Sunday, June 29, 2008

Frederick Rolfe the Cockney

I was in London today. Primarily I was there to visit The Guildhall Library and raid the archives of The Russia Company. This is part of my research into the Rev'd Edwin Emmanuel Bradford who, for a brief time, was assistant chaplain to the British residents of St Petersburg. The English churches in Russia, although under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Bishop of London were run by The Russia Company to all intents and purposes. Sadly it was one of those frustrating archive visits where nothing is quite as useful as you think it's going to be and it's safe to say that I learnt pretty much nothing new about Bradford. However...

...and here's a lesson about getting out of the archives for a while and into the open air... The Guildhall Library is just around the corner from Cheapside where Frederick Rolfe was born. More in hope than expectation I thought I would take a walk there. I knew that Rolfe's family piano business, was once housed at 112 Cheapside and, because of the diagram at the top of this post, from Tallis's 1839 London Street Views, I knew that was next to Honey Lane. I was quite expecting to find no trace of Honey Lane but was plesantly surprised to find it quite easily. Cheapside was fairly comprehensively trashed by the Luftwaffe and the buildings are pretty much all gone but the lane is still there and so, although the numbers have changed a bit it's possible to see at least the plot of the old no. 112. Rolfe himself was born at no. 61, on the opposite side of the road after one of the firm's periodic moves. Anyway, it it interesting that there were several things which struck me quite forcefully by being out and about in Cheapside that one would never have gotten from a book in a library.

For a start, I hadn't realised that Rolfe was about as much of a cockney as it is possible to get. He was born almost literally in the shadow of St Mary-le-Bow Church (with the sticking-out clock in the pictures), within the sounds of whose bells every true cockney is supposed to have been born. Also, with St Mary's almost next door, St Paul's Cathedral at the end of the road, St Mildred's in the other direction about 200 yards, a plethora of churches, it suddenly struck me that the one ecclesiastical fact we know from Rolfe's early days, that he worshipped a while at St Alban's Holborn, takes on a whole new sense of 'making a statement'. Of course, it was clearly a deliberate act - St Alban's was then a centre of traditional Anglo-catholicism to quite an extreme degree - but to be in Cheapside knowing that to visit St Alban's is to walk for 20 minutes or half-an-hour, with all this ecclesiastical splendour around near by, it has a new impact.

Another notion which I had thought before but hadn't fully appreciated was brought home by the blue plaque. Rolfe, during his ill-starred friendship with Robert Hugh Benson, son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, pushed hard that they should, together, write a novel based on the life of St Thomas A Beckett. In the end Benson did write such a book but it was after the end of his friendship with Rolfe and Rolfe's contribution to it is thought to have been small. However, the plaque here pointing out that Beckett was born in a 'house near this spot' makes a little more sense of Rolfe's enthusiasm for the project, but actually being there and 'feeling' how close Rolfe's home is to Beckett's birth-place makes the point very forcefully that while Rolfe wouldn't have had the benefit of a blue plaque, he would certainly have known that he shared Cheapside with Beckett and I wouldn't put it past Rolfe's religious imagination to have created out of this some spiritual link between himself and Beckett.

So all in all not a bad day after all.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Every now and again I get an urge to read something of a particular 'type'. Sometimes, for example, I'm overcome with the need to read some SF, sometimes I suddenly realise I haven't actually read any of Rolfe's own writings for a while, sometimes maybe I want to read a depressing 1930s 'gay novel' where the protagonist agonises for three hundred pages before finally doing the decent thing and comitting suicide. I get these urges. Recently though I've been hankering after reading something 'classic' - something that my English Literature teacher at school would have considered literature! I was thinking maybe Thomas Hardy or Joseph Conrad.

As it happens, I have a pile of 'pocket editions' on a rather neglected and dusty shelf and when the urge to read a classic coincided with a few spare moments to sit down and actually do it, I grabbed the first thing off the top. Not quite Thomas Hardy! The first thing which came to hand was Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There's not a great deal to it - I'm half way though after one sitting but it is a very enjoyable 'ripping yarn' and I was surprised by the graphic description of violence where it occurs. Still, the greatest thing about this Collins pocket edition is the illustrations by Frank Gillet. The one above is fairly typical, depicting Mr Hyde like a troglodyte pixie on speed and the girl as if in the throws of a 'female hysteria' - the illustrations are not numerous but they are so bad they are amusing and add a little wry light-relief to reading the story.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Book of Job

A little while ago I mentioned that I had some copies of The Connoisseur which I was dismantling for the very few potentially saleable bits in them. One of the little delights I found in them was a couple of references and images to an edition of The Book of Job, printed by William H White off his short-lived Abbey Press in Edinburgh and published by Bell and Sons of London in 1902.

The thing which intrigued me were the illustrations by Robert T Rose. The Connoisseur was printing some of them because they were reviewing The Scottish Society of Artists Exhibition in 1913 which included a display of fine printing and illustration. They had this to say about Mr Rose's work: must not conlude without mentioning another literary treasure embraced in the display - an edition of The Book of Job, printed in Morland type by the defunct Abbey Press, and illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings by Mr R. T. Rose. This artist is not a sound draughtsman in the ordinary academic sense of the term, and yet he stands in the front rank of contemporary illustrators. He had not the power of Mr Austin Spare, nor the delicate touch of Mr Lawrence Housman, but he always contrives to render the essential spirit of the literature with which he is dealing; and, in the drawings in question there is hardly one but exhales surely the wierdness and mystery which permeate the Book of Job.

The illustrations above are scanned from the magazine with the exception of the title page and frontis which I had to trawl the net for.

Edwin Emmanuel Bradford and the Missed Illustration

The first thing I ever published was a short story by the Rev'd Edwin Emmanuel Bradford about a romantic friendship between two Edwardian boys, called 'Boris Orloff'. It was a distastrous edition in as much as I had a computer breakdown before it was finished and only a very few were ever printed and sold. The story was set in St Petersburg where Bradford was the assistant English chaplain for a while, so when, a couple of years later, I found a second story by Bradford set in St Petersburg, 'The Fete at Peterhof', I thought it would be a good way to reissue Boris too by putting both stories into a new publication, which I did and titled it St Petersburg Boys.

When I find stories or articles in Victorian magazines which I want to reprint, I'm always hoping that there will be some illustrations to go with it. Unfortunately, Rev'd Bradford's stories are never normally quite the most important stories in the magazine and so they don't tend to be illustrated. Or so I thought! It was only yesterday, when I was doing to some more work on Bradford's biography that I happened to glance at the bound volume of
Sunday Readings for the Young, which contains 'The Fete at Peterhof' and, blow me, if the story wasn't illustrated on the front page of the edition in which it appears - I hadn't noticed before because it simply never occured to me that a Bradford story might get the front page treatment. So, admittedly it's not the most exciting illustration in the world but, in the spirit of better late than never... here it is.

Monday, June 16, 2008

William Paine - Erotic Socialism - Bibliographical Puzzle

William Paine was an interesting character in the story of late nineteenth century homosexuality. He is known for his authorship of this book (above) and The New Aristocracy which, together, present what has been called 'erotic socialism'. He presented the ideal that in order to raise the working-class boy from his opression one should, if one were a shop-owner or manager or the like, simply take him to one's breast. Essentially the two books presented a heady mix of socialism, religion and eroticism - the idea of friend was elevated to a Platonic Ideal, something to be seen in every young working class lad and in a host of loving (and yes, in his second book he was even able to condone sexual) relationships between the working-class lad and his socially more advanced mentors would be found the stuff of social reform and perhaps even revolution! Such was the aspiration of William Paine. His descriptions and documenting of the conditions of the working-class, live-in, shopworkers at the time were indeed factual and effecting and it was for that reason that such a luminary as H G Wells was induced to write an Introduction. It is quite clear by the end of the Introduction however, that Wells was impressed by the reportage much more than the chapter in which Paine detailed the 'Way Out'. Wells probably found it difficult to imagine how a vast movement of love was going to break out spontaneously between the working and middle classes.

Paine is not a very well documented character. There is some evidence within the text that he had a varied career including stints as a shopworker himself and as secretary to a travelling elocutionist. There is a very little ephemeral evidence which has turned up over the years to provide a few more details but not much.

What's got me scratching my head at the moment is this. In his Preface, Paine writes:

Originally under the title of the "Counter Exposed," something answering in design to this little work was muddled into print, more or less to please and humour me, by a delightful little dutchman who was anything but a bona fide publisher of revolutionary literature, and for whom I acted a the time as a reader.

I can find no such book in the British Library Catalogue - which is not necessarily a surprise as his description did sound particularly ephemeral - however, I do find The Counter Exposed. An Appeal to Shop Assistants, Clerks etc. by one Will Anderson published in 1896 by a company I've not come across before but whose name brings a number of Dutch language hits in Google, Klene & Co. This is interesting enough I suppose. If that were it I might assume that Paine had nicked his title from someone else's work or vice verce. But then...

Further on in the Preface, Paine writes about his indebtedness to various other writers including: Mr. W. C. Anderson for his careful monograph "The Servitude of the Shop" published by the National Amalgamated Union of Shop-Assistants, Warehousemen, and Clerks
So Paine's own title for the current book is almost identical (Shop Slavery), again, to a work by this Anderson! The British Library in this instance appear to only have The Servitude of the Shop in microfilm format and have no author recorded for it!

I am beginning to wonder if William Paine and Will C Anderson could, in fact, be the same person. Certainly, something seems a little odd and more digging is required I'm sure.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sacrevoir New Work

The artist known as Sacrevoir has updated his website. This is quite an event. There are new paintings posted including some achingly beautiful portraits. There are new life drawings in both charcoal and pastel including the delicate study posted above. And there are new drawings in his section of work depicting statuary: and, of course, I'm delighted by the fact that one of those drawings is of the beautiful statue of Tarcisius by Falguiere which I've blogged about here before when I've been rattling on about Frederick Rolfe's Tarcissus and about other depictions of the saint.

In the list of things which people type into search engines which lead them to this blog the name Sacrevoir is consistently second from the top.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Henry Cardinal Manning

This is a part of my small but growing collection of original photographs of Victorian worthies. Originally an Anglican playing a huge part in the high-church Oxford Movement, Manning followed Newman into the Roman church and rose quickly there to the position of Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.

I'm particularly enthused about this photo because it was taken by Mssrs Bassano, for which read Alexander Bassano who was pretty much the society photographer of his day, a little like Napoleon Sarony in the US. This is what The National Portrait Gallery has to say about him and his company:

Alexander Bassano opened his first studio in 1850 on Regent Street, London. In 1876 he moved to Old Bond Street, where the firm was located until 1921. The studio was large enough to accommodate an eighty-foot panoramic background scene mounted on rollers, which provided a variety of outdoor scenes or court backgrounds. Bassano retired from work at the studio in around 1903, when the premises were extensively refurbished and relaunched as Bassano Ltd, Royal Photographers. The firm was subsequently resold on many occasions but retained the Bassano name and the studio's collection of negatives.

The NPG has a large collection of Bassano photographs which are viewable online in small formats. The NPG has a record of one photograph of Manning by Bassano and it is detailed as 1883 but there is no online image so, inuriatingly I can't see if this is the same as theirs. 188s would make Mannig 75 in thie picture which, by the look of him, is clearly possible. Looking at some of the NPG's other photographic portraits of him I would say that 1883 was quite plausible.

The other nice thing about this particular photograph is that on the verso, along with the imprint of th Bassano studio there is also an inked stamp mark from a retailer in the US: Dr J J Roth of Fifth Avenue, New York, 'Art, Stationary, Books, Photographic Portraits and Views From All Parts of the World', giving an idea of the widespread popularity of Manning.
For more information on Manning we, as always, turn for a starting point to his Wikipedia Entry. Although in this instance there is a somwhat fuller and probably more accurate short biography in The Catholic Encyclopedia.

Vintage Venice Again and Again

These three little snaps are from the recent Brighton haul. I like them particularly because, like the last lot of Vintage Venice pictures I blogged, they are the photographs of an ordinary tourist from a time when most simply bought professionally produced photographs. Another feature which make two of these unusual are that they are not pictures of the city at all but of the outlying island of Murano. The third photo is of the Station Hotel.

PS. Chris. Thank you for your long and obviously informed comment on my previous posts. I'm afraid I didn't know about nor notice the MBA exhibit. I did however find the Access and Foundation Course shows. As one who is, part-time a professional picture framer I obviously have a bias here. I was commenting mainly on the works on paper which were simply pinned to the wall but I would also contest that although a canvas can be screwed to the wall with mirror plates there are actually very few canvasses that wouldn't, like works on paper, be vastly improved by decent framing, the new craze for unframed canvasses is just that in my humble opinion, brought about mainly by the huge tranches of 'decorative art' and 'canvas prints' being sold by Ikea et al. Anyway, that's just a little hobby-horse of mine! Thanks, nonetheless for the comment.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


You can tell when you're on the train to Brighton when you find yourself sharing a carriage with a young Adonis in a skin-tight white vest top (the first time of typing I wrote 'sin-tight' which is probably a telling slip)and a woman in flouncy skirts reading a book on crystal therapy. Our recent trip to Brighton was a wonderful mix of beautiful people to look at, rambling flea markets and bookshops, great vegetarian food and fine, sunny weather... a perfect day? Not far off. One of those days when you grab your partners hand and remember why you love them so much.

Books bought included:

  • Rudyard Kipling a Criticism by Richard Le Gallienne. John Lane: The Bodley Head, London, 1900.

  • The Autobiography of Alfre Lord Douglas. Martin Secker, London, 1929.

  • Bosie. The Story of Alfred Lord Douglas His Friends and Enemies by Rupert Croft-Cooke. W. H. Allen, London, 1963.

  • Saint Anselm by Dean Church. Macmillan, London, 1899.

  • Pstalemate by Lester Del Ray. Gollancz, London, 1972

  • Downwards to the Earth by Robert Silverberg. Gollancz, London, 1972.

Old photographs were also bought and as a good number of them included men and boys in vintage swimwear type situations you might be seeing a few of those in future posts on that subject.

More strange photos of Brighton ephemera are on Flickr

Portsmouth University Graduate Art Show I

Over the weekend R and I popped in to the Graduation Show of the Art and Design department of Portsmouth University. Graduation shows are always good because first of all they are one of the very few places where you can see such large numbers of artists exhibiting at the same time and secondly because the excitement of students just heading out into what they hope are going to be creative careers is rather infectious.

That said, and both those things did apply to this show, this wasn't the best we've attended for a number of reasons. I'm not an art critic, I dont' have the breadth and depth of knowledge to make properly informed judgements about these things so I will just get my couple of gripes out of the way and then highlight what I thought was good this year.

Gripe number one was entirely administrative. The utter lack of large, obvious signposting and the lack of any kind of sensible welcome on entering the building made the whole thing very difficult to navigate and because of this it took us nearly half-an-hour of wandering to even find the one person we knew who was graduating this year. The whole atmosphere was very inward looking and, I though, very difficult for the visitor. If the University wanted to showcase their talent to more than just examiners and students' families then they need to give this issue some serious thought.

Gripe number two is again not about the students... It was really gratifying to see, from my perspective, that many of the illustration students had chosen to create artist's books as their final project. A number of them were screen-printed on to paper in imaginative formats and with interesting art work and graphic design and yet, it seemed, that no one had taught any of the students how to create work on a computer at a sufficient and appropriate resolution so that it prints properly at its final size. Wonderful work was ruined for me by obvious pixellation at the edges of images and not in a way that one could even pretend it was intended. This was true too of other students in other disciplines when they had printed display material to go with their presentations. It really spoilt a lot of work for me. The standout exception to this was one artist, whose name I shamefully can't remember and didn't make a note of, who had created a modest sized artists book looking at the way in which Russia is presented through visual stereotypes: great graphics, well put together and well printed.

Gripe the last: presentation generally. There may have been a few but if there were any works in frames then I don't remember them. Overall, the level of presentation for a group of people who might easily want to be described as at least pre-professional artists was poor. Most works on paper were simply pinned to the wall. On the whole I don't think it's good enough to simply make arty justifications about how it's 'the image that counts' and so on... it was just a bit poor.

Anyway. Griping over. There were a few artists who really stood out and made the whole worthwhile. Top of our list was Samantha Davey who presented some amazing full-sized prints, presumably of her own naked body, on long vertical hanging sheets of paper and fabric and then added elements of the image of a swan. The whole display, including some small ceramic and other sculptural work was visually arresting and intellectually challenging. She was exploring the connection in art and culture between woman and swan, most notably with the story of Leda and Zeus obviously, but with other influences also. Her website doesn't yet contain any of this work but has a wide range of pieces to see, all of which are good and interesting but none of which, IMHO, reaches the level of the final show pieces.

We were also very taken with the work of a woman called Mandy - last name not known at this stage I'm afraid who had created an installation in the form of a small museum and each piece was in some way related to her personal story about being a woman diagnosed HIV positive. For example, when the diagnosis was new she was seen by social services whose attempt to provide practical help consisted of buying her a kettle! This kettle she has now encrusted with fake jewels and displayed on a plinth under a perspex cover with pills and multi-coloured raffia spilling from the spout. Other 'exhibits' included a quilt made entirely of condom packets and a walking stick completely covered in outward-facing drawing pins. It's always difficult to describe this kind of art work and do it justice but unlike a lot of conceptual art these pieces were not simply restating a single 'one-liner', they were not just intellectual but had an emotional content as well... conceptual art as it should be. Brilliant.

The standout department within Art and Design had to be the ceramics. Jo Sumner presented some beautiful pieces of opaque glass with concentric 'ripple' shapes in, some of them with thin, delicate 'collars' of porcelain fitted into them. Ashley Leyland showed some pieces of other people's ceramics, older stuff, with plastic chairs melted over the top... sounds odd but looks great. And then there were some really wonderful dishes in the shape of broken sherd but blown up in sise with clearly Edwardian/Victorian pattenrs on them, also blown up. Fortunatly for these my powers of description don't have to suffice as they are on Kate O'Connell's Website. Ginny Topp was another ceramicist worth mentioning for an interesting display of what appear to be broken or damaged ceramic items.

It was well worth going, it was interesting and stimulating and apart from my, mainly administrative gripes above, it was a fascinating show.

Portsmouth University Graduate Art Show II

Portsmouth University Graduate Art Show III

Portsmouth University Graduate Art Show IV

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Vintage Venice Again I

At auction yesterday I picked up a little photo album which contained, among other things, these and other photos of Venice. They are particularly nice photos I think because although pretty early - maybe 1900s-1910s - they are the 'snapshots' of an amateur on holiday rather than bought sets of photos from a professional. This means that the subject matter moves beyond the normal tourist fare and into the realm of more ordinary life. In this case, for example, there are two rather touching photos, one of a procession of a child's funeral from the church of San Sebastiano, the other of the funeral gondola leaving for the cemetery island. There is also another nice 'vernacular' photo looking down from the balcony on Saint Marks at the crowds during the carnivale. Note too the snow on the ground in St Mark's Square in some of the pictures.

Vintage Venice Again II

Who links to my website?