Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Kafka day

Interesting synchronicity today, spinning off from going to get a cat collar ID tag engraved. How things have moved on; I was expecting it to be done by hand or using a pantograph (for instance). But no, they used a very nice computer engraving machine not unlike this one. It raised vague resonances, and then I realised what it reminded me of: the execution machine in Kafka's 1919 story In the Penal Colony, which kills prisoners by engraving on them the law they have broken. The Condemned Man in story is a servant who has been convicted of falling asleep on guard duty and threatening his master, so the words will be "Honour your superiors!". The story is an examination of a psychopathically authoritarian officer in a Third World or colonial penal colony in the tropics, who is so logically consistent in his sense of duty that he will subject himself to the device when he feels he has failed to be just. What exactly it means is debatable: see Fear and Trembling in the Penal Colony, by Kyle McGee, at The Kafka Project.

The device is very like the computer engraving machine, comprising the "Bed" on which the victim is put; the "Harrow", needles that do the writing; and the "Inscriber", the programmable control box for the Harrow. I was about to pass this on to, which collects SF precursors to real-world science, technology and culture, but I find automatic engraving machines (although ones based on a disposable photographic template) existed at least as far back as 1901).

Later I read on the Telegraph website Japanese gamer 'marries' Nintendo DS character. I'm not entirely sure this is unprecedented - I vaguely recall stories a decade ago about the virtual idol Kyoko Date getting marriage proposals - but anyway the current news story immediately recalls one of the central themes of William Gibson's Idoru, in which the lead singer for a rock band becomes engaged to marry the idoru Rei Toei, an entirely artificial personality (admittedly a high-level AI with a holographic presence - rather more sophisticated than a Nintendo DS character). This is definitely one for Technovelgy, but I see someone beat me to it: Man Marries Anime Game Character.

On skimming my copy of Idoru to refresh my memory of the details, what should I find in the first few pages but an allusion to the Kafka story?

The stairway opened into The Penal Colony, a disco, deserted at this hour, pulses of silent red lightning marking Laney's steps across the dance floor. A machine of some kind was suspended from the ceiling. Each of its articulated arms, suggestive of antique dental equipment, was tipped with sharp steel. Pens, he thought, vaguely remembering Kafka's story. Sentence of guilt, graven in the flesh of the condemned man's back. Wincing at a memory of upturned eyes unseeing. Pushed it down. Moved on.
- Idoru, William Gibson, 1996

Gibson's previous novel, the 1994, Virtual Light, by the way, has a similar idea where Rydell recalls his uncle having a robot-created tattoo.

Rydell's uncle, the one who'd gone to Africa with the army and hadnlt come back, had had a couple of tattoos. The best one wenr right across his back, this big swirly dragon with horns and a sort of goofy grin. He'd gotten that one in Korea, eight colours and it had all been done by a computer. He'd told Rydell how the computer had mapped his back and showed him exactly what it was going to look like when it was done. Then he had to lie down on this table while this robot put the tattoo on. Rydell had imagined a robot kind of like a vacuum-cleaner, but with twisty chrome arms had [sic] needles on the end. But his uncle said it was more like being fed through a dot-matrix printer, and he'd had to go back eight times, one time for each colour.

This may also have come true. I'm not 100% convinced of the veracity of this 2002 Avanova report, Tattooing robot unveiled at hi-tech trade fair, but it looks very Kafka. Robot tattooing doesn't strike me as technically unfeasible, but it would need a lot more than a CAD-driven needle; skin being a flexible substrate, there needs to be some provision for stabilising the region being worked on (down to the skill of a human tattoo artist).

Addendum: After a little more reading, I find the connection between tattooing and engraving is closer than I realised. It appears that the now-standard tattoo machine derives from a stencil cutting device, Edison's 1876 Electric Pen and Press.
- Ray

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

In praise of Wikiquote

OK, there are worse things to worry about in the world, but occasionally in the more rarefied bibliographic world I see things that make me want to reach for my revolver. I saw one yesterday on Yahoo! Answers, where a student was asking for advice on citing a Stalin quotation, and specified:

Please no one post "wikiquote". Our teacher said no wikipedia related websites may be used.
- Reliable website for quotations?, Yahoo! Answers

This is an astonishingly ill-informed instruction for a teacher to be giving! It's fair to be suspicious of Wikipedia (though not if used cautiously for guidance rather than a one-stop source), but Wikiquote is a different matter altogether. This deserves stressing: Wikiquote is almost certainly the only reliable, and free, general quotation website in existence.

There are many quotation websites - for instance, BrainyQuote and - but they have many weaknesses in common. They don't cite the origin of quotations. They allow user contribution without initial checking. Many don't offer a mechanism - or at least a rapid and simple one - for correction. They are riddled with misattributions, which then get brainlessly copied around the Web and repeatedly turn up on Yahoo! Answers, evidently set as coursework.

Wikiquote, in contrast, is based on precise citation of origin. It includes misattributions - but identified as such, and unlike Wikipedia actively encourages original research into quotation origins and the date of appearance of misattributions. Furthermore, it's now working practice that unsourced quotations are not even to be added ...

See Wikiquote:Sourcing for guidelines on sourced quotes. Unsourced quotes will be removed from all articles. Adding unsourced quotes to articles will be reverted. A newly created page consisting of unsourced quotes will be nominated for deletion or given a PROD tag. For an already existing page, unsourced quotes that fail to meet standards of quality will be deleted. Any remaining unsourced quotes will [be] placed on the article's discussion page. If all of the quotes on an existing page are unsourced, the page will be nominated for deletion.
- retrieved from Wikiquote:Limits on quotations, November 26, 2009

... and this is currently under development as a proposed policy - see Wikiquote:Sourcing

Wikiquote is one of the few quotation websites recommended by Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations (one of the most prestigious quotation dictionaries, and itself stringently and transparently sourced). Could there be better credentials?

- Ray

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Artist seized!

Click to enlarge

I couldn't resist tinkering with the strange recent image from Ptak Science Books: Out of Context Department: Artists Taken by the Devil, 1620. It actually comes from a 17th century Dutch religious work, Den wech des eeuwich levens (The way to eternal life) by Antine Sucquet, Gerardus Zoes and Boëce van Bolswert, which is online in full at the Internet Archive.

The complete picture, on page 556, depicts a couple of artists painting Jesus and the Christian pantheon, but we haven't yet been able to work out why painter B is being grabbed by a demon. There is a caption, but my Renaissance Dutch is a little rusty. I'm taking advice.

"Om mat ghy de stercker tot de deugt verweckt sout worden, soeckt ende volght [A] d’exemplen der Heyligen, meest van uw’ Patronen, ende versoeyt [B] de sonde, die u van deselve treckt, ondersoeckt wat sy van dese deught hebben gevoelt, en geschreven; hoe sy die hebben geoffent door ‘t ingeven van den [C] H. Geest.

(Apologies for plagiarism to Ptak Science Books, Lol Manuscripts! and Wondermark).

Addendum. We have an explanation, thanks to Trevor at Kalebeul (who actually knows "Elderly Dutch" - see the comments). B is not the artist, but the creature grabbing him - not a demon but a representation of "sonde" (sin) distracting him.

- Ray

Monday, 23 November 2009

Riddle of the sand

Straight Point, Devon: click to enlarge

Correlation of difference sources and media often produces intriguing stuff. I was just re-reading Notices of the Flowering Time and Localities of some Plants observed during an Excursion through a portion of South Devon, in June, 1851 (Edwin Lees, Esq. FLS, pp530-541, The Phytologist: a popular botanical miscellany, Volume 4, Part 2, J. Van Voorst, 1852). I'm not terribly bothered with botany. but the Worcester-based Lees (1800–1887) was staying in Exmouth, and so the paper includes nice accounts of excursions to areas I'm familiar with, such as the East Devon coastline between Exmouth and Budleigh. One of these is the promontory tipped by Straight Point, adjacent to Sandy Bay.
A long point of sandstone extends far into the sea between Budleigh Salterton and Exmouth, after passing the highest range of cliffs; and on either side of this were some singular, secluded, deep, gloomy dens, excavated by the sea, as if intended for the perpetration of deeds of darkness. On the western side of the point the sea had so broken down the sandstone rocks, that it seemed as if a huge quarry had been excavated there, such monstrous masses lay scattered about in all directions; the cliff itself shattered almost to fragments.
It's still recognisable - see the image above of the western side and Sandy Bay - even if the general environment makes it less amenable to investigation: an army firing range on the promontory itself, and the huge Devon Cliffs Holiday Park on the adjoining land. That said, it's not at all a bad place to visit, with the coastal path taking you rapidly out of the developed area in either direction.

View Larger Map

While browsing the excellent Old Maps site, however, I did notice an interesting thing about Sandy Bay: it appears the name is new, and so is the sand. On the 1890 Ordnance Survey map, the bay is unnamed and has sand only at the cliff foot, with rocky shelving exposed at low tide. By 1933, however, it's called Sandy Bay on the map, and virtually all the shore at low tide is sand, as it is nowadays. I've no idea why, though studies show beach profiles to be very dynamic in this general area of coastline (see Holcombe to Straight Point (including Exe estuary), SCOPAC, 2004). See the images below, reproduced from Old Maps with kind permission.

Sandy Bay in 1890 (above); 1933 (below). . Historic map data is (© and database right Crown copyright and Landmark Information Group Ltd. (All rights reserved 2009).

A look in older literature confirms the name change at least. Pre-1900 Devon guidebooks - for instance, John Murray's A handbook for travellers in Devon - repeatedly mention Straight Point as a landmark, with no sign of "Sandy Bay", and the poet Patricia Beer's autobiographical Mrs Beer's House, in which she writes about her Exmouth childhood in the 1920s, confirms that "Sandy Bay" appears to be an early 20th century neologism.
We had a family routine of our own, which was to spend the afternoon at Straight Point. This was a beach about a mile along from Orcombe Point towards Budleigh Salterton. Considering its nearness to Exmouth, it was amazingly deserted: sometimes we were the only family there. It was not too easy to reach, however, and the path down from the cliff-top needed a fair amount of agility: there were no ropes or steps, and it was both slippery and steep. We always called it Straight Point, which was the name of the headland, but many people referred to it as Sandy Bay. I felt very strongly about this, after the age of ten, on what I thought were grounds of literary taste. 'Sandy Bay' seemed to me banal and pretty-pretty and feeble, whereas I felt that 'Straight Point' was decently and austerely descriptive (I hear it is now universally called Sandy Bay and that there is a caravan site on the cliff-top.)
- Mrs Beer's House, Patricia Beer, Macmillan, 1968
Things have certainly changed, with access to the bay by a concrete ramp. Another geographical feature at this location is mentioned in RF Delderfield's historical novel Farewell the Tranquil (a.k.a. Farewell the Tranquil Mind) in which he refers to the stream that runs southward (now through the Holiday Park) and enters the sea through the waterfall at Sandy Bay.
The buildings stood on the crest of a gentle slope, about half a mile from the sea and the same distance from Littleham in the valley behind. To the east our land extended as far as a deep briar-grown streambed, (called a "goyle" in these parts) which carried all the springs and rivulets of the watershed to the sea, dropping some twenty feet over a low cliff to the beach at an outfall we called "Waterchute".
- Farewell the Tranquil Mind, RF Delderfield, 1950
Delderfield is evidently using a real local name, as it is confirmed in an account of lime burning in the district in Devon & Cornwall notes & queries ...
There was a second Lime-Kiln at Straight Point, close to Water Shute, the barges discharging limestone on the beach in the same way as at Maer Bay.
- Devon & Cornwall notes & queries, Volume 17, ed. John S. Amery, 1933
... and in a Trewman's Exeter Flying Post report (A sad drowning fatality at Littleham, Saturday, June 28, 1890) about the accidental drowning of a truanting child "between Straight Point and Water Shute". But unlike Sandy Bay, which has gained a name, the Water Shute appears to have lost its name entirely.

I am still, by the way, looking for the name (if any) of the chine above Littleham Cove, on the Sandy Bay side of West Down Beacon.

Addendum. Sand recommendations.
- Ray

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Gadflies, spies, cyphers

Clare and I are fans of Shostakovich, a particular favourite being his Gadfly Suite, from which the Romance is embedded above. Beyond knowing it to be a film score, we'd never considered investigating more deeply; but doing so reveals an amazing nexus of cultural connections around one person.

As the Boosey and Hawkes page shows - Shostakovich, Dmitri: The Gadfly - Suite op. 97a (1955) 40' - the suite is the score for a 1950 Soviet historical costume drama set in the 1830s-40s Risorgimento Italy, the setting giving Shostakovich free rein to write beautiful pastiche of Italian styles. The film in turn is based on an 1897 novel of the same name - see Gutenberg EText-No. 3431 - by Ethel Lilian Voynich. Its theme is somewhat like Rafael Sabatini's later Scaramouche: an illegitimate orphan, Arthur Burton ("the Gadfly"), acquires political awareness and becomes a revolutionary - see synopsis. The novel become a best-seller in both Soviet Russia and the People's Republic of China.

But talk about "Six Degrees of Separation"! Apart from being a bestselling novelist, revolutionary activist and musician, Ethel Voynich's connections are astounding. She was the daughter of George Boole (who invented the logic that's the basis of modern computing) and the mathematician and feminist philosopher Mary Everest Boole. She was the niece of George Everest - yes, that one. She was married to the revolutionary, antiquarian and bibliophile Wilfrid Michael Voynich, buyer in 1912 of the famously enigmatic Voynich Manuscript; she, in turn, became its owner until her death in 1961.

More complicated still, the background to The Gadfly was Ethel Voynich's relationship with the adventurer and secret agent Sidney Reilly (a.k.a. "Ace of Spies"). Some sources claim The Gadfly to be based on Riley's own adventures in his younger days. Whatever the nature of the relationship, and whether truly about him or not - Riley's origins are lost in a mist of conflicting mythologies - all this explains a connection that brings us full circle again: why the Romance from Shostakovich's Gadfly score was used as theme tune for the 1983 miniseries Reilly, Ace of Spies.

A number of Ethel Voynich's works are online at the Internet Archive:
  • Nihilism as it is and Claims of the Russian liberals: translations of political pamphlets by Stepniak and Felix Volkhovsky.
  • The Humour of Russia (1895): translations of various Russian comic sketches.
  • The Gadfly (1897): novel as described.
  • Jack Raymond (1901): a coming-of-age novel set in Cornwall and primarily about the battle of wills between an intense orphaned boy and his cruel uncle and guardian, the Vicar of Porthcarrick.
  • Olive Latham (1904): a novel about story of a rich young woman who chooses to work as a nurse out of social conscience, and then becomes involved with a Russian Nihilist revolutionary.
She also wrote two sequels to The Gadfly: the 1910 An Interrupted Friendship; and, after a break of three decades in which she concentrated on music, the 1945 Put Off Thy Shoes, which visited the Cornish childhood of Gemma, the heroine of The Gadfly.
- Ray

Be still ... it's ham tragedy

Yet another example of how the Internet enables anyone to perform in moments linguistic and philological work that might have taken years pre-computing. I was just looking at a Yahoo! Answers question about the origin of the cliched romantic/melodramatic phrase "Be still, my beating heart".

The answer appears to be well known: it first appears in William Mountfort's 1705 play Zelmane as:

"Ha! hold my Brain; be still my beating Heart."

but this is generally repeated without demonstrable citation. However, while Google Books couldn't even get a preview, a plain Google finds the e-text at the University of Virginia Library: Zelmane: Or, the Corinthian Queen. A tragedy.

The phrase was in full swing by the early 1800s, but trying to back-track, the best Google Books could manage was 1774, in a poem in the Lady's and gentleman's diary.

Be still my beating heart! she may return -
Still may return to bless her Damon's eyes;
Return my fair, thy shepherd still is true;
True to those mutual vows, those plighted ties

I can't hack the title for sure at this instant, but it might be The Deserted Swain, by Mrs Blanch Lean, near Redruth. A definite full-view hit, though, for John Hoole's 1775 Cleonice, princess of Bithynia: a tragedy. As it is performed at the Theatre Royal in Covent-Garden.

Be still my beating heart! - O Cleonice!
I feel her now - instruct me every God
In sooothing speech - O! Teach my lips to breathe
In gentlest sounds the fatal word - farewell

- Act 1, Scene 1, Cleonice, John Hoole, 1775

Did people really enjoy this kind of play? Apparently they didn't, and its nine-day run bombed, not helped by an attack of preciousness among the cast.

From the London Review for March 1775 and the European Magazine for March 1792 we gather, that Cleonice was at first rejected by the managers of Covent Garden Theatre. Being doubtful, however, of their own judgment, they referred the matter to Dr. Johnson, who approved of the play, and on the 19th. Dec. 1774 returned it to Hoole with a few complimentary lines.

"Cleonice'' was accepted accordingly and "put in rehearsal, but Mrs. Barry refusing to perform the part of Cleonice, it was given to Mrs. Hartley. Mr. Barry rejecting the part of Lycomedes intended for him, took a subordinate character, and even that he relinquished on the 2nd. night. The Play thus left to itself, without either of the popular Actors, languished out the nine nights, and from that time Mr. Hoole bid adieu to the Stage." Hoole proved his noble character on this occasion by returning a considerable part of the money which he had received for the copyright, alleging, that, as the piece was not successful on the stage, it could not be very profitable to the bookseller, and ought not to be a loss.

- John Hoole, his life and his tragedies, Sägesser, Arthur, Pub. Bern, J. Fischer-Lehmann, 1917

It might have been taken more seriously if Hoole hadn't called two major characters Arsetes and Arsinoe, a detail I'm sure was not lost on the abbreviator of character names for the 1797 Bell's British Theatre edition.

Addendum: Trevor at Kalebeul (see Comments) has just pointed out that we get more hits in the required time slot by searching on "ftill my beating heart", as Google Books doesn't yet recognise the archaic "long s" as "s". Neat: a wrinkle to remember. I see Mr Hoole recycled, as he used exactly the same phrase in his translation of the works of the poet Metastasio. 1

1. No accident that this looks like "metastasis". As explained in a footnote in Vernon Hyde Minor's The death of the baroque and the rhetoric of good taste, it's a Hellenised nickname based on the poet's real surname, Trapassi (which means in Italian "to pass from one place to another" - as is the etymology of "metastasis").
- Ray

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Barn and other butterfly buildings

 If you happen to be taking the upper footpath from Orcombe Point toward Exmouth, the one above Marine Drive (aka Queen's Drive), take a peek over the hedge as you descend Foxholes Hill, and you'll see an unusual and significant building. The Barn, which dates from 1896, is acclaimed as a masterwork of the architect Edward Schroeder Prior, who was a prime mover of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Originating as a reaction to Victorian revival styles and mass-produced design, Arts and Crafts design produced some monstrosities - part of its legacy, for instance, includes stereotypical pseudo-rustic garden fixtures such as crazy paving and fake wishing-wells. But it also produced stylish and innovative buildings, of which The Barn was one; using a striking "butterfly" design, its wings provided an imposing entrance on the landward side, and enclosed the seaward-facing terrace to make a sheltered sun-trap.

The Barn was so radical that it inspired Hermann Muthesius, the subsequent promoter of Arts and Crafts ideas in Germany; its influence on the design of his 1907-1908 Haus Freudenberg in Berlin is very obvious. Another Arts and Crafts house, Happisburgh Manor in Norfolk, also notably resembles The Barn, although its architect Detmar Jellings Blow said its design was not influenced by it, but came from "my friend Mr Ernest Gimson, who sent me the little butterfly device on a postcard". 1 Lutyens' Papillon Hall, now demolished, used a similar ground plan. 1 Prior himself went on to develop the concept further: probably the most ambitious example was Voewood (later renamed Home Place).

For more background about The Barn, see Not Brutal but Savage at the Continuity in Architecture blog. As well as links to a nice Flickr photoset, it has a picture from Muthesius' book Das Englische Haus in its original thatched form as built for Major Harry Weatherall. After a fire in 1905, it was rebuilt with a gabled front and tiled roof. The Barn is now a hotel; its website's Architecture page has a short history, including floor plans.

1. Small country houses of to-day, Volume 2, Sir Lawrence Weaver, Offices of Country Life, 1922
- Ray

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The North Devon Savages

Click to enlarge: the Savages' cottage, from S Baring-Gould's An Old English Home and Its Dependencies. Note the naked figure outside; one of many slurs about the "savages".

We tend to think tabloid smears a modern fixture, but not so; I've just been reading a fascinating paper, "The True Story of the North Devon Savages" by Peter Christie 1, in Volume 124 of The Devonshire Association Reports and Transactions (it's sufficiently interesting that I cross-posted it from the Devon History Society).

The story starts with a piece in The Times (page 9, November 17, 1869) headed "Heathenism in Devonshire". Leading from a report about the conviction of two men for trespass in pursuit of game, it goes on to give a highly hostile report of an unnamed farming family living in rough circumstances in and around a tumbledown farmhouse in the parish of Nymet Rowland. The piece says of them:

To the clergyman of the parish and the neighbourhood they behave in a most shameful manner. They sing obscene songs when the reverend gentleman passes, they perform the most disgusting and nameless acts when he is in the company of ladies and those who are noxious to them they pelt with stones and mud as they go by their wretched domicile. Depredations in the neighbourhood are frequent. Gates and gate-posts and other objects of utility often disappear and threats of violence are common. We may add that members of the family have several times been convicted of offences. And yet these people continue their savage habits to the annoyance and disgust of the neighbours, treating the remonstrances of the clergyman with mockery, ribaldry and obscenity and setting the rules of civilised life at defiance.

The story snowballed, and the family - the Cheritons - gained national notoriety as "the North Devon Savages". The Daily Telegraph did a widely-reprinted special on them in October 1871: A Family of Savages in Devonshire. James Greenwood's 1874 In Strange Company: Being the Experiences of a Roving Correspondent gave a detailed account of them (reprinted here) which adds further sensational detail of them going near-naked and overtly suggests their children to be the product of incest because no men outside the family ever associated with the Cheritons. Greenwood had visited various low-lifes and criminals, but awarded the Cheritons pride of place: "Strangest of all strange company was that which, in my journalistic peregrinations, it was my lot to fall in with in North Devon". Reaction grew more and more rabid as the story spread, until you'd think commenters were talking about Sawney Bean. For instance:
Such, adds the Daily Telegraph, are the leading facts accumulated by our Commissioner, literally at the risk of his life.
Now that his work has been so successfully achieved it behoves us to ask two very plain questions. First, is or is not the existence of this abominable Cheriton family a disgrace and scandal to civilisation in general and North Devon in particular? Second, is it or is it not possible to devise some legal means for abating the hideous nuisance?
Are they to be allowed to reek and fester in their den, defying the laws of God and man? Cannot the law force them to adopt the habits of human beings?
Can or cannot certain offences be brought home to the Cheriton tribe? Have the births of their children been duly registered? Have they complied with the requirements of the Vaccination Act? Cannot their den be overhauled under the provisions of the Nuisances Removal Act? Does not the conduct, these forty years past, of the elder Cheriton, warrant the assumption that he is insane, and might not a Commission de lunatico be advantageously held to investigate the matter? There is no need to strain the law; but in a case so revolting and so flagitious, it is surely expedient to ascertain what its provisions are, and then to put them in force with the view of suppressing a scandal which would not be tolerated in any other civilised country in the world.
The Cheriton family in Africa would be bad enough; in an English village and under the lee of a Christian church, these creatues become simply unbearable.
- The North Devon Savages, The Leeds Mercury, October 24, 1871
These stories were further fuelled by letters, such as that in the Morning News accusing their women (inconsistently with Greenwood's story) of corrupting local farmer's boys "to which fact medical men in the neighbourhood can bear revolting testimony". Their notoriety even reached the pages of the New York Times: see A Tribe of English Savages, November 11, 1871, which further exemplifies the hand-wringing they evoked:
Many of the more revolting details of this bestial tribe we have ventured only to indicate. Their existence in one of the most fertile and populous districts of one of the most enlightened countries on the globe, is not a reassuring commentary on modern civilization.
Peter Christie's paper takes a fresh look at the subject, and finds a rather different story, one actually raised at the time. The Cheritons did have defenders, particularly the Reverend TJ Leslie from Appledore, who wrote several letters to the North Devon Journal pointing out that many of the anonymous accusations were libellous and that the Cheritons did attend religious services, and particularly arguing the possibility that rich farmers who wanted the Cheritons out of the parish could easily entertain journalists who wanted to 'interview' a poor family.

Christie's research rather bears this out: documented court cases show the Cheritons' crimes were small, but of the kind such as poaching about which landowners were particularly neurotic. He also notes that many of the cases were dismissed. Furthermore, land records of the period do show a consolidation of land ownership around Nymet Rowland into fewer and fewer hands. Ultimately the story may come down to a land feud in which the underclass Cheritons were less able to play the media than their rich and well-connected opponents. As the abstract to the paper summarises:
The 'North Devon Savages' were a notorious family living in the small parish of Nymet Rowland in the nineteenth century whose story has entered the realms of folklore. This study explores the truth behind their reputation and suggests that their notoriety, though based to some extent on fact, was deliberately exagggerated by local landed interests in order to force them off their land.
The Heard Family History website page A Criminal Past has two pictures of the Cheritons' house taken around 1860 by the photographer William Hector. The artist F. Bligh Bond's impression in Sabine Baring-Gould's 1898 An old English home and its dependencies matches one quite closely, and may be based on it. By Baring-Gould's time, the Cheritons were receding from history into folklore; Sarah Hewett's Nummits and crummits: Devonshire customs, characteristics, and folk-lore has another account, which tells of the just deserts inflicted on a sight-seer who went to gawp at them:
Many inquisitive persons went to Nymet Rowland to get a peep at the "Savages." One man, more curious than the general public, approached too near the house, and was at once pounced upon by a couple of Amazons, who demanded a reason for his visit. " Ladies," said he "I have lost my way, will you be so good as to put me on the right road to Dartmoor ? " " Aw, ess, tü be sure, replied Miss Cheriton, " come theāse yer way an' I'll shaw'e.

She took him into the adjoining yard for the ostensible purpose of directing him, and the unsuspecting wayfarer, venturing too near the edge of the horse pond in following his guide, was suddenly thrust into the filthy liquid, as a " There, thicky's the way tü Dartymoor and be — tü you," fell on his ears.

1. Christie, Peter. 'The true story of the north Devon savages'. Devonshire Association Report and Transactions, 124 (1992), 59-85. ISSN 03097994. If you are a member of a licensed UK higher of further education institution, you can listen to a lecture based on his research about the Cheritons: see here at the British LibraryArchival Sound Recordings site.

- Ray

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Unusual string quartets

A couple of recommendations. On October 6th Lily (my employer) and I went to a performance by Methera, and it was outstanding. From the official website:
Methera unites the rich texture of the string quartet with the depth and integrity of traditional music from England and beyond. Four fine young musicians with individual traditional styles weave old and contemporary tunes into the tapestry of the string quartet, exploring the power and diversity of sound it has to offer
The crossover between folk and chamber music isn't new. The description reminded me of a detail I heard a long time back about Turlough O'Carolan, the great Irish blind harper, being influenced by Corelli; see these Albuquerque Baroque Players programme notes for interesting discussion of such fusion going on historically. But Methera brings a very fresh and very English spin on the concept.

Methera's lineup is standard - two violins, viola and cello - but, unusually, Methera play facing inward to tightly coordinate their playing. You can hear some of their pieces at, which give an example of the flavour of their music - even if the online samples don't do justice to the dynamic range and the marvellous atmosphere, intensity and intimacy of the live performance. If you get the chance to go to one - it'll have to be their 2010 tour now - both Lily and I highly recommend them.

And then there's the Finnish rock band Apocalyptica (see Wikipedia and their official site) whose core lineup is four classically trained cellists. They produce a remarkable fusion of metal and string quartet styles, much of their work comprising covers of songs by heavy metal bands such as Metallica (for instance, "One", embedded above, is Metallica's "...And Justice for All"; and another of my current favourites by them, "Fade to Black", comes from the Metallica song of the same name). Their collaborations are excellent too: check out "Helden", a German cover of David Bowie's "Heroes" with vocals by Rammstein's Till Lindemann, and their performance of Rammstein's "Seemann" with the scary Nina Hagen.

Addendum: November 9th 2009. "Helden", the German cover of "Heroes", is especially pertinent today, which marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The lyrics, Bowie said, were inspired by seeing a couple defying the system by making love on top of the Wall. Rammstein themselves, by the way, have East German / Berlin roots, as does Nina Hagen (I'm wondering if the strongly trilled R is a regionalism).

- Ray

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Beckett again

A couple of years back, in Beckett oddments, I mentioned Mark Romanek's award-winning video for kd lang's Constant Craving, which features scenes from Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. It's worth another look, as I didn't realise at the time that these scenes - according to the director's commentary on The Work of Director Mark Romanek DVD- are intended as a re-creation of the 1953 Godot premiere (originally in French as En attendant Godot) at the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris; Romanek says that the song's lyrics of desperation and waiting fit well with the themes of Beckett's play. Those who know Godot will recognise many of the scenes, such as Lucky dancing, the point where Estragon's trousers fall down when he tries to use the rope from his trousers to hang himself, and the hat-swapping scene. I'm sure there are other Beckett allusions in there: for instance, the reel-to-reel tape recorder running next to kd recalls Krapp's Last Tape.

This provides an excuse to enthuse again about Francis Heaney's Holy Tango Anthology of Literature, an anthology of pastiches based around anagrams of the authors' names. "Samuel Beckett" thus becomes "Bake Me Cutlets", a reimagining of Godot as a cookery show, with Lucky's famous speech becoming an incoherent recipe:
LUCKY: Preparing the evening’s entree of the evening regarding the public statement of the two-headed host who from the heights of palatal tantalization palatal transfiguration palatal temptation wishes us clearly with no exceptions for cutlets of chicken with thyme and dill and salad of the divine Caesar with croutons but thyme and dill are breaded with chicken baked in fire whose fire flames at 375 degrees and who can doubt it will bake the chicken that is to say twenty minutes of baking so crispy moist and warm so warm with a warmth which even though transient is better than salmonella but to return and remembering what is more the ingregregregredients for prepapaparation of chicken cutlets with thyme and dill it is established beyond all doubt that the breading which clings to the cutlets of chicken that is a result of the dipping in milk preserving the bread crumbs with thyme and dill and it is established as hereinafter a pan is greased and as a result of the preheated oven it is established beyond all doubt that the bread crumbs in short the bread crumbs in brief are mixed with thyme and dill thyme and dill concurrently simultaneously what is more these seasonings crumbled or whole can be mixed or in spite of the suggestions of authorities the use of spices such as rosemary coriander oregano cumin marjoram tarragon saffron fenugreek basil flavored salt of all sorts anise and fennel is permitted in a word I resume what is more not to forget the salad which is a simple matter by and large more or less that in the tossing of the lettuce lots of dressing with Parmesan it appears what is more to squeeze a lemon a lemon the juice of a lemon salt and pepper and Parmesan and in the mincing of the onions with the oil flowing tears olive oil the mustard is dry and then a dash of sauce of Worcestershire sauce it is complete but not forgetting the croutons the croutons at last the croutons and anchovies if desired but not so fast I resume at last the oven in short the timer I remove the pan baking baking baking at last at last the crust the crust so crisp so brown at last at last in spite of the labors expended I recommend...salad...the brown...a Riesling...I recommend...delicious... (He subsides. Pause.)

- Bake Me Cutlets, from Holy Tango of Literature, Francis Heaney, Emmis Books, 2004, ISBN: 1578601592 - reproduced under Creative Commons License
Returning to the topic of the Beckett estate's well-known resistance to altered staging of Beckett's works: see the very good article, Beckett the tinkerer (part one), at the blog of the author Jim Murdoch. I can rather see their point about female productions making nonsense of the lines about Vladimir's prostate trouble - unless perhaps the spammer "Mrs Farhat Ali" is playing the role! Vladimir's prostate is, by the way, sufficiently famous to get a reference in the title of a medical paper, Prostate cancer screening: waiting for Godot.

I just found The Fast Show's pastiche of Beckett, And Then What, featuring the fictitious Arthur Atkinson as Hogg, "a lonely bitter pinched wizened git":

- Ray

Monday, 2 November 2009

Shanklin Chine

Clare and I just went to the Isle of Wight for a few days, and we highly recommend Shanklin Chine. This deep wooded ravine that cuts down through coastal cliffs at Shanklin is a nice example of a landscape feature discreetly managed to be a visitor attraction while maintaining its unusual flora and fauna (we'd never seen red squirrels before). See the official website for more background, which mentions rather darker aspects in its history: it was used for training commandos for the 1942 Dieppe Raid, and was also the outlet for the first Operation Pluto fuel pipelines.

The Chine isn't an entirely natural feature. As this Isle of Wight Beacon feature, Shanklin Chine 2006: A Tale of Life Over 400 Million Years, tells, it offered only "perilous access" until the longshoreman William Colenutt excavated an easier path and opened the Chine commercially in 1817 (a smart move, capitalising on the increased popularity of the English south coast as a resort due to political instability on the Continent). You can see, for example, that the precipice over which the waterfall drops at the upper end is bricked, and capped with a stone to stop further erosion at the knickpoint. Looking at old postcards and the prints from George Brannon's 1820s Isle of Wight guidebooks, you can see the chine's appearance hasn't changed much over two centuries, during which time it has constantly charmed visitors since Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne in 1819:
The wondrous Chine here is a very great Lion; I wish I had as many guineas as there have been spyglasses in it.

- The Letters of John Keats, ed. H. Buxton Forman, 2004
Apart from many enthusiastic entries in guidebooks, topographical accounts and memoirs - some double-edged, such as Charles Godfrey-Faussett's description "awesomely twee" - the Chine has inspired a deal of literature. It makes an appearance as a location in, for instance, in SC Hall's 1837 Uncle Horace: a novel, Volume 2; Jacob Abbott's 1867 Grimkie; in Blanche Roosevelt's 1883 novel Marked "In haste." A story of to-day; as the scene of a Struwwelpeter-themed serial murder in MJ Trow's 1985 The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade; and in Jill Dawson's 2002 Fred and Edie: a novel.

It has inspired poems too, of varying seriousness (and quality): see "On Shanklin" in the 1794 Anthologia hibernica: or Monthly collections of science, belles-lettres, and history ..., Volume 3; "Shanklin Chine" in Sporting Magazine, 1806; Thomas Frederick Ball's 1865 "Shanklin Chine"; Canto VI / LXXVI onward of Edmund Peel's 1851 The fair island: a poem, in six cantos; "Shanklin Chine" in Albert Midlane's 1860 The Vecta Garland, and Isle of Wight Souvenir; consisting of original poems on the scenery and beauty of the Isle of Wight; and the anonymous "The Holiday of the Hardworked". Most of the poems on the topic are fairly conventional reactions to the picturesque, but Mimi Khalvati's "The Chine" is very different. The title poem of her collection The Chine (Carcanet, 2002), it uses the Chine as a metaphor for the rift between the remembered past and the present - rather like "the mechanism" in William Gibson's Agrippa. Although born in Tehran, Khalvati was brought up in Shanklin, and the poem powerfully evokes the experience of "walking in both worlds" on returning to a place known in childhood (exactly the circumstances of my own recent visit).
The Chine

To be back on the island is to be
cast adrift but always facing the same
mother who stays ashore, is always there
despite the mist. My balcony’s a crib.
Through its bars the waves rush in. Not a ship,
not a gull, and the sky in its slow revolve
winding the Isle of Wight with a giant key.

We are spinning backwards in a slow spin;
we are in a time warp, a gap, a yawn,
a chine that cleaves the mind in two, a line
on the land’s belly. Shanklin. Rhylstone Gardens
where an old man rolls tobacco, as spare
with the strands as the years have been with him.
Luccombe with its own chine, barely a stream.

Every childhood has its chine, upper world
and lower. Time itself seems vertical
and its name too implies both bank and stream.
To be back on the island is to walk
in both worlds at the same time, looking down
on talus, horsehair fern notched through the Ice Age,
Stone Age, Bronze Age and still here at our heels;


Every path brings us back to the beginning.
Shanklin Chine is closed for the winter, both ends
barred with notices. But the mind is not.
Or memory. And time is spinning backwards
with the mainland out of sight and the great plain
where herds roamed the floor of the English Channel
and were drowned by it flush again with valleys.

I look down on them, my own that were fed
by chines, from the long esplanade of light
on Keats Green and seem to remember walking
with my mother here, running my hand on railings.
The beautiful inn on the corner’s a wreck
and there, at the bend, where the light’s so bright
and people walking down the steep incline

- From "The Chine", Mimi Khalvati (full poem here).
PS I didn't realise until I just read it that "Shanklin" actually derives from the old name of the Chine, the onomatopoeic "Chynklyng Chyne". See Vocabulary of English Place Names.

- Ray