Friday, December 10, 2010
W. Compton Leith
For a long time I kept and would glance through a book by the essayist W. Compton Leith, Apologia Diffidentis (1908), which was dressed in vellum edges and marbled boards. I only lately learnt he was really Ormonde Maddock Dalton (1866-1945) – so a fairly close contemporary of Machen -, a British Museum antiquarian, co-chronicler of the bronzes of Benin, and also a byzantinist, who wrote a note on “The Byzantine Astrolabe at Brescia”, (Proceedings of the British Academy 12 (1926), pp 133-146), an instrument of 1062. I have his third volume, as by Leith, Sirenica (1913), which is a long meditation on the mythical riddle about “what Song the Sirens sang”, with many digressions and elaborations upon the theme. Somewhere still (though it is not readily to be found), I may have that first one: there was, it seems, a second, Domus Doloris (1909). He was compared to A.C. Benson, De Quincey, Sir Thomas Browne, and R.L. Stevenson, and (we might add) Machen in his discursive London Adventure style . Very fine, graceful, somewhat studied prose, with what used to be called “the smell of the lamp” about it, from overmuch burning of nocturnal oil. Not exactly fantasy, but certainly working upon its dim and misty margins.