Monday, December 17, 2018

The Atlantean Angel in Nightingale Lane


A Note on D Bridgman-Metchim

Atlantis, The Book of the Angels, “Interpreted” by D. Bridgman-Metchim, with illustrations by the author (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Col Ltd, 1900) is a historical fantasy presented as a visionary recreation of a pre-Flood civilisation. An introductory note says: “This Interpretation is the fullest account we have yet of the life ante-diluvium . . . This is the history of the zenith of the early Adamites.” It is explained that it is derived from “the root language of Shinar”, which lies beyond all languages, and has been interpreted in English.

The book, album size in Royal Octavo, extends to some 461 pages, has numerous footnotes citing learned authorities, and also includes an Appendix of explanatory notes. A cheap edition of the book was issued in 1903. Bindings have been noted in red and in blue cloth, and one, catalogued by Robert Temple Booksellers, in purple with gilt lettering on the spine (possibly an author’s or presentation copy?). My own copy once belonged to the Revd Edward W Lees of The Manse, Gillingham, Dorset and has his 1916 bookplate.

The author’s first name was Donald and his dates have been given in an index of wills (1) as 1871-1931, which if correct means he was only 29 when the Atlantis book was published, and even younger when it was written. Probate records show that he died on 8 November 1931 and at the time of death his address was given as 246 Coombe-lane Wimbledon, Surrey. Earlier he lived with his parents in a large house called Courtlands in Nightingale Lane, Clapham. There are records of a Metchim printing firm to which his family seem to be connected, although his Atlantis book was printed in Holland, possibly because of its rather vivid contents.

The prose is in that form of florid archaic-style expression (with liberal use of “thou”) which Victorian writers often adopted for historical epics. It is not dissimilar to that used later by William Hope Hodgson for The Night Land (1912) and may strike a modern reader as somewhat heavy-going. I probably ought to confess that I have not read every word in the book, especially in the footnotes, but certainly quite a lot of it.

The plot concerns the descent of an archangel to Earth to persuade its inhabitants to cease their cruel and sinful regime. He alights at the Atlantean capital of Zul, whose architecture, denizens, customs and ceremonies are richly described. There is a lot of lurid detail about the Atlanteans’ use of human sacrifices, torture, and Roman-style amphitheatre spectacles. However, the archangel falls in love with an Atlantean princess, and a main theme of the book is their passionate but forbidden love, often expressed in sensuous prose. Drama is also supplied by conspiracies and wars between rival factions. Thus, the book is a curious mixture of sultry, decadent, swooning scenes in the manner of Pierre Louys and brisker adventure yarn work in the way of Rider Haggard.

The artwork is also in two styles: some plates are very darkly inked and mysterious, so it is hard to discern the detail: they depict Atlantean citadels and aristocrats. There is a hint of similarities to the work of Simeon Solomon, and also a suggestion of the Art Nouveau style. The others are more like the typical story illustrations in periodicals of the day, as seen eg in the Strand or Pall Mall Magazine.

Although little is known of the biography of Bridgman-Metchim, there is a brief recollection of the author from an unexpected source. The poet Yann Lovelock’s grandfather was Bridgman-Metchim’s gardener for a while and told his son Ralph, Yann’s father, about his employer. Yann asked his father to write an account of what he remembered, and this has been published in a family newsletter (2):

“As the new century began, John Ernest Lovelock of the Wiltshire Lieflock line was employed by the artistically inclined Donald Bridgman-Metchim as head gardener at a large house in Nightingale Lane, Clapham. The two struck up a friendship of sorts and John’s son Ralph remembered sundry mementoes of that time in the family home—‘booklets, a plaster head of a young girl and a very large canvas’. According to Ralph, Bridgman-Metchim had once sculpted in marble the figures of a man and girl embracing which his narrow-minded family had smashed and sold for hard core. A similar fate nearly overcame his long novel titled Atlantis, the book of the angels, a reinterpretation of the biblical book of Genesis.

For the date of its publication in the closing years of the Victorian era, it was thought sexually explicit and the family are said to have had the bulk of the first edition destroyed. However, there exists a 1900 edition and another from 1903, an inscribed copy of which was presented to [John Ernest] ‘with the author’s sincere good wishes’.”

These artistic aspects are confirmed by other sources. A painting by Bridgman-Metchim called ‘The Fairies Hour’ sold at auction in 2001 (3) and the recollection of him as a sculptor is borne out by a record of his application to join the Royal Society of British Sculptors in February 1906 (4).

The British Library catalogue lists two other books by D. Bridgman-Metchim, both issued from A H Stockwell, the well-known subsidy publisher. The first was Our Own History of the War, from a South London view (1918), and the other, The Solution of All Life’s Riddles (1929), which certainly sounds a book worth getting. However, the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (5) notes that he also wrote, under the name B. Metchim, Wild West Poems (T. Fisher Unwin, 1891): if so, he was then only 20 years old.

His war book was, rather surprisingly, reviewed by Virginia Woolf, under the heading ‘The War from the Street’: “Mr Metchim here records the history of the war as it appeared to a gentleman living in South London so far as the body is concerned, but populating the whole of England spiritually, constituting, in fact, that anonymous monster, the Man in the Street . . . taking the reflection of the things that individuals do, and occasionally wobbling this way or that as some instinct of hate, revenge or admiration bubbles up beneath it.” (6)

Not the least of the mysteries surrounding D Bridgman-Metchim is this evocation of the Atlantean visionary as a barometer of the man in the street. My researches continue.

Mark Valentine

Note

With my grateful thanks to Yann Lovelock for permission to quote the passage about his father’s recollections, and for suggestions of further places to look.

Sources

(1) http://www.haine.org.uk/toms_wills/wills_combos.php?county=Surrey

(2) This account is given in Lovelock Lines, The Lovelock Family Newsletter New Series #11, March 2015, edited by Yann Lovelock, in an article entitled ‘Rubbing shoulders with the Lovelocks’, ‘the history of family members in service in past centuries’. http://lovelock.free.fr/l-lines/lovelock-lines-11th-ed.pdf.

(3) https://www.artprice.com/artist/118405/donald-bridgman-metchim/lots/search/1/estimate

(4) https://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib2_1220435439.

(5) http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/bridgman-metchim_d.
All accessed December 2018.

(6) Quoted in Christina Britzolakis, ‘War, Utopia and the Everyday in Woolf’s Fiction’, Utopian Spaces of Modernism: Literature and Culture, 1885-1945 edited by Rosalyn Gregory and Benjamin. Kohlmann (2011).

Image: Mystery Cove Book Shop

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