Sunday, August 12, 2018

Reading Walter de la Mare Conference, Cambridge

The programme and booking details for ‘Reading Walter de la Mare, 1873-1956: “a voice which has no fellow”’are now available. The conference takes place from Thursday 20th - Friday 21st September, 2018 at the Faculty of English and Newnham College, University of Cambridge

Giles de la Mare is a special guest, and talks include Gillian Beer on Henry Brocken, Walter Wootten on “Questions, Riddles and Mysteries” in de la Mare, Christopher O’Shaughnessy on “Liminal Worlds and Horror Thresholds” in the work, and a discussion of “Ghosts” by Peter Davison and Peter Scupham. There will also be an exhibition and an evening concert of de la Mare inspired songs. Booking is open until 19 August and the registration fee is £5.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

In That Look the Unicorn Stood & Other Dreamt Books

"People do tell their dreams," said Arthur Machen, in conversation with Morchard Bishop, "but . . ." and there was a world of doubt in that 'but'. But undaunted by that very judicious 'but', this post is about dreams of books, by which I mean not daytime longings for great rarities or lost volumes, but unknown works encountered in sleep.

For I occasionally dream of finding books that do not seem to exist (yet), and sometimes remember their titles. In a way, this is hardly surprising given the amount of time I spend in bookshops, and reading, or writing about books. The titles are usually quite authentic-sounding: for example, I once found in a dream a slim volume called My Cricket by Lord Dunsany, a book he never wrote, alas; but he did write the short story ‘Autumn Cricket’, and a book called My Ireland, so one can see how my imagination might have combined the two. But others are not quite so obviously explained. Here's some notes on others I have dreamt.

7 September 2008

I handled a small piece of pale turned wood which had a lid which delicately screwed off. Inside was the impress of a device used to make a mark upon paper. I learned that this was a “Tuddington chess seal”. The picture it made would represent, heraldically, a chess piece, which would be used in some way to play the game over a distance. I knew that I was dreaming and that I had to remember the name of this artefact. At a later stage, I was in a temporary structure at the end of a street, which was selling books for a pound each. I only found one I wanted, Further Essays by Sir Francis Younghusband, and I wrote “Tuddington chess seals” on the rear blank endpaper in pencil. But then I remembered this was also a dream, so I still hadn’t ensured I would remember it. Meanwhile, I was distracted by someone else buying a fine illustrated book on The Basilisk, which I knew was worth much more than a £1.

1 November 2009
I was at a book auction. I had not registered to bid but as I looked at the catalogue I saw books I should certainly want. It seemed too late, but as the ceremonials went on, I darted down to the office, run by a couple of practical old ladies. I was permitted to register without even giving full particulars. One book I especially wanted was an early study or memoir of Percy Pilcher, the aviation pioneer who was killed at Stanford Park, on the Northants/Leics border: there is an obelisk memorial to him. The book was Edwardian, with its spine missing, exposing the newspaper lining underneath, and grey boards with crumpled corners: I think there was an inset vignette. I find that Pilcher was a pioneer of gliding rather than powered flight, and the inventor of four different craft, picturesquely named The Bat, The Beetle, The Gull and The Hawk.

18 October 2010
I had discovered a paper-covered monograph written by a colonial district officer on a Pacific island which posited a link between earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. He had discovered this through his own observations of natural upheavals on the island. Though this link was now widely accepted, it had not been known at the time he wrote, making him a scientific pioneer. I was working out how to tell his story and publicise my find.

5 August 2015
I was going through the papers of a progressive public school, in some advisory capacity. These included a school magazine with a piece of highly ornate fantastic fiction, which I noted was in the style of Mervyn Peake, and very accomplished. I thought, I must make a note of the name of the author and follow up to see if they went on writing. The surname was distinctive and would be easy to trace: but I have not remembered it. I have a vague sense of chivalry, medievalism. The surprising thing is that in the dream the page of writing was perfectly clear before me and I was reading it just as I would if awake. If I could have remembered it, I’d have a segment of strange prose.

29 December 2015
I found a copy of Astral Travel in the Edwardian Age, a book which certainly ought to exist, but doesn’t yet (or at least not here). It was an exploration of the work of occultists and visionaries on what they conceived to be the astral plane, with descriptions of their journeys, and quotations from their writing. As soon as I awoke, I remembered the title and wanted either to find it or to write it. Again, because I have written and read about early 20th century writers of supernatural fiction, and such groups as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, it is easy to see why such a book title might occur to me.

16 August 2016

I had a dream of a war poet whose effects, few, were being preserved and I was allowed to handle them. They included a wooden shelf whose span showed all the books he was allowed to have (in barracks, I suppose, or a camp): they had to fit in its short gap. It was empty and the books he had chosen were not known. The hollow space seemed to convey the absence of the poet too, the gap he had left. The wood was rough, makeshift, unplaned, unvarnished, full of grain and knots and splinters.

20 September 2017
I was in an Oxfam bookshop in a pedestrian arcade which, unusually, had a lot of vintage hardback fiction, some with picture covers and spines and promising titles, but they were often about adventures in the colonies, typically in the forests of Canada. However, there was one book that was quite different: the title was in one long column in art deco style, one word to a line, shaped like a staircase which seemed to stand out from the cover. It was called In That Look the Unicorn Stood.

A glance inside suggested an adventure among fictitious countries, set perhaps (something about the incidental details suggested this) in the interwar period. The author’s name was not given or at least it was not obvious, yet I knew that it was by a woman. It was priced very modestly—something like 40p. I took it and held it and at that point must have entered into lucid dreaming because I knew that this was a dream of being in a bookshop and I must remember the title of the book. I kept telling myself over and over what the title was, and trying to keep the look of the volume in my mind. And when I came out of sleep I had remembered it and could still to a certain extent see it. I hastily spoke it aloud and then wrote it down. There is no such title in the British Library catalogue.

Two days later, I dreamt in my second sleep in the early hours of the morning that I found in a bookshop Jack Kerouac’s playing cards. They were in a white paper bag with a transparent film front and a label saying what they were. There was a postcard from him which told his correspondent to address him in reply as ‘Jack [ ]’ and then a surname I forget, which meant ‘cut’, and then a postal address. The price was £50. I thought, in the dream, this was quite reasonable. I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay it because I am not a Kerouac collector or reader, but decided I probably should.

28 January 2018

I had found a book which was the first full edition of a fantasy work by a woman writer (like, but not, Mary Butts or Hope Mirrlees). Inside, on the front free endpaper, was a brief note stating “exactly as in the manuscript” (this wasn’t the phrase, but the meaning was similar) and an ownership signature: Sybil Vicky Javasco. There may have been another name between the second and third. When I woke up I remembered the name and kept hold of it until I could write it down. I don’t think, in the dream, I knew the title of the book, and I haven’t remembered one.

* * *

I have never yet dreamt of a book and then found it, and if I did, I would consider it rather eerie. It is very tempting (and cheering) to wonder if there is some alternative plane where these dreamt books and many others like them do indeed exist: and, presumably, where there are also other dreamers elusively half-remembering Flower Phantoms, say, or British Rainfall, 1910, or A Voyage to Arcturus, or Arthur Machen’s The Dark Lantern And The Mask.

Mark Valentine

Image: Cover by Jo Valentine for Litanies for the First Quarter of the Moon by Jules Laforgue.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Alison Lurie's Ghost Stories

Alison Lurie (b. 1926) is best known for her ten novels, which include The War Between the Tates (1974) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Foreign Affairs (1984).  She has also published the popular sociological study The Language of Clothes (1981), and two books on children's literature, Don't Tell the Grown-Ups (1990) and Boys and Girls Forever (2003). Lurie also edited The Oxford Book of Fairy-Tales (1993), and wrote three volumes of children's stories, The Heavenly Zoo (1979), Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folk Tales (1980), and Fabulous Beasts (1981).  The Black Geese (1999) is an illustrated book of the tale of the Baba Yaga from Clever Gretchen.

Lurie has written very little short fiction, but in 1994 she reminisced:

I finished a novel and didn't have a really good idea for the next one. I have a folder full of notes and ideas that I've accumulated for many, many years, so I looked through it. One note was about how my sister and I were sorting my mother's furniture and possessions after she died. I looked at one antique and said, 'How come you're still here and our mother's gone?' I felt irritated about it and thought, 'You don't even care. All you care about is if we take good care of you.'  A woman just having this thought isn't very interesting, but then I thought, 'What if this piece of furniture really did have feelings?' It's easy for me to think in this way, because I've read a lot of children's literature in which everything is anthropomorphized, and I've read a lot of ghost stories. Then I began to look at other ideas in the folder and realized that if I allowed the supernatural, suddenly there were all sorts of possibilities. (The Washington Post Book World, 23 October 1994). 

The novel she had just finished was The Truth about Lorin Jones, which was published in 1988. Her collection Women and Ghosts was first published in England by William Heinemann in June 1994; the U.S. edition, published by Nan A. Talese of Doubleday, appeared in September 1994. Both editions contain nine stories, five of which first appeared in magazines between 1989 and 1991. (The Avon trade paperback of October 1995, adds a tenth story, "Something Borrowed, Something Blue," but it is short and the least effective in the book.  It first appeared in Harper's Bazaar in 1994 under the title "The Satin Slip.")

To another interviewer, Lurie noted that "these aren't 'boo' stories. They are not like Stephen King, with horrible creatures living in the cellar of a hotel."  She also said that "ambiguity is part of the charm of ghost stories. We seem to like not being sure whether something is imagined or supernatural. The gray area between reality and the imagination has always been intriguing."  Lurie cited among her favorites Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's "Green Tea" ("That story, which I read when I was 8, scared me so much that I've always tried to avoid green tea") and Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw," and works by Edith Wharton, M.R. James, and Roald Dahl ("I've probably read all of Dahl's ghost stories. He has a wider mean streak than I do.  I'm more interested in amusing readers than frightening them.") [Quotes from The Chicago Tribune, 31 October 1994]

And Lurie's ghost stories are not wholly different from her novels of relationships between academic men and woman, though she has added aspects of the supernatural.  Some concern hauntings from the past, or hauntings of a room or even a pool. The best story in the collection concerns a poet who find that a doppelganger is apparently impersonating her at appearances across the U.S. Settings range from Key West to England (including an intriguing tale of the sheep in the Lake District) to India.  All are well told, and Lurie's characteristic style make them stand out as different from even the best of the usual fare.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Chain of Ob - St Clair Harnett

In the opening of The Chain of Ob (Andrew Melrose, 1913) by St Clair Harnett, two Chelsea bohemians travel to a remote Cornish ruin one of them has inherited, a cobweb-hung hall with creaking doors, mildewed furnishings and vast shadows. The farmer who takes them there through narrow lanes as dusk approaches admits that “they do say as how” it is haunted, and is anxious to be away. This is the sort of beginning to a supernatural yarn that I really relish, and things continue to be splendidly rustling and creepy.

They are told by a nearby cottage goodwife that “There’s a very wicked woman in that ‘ouse!”, and it emerges the place is reputed to be haunted by the ghost of a witch. The pair discover a portrait which one of them, a connoisseur, recognises as by the 17th century court painter Peter Lely. It depicts “a female form in shimmering satins stood before a sylvan scene of rocks and greenery.” The face is haunting. “Was there,” asks our hero, “some link between those painted eyes, those canvas lips, and that strange sympathy that floated round me in the darkness of this house?”

Reader, there was, and before you know it the narrator has slipped into the 17th century and encounters this beautiful witch. Here he learns that “there are divers souls that are ever subjected to unseen powers. When they are born they bear a badge upon their persons, the Chain of Ob.” He too bears the symbol. He continues to cross over between his contemporary time and the era of his spectral lover, as they both try to avoid the baleful influence of the mark upon them.

There was in the interwar period a cluster of enjoyable novels about timeslips, and I’ve already written here about Fanfaronade (1934) by Ivo Pakenham: another fine example is Lovers’ Meeting (1940) by Eleanor Smith. But The Chain of Ob seems to be a quite early example, and is very satisfyingly full-blooded. You have the sense the author was enjoying it to the full and this engages the reader.

Air Commodore Edward St Clair Harnett (b. 1881) served in the RAF in Iraq in WW1 where he knew Gertrude Bell. In civilian life he was a barrister who wrote A Handbook on the Law of Mortgages (1909): we are reminded that Bram Stoker was also the author of a legal textbook. Harnett's wife, Dorothy Grace Harnett (b. Co. Cavan, ca. 1891) wrote as “D. G. Waring” a series of eight novels in the 1930s, giving rise to the suspicion (I forget where I read this) that she may have written her husband’s books too. She served in the Red Cross during the First World War and they married on 15 April 1916.

But in fact both this and an earlier book, Rusted Hinges, A Novel On a New Plan (Andrew Melrose, 1912) were published a few years before they were married, and presumably written even earlier, when she was 21 or younger: so while still possible, this does not seem likely. They might, of course, have collaborated.

The couple had one son, Denis Henry Waring (1917–1964), but the marriage ended some years later, and in 1927 St Clair Harnett remarried. There are traces of an article, "Gertrude Bell and the Iraq Museum" by St. Clair Harnett, Views and Reviews, Vol.22 No.3, 1927-1928, which may link with the third novel under his name, The House of a Thousand Lamps (Selwyn & Blount, 1927), set in Baghdad. He donated to Birmingham City Museum forty two Near Eastern seals collected in Baghdad and died in 1964 or 1965 at the age of 83.

Harnett filed a patent application on 21 July 1910 for a board game based on horse-racing, which he described as follows:

“A race game, which may be used for advertising, is played with model horses which are moved over a board (a), divided into a number of spaces (d) representing the course, two or more spaces (y), (h), and other spaces (i) marked with the odds against the pieces in use. The names of the pieces are shown in spaces (m), and other spaces (n) may be provided for the reception of the cards to be dealt to each piece.

The number of spaces (d) over which each piece has to travel to reach the winning post varies with the odds against the piece. In playing the game, a player stakes counters on a piece, and each piece has a card dealt to it by the banker. The piece that receives the highest card is moved forward one space, and another hand of cards is dealt. The banker pays out counters to those players who have selected the winning pieces and colour according to the odds marked on the board. Portions of the front and back of the board may be utilized for advertising purposes.”

Although a variety of horse racing games involving cards or dice have been marketed, there does not seem to be one exactly like Harnett’s game. Clearly it is time for some enthusiastic amateurs to do a mock-up of the board and play the game for the first time, no doubt, in over a hundred years. Who knows whether as the cards fall and the toy horses move, there might be a queer flicker and the players will find themselves in evening dress, smoking Sullivans over a green baize table in that last Edwardian summer?

Mark Valentine

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Outgoing Tides - Mary Tyrwhitt Drake

Mary Tyrwhitt Drake’s Outgoing Tides (John Long, 1924) is sensationalist fiction pitched strong. An ex soldier, a VC, is now a starving artist, languishing in attic digs with an exiled Russian prince who makes a sort of living as a parlour pianist. The artist has been forced to sell his Scottish ancestral home — he is, of course, descended from French courtiers of Mary, Queen of Scots.

He bumps into the man he saved in Flanders, who feeds him and funds him for a bit. This chum has a sultry lover, who agrees to pose for the artist’s Gothic portrait of Persephone, ‘The Queen of Hell’. Complications ensue. Meanwhile, the woman in the neighbouring garret dies, leaving him the solemn charge of her 18 year old daughter, a working-glass girl of faultless morals. Complications ensue. Anthony, the artist, decides to abandon the high calling of his art in favour of pictures that will sell, and to marry his ward. The pianist prince is unconvinced. At this point, the new owner of the old Scottish chateau, a pleasant young woman of faultless, etc., devoted to good causes, appears upon the scene. Complications ensue.

This, note, is only the first third of the book and there is a lot more to come. An uncanny element is implied from the dark influence of the painting of Persephone and its effect on those who posses it, or are possessed by it. What I like about this book is its thoroughgoing melodrama. We have met such characters before – the down-and-out Great War veteran encountering a pal in the murk of London, the impoverished aristocratic White Russian, the sinuous femme fatale, the orphaned ward, but seldom all flung together at once and at such pace. There’s a sort of extravagant gusto about the whole shebang which fills the reader with bemused awe.

Sometimes we need such a bracing change from more cautious and considered literature: if only she could have met Henry James. We are in M P Shiel terrain, though without his rhodomontade, or perhaps perilously close to the extravagant plots of William Le Queux, but in prose more vivid and vivacious. Under the pen-name ‘M.A. Sylvestre’, the author had earlier published Valencia Varelst (S.C. Brown, Lanham & Co, 1903) and The Light-Bearers (John Long, 1912).

In an obscurely pleasing sort of way, the pale green boards of my copy (illustrated) have a series of salt-crust surges across them, as if indeed marked by outgoing tides.

Mark Valentine

Friday, July 13, 2018

Faunus 37

The latest issue, number 37, of Faunus, the hardback journal of The Friends of Arthur Machen, has just been published. Edited by James Machin and Timothy J Jarvis, it offers a cornucopia of fascinating material by and about the great Welsh master.

From Arthur Machen himself there is a rare and significant essay, ‘Folklore and Legends of the North’, surveying several books in the field and discussing his own views on lycanthropy, witchcraft, metamorphosis and the fairy world. This is an important and interesting account of these traditions which will illuminate his own fiction.

Also from Machen is ‘The Way of the World’, one of his typical companionable rambles through a loosely-linked set of anecdotes, which here covers The Panacea Society, The Foundling Hospital, Bulrushes in Baker Street, Nursery Names and much else. There’s also Machen’s report on an exhibition of dolls, ‘The Angel of the Toys’: he characteristically describes them as “puppets that will enact for [the child] mystery plays and miracles.”

This issue also includes a review by Aleister Crowley of Machen’s The Terror, and an introduction to this by James Machin reflecting on the mage’s admiration (usually) for Machen’s work, and the circumstances of this particular notice.

The editors also include a fine tribute to Machen by the Irish novelist Norah Hoult, in her 1951 review of The Autobiography of Arthur Machen.

John Llewellyn Probert continues his series on ‘Machenesque Moments in Cinema’, Nicolas Granger-Taylor reviews a recent modern opera inspired by Machen, by Ross Crean, and Nick Louras discusses the recipe for Machen’s lethal Dog & Duck punch.

Members of the Friends should receive their copy in the next few weeks, complete with Machenalia, the newsletter edited by Jon Preece. To join, and receive these splendid publications, consult the link above.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

'Time's hiding-places': a note on a new Walter de la Mare story

The latest issue of the Walter de la Mare Society magazine, no 19, includes a previously unpublished de la Mare story, given by its editor the title ‘Richard’. In his introductory note, Giles de la Mare explains that this was written in longhand in 1901 and a typescript from it was prepared in the late 1940s or early 1950s, presumably with a view to publication, but this did not transpire.

There are small gaps in the text, such as incomplete sentences, which he has used his editorial judgement to complete. He describes the piece as having “the same semi-poetic style” as de la Mare’s well-known story ‘The Almond Tree’ and, in a preceding article, he and the magazine’s editor, Emma Close-Brooks, explore some apparent connections with that story and the figure of the Count, who also appears in other de la Mare pieces. However, the newly published work stands perfectly well on its own.

At the outset of the tale, Richard is an orphan boy nearly nine who is the heir presumptive to a manor house, The Grange, occupied by his Uncle Henry, an artist and a man possessed of an elusive mystical philosophy. It is the house where Richard’s father lived, and died young, “of want of heart”, we are told, a studiedly ambiguous phrase. One Winter’s eve, with snow covering the land, the boy is taken there to live, from an Aunt’s house, Thorns, where he has grown up.

Richard’s cousin Jane, a few years older than he, also lives there, and is a memorable character. When they meet, she remarks in a light but pointed way that she would be the heir if she had not been a girl. She is restless about the choice she can see looming before her of finding a moneyed husband or lingering on alone, to be given, as she remarks bitterly, some attic corner in her old age from the charity of Richard. He is strongly attracted to her, but also a little fearful of her trenchant character.

The story is rich with many of de la Mare’s characteristic enigmatic phrases that each seem to convey hidden depths of meaning. Told the boy’s age, his Uncle says, “’Just three times nine of him to futility’.” The Uncle’s hands “were eloquent in their stillness”, a finely observed phrase. At a children’s party, late in the evening, “The candles were low, one or two lanterns without flame. There seemed to be festive witnesses at the door and windows, flocked together out of Time’s hiding-places, attracted to the stir and lustre of our festival.” (I wonder if they were originally “restive” witnesses, and have become “festive” in trying to decipher the handwriting?).

The uncle and aunts in this story, though eccentric, are not in the least sinister, as they sometimes are in other stories, yet I think I see a faint harbinger of a key scene in the much-admired and discussed later story ‘Seaton’s Aunt’. Taking Seaton’s guest to his room, the Aunt in that story proclaims: “This is the room, Withers, my brother William died in when a boy. Admire the view!” Similarly, in ‘Richard’, the young heir, introduced to his room, is told, “In this same bed, you remember, your dear father used to sleep, and there he is, looking out, who knows how far, across the snowy garden.” It is a portrait that looks out, but even so we feel the suggestion of a continued presence. And “dear” is of course only one letter away from a colder word.

In one sense, the story is about the emerging relationships between the various occupants of the house. There is very little overt incident and such as there is, is in a minor key. Yet they all have an intricate inner life, revealed in passages of elliptical dialogue, and they are haunted by a certain brittle apprehension of fate. In commenting on ‘The Almond Tree’, several times rejected by publishers, de la Mare noted, “it’s the flavour of the thing I swear by, atmosphere—what you will. If a story has that . . .” That is clearly the quality he was seeking for here too, and he certainly succeeds.

As often with de la Mare, there is no definite resolution at the end of the tale, and indeed the editors speculate that it might have been intended, with other pieces, to be part of a novel. Nevertheless, the story as we have it is beautifully subtle and strange and presages many of its author’s preoccupations in later stories, with childhood, solitude, time, transience and age. It is a story we must be very glad has been retrieved.

Mark Valentine

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Black Pilgrimage & Other Explorations by Rosemary Pardoe

The Black Pilgrimage & Other Explorations, essays on supernatural fiction by Rosemary Pardoe is a much-anticipated collection of her non-fiction by a leading authority on the Jamesian ghost story.

The author is often much too diffident about her contribution to the supernatural fiction field and to the small press world, but, as David Sutton notes in his introduction, which gives a useful summary of the author’s writing and publishing work, Rosemary has been active in fanzines for nearly fifty years, and has edited Ghosts & Scholars, the highly respected M R James periodical, in various forms, for nearly forty years.

This volume is therefore the fruit of a lifetime’s devotion to the traditional ghost story (and allied themes), and offers a very generous contents list, with twenty-nine essays on aspects of James, eight essays on his followers, including E G Swain, Arthur Gray, A P Baker and Fritz Leiber, and nine shorter pieces on various subjects which originally appeared in contributions to the postal discussion group The Everlasting Club.

This promises to be an erudite, lively, lucidly written and fascinating book, with unexpected and illuminating insights into aspects of M R James’ stories, and a great deal of other out-of-the-way information.

Who could possibly resist such titles as “Scrying and the Horse-Demon”, “The Magic of Maps”, “’Fluttering Draperies’: The Fabric of M R James” and “The Night Raven”? Here the reader will find pagans and magicians, demons and hobby horses, arcane grimoires, sequestered places, and many other strange byways, all explored in a robust and refreshingly direct way by an author who has quite rightly ignored all the warnings and is perfectly willing to be curious about almost anything, particularly if it is shadowy or peculiar.

Mark Valentine

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Following the Old Ways: Flush As May by P M Hubbard

The tone of P M Hubbard’s first novel, Flush As May (1963), is not dissimilar to the donnish detection novels of Edmund Crispin and Michael Innes: it has the same wit and intelligence and breezily extravagant plot. There are also some conventional figures of the crime novel – a retired Chief Constable, a shrewd older woman, a vague vicar, and several cranky rustics. The plot, involving a missing body, is also fairly familiar. The young woman and her suitor who stumble upon the mystery, and are undaunted by the dark undercurrents when they begin to look into it, are bright, well-developed characters, rigorous in their thinking.

But although the two main protagonists of his book are Oxford undergraduates, town and gown scarcely feature. The setting is mostly in an obscure country village, which seems to be in the Wiltshire Downs, and there are hints from quite early on that this place still observes some clandestine pagan practices. This is again not all that unusual in the field: Gladys Mitchell often features witchcraft, folk customs and ancient sites in her books, and others have done so too.

However, P M Hubbard’s depiction of the village secrets is subtle. Flush As May shows, especially for its time, a surprisingly deep understanding and a certain sympathy for the older religion, and this was to become a hallmark in several of his subsequent novels. There are several ways in which this shows in this book. The first is that it describes very closely a traditional, hereditary witch coven, with its Maid (the matriarchal head), and observance of seasonal customs – Beltane, Lammas and Hallowe’en are specifically mentioned.

I think it is likely that the author drew upon Gerald Gardner’s books on witchcraft, such as Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959), which were published not long before, although not all that well-known. It is now not generally accepted among historians that any witchcraft coven survived in Britain from pre-Christian times, though there is evidence that particular pagan practices may have done so: it is therefore unlikely Hubbard had personal knowledge of any such group. However, he was clearly well-informed, and this is evidence of a more than passing interest.

The second is that Hubbard describes a network of ancient pathways radiating from a high prehistoric earthwork, The Beacon, and his heroine follows step by step one of the alignments converging on this, starting at a church on a mound, and walking the line through other significant landmarks, such as an ancient wood, a ford, and the north door of another church, up to the hilltop. It is perfectly clear that he is describing a ley line and indeed a character refers, without naming him, to Alfred Watkins and his book The Old Straight Track: its mounds, beacons, moats, sites, and mark stones (1925), the work that began the ley theory.

This again reveals a marked esoteric knowledge on the part of the author: ley hunting did not become better-known until the mid-Sixties, when books and journals began to appear about it; the first issue of The Ley Hunter journal was in April 1965. The author evidently knew about leys before then, and sufficiently well to describe them compellingly, six years before John Michell’s milestone book The View Over Atlantis (1969) made them better-known. Further, he even anticipated the mystical dimension to leys that the sixties brought. This is not to the fore in the Watkins book at all; he thought of them as traders’ tracks. It is possible, therefore, that P M Hubbard is a previously unacknowledged pioneer of the idea that leys had a sacred dimension.

Taken together, these themes from Gardner and Watkins suggest that P M Hubbard had at least looked into these matters quite keenly, and thought them through for himself. There are also some minor clues about the extent of his interest. He alludes to an incident in the history of the Avebury stone circle that later forms the fulcrum of another, also highly pagan, novel, The Dancing Man (1971): this shows that he was thinking about this some time before he wrote that book. In Flush As May, he describes the ancient mound on which the village church stands as “the green round” – a phrase used by Machen for the title of one of his books, involving fairy lore: and we are also told one of Hubbard’s characters has “fairy blood” in her. He may have got these ideas from somewhere else, but since The Dancing Man shows an even stronger likely Machen influence, we may have here a clue that he was already reading him at this stage.

There is therefore not much doubt at all that the author had a strong respect for the pagan old religion he describes. Indeed, he even upends the usual expectations of the detection novel, so that the secret faith of the village may continue undisturbed. He is not an overt apologist for this faith, but clearly understands its allure. P M Hubbard’s book is, for its time, a remarkably sophisticated and shrewd portrayal of modern paganism, and it was to be followed by others equally rich in their use of archetypal images.

Mark Valentine

This note originally appeared in a contribution to a mailing of The Everlasting Club, a postal discussion group for supernatural fiction.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Finding books in out of the way places

It has sometimes chanced that I have found myself in some out-of-the-way place without a book. This is a disconcerting experience for the keen reader, and recently, in a hotel on an industrial estate, not within obvious reach of any purveyor of literature, I was obliged to read the only thing to hand in the somewhat functional room, namely the breakfast menu. This, though not without interest in its way, did not stretch very far (in terms of reading, I mean: the breakfast itself promised to be, and was, extensive, if unsubtle).

However, on other occasions a chance find in a lonely place has proved to be a solace enhanced by its unexpectedness. Once on a rainswept holiday in Cornwall, and desperate to find something diverting to read, I considered without too much enthusiasm the single creaking plastic carousel of paperbacks in the leaking beach shack which was the only shop for miles around. But what was this? The Adventures of Solar Pons by August Derleth. Some splendid Sherlock Holmes-like detective yarns, just the thing to enjoy while the grey gusts swept against the cottage windows.

Since then, I have to confess to a sort of idle delight in the game of finding something interesting to read somehow, wherever I chance to be. And it is one of the incidental delights of even the smallest, obscurest places in England that it is surprising how often, one way or another, suitable reading matter may be found. Arriving early to meet friends in a minor Shropshire village, for instance, I looked in at the church and found not only one or two paperbacks I could quite enjoy, but also a guide to local ghosts. Later I was able to stroll around in the dusk regarding the apparent haunts it described with an enhanced appreciation, not to say apprehension.

Very few churches are without a printed guide of some sort, and these often make for diverting reading, with unusual anecdotes, snatches of local history or genealogy, diversions upon heraldry, and snippets of little-known folklore. Whether they are simply one sheet folded, or more compendious booklets, it is rare to find one without some points of singular interest, often several.

However, another practice which has begun to become more widespread is that of offering an assortment of second hand books, usually towards the back of the church, to raise funds. One church half an hour from here makes quite a point of it and has several hundred, along with recordings. (Its other attraction is a former Viceroy’s silk dressing-gown, now used as an altar cloth.) Sometimes, admittedly, this may lead to incongruity: one sacred edifice harboured several Dennis Wheatley novels of racy satanism, while in another a biography of Rasputin was prominently displayed.

On another occasion, visiting friends in a little Suffolk village and arriving ahead of time, we went first to look at the church. Here we found in the porch a large cardboard box full of jumbled books for sale, which afforded a most agreeable rummage. Indeed, we were still rummaging when the verger (or was it the churchwarden? A redoubtable lady, anyway) arrived to lock up. Observing the small pile we had accumulated, she invoked the Almighty and declared she had only put them out a few hours before, just to see if anyone would be interested. When we turned up at our friends’ house carrying the spoils, they exclaimed that only we could find a place to buy books in such an obscure nook of the country.

Nor is it only churches that can sometimes oblige the bookless. Another occasional source of reading matter may be found in repurposed telephone kiosks. These elegant scarlet pavilions, no longer required due to the spread of personal phones, have been ingeniously reused by some villages variously as miniature museums, art galleries, greenhouses – or book exchanges, where there might be a few dozen titles available. You may borrow or take one and leave another later.

Some shops now have a selection of books for sale for worthy causes. On one occasion I had walked along the canal to a village from which I proposed to get the train back. There are only half a dozen trains on its almost-forgotten branch line, and, as I had slightly miscalculated, I had an hour and a half to while away before the next one. I recalled, however, that the village florist usually has several trays of books on sale for charity and hoped I might turn up something worthwhile there. I was in luck: it yielded Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of An Infantry Officer, certainly absorbing enough to take back and enjoy on the wooden bench at the little wayside halt, while reflecting that the quiet scene, full of birdsong, might have appealed in its rural tranquillity to the author of the book.

It’s also possible to get second-hand books at some railway stations. When I similarly allowed too much time to catch my train at Oxford station, I was gratified to find that in one of the waiting rooms there were a dozen shelves of books on sale for charity, including no less than five volumes of Jacobean tragedy. These (I admit) I passed over in favour of a history of English glass, a subject that had caught my interest after reading P M Hubbard’s splendid grotesque novel, A Hive of Glass, about the quest for a very rare goblet. Thus it is that, when a suitable occasion arises, I shall be able diffidently to mention, “Ah, yes, Early English Glass. Studied it at Oxford.” “Balliol?” “No, Great Western.”

Mark Valentine

Friday, June 1, 2018

Copsford - Walter J C Murray

In the early Nineteen Twenties, just after the war, a young man tired of living in a back room in the city persuaded a bemused Sussex farmer to rent him a derelict cottage. It stood alone on a hill, had no water or electricity, and was full of rats. Many of the window panes were broken and it was damp, dirty and dingy.

He bought a brush and pail in the village and cleaned it up, fought a war against the rats, then put in some rudimentary furniture. The local postman found him a dog for company, somewhat improbably claimed to be a Shetland collie. Then he started to explore his domain, surrounded on three sides by a stream often all but impassable when in spate.

He lived for a year at Copsford (the name of the house), through all the seasons, while he tried to make a living from collecting, drying and selling the herbs he could find locally, such as foxgloves, agrimony, meadow-sweet, tansy , eyebright and yarrow. He came to know the natural surroundings intimately, alert to the living and growing things around him.

Together with modest payments from occasional journalism, he just about made ends meet (he will share his sparse accounts with us), but it was hard and mostly lonely work. However, he had a friend in the village, whom he calls The Music Mistress, and we’re soon delighted to gather that he and she (and the dog) will be forming a new way of life together there. And some years, and another war, later, he wrote a book about his experiences.

It seems a simple enough story, appealing because of the young man’s doughty integrity, but part of the potency of the book is due to the author’s sensitivity to the unseen. Walter Murray doesn’t only tell us about the practical aspects of making the cottage (just about) habitable, and garnering, drying and packing the herbs. He is also frank about the impressions he received from this haunted site, such as the bleakness he encountered when he first stood alone inside the house:

“And then in an instant the chill loneliness of the place swooped down on me; the cold hand that had rested upon my shoulder now clutched me violently by the throat and the appalling dreariness which so many years’ solitude had fashioned, held me motionless. Those few seconds of my life are graven so deep in my memory that I think nothing can ever efface them . . .”

It’s hardly surprising that an encounter with a desolate empty ruinous house might affect even the hardiest soul, but Murray works hard to convey precisely what it was he sensed. However, it is not only this eerie atmosphere that he evokes: like the protagonist of a Machen or Blackwood story, he is also alert to moments of mystical glory, as in this glimpse one early morning in June:

“It sometimes happens, at rare moments in our lives, we are suddenly aware of an altogether new world, different completely from that in which we commonly live. We feel as though we stand on the threshold of an undiscovered kingdom; for brief moments we understand life interpreted, we perceive meaning instead of things.”

Although his account is firstly a personal memoir and secondly a natural history study, it is also, in its subtle, diffident way, a record of such fleeting visionary experiences.

Copsford (Allen & Unwin, 1948), the book he wrote about his experiences, was an unexpected success and was reissued in 1950 in a popular edition by the Readers' Union. It has become something of a quietly sought-after book since. People who encounter it are apt to be unusually impressed by its fugitive qualities, its curious mood, and by the compelling honesty of the account. Early copies are surprisingly hard to find, even in the RU edition, though there was a HarperCollins reprint in 1986 that is now more readily available.

One devoted champion of the book has recorded The Copsford Project, a short film of a visit to the site of the house, now demolished, where only the front door step and a few other half-buried signs remain. Local historian Tom Wareham has written a biography of Murray, The Green Man of Horam, The Life and Work of Walter J C Murray (2017), and also explores his nature mysticism, which he suggests has elements in common with the work of Richard Jefferies, author of The Story of My Heart (1883).

Murray went on to start a school in the village of Horam, with The Music Mistress, and also wrote about a nature sanctuary he founded there, and published other books of natural history and topography, some in collaboration, and a guide to Romney Marsh. But with Copsford he created one of those singular books, haunted by elusive qualities, that leave the reader wistful, in a mood of mingled joy and melancholy.

Mark Valentine

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Corpse Roads of Cumbria

A corpse way or corpse road is an historical track across country from a settlement that did not have a graveyard to one that did. These mark the route taken from outlying places to the nearest place of internment. A few of the roads are marked on maps and even signposted but most are only known from antiquarian references, or local reputation.

For centuries the right of sepulture, that is the church’s permission to have a consecrated graveyard, was jealously guarded. There are examples of remote villages petitioning the authorities, even up to the Pontiff, to be granted the right for a more local resting place, often citing the difficulties of the journey to the nearest one over mountain, moor or marsh and in severe weather.

The Corpse Roads of Cumbria by Alan Cleaver and Lesley Park (Chitty Mouse Press, 2018) is the first full survey of these cortege ways in a county known for its remoteness and bleakness. The authors describe the routes, with directions enabling walkers to follow them, and note interesting features on the way such as reputed coffin stones, where the processions are said to have paused and set down their load, holy wells, ancient bridges and lonnings, the local green lanes. They also recount legends associated with the paths, and delve deeply to discover the earliest known references to them, revealing that in some cases all is not quite what it seems.

A noted legend tells of a macabre incident which was the inspiration for The Shadow of a Crime (1885), the first novel by Hall Caine, the highly popular Victorian novelist. As this new study relates, Caine explained, in My First Book (1892), that he had heard it from his grandfather. “My mother’s father,” he noted, “was a Cumberland man, and he was full of the lore of the hills and dales.” The story told how not once but twice horses carrying a coffin over the mountains were startled, bolted and disappeared, but were sometimes still be heard or glimpsed still carrying their burden over the lonely country (there is an extra twist or two to the yarn in Caine’s telling too).

This thoroughly researched and fascinating study also offers vignettes about local funeral customs and folk tales, and is a richly sombre compendium full of unusual and often previously unrecorded details.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Charles Welsh Mason's Queer House

In And I’d Be the King of China, I wrote about Charles Welsh Mason, the Eighteen Nineties writer published by John Lane and others who had also had an adventurous career, including an attempt to lead a revolt in China.

After the publication of his last known book, The Chinese Confessions of Charles Welsh Mason, by Grant Richards in 1924, I was unable to find very much trace of this mysterious figure.

It transpires that in fact he retired to a house that he built for himself in rural Kent, and lived there pretty much as a hermit until his death in 1951. Queer House, High Malden, was an eccentric edifice with decided Chinese and Gothicky influence.

It’s now possible to see a splendid film excerpt briefly depicting Mason himself and his house under the title Hearths Are Trumps, where he is described as Writer, Gold Miner, World Traveller, dwelling alone with his memories.

(With thanks to David Leffman and Johanna Mason, the author’s grand-daughter)

Mark Valentine

Monday, May 28, 2018

More Nodens Books

I've just announced three new Nodens Books publications.  Click over here to see the details. But I would also like to also call attention here to a fine new review by Charley Brady of Dale Nelson's debut collection, Lady Stanhope's Manuscript and Other Stories:
Dale Nelson’s Lady Stanhope’s Manuscript and Other Stories consists of two purely magnificent tales that bookend the collection and which manage to sandwich between them nine others that are finely crafted pieces – including one in the middle that you can also file under ‘magnificent’. 
Read the full review here.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Smiling Leaf by E L Heath

Wayside & Woodland Recordings have announced a new album, Smiling Leaf, by Shropshire musician E L Heath, available on CD and/or as a download. This is his first release for five years and we're told: "Heath eventually found solace and intent to create with the writings of Arthur Machen especially the novel ‘The Hill of Dreams’ - where the protagonist Lucian Taylor is haunted by the past; pagan imagery of an ancient Roman settlement overlaying his rural home, a malevolence that journeys with him no matter where he goes, Heath taking from this a kinship with tradition itself and how it is fused with what is unseen."

E L Heath has written a note to accompany the release, where he comments: "Machen wrote about what was underneath Welsh fields as if a violent storm could tear the modern fabric away and expose the old ways buried underneath . . . When revisiting old themes and old songs it is haunting to see how ideas not yet fully formed can be so affecting years on. Many of them are concerned with old ways, the land, the woods and what was there before."

Heath's past compositions often draw upon the folklore and contemporary curiosities of the Marcher lands, with titles directly referencing some of the quirkier localities, such as "Bishop's Castle Carnival", "The Bridges, Ratlinghope", "A Song for the Village of New Invention" and "Snailbeach Mines Trust", and one simply called "Shropshire Hill Country." Comparisons have been made to the oblique work of Ivor Cutler and Kevin Ayers. Highly melodic, with a psychedelic edge, these songs and instrumentals often have a brittle, yearning quality, strange, surging and otherworldly.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Chance Meeting - Avram Davidson and Philip K Dick

The Avram Davidson Society, that haunt of savants and connoisseurs of rare fiction, has announced the publication in June of Chance Meeting, two uncollected pieces by Avram Davidson on Philip K. Dick. This includes Davidson’s perceptive review of The Man in the High Castle from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for June 1963 and his memoir of PKD from Locus 256, vol. 15, no. 5, for May 1982. The publication also includes a letter from Grania Davis from the same issue of Locus; with a short essay by the Society's leading light Henry Wessells. It will be in an edition of 150 unnumbered copies, stitched in Hahnemühle wrappers with letterpress label. This meeting of two of the most original and inventive minds in fantasy and SF will certainly be worth attention.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Compulsory Games by Robert Aickman

It is always a good thing to have an affordable sampler of the “strange stories” of Robert Aickman available again from a mainstream publisher.  I say sampler because this selection is not a “best of” volume. Indeed, Aickman’s most celebrated stories are not included here.  Compulsory Games contains fifteen stories, plus an introduction by editor Victoria Nelson. The story selection was limited, as Nelson admits, to stories not included in the Faber four-volume set issued in 2014; that is, stories not in Dark Entries (originally 1964), Cold Hand in Mine (originally 1975), The Wind-Dark Sea (a 1990 U.K. abridgement of the 1988 U.S. compilation, which was kind-of a posthumous best-of collection), and The Unsettled Dust (a 1990 U.K. compilation that takes the stories omitted from the 1988 The Wine-Dark Sea and adds to it).  These Faber volumes are devoid of bibliographical and copyright details.  So too Compulsory Games, the new compilation from New York Review Books, which confusingly claims the stories © 2016 by the Estate of Robert Aickman, yet notes the selection is © 2018 by NYREV, Inc.  This cavalier attitude towards essential information is really frustrating.

As to the stories themselves, four of them (“The Strangers,” “The Coffin House,”  “A Disciple of Plato,” and “The Fully-Conducted Tour”) come from the 2015  Tartarus Press volume, The Strangers and Other Writings, a kind of mop-up Aickman collection, including previously unpublished materials, limited to 450 hardcover copies. So it’s good to see some of this rare material made available again, and in a readily available trade paperback.

The presentation is nice, and the editor’s introduction is adequate, if a bit sniffy at times—Nelson begins with a claim that any Aickman story is “unshaped by the procrustian bed of genre”—something that is simply not true, for Aickman himself was clearly very well-read in the genre, though in his own writings he deliberately struck out on his own. He developed his own rules and style, but he was still certainly shaped by his thorough reading of the genre.  (The anxiety of genre also shows up in John Darnielle’s blurb on the rear cover of the book.) Nelson also  makes note of some interesting features in what she calls Aickman country. 

Nelson’s 2001 volume The Secret Life of Puppets (Harvard University Press) was an eclectic and interesting look at how views of the supernatural permeate modern culture. Nelson recently published a list of the "10 Scariest Horror Stories" which includes Aickman's "The Trains" as number 1.  Read the piece here.
Compulsory Games is published in the U.S. on May 8th and can be ordered from ($17.99), and in the U.K. on June 14th from (£12.99).

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Dunsany's Lost Tales Volume 4

Pegana Press has recently published the fourth volume in their series of fine press booklets of "Lost Tales" by Lord Dunsany.  (I wrote the short Introduction for this one.)  It comes in paperback and hardcover versions, printed and bound by hand. The Pegana Press productions are elegant works of art.

This booklet contains nine stories, eight previously unpublished, and one previously unreprinted.  The three longer stories date from the last decade of Dunsany's life, while the rest are fables of the sort as those found in Fifty-One Tales (1915).  Dunsany was a master fabulist, so it's a great attraction to see more of his work in this area. 

This edition also has as a color frontispiece a previously unpublished work by S.H. Sime:

The Sime frontispiece: art from 1925.

For more details and ordering information, visit the Pegana Press website

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Some New Publications

I've just posted about three new releases from my Nodens Books imprint (for full descriptions see here).  Two of them are of particular interest to readers of Wormwood and Wormwoodiana.

The first is an expanded collection of my own Late Reviews, from Wormwood and other sources, plus newly written ones.

Late Reviews, by Douglas A. Anderson
Hardcover edition ($35.00), sold only directly via Lulu, at this link.
Trade paperback edition ($25.00) sold via Amazon (and European affiliates) ISBN 9781987512564. at this link. at this link.
Trade paperback edition ($25.00) sold via Lulu, at this link.
Kindle edition, sold via Amazon and affiliates.

And the other is the first reprint in 115 years of Ferelith by Lord Kilmarnock, with a new introduction by Mark Valentine.

Ferelith, by Lord Kilmarnock. Introduction by Mark Valentine.
Trade paperback edition ($16.00) sold via Amazon (and European affiliates) ISBN 9781987736700. at this link. at this link.
Trade paperback edition ($16.00) sold via Lulu, at this link.
Kindle edition, sold via Amazon and affiliates

More new titles are currently wending their way through publication channels.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Wormwood 30

Wormwood 30 has just been announced, with essays on Algernon Blackwood, Ambrose Bierce, Caitlin Kiernan, Margaret Benson, Ada Goodrich Freer, George Macdonald and Sara Coleridge.

From the editorial:

In this issue, William Charlton explores books by Sara Coleridge and George MacDonald that each deal in the world of fantasy, dream and fairy tale, and have certain apparent similarities: however, he argues that their differences are more significant. He also suggests that many of the dimensions they explore have still not been pursued by later writers, and there remains a rich seam within fairy lore yet to be mined.

Fairy lore is also present in Joseph Hinton’s study of Margaret Benson, a neglected member of the family that gave us the ghost story writers A.C., E.F. and R.H. Benson. Though she only wrote one volume of mystical and supernatural stories, these are vivid and unusual explorations of ancient Egypt interpreted through the motifs and symbols of fairy tales. She was one of the first women archaeologists in Egypt, and fused her experience of the country and its antiquities with an individual spirituality to create fervent prose evocations of the unearthly.

There is a fairy tale element also in Algernon Blackwood’s novel The Fruit Stoners, which has rarely received the attention given even to the better-known of his longer works, such as The Centaur. It has often been seen as an allegorical tale for children. But, argues Rebekah Memel Brown, it ought to be considered as one of his major works, a thoughtful meditation, informed by developments in science, on the nature of time and space.

Accounts of Hebridean folklore, including fairy tales, appeared under the name of Ada Goodrich Freer, who also compiled a volume of supernatural stories. But, as Peter Bell relates, a great deal of the folklore work was taken from another, more diffident, hand, who has only fairly recently been given due credit.

There are very modern and bizarre fairy forms among the altered humans of Caitlin R Kiernan’s work but, as James Goho describes, they are far from the genteel Victorian world of the children’s play-book. Her neo-Decadent fiction often involves extreme art and gruesome futuristic ‘atrocity exhibitions’, and echoes the original Decadents’ rejection of their society and its shams by depicting the outré outcasts of today. But, just as Decadence was one of the sources of Modernism, so Kiernan’s work is also characterised by experimentation with form and style.

Few have ever written more sardonic and macabre stories than Ambrose Bierce, but as Tim Foley recounts, he once led a fairly carefree life on a long visit to England, which afterwards seemed to him a charmed time. If his restless spirit haunts anywhere, it emerges that it may not be Mexico, where he disappeared, but leafy Leamington Spa.

We also offer our regular columns by Doug Anderson, John Howard and Reggie Oliver reviewing past and present fiction in the field of the fantastic.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

M. R. James Conference, 26th-27th September 2018, York

In the Autumn of 1898 M. R. James visited York, during the course of which he took copious notes on the painted glass of twelve of the city's mediaeval parish churches. One hundred and twenty years later, The Friends of Count Magnus are marking this event by holding a two-day conference in the city examining the connections between James's professional scholarly work and his ghost stories.

The event will include Robert Lloyd Parry performing 'A Pleasing Terror', two ghost stories by M R James; a presentation by Whitby actor and raconteur Patrick Smith; a walking tour of York taking in some of the churches James visited; talks by Gail-Nina Anderson, Peter Bell, Paul Chapman, Helen Grant, Terry Hale, Darryl Jones, John Reppion and Mark Valentine; panel discussions; together with an opportunity to meet many other Jamesian enthusiasts.

Full details and booking information may be found by visiting The Friends of Count Magnus.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Supernatural Tales 37

Supernatural Tales 37 has just been announced. It includes stories by Helen Grant, C.M. Muller, Jeremy Schliewe, Chloe N. Clark, and Mark Valentine, and reviews by the editor, David Longhorn.

"The Forwarding Agent", my story in this issue, is about a man who collects tickets as a hobby, industrial estates, a Roman mask and a figure on a motorway bridge. What discerning reader could ask for more?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Ann Lee - The Manchester Messiah by Roger Dobson

“A history of the Shakers will be a curious book”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne

The only known publication of Roger’s St John Press, Ann Lee: The Manchester Messiah is a 1987 illustrated booklet celebrating the 250th anniversary of an extraordinary and mesmeric prophetess, the founder of the Shakers. A drama of passion and courage, triumph and tragedy, it is one of the strangest stories ever told. Roger's account traces the history of Ann Lee from humble beginnings in Manchester to the leadership of a movement that still survives today.

An unexpected find in the attic uncovered a few copies [now sold out].

Monday, March 26, 2018

Herbert Palmer, Bard of Apocalypse

Herbert Palmer is a largely forgotten poet of the mid 20th century. But his early books were published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf at their Hogarth Press, his work was admired by Robert Graves, and his prophetic verse, concerned with the mythic forces of good and evil, was compared to that of William Blake. His publisher described Palmer as “the symbolist and apocalyptic bardic poet.”

Palmer was born in the little Lincolnshire town of Market Rasen on 10 February 1880. He went to university in Birmingham and Bonn, and made his living in his twenties and thirties by teaching, tutoring and lecturing, especially for the Workers' Educational Association. In 1921 he took up journalism and other writing full time: besides his poetry, he edited anthologies, published a book on teaching English, and undertook some translations.

He did not begin issuing books of poetry until he was in his forties, though there had been youthful ephemera in journals and newspapers. In 1931 he published a pungent parody of Eliot, Cinder Thursday, which has a fertility of allusion and restless energy which might have been better deployed. He befriended and encouraged the young poet, editor and bookman John Gawsworth, who included a bibliography of his work in his Ten Contemporaries (1932): through him he also met Arthur Machen. The copy illustrated here has a presentation inscription from Fytton Armstrong (ie John Gawsworth) to A E Coppard, noted “for an autograph.”

A Collected Poems was published in 1933 and a late blooming, The Ride from Hell, came out in 1958. Herbert Palmer died on 17 May 1961. His literary executor, Alan Denson, compiled Herbert Edward Palmer (1880-1961): a bio-bibliographical survey and calendar of recordings, with a foreword by Phoebe Hesketh (Oliver Alden, 1994).

Twenty-seven boxes of Palmer’s papers are in the archives of Senate House library, University of London, including correspondence with W. B. Yeats, Roy Campbell, Constance Sitwell, Walter de la Mare, John Middleton Murry, Muriel Spark, Robert Bridges, Lord Alfred Douglas and George Bernard Shaw.

Herbert Palmer’s verses are archaic, arcane and declamatory. Several have macabre themes, such as The Vampire (1936). His chief weaknesses to the modern reader are a fondness for antiquated wordage and a reliance on easy, obvious rhymes. But sometimes the fervour and fierce feeling in his poems transcends these traits and we get a real sense of a powerful imagination haunted, even harried, by the forms of gods and demons.

Edward Thompson, reviewing the Collected Poems for The Spectator (10 March, 1933) said: “the fire and swing of his best verses are unsurpassed. What I think his greatest poem, Song of Job and Solomon, is tremulous with ecstasy of both suffering and surrender… He is the most individual of living poets, and one of the noblest.”

A Checklist of Books by Herbert Edward Palmer

Two Foemen (Elkin Mathews, 1920)
Two Minstrels (Elkin Mathews, 1921)
The Unknown Warrior (Heinemann, 1924)
Songs of Salvation, Sin and Satire (L & V Woolf, 1925)
The Judgement of Francois Villion. A Pageant. (L & V Woolf, 1927)
The Armed Muse. Poems (L & V Woolf, 1930)
Jonah Comes to Nineveh. A Ballad (Mill House Press, 1930)
The Teaching of English (John Murray, 1930)
Cinder Thursday (Benn, 1931)
In Autumn. A Poem (privately printed, 1931).
The Roving Angler (Dent, 1931)
Thirty Poems. Herbert Edward Palmer (Benn, 1931)
What the Public Wants (Lahr, 1932)
Collected Poems (Benn, 1933)
Summit and Chasm (Dent, 1934)
The Mistletoe Child: An Autobiography of Childhood (1935)
The Vampire and Others (Dent, 1936)
Post-Victorian Poetry (Dent, 1938)
The Gallows-Cross (Dent, 1940)
Christmas Signs: St Albans, 1941 (W Cartmel & Sons: 1942?)
Season and Festival (Faber and Faber, 1943)
The Dragon of Tingalam. A Fairy Comedy (Nicholson and Watson, 1945)
A Sword in the Desert (Harrap, 1946)
The Old Knight (Dent, 1949)
The Ride from Hell (Rupert Hart-Davis, 1958)