Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Ponsonby-Baring Language

Maurice Baring with his
pet budgerigar 'Dempsey'
This private language, known as 'The Expressions,' was used by the writer Maurice Baring (1874 -1945) and his family and friends. It was started by his mother and her sister, Lady Ponsonby, when they were very young and developed over two generations. It is mentioned in Emma Letley's biography of Baring and there are a few pages on it in Sir Edward Marsh's A Number of People (London, 1939.) Marsh writes: ' the course of two generations (they) had developed a vocabulary of surprising range and subtlety, putting everyday things in a new light, conveying in nutshells complex situations or states of feeling, cutting at the roots of circumlocution. Those who had mastered the idiom found it almost indispensable, and my stable-companion at the Colonial Office, Conrad Russell, when asked if he knew anyone who knew the Baring language, answered: 'I spend all my days with a Baring monoglot.' One or two words have already passed into the language: 'Pointful' (the opposite to 'pointless') which Desmond MacCarthy constantly uses in his critical writings, is of Baring origin…'

 Some of the words are a little site-specific but could still have their uses (e.g. 'a Shelley Plain' for the sighting of a famous person*) others like 'loser' seem quite current, although M.B.'s 'loser' is more of a cad than a failure. Here is a glossary based on Letley/ Marsh:

Antrim Boat: 'To be in the Antrim Boat' meant to take a lot of trouble for nothing. Derived from a family incident.††

Bird: happy.

Block: to put someone or something on the block: to bring up a subject: to discuss.

Brain-Stoppage: 'explains itself.' (Marsh)

A Connaught-Clock: an unjustified inference.**

Culte: (French pronunciation):someone very nice and loveable; to have a culte = to have a crush on someone.

Curlingtoes: an attack of extreme shyness.

Dentist: a heart-to-heart talk.

The Laying of the Atlantic Cable (1866) in verse

This scrap of doggerel, found among a collection of holograph letters, has no name attached. It is bad enough to be by William McGonagall, the second worst poet who ever lived (the first being Amanda Ros), but is dated at around 1866, which must surely be too early for him.

Hark ? that noise, what meaning that Gun
The Great Eastern has arrived, the Goal is won
All the world must now precedence yield
To the Propriety Glass, Canning and Field
For the ( illegible) Rope is made & successfully ran
That ever was made by the Hands of Man
To Capt. Anderson & all his officers too
For their strict perseverance all Credit is due
Likewise, all on board did as far as they were able
Every assistance render to lay our Glorious Atlantic Cable.

The first transatlantic telegraph cable manufactured by Glass and associates was laid in 1858 from Western Ireland to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland, with Cyrus Field as entrepreneur.  Unfortunately, the poor quality of the cable meant that it functioned well for only a few weeks

Friday, January 30, 2015

Marlowe in Abadan

Another humorous piece from the papers of  'EVOE' i.e. Punch editor E.V. Knox. A Kit Marlowe parody…

Albert Decaris - Tamburlaine the Great (LEC 1965)


"Our methods of dealing with Persia have scarcely been those of Tamburlaine the Great," I wrote; and then (remembering a recent dramatic performance) I thought "How very strange if they had been." Something, I suppose, after this sort.

Enter, from underground holes, MR. MOUSSADEK and the BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY, with great voluted swords.

Presumptuous bassa, whose begrimed brow
Is all unworthy to salute the dust
That bears the mighty boots of Morrison,*
Down on thy knees and make immediate truce
Ere I shall hew thy carcase into shreds
And post it piecemeal through the entire globe
Till trembling Tartars of the furthest East
And all the Kurds' contributory kings
Shall murmur as they ope the packages
This was the deed of Mighty Morrison.

My Epigram

Some more humorous writing from the papers of E. V. Knox ('Evoe.") He was, for a while, editor of Punch (1931 - 1949) and this may have appeared there although there is no trace of it online...


For long it was a fugitive dream. I would catch sight of it, as one sees, or seems to see, a wild animal far down a forest clearing, or might it be a woodland nymph or faun? Or perhaps I would trace it written in the colours of the sunset, or in the morning among the folds of mist as they cleared from the chimneys on the mountain tops.

I am speaking now of my epigram. I had always intended to make (and utter) at least one epigram before I died. Other men had done it. Could I not also join their mighty company?

Then it would be written, perhaps, in the Dictionary of National Biography, "His early years and middle age were undistinguished, but during his fifty-ninth year, he suddenly made the now famous remark, ' ____ ____ ____ ____ ____ '"

But what would be those words? And should I ever say them? As the years rolled on I despaired of supposing they would ever rise unbidden to my lips,

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

C. B. Fry---Renaissance man

There are many photos of C. B. Fry (1872 – 1956)---an athlete who also  represented England at football and cricket,  Classical scholar, teacher, politician., journalist and author --- on the Net, but you won’t find this one. It comes from a batch of press photographs dating from the forties and fifties. Fry is shown wearing his basic B.A.gown, gained many years earlier after a horrendous performance in his Finals at Oxford, where he was awarded a fourth class degree ( incidentally, I know of only one other famous man who gained such a terrible degree and that’s John Ruskin). The great man finished his teaching career way back in 1898, so perhaps he is revisiting Repton, where he was a pupil, or Charterhouse, where he once taught, in order to receive some sort of honour. I think the photo is rather good, conveying as it does that combination of fierce intelligence, physical toughness and commitment that made the man, in the words of John Arlott, 'the most variously gifted Englishman of any age'.

National Treasure Stephen Fry claims C.B. as a kinsman, but does he offer much or any evidence for this?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lament for a Country Vet

Yoxford Church
Found - amongst a collection of Suffolk ephemera - this one page poem about a late lamented vet who died in the year of the Titanic and, according to records, was born in 1847. Little is known about him, but the poet W. S. Montgomery, the 'Blind Organ Grinder of Westleton' appears to have been an itinerant local poet and some of his poems and a short note* about him can be found in Barrett Jenkins book from the 1990s - A Selection of Ghost Stories, Smuggling Stories & Poems Connected with Southwold.

In loving memory of Edgar Willmott Wright, M.R.C.V.S.
For many years Veterinary Surgeon at Yoxford,
Died Friday, July 26th, 1912.

Interred at Yoxford Cemetery, Monday, July 29th.

We have lost our old Veterinary Doctor,
He has passed o'er the boundary of life,
Free from his pain and his suffering,
Gone from all sorrow and strife.
His form and his voice we'll remember,
For he spoke with no uncertain sound,
And many there'll be who will miss him,
All over the country side round.

Many years he has practiced amongst us,
Not a cleverer veterinary here,
So prompt to attend to each summons,
Let the call come from far or from near.
And for miles round they'd send for our Doctor,
No matter whatever the cost,
For his skill was well known with the horses,
He so seldom an animal lost.

C.M.Westmacott—a blackmailer of the Regency

This scrap of a letter, on paper watermarked 1824, was discovered a few years ago in a pile of autographs. It had been sent by the rather obscure W.B.MacDonagh, author of The Hermit in London to Charles Molloy Westmacott, editor of the notorious Age newspaper, and author of the London Spy, and proposed a meeting to discuss business.

What little we know about Macdonagh suggests that he was a harmless hack who, like Westmacott himself, was familiar with the fashionable world of Pierce Egan’s Regency flaneurs Tom and Jerry and Corinthian Tom, the prize-fighting coteries of ‘The Fancy ‘and the dandies of the Burlington Arcade. Westmacott, however, was a very significant figure in the Regency smart-set, in that through his blackmailing activities as editor of The Age he became one of the most hated men in England.

 Westmacott’s methods were simple enough.

E.H. (Ethel Howard) Spalding

From the papers of L R Reeve* this affectionate portrait of a minor character in British education. She does not have a Wikipedia page and is unknown to the DNB, but WorldCat record many books on history and education by her, some of which were continually reprinted into the 1960s. Her first book The problem of rural schools and teachers in North America (London : Stationery Office) was published in 1908 and she is noted as revising a book in 1960, so one could speculate her dates were something like 1880 - 1965. Her text books Piers Plowman Histories were in print from 1913 - 1957.

Miss Spalding

Miss Spalding was a most astonishing historian who still makes me feel google-eyed when I remember some of her activities.

In appearance she seemed so fragile that one would think a gentle summer breeze would blow her over. Yet when she lectured at Goldsmiths' College, London, cheeky men students, immediately after ragging unmercifully an instructor in physical training, would sit in her presence during a history lecture hardly daring to flicker an eyelid.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Oliver Messel and ‘Bobo’ Sigrist in the famous Suite he created

It’s got a toilet seat shaped like a scallop shell, a grand double bedroom and more rococo swags, flat columns and baroque touches than a wealthy thespian could wish for. It’s where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton spent their honeymoon in 1964.No wonder American A listers, like Sylvester Stallone, Tom Cruise and Michael Jackson, have demanded it. We are talking about the Messel Suite, which is all yours for a mere £2,950 a night.

This photo, retrieved from a pile of press shots issued by the Dorchester itself, shows its creator, Oliver Messel, arguably the greatest stage designer from the thirties to the sixties, sitting alongside the twenty-two year old Frederika ‘Bobo’ Sigrist, heiress to the Hawker-Siddeley fortune. It was taken on 28 June 1962 on the occasion of her mother’s marriage to British public relations chief Sir Berkeley Ormerod.

Messel and Sigrist, in an artfully arranged pose, may first have met through their shared association with the millionaires of Mustique. Messel lived in a Barbabos beach house named Maddox, which he had totally transformed and decorated to his own designs , while Sigrist  was part of the Bahamas jet-set. A year after this photo was taken, she married Irish film producer Kevin McClory, who was responsible for the James Bond films.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Hugh Crichton-Miller (1877-1959)

Found among the papers of L R Reeve* this appreciation of the life of Dr Hugh Crichton Miller Scottish psychiatrist and founder of the Tavistock Clinic.
Tavistock Clinic**


My appreciation of the late Dr Hugh Crichton-Miller is not in chronological order so I begin with an unusual admonition made in the middle of one of his talks to an audience of highly intelligent and respectful graduates: 'If you can't study the subject deeply leave psycho-analysis alone'.
His advice has never left my memory for two reasons: the very level-headed doctor was one of our greatest authorities on medical psychology, and a few weeks later the matron of a nursing home, having asked my opinion of the new psychology informed me that treatment was beneficial to half the patients concerned and disastrous to the others. Hence I was warned and I feel to-day that the warning is more imperative than ever before, not only to myself but to the increasing number of people concerned.
However, as psycho-analysis is not on my own terms of reference I refer to my next view of the specialist on the platform in Wimpole Street, when he so ably interpreted Dr Montessori's address. I have mentioned him in my reference to Montessori elsewhere so turn to my third episode when I heard him at the seaside.

If there remains a more compelling speaker than was Crichton-Miller I have no burning desire to listen to him.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hallucinations of Shakespeare

When English tourists abroad are accosted by foreigners on trains it is now more likely to be about Manchester United or Downton Abbey. According to the writer Maurice Baring, in his time it was often about Shakespeare, as in this intriguing account in his Lost Lectures (London, 1932):

Over and over again it has been my fortune to be told about English literature by foreign high-brows in trains, and to be initiated in the secrets of the literature of my country. I once met a Serbian professor who told me that he had written a book about Shakespeare. He spoke French (not Shakespeare—the Serb). Shakespeare was a well known case, he said, of self-hallucination. He knew, because he was a mind doctor. Hamlet was a well-known case of a man who thinks he sees ghosts.
“But”, I said, “the other people in the play saw the ghost.” “They caught his infection,” he said.
“But they saw it first,” I objected.
“It was Suggestion,” he said; “it often happens. The infection comes from the brain of the man who thinks he sees a ghost before he has seen the ghost, and his coming hallucination infects other brains. Shakespeare hallucinated, or he could not have described the case so accurately. All his characters hallucinated—Macbeth, King Lear, Brutus (he saw a ghost).”
I said enough things had happened to King Lear to make him go mad. “Not in that way,” he said. “Ophelia is mad; Lady Macbeth is mad; Othello is mad; Shylock is mad; Timon of Athens is very mad; Antonio is mad; Romeo is mad. The cases are all accurately described by one who has the illness himself.”
“Was Falstaff mad?” I asked.
“Falstaff,” said the doctor, “is a case of what we call metaphenomania.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Dynamiter - first punk mag?

At a revolutionary printing office*
Found - a review in a 'monthly magazine of bibliography' Book Lore (1886) of  a new magazine The Dynamiter : a record of literary bombshells, books old and new, flung into the camp of the orthodox [London : Printed and published for the proprietor by Thomas Shore**, Jun.,] WorldCat shows that it  went to just one issue. The only copy in world libraries is at the British Library in Euston. Amazon list it as 'currently unavailable' assigning it the ASIN number ASIN: B0000EF989. The publisher, and probably the author, seems to have been a minor John Camden Hotten style publisher of the curious, seditious & the scabrous. WorldCat lists another work almost certainly by  by him:

Men V. Machinery. Suggestive Facts and Figures, urging National Control of National Powers of Production. By Thomas Shore. With Preface by H. Halliday Sparling. 20 pp., price 2d. 

This hints at quite advanced, possibly revolutionary, political views and brings to mind the world of Conrad's The Secret Agent and nihilists in blue-tinted glasses... Shore's 1886 periodical was eight pages in length and printed on red paper rendering it hard to read. It may have been a simple bookish curiosity about strange and outlandish books, not uncommon at the time. However the Book Lore review mention of "oatmeal upon which to cultivate literature and revolution" and "blood red paper" suggests a more provocative, contrarian purpose and it may have a place in a completist collection of punk literature (along with Wyndham Lewis's puce monster BLAST also 'flung into the camp of the orthodox' 28 years later.) The review in Book Lore reads thus: [We have left in the news item that follows it suggesting John Ruskin was a graffiti artist.]

No. I of The Dynamiter, which is said to be "a record of Literary Bombshells, books old new, flung into the camp of the orthodox," consists of eight quarto pages, printed on blood-red  paper, and the editor says that since "every man has to pay rent, rates, and taxes, as well as buy food and clothing, it is a farce to talk about working wholly and solely for love of a cause."  The information supplied by this engaging print is not, judging from the solitary number before us, of any value;

Saturday, January 17, 2015


Sometimes now known as 'The Psychiatrist of The Ghost Road' W.H.R.Rivers has a formidable reputation and holds a pivotal place in the development of neurophysiology, psychiatry/ psychology and anthropology - but he is probably most widely known for his wartime association with Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves and is featured in Pat Barker's 1995 Booker prize winning novel The Ghost Road. L.R. Reeve* some of whose encounters with famous people we are posting, actually never met him but saw him lecture and, sadly, missed a chance to meet him '…after he had addressed an audience at Cambridge he invited the London contingent to his rooms at St John's College for coffee and discussion. Some of us, I among them, wanted to return by the next train and reluctantly refused. What a chance I missed!' Nevertheless he has a good account of him:


Dr Rivers (1864 - 1922) was one of those rare men who call forth the best generous impulses of anyone with whom they come in contact. No extreme selfish extrovert, no criminal, nobody I should think, could resist his unconscious charm; and he himself, like Harold Nicolson, couldn't hate anybody.

We read a very warm appreciation from Siegfried Sassoon in The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. It seems that Sassoon, suffering from the harsh nervous strains of World War I, was admitted to a hospital where, within a few minutes of his entrance, he met Captain Rivers, RAMC. Immediately he took a liking to his physician,

Thursday, January 15, 2015

H.H. Asquith (Earl of Oxford & Asquith)

[More from the papers of L.R. Reeve* who writes:] I remember, somewhere around 1907, reading a wrong prognostication in a Manchester newspaper, the 'Daily Despatch', about Lloyd George, Grey, Runciman, McKenna, Birrell, Samuel, Haldane, Morley and Winston Churchill.

Nine names of nine outstanding men who, under Henry Herbert Asquith, formed one of England's strongest cabinets ever known. The cabinet was so powerful, said the prophetic journalist, that Asquith might never be able to control so formidable a group of parliamentarians. We all of course know that he did, and that by 1914 some far -reaching acts of parliament had been passed by the government.

One of the early acts, causing the lengthy, bitter 'ninepence for fourpence' controversy and angry snarls about stamp-licking can never be forgotten by octogenarians, and I cannot believe that widespread antagonism towards individual members of parliament today is as vindictive as that of my young days; and as yet parliament hasn't witnessed the unprecedented scene encountered by Asquith when he rose to speak on the bill abolishing the veto of the House of Lords. For nearly an hour he stood almost unheard against the continuous roar of anger from the opposition. Finally he sat down defeated by the pandemonium. Later the incident was known as 'the Pothouse Brawl'.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

John Hayward---‘the most malicious man in London’

This photo, which is inscribed on the reverse, 'Rose Macaulay (centre) and John Hayward' was found amongst a large collection of press photographs that included a number of other shots of celebrated British cultural figures from the forties and fifties. Judging from the physical condition of the identified figures, it must date from the mid fifties. Hayward had suffered from muscular dystrophy since his twenties and eventually became wheelchair- bound. I suspect that the other two individuals in the shot were his ‘carers’, although observant Jotwatchers may know better. Even though Hayward was said to be light in weight, I can’t imagine the spindly Rose  having the energy to propel him across the grass. Incidentally, does Rose come into the category of Very Tall British Female Novelists**, along with Virginia Woolf ?

The photo makes Hayward, with his thick lips and mischievous mien, resemble top notch Modernist Wyndham Lewis. Nor were these facial features the only attributes they held in common. Both were disabled, though Lewis only became blind in his late sixties. Both were close to T. S. Eliot, though the much younger Hayward was more of a literary groupie than the intellectual equal of the poet, though his various editions of poetry gave him a certain cachet.  In 1926, while still an undergraduate at Cambridge, he had met Eliot for the first time. They got on well and Hayward developed the friendship with letters and invitations to the lonely Eliot to visit him at his home.