Friday, May 30, 2008

Edward White and All the Bensons

I first heard of the Benson boys, A.C., E. F., and R. H., through my reading in Rolfe, who was for a time fast friends with Robert Hugh Benson, sometime writer of ghost tales and Monsignor of the Catholic Church. As with all of Rolfe's friendships there was a falling out although, unusually, it seems that in this case it may have been the friend, rather than Rolfe, who was most at fault. Be that as it may, it soon became clear that all three 'boys', sons of an Archbishop of Canterbury all, were a little bit queer in one way or another. So, although I'm not an expert on the Bensons I do have a small corner of a bookshelf reserved for books by and about them. I was genuinely chuffed therefore to be given the above as a present from a grateful bookseller who knew it would tickle my fancy.

It's the biography of Archbishop Edward White Benson, written by his son Arthur Christopher and published by Macmillan in London in 1899. A. C. Benson would also go on to write a memoir of his younger brother, Hugh, who predeceased him. The book is in two volumes and in moderately good condition but what makes it particularly appealing is that it is the biography of one Archbishop which has been owned by at least two others. The bookplate is that of Frederick Temple who was Archbishop of Canterbury 1896-1902. On that bookplate is written, in her own hand presumably, 'Given to The Old Palace Canterbury by Mrs William Temple, 1945', William Temple was Frederick's son but was also Archbishop, this time between 1942-1944 and he died in office. Old Palace is the Archbishop's residence in Canterbury and so one surmises that Mrs Temple left the book there on her departure after her husband's death. There is also, laid in the book, a small, bookplate sized piece of paper with just the words, 'Geoffrey Francis Fisher Archbishop of Canterbury 1945-1961'. This is not a bookplate and I can't say that this means the book was owned by Fisher as well, although as he followed William Temple, clearly the book was in his custody after it was given to The Old Palace. Anyway, it's a nice set of two volumes with a nice ecclesiastical history to it.

PS. I have been neglectful of people's comments and responses to the blog - my apologies.

John C., I should be fair to Delany, his criticism was reserved entirely for the art directors and editors of early pulp paperback publishing houses such as Ace, not the artists themselves, your points are well taken but I fear they are more apposite to my misrepresentation of Delany than to what he was actually getting at. The point is, of couse, now moot anyway since the improvement of printing techniques since the 60s and 70s.

When I posted a while ago about a printing block I had found at at antiques fair from the pubisher 'Longmans Green and Co.,' I was grateful to receive two 'off camera' responses, both very helpful. Jim D. Thank you for the reference to the new history of Longmans, I may see if I can find a copy of that. Nicolas from the Old Stile Press also responded: I had mused what the deeper cut section might have been at the bottom of the block and Nicolas was able to tell me that this was a regular feature on such blocks to prevent the ink pooling in areas where there was no text or line to print. Also, Nicolas suggested that this block may have been to head up the catalogue of other books 'from the same publisher' which often appear bound into the back of books of this period. It was a good idea but I have since had a chance to look at some of those from Longmans at this time and it doesn't check out. I still don't know what it was used for but I will keep on looking from time to time.

I was also delighted to hear from Daz of who commented on an older post of mine recenlty in which I mentioned and blogged some of the flyers and postcards I had picked up on a visit to the sauna in London. It turns out that Daz designed the Alternative Bear Night flyer I put up there. He doesn't say but I assume he might have designed the 'splattered paint' logo on the flyer and on the website which I thought was particularly clever and rather sweet in a way.

I never acknowledged properly the very eloquent and detailed tribute to Derek Jarman which Clixchix added to my recent 'virtual exhibition'. I would encourage you to go and read what he had to say.

I do hope I've now managed to catch up with you all and apologies if anyone's comment has been left out.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Well, I actually missed it by a couple of days but this blog is three years old today.... which makes it like, I don't know, sixty in blog years!

Thank you to everyone who comes to look from time to time... I know there's about a thousand of you a month from all around the world... do say hi from time to time.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Holywell: In the Footsteps of Frederick Rolfe

Over the weekend I have been in Holywell in Flintshire in North Wales following in the footsteps of Frederick Rolfe, Baron Corvo who came here for a couple of years at the end of the 1890s and caused a fair amount of mayhem. As well as wanting to visit the Holy Well of St Winefride where Rolfe painted numerous banners for use in processions through the town, I was also interested in tracking down and photographing some of the places Rolfe lived and visited himself.

Holywell today (pronounced Holly-well by everyone) is a sad and depressing little place. There is a tangible air of deprivation. Although the High Street is much the same as that of any other small town in the UK, if you know what to look for you can see that there is relative poverty here: too many obese and disabled people wandering the streets as a proportion of the whole, too many older people in proportion to younger, poor clothing, just a few too many drunks at 11am in the morning, just a few too many of the shops and plots around the town are abandonned or derelict. Rather more directly telling than my impression of deprivation is that there are a number of small initiatives visible in the town which are clearly some form of local governmental response to the deprivation: a 'skills and learning cafe' in the old town hall for example.

Anyway, we were fortunate to have warm and sunny weather and all the people we met were charming and helpful. The Hotel Victoria, where Rolfe stayed, was easily found as it is on the way into the town from our Travellodge accomodation. It stands in the middle of a circular road looking decidedly the worse for wear. I was glad I hadn't thought to book myself in there. The Hocheimer's house, where Rolfe stayed a while with the publisher of The Holywell Record and his wife, is sadly no longer with us; Bank Place is still standing but only from number 5 and there is a rather derelict looking gap where the earlier numbers would have been. No. 3, the Hocheimers', I'm sure would have been hard up against the back of the shops which front onto the High Street. Bizarrely the small terrace of cottages is then interrupted again by the Holywell ring road, a new road which just ploughed through the middle of Bank Place, on the other side of the road is a large new supermarket which has the last few houses of Bank Place standing in the middle of its car park. Sadly the same road seems to have done for The Greyhound Inn too, another of Rolfe's habitations.

The Well itself is in a beautiful setting although the set-up seems a little strange. It is no longer possible to drive down Well Street from the Catholic Church to the shrine but one can do it on foot. Instead one drives down 'the hill' (Greenfield Road). The setting is lovely, the old shrine buildings are backed by huge trees like a curtain of vivid green. You will notice from all the pictures of the old shrine that it has those very tall vaulted arches with a building on top. It appears that the original entrance was at the level of the building at the top and that one then made one's way down to the spring and the bath. Today you approach from the waterlevel and there are a series of tents to one side for changing, inside the arches the place seems in very bad repair indeed, the walls are covered in ex voto graffitti, which is charming, but the stone work is broken and rotting. the spring - a very active one with constantly moving surface water, is contained in a stone pool and allowed to run out to fill the bath outside.

The other place which was rather easy to find was the Workhouse. As we drove into Holywell there was an enormous, boarded up and instutional looking building and we both looked at each other and wondered aloud if that could be it. The newsagent was able to confirm that up until just a couple of years ago it had been the local hospital and that before that it had been for many years the Workhouse. A very overbearing and typically grey looking place - not inviting at all, a chapel at one end and completely boarded up.

We also took a short drive to Pantasaph. There is a story about Rolfe pitching up here on foot, pretty much derelict himself, and offering to clean the calvary on a hill somewhere in the vicinity of a Franciscan Friary. The Superior of the order at first agreed and then baulked at the idea when he discovered that Rolfe was to be using a secret medieval recipe. Here we found a beautiful Friary and a convent (the latter had just recently been developed into housing by the look of it). The Friary is also the National Shrine to Padre Pio and has a wonderful open air altar and worship area. At the back of the Friary is a path which leads you to the bottom of a wooded hill through a stone arch. Imagine my excitement when the two signposts there tell you to go right to the 'grotto' or left to the Calvary. In fact, the path to the left zigzgs up the hill with sucession of Stations of the Cross at each turn, each contained in a small brick 'house' and, according to later researches, these were present in Rolfe's time. The path winds up through the wood until at the very top is a large Calvary. I'm no expert but my hunch is that this isn't bronze at all but actually cast iron. The inscription dates its donation to the Friary in the 1870s so it wasn't that old at all when Rolfe was there. A nice touch is that the final Station (Jesus is Laid in the Tomb) is inside a half buried chapel which is directly in front of the calvary so as you approach it, the huge tall cross of the Calvary appears to rise from the centre of the chapel roof. This little chapel too was present when Rolfe arrived.

It was an amazing weekend with a lot now to process and a good number of contacts made to be followed up in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bibliographical Musings

I have been reading E W Padwick's Bibliographical Method. In his discussions of analytical and descriptive bibliography Padwick, of course, is at pains to point out the ways in which bibliography can be of use not just to the historian of printing/publishing but also of textual criticism and literary students. I was put in mind of one of my favourite authors, Samuel R Delany, whose dislexyia has always, he says, created in him an obsession with proof-reading and texual corrections. Almost every time one of his novels is reprinted he avails himself of the opportunity to make corrections and he keeps sheets of typos and other needed corrections on the latest impression of each work so that the next, whenever that might be, can be corrected. It has been suggested by a number of Delany 'scholars' that there may never be a 'ideal text' of Delany's masterpiece, Dhalgren, as he has made alterations to almost every impression. Currey, Delany's bibliographer, records 65 textual alterations between the 5th and the 6th impression of the first edition!

But Delany is also a good example of what I have been musing on most whilst reading Bibliographical Method. Delany (and I) are fascinated by the book as an artifact, not just in the direction of wondering how the book as an object can reveal things about the text but in the other direction too. I (and Delany) wonder about the ways in which the book and its place in social and economic structures, its technological restrictions, its physicality, how do those things affect the text and the creative process by wich a book comes into existence. Delany, for example, when presenting his first novel The Jewels of Aptor to Donald Wollheim at Ace Books was received very warmly, but in order to be published in the Ace Doubles format at that point, he would have to cut 720 lines, or twenty pages from a typescript of some 206 pages. The text that he cut was later restored but in his autobiographical The Motion of Light in Water, Delany recalls Wollheim's telling offer to make the cuts for Delany if he wanted. Delany demurred and made the cuts himself but one wonders how many other new SF authors awed by their first contact with a serious publisher may have allowed Wollheim to make significant changes to their manuscripts in this way.

I've just dug out an article by Delany on the packaging of science fiction which is as insightful as any acedemic bibliographer of XIVth Century Incunabula in his appreciation of the way in which the cover artwork on mass market pulp paperbacks, printed in a "cheap cheap four-color printing process" makes a difference to the transmission of the text inside those covers. He points out for example how the notion that artists should be required to provide large scale artworks for reproductions onto 3.5" x 4" paperback covers is a nonsense derived from a former era in which the reduction of engraved detail into smaller prints made that fine detail, finer still. As Delany points out there is a point of diminishing returns and in the case of such cheap, cheap reproduction in four-colour printing in 100,000 copies or more, there would be a greater fineness of detail if the artists worked at actual size. He also goes into the whys and wherefores of how colours reproduce from the original paintings onto the covers all of which, I think, is an invaluable field of study for the would-be bibliographer of modern works.

The final thought is my own and goes back to this issue of how the constraints of the book and book production might effect the text and the creative process. I have wondered for a long time, and if I ever met her, I think think this is the thing I would ask J K Rowling. Clearly when she first started writing and was a previously unpublished first-timer she would not have been allowed to create the doorstep size novels of the later Harry Potter books. Hence the first three books are the normal, rather conservative size of a typical childrens' book. It is at that point that Potter became a phenomenon and so her commercial draw, and a number of other completely non-literary factors came into play and she was able to create books, I'm guessing, but of any length she damn well pleased (although one wonders, on handling some of the larger ones, if she was actually then writing to a maximum size). But most of all, what I would like to know is, what might she have written in the first three books if she had been allowed to write the story at the length she reached later on.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

William Beckford

I'm enjoying the minor thrill at the moment of getting things up which are 'new to the net' - it's a little like the 'first published' thrill only smaller!

In that vein, here's hoping this is the first time this picture has found its way into the ether and that someone with a proper interest will find it. This is from a 1912 edition of The Connoisseur in an article about an exhibition of miniatures in Belgium. It is a miniature portrait of William Beckford as a boyby a chap called A. Plimer.

I keep meaning to read Vathek but somehow never get around to it!

PS. John C. Thanks for that wiki link to nude male statues - along with a DVD box set of The West Wing it has managed to make most of my Sunday afternoon just disappear!

Pygmalionism Again

Having recently been sent by a good friend, a picture of an incredibly sexy statue that I can't share with you here for reasons too complicated to explain, I felt I should share the discovery of The Pymalionism Syndrome Website. It's not as medical as it sounds, in fact, the guy who runs it is refreshingly honest about the fact that he simply likes nude statues and other 'inanimate' representations of the human body. You should be aware that whilst, if you are not shocked by the contents of this blog you are unlikely to be shocked by anything on this website, nonetheless there is 'adult' content on this site. The link I'm giving takes you directly to his gallery of male statues.

The rather delectable arse above, by the way, is Hermes, in the process of discovering the Cadeuceus - an implement which I'm told is, in occult terms, a representation of the phallus.

Updated: Fin de Siecle Faces

A while ago you may remember a slew of posts derived from material I'd found in The National Geographic, tome upon tome of which were, at the time, cluttering up my landing. Now it's the turn of The Connoisseur. A little like The National Geographic, this is another magazine which has the most amazing contents and yet which are impossible to give away let alone sell. Consequently, before I dispose of the bound volumes I've got I have waded all the way through them to find little gems to place before you here. The first (and easiest for me), is this picture of William Morris which can be nicely added to my Fin de Siecle Faces Flickr Set.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Austin Osman Spare I

I have a sneaking suspicion that most of those who visit this blog will have a vague idea at least of who Austin Osman Spare was. For those who don't I can't do much more than to point the way to his Wiki entry. I am hoping that at least some of these images will be new to the web. Spare isn 't my favourite artist by a long way and some of his work as a war artist I've seen is far superior to his occult inspired work but nonetheless here for your delectation...

Austin Osman Spare II

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Updated: Gollancz

This Flickr set of Gollancz yellow-jacket designs has just been updated with scans of the latest additions to my collection.

Updated: Fin de Siecle Faces

This Flickr set of movers and shakers in the 'long end of the century' literary world has been updated with a few rather nice photos found of men from the world of publishing. Above, as an example is Mr Methuen.

Clive Barker's Thief

Yesterday's find: The Thief of Always by Clive Barker.
As a teenager I read some horror... what teenager doesn't! I was never a complete captive to the genre but I remember the feeling of 'graduation' the day that I discovered Clive Barker and moved from Stephen King's slightly 'clean-cut' all-American horror into Barker's dirty, gritty, mythogical and demonic worlds. I devoured The Books of Blood, Imajica, Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show... and then, at some point at the end of my teens I just stopped reading horror and so, even though Barker seemed to be progressing into broader themes I stopped reading Barker too. Except for The Thief of Always, a book which was ostensibly aimed at a slightly younger audience than I was at the time and a slightly younger reader than for other Barker books. It is the most exquisite of stories and no less horrific for being aimed younger. Of course there's nothing in the least overtly erotic about the book and yet, is was darkly and tantalisingly erotic in the way that only some genuinely scary tales and fables can be.

And the thing which just tops it off is the illustrations by Barker himself. He's a talented guy; I don't think he's a great artist, but he is an excellent illustrator. In one of these illustrations if a creature or person is screaming then they are really screaming.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Isle of Wight Day

I think if you have spent the vast majority of your childhood in one place, and had an acceptably happy time, then there is never anywhere else, no matter how long you live there or how settled you are, which quite has the same resonance when thought of as home. For me this is the Isle of Wight. My parents are still there and so, as I did yesterday, I ofen visit.

For those in different geographical locations, you should know that the weather in the UK at the moment is unseasonably warm and yesterday's trip to the island was just beautiful. I always travel over by the car ferry which takes 45 minutes or so, despite the presence of a high-speed catamaran which does the trip in 15, simply because there is something so magical about standing on the top deck of the high-sided ferry and approaching the island slowly. Yesterday, by midday when I made the crossing, there was still a streamer of mist laying over the Solent, just high enough that the tops of the forts were made to float suspended in the bright white haze and the sails of small boats were coming in and out of view. The photos can't really do justice to the eerie quality of the light, the mist and the quiet over the water. Similarly, on the way home after dark, standing on the top deck of the ferry, you filter out the low rumble of the ferry's engines so the still and placid solent, illuminated only by lights from further down the ferry spilling out below, was breathtaking.

As well as visiting my DNA donors I spent the afternoon in a bookshop in Ryde. A fair few things of interest were purchased including the first UK edition of Jean Cocteau's Journals complete with the classic 1950s lettering on the jacket.

Approaching Horror

On a recent visit to the National Trust run house and gardens at Hinton Ampner, we were intrigued by the sight of a statue at the end of a long terrace, framed by trees and set in a view beyond of pastoral farm land. She looked beautiful from a distance but, like the revealing of decay in a horror film or fairytale, as we got closer...

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

That Pointing Finger

There was a little discussion on this blog a while ago about the 'pointing finger' device in printing. Particularly, it interests me because it was one of the earliest and most distinctively 'Stanley Morison' elements of design on Gollancz yellow jacketed books. Morison began the practice of starting the 'blurb' or at least a press quote on the front of the book and having the reader directed to the inside flap of the dustjacket by means of the finger...

So it was a pleasant surprise to find the first pointing finger jacket in my collection of Gollancz science fiction. The book was published in 1961 so there was no chance that Morison would have had anything to do with this particular title but nonetheless it was nice to see it.

Book Collecting

"The happiness of the book lover, as we know him when in the plenitude of his glory, consists by no means in reading, but in the contemplation of his possessions from afar; an inane treatise on theology becomes the object of his daily prayers when bound in morocco and stamped with the Golden Fleece of Longepierre"

- J. H. Slater in Book Collecting. A Guide of Amateurs. (Swan Sonnenschein & Co., London, 1892)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Best Bank Holiday Find

Perhaps the nicest little something I picked up at the Fair was not the photos below but a small printing block from the publishers Longmans, Green & Co., of "London, New York and Bombay" and dated 1902. It even has a nicely arts and craftsy feel to it. I didn't get a very good print off it with a rubber-stamp ink pad but I haven't had time to get the printing ink and whatnot out. Nonetheless I think the image is clear enough to see what the block is all about.

Now of course I shall have to find a book in which this was printed. Also, I'm curious to know what the oval shaped lozenge at the bottom in the middle was for - just a gap? a space for a device to be inserted? If, dear readers, anyone should find that they have a book from 1902 by this publisher on their shelves please do have a look for me!

Bank Holiday Photo-Finds

Every Bank holiday (I think) there is an Antiques and Collectables Fair in the Winchester Leisure Centre. For some long time I haven't been as it seemed that I was not picking up anything of interest but, as R was off today as well we thought we would drive over.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a large box of reasonably priced photos and the above is a small selection.

Someone Else's Holiday Photos

A little while ago a good friend sent a selection of photographs from their holiday in Florence taken 'especially for me'. A wonderful treat and somehow they had managed to select and edit some photos which appealed to me no end. How wonderful that they should know me so well that they wouldn't even think of sending photos of sunsets and the balmy glow of pictureesque Italian hill towns... no, I get old picture frames and the tops or junk stalls - perfect!
In fact, the more I think of it, the more I think that taking photos 'especially' for a particular person has to be a really great alternative to the postcard.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Keith Vaughan I

Figure Group at Cumae (1953)
Red Figures (c.1972)
Standing Figure (1954)
The Wrestlers (1965)
Yorkshire Gardeners (1946)

I have just discovered a new stash of Keith Vaughan pictures which I couldn't not share with you. I have nothing profound to say about them, I simply want to share. It is possible that some of them have never been seen on the internet before and possible too that some of these have not seen book publication. That thought gives me a certain frisson!

I should say also that I have a little free time coming up and you may find that there is some daily blogging going on round here, so long as I can fit it in between the back-to-back watching of the West Wing which I am currently involved with, so do try to keep up.
Who links to my website?