Saturday, August 1, 2015

John Mitford---‘a pleasant layman spoiled’

Mitford's vicarage at Benhall
That’s what Charles Lamb called this literary odd job man, who was a cousin of the essayist Mary Russell Mitford, and who wrote of a visit to Lamb at his home in Islington in the  Gentleman’s Magazine, which he edited for seventeen years; he was   also editor of Gray and Goldsmith, and collected manuscripts ,old books, paintings and Chinese ceramics. He was a gifted cricketer too, a passionate gardener, and in any spare time left to him, he managed to squeeze in a bit of preaching in his parish of Benhall, near Saxmundham in Suffolk.

Here we have a tiny letter from Mitford, in miniscule handwriting, dated July 5th 1848 and addressed to an unnamed correspondent—probably the editor of a magazine, for Mitford was a prolific writer of articles.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Violet Jacob----Scottish poet and novelist

Although Violet Jacob (1863 – 1946), is highly regarded in her native Scotland as the author of the much admired novel Flemington (1911) and as a poet writing in the Scots vernacular, she is hardly known in England. She is often compared in stature to Hugh MacDiarmid (whom she knew) and her work,both printed and in manuscript form, can be found in public collections throughout Scotland. She is also appreciated online, where a scholarly site records her life in two parts—early and late. The letter shown here , which dates from Boxing Day 1935, and is from the  archive of her friend Annie Schletter,
belongs to the last decade of her life, when she was often to be found touring Europe with her severely asthmatic  husband Arthur, a former soldier. On this particular sojourn in a part of Italy that she seems to have known since at least 1930, she was staying in the very opulent Hotel de la Reine in the fashionable Ligurian resort of Ospedaletti, a favourite haunt of the English for decades. In the previous decade Sigmund Freud had stayed at the same hotel,

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Gad About Guide (London 1948)

Found - a city guide book from 1948 - the year of the London Olympics. The tone is upbeat. There is no mention of the war or austerity, there is even talk of one businessman commuting to work by helicopter. The guide was put out by a long defunct car hire company called Walter Scott, possibly named after the novelist…the guide book is a good snapshot of late 1940s London. The letters of appreciation from aristocrats and a 'world famous actress' are especially amusing.


Issued every now and then, to help
busy people get about London quickly.



Car Hirers Since 1903
214/8 Pavilion Road, Sloane Square, S.W.1.
MAIda Vale 0191
and 3431
109 Goldhurst Terrace, Hampstead, N.W.6.
PADdington 0164 5 and 6 Burwood Mews, Edgware Road, W.2.


    Ever since Boadicea had an urgent appointment with a Roman general–not a rock's throw from the present Bank of England–the question of getting quickly about London has been uppermost in the minds of visitors (and Londoners alike) who value every minute of their time.
    Our brass-hatted British Queen, on her way to sack the Roman garrison, solved her problem with a two-wheeled chariot with hollow-ground hub blades. In Medieval times, the horse-drawn litter, a kind of four-poster bed on shafts, carried the nobleman swiftly over the cobbles to his appointments. More comfortable, perhaps, was its descendant, the 16th century coach, though not without drawbacks. For its occupant journeyed in constant fear of an enterprising type of rogue, a spring-heeled spiv whose speciality was to leap on to the back of the carriage, slash open the canopy and snatch his wig, which might easily have cost two hundred pounds.

Gordon Bottomley - 1890's poet

Found in a copy Poems at White Nights (published in 1899 in Cecil Court, London) a contemporary review of the book. The review is unsigned but was obviously from a national daily paper as there are financial reports on the back. Gordon Bottomley is a mildly collected fin de siecle poet, of considerable talent but slight neglected -possibly because of his name which could be used as the the butt of jokes, so to speak. His first book The Mickle Drede and Other Verses was privately printed in Kendal in 1896  and is a great rarity and of some value. He attempted to destroy all of the 150 copies as he considered the work immature..The reviewer below senses dark currents in his work.

Mr. Gordon Bottomley's second volume, Poems at White Nights (At the Sign of the Unicorn), shows him still frequenting the darker woods of Faerie. One fragment in it is a dedication for some book of verses in which the receiver is bidden to read:

The dream I dreamed of England's prime,
Seeking within its outworn weed
The sweetness of that matin time.

But to no such pleasant theme does the muse address her in this volume written at "White Nights". For the most part we have simple pictures in rich half-tones of feeling or in grave symbolism. The are slight, but each has a clear artistic note, and beauty is never wanting.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Maurice Baring quotations - "Good things"

Maurice Baring with his
pet budgerigar 'Dempsey.'
Found in Paul Horgan's Maurice Baring Restored (Heinemann, London 1970) a collection of quotations - snippets from the work of the great (and somewhat neglected) writer. Horgan calls these pages 'Good Things.' Maurice Baring was very good on music and art, his Beethoven story has probably been told by others but is still poignant.
We have selected a few of the very best...  There are many quotation sites on the web, most have just one 'quote' from him: 'Memory is the greatest of artists, and effaces from your mind what is unnecessary.' The following are from Paul Horgan's selection.

There is no amount of praise which a man and an author cannot bear with equanimity. Some authors can even stand flattery. (From the dedicatory letter of Dead Letters)

Whoever one is, and wherever one is, one is always in the wrong if one is rude.

Art was Flaubert's religion; he served it with all his might; and, although he wrote but little, he died of overwork. (French Literature)

If you would know what the Lord God thinks of money, you have only to look at those to whom he gives it.

He pointed out, too, how difficult it would be to break off the engagement at the eleventh hour.
'But that's just the beauty of the eleventh hour. That's what it's there for, surely,' she said. (Cats Cradle)

Robert Barlow - teacher and athlete

I can find nothing about Robert Barlow apart from this affectionate portrait by his friend and colleague L.R. Reeve* whose archive we acquired. He may have been born in 1897 but that's about it..His obscurity is particularly odd because Reeve rated him 'supreme ...above all' and he had met many famous men and women, some world famous.


In my opinion Robert Barlow, born in Manchester, was the most outstanding Lancastrian of his era, and during the last hundred years Lancashire has been rightly proud of many great men. Moreover, although I spent most of my long life in London persistentIy visiting the House of Commons, colleges of the University of London, conferences, public meetings and lectures in search of and finding really great men and women, supreme above them all stands Robert Barlow.
He grew up with one valuable asset, perfect health; and on this foundation he developed into one of those extremely rare men who could do almost anything better than other men; and the only one I could compare with him, C. B. Fry, would have to take second place.
I am told that when he was a young man Manchester City wanted this brilliant six-footer.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Secret Places XIII & XIV

Two more chapters of The Secret Places (Elkin Mathews & Marrot London 1929) - a chronicle of the 'pilgrimages' of the author, Reginald Francis Foster (1896-1975), and his friend 'Longshanks' idly rambling in Sussex, Kent and Surrey. See our posting of the first chapters for more on Foster and this book, including a contemporary review in The Tablet.



A man at West Hoathley wanted me to go shares with him in a pig farm, of which the great charm was a timbered house, but despite that and Longshank’s persuasions and also my liking for pork, I resisted the inducement and bade the tempter find another partner. Thereafter Longshanks and I came silently to the Sussex Ouse at Ardingly, where we helped a man to mend his fence. For that service he gave us food and beer, and would have added money

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mendel, A Story of Youth (Mark Gertler)

Found - a rare 1916 first edition of Mendel, A Story of Youth by Gilbert Cannan. The novel is a roman a clef about the artist Mark Gertler and has much on his disastrous affair with Bloomsbury Goddess Dora Carrington. The verse dedication is to her:

To D.C.

Shall tears be shed because the blossoms fall,
Because the cloudy cherry slips away,
And leaves its branches in a leafy thrall
Till ruddy fruits do hang upon the spray 
Shall tears be shed because the youthful bloom

And all th'excess of early life must fade
For larger wealth of joy in smaller room
To dwell contained in love of man and maid?
Nay, rather leap, O heart, to see fulfilled
In certain joy th'uncertain promised glee,
To have so many mountain torrents spilled
For one fair river moving to the sea.

Gilbert Cannan entertained Mark Gertler, Katherine Mansfield and D H Lawrence among others

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Martin Stone and the Forgotten Shelf

Found--Martin Stone's Forgotten Shelf book catalogue no. 5: Modern Literature Fantasy and Detective Fiction - November 1982. The macabre cover was hand-coloured by impecunious students and the image from the cover taken from a Marcel Schwob novel Coeur Double (Paris, 1891.) Martin, now an expat in Paris, is still going strong but has not done a catalogue since the 1980s. The dedication reads..

Thanks should go to Mr. D. Attoe of Wapping and Mr. Robin Summers  for sterling excavation work in the compiling of this catalogue. A tip of the hat also to Iain Sinclair of Albion Village Books for light shed in some obscure bibliographic corners and to Skoob Books for the use of congenial office facilities beyond the boundaries of the East End. 

There follows a poem by David Attoe, now a US expat and at that time poet, book collector and Ford Madox Ford expert. He later published a novel Lion at the Door (Little, Brown, 1989) which had a great succes d'estime, even carrying a blurb from Thomas Pynchon.

New Edition

Little change from the turkeys
take a sift look at Priapus bones
splinter rinse with ferocious light
against old walls

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Disability ! What disability ? The Amazing Constance Smedley

In her sixty six years Constance Smedley (1875 - 1941) managed to pack more into her life than most centenarians would do. Despite being on crutches from her early years and confined from her thirties to a wheelchair (due to some unidentified disability, possibly a hip problem) this Birmingham-born fireball, who married the gay artist Maxwell Armfield, was at various times a crusading feminist, suffragist  and journalist, an artist,  novelist, playwright, organiser of pageants and folk dances, and perhaps most notably, the founder of the world’s first arts and science club devoted entirely to women.
It is on the notepaper of the London-based Lyceum Club, which the twenty-eight  year old Smedley helped to found in 1903, that this featured letter (below) also shows her to be a tireless encourager of talent among women—especially budding musicians and actresses. Here she writes to an actress and fellow feminist Annie Schletter,

A rare British Museum Library ticket

There are plenty of biographical anecdotes concerning the experiences of writers using the facilities of the old British Museum Library —from Washington Irving through Karl Marx up to David Lodge and beyond. When the famous round Reading Room was built many incorporated into their fiction memories of studying there. However, we have little idea today of the process by which books were ordered in the very early years of the Library.

So when an actual ordering slip from this period turns up —and one signed by a well known author—it is a rare event. Surely such ephemera are scarcer even than Shillibeer omnibus tickets and must rank among other celebrity souvenirs, such as non-presented cheques signed by Hollywood film stars and the like.

This particular ordering slip was made out by the poet Thomas Campbell (1777 – 1844), whose Pleasures of Hope  was a minor success in 1799, and who remained a well known, though hardly revered, figure of the Romantic period. The book he ordered was The History of Edward the Second by Sir Francis Hubert, which first appeared in 1629. We know the book was asked for on August 23rd , but with no year date present we must examine the style of the vestigial remnant of the printed part of the form and guess that the order was made sometime between 1803, when Campbell settled in London, and 1819, when he brought out his Specimens of the British Poets.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

J. W. Samuel B.A

From the papers of L.R. Reeve* this record of a remarkable educationalist, mathematician and speaker. He is unknown to  Wikipedia and online research reveals very little.  He contributed some photographs to the Country in Town  exhibition (July 2 to July 16, 1908) at  Whitechapel Art Gallery to illustrate 'Day Educational Rambles' in the education section. He appears to have received a double honours degree at London University in Anglo- Saxon and Early English (1901?.) As with many of Reeve's subjects he was a remarkable speaker...


It was during a conference at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London, that I first saw J. W. Samuel. He was delivering an address, and I recall vividly the profound impression he made upon me, for I was listening to a man who was one of the most effective speakers in London.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The art of being very annoyed, very politely

Found -- this rather unusual author's notice in a copy of the 1885 edition of George Long's translation of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. It is printed where the frontispiece should be.  A little digging reveals the following.

The first edition of Long's translation was published in 1862.  By 1864 a pirated edition appeared by Ticknor & Fields, Boston.  Long's notice appeared first in the 1869 British 2nd edition published by Bell & Daldry, London, and was still appearing several printings later in 1885.
Long's consideration of a Confederate dedication to a pirated Union publication is an excellent example of being politely very rude, and his opening paragraph pure stoicism! [Submitted by P.Hatcher / Many thanks]

Click to view

Sunday, July 12, 2015

I once met A. S. Eddington

Found in the papers of L.R. Reeve (see A.J. Balfour for background on him) this piece on the British astronomer, physicist, and mathematician Sir  Arthur Eddington (1882 - 1944.) He did his greatest work in astrophysics and also wrote books on philosophy and popular science. L.R. Reeve actually met him and gives an amusing account of the slightness of this encounter but has good information on Eddington's appearance and his lecturing style. He ends with quite a good joke, relatively speaking…Some may remember that David Tennant played him in the BBC/HBO film Einstein and Eddington (2008.)


For several years I expressed my homage to Semprini, the pianist of genius; then when I heard him declare on the radio that if he were on a desert island his choice of a book would be The Nature of the Physical World by Sir Arthur Eddington, O.M., F.R.S., my obeisance was beyond all description, for I look upon Eddington as the greatest astronomer of my era.
At times, many years ago, I lay on my groundsheet bed in the desert gazed upwards with wonder at the moon and stars in the cloudless sky which appeared larger and brighter than in England, astounded at the intellects of men who interpreted the awesome constellation and could tell us that we were looking at stars which took many light years to reach our vision. In those days I never heard of Eddington,

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Secret Places XI & XII

Two more chapters of The Secret Places (Elkin Mathews & Marrot London 1929) - a chronicle of the 'pilgrimages' of the author, Reginald Francis Foster (1896-1975), and his friend 'Longshanks' idly rambling in Sussex, Kent and Surrey. See our posting of the first chapters for more on Foster and this book, including a contemporary review in The Tablet.



It chanced that I had to go over into Surrey hm Sussex to pay a visit to the Franciscan Friary whence we had started on our wanderings. Leaving Longshanks, therefore, in an inn at Chidding in the fold country, whither we had gone in search of a man who claimed to be a direct descendant of Earl Godwin–though what he was doing here in the south I do not know–I went through the gap in the hills to Guildford and, being weary, took a ‘bus thence to Chilworth.
Because I was stupid with sleep I left that ‘bus at the wrong place, and, being unfamiliar with the country west of the Friary, I sought direction from a butcher and a queer man who carried a lighted lantern, though it was yet mid-afternoon. Thereafter I walked two miles, as I had been told, I came at last to a large crucifix by the roadside and entered the Friary grounds.