley, whom he describes as ‘a strange, disturbing fellow, with a heavy pontifical manner mixed with a good deal of sly, monkey-like, and occasionally malicious humour. He wore an enormous star sapphire on the forefinger of his right hand, and had his head shaved’ (p. 173) He goes on to give details about Crowley’s ‘Magical Retirement’ for forty days and nights, travelling up the Hudson River in a canoe with his tent to Esopus Island:
‘The provisions looked suspicious and since we’d paid for them we decided to inspect them. They consisted of fifty gallons of red paint, three big house-painter’s brushes, and a heavy coil of rope. We investigated further. He hadn’t bought so much as a tin of beans or a loaf of bread. He’s blown every cent for the red paint. He had nothing in his pockets except the ticket for the trip up the river.
“What are you going to eat, for crying out loud?” we asked, and he replied, in his heaviest pontifical manner:
“My children, I am going to
‘all summer excursionists going up and down the river saw painted on the cliffs south of Kingston two enormous legends:
Every Man and Woman is a Star!
Do What Thou Wilt shall be the Whole of the Law.’ Seabrook adds that he had ‘rigged himself a sling, and painted, we were told, from sunrise to sundown. Thereafter he had sat cross-legged on the ground in front of his tent.’ (p. 176) After Crowley returned to
As we neared the end of the block A.C., in taking a step forward, let both knees buckle suddenly under him, so that he dropped, caught himself on his haunches, and was immediately erect again, strolling.
The man in front of us fell as if his legs had been shot out from under him – and was sprawling.’ (p. 177) He also mentions Jane Wolfe’s (although he does not name her) experiences at
The Amazon of Letters: The Life and Loves of Natalie Barney – by George Wickes.
After her father’s death in 1902
Part II ‘Epilogue’ is a series of interviews by the author, George Wickes, two with Natalie in 1971, the year before she died, and several with Berthe Cleyrergue, Natalie’s servant since 1927; Janine Lahovary, friends, Jean Chalon, Francois Chapon and the American student Cheryl Hughes. The delightful reminiscences continue in part III from Eyre de Lanux, Virgil Thomson, Bettina Bergery, Truman Capote and Janet Flanner.
Wickes has produced a mesmerising journey through the Paris of the fin-de-siecle and beyond and a picture of the pagan, Hellenistic culture at the centre of that world and of the creative and intellectual salons unfolds and amidst the perfume and the philosophy and the talks on books is a charming, hedonistic lover of women who made a lasting impression in the minds and hearts of all those who came to know and love her – a witty and fascinating read!
Tiger Woman: My Story – by Betty May.
Betty May has led an exhausting and adventurous life and she was only 36 when ‘Tiger Woman’ was published in 1929. Throughout the eight chapters of the book we find a headstrong, earthy and quite child-like personality, almost a victim of her own fate who intrudes upon one improbable moment to the next; she could not help but become a figure of hedonistic notoriety – ‘I have never tried to be ordinary and fit in with other people. I have not cared what the world thought about me, and as a result I am afraid what I thought has often not been very kind.’ (Introduction) Betty and her three siblings were raised in squalor and misery inShe gets engaged to a man named Arthur and the next day gets engaged to marry Dick and lives with his parents in a village Rectory for three months, utterly bored – she escapes and returns to London and on seeing Arthur she agrees to marry him in a week’s time. The night preceding the eve of the wedding she is at the Café Royal where she meet her friend ‘Bunny’ who declares his love for her – they get married on the same day she was to marry Arthur! They honeymoon in Scotland and she finds Bunny is a cocaine addict and Betty succumbs to the drug also – they are thrown out of the hotel and back in London live at the home of Stewart Gray, the man behind the ‘back to the land’ movement. At the outbreak of war Bunny joins up and when he goes to France in December 1914 she is bored in Richmond, working at a hairdresser’s and a tobacconists; she fears she has contracted leprosy (from one of the hair nets manufactured in China) and she and Bunny agree to divorce (as it turns out Bunny dutifully dies in battle) and Betty escalates into a world of dope and drink and even becomes psychotic and suicidal. Before Bunny’s death she had met an Australian Major who fell for Betty and they get married and he attempts to help her get off the drugs and alcohol. While she is living in
London , but because of her misbehaviour she
was sent to live with her cruel and drunken father (he had a penchant for
bashing cats’ brains out against walls) who lived in a brothel with a Jewish
woman named Sarah. The father showed no sign of love towards Betty and was
eventually arrested (by his own father who was a Police man) for living off
immoral earnings and given two years in prison and Betty went to live first
with an Aunt on a barge and later with an Aunt on a farm in Tidal Bay . Following a sexual encounter with an
older man, a Master of the local Grammar School she was sent out into the world
and naturally drifted towards Somerset .
She wasn’t long in London when her beautiful yet wild looks began to attract
attention and when she failed to submit to the abuse, assaults, bribes and
threats of a man who proclaimed to love her, he took her by taxi to a club in
Leicester Square and pushed her down the stairs – it was her first glimpse of
the smoky underworld of London’s nightlife with its dancing and jazz music and
she became intoxicated by it. She began to frequent clubs such as the Endell
Street Club and the Café Royal where artists such as Jacob Epstein, Augustus
John and the art critic Roger Fry hung-out and held court amongst the bohemians
like Nina Hamnett and the artist’s models. Suddenly, Betty goes to Bordeaux on
a whim (all her adventures seem to be on a whim) with a man she later finds out
to be a ‘white slaver’ and she manages to escape his clutches; homeless and
hungry, she finds work dancing at a Café before being abducted by a street gang
leader known as ‘White Panther’ and taken to Paris where she becomes a member
of his gang and she is referred to as ‘Tiger Woman’. One of her more shocking
and shameful episodes concerns Betty leading a young English undergraduate on
and taking him to the gang’s headquarters where he is robbed and dumped outside
Paris; the young man informs the police who raid the HQ (the gang had prior
notice and fled). Betty is blamed and given an ultimatum: bring back the man or
suffer the consequences (in other words they would kill her) so she hunts the
man and finds him and lures him to the gangs new HQ and she is forced to brand
the young man with a hot knife on his breast before he is again dumped in
Monmartre. Again he goes to the police, the HQ is raided and gang members are
taken into custody – Betty returns to London and her adventures make her
the toast of the Endell Street Club and the Café Royal crowd. England
She gets noticed by the sculptor Jacob Epstein who makes the bust of her known as the ‘Savage’ which brings her minor celebrity (and artistic immortality) until she met a brilliant, young Oxford undergraduate in 1922 named Raoul Loveday; within a month they were married. Raoul, who had secured a First in History at St John’s College, Oxford was interested in Egyptology and the occult and he soon became acquainted with the notorious Aleister Crowley who asked him to join him at his Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu, Sicily; Betty is fearful but afraid of losing Raoul to the magician decides to go with her husband and they both travel to the Abbey in November 1922. She describes life at the Abbey (if you are fond of cats look away!) as she fights the hold Crowley (whom she does not name but refers to throughout as the ‘Mystic’) seems to have over the young Raoul and we are escorted through the events which lead up to poor Raoul’s death just three months after arriving from drinking unclean spring water. Back in
Throughout the book Betty leaps from one wild adventure to the next, willing to settle down with first this man and then that man, but it was inevitable that she would fail at marriage, even the most ardent lover would find it difficult to cage a tiger. The absence of a father-figure in childhood seems to me the single point which continually propels her into marriage and into a Freudian un-satisfaction of being dominated and conforming to what is expected and acceptable. She walks blindly into matrimony just as she walks blindly into the excesses of London’s ‘bright, young people’, obliterating the memory of war’s devastation, and in this she is in many ways, a modern woman, quite fearless and determined, easily prone to boredom and fierce when needs to be. She does not look for sympathy; she places her story down for the world to gawp at and merely says accept it for it is who I am! Much of her tale concerning the Abbey differs to Crowley’s version of events in his ‘Confessions’ – Crowley was not always wholly reliable and prone to exaggerate while I think Betty does tell the simple truth, if perhaps a little clouded by time as she never mentions keeping a journal which would have been of vital importance for the sake of historical accuracy, nevertheless, ‘Tiger Woman’ is the account of someone who did not fall for Crowley’s magical personality and someone who breezed through life at the cruel hand of fate and accepted it, good or bad! An astounding story and an extraordinary life indeed!
Gerard Manley Hopkins – by G F Lahey.
Published in 1930 (I read the 1969 edition) this fascinating little book of a mere 172 pages does credit to the author who obviously has a strong appreciation for Hopkins and his work and he shows us a precocious, delicately honest and sensitive child who is aware of ‘moral disorder and physical ugliness’; he brings the young Hopkins into the light and exposes his youthful character which is not the serious, brooding aesthete one assumes but a playful and stubborn adolescent absorbed in the world around him; the world of nature and the frailties of humanity – at school he observed that everyone drank too much liquid so he decided to abstain from drinking all liquid for a week; the result of course was that he collapsed but his determination and his will to endure proved almost beyond human physicality; he did the same with less drastic results with salt! Acts of such self-denial would become a common theme throughout his life. The young Gerard was a dreamer and a lover of poetry, a ‘fairy child in the midst of a commonplace, workaday world.’ During the Christmas term of 1863 he went up to Balliol College, Oxford where he studied under Jowett, Riddell and Pater, becoming a disciple of Pusey and Liddon, and he made some of his great friendships here such as his cousin and fellow poet Robert Bridges (later Poet Laureate), Digby Mackworth Dolben and William Addis. Dolben of course is an interesting personality in himself; a young man who had a ‘mind no less penetrating than his friend’s [Hopkins] and a soul equally sensitive to the seductive glow of nature and of art!’ Lahey says that his ‘personality was intense and affectionate, but buoyant and romantic.’ (p. 27) Like Hopkins, Dolben became a Puseyite and under the name of Brother Dominic he joined the Third Order of St. Benedict organised by Rev. Joseph Leycester Lyne. ‘I have written letters without end’ [to Dolben] Gerard reports to Bridges, ‘without a whiff of answer.’ (p. 28) These are of course the celebrated ‘dead letters’ to ‘dearest him’ and the same sense of romance permeated Hopkins’ chivalrous desire for Dolben as Dolben’s attachment to a boy at school whom he wrote love poems to. One would have to be unbelievably naive to assume thatDolben’s eccentricities were well known such as his liking for dressing as a monk – ‘Walford believed that Dolben had been mobbed in
was not overcome by terrible erotic
thoughts for Dolben and would have wanted a deeper intimacy between them and it
is probably correct to say that he was warned against such a relationship, a
relationship which must remain by correspondence only if he desired to walk a
spiritual path. Intense friendships were forged in the all-male society of
public schools and colleges – if you have taken the trouble (as I have done) to
wade through that fairly innocuous curio published in two volumes in 1881 which
tells of the adventures of Jack Saul or the recollections of a Mary-Ann, under
the unassuming title ‘Sins of the Cities of the Plain’ (‘milking a cow will
never seem the same again!’) you will realise that homosexual practises did not
begin and end with the Ancient Greeks! But too much importance is placed upon Hopkins ’ sexuality or
lack of it and his work should stand for itself as poetic masterpieces. Hopkins
In the third chapter ‘Hopkins and Newman’ we are presented with the correspondence between them and the meetings which took place and the four letters from H P Liddon to Hopkins dated 16th, 18th, 19th and 20th October 1866 imploring Hopkins not to be hasty in his decision to be confirmed into the Catholic Church – Hopkins was received into the Roman Catholic Church by Newman in Birmingham on 21st October 1866. We get a sense of Hopkins the man through his friendship and correspondence with the poet Coventry Patmore who greatly appreciated Hopkins’ mental criticisms of his poetical works, even to the point that he tossed his manuscript of ten years work called ‘Sponsa Dei’ into the flames on Christmas Day 1887 after Hopkins’ critical comment that to publish it would be ‘telling secrets’. (p. 66) The author takes an in-depth look at
The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon, edited with Notes and an Introduction – by Claude Colleer Abbott.
Published in 1935 (I read the 1955 second impression) these letters which begin with Hopkins’ first introductory letter to Dixon dated 4th June 1878 from Stonyhurst College, Blackburn in which there is high praise for the older poet and many kind words of admiration and so begins a firm friendship between these two crusty, literary men of God; in fact, an honourable trust is established and Dixon values Hopkins’ critical judgements of his poems greatly and both are gracious towards each other as throughout the charming correspondence which throws up subjects on poetic form such as Hopkins’ notion of ‘Sprung Rhythm’ the sonnet and poetic metres (something he goes into great detail about); Keats, Tennyson, Milton, Carlyle and Wordsworth all get their glory – there are some interesting views of fame too, not to mention poem recommendations. They managed to meet once after several attempts which their heavy workloads prevented and Hopkins’ calls Dixon ‘shy’ in the letter following their meeting which really brought the old Canon to life. It is true to say that Dixon was the first to really recognise Hopkins’ ‘terrible pathos’ and great poetic ability; he even attempted to have Hopkins’ poem ‘The Loss of the Eurydice’ published in a Carlisle newspaper which provoked the younger poet to protest against it, resolved to the renunciation and sanctity of his ecclesiastical work under the discipline and self-surrender of St Ignatius. There are a few holes in the tapestry as some letters are missing which should have been preserved but nevertheless, what remains gives a telling picture of two deeply religious, thoughtful and literary-minded men – Dixon’s last letter is dated 7th July 1887 from Northumberland and Hopkins’ 29th July 1888 from University College, Dublin – Hopkins died on 8th June the following year aged 44. The Appendix contains ‘A Prayer’ by
An Experiment with Time – by J. W. Dunne.
The British philosopher, soldier and aeronautical engineer, John William Dunne (1875-1949) published his astounding theories on the nature of time and consciousness which he termed ‘serialism’: ‘An Experiment with Time’ in 1927 (I read the 1934 3rd edition) to a welcome audience already becoming familiar with Einstein’s Relativity and the concept of quantum mechanics. Dunne became curious about ‘time’ as a young boy and endeavoured to explain an adequate theory to determine whether time or the chronological order of things (past, present and future) can be viewed as in pre-cognitive dreaming to perceive future events. His first ‘episode’ of pre-cognitive dreaming, or ‘clairvoyance’ occurred in 1898 when at his hotel inHe draws on the conceptual theories of the British mathematician Charles Howard Hinton (1853-1907), British Astronomer, Professor Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) and the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and concludes that Time has many levels, a multi-dimensional theory of Time in which the time-line of the observer and a higher time-line of the observer’s ‘conscious mind’ which experiences Time, or the movement of Time, co-exist, in fact, infinite dimensions relative to various perceptual states occur. ‘The Time dimension, for any given observer, is simply the dimension in which his own world-line happens to extend through the four-dimensional continuum.’ (p. 147) The theory illustrates the notion of death in which the physical body is separated from the first dimensional level of Time but the ‘consciousness’ remains on a higher, second dimensional level, which is an interesting theory but it does not explain the perception of future events fully and essentially the concept is flawed. He outlines his theory admirably in part four ‘Temporal Endurance and Temporal Flow’ and makes a clear definition of ‘Serial Time’ but time has shown in modern philosophical studies that the multi-dimensional theory of Time is incorrect. Dunne published four more works along similar lines: ‘The Serial Universe’ (1934), ‘The New Immortality’ (1938), ‘Nothing Dies’ (1940) and ‘Intrusions’ (1955).
he dreamt that his watch had stopped at and on waking he found his watch had stopped at precisely 4.30
a.m. having re-wound his watch he returned to sleep and on waking found that
his watch had only lost a few minutes so it was logical to assume that he woke
at 4.30 a.m. having had the dream impression at the same time and the few
minutes lost were due to his winding of the watch. Dunne then began keeping
detailed records of his dreams which he found contained images of previous and
future events in his life to ascertain whether there existed a displacement of
time in the fourth dimension, whereby minor events can be observed. His early
hypothesis demonstrates that the state of being ‘awake’ in reality caused a
mental barrier to all knowledge of the future which led him to the supposition
– ‘what was the barrier which, in certain circumstances, debarred him from the
proper and comprehensive view?’ (p. 69) Several experiments with others
discounted the theory that temporal experiences or pre-cognitive phenomena was
a supernormal faculty and that it was a ‘normal characteristic of man’s general
relation to Time.’ (p. 91) He also records ‘waking experiments’ which also
proved fruitful. Sussex
I have unfortunately not read much on modern theories of the subject as yet but my own opinion is that any theory should take into account spatial-gravitational influence, human biological ‘sentient’ awareness (with the small and limited range of sensual stimuli inherent) and species-specific perception (temporal 'presence') to determine the nature of Time; of course other factors shall yield new information and paths of investigation but as to ‘seeing the future’ and even the concept of Time-travel, which I believe is a genuine future possibility of mankind, but that of course is a whole new paradox and only Time will tell! A compelling case indeed!
Poems and Songs – by Richard Middleton.
Like so many things I stumbled upon the name Richard Middleton accidentally. I had never heard of the name of Richard Middleton (1882-1911) until I came across him while reading a book of uranian verse, ‘Men and Boys: An Anthology’ edited by Edward Slocum and published in 1924 in which was reproduced his poem ‘The Bathing Boy’ which Frank Harris called ‘finer than Herrick, nearly as beautiful, indeed, as The Grecian Urn,’ well not quite, but it is particularly lovely: ‘And so I wept; I have seen lovely things,/ Maidens and stars and roses all a-nod/ In moonlit seas, but Love without his wings/ Set in the azure of an August sky,/ Was all too far for my mortality,/ And so I wept to see the little god.’ and something about him reached out to me and so I began another voyage of discovery! Richard Barham Middleton was born in Middlesex in 1882 and he worked as a bank clerk from 1901-07, a position which he detested; at night he moved in Bohemian circles. ‘Poems and Songs’ (1912) is the only collection of his published poetry (published posthumously) which is an accumulation of his work from various magazines such as The English Review, and it has an Introduction by his friend, Henry Savage. The volume, which he dedicates to another friend Frank Harris (I read the second impression, also 1912), contains seventy-five poems which have a richly haunting, melancholic sense about them which remains long after the poem’s initial reading, (there are some fantastic lines also which stand alone): ‘We are but moments in the tide of love, / Yet are we one with love’s eternity.’ (‘To H. S.’) and in ‘Lament for Lilian’ we find: ‘The yearning of the morning for the night, / The timeless passion of the hemispheres.’ And again later in the same poem: ‘A human blossom glad for human eyes/ Made pagan by a child’s serenity.’ – truly beautiful poetry! His verse chimes with musical tones that lifts the heart and speaks of despair – ‘And when in dreams my lips repose on hers/ Kissing the pretty words that nestle there, / Her sweetness numbs my aching brain and stirs/ Like a dim sound of her, the dream-hushed air,’ (One More Song’). Middleton, like some large and bearded pirate had a child-like enthusiasm and he evokes a lost pagan energy of childhood as here in ‘Chant-Pagan’: ‘No son of man shall fear you, / No woman shall come near you, / Your lips may cry from your riven sky, / And the lovers shall not hear you.’ And again in ‘On a Dead Child’: ‘A little rose among the little roses, / And no more dead than they,’ Many of his poems have inspired imagined dedications to girls such as ‘To Dorothy’, Marjorie, Marguerite and Diana etc. and he fantasised about a young and beautiful image of the ideal girl, a maiden pure of heart and he inwardly raged towards his passionate ideal: ‘The love that made you mine shall bear/ Harsh fruit before the end of this, / For in the darkness you shall hear/ An echo that is none of his, / And you will droop with sudden fear/ Beneath his fond, adulterous kiss.’ (‘Epithalamium’). His poems, which are mostly love poems often echo the bitter longing and romantic wistfulness one finds in Housman, but there is no English stoicism here as he opens his heart like some morbid Browning. In ‘To C. M.’ which begins ‘Dear dreamer, with the wonderful wide eyes, /You are not mine to love,’ there is the realisation that he cannot attain the love he desires, and in the next stanza we find ‘I know I am as nothing in your place/ Of sombre love and strange, magnificent flowers, / But I have loosed your hair about my face/ To witch my midnight hours;’ what a wonderful line that is – ‘To witch my midnight hours’, and it ends: ‘There is a bitterness in love for me, /For every kiss shall burn my flesh with fire, / I am a prince of thwarted ecstasy, / Of unasuaged desire. / Yet would I know your new-bewitched skies, / Dear dreamer, and your passionate, wide eyes.’ From such devotional verse we know that Middleton drew inspiration from the young girls he knew (it seems he had more in common with Frank Harris than their editorial work for Vanity Fair) such as Lilian, Christine and Irene where he is ‘grieving in the graveyards of the moon’ (‘Irene’). That Middleton had an obsession with death there is no doubt and we find it in lines such as ‘Come, Death, and free me from these earthly walls/ That heaven may hold our final festivals/ The white stars trembling under!’ from ‘Love’s Mortality’ and again in ‘To Melisande’ – ‘Let down your hair, let down your hair, / I’ll make my shroud of it.’. Other poems of note are: ‘The Ballad of the Bacchanals’, ‘New Love’, ‘On a Dead Youth’, ‘Pagan Epitaph’, the Elizabethanesque ‘Any Lover, Any Lass’, ‘The Silent Lover’, and the passionate ‘After Love’. There are echoes of Poe in ‘The Dream’ with its lips, - ‘cold as stone’ – ‘Nightlong I heard the passing-bell/ And knew the mourner’s smart.’…’All night your icy kisses fell/ Upon my grieving heart.’
Middleton’s inner turmoil is revealed in the poem ‘The Ascetic’s love Song’: ‘She doth not call me old, in her embrace/ My body is made lovely, intricate/ With throbbing veins and nerves that interlace/ My bones with threads of fire; more passionate.’
It will come as no surprise that Middleton, a melancholic depressive who will be mostly remembered for his collection of supernatural tales ‘The Ghost Ship and Other Stories’ (1912) took his own life at the age of 29 in Brussels on 1st December 1911, and ‘Poems and Songs’ is an enchanting volume of splendid poems by a very gifted yet tortured poet!
Richard Middleton: The Man and His Work – by Henry Savage.
Throughout the twelve chapters of this delightful book published in 1922 there is a sense of real friendship by the author, Henry Savage for his friend the poet Richard Barham Middleton (1882-1911) whose sad and short life Savage draws for us beautifully. Middleton attended various schools fromSavage’s reply was dated 1st December and it was found unopened in Middleton’s room at 10 Rue de Joncker – the same day, Savage received the telegram from Middleton’s landlady, Mme Grey informing him that his friend was dead. The following day (2nd December) Savage and a friend Randal Charlton travel to Brussels and Charlton breaks down the door that the police have sealed and collects Middleton’s papers and letters, amongst which was found a farewell message on a postcard intended for Savage but not posted: ‘Good-bye! Harry I’m going adventuring again, and thanks to you I shall have some pleasant memories in my knapsack. As for the many bitter ones, perhaps they will not weigh so heavy now as they did before. “A broken and a contrite heart, oh Lord, thou shalt not despise.” Richard.’ (p. 193) On another message written on an envelope received at
St Paul’s and
Merchant Taylor’s to Quernmore House, and Bromley,
Kent . He went on to the Cranbrook Grammar School and in July 1900 passed the University of London Oxford and Cambridge
Higher Certificate examinations (elementary and additional mathematics, English
and Natural Philosophy). He was a dreamer, a child-like figure with a love of
cricket – his friend Louis J McQuilland said of him that he was a ‘shaggy Peter
Pan with a briar pipe’ and in looks he certainly was with his shock of black
hair and wild beard. Of his own childhood Middleton says ‘I do not lament, and
I hope I shall never have to endure that state of aggrieved helplessness
again.’ And he goes on to say that ‘the whole atmosphere was charged with ugly
mysteries like an Ibsen play, and I was too introspective to be a happy child.’
(taken from and unpublished autobiography, quoted on p. 4) In early 1901 he
became a temporary clerk in the offices of the Royal Exchange Assurance
Corporation and nine months later became a permanent member of staff – he was
with them for five years and he hated every minute! He haunted the cafes as a
clerk and lost money on horses and bought countless books and wrote poetry. At
the age of twenty-three in 1905 he replied to an ad in the ‘Academy’ seeking
members for a new club, a society called the New Bohemians; he was invited to
the Prince’s Head for the ‘initiation into the mysteries’ and attended their
Thursday night gatherings (McQuilland was its secretary). Along with Frank
Harris and Austin Harrison, he asked Housman to lunch and they were sadly
disillusioned with the reality of the poet. Flying the family nest at Hampton Court in
1906, Middleton took two rooms at 7
Blackfriars Road and transcended into the bohemian
poet counting among his friends the likes of Henry Savage, Arthur Machen,
Randal Charlton, T Michael Pope and even Lord Alfred Douglas. He resigned from
his work as a clerk with the intention of making money from his pen, not an
easy task and there were moments of great depression for him: ‘You see I am
cheerful and I rejoice that it takes as little to make me happy as it does to
make me suicidal.’ (p. 68) Frank Harris who knew him quite intimately from
their editorial roles at Vanity Fair said that his ‘characteristic attitude was
a dignified, somewhat disdainful acceptance of life’s perverse iniquities.’ (p.
78) It is probably doubtful that he ever tasted the wondrous sensations of real
love without squalid attachment and not some vision of his ideal which acted as
muse to the poet; Savage discloses that he was ‘most powerfully attracted
towards the young girl who first inspired him, and later, and yet more
powerfully, towards that other – the Christine of his poems – through whom the
greater part of his poetic work was accomplished.’ (p. 79-80) Middleton
confesses to Savage in a letter that he wants ‘to love something or other
anyhow: Love kills the ego with a surfeit of egoism, and I appreciate but do
not like mine.’ (p. 81) Between 1908-9 he suffered much poverty and pain from
his neuralgia and we even find a mention of him meeting the notorious Aleister
Crowley on page 129! He got behind in his rent and ‘starved for four days and
walked back from Brighton’ (p. 130) and so in
early 1909 he took lodgings at 3
Alexandra Road, Wimbledon
before returning back to his parents in the summer at St
Albans. Savage suggested a holiday in Brussels and Middleton is at first reluctant
but they go in February 1911 and in Brussels
they take a room at 10 Rue de Joncker where after Savage’s return home to England,
Middleton remained. His book of poems ‘Dust and Dreams’ failed to make an
impression on publishers, in fact, no book of his was published during his
lifetime! In Brussels
he became more despondent and his letters to Savage are filled with his
melancholy anguish such as here, dated 5th November 1911 – ‘I myself am so much in the
deeps that I grow more hopeful. This is no paradox, but a plain statement of my
attitude towards existence. To-morrow I shall have been here four weeks, four
weeks of drunkenness and riggishness and unbroken idleness. During the whole of
that period I have been distinctly ill and very unhappy. I have no nerves left
and my stomach is completely disordered.’ (p. 177) Savage implores him to
return home but Middleton resisted the temptation of doing so, perhaps seeing
it as yet another sign of failure and decided to stay for ‘another month and
see how things go.’ adding ‘When I feel the need I shall create God for myself;
and I shall certainly not make him in my own image.’ Middleton seems to sink
lower and lower and his mood turns quite dark – ‘I do not wish that I were
dead: I wish that I had never lived…’ (from a letter dated 15th
November 1911. p. 185) His girls, Christine and the others who were chorus
girls left Brussels on the following day for Bordeaux and he could not say
goodbye; perhaps something ugly had occurred for in the same letter (15th
November) he adds ‘Poor Christine had better marry her Swiss boy…’ His next
letter (20th November) sees him in a more cheerful mood and he says
that he has started writing prose again – ‘The girls have gone and I hope I
have done with love for a long, long time.’
A Problem in Modern Ethics – by John Addington Symonds.
The Ghost Ship and Other Stories – by Richard Middleton.
This delightful volume of strange tales published in 1913 after the author’s death the previous year introduces the reader to the magical and somewhat disturbing world of Richard Middleton, who masterfully weaves these fantastic pieces with moonlight and fairy dust to create a sometimes nonsensical, sometimes perplexingly horrific world. Had he lived he would have surely established himself among the likes of Machen, Blackwood and Le Fanu, as it is the title story has secured him lasting fame in the world of supernatural writing. In fact, it is Machen who writes the preface to the volume and his enthusiasm and delight at the tales is touching as he explains a little of the ‘alchemy’ behind the tales and the ‘puzzle’ within them. ‘The Ghost Ship’, the best known story, is narrated by John Simmons, an inhabitant of Fairfield Village, a most peculiarly haunted village frequented by numerous ghosts where the story is set following the Great Storm in the spring of 1897 (Jubilee Year). The Landlord of the Fox and Grapes has found that a great wooden sailing ship has been blown into his turnip field, fifty miles from the sea at
On Jubilee Day, the Captain of the ship, Captain Bartholomew Roberts, fires off
a round of canon and blasts a hole in Farmer Johnstone’s barn. Drunkenness becomes
rife amongst the villagers and the ghostly population since the ship dropped
anchor in the turnip field. When it left during the second great storm of that
year it took all the young ghosts with it leaving the female ghosts to weep for
its arrival which of course it does not return. A strange and mesmerising tale
indeed! Other stories in the volume are: ‘The Drama of Youth’, ‘The New Boy’,
‘On the Brighton Road’, ‘A Tragedy in Little’, ‘Shepherd’s Boy’, ‘The Passing
of Edward’, ‘The Story of a Book’, ‘The Bird in the Garden’, ‘Children of the
Moon’, ‘The Coffin Merchant’, ‘The Soul of a Policeman’, ‘The Conjurer’, ‘The
Poet’s Allegory’, ‘Who shall say - ?’, ‘The Biography of a Superman’, ‘Blue
Blood’, ‘Fate and the Artist’, ‘The Great Man’ and ‘A Wet Day’. Machen declared
(of The Ghost Ship) that he ‘would not exchange this short, crazy, enchanting
fantasy for a whole wilderness of seemly novels’ and I quite agree, for this is
an intensely rewarding read and these fabulous tales will remain long after the
book is finished! Portsmouth
The Quiet Singer and Other Poems – by Charles Hanson Towne.
Charles Hanson Towne (1877-1949) was an American author, editor and poet, born inAnd of course that old spectre Love rears its ugly head as in his ‘Love, the Victor’:
the family moved to Kentucky when he was
three and he remained there to become a well-known ‘New Yorker’. ‘The Quiet
Singer’ was published in 1908 and consists of eighty-seven poems (I read the
1914 edition) including the forms of quatrains and sonnets and sections titled:
‘Songs of New York’ and ‘Songs out of the Orient’. My enthusiasm waned and my
attention wandered in places as much of the poetry is derivative but there are
a few wonders which describe elements in nature and human expressions, such as:
‘I shall know, ere you will guess/ (Though with life I have no part),/ What new
golden loveliness/ Stirs within the old earth’s heart,’ from ‘A Distant Star’
which ends: ‘And the dreams that I shall dream,/ In that Spring when I am
dead,/ May arise until they seem/ Blossoms white and blossoms red!’ There is
also a sense that the author yearns towards God as in ‘Aere Perennius’ which
begins ‘As long as the stars of God/ Hang steadfast in the sky’. New York
‘No strength of mine can hold thee back, O Love!I thought that I was safe beyond the will;
But after long, long years, lo! here am I,
Other noteworthy poems include: ‘A Rose Whispers’, ‘The Great and Silent Things’, ‘Villanelle’, ‘The House of the Heart’ with its wonderful ‘Your footfall in my heart’s great vacant ground,/ Your voice to sing and sing forevermore’ and this from ‘Haunted’: ‘I am the ghost of that pure deed/ You might have done, but did not do;/ I am the ghost of that good seed/ You might have sown when Life was new.’ Not bad at all and Towne is an admirable writer of the sonnet of which here are five and the simple beauty of ‘After reading Keats’ and ‘How bravely now I face the marching days’.
Youth and Other Poems – by Charles Hanson Towne.
Towne attended City College in New York and went on to become editorial assistant at Cosmopolitan and then assistant editor of the ‘Smart Set’ in 1901 before taking on the mantle of editor from 1904-7 and later Harper’s Bazaar. This collection of poems was published in 1911 and the volume (just 82 pages) is dedicated to his friend Richard Le Gallienne. The long poem ‘Youth’ which takes up half of the book has some worthy lines and there are a few poems which interested me such as ‘Love’s Ritual’, ‘Night’, ‘Midsummer’, ‘At the end of September’, ‘Of Death’ and ‘Shelley’s Skylark’ – ‘From empyrean heights for ever shall fall/ Thy silver madrigal.’ Overall I found the collection quite poor but still worth reading.
This collection of thirty-one poems published in 1913 seems to be an improvement on his previous ‘Youth and Other Poems’ and the long poem ‘Beyond the Stars’ written in blank verse is quite outstanding as verse goes and Towne lifts his poetic derivations into new heights of near originality – ‘I clomb beyond the sun, beyond the moon;/ In flight on flight I touched the highest star; / I plunged to regions where the Spring is born, / Myself (I asked not how) the April wind, / Myself the elements that are of God.’ Other poems fall into the mundane rhyme which in Towne’s hands seems a little lacklustre but they are not beyond minor praise: ‘Peace’, ‘The Ballad of Shame and Dread’, ‘Love hath a Chalice’, ‘Two Songs of London’, ‘An Easter Canticle’, ‘April Madness’, ‘How softly runs the afternoon’, ‘An August Night in the City’, ‘Penance’ and ‘The Dead March’. Towne went on to teach poetry at
(one of his
students was J D Salinger) and his autobiography ‘So far, so good’ came out in
1945. Other poetic works include ‘ Columbia
(1909), ‘Today and Tomorrow’ (1916) and ‘A World of Windows’ (1919) which I
shall leave for posterity to decide whether his verse rises above the
amateurish consistency he aims to achieve. Manhattan
Published in 2008 by theSarah Jane Wolfe (1875-1958) was an American actress born in
the Silver Star and compiled and introduced by Dr. David Schoenmaker who is the
founder and Chancellor of that Magical Order, ‘The Cefalu Diaries’ contains the
bulk of the surviving diaries handwritten and typed by Jane Wolfe during her
magical training under Crowley at the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu. Temple
Wolfe went on to help found South California’s Agape Lodge of the OTO, in fact she was Lodge Master and she died at the age of 83 in 1958 and throughout her magical career she remained a devoted friend of Crowley to the end, of which there were few. For an excellent biography of Wolfe one can do no better than go to the
Autobiography of an Androgyne – by Earl Lind.
Published in 1918 under the assumed name of ‘Earl Lind’, the author, who also goes by the names of ‘Ralph Werther’ and ‘Jennie June’, has written a fascinating account of his double life as a respectable if somewhat effeminate university-educated office worker and as an androgyne – a man-woman or as we would term it today, a transgender male. The book is edited with an introduction by Alfred Waldemar Herzog (1866-1933) who had the book published ‘as a psychological study’ after it was refused countless times by other publishers. Earl Lind, or perhaps it is more correct to call the author Jennie June and refer to her as a woman for she is indeed female mentally and psychologically and only part masculine physically, inscribed the book to ‘Nature’s Step-Children – the sexually abnormal by birth – in the hope that their lives may be rendered more tolerable through the publication of this Autobiography’. Born in Connecticut in 1874, Jennie June, a most learned individual, reveals the often sad and disturbing events of her life in the pursuit of fulfilling her natural instincts as a woman, although shunned by society as an abnormal and disgusting ‘monster’. She informs us of her childhood as a sensitive and misunderstood boy who wanted to be a girl and please the other boys in displaying feminine characteristics. From a young age Jennie was highly sexual and addicted to fellatio (her father thrashed her with his boot when she was discovered under a desk in the act). She attended the University in the City of New York in 1891 and so the need for a double-life was called for as Ralph, a man who spoke several languages and studied and as Jennie who paraded herself around the Bowery and other seedy locations in pursuit of male attachments of the virile labourer and criminal type; she emphasised her weakness and spoke as a baby-girl, flattering the men she encountered, impressed with their strength and physical beauty. Highly emotional, Jennie was prone to fall in love with one charming young thug after another and repeatedly robbed, beaten, blackmailed, threatened, raped and on some occasions almost half murdered! She suffered regular bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts and as a deeply religious person implored God to make her wholly woman – at the age of twenty-eight she was castrated. She found some solace hanging around the soldiers, the strong, brave masculine types she adored at their camps where she was known as a ‘fairy’; she would worship these ruffians even at the cruel hands of their cruelty and be beaten beyond recognition, such was her masochistic desire to be dominated. The sexual acts are written in Latin which gives it an air of respectability; a sense of the ecclesiastical in a profession where Latin covers many a sin. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself throughout the 265 pages that this was occurring in the 1890’s and not the more recent past. Also included in the appendix are the author’s thoughts on Oscar Wilde and ‘Impressions of the Author by a Business Associate’. Alfred Herzog who found the subject matter ‘nauseating’ says wrongly that there is little scientific or literary value in the work and wanted to edit the autobiography, ‘butchering’ it in his clumsy hands. Thankfully it stands pretty much as Jennie June wrote it, for the ‘general reader’ and for those like Jennie who suffer the same sentence through life. Now we look upon such people with more compassion and understanding of their natures, but towards our enlightened stance, many have been viciously beaten, incarcerated and murdered. Herzog, although he had the foresight to have the volume published, seems the more repulsive for his failure to understand the nature of the androgyne, or ‘invert’ as he also terms it and future publications would suffer no loss at his removal from the volume and the remarkable story of Jennie June should stand alone as a curious and deeply moving tale of courage and of man’s ill-treatment against that which he does not understand!
Again Lind, (Jennie June) in the second part of her autobiography published in 1922 and again, the jewel has been tarnished by the filthy hands of Alfred W Herzog in his attempt at editing and providing an introduction which shall be overlooked. Jennie relates her ‘Sequel to the Autobiography of an Androgyne and an account of the author’s experiences during his six years career as instinctive female impersonator in New York’s Underworld; together with the life stories of androgyne associates and an outline of his subsequently acquired knowledge of kindred phenomena of human character and psychology’. Written in eight parts over 295 pages with 17 illustrations, The Female Impersonators summarises much of Jennie’s life as given in the Autobiography of an Androgyne with some new revelations and an interesting look at androgynes in mythology and history such as Apollo, Hermaphroditos, Ganymede, Socrates, Plato, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Michelangelo and Raphael; she also assumes, to my utmost displeasure and violent rage, that Francis Bacon was the author of Shakespeare’s works on the defence that Shakespeare was too masculine to have composed such ‘androgynistic characters’ and to be the author of those beautiful sonnets – never underestimate a Warwickshire man! Of great interest also are the biographical details of other female impersonators such as ‘Frank – Eunice’ and ‘Angelo – Phyllis’ (poor Phyllis became another murdered statistic) and ‘Newspaper Accounts of Murder of Androgynes’, ‘Medical Writers on Androgynism’ and some verse penned by Jennie. Those of you wanting to know more can turn to Jennie’s third volume of autobiography, ‘The Riddle of the Underworld’ (1922) a ‘closing volume of the trilogy depicting the life-experience of a bisexual university “man”’.
The Day Before Yesterday – by Richard Middleton.
This volume of 33 astounding short stories by the hugely talented author Richard Middleton was published in 1912 after his suicide and each miniature masterpiece confirms Middleton’s genius as a writer and also the great loss to literature after his death. Middleton, who was something of a child himself in many ways observes the world in these stories through the eyes of a child who wonders at all the strange and often inexplicable delights of nature; of the world of imagination and make-believe which flourishes in childhood and diminishes with the grown-ups or ‘Olympians’ as the author calls them. Stories such as ‘The Enchanted Place’, ‘The Magic Pool’, ‘Children and the Spring’, and ‘On Digging Holes’ reveal the magic the author conjures as childhood interacts with the natural world around them where every woodland glade is a haunted dell; where treasure lurks beneath each spadeful of earth and pirates drink and sing deep in coastal caves; the simplicity of imagining a small pool as a boating lake and sailing walnut shell boats upon it; stories of far away imaginative travel as in ‘The Magic Carpet’ or sworn allegiance to one’s choice in the boat race in ‘Oxford and Cambridge’; the author also writes from the standpoint of an adult either reminiscing about the joys of childhood as in ‘On Nursery Cupboards’, ‘Real Cricket’, and ‘On going to Bed’ or entering their innocent play as in ‘A Secret Society’ or just writing fantastic pieces as ‘A Distinguished Guest’ about a cat the author took care of for a short time which is simply wonderful! Charming and spellbinding, Middleton is marvellous and these stories are some of the most beautiful I have ever read which captures the magical essence of childhood and the naïve delicacy which makes everything appear other-worldly and much more interesting than the ordinary way in which things are viewed and experienced.
The Crucifixion and Other Poems – by Benjamin George Ambler.
This volume of verse published in 1880 contains along with the title poem, 64 miscellaneous poems and 11 sonnets over 140 pages but for me it was the title poem ‘The Crucifixion’ which anchored this book in the sea of almost greatness and lifted it from the murky depths of the really awful and almost unreadable! The poem is in four scenes: 1. the ‘Hall of Judgement’ which sees Christ confronted by Pilate; 2. ‘The Temple’ where Judas makes his appearance; 3. ‘
where Christ is crucified between two robbers and Peter mingles with the crowd
and the Angel Gabriel, and 4. ‘The Sepulchre’ where we meet Mary Magdalene, the
two Angels in the tomb and Christ once more. Apart from this initial poem I
found little to get excited about and although I find a lot of satisfaction in
unearthing an obscure or neglected poet, I usually always find some worthwhile
beauty somewhere and there were several small examples here I thought, such as
in the poems ‘Invocation’, ‘Shadows of Life’, ‘Graves’, ‘In Memoriam – the
Princess Alice’, ‘The Dying Poet’, ‘The Night Winds’, ‘A Requiem’ and ‘Ode to
Silence’ with its gentle ‘Sadness incarnate, for the dark eclipse/ Must fall on
all, the sunny moments spend/ Themselves, thus swiftly pass, all pleasure hath
an end.’ Disappointing and unadventurous! Mount Calvary
Charles William Dalmon (1862-1938) is a little read Sussex Poet and ‘Song Favours’ at a little under a hundred pages and published in 1895 is the author’s second published work. John Betjeman found much to enthuse about Dalmon, the 1890’s decadent who contributed to the Yellow Book. The poems, many of them revisit the theme of King Arthur; have a tendency to drift towards W. B. Yeats and William Blake in their magical symbolism and faery-haunted folklore and mythology such as ‘Pan Eating Honey’: ‘Stops to pipe a tune;/ Now to sing a ditty; / Now to look and smile at me/ Out of love and pity.’ Other poems of worth are ‘Night Shades’, ‘Narcissus’, ‘The Sussex Muse’ and ‘Nimue’ which has echoes of Tennyson – ‘The white owl crossed the moon path on the mere,/ And sank into the shadow silently./ Transformed, and fallen, with no lover near - /Ah! Lady Nimue,’ The book ends on a round of Drinking Songs and other published volumes worth searching out are: Minutiae (1892), Flower and Leaf (1900), A Poor Man’s Riches (1920), Singing as I go (1927) and The Last Service (1928).
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.
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). ’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 Lubbock Eton was
much talked about that
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. 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.
‘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.
Roman Pictures – by Percy Lubbock.
Lubbock, who sadly went blind in his old age, has written a brilliant and unusual travel novel about
In His Own Image – by Frederick Rolfe.
Red Wine of Youth: A Life of Rupert Brooke – by Arthur Stringer.
I came across this 1972 reprint of the 1948 publication by the Canadian novelist and poet, Arthur John Arbuthnott Stringer (1874-1950) which achieves in a little under three-hundred pages and twenty-four chapters, a really well-rounded observation of the beautifully doomed English poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915). Stringer tells us that the original biography was to be completed by the American author and adventurer Richard Halliburton (1900-1939) a man who had swam the length of the Panama Canal and who had made copious notes on Brookes before Halliburton unfortunately died at sea and the notes were passed to Stringer who took up the pen to complete the Life of the poet. The author uses much of the correspondence between Brookes and Edward Marsh (1872-1953), a man who recognised Brooke’s early poetic talent and like many others fell for his charm and good looks and introduced the young poet to many notable literary men of the time who became friends, such as G B Shaw, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, W B Yeats, Walter de la Mare, John Drinkwater, Lascelles Abercrombie, and Edmund Gosse; and of course he was praised by many who took an interest in him and became his friends: John Masefield, Harold Munro, even Winston Churchill to name a few, the list goes on. But we can look at Brookes the poet as travelling through three stages of his short life – the scholar, the wandering adventurer, and the soldier, and Stringer captures these various stages if with a somewhat cold hand which lacks passion in chapters which take us from the ‘Unwritten Odyssey’, and his days at Hillbrow Preparatory School where he makes the acquaintance and lasting friendship with the composer and pianist who lost his life at Gallipoli, William Charles Denis Brown (1888-1915); ‘Cambridge and Change’; at King’s College, Cambridge he met fellow poet St. John Welles Lucas-Lucas, known as St. John Lucas (1879-1934) whom Brooke met in 1905 and of course Edward Marsh who became his literary agent and promoted him whenever he could; ‘Grantchester and Growth’ through ‘Sickness and Soul Searching’, ‘London Life and the Georgians’, ‘America and the Widening Scene’, ‘Samoa and the South Seas’ to ‘Sunny Days and Darkening Clouds’, ‘The Antwerp Expedition’, ‘Shadowed Days and Premonitions’ and ‘Journey’s End’. We learn about Brooke’s great love of the theatre and Elizabethan poetry and his infectious love of life, yet all too consuming thoughts on mortality. Having read Brooke’s poems many years ago and recognising their greatness I always felt a reservation for the man who wrote them and found it difficult to connect the two, the bright and beautiful man who is surrounded by influential people all bowing before him, where was the tragedy, yet after reading ‘Red Wine of Youth’ I am beginning to re-evaluate my thoughts on Brooke and see him as a man who did suffer torments and a man who transformed the lives of those he touched by his simple, boyish wonder and enthusiasm for poetry. In his final hour, it was his dear friend Denis Browne who saw him from this world and had the poet buried on
Scyros, in a grove of the Gods where he surely belonged
for he has achieved immortality – Keats, Shelley, Byron and Brooke!
Poems – by
Lucas. St. John
I merely read this 1904 publication out of curiosity due to the fact that Lucas was a friend of Rupert Brookes and I am glad I did! St. John Lucas, or to give him his full if somewhat preposterous name St. John Welles Lucas-Lucas (1879-1934) was born in Rugby and educated at University College, Oxford and became Brooke’s friend in 1905; he wrote short stories and poetry and his work includes: ‘The Lost Arcadian, and Other Papers’ (1899), ‘The Absurd Repentance’ (1903), ‘The Oxford Book of French Verse’ (1907), ‘The Rose-Winged Hours: English Love Lyrics’ (1908), ‘The Oxford Book of Italian Verse xii-xix Cent’ (1910) and ‘Saints, Sinners, and the Usual People’ (1911) etc. ‘Poems’, a 127 page volume is divided up into three parts: the First Part (29 poems), the Second Part (13 poems) and the Third Part (10 poems) and Lucas, who does not wish to believe in an absurd God, trusts his soul unto nature and its dark pagan worship where ancient deities flourish in forests and mounds; in the first part we find Lucas in almost Browning-like ecstasy over the tremulous sweep of nature in ‘The Woodland God’, ‘The Dream of Youth’ and ‘The Modern Parnassus’; there is a dark sense of decay and loss, something he captures in his poem ‘Dirge of Summer’:
The night was full of moaning and sad sound,
Querulous voices, immelodious chants;
The leaves, like tiny ghosts, tap-tapped the panes
Until the tardy dawn.’
Sought God, but found him amid trees and birds
More near than by the priestly altar-place;Now he beholds, aloof from grief that girds,
God, Nature, Art, unsundered, face to face.’
A surprisingly good volume of verse by a little known poet!
Rupert Brooke: A Memoir – by Edward Marsh.
Songs of the Field – by Francis Ledwidge.
Deep in book lumber and moth-eaten wood,
So long it has forgot the old love lust,
So long forgot the thing that made youth dear,
Two blue love lamps, a heart exceeding good.’
At mornings I will bring you bells of dew
From honey places, and wild fish from streams
Flowing in secret places. I will brew
Sweet wine of alder for your evening dreams,
And pipe you music in the dusky reeds
When the four distances give up their blue.’
The poetry of Ian Mackenzie is in a modern metaphysical style which looks at the imprint the material body makes; the shape one makes and leaves in life – ‘the flesh will loosen every day / from that skeleton thing / that once was me.’ (I) One of the themes through the poems is of something hidden or obscured as in a doorway or barrier through which he is unable to pass beyond the threshold, and in the poem ‘The Darkened Ways’ the poet sense the nearness of Death and stares through the keyhole of the door that divides him from the spectre, ‘kneeling on the floor, / searching for something in the dark, behind.’ Later in the same poem the barrier appears to be ‘a dim unending wall of glass / through which I could not pass. /yet I could see the days behind, / standing there without a sound.’ And there is the childish sense at the culmination of death’s acceptance – ‘One day I wandered in a wood / And found my body lying on the ground.’ The poet utilises the imagery of the bolting and unbolting of doors to signify perhaps the impression of the mind over the body; the senses and the flesh – in the poem ‘Dust’ there is a desperate longing to equate the inevitable end of the material body with the history and story of life contained within the dust we shall become –‘a pebble glittering in the sun / whispers a tale, but you will not hear; / it is so tiny and so still, / of love that was known, / and anger and fear / one time, near some forgotten hill.’ And the ultimate conclusion remains: ‘Dust cleaves to dust, / And life desires life.’ In ‘The Secret World’ the poet dismantles his body, saying ‘take these eyes. I yet shall see: / let them blossom silently.’ And then turns to his ears – ‘take these ears, let them bring / flowers for the butterfly: / I still shall hear the wild bird sing….’ There is a real wealth of beauty in these wonderful verse and Mackenzie seems to speak to me directly, I find, like no other poet I have come across for some time, and I found myself reading the volume several times; there is a personal affiliation which resonates within –
The lilac, the tall trees at the end,
And the moonlight
Twisting itself into wisps,
And pushing through the leaves,
Like fine white feathers of grass.’ (Eyes. III)
In the poem ‘Self’ the poet climbs ‘Time’s futile stair’ and dreads the emptiness of the last step. Other notable poems include (from section one) ‘The Mind’, ‘Revelation’ and ‘The Telephone’; and from section two ‘Friends’: ‘Ordinary Things’ (a four part poem written at Malleny Camp, Scotland, in 1917), ‘The River’, ‘The Hour’, ‘Night 1918’ (written in Edinburgh, Dec 1917), ‘Beauty’, ‘Reckoning’, ‘Song’, ‘Memories’, ‘Peace’, ‘Desire’, ‘Lines from Royal Military College, Sandhurst’ (August, 1916), and ‘A Vision’.He found that the ‘ugliness of the material life distresses him, but it never overwhelms’ (Introduction. p. 14) and Waugh concludes his touching tribute, saying that ‘the laughter and the love of Ian Mackenzie were of eternal stuff. They were born of the sunlight, and return with it again. For they are “memory when we die.”’ (Introduction. p. 15) In the autumn of 1918, Ian was taken to hospital in
You will not know the hidden lips that cry
To you “safety,” as the night comes down.
You will not understand the fear
In the grey waste of grass and sands
Past the shutters closed against the wind,
(Ceremoniously closed, by your vain, foreign hands)…
And you will take the security of those walls,
Not thinking of the compact strength in them.
And when moon unfolds between the curtains
And the shadows creep; there will be beauty, then, that calls.
You will not hear.’
The Poetical Works of Robert Bridges.
With some wild masochistic desire I decided to read the six volumes of ‘The Poetical Works of Robert Bridges’ which is no small undertaking, purely based on his friendships with Dolben and Hopkins tow poets I happen to admire and who in my humble opinion are much greater poets. To prepare myself for the arduous task ahead I chose to read a biographical volume published in 1944: ‘Robert Bridges 1844-1930’ by a Fellow of Oriel College,
named Edward Thompson. At just over a hundred-and-thirty pages Thompson (a
scholar, novelist, translator and a historian), a man who knew Bridges
personally, seems to praise the poet’s earlier works such as his Shorter Poems
and narrative poems while dismissing much of his later dramatic works, although
he does have some interesting points on Bridges’ classical themes. A somewhat
harsh critic but undoubtedly right, and even though Bridges wished that no
biography should be published Thompson could not help himself from prodding the
corpse with a big stick, but honour was satisfied when Thompson expired two
years after its publication so time has allowed us to forgive his
indiscretions. Having stomached the old scholar’s ravings I turned to volume
one of the Poetic Works, originally published in 1898 at almost three-hundred pages
(in fact they all stretch to this). The volume contains: Prometheus the
Firegiver: A Mask in the Greek Manner (in two parts) in which we find there is
some exceptional and lengthy dialogue in the ‘mask’ and many beautiful lines of
verse, as here where Prometheus speaks in part one:
‘And now this day
Behold I come bearing the seal of all
Which hope had promised; for within this reed
A prisoner I bring them stolen from heaven,
The flash of mastering fire, and it have borne
So swift to earth, that when yon noontide sun
Rose from the sea at morning I was by,
And unperceived by Helios plunged the point
I’ the burning axle, and withdrew a tongue
Of breathing flame, which lives to leap on earth
For man the father of all fire to come.’
And as if invoking the spirit of Browning, the author has the Servant speak to Prometheus thus:
‘Speaketh of fire;
And fire he saith is good for gods and men;
And the gods have it and men have it not’
In fact, Bridges excels in his lyrical measure and like Keats he is rich and precise in his diction as in these beautiful lines in part two when Prometheus utters these words:
‘When her wild cries arouse the house at night,
And running to her bed, ye see her set
Upright in tranced sleep, her starting hair
With deathly sweat bedewed, in horror shaking,
Her eyeballs fixed upon the embodied dark,
Through which a draping mist of luminous gloom
Drifts from her couch away, - when, if asleep,
She walks as if awake, and if awake
Dreams, and as one who nothing hears or sees,
Lives in a sick and frantic mood, whose cause
She understands not or is loth to tell –‘
The next work in the volume is Eros and Psyche: A Narrative Poem (the story done into English from the Latin Apuleius) in twelve measures which represent the months of the year throughout the four quarters of spring, summer, autumn and winter, each with their corresponding length of days. In the first quarter, ‘March’ stanza 11 we are shown a powerful image of the goddess Aphrodite who is slowly falling out of favour:
‘Which when in heaven great Aphrodite saw,
Who is the breather of the year’s bright moon,
Fount of desire and beauty without flaw,
Herself the life that doth the world adorn;
Seeing that without her generative might
Nothing can spring upon the shores of light,
Nor any bud of joy or love be born;’
And later on in stanza 22 in her jealousy and rage at Psyche’s beauty we find:
‘Make her to love the loathliest, basest wretch,
Deform’d in body, and of moonstruck mind,
A hideous brute and vicious, born to fetch
Anger from dogs and cursing from the blind.’
But it was no monster set to love Psyche for it was Eros, child of Aphrodite who came by the cover of night:
‘for every night
He came, and though his name she never learn’d,
Nor was his image yielded to her sight
At morn or eve, she neither looked nor yearn’d
Beyond her happiness…’ [May: stanza 24]
In the second quarter, in the 17th stanza of July, Psyche discovers the identity of her lover:
‘She had some fear she might not well discern
By that small flame a monster in the gloom;
But she sees ‘O fair to see!
Eros, ‘twas Eros’ self, her lover, he,
The God of Love reveal’d in deathless bloom.’
This is all very beautiful and through the third quarter we find Psyche wandering and in the fourth (winter) she has her trials and reception into Heaven:
‘So thus was Eros unto Psyche wed,
The heavenly bridegroom to his earthly bride,
Who won his love, in simple maidenhead’ [February: 24]
And so Aphrodite has reconciled her differences ‘since her full defeat / Is kinder and less jealous than before.’ 
The Growth of Love also in the first volume is a sequence of sixty-nine sonnets ending in a paraphrase of The Lord’s Prayer, which were published without the poet’s permission in
and so he ‘came to their rescue’ and published them here. The sonnet form in
other more skilful hands is the highest medium of the love lyric but in
Bridges’ hands they seem restrained of emotion; much of the passion we expect
to find in lyrics of love have been stifled, it is limited with no sudden
bursts; there is a serious, solemn and even sacramental feel to the sonnets
which sees a vision of love as religion in the manner of Keats; there is a
spiritual isolation of regret yet although austere and fastidious, they have an
unusual quality which accepts the spiritual sympathy within the sorrow of love.
‘Now doth my drop of time transcend the whole:
I see no fame in Khufu’s pyramid,
No history where loveless
Nile doth roll.
- This is eternal life, which doth forbid
Mortal detection to the exalted soul,
And from her inward eye all fate hath hid.’ 
There is a sense of the Renaissance devoid of exulted rapture and echoes of Dante:
‘I heard great Hector sounding war’s alarms,
Where thro’ the listless ghosts chiding he strode,
As tho’ the Greeks besieged his last abode,
And he his
Troy’s hope still, her
The Growth of Love has been highly praised in many quarters and damned as insignificant in others but there is no denying the author’s poetic ability, his sense of stress and metre which cascades like waves upon silky sand with simple astonishment and leaves the reader either perplexed or stirred by inspiration. Volume Two of The Poetical Works was published in 1899 and contains the poet’s Shorter Poems such as his wonderful ‘Elegy among the Tombs (Book II, 10) where we are told to ‘read the worn names of the forgotten dead,’ to find that ‘their pompous legends will no smile awake;’ and ‘Dejection’ (Book II, 11), ‘On a Dead Body’ (Book III, 4) where the corpse is a ‘freak of beauty.’ Bridges’ wrote such tender yet simple nature verse idylls in original expression which capture the English landscape and the fragrance of the field:
‘The summer trees are tempest-torn,
The hills are wrapped in a mantle wide
Of folding rain by the mad wind borne
Across the country side.’ [Book IV, 20]
Bridges explored new rhythms and the shorter poems reveal these expressive techniques but they lack physical passion and tenderness; there is no real human drama as we would find in such poets as Browning, Tennyson and Swinburne for example. The elegiac mood of the poems are subtle affairs which reflect Elizabethan more than the Romantic sentiments; restrained by their suppressed feelings, love seems a trivial matter with no ecstasy except a retrospective solemn joy which almost climbs to the mystical, but falls short. Also in the volume are Bridges’ New Poems such as his ‘Elegy’ and the excellent ‘The Summer House on the Mound’ where the poet would sit and watch some ‘fast-sailing frigate to the Channel come’ and also ‘The Isle of Achilles’ (from the Greek).
The Poetical Works volume three published in 1901 contains the First Part of the History of Nero, a historical tragedy in five acts which seems to fail through derivative and unconvincing scenes but we are spared disgrace by the inclusion of Achilles in Scyros which I found to be a tremendous drama where we find the young Achilles hiding on the Island of Scyros at the palace of Lycomedes, King of Scyros, ‘disguised among the maidens like a maiden’ named Purrha, he serves the daughter of the King of Scyros. Ulysses and his companion, Diomede seek out Achilles to lead their army and Ulysses suspecting the truth says to Diomede:
‘Whom the high gods name champion of the Greeks,
Lurks in the habit of a girl disguised
Amid the maidens of this island court.’
Bridges was a competent scholar of Latin and Greek and although he is not always faithful to the classics Achilles inIt’s easy to dismiss much of Bridges’ works as being the result of a cold-hearted poet living in a Victorian regime of high moral attitudes to passion and sex but at the bottom of all the quite remarkable yet somewhat undistinguishable narrative lines there was a man of flesh and blood who lived for the word as a poet, perhaps not a very popular poet today but a much respected link to the classical poets of his time. In reading the Poetical Works few if any real insights have been exposed and if I were to read him purely on a non-academic basis I would certainly avoid much of the dramatic pieces and concentrate on his greater achievements in my opinion: ‘Prometheus the Firegiver’, ‘Eros and Psyche’, ‘The Growth of Love’, ‘Shorter Poems’, ‘Achilles in Scyros’ and ‘The Feast of Bacchus’.
Scyros is a worthy
mask with many great moments. Volume four published in 1902 has Palicio, an
Elizabethan Romantic drama in five acts which I found rather dull and The
Return of Ulysses, also in five acts and frankly imitative much in the manner
of Byron, Tennyson and Browning, who do it so much better. A lot of Bridges’
dramas tend to lean towards the classics rather than the Romantics and he uses
Miltonic blank verse to good use but there is a ponderous sense that the author
just sometimes is not up to the effort and the lack of passion shows. Volume
five published in 1902 contains The Christian Captives in five acts which has
some good characterisation but on the whole is another let down and Humours of
the Court, a Shakespearean style comedy in three acts which is mildly amusing.
In Volume six published in 1903 we find The Feast of Bacchus: A Comedy in the
Latin Manner and partly translated from Terence, in five acts which is an
improvement upon many of his other dramatic works and even reaches heights of
sublime beauty with its fine metre and there are some superb exchanges between
the characters and the Second Part of the History of Nero in five acts which
only marginally shines above part one yet sinks dreadfully.
Myrtle, Rue and
: A Book of Poems,
Songs and Sonnets – by Eric Stanislaus Stenbock. Cypress
Eric Stanislaus Stenbock’ (1860-1895) was a little known, flamboyant poet and this is his second of three exceedingly rare volumes of poetry published in 1883. Stenbock was born in Cheltenham of Swedish ancestry and he went up to Balliol College, Oxford in 1879 and left without his degree two years later; at Oxford he became a Roman Catholic and published his first collection of poems: ‘Love, Sleep and Death’ in 1881. In 1885 he inherited the title Count and lived in Estonia until returning to England in 1887; he became dependant on alcohol and opium and the eccentric author who kept a menagerie of animals such as snakes and a monkey and not to mention his life-size doll which he took everywhere with him could be the essence of Huysman’s aesthete Jean des Esseintes in his novel of 1884 ‘A Rebours’. The volume is well composed with songs such as ‘The Song of Love’ to the memory of Adolf Henselt – ‘we tire of speech, of thought, and frequent moving, / our memories are embittered with shatterings of faith; / love conquers all we can never tire of loving, / for love is as strong as Death.’ And sonnets such as his first sonnet written in St. Isaac’s Cathedral, St Petersburg, which begins: ‘On waves of music borne it seems to float / so tender sweet, so fraught with inner pain,’ and ends: ‘reviving for a time joys long since dead, / and granting to the fettered soul release.’ The book is dedicated to three individuals, respectively, the artist Simeon Solomon (1840-1905), his cousin with whom he is said to have had a ‘close’ relationship and a young boy he became infatuated with, probably as an undergraduate, the son of an Oxfordshire clergyman; the boy died of consumption in 1880: ‘In this book I dedicate the Myrtle thereof to Simeon Solomon, the Rue thereof to Arvid Stenbock and the Cypress thereof to the memory of Charles Bertram Fowler.’ Stenbock is certainly not a first-rate poet but the volume drips with the obsessive compulsion of love and death with a flavour of the macabre reminiscent of Poe:
‘I DECKED mine altar with faded flowers,
Because I was sad at heart you see,
And cared no more what the passing hours
In going and coming might bring to me –
I said, ‘Alas, for the lingering hours
Shall not bring ought of delight to me.’ [
Preludium] Song I.
And again later in the same poem he is ‘sick unto death of the desolate hours / which came and went so wearily.’ In Song II he asks ‘Love, is thine heart so hardened / when one tear from thine eyes / might pour on sin unpardoned / a rainbow from Paradise?’ Many of the poems, although competent seem quite juvenile in their decadent posturing –
‘I have longed for thy beautiful garden,
And thy nuptial winding-sheet,
For thy face, ah! tender lover,
Is gentle and wellnigh sweet.’ [Song III]
In the rather charming poem ‘The Nightingale’ Stenbock asks:
What passion of music that moves to madness,
What secret thing doth thy song express,
What excess of joy, that is wellnigh sadness,
What agony bitter beyond redress? –
What lights of love and what pangs of passion
Through the thrilling throbs of thy wild notes well,
What words too wondrous for tongue to fashion
Would suit to thy sweet song, tell, ah tell!’
But wherever beauty clings we find that death is never far behind in Stenbock’s world and it is evident in the poem ‘A Dream’ where we encounter a man, wearing a ‘long white sheet’ whom the poet beckons – ‘come hither, darling, and I will fold / thee to mine heart, for thy hands are cold;’ / ‘no wonder my hands are cold, ‘ he said, / ‘for very cold are the hands of the dead.’ Some good poems pepper the volume such as ‘The Aeolian Harp’ which wails ‘for the world’s wrong,’ and weeps ‘for the world’s woe.’ and ‘The White Rose’ at the mercy of the ‘wild withering wind’ which ‘shall rive it ruthlessly’. Stenbock is at his best when he writes of the fantastic and the macabre as in ‘The Lunatic Lover’ where the ‘moon with silver feet / crept to thy bed, close to thy head, / and kissed thy forehead, sweet, / giving thy lips strange wine to drink, / and alien flesh to eat,’ and in ‘Reconciliation’ he implores that ‘all slain things lie slain /in the short spell of sunshine after rain.’
The sensual arousal of passion is found in ‘Song XI’ which begins ‘entwine thy limbs around me, love, and let / thy sweet soft face lean closer kissing me’ and the sexual imagery is obvious in ‘The Vampyre’ where the poet feasts upon a young boy, and drinks ‘from thy veins like wine / thy blood delicious and warm.’ He eagerly drinks ‘the bloom of thy boyhood away.’ as the sex and supernatural theme continues:
‘I would breathe with the breath of thy mouth
And pang thee with perfect pain;
And the vital flame of thy youth
Should live in my limbs again.
Till the vital elastic form
Should gradually fade and fail,
And thy blood in my veins flow warm,
And glow in my face, that was pale.’
Sonnet IX in simple confession notes that ‘a spirit’s lips were pressed upon my own, - / - then I arose to curse the wan daylight.’ and in the next Sonnet (XII) we could almost be reading Housman:
‘But my true love had not left me,
And stood by my grave in pain,
And his tears fell softly on me,
But I shall not wake again.’
Stenbock is certainly a curious and intriguing individual and for all his assumed decadence the poetry is decidedly non-decadent, there are no flowery flourishes one would expect and his style is more like Balzac than Baudelaire. He made a sort of quasi-religion of eclectic spiritual practices which coalesced into a Catholic, Buddhist and occult nature and although his poems do not reach the heights of more established poets he is certainly a man to be sought out and devoured at leisure!
The Shadow of Death: A Collection of Poems, Songs, and Sonnets – by Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock.
This is Stenbock’s third and final volume of poetry published in 1893 and again the curtain parts to reveal his sombre verse, dark and morose, lit by a single flame in the darkened tomb of his macabre mind. The poems feature the subject of love and death and there is something foreboding and uncanny in his verse which seems to groan in the darkness – ‘A shadow crept thro’ the doorway / and kissed the pale boy on the lips.’ (Viol D’ Amor) and love seems to have other-worldly attachments:
‘Did you know dear, that I loved you?
One day your look was kind,
And one day – oh, so sad, love
Were I dead, dear, would you mind?’ (The Death-Watch)
Stenbock also makes good use of alliteration as in the poem ‘Gabriel’ where we find the lines: ‘The sweet, slow, sleepy, solemn sounds that seem / Like incantations half heard in a dream, / Or sad-eyed Syrian singing some strange sea spell, / Gabriel.’ In the ballade, ‘A Passion of Sleep’ the author seems to long for sleep, or is sleeping just a metaphor for death?
‘World of wormwood and gall
Whose myrtle is only rue,
Give me the cypress tall,
And moon-thrown shadows of yew.
Let weeping winters strew
Snow on my bed for a pall –
- This thing alone is true –
Sleep is the best of all.’
Other noteworthy poems include: ‘The Red Hawthorn’, ‘To Saint Teresa’, ‘Chanson Solaire’, ‘Autumn Song’, ‘Requiem’, ‘Birthday Song’, ‘Nocturne’, ‘May Blossom: A Vision’ and ‘Sonnet VI’ where the poet says that he ‘will not slay thee utterly - / Nay, thou shalt live – I will implant in thee / Strange lusts and dark desires, lest any should, / In passing, look on thee in piteous mood, / For from the first I have my mark on thee.’
With a few translations – a paraphrase from Sappho and from Meleager, the volume falls away and we are left wondering who indeed was this strange and enigmatic man; there is much to be unearthed for the curious amongst you and two very good books to search out are: ‘Stenbock, Yeats and the Nineties’ (1969) by John Adlard, and ‘Of Kings and Things: Strange Tales and Decadent Poems’ (2018) edited with an Introduction by David Tibet. But there are two apocryphal stories of Stenbock which I hope are indeed true, and one is that he carried with him a wooden doll known as ‘le petit Comte’ (the little Count) which he described as his son and heir and the other concerns the great Oscar Wilde, who it is said, one day went to see Stenbock at his rooms in Sloan Terrace and he ventured upstairs to Stenbock’s inner sanctum where burned a sacred lamp between a bust of the poet Shelley and a little ebony image of Buddha. Oscar, perhaps not realising the significance of such an altar, casually lit his cigarette from the sacred flame only to find Stenbock shocked and furious, fall to the ground, while a perplexed Oscar made a swift exit. How beautifully and terribly decadent!
Studies of Death: Romantic Tales – by Count Eric Stenbock.
This collection of strange and supernaturally inspired tales was published in 1894, just a year before the author’s death and there really are some charming little stories here, such as ‘Hylas’ in which an artist named Gabriel Glynde meets a fifteen year old boy named Lionel Langton, sketching by the river. The boy sits for Gabriel as his model in his studio for a portrait of ‘David’. Lionel, the son of Professor Langton, becomes Gabriel’s pupil but the boy falls hopelessly in love with a woman, a woman which Gabriel marries in some heroic deed to save the boy from her womanly ways and means but Lionel is overcome with sadness and drowns himself in the river but not before sending Gabriel a picture he painted of Hylas lying at the bottom of the river. It is beautifully told and Stenbock has a delightful manner in his simple tales. The next story ‘Narcissus’ is centred upon a handsome boy who through some misunderstanding is to marry a girl named Enriqueta, the girl’s father questions him and the beautiful boy declares that no such arrangement was entered into; Enriquetta, scorned, flings a vial of liquid into the angelic face of the boy which corrodes his skin. The boy, hideous to look at takes to nocturnal walking through the park when the gates are locked shut and one night he encounters a young blind child named Tobit who is also locked in the park and we are told that his mother left him there to be rid of him. The once handsome boy takes Tobit as his companion and over time they grow close. The boy, no longer of fair complexion, struggles with the idea of an operation being performed on Tobit to make him see but decides to go ahead with it and pays for the surgery which is successful. Tobit, now able to see, looks upon the features of the once handsome boy and says: ‘and you are the most beautiful person in all the world!’
‘The Death of Vocation’ is a tale in which a young girl wishes to be a nun and ‘Viol D’ Amor’ is a story of astrology, magic and superstition which is almost as worthy as Le Fanu in its telling. ‘The Egg and the Albatross’ is another magical, fairy tale which involves a young water sprite named Marina and perhaps Stenbock’s best known story is ‘The True Story of a Vampire’ which is utterly mesmerising and there is a tale of gypsies and a boy who plays the fiddle and takes an owl’s egg and buries it under a hazel tree for seven years in ‘The Worm of Luck’. This really is some breathtakingly beautiful writing and it is a pity that Stenbock did not live long enough to write more!
Stenbock, Yeats and the Nineties – by John Adlard.
John Adlard (1929-1993), of Merton College, Oxford has written a brilliant account of the life of the decadent poet Eric Stanislaus Stenbock (1860-1895) in this 113 page (six chapters with illustrations) volume published in 1969 (750 copies) with a hitherto unpublished essay on Stenbock – ‘A Study in the Fantastic’ by Arthur Symons and a bibliography by Timothy d’Arch Smith. Upon reading the volume one cannot help but be reminded of A J A Symons’1934 landmark book of biography ‘The Quest for Corvo’ which the author must surely have read for he tells us that he began his research in 1960 and travelled far collecting it and so it reads almost like a quest with Adlard’s delightful tone throughout – if you were hoping for a large slice of Yeats in the book you will be sadly unsatisfied for this is definitely a book about Stenbock, whom we are told upon the first page was a ‘sick man, a pervert, and his life was short.’ Yeats, who knew Stenbock, reiterates this view in his ‘Autobiographies’ (1961) saying that Stenbock was a ‘scholar, connoisseur, drunkard, poet, pervert, most charming of men.’ (p. 2) so what strange magic did Stenbock wield over those that knew him? He was born on 12th March 1860 at Thirlestaine Hall in Cheltenham to parents Erich Friedrich Diederich Magnus Stenbock and Lucy Sophia Frerichs who were married on 1st March 1859 (after Erich’s death Lucy, Countess Stenbock, re-married in 1864 to Mr. F Mowatt, and the young Eric grew to hate his stepfather). Lucy’s family home, Thirlstaine Hall was sold in 1874 and the family moved to Withdeane Hall, near
Eric entered Wiesbaden school from 1875-77 and then took private education
before going up to Balliol College, Oxford in April 1879, staying only four
terms. Little is known of his time at Oxford but we do know he made two close
friends at Oxford: Terence Woulfe Flanagan, the son of an Irish judge and
landowner, and Benjamin Francis Conn Costelloe, the son of an Irish foreman
ship-builder in Glasgow; Benjamin became Eric’s manager and both Flanagan and
Costelloe knew the immortal poet Gerard Manly Hopkins, with whom they were
members of the Oxford Catholic Club. In 1881 Eric’s slim 44 page volume of
verse ‘Love, Sleep and Dreams’ was published, its poems speaking of a ‘beloved’
and a tortured soul under romantic infatuation… the beloved is revealed to be a
boy – perhaps the young boy he became romantically enflamed by was Charles
Bertram Fowler (1864-1881) to whom appears a dedication in Eric’s second book
of poetry ‘Rue, Myrtle and Cypress’ (1883). Adlard says that ‘he [Stenbock] was
the 23rd May , having his photograph taken. Twenty days later,
in the Oxford (some
twenty-two miles from village of
Compton Beauchamp )
a consumptive boy of sixteen died at the Rectory. He was Charles Bertram
Fowler, son of the Reverend Alfred Fowler, who had died the year before. He
concerns us now because it was to his memory that Eric was to dedicate a book;
other than this I have been unable to discover anything about him.’ (p. 16) It
would be interesting to know the nature of this relationship and Eric’s
reactions to the young boy’s death but all we know is that Eric (aged 21) was
in London on 20th June before travelling to Germany in July and then
on to Russia and Estonia at the beginning of August. He wrote thirty poems
between May and November 1881 so perhaps this was his outpouring of grief for
Charles. Eric’s father, old Count Magnus died in February 1885 and Eric arrived
in Estonia in April as heir to the title, family fortune and the estates at
Kolk, Konda and Neuenhof; at Kolk Eric became closely attached to his thirteen
year old cousin Karin Stenbock who was ill in bed and she seemed to fall in
love with him and wanted to marry him, despite the twelve years difference in
age. But Eric was not inclined to marriage, yet his time at Kolk was idyllic,
though not to last. There is a nice description of the poet during this time on
page 36 which says ‘he liked to wear a loose tie of fiery red, a silk shirt of
some dazzling colour, and soft red morocco slippers,’ and it goes on to say
that ‘he used a powerful exotic perfume and had in his wardrobe a great number
of fine silk dressing gowns and a notable collection of Oriental costumes.’ (p.
36) We learn of his fondness for animals and how they were allowed to roam free
among his rooms: ‘tortoises crawled across the floor, a monkey hopped this way
and that, and a snake, not always kept in its cage, coiled itself around the
plants. There was also an aquarium with toads, lizards and salamanders. To all
these creatures he was devoted, though he had an intense dislike of pigs and
could not even bear the sight of them.’ (p. 36-37) the monkey was named
‘Troshka’ and he also had a dachshund named ‘Trixie’. His bedroom was ‘painted
peacock-blue. Over the marble chimney-piece a great alter had been erected,
tricked out with Oriental shawls, peacock feathers, lamps and rosaries. In the
middle stood a green bronze statue of Eros. There was a little flame that burned
unceasingly, and resin in a copper bowl that scented the air. The floor was
covered with thick Oxford
carpets, and over his bed was a big pentagram to keep the evil spirits at bay.’
(p. 37) It was on this bed that Eric would smoke opium with his beloved animals
gathered around him. Eric returned to London on 1st July 1887 and
took rooms at 11 Sloane Terrace; he was back among literary society and met old
friends such as the eccentric artist and idle drunk, Simeon Solomon, Aubrey
Beardsley, Wilde’s friends Robert Ross and More Adey, Aymer Vallance the art
critic and disciple of William Morris; John Lane the publisher, Herbert Horne,
art historian and poet (who in turn introduced Eric to the poet Lionel Johnson,
who probably then arranged a meeting between Eric and W B Yeats), Father Edward
Ignatius Purbrick, Rector of Stonyhurst and friend of G M Hopkins, and the
young sixteen year old composer Norman O’Neill whom Eric met in Piccadilly on
top of a horse-bus in May 1891. A young poet named Ernest Rhys met Stenbock at
the house of William Bell Scott, the poet and painter, at Beaufort House,
Cheyne Walk in the winter of 1887 and had this to say of his first meeting with
Eric: ‘his entry was a delicious piece of comedy. He was short, very fair,
small flaxen curls fringing a round smooth visage, with china-blue eyes. At the
door he paused, drew out a little gold vial of scent from his pocket, scented
his finger-tips and passed them through his hair before greeting his hostess.’
(p. 61) They became immediate friends and Rhys visited Eric at his rooms in
Sloane Terrace and recorded that ‘in a recess a red lamp burned continually,
between a Buddha and a bust of Shelley. The air was heavy with incense and
various perfumes. Throughout dinner Smyrna Fatima,
his familiar – an enormous toad – sat on Eric’s shoulder, apparently asleep.’
(p. 63) Rhys also insisted that Wilde paid a visit to Eric’s rooms and offended
him by lighting his cigarette from the sacred flame that burned continuously to
Eric’s utter horror. In 1890 Eric moved from Sloane Terrace to 21 Gloucester
Walk and Adlard recounts that ‘on his travels he had to be escorted and with
him went a dog, a monkey and a life-size doll. He was convinced that the doll
was his son and referred to it as ‘le petit comte’. Everyday it had to be
brought to him; when it was not there he would ask for news of its health’. (p.
78) Stenbock had been ill for some time and in the winter of 1894-5 he was
diagnosed with Cirrhosis of the liver and his strength was failing. On 26th April 1895,
a day in which Oscar Wilde faced the first day of his first trial) Eric died at
his mother’s home, Withdeane Hall near Brighton
and he was buried at Brighton’s on 1st May. Before
the burial his ‘heart was extracted and sent to Catholic Cemetery , where it was placed among
the Stenbock monuments in the church at Kusal. It was preserved in some fluid
in a glass urn in a cupboard built into the wall of the church.’ (p. 85) It is
said that on the day of his death, Eric, ‘drunk and furious, had tried to
strike someone with a poker and toppled into the grate’. (p. 85) His mother
died at the Hall the following year on 14th October. Estonia
John Adlard has written a very charming and interesting book on the strange and perplexing poet Eric Stenbock, despite a lack of source materials available to him at the time and his unwearying research has yielded a thing of beauty which is a lasting tribute to Stenbock and a fine point of entrance to future aficionados to continue the adventure and further the quest! Magical!
Of Kings and Things: Strange Tales and Decadent Poems by Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock – Edited and Introduced by David Tibet.
Published by Strange Attractor Press in 2018, this beautiful volume at 320 pages contains all of Stenbock’s stories from his 1894 collection ‘Studies of Death’ and various other tales such as the marvelous story and one of the best lycanthrope tales ‘The Other Side’; ‘Faust’, ‘La Girandola: a study of morbid pathology’, ‘The Child of the Soul’ and a six part drama, ‘La Mazurka Des Revenants’. There is an excellent Introduction ‘A Catch of a Ghost’ by the poet, artist and musician, David Tibet who has pushed many boundaries in those forms and is a fascinating man himself with his interests in mysticism, Buddhism, Aleister Crowley and Stenbock. Included in the volume is a selection of nearly forty poems taken from Stenbock’s collections: ‘Love, Sleep and Dreams’ (1881), ‘Myrtle, Rue and
(1883) and ‘The Shadow of Death’ (1893) along with various typescripts. Much of
Stenbock’s poetry is influenced by supernatural agencies, desolate and riddled
with death and a desire for young men. Stenbock, born in 1860, became a Roman
Catholic while at Cypress , something his
stepfather thought of as a ‘ridiculous religion’ and he was not to complete his
education at Oxford , possibly because
of this and he was sent to Kolk in Balliol
College , the home of the
Stenbocks’. He enjoyed his time at Kolk and had many happy times with his
cousins who were amused by his eccentricities; he took to drink and opium and he
later went about with a life-size wooden doll, ‘le petit comte’ whom he
believed to be his son! He died aged just thirty-five in 1895 of Cirrhosis. Estonia
David Tibet has remained faithful to Stenbock’s original texts and punctuation, correcting typographical errors and textual mistakes (Stenbock inserts various languages into his writing) and Timothy d’Arch Smith, the author of the uranian classic ‘Love in Earnest’ (1970), a book which caught Tibet’s imagination and stirred his enthusiasm for Stenbock, provides an afterword and there is a comprehensive bibliography by David Tibet, Ray Russell and Mark Valentine. Tibet really has done excellent work in researching this little known poet and enigmatic oddity and bringing his spirit from the darkness to the light for all to see and love and his passion and enthusiasm is more than evident; so if you wish to know who died in the same bed shared by Stenbock and what strange connection links him to Jack the Ripper, then you really must read this book!
Preston tells us in his memoir that Lowry ‘had not
fulfilled the promise of his youth’ (p. 7) and that he had ‘lots of
friendships’, and ‘one passion’, he was ‘in Love with Love – with an ideal, in
fact, which the Fates did not permit to materialize as he would have wished.
Always longing for that unattainable, Lowry from his early boyhood was unhappy,
as is so often the lot of poets; and there can be no doubt his song was
strengthened by suffering.’ (p. 9) As a boy he ‘filled his head with fairy
tales and Old Testament Scriptures’ (p. 11) and loved collecting possessions
such as family China and silverware and Japanese colour prints. ‘Once there was
a dog. He loved the very ordinary little animal, and thought it loved him, till
the day when, taken out for exercise, the beast – as other “friends” had done –
ran away and left him, angry and puzzled. Later there was a pet canary, which
survived him. And always there were flowers, which neither flatter nor
deceive.’ (p. 16)
A Dream of Daffodils: Last Poems – by H. D. Lowry.
This charming 65 page volume of verse by Henry Dawson Lowry (1869-1906) published in 1912 and arranged for the press by G E Matheson and Lowry’s cousin, the author and spiritualist Catherine Amy Dawson Scott (1865-1934) contains a rather affectionate Memoir by Edgar A Preston along with thirty-two poems, seventeen of which come under the category of ‘love songs’. Henry Dawson Lowry was born in
Truro, Cornwall on 22nd February 1869
and his father Thomas Shaw Lowry was a bank clerk in the town and later bank
manager in Camborne; Henry went to the
in Wesleyan School Taunton and
became interested in literature rather than ministerial work. He edited the
school magazine and his interest in chemistry won him a scholarship to Oxford, matriculating on
14th January 1888 aged 18 (BA 1891 and Honours – 3 Chemistry in
1891). Following University he lived in London
in 1893 and seemed to forget chemistry in favour of literature and attempted to
earn his living by the pen. He had work accepted in the ‘National Observer’ and
the ‘Pall Mall Gazette’; ‘Black and White’, ‘The Speaker’ and ‘English Illustrated’
and edited the ‘Ludgate Magazine’ in 1897 and later that year the ‘Morning Post’ printed his contributions, some
of which were published in his first volume ‘Wreckers and Methodists’ (1893)
followed by a volume of short stories ‘Women’s Tragedies’ in 1895; his only
novel ‘A Man of Moods’ appeared in 1896; a volume of children’s tales ‘Make
Believe’ in 1896 and a series of studies ‘The Happy Exile’ in 1898. He
published just two volumes of verse: ‘The Hundred Windows’ (1904) and his Last
Poems written before his death aged thirty-seven in 1906 at Herne Hill (and
published here in ‘A Dream of Daffodils’ in 1912).
Lowry has an almost feminine appreciation in his verse and there seems to be a continual theme of roses, loss and death –
‘So ebbed away
Slowly to sleep, and thence through dim-lit ways
Of shadowy dreams, passed out beyond the verge
Of our sad earth into a world more fair –
A land of dreams and dreamy blessedness.’
This is taken from his early poem ‘A Dream of Daffodils’ which goes on to conjure an image of feminine slender beauty:
‘In a long vale I stood; a tiny stream
Fled glistening through a smooth-spread grassy plain,
Embrowned with tufted mosses, and my heart
Went dreaming through the vale till fantasies
Born of its loveliness arose in me –‘
And a young golden-haired maiden enters his mind wearing golden flowers in her hair, robed in a sensuous ‘filmy’ dress, which showed ‘nebulous/ shadow of soft, round limbs.’ Her form was the fairer for the robe which ‘could not hide its perfect comeliness’. The maiden we learn is Echo who searches for Narcissus whom she saw and loved, ‘but in vain!’ In ‘Love Lying Dead’ we find the poet at the end of life’s thread, accepting death – ‘Then was I enamoured of sweet Death, / And turned my back on Life, as on the fool / That set a riddle where no answer is.’ Lowry searches for that unattainable love which renders his heart asunder in the poem ‘In the Street’ where we find a man walking in the rain dreaming of a ‘lost delight / And a goal that he could not gain.’ He finds ‘the wraith of a girl was behind, / Following, following him. Her hair was blown by the wind, / Her beautiful eyes were dim.’ Other worthy poems include: ‘A Prayer at Death’, ‘The Song-Seller’, ‘Dead Leaves’, ‘Death and Love’ (sonnet), ‘The June Rose’, ‘Let no man living dream of pitying me’ and ‘Love is Dead’ with its appalling conclusion that ‘Love is dead, and for the dead, / Waits no refuse but a grave,’ But the inner torment of the poet seeks some ‘transformation’ as can be seen in the poem of that name:
‘And would you know the man I was
A year ago, or half a year?
Go! bid the Spring be Spring no more,
And teach her how to be less dear.
Bid her withhold, when April’s here,
Green smock and gold of daffodil;
Then search the woodland far and wide,
Spring rapture of the thrush to kill.
And steal the stars, and veil the sun,
And make my lady grow unkind.
The man I was a year ago
You still may seek, but shall not find.’
Lowry’s health failed and he took to his bed and a week later on
22nd October 1906 he was dead. His
poetry is tragic yet beautiful and Preston’s
memoir only hints at a man who died too soon before his time with the promise
of some rather tender and passionate works which alas remained unwritten.
The Hundred Windows – by H. D. Lowry.
This is Lowry’s first volume of poetry published in 1904 containing 64 poems over a hundred pages. Most of the poems are taken from the ‘Pall Mall Gazette’, the ‘Morning Post’, ‘Black and White’, the ‘Pall Mall Magazine’ and the ‘Londoner’. In the dedicatory poem ‘To Beatrice’ we are told to ‘have pity on the man who long ago - / Dead Yesterday is dead as Babylon - / Waited, a dreamer, with no dream to dream.’ Lowry writes with an assured sense of romantic yearning and invokes sensual imagery into reality –
‘I will not move my hand to where
I dream you sit with silken hair
That waits for my caress. Mine eyes
Are hungry for the sight of you;
Yet are they closed, for still ‘tis true,
Only the man who dreams is wise.’ (XIV)
And in XV the tension increases as the passion ascends new heights of fancy:
‘I watch you from across the room
And still my wonder is
If, as you give me glance for glance,
You’d give me kiss for kiss.’
And the flame of lust concludes:
‘Till now we’ve played an idle game,
To while the time away:
Sweet, if I chose to stake my all,
Would you refuse to play?’
Lowry sings soft upon the delights of love for young maidens, his dream and his eternal fantasy – ‘I dared to dream you dreamt of me, / And O, my love, my heart was light.’ (XX) and he pours his soul upon the beautiful heart of his desire, saying ‘now that my love lies sleeping’ in XXIV, and ending quite pathetically, ‘I gave into her keeping / Everything I had.’ This is a really beautiful collection of verse with a staggering sense of loneliness and dejection by a rather troubled young poet who wrote much of the verse in his chambers in
He has lain in obscurity for too long and should be reappraised and more widely
read! Middle Temple
Women’s Tragedies – by H. D. Lowry.
As the Cornish author Henry Dawson Lowry had the misfortune (or good sense) to expire at the young age of thirty-seven I thought it only right to get my hands on as much of his work as I could and pay him the tribute of reading his literary works! ‘Women’s tragedies’ is his second published book from 1895 and it is a collection of fifteen short stories all with a Cornish setting. Lowry’s female characters are all strong creations and he delights in the mental description of his heroines who succumb to motherhood as in the supernatural tale ‘The Torque’ or are unfaithful following the death of a child and fall to murder as in ‘The Man in the Room’. In ‘The Widow’s History’ Mark promises Marina that he will not drink but when he is found drunk she calls off the engagement, yet love is strong and Marina agrees to marry him still after he promises once more… Another theme of Lowry’s is the mistaken belief that death has occurred when a person goes missing as in ‘The Christening’ which sees a young wife, believing her husband is lost at sea, re-marry and now there is a child to be Christened when who should suddenly return but the first husband! A similar theme occurs in ‘The Good-for-Naught’ and in ‘The Sisters’ we find two sisters who love one man; a tale which ends in witchcraft and suicide. Another suicide story is ‘The Coward’ which tells of a man who opts-out of a suicide pact with the woman he loves. Throughout the volume there is a sense of pagan rites among simple folk and love, deviated and cursed. Lowry writes well and there are some very memorable little tales here to enjoy!
A Man of Moods – by H. D. Lowry.
Lowry’s only novel published in 1896 tells the story through twenty-one chapters of a man named Guy Holden, the son of a clergyman and an Oxford graduate who became a writer of reviews with a published novel behind him and some hack-work in journalism to keep up appearances living in London; he is twenty-eight years old and after having a second novel published he is working on his third. He is tired of
London and its
pretensions and decides to go to Scilly after meeting a flower-man named John
Cunnack at Covent Garden Market who extolled the beauty of the Island to him. Possessions are of no consequence to him
and he ‘sacrifices’ many of his things before taking the train to Plymouth and to Penzance and the steamer to the Isle of Scilly. On Scilly
he searches out John Cunnack the flower-grower and meets his young twenty-year
old niece named Elsie whom he takes to be around seventeen from her child-like
appearance. Elsie’s father is dead and her mother ran off when she was young
and so her Uncle John takes care of her with his sister, Elsie’s widowed Aunt,
Mrs Chegwidden. Holden lodges at their charming house and Guy and Elsie grow
close to each other. Guy works on his novel and helps Mr Cunnack with his
flowers and eventually Guy asks Elsie to marry him; she needs time to think
about it and leaves him waiting until the end of the day. Suddenly, Elsie finds
her Uncle John dead amongst his beloved plants in the tomato house and although
distraught, she agrees to marry Guy. After they are married they take a steamer
to the mainland and stay the night in Penzance
before honeymooning in London,
a place Elsie yearns to be as she was born there and is bored by Scilly. Guy
finishes his novel and it is a success but Elsie remains dissatisfied with life
on the island and wants the lights and crowds and streets of London to feel alive; Guy is torn as he is
happy for the first time in his life on Scilly, not having to work to demand
and feeling spiritually free amongst nature. After being on Scilly a year, Guy
receives a letter from an old work colleague named Martin, he decides to meet
him in Penzance and leave Elsie for a few days, but feeling that he has ruined
Elsie Guy decides to go to London and hide him self there and sever the past.
He writes to Elsie telling her he is in London
but does not give an address; he sees a lawyer and signs his private income
over to her and writes to her a final time telling her to forget him. He lodges
off the Strand and writes about his
experiences on Scilly for an evening paper. Elsie is distraught and months pass
by until she has her baby delivered. She becomes weak and the Doctor says she
will die without her husband whom she loves and misses more than ever. With the
idea of going to London
and searching for Guy, Elsie makes a great effort to get well and strong again
and after a month recuperating she is well enough to go and so she travels with
the baby and Mrs Chegwidden to London.
Guy comes to the realisation that he must return to Scilly and ask his wife’s
forgiveness, but on the day before he leaves he goes to Covent Garden Market
and sees Elsie looking for him among the bunches of flowers he loved and they
embrace and kiss and their future together on Scilly with the new baby and Mrs
Chegwidden unfolds towards a beautiful future sustained by love. This is a delightfully
rewarding story and Lowry seems to draw on autobiographical material for his
protagonist, Guy Holden, who like Lowry was Oxford educated and a slave to the pen for
his living, while creating an image of purity and truth in the character of
Elsie, a young child-like maiden whom Lowry would surely have desired greatly.
Some parts of the plot seemed a little naïve such as Guy leaving Elsie, never
to return and Elsie remaining tenderly and rigidly in love with him throughout
the pain he caused by his leaving her with a child to raise, but for a first
novel this is a wonderful promise of things to come, which sadly never did in
the novel form. Superb!
Oscar Wilde: A Summing Up – by Lord Alfred Douglas.
Lord Alfred Douglas (1870-1945) published this, his final book in 1940, five years before he died and much of his earlier maniacal ferocity and denial in his associations with Wilde has dwindled to an almost humane acceptance of his part in the sensational aspects of the tribulations. I read the 1950 re-issue (12 chapters over 142 pages) with an Introduction by Derek Hudson who was born in 1911 and still graces the land of the living at the time of writing this review (2018); Hudson sides with ‘Bosie’ on much that he has to say about his relationship with Wilde which was close between 1892-95 (they met in 1891 when Bosie’s cousin, the poet Lionel Johnson introduced them; Wilde was 36, married with two children and Douglas was 20 and an Oxford undergraduate, Magdalen College, 1889-1893, he left without a degree). Perhaps for the first time Douglas explains his role in the downfall of Wilde, (if Douglas had not been so careless as to leave incriminating letters in a suit he gave to one of his ‘male associates’ then Wilde would not have been subjected to blackmail attempts), afterall, he is coming to the end of his life and he has come under the spell and lure of Roman Catholicism which he embraced in 1911 as so many whose sexuality remained either hidden or in denial had done and as we all know confirmation in Catholicism ensures that no lie is spoken and truth and honesty are the bywords of spiritual integrity, anyway, Douglas remains unmoved in his attitude that homosexuality is a ‘sin of the flesh’ (p. 14) but not a ‘crime’ and he is determined to hack away at the confusing statements and downright sordid untruths of others to reveal some semblance of accuracy; he calls to the box George Bernard Shaw whom he maintains was cruel in his judgement of Oscar and Mr. Robert Sherard who upheld Oscar’s honour and at the same time deified the great Irish author and defended him by insisting his homosexuality was some sort of sickness or a form of madness, something Douglas strongly denies and rightly so. Wilde, Bosie tells us was not beyond instigating such affairs with young men, male prostitutes who were experienced in such arts and therefore not corrupted by the older man; his part in satisfying his tastes were perhaps not as innocent as we have been led to believe, it seems he was a prominent and promiscuous user of street boys and lower class men in service whom he treated lavishly to gifts (usually silver cigarette cases), dinners and money. If we are to believe Mr. Douglas he stood by Oscar unto the end and that he was not aware of the document known as ‘De Profundis’ which Wilde wrote at Reading gaol and was meant to be despatched to Douglas by Robert Ross who Douglas claims withheld the letter and he did not see the letter until 1912, twelve years after Wilde’s death. In a letter to his mother in 1897,
stands by Wilde saying ‘don’t think that I have changed about him or that I
have changed my views about morals. I still love and admire him, and I think he
has been infamously treated by ignorant and cruel brutes. I look upon him as a
martyr to progress. I associate myself with him in everything.’ In reference to
those ‘ignorant and cruel brutes’ we can assume he has his adulterous and fiery
father the Marquess of Queensberry firmly in the front of his mind whom he
detested for the attacks upon Wilde and for the ill treatment of his family and
himself. Bosie goes on to say ‘I have, as I hope is well known, nothing but
abhorrence for homosexuality, but I have not changed the views I expressed to
my mother in the letter I wrote to her in 1897’ (p. 17). Douglas summons up old
hatreds and opens old wounds concerning Arthur Ransome and the case of 1913 and
Frank Harris who declared he did not know Wilde was less than truthful when he
denied the accusations during the trial until Wilde stated it plainly to him
during a conversation and of course Robert Ross who probably initiated Oscar
into homosexuality and who betrayed Oscar’s wishes concerning ‘De Profundis’.
There were many missed opportunities of escape for Oscar and behind it all one
can’t help feeling Bosie pushed him towards the inevitable end originally
through his selfishness in wanting to punish his father and see him imprisoned
but the Marquess found more than a hint of truth in the rumours of the poet and
the playwright and further incriminating evidence in the form of the sworn
testimonies from young male associates of Wilde had been discovered and so the
history of one of the greatest literary figures to walk the earth was all but
written and Douglas walked away, a ghost of only half-truths condemned to
infamy. A noble endeavour!
Make Believe – by H. D. Lowry.
Published in 1896 and illustrated by Charles Robinson (1870-1937), ‘Make Believe’ is a collection of ten stories which feature a young girl named Doris who has many adventures with her ‘real treasures’ which are ordinary things, in her garden and her imaginary world with an adult visitor who treats Doris as an equal and in so doing encourages her to talk about her childish and charming adventures. The stories are: ‘The Meeting’, ‘The Magic Painter’, ‘The Lady and the Treasure’, ‘Green Grapes’, ‘The Doll’s Funeral’, ‘When Doris was a Mermaid’, ‘Dreams about a Star’, ‘A March of Heroes’, ‘A London Picnic’ and ‘A Long Journey’. This type of thing which features a young girl discovering the joys of life along with the sorrows and pains associated with it was hugely popular in Victorian times and ‘Make Believe’ is published thirty-one years after Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865) and not long after his ‘Sylvie and Bruno’ (1889 and volume 2 1893); it also appears just three years after ‘A Naughty Girl’ (1893) by the author Joseph Ashby-Sterry whose ‘Boudoir Ballads’ of 1876 was very popular. Throughout all of his writings Lowry seems to understand and appreciate women, from the little girl to the mother and the old woman and although he is not on everybody’s ‘to read’ list his timeless love of childhood will endure. Delightful!
The Happy Exile – by H. D. Lowry.
Most of these sketches and studies, published in 1898, first appeared in ‘The National Observer’, the ‘Pall Mall Gazette’, ‘Black and White’, ‘The Speaker’ and ‘Chambers’. There are six etchings by E. Philip Pimlott (which I thought a little below standard) and Lowry writes well enough conjuring a world of Cornish beauty in such pieces as: ‘The Idyll of the Daffodils’, ‘The New Contentment’, ‘A Scandal in Arcady’, ‘The Wedding Morning’, ‘A Romantic Confession’, ‘On Sunday Morning’, ‘In the Marshes’, ‘Interludes: 1. The Offering, 2. The Hammock, 3. Western Winter, 4. The Blessing of the Rain, 5. The Unseen Singer’, ‘Midsummer Moonlight’, ‘A Wayside Evangelist’, ‘Pilchards in the Bay’, ‘Payment by Results’, ‘The Spell of the Sea’, ‘The Bible Reader’, ‘Marguerite in London’ (I and II), ‘The Smell of the Good Earth’ and ‘New Year’s Eve’. Of course not all of these sketches have stood the test of time and some appear a little tired but Lowry has a charming turn of phrase which recalls some of the master short story tellers such as Poe, Kipling and Hardy. Quite beautiful!
The Trials of Oscar Wilde – by H. Montgomery Hyde.
Harford Montgomery Hyde (1907-1989) was an Irish born barrister, politician and biographer who studied History (first class) at Queen’s University,
Belfast and Law (second class) at , Magdalen College Oxford. He has written a fine and thorough
Introduction to the ‘Trials of Oscar Wilde’ edited and published by him in 1948
with a Foreword by the Right Hon. Sir Travers Humphreys who was the only living
participant in the trials; the editor looks at Wilde’s background and associations
before revealing in-depth the lead up to the trials and their aftermath. The
story, or perhaps tragedy of the libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry
has become the stuff of legend and is well-known, from the instance that the
Marquess, John Sholto Douglas (1844-1900) left that infamous card with the Hall
Porter at the Albemarle Club in London for Oscar, who was a member, on 18th
February 1895 (Wilde received the card a fortnight later on the 28th
of February); and we are familiar that a warrant was issued for Queensberry’s
arrest on Friday 1st March and the next day he was arrested at
Carter’s Hotel, Albemarle Street. And of course the first trial lasting three
days began on Wednesday 3rd April 1895 at the Central Criminal
Courts in London where the Jury were in disagreement; Queensberry’s detectives
unearthed new evidence in the form of young men willing to testify against
Oscar as to improper conduct and Oscar’s arrest on Friday 5th April
around 6.30 p.m. in room 53 of the Cadogan Hotel in the presence of his good
friends Robert Ross and Reginald Turner; he had been waiting for the knock on
the door and let the precious hours pass where he could have got away to safety
abroad. There was some stubborn instinct which was leading him to destruction
and he seemed to walk towards it like a man to the gallows. What was it that
made him stay and face his judgement? Oscar was taken to Scotland Yard and then
Bow Street Police Station the next day. The second trial in which a parade of
young men such as Alfred Wood, the brothers Charles and William Parker,
Frederick Atkins, Sidney Arthur Mavor, Edward Shelley and Alfred Taylor and a
host of servants from the Savoy reporting on seeing Wilde in bed with a boy
(the chambermaid was short-sighted and wasn’t wearing glasses at the time and
Wilde swore she had mistook Lord Alfred for him but did not want to reveal this
and bring Bosie into the courtroom) and of course the dirty sheets became
crucial evidence as well – all in all everyone scented blood and were eager to
crucify Oscar; the trial began on Friday 26th April and lasted five
days; Wilde of course gives his famous explanation and defence of the ‘love
that dare not speak its name’ after two poems, ‘In Praise of Shame’ and ‘Two
Loves’ by Lord Alfred Douglas are read in court which stirs the supporters and onlookers
into shouts of sympathy and applause, but it is a momentary weakness in the
grinding system of the law and the third trial took place on Monday 20th
May over six days and the sentence of two years hard labour was given.
Montgomery Hyde brings all the drama of the case to the reader and the
prejudice of those who had already disliked and were jealous of Oscar’s
enormous fame and artistic talent; he was condemned and ostracised among
society before the verdict was reached and after the sentence prostitutes were
dancing in the streets outside the courts. ‘The truth is that Oscar Wilde was
amoral rather than immoral; and, in looking back upon the scandal of the trials
in which he was involved, the English public has an uneasy conscience about
him. For a good deal of the mud thrown at the time has stuck. It is still
thought in some quarters that Wilde was a debaucher of youth.’ (p. 100) It is
quite obvious to anyone who has studied their Wilde that Bosie was the
instigator of all that was rotten in the relationship and he remained a
tortured, arrogant monster for the rest of his life, despite falling under the
protective umbrella of Roman Catholicism; the trial had produced a wave of
panic throughout England and those who were committing the same so-called
‘crime’ or vice as Wilde were in preparation for a mass exodus across the
Channel where the air was a little more tolerant of such notions. The Appendix
has several interesting documents reproduced such as a) ‘A Plea of
Justification’ filed by the Defendant in Regina (Wilde) v. Queensberry, from
the Central Criminal Courts, London; b) Lord Alfred Douglas and Sir Edward
Clarke; c) Bankruptcy Proceedings; d) Lord Alfred Douglas and the aftermath of
the Wilde Trials; e) The Problem of Wilde’s Inversion and f) the Prevalence of
Male Homosexuality in England. A monumental work!
Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions (Volume I) – by Frank Harris.
In reading Mr. Frank Harris’s ‘Oscar Wilde’ one must first remember that the author is an enormous egoist and an unreliable reporter of facts which of course one will know if one has already read his autobiography, ‘My Life and Loves’. Volume one of his Wilde biography was published in 1916 with sixteen chapters over 320 pages and it opens with the court case of Wilde’s father Dr. Sir William Wilde who had a civil action brought against him for libel by Miss Travers following her accusation that he had sexually assaulted her under chloroform. Wilde was vindicated but it made a lasting impression on the young poet Oscar. We see the youthful Oscar at Portora School in Ireland and Harris recounts a story by Wilde that a young boy there had become enamoured of him and how it was a great revelation to him to realise the significance of that infatuation and those first passionate flames – ‘I was very childish, Frank; a mere boy till I was over sixteen. Of course I was sensual and curious, as boys are, and had the usual boy imaginings; but I did not indulge in them excessively.’ (p. 31) At Magdalen College,
Wilde came under the influence of Ruskin and Pater and we are told that Pater
knelt and kissed Wilde’s hand – ‘you must not, you really must not. What would
people think if they saw you?’ (p. 49) Whistler was another aesthetic influence
upon Oscar but they later fell out in April 1883 when Wilde returned to England from
his United States
lecture tour and Whistler accused him of plagiarism. The next year in 1884
Harris met Oscar and they became life-long friends meeting in theatres and
drawing rooms and Harris tells us that at first he was repulsed by Oscar’s
flabby and oily appearance which is strange coming from a man who was no oil
painting himself but he was impressed with Wilde’s ‘The Portrait of Mr. W. H.’
(Harris is a great Shakespeare enthusiast, I refrain from using the word
expert) and he delighted in Wilde’s novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ which
came to irrevocably damage his reputation. Lord Alfred Douglas is introduced
and he becomes the great temptation in Wilde’s life, bringing him to
destruction and bankruptcy; it is no wonder that Douglas, having wiped the
froth from his mouth, had nothing but harsh words about this book and its
author for he surely was the damaged seed of his father and bore the same
transgressions and vile, mean and insane vitriol his father held towards Wilde
and towards anyone who disagreed with him; Bosie even threatened to shoot his
father the Marquess. Rumours begin about the relationship between Oscar and
Bosie and Harris brings in ‘The Green Carnation’ as an example of how society
was beginning to view and ridicule Oscar. Harris offers his advice before the
trial begins to drop it and go abroad but we know that behind the scenes,
Bosie, like some rabid dog was pulling the strings, determined to see his
father in the dock and if he had his way at the end of a rope. He did not seem
to care that Oscar’s reputation was at stake and Oscar walked with the hand of
destiny to his fate. The outcome was surely inevitable, even to him, for the
‘uneducated middle class’ and the ‘barbarian aristocracy’ of England were
prejudiced against writers. Frank takes no end in telling us that he had a
steam yacht on the Thames at Erith, waiting to whisk Oscar off at a moments
notice but Wilde was determined to see the trial out to the end; he is staying
with his brother Willie on bail and confesses to Harris that even his own
brother would turn him in if discovered that he had left! Harris exaggerates no
doubt his own importance in the Wilde affair and unfortunately we cannot have
Wilde’s opinion of the conversations that allegedly took place between them but
nevertheless, with this in mind, it is still a fascinating read and yet another
facet to the great tragedy and comedy of Oscar Wilde.
Oscar Wilde: His Life and Confessions (Volume II) – by Frank Harris.
In the continuation of Frank Harris’s Wilde biography of 1916, the author offers a further eleven chapters in this second volume at over three-hundred pages and we are treated to the workings of the prison system and the effects of punishment and Frank meets Oscar in Reading prison having secured permission to assess the effects of prison life upon him and he listens to his complaints and assures him that changes will be made such as books for him and writing materials. As good as his word changes do occur after the prison Governor is dismissed and a new one established. Frank even goes on to draw up a petition for Oscar to be released early on remission on account of his ill health; the writer Meredith refuses just as most notable authors and men of letters decline and so the petition comes to nothing and Harris fails but at least Oscar now has some comfort in his incarceration. Following prison Oscar leaves for
France and stays at the Hotel de la
Plage in the . Frank
notices the change in Oscar, the great compassion and pity which is at odds
with De Profundis which seems bitter and merciless in its attack upon the
shallow and selfish village
of Berneval Douglas. Harris draws upon
the Ballad of Reading Gaol and reveals the influence of A E Housman’s ‘A
Shropshire Lad’ which according to Harris Wilde had read and enjoyed but it is
the second fall in Oscar’s life which now occurs following incessant pleadings
from Douglas to join him in Naples and Oscar falling for the temptation goes,
forfeiting his annual financial assistance from his wife who strictly forbad
him to see Douglas again (she does however help with regular funds). In Naples
the leach Douglas behaved deplorably and selfishly, urging Oscar to write so that
he could make money for Douglas to gamble with and enjoy fine dinners and
wines, even showing his violent and nasty side to the man who still loved him,
calling Wilde an ‘old fat prostitute’. Harris also urges Oscar on to work but
not for financial reasons, because he knows he is capable of creating beautiful
things and writing will heal his soul but Oscar comes across as stubborn and
lazy, there are many instances where Wilde refuses to walk, he takes a cab
everywhere; he acts just like a petulant child and refuses to write. Harris
moves on to Oscar’s death and how he himself was ill and could not be there and
the volume ends with Bernard Shaw’s ‘Memories of Oscar Wilde’ which is quite
interesting. The appendix reproduces the two poems by Alfred Douglas: ‘Two
Loves’ (Sept 1892) and ‘In Praise of Shame’ and the un-published portions of
‘De Profundis’. Both volumes have been an enjoyable read and it is always wise
to read several versions of the facts from different sources who each seem to
tell different accounts of the story; Frank Harris was counted as a friend of
Wilde’s and he paints himself in a wondrous and saintly light in terms of this
friendship, offering sensible advice and plentiful financial assistance to the
unfortunate Wilde, no doubt there is some semblance of truth in the matter and
after his death, Wilde becomes an easy target for egotistical second-rate
writers to attach themselves to him and gain some notoriety, but read the
volumes and make up your own mind as to the veracity of Mr. Harris.
Spirit Intercourse: Its Theory and Practice – by J. Hewat McKenzie.
James Hewat McKenzie (1869-1929) was the Scottish born founder of the
of Psychic Science who became interested in the paranormal in 1900. Following a
series of lectures in British College ,
London and Edinburgh during 1915, he
published ‘Spirit Intercourse’ in 1917. One can understand the need for this
book when one considers the awful loss of life on the battlefields of Glasgow and France and the
need to console grieving parents and loved ones; an interest in spiritualism
exploded and filled the gaping chasm left by the church. The book is divided into nine chapters over
295 pages which looks at the various evidence such as materialization and
techniques of mediumship through objective and subjective phenomena. McKenzie,
who was a member of the Christian Church for thirty years came to the
conclusion through Christian worship that there was no evidence to confirm that
man had a soul or that even a spirit world existed; following his departure
from the church he underwent years of personal study in the science of ‘life
after death’ and his own belief in spirit communication was established: ‘The
records of the Society for Psychical Research have actually proved to my mind,
first, survival pure and simple, the persistence of the spirit’s life, as a
structural law of the universe; second, that between the spiritual and the
material worlds an avenue of communication does in fact exist; third, that the
surviving spirit retains, at least in some measure, the memories and loves of
the earth.’ (F. W. H. Myers. Quoted on page 35) He goes into great depth as to
the science and culture of the soul and the first steps in spirit intercourse,
mapping the spirit spheres and describing the laws that one may find there.
Psychic science, he says, proves that at the death of the body a person still
functions as a conscious being; that being is a refined spirit body or a soul
which has substance and weight. The soul existed with a physical body during
life and can communicate with persons on earth before and after death. McKenzie
states that the world of the spirit or the soul lies immediately around the
physical earth and that while alive, a person can leave the physical body and
explore the spheres of refined physical states – the spirit world for we are
triune beings: body, soul and spirit (ego, thought). The soul has a similar
organic structure to that of the physical, its own organs etc. This is all very
interesting and then McKenzie suddenly feels the need to question his readers’
moral behaviour and physical virtues and that old Christian devil rears its
ugly head in his chapter on the culture of the soul which he declares needs
four components to become aware of spiritual contact, firstly, aspiration (or
prayer), secondly, right diet (apparently cooked flesh is disagreeable with the
spirits!), thirdly, exercise and fourth is self-control; to this he adds
rhythmic-breathing, concentration and meditation. A lot of this I can swallow
but when it comes to ‘planetary spirit intercourse’ whereby the Earth spirits
of the seventh sphere can communicate with the Martian spirits of the seventh
sphere for example seems ridiculous to me and why when we enter the spirit
world are our souls clothed in human shape and why do we need to live in brick
(not actual material brick but an ethereal substance-like brick) buildings? Why
is not the soul condensed into a circular ball of energy? Although I cannot
agree with much that McKenzie has to say on the spirit world (the seven spheres
that surrounds the earth and the other planets in our Solar System) and his
belief that there is no danger in such communications as in possession and
negative influences etc. seems naïve, but the book does have some interesting things
to say and it is a good, understandable book for most of it. Belgium
Death: Its Causes and Phenomena – by Hereward Carrington and John R Meader.
This massive tome at nearly six-hundred pages with ‘special reference to immortality’ was published in 1912 and the authors, Carrington and Meader, make a thorough examination of the scientific aspects of life and death, the assimilation and disintegration (attraction and repulsion) of the body and the inevitability of death – ‘dead matter is cast aside, just as one would discard a worn-out garment, and new matter is created to take its place. When this faculty ceases to perform its functions, death follows speedily.’ (p. 4) We are led through the signs of death in the physical which are quite obvious and mention is made of the etheric or the aura and the ‘odor mortis’ (smell of death) and ‘rigor mortis’; putrefaction (decomposition) is quite fascinating and we are told that it is twice as rapid in air as in water. Chapter three (part one) looks at ‘Trance, Catalepsy and Suspended Animation’ and goes into some depth on premature burial and its preventions which I found absolutely fascinating, offering many examples of such cases before presenting us with the delights in the facts of burials, cremation, mummification and embalming. Nine examples of the causes of death are examined from ‘sudden death’, ‘death by poisoning’ and even ‘death by spontaneous combustion’ in chapter six before entering upon a scientific study of old age. Carrington and Meader give their own theories upon death and their conclusions before opening part two, the ‘Historical’ aspect of death with theories concerningt immortality, (cannibalism, Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome) which frankly I found a little less interesting, touching on the philosophical aspects (Schopenhauer and Fichte) and then the theological aspects which acted like a sedative upon me until I awoke to the final part which delves into the ‘Psychological’ aspect with the basic premise that ‘all things perish except energy’. There are some interesting notions on the subject of the moment of death and is there a sensation of pain ? etc. ‘so long as there is pain, some attempt is being made to repair the vital damages; but when pain ceases, then nature has given up the fight.’ (p. 301) The following chapters are quite insightful – ‘Visions of the Dying’, ‘Death described from beyond the Veil’ (Clairvoyant descriptions of death: the separation of the soul and the body and the process of dying as described by spirits), ‘Experiments in Photography and Weighing the Soul’, ‘Death Coincidences’ (apparitions of the dying and olfactory phenomena), ‘The Testimony of Science – Psychical Research’ (physical phenomena and independent voices, raps, the case of D. D. Home etc.), ‘The Mental Phenomena’ (Clairvoyance, phantasms of the dead, haunted houses, planchette writing, mediums: Mrs Piper, Mrs Smead and Mrs Thompson) and ‘On the Intra-Cosmic Difficulties of Communication’ before the authors conclude that ‘the nature of death is likely to remain unsolved for many years to come – so long as we are ignorant of the nature of life.’ (p. 518) The Appendices have some interesting topics such as ‘On Vampires’, ‘Life and Vitality’ and ‘Eusapia Palladino’s Phenomena and Fraud’. Anyone reading this huge volume cannot fail to recognise the scale and wealth of research that has gone into it by Messrs Carrington and Meader who draw from many published works and although some chapters may not interest every enquiring mind there will be some chapters that do and instigate further research in that direction perhaps. If like me you are of a macabre twist and find death in all of its many aspects thoroughly fascinating, even a little romantic in the gothic sense, then I am sure you will find something to delight and tickle your strange sense of philosophy in this monster work on the subject.