Thursday, 29 July 2010

Tar very much

History has a steady stream of examples of famous and generally rational people advocating "woo". Aldous Huxley's espousal of the Bates Method springs to mind, as does Linus Pauling's dubious research into vitamin C megadosage. A commenter, Fuchsoid, pointed me to another one in correctly pre-dating William Cowper's "the cups / That cheer but not inebriate" - see The cup that cheers ... - to the Irish philosopher George Berkeley (aka Bishop Berkeley) and his championing of the curative properties of tar-water:

... whereas the luminous spirit lodged and detained- in the native balsam of pines and firs, is of a nature so mild and benign and proportioned to the human constitution, as to warm without heating, to cheer but not inebriate ...
- George Berkeley, Siris, 1744

Berkeley is popularly best known for his arguments that existence depends on perception. These are behind various quotations, such as the classic Dr Johnson anecdote ...

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, 'I refute it thus'.
- Boswell's Life of Johnson

... as well as all the "If a tree falls in a forest" conundrums, as well as the limerick probably by RF Ashley-Montagu:

A philosopher, one Bishop Berkeley
Remarked, metaphysic'lly, darkly,
'Quite half that we see
Cannot possibly be
And the rest's altogether unlarkly.'

On the subject of tar-water, however, his views drifted from the merely unlarkly to the outright weird. I first heard of the stuff in Dickens' Great Expectations, in which Pip is dosed with it for bolting his food:

My sister made a dive at me, and fished me up by the hair, saying nothing more than the awful words, “You come along and be dosed.”

Some medical beast had revived Tar-water in those days as a fine medicine, and Mrs. Joe always kept a supply of it in the cupboard; having a belief in its virtues correspondent to its nastiness. At the best of times, so much of this elixir was administered to me as a choice restorative, that I was conscious of going about, smelling like a new fence. On this particular evening the urgency of my case demanded a pint of this mixture, which was poured down my throat, for my greater comfort, while Mrs. Joe held my head under her arm, as a boot would be held in a bootjack. Joe got off with half a pint; but was made to swallow that (much to his disturbance, as he sat slowly munching and meditating before the fire), “because he had had a turn.” Judging from myself, I should say he certainly had a turn afterwards, if he had had none before.

Tar-water was a decoction of wood-tar in water, which gave a dilute solution of unpleasant chemicals including phenol and cresols. Externally it would have been a pretty good antiseptic and was used as such, but it was also taken internally. As Dickens writes, the use in Victorian times was a revival; it went back to mediaeval times, if not earlier, but Berkeley led a particular craze for it in the 1700s. His 1744 exposition on it is online in full: Siris: a chain of philosophical reflexions and inquiries concerning the virtues of tar water: and divers other subjects connected together and arising one from another. It's strange stuff: it starts on simple concrete description of plants and tar, but then diverges more and more into weirdness as Berkeley explains that tar-water achieves its results through the "luminous spirit" contained therein. He mixed the works of Newton and Boyle, classical observations from Plato and Hippocrates, Christian mysticism, and a great deal of outright alchemy. The 1843 The works of George Berkeley, D.D., Bishop of Cloyne describes it as

... indeed a Chain, which, like that of the Poet, reaches from Earth to Heaven, conducting the reader by an almost imperceptible gradation from the phenomena of Tar-water, through the depths of the Ancient Philosophy, to the sublimest Mystery of the Christian Religion.

Personally I find it deeply erudite garbage, not entirely explicable by lack of scientific knowledge at the time (after all, Lucretius - see A fan letter to the Epicureans - made a damn site more sense about the world with far less to go on). It is supposed to support the Newtonian view, but it's hard to see that Newton would benefit from such a flaky support. To quote The Perishers, I suspect Berkeley's valves were sticking. Newspapers of the time were cynical too, and Horace Walpole's letters record a satirical poem from one:

Who dare deride what pious Cloyne has done?
The Church shall rise and vindicate her son;
She tells us, all her Bishops shepherds are—
And shepherds heal their rotten sheep with tar

- Walpole to Sir Horace Mann, Sep 1st 1744, p323, The letters of Horace Walpole, earl of Orford, Volume 1, 1866

However, many modern commentators find Siris to be worth analysing for its insights into how Berkeley viewed the world working.

Siris has been largely neglected by the commentators of Berkeley's philosophy. In a sense this is easy to understand. The book is apparently both difficult and almost ridiculous. Its metaphysics are arcane and the panacea he recommends, tar, strange. But Siris should be read, simply because we cannot understand Berkeley without it. And, in its own way, it is a readable book which allows us to see what Berkeley's final thoughts about the universe were like.

- Timo Airaksinen, University of Helsinki, "The Meaning and Interpretation of Berkeley's Siris" (conference presentation) - cited here
- Ray

Sunday, 25 July 2010


If you didn't see it, the first episode of the new BBC1 series Sherlock is now available on BBC iPlayer. I rather expected this modern reworking of the Sherlock Holmes mythos to be good, given the writers behind it (Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss), but it was well up to expectations.

Today's episode, A Study in Pink, was loosely based on Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet, in which Holmes and Watson (played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman) first meet. It managed to faithfully retain many aspects of the original - for example, London still has cabs, and Watson is still an Afghanistan veteran - while using up-to-the-minute phone and Internet technology, and modern perceptions of the characters. Holmes naturally has a website and Watson blogs: the personalities of both are shown as damaged, Watson with PTSD and Holmes described as "a high-functioning sociopath". It's not, however, plain grim but full of witty touches, such as when Holmes (updated to a modern non-smoking ethos) refers to "a three-patch problem". It was nicely filmed - Gatiss says in the Guardian feature that they tried to make modern London "just as exciting as a London full of fog and hackney carriages" - using presentational innovations such as on-screen text and graphics to show phone messages, Holmes's deductions on looking at a corpse, and the route of a chase; these didn't jar in the least. Moffat and Gatiss know their mythos intimately, finding interesting ways to spin some trivia (for instancem, Conan Doyle's inconsistent detail of where Watson was shot) and brought in some pleasant allusions to other works such as The Princess Bride and The Vanishing.

Altogether recommended.

PS Further reading. See Wikipedia: A Study in Scarlet This is the kind of topic that Wikipedia does well. As I just said to Felix in the comments, I know A Study in Scarlet but have completely blanked the middle section with its excursion to Utah and its lurid Mormon plot (a point of controversy in its time).

This is also a good excuse to recommend again Neil Gaiman's rather excellent A Study in Emerald, in which an ex-soldier who has been injured in Afghanistan teams up with a brilliant detective to solve a murder.

- Ray

Friday, 23 July 2010

Very extreme adjectives

Prescriptivism again. One of the recurring issues in prescriptivist grammar - the attempt to formally dictate language - is its tendency to firm up 'fuzzy' areas of observed usage into hard rules. An example might be the choice between using "more adjective" and "adjective-er" for comparatives, as discussed in Arnold Zwicky's Language Log post Inflected Adj/Adv. There are adjectives where the inflected "-er" version is impossible. But for others it's merely uncommon; prescriptivists, however, often inflate that observation into a rule that the "-er" inflected form shouldn't be used at all for that adjective.

I just noticed a similar example with "extreme adjectives". This is a fairly new descriptive category - at least in linguistics - dating from the work of D Allan Cruse, who called them "implicit superlatives" in his book Lexical Semantics (see page 216). Extreme adjectives are ones that powerfully emphasise the quality they describe: for instance, "large" is a normal - or 'gradable' - adjective expressing size, but "colossal", "vast" and "humungous" are extreme adjectives.

The central descriptive observation of Cruse and others is that an adjective's "extremeness" influences what modifiers can be applied to that adjective. For example, if "pleasant" and "fabulous" represent normal and extreme adjectives referring to degrees of niceness, "very pleasant" and "absolutely fabulous" are idiomatic, but "absolutely pleasant" and "very fabulous" aren't. This is a probabilistic thing, however. As described in detail in Marcin Morzycki's review paper Degree Modification of Extreme Adjectives and in Extreme Degree Modification, it manifests not as anything clear-cut, but as a "resistance", varying between speakers, to using particular forms in particular cases. Morzycki also observes a difference in the behaviour of "lexical" and "contextual" extreme adjectives. For instance, one overall trend is toward an increasing resistance to using the modifier "very" as the adjective becomes more extreme - but with considerable fluidity according to context.

All such subtlety is lost on the prescriptivists, however. If you Google "extreme adjectives", you'll find any number of guidelines that inflate this variable quality into a simplistic hard diktat that the modifer "very" must never be used with extreme adjectives. It seems to have taken particular root in ESL (English as a second language) teaching.

The problem is, it's a rule that in many cases is completely at variance with actual usage. A few examples:

English in Mind Level 3A Combo Teacher's Book (Cambridge University Press, 2007) claims "very tiny" is wrong. However, large numbers of news items and published books show it to be perfectly normal usage.
"Fascinating already means 'very interesting', so we can't say 'very fascinating'"
- Language in use: Intermediate. Teacher's book (CUP, 1994)
Can't we? See news and books again. It was good enough for Charles Dickens, as in The Old Curiosity Shop ("It is to be remarked of his trade that it is a very fascinating one") and David Copperfield ( "And you mean to say the little thing is very fascinating, I suppose?").
"Extreme adjectives are synonyms, which because they already have an absolute meaning, cannot be qualified with words like very..."
- L'inglese in pratica, Volume 2 (Alpha Test, 2001)
It's interesting to compare Google Books hits for "very *" forms of the adjectives the above book lists: exhausted (15,000), tiny (170,000)/ minute (994,000), disgusted (4,930)/ appalled (97), infuriated (142), delicious (42,900), invaluable (411), soaking (27), boiling (141), astonishedamazed (1,560), petrified (34), horrified (258), fascinating (71,000), agonising (278), thrilled (4,560), huge (15,300), enormous (8,680), marvellous (14,600), fantastic (10,500), delighted (13,400), unforgettable (142). These show the rule to be a sweeping generalisation that's sometimes accurate, but in other cases wrongly rejects constructs that are in widespread usage. I'll make a particular point of citing this counterexample ...
Speaking about this specialised group, he said: "This extraordinary breed of farmer manages to produce food - and very delicious food indeed - in some of the harshest conditions; the weather is extreme, the soil is poor and the topography is some of the most challenging."
... because the speaker is Prince Charles. While I'm not the guy's number one fan, he's useful as a data point. It can reasonably be assumed that if the future king of England uses the phrase "very delicious", it's throughly respectable English. Back to this non-rule and ESL:
"The thing is – You can say very bad, but not very dreadful."
Pavlionka, teaching English at English Baby!
Nope: news and books contradict again. It may be a trifle archaic, but not enough to be wrong.
"Extreme adjectives can not be preceded by very ..."
- English Learners online educational magazine / Extreme Adjectives:
Google hits again for the extreme adjectives cited: hilarious (966), boiling (141), delicious (42,900), amazed (1,560), filthy (21,200), huge (15,300), terrified (1,430), delighted (13,400), freezing (291), exhausted (15,000), spotless (150), furious (14,600). Again, the list mixes genuinely rare usages with perfectly commonplace ones.
"In contrast, 'ridiculous', 'astonished', astounded, ancient (very old) and boiling (very hot) are not gradable"
- Rachel Wicaksono, at the BBC World Service's Learning English site, Sunday, 09 July 2006:
"Boiling", agreed. But "very ancient" gets a solid 938,000 book hits, and it's hardly an unusual construct. It's not difficult to find respectable current examples. For instance:
The researchers believe the fossil to be around 3,000 years old, but say the species itself could be very ancient.
- BBC News, Divers find ancient monkey fossil, July 21, 2010
I'm very astonished that this very ridiculous rule managed to get a foothold in language teaching.

- Ray

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Parsons unknown

Parson and Clerk, from Teignmouth Pier, August 2013
A post at the Wayland Wordsmith blog - The Parson and Clerk Rock - just reprinted a nice version of the Devon legend about the Parson and Clerk headland and rock near Dawlish.

The story involves a very well-trodden motif of unwise cursing; it tells of an ambitious parson in a hurry to get to Dawlish to ingratiate himself with a dying bishop. He calls on the Devil for help, and gets it with the usual sting in the tail. I remember first reading it in Chips Barber's Around and About the Haldon Hills, and the story is much-retold and much-embroidered. Not that this is unusual or even to be decried: most of the classic and popular versions of fairy-tales arose precisely in this way via Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. However, WW's comment about the apparent recency of the Parson and Clerk story - "now that it is over a hundred years old I suppose it must be considered a genuine antique" - inspired me to see how far back it could be traced.

A quick Google initially found a fairly standard retelling of the story dating from 1881, in Popular romances of the west of England; or, The drolls, traditions, and superstitions of old Cornwall:

Near Dawlish stand, out in the sea, two rocks, of red sandstone conglomerate, to which the above name is given. Seeing that this forms a part of Old Cornwall, I do not go beyond my limits in telling the true story of these singular rocks.

The Bishop of Exeter was sick unto death at Dawlish. An ambitious priest, from the east, frequently rode with his clerk to make anxious inquiries after the condition of the dying bishop. It is whispered that this priest had great hopes of occupying the bishop's throne in Exeter Cathedral.

The clerk was usually the priest's guide; but somehow or other, on a particularly stormy night, he lost the road, and they were wandering over Haldon. Excessively angry was the priest, and very provoking was the clerk. He led his master this way and that way, but they were yet upon the elevated country ot Haldon.

At length the priest, in a great rage, exclaimed, "I would rather have the devil for a guide than you." Presently the clatter of horse's hoofs were heard, and a peasant, on a moor pony, rode up. The priest told of his condition, and the peasant volunteered to guide them. On rode peasant, priest, and clerk, and presently they were at Dawlish. The night was tempestuous, the ride had quickened the appetite of the priest, and he was wet through, —therefore, when his friend asked him to supper, as they approached an old ruined house, through the windows of which bright lights were shining, there was no hesitation in accepting the invitation.

There were a host of friends gathered together—a strange, wildlooking lot of men. But as the tables were laden with substantial dishes, and black-jacks 1 were standing thick around, the parson, and the clerk too, soon made friends with all.

They ate and drank, and became most irreligiously uproarious. The parson sang hunting songs, and songs in praise of a certain old gentleman, with whom a priest should not have maintained any acquaintance. These were very highly appreciated, and every man joined loudly in the choruses. Night wore away, and at last news was brought that the bishop was dead. This appeared to rouse up the parson, who was only too eager to get the first intelligence, and go to work to secure the hope of his ambition. So master and man mounted their horses, and bade adieu to their hilarious friends.

They were yet at the door of the mansion—somehow or other the horses did not appear disposed to move. They were whipped and spurred, but to no purpose.

"The devil's in the horses," said the priest.

"I b'lieve he is," said the clerk.

"Devil or no devil, they shall go," said the parson, cutting his horse madly with his heavy whip.

There was a roar of unearthly laughter.

The priest looked round—his drinking friends were all turned into demons, wild with glee, and the peasant guide was an arch little devil, looking on with a marvellously curious twinkle in his eyes. The noise of waters was around them ; and now the priest discovered that the mansion had disappeared, and that waves beat heavy upon his horse's flanks, and rushed over the smaller horse of his man.

Repentance was too late.

In the morning following this stormy night, two horses were found straying on the sands at Dawlish ; and clinging with the grasp of death to two rocks, were found the parson and the clerk. There stand the rocks to which the devil had given the forms of horses—an enduring monument to all generations.

- Popular romances of the west of England; or, The drolls, traditions, and superstitions of old Cornwall, Robert Hunt, 1881 (1908 reprint at Internet Archive).

However, a further search found an enlightening discussion in the Notes & Queries journal in 1868, when P Hutchinson sounded a note of caution:

"Legends Of Devon" (4th S. ii. 345, 478.) — In 1853, I bought a copy of this little book at the shop of Mr. Westcott, in the Strand, Dawlish. I was amused with it at the time, and since it has been mentioned in "N. & Q." I have been skimming over my copy again. Besides the introduction and terminal address to Luscombe (in verse), it contains the legends of—The Parson and Clerk Rocks; Bradley's Height; Blue Bird of Horna Wood ; The Man who Maltreated a Ghost, or the Legend of Littleham; Linton Castle; Kent's Cavern; Berry Pomeroy; and Babbicombe Bay. In a book like this, perhaps, we must not look for historical accuracy on every occasion, nor etymological accuracy, where etymologies are probably only jokingly thrown out. But knowing something of Devonshire, and being interested in what concerns the county, I have a curiosity to know whether these legends were merely invented by the writers, or whether the writers had first collected them as current among the country people in the different districts to which they refer, and then committed them to paper. If the latter, their value would be greatly enhanced. And finally, why should the names of the writers be withheld if they are known?

- P Hutchinson, Notes and Queries, December 19, 1868

The version in Legends of Devon (1848, Anonymous, pub. London: Whittaker and Company, Exeter: Holden - Wallis, Dawlish LA Westcott) is findable online, and as far as I can tell it's the first version of the story to appear in print. It begins:

Cecy (dit Frère Jean), riest pas matière de Breviaire.

A certain degree of ambition is both natural and laudable in every walk of life: and there is no doubt that an individual may rationally desire a moderate increase of his honest gains, without incurring the charge of covetousness. There is, however, nothing which we regard with more aversion than an unseemly eagerness, on the part of one devoted to the clerical profession, to attend to the concerns of his temporal income rather than the spiritual interests of the flock or flocks committed to his charge. Many and lamentable modern instances might be cited of the unfortunate excesses into which clergymen have been hurried by their anxiety to occupy high places in the establishment; and much obloquy hath been thereby undeservedly brought upon the church to which they belong. The sin, however, is one of far earlier date than our present ecclesiastical system; and the awful history detailed in the following pages will attest at once its ancient prevalence, and the dreadful retribution with which it hath occasionally been visited.

This intensely literary story clearly wasn't jotted straight down from the oral tradition! Nevertheless, it's a good story and picks up once it gets into the action, and it has some nicely scary touches that are not in the regular modern versions. The parson doesn't just encounter a pub, but thinks he has arrived at the bishop's house in Dawlish. He's entertained to supper and is increasingly worried on getting the impression that the other guests are clergymen he knows to be dead, and on noticing that the sea-food platter is rather more active than you'd like:

High and loud was the feasting, and the unhappy invalid was soon forgotten by his boisterous guests. Church and State, with their concomitant bumpertoasts, were done honour to in Bordeaux and Malvoisie, until strange fancies began to float in the Parson's mind, interrupting the gorgeous dreams of mitres and crosiers which occupied his imagination. He seemed, among the faces of the Bacchanalians around him, dimly to distinguish the features of some of his clerical acquaintances, long since removed, as he had believed, from this world of pluralities and sinecures. He thought, too, the roaring of the ocean was borne unusually far inland by the east wind; or else it was but the vivid impression of past dangers which made the breakers still sound so close at his ear. It was strange, too, that although this was not one of the Church's meagre days, fish seemed to be the only article of food set before them; nay, the lobsters and crabs appeared as if endued with life ; they crawled with their unsightly legs, and snapped their claws at the fingers of those who sought to devour them; the prawns and shrimps twisted about, cockles and muscles [sic] gaped before his eyes, and limpets and periwinkles seemed to adhere to the walls: the very floor seemed crowded with small fishes, creeping among the cold, clear waters which welled in on every side.

Naturally, all ends horribly. It's highly readable, and I recommend it: see Legend of the Parson and Clerk (anon, 1848).

This still leaves open the question of whether or not the anonymous author based it on some core of a real collected folktale. However, other stories in the volume bolster the theory that it's original fiction: The Legend of Berry Pomery, for instance, is full of learned verse; and The Legend of Babicombe Bay is a piece of pseudo-Shakespearean whimsy featuring Ariel, a Caliban-like creature called Hideous, and Titania, the story ending with a piece of joke etymology:

The Prince of Fire, Earth and Air had accompanied her from Fairy Land, under the form of a boy, —" Hideous " cried he, waving his creating wand, " I have fulfilled my promise, here is Queen Titania, —the bay is mine."

The Rocks retreated, they sloped gently to the beach, Trees and Cottages sprang up, and Birds warbled in this Fairy Combe,—Titania opened her arms, uttering a cry of joy, and her beautiful Floiscus, leaving Pomona and her fruits, nestled in his Mother's bosom, and soon, very soon the chrystal gates of Fairy Land opened to them.

Hideous, the victim of ambition and vanity, fell in the retreat of the Rock, from his fissure, and died unseen, even by Titania; Ariel and Pomona stood on the Cliff enriching the Bay.

"BABICOMBE BAY it shall be called," said the Spirit, pointing with his wand to the Queen and her boy, now high in air, "for has not the Queen found her Babe again"?

The rest of the discussion thread in Notes and Queries did get responses:

"Legends Of Devon."—Who is the author of Legends of Devon, Dawlish, 1848 ? I have heard it attributed to a gentleman named Curzon,* but do not know on what authority it was done.
- Strange-ways. W. E. A. A (October 11, 1868)
* F Curzon, author of Lays and Legends of Devon [sic], 1817.

Legends Of Devon (4th S. ii. 345.)—The little volume printed at Dawlish in 1848 under the title of Legends of Devon was, as the publisher informed me at the time, a selection from a number of papers prepared for the literary recreation of a private circle. Both ladies and gentlemen contributed, and they included amongst their number at least one writer of established eminence.
- R. Dymond. Exeter (November 14, 1868)

"Legends Of Devon " (4'" S. ii. 345,478, 592.) It happens singularly enough that I can answer your correspondent P. Hutchinson's query respecting this little volume ...The legends in question were severally composed by members of a very agreeable little private society, some thirty years ago, of whom I was one. The lady who collected and printed them, and was also one of the contributors, is dead, and so are some of her associates; and to give the names (even if I had permission), would interest few now. But I can say pretty confidently from memory, that they were each and all original whims of the moment, and not reproductions of popular legends.
- Jean Le Trouveur. 2

That, I think, pretty well clears up the origin, if not the precise authorship, of the Parson and Clerk legend: it's a modern fiction that has now acquired the status of folklore.

The rocks themselves appear simply to have been named after their appearance, with no complicated backstory. As Francis Pitt Greenwood wrote in his diary in 1821:
That part of the coast which extends along the south, is lined with dark red cliffs, and diversified by seaworn caves and projecting masses of rock, which, from fancied resemblances, have acquired the curious names of "The Parson and Clerk," "The Bishop's Parlor," &c.
- The miscellaneous writings, 1846, Francis William Pitt Greenwood
Half-way from Dawlish, at the little Village of Holecombe, a lane conducts to the shore. Here the sea hath worn the cliff into caverns, beating hard against a promontory, and separating the looser parts from the more solid rock; this is a distinguishing point, from the singularity of a wide opening, like the arch of a rustic bridge, and of an high mass of rock which stands detached and as a pillar amid the waves, marking the country, and known to it by the vulgar appellation of "The Parson and Clerk." This latter I have known more than twenty years; and, though it is incessantly buffeted by the waves, there appears to be no sensible diminution.
Sese multis circum latrantibus undis
Mole tenet! scopuli nequicquam et spumea circum
Saxa fremont, laterique illifa refunditur alga.
[RG - This is some complicated quotation from Virgil about the waves making a barking noise - see ref]
- Letter to Mr. Urban, Oxton-house, August 5, The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 63, Part 2, September 1793.
1. A black-jack is a tarred leather tankard.
2. Undoubtedly a pseudonym: Jean Le Trouveur is the title of a forgotten French picaresque novel by Paul De Musset, whose antihero makes a pact with the Devil.

- Ray

Monday, 19 July 2010

The cup that cheers ...

Misattribution corner: in Maxwell Gray's A Costly Freak (see previous post) this exchange over a cup of tea rang my alarm bells:
'It cheers but not inebriates,' as Mr. Swinburne so beautifully observes," replied his cousin.
This sounds very unlike Swinburne; for the last 30 years of his life he was a reformed drunk, but not so reformed as to come out with such a platitude. No, Googling finds "the cup that cheers but not inebriates" - a widespread aphorism about tea beloved of the 19th century temperance movement - is a cliché of largely forgotten attribution, almost invariably misquoted from William Cowper's A Winter Evening, Book IV of The Task (which I first identified via William Shepard Walsh's 1909 Handy-book of Literary Curiosities).
Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa around,
And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
As The Literary Encyclopedia explains, this 1785 epic of blank verse was written for a challenge:
according to his prefatory “Advertisement”, “A lady [Lady Ann Austen], fond of blank verse, demanded a poem of that kind from the author, and gave him the Sofa for a subject”. The opening line proclaims, “I sing the Sofa”. But the poem soon expands in scope and subject matter far beyond that beginning, to embrace, as Vincent Newey suggests, “practically the entire spectrum of contemporary English life” (Cowper’s Poetry 93).

- William Cowper: The Task, The Literary Encyclopedia
The Task is, essentially, a verse essay on Cowper's experience of English landscape, culture and Englishness. It's online in full - Project Gutenberg EText-No. 3698 - and begins thus:
I sing the Sofa. I, who lately sang
Truth, Hope, and Charity, and touched with awe
The solemn chords, and with a trembling hand,
Escaped with pain from that advent'rous flight,
Now seek repose upon a humbler theme:
The theme though humble, yet august and proud
The occasion--for the Fair commands the song.
Swinburne does, it turns out, have some connection with the Cowper quote. A few Victorian publications quote him as snarking about it, tracking back to this article:
I suppose that it was these descriptions of the tea-table which drew from Mr. Swinburne the sneer, "Happy is the country that is fed with the tea-pot pieties of Cowper."

- Tea, Once a Week, July 31 1869
But this too seems a product of the powerful editorial urge to rehash quotations into epigrams their supposed authors never said. Swinburne - writing about the inability of both the English religious mainstream and English non-religious radicals to accommodate a maverick religious mystic like William Blake - actually wrote:
What could be made of such a man [Blake] in a country fed and clothed with the teapot pieties of Cowper and the tape-yard infidelities 1 of Paine?

- Algernon Swinburne, William Blake: A Critical Essay, 1868
Swinburne may not even have been referring to the "cups that cheer" quote but to the overall cosiness of Cowper's works; but this trail of increasingly flexible attribution explains how the quote came to be pinned to him in Maxwell Gray's mind.

1. A tape-yard is a histrorical term for a tape measure; I can't imagine what this phrase means. Any thoughts?

Addendum: upgrade from comments. Fuchsoid has rightly pointed out that
"Cheers but does not inebriate" seems to have first been used by Bishop Berkeley (the one refuted by Dr Johnson) about tar-water, a rather nasty-sounding remedy of this day, now happily supplanted by real tea.
I stand corrected. Googling finds that it appears in section 217 of his book in praise of tar-water, Siris (of which more later):
... whereas the luminous spirit lodged and detained- in the native balsam of pines and firs, is of a nature so mild and benign and proportioned to the human constitution, as to warm without heating, to cheer but not inebriate ...
Cowper, however, popularised the phrase in relation to tea. Fuchsoid adds:
Might the "tape-yard" remark have been a reference to Paine's early apprenticeship to a stay-maker?
That sounds a highly plausible explanation.

- Ray

Sunday, 18 July 2010

A Costly Freak

Back to the Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett) project: I just read her 1894 novel A Costly Freak.

It concerns an impoverished and rather naive curate, who finds £30 inside his Bible and believes it's an apport put there by God.

A Costly Freak is discussed in my book A Wren-like Note: the life and works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett). See the official site,

- Ray

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Louis-Lucien Bonaparte

I confess to a misjudgement at the end of the previous post. On seeing the reference to William Barnes' Song of Solomon in the Dorset Dialect and its limited-edition 1859 print run for H. H. Prince Louis-Lucien Bonaparte, I had visions of some quaint erotica printed for some idle French aristo.

In fact Louis-Lucien Bonaparte was a highly respected linguist with an interest in English dialects, and he had a seriously interesting life. The nephew of Napoleon I, he was born in Worcestershire when his parents were interned by the English en route to America after his father Lucien's falling-out with his brother Napoleon. Brought up in Italy, Louis-Lucien studied mineralogy and chemistry, but his interest turned toward languages. After a brief political career, he was granted aristocratic status under the Second French Empire, but lived primarily in London from the early 1850s. There, moving in distinguished circles as well as the academic, he devoted himself to studies of dialects and languages - notably Basque - as well as printing and publishing, bankrolling the publication of scholarly works. These included translations of parts of the Bible into regional dialects, and Barnes' 250-print Song of Solomon had equivalent companion editions in a variety of English dialects: see Bonaparte's Dialect Versions at the Internet Bible Catalog; the 1862 compilation Song of Solomon, in twenty-four English dialects. includes them all. Louis-Lucien's private income dried up on the fall of the Second Empire, but later, in 1883, he was granted a civil list pension for his work on English dialects. See the British Library feature Out of the confusion of tongues: Louis-Lucien Bonaparte (1813-1891) for a full account. His library, catalogued posthumously in 1894 by Victor Collins, was humungous: see Attempt at a catalogue of the library of the late Prince Louis-Lucien Bonaparte (Internet Archive cu31924031350709).
- Ray

Saturday, 10 July 2010

William Barnes online (depending where you are)

Onwith from the posts yesterday and backalong - as I guess William Barnes might like me to write (see Ansible ... and Anglish), I've just been reading his An Outline of English Speech-craft (CK Paul, 1878).


On Q&A forums, a quite frequent question is: "What's the closest living language to English?" The standard answer is Friesian, but it's a bit moot: Scots is closer, but in its modern form it's heavily mixed with English anyway), and there are many English-based creoles that are highly intelligible to Standard English speakers apart from their non-English vocabulary imports. But, largely due to our isolation from mainland Europe, we don't have the experience of many Europeans: contact with adjacent and distinctly different languages that nevertheless skate on the edge of mutual intelligibility. Native English speakers can't understand Friesian to the level that speakers within the Norwegian/Danish/Swedish or Ukrainian/Russian/Belorussian groups can understand each other.

This, however, hasn't always been the case. While browsing for William Barnes (the Dorset dialect poet and philologist) I ran into an extinct language I'd never heard of: Yola. It was a remarkable geographical isolate that would be impossible nowadays, arising when an enclave of Anglo-Saxon speakers went to County Wexford with Norman barons in 1169. In these baronies, Bargy and Forth, it went its own way (with minor imports from Irish Gaelic), completely missing the Great Vowel Shift that characterised the change from Middle English to Modern English. It shared many characteristics with Devon and Cornwall English - commentators say its accent was similar - and lasted for some 600 years before being swamped in the 19th century by Hiberno-English following the 1830 Irish Education Bill that fostered English literacy through Ireland.

Relatively few samples have been preserved, but one of the largest appears in the 1890 book Chronicles of the County Wexford, which reprints a Wexford Independent report from 15th February 1850, telling of an address composed in Yola to Earl Musgrave, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, when he visited in 1836. (I've interlaced the translation).

To’s Excellencie Constantine Harrie Phipps, y’ Earle Mulgrave, Lord Lieutenant-General and General Governor of Ireland. Ye soumissive Spakeen o’ouz Dwelleres o’ Baronie Forthe, Weisforthe.

To his Excellency, Constantine Henry Phipps, Earl Mulgrave, Lord Lieutenant-General, and General Governor of Ireland. The humble Address of the Inhabitants of the Barony of Forth, Wexford.

MAI’T BE PLESANT TO TH’ECCELLENCIE, - Wee, Vassalès o’ ‘His Most Gracious majesty’, Wilyame ee Vourthe, an, az wee verilie chote, na coshe and loyale dwellerès na Baronie Forthe, crave na dicke luckie acte t’uck neicher th’ Eccellencie, an na plaine grabe o’ oure yola talke, wi vengem o’ core t’gie ours zense o’ y gradès whilke be ee-dighte wi yer name; and whilke we canna zei, albeit o’ ‘Governere’, ‘Statesman’, an alike.

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR EXCELLENCY – We, the subjects of his Most Gracious Majesty, William IV, and, as we truly believe, both faithful and loyal inhabitants of the Barony of Forth, beg leave at this favourable opportunity to approach your Excellency, and in the simple dress of our old dialect to pour forth from the strength (or fullness) of our hearts, our sense (or admiration) of the qualities which characterise your name, and for which we have no words but of ‘Governor’, ‘Statesman’, etc.

Yn ercha and aul o’ while yt beeth wi gleezom o’ core th’ oure eyen dwytheth apan ye Vigere o’dicke Zouvereine, Wilyame ee Vourthe, unnere fose fatherlie zwae oure diaez be ee-spant, az avare ye trad dicke londe yer name waz ee-kent var ee vriene o’ livertie, an He fo brake ye neckares o’ zlaves.

In each and every condition it is with joy of heart that our eyes rest upon the representative of the Sovereign, William IV, under whose paternal rule our days are spent; for before your foot pressed the soil, your name was known to us as the friend of liberty, and he who broke the fetters of the slave.

Mang ourzels – var wee dwytheth an Irelonde az ure genreale haim – y’ast, bie ractzom o’honde, ee-delt t’ouz ye laas ee-mate var ercha vassale, ne’er dwythen na dicke waie nar dicka.

Unto ourselves – for we look on Ireland to be our common country – you have with impartial hand ministered the laws made for every subject, without regard to this party or that.

Wee dwyth ye ane fose dais be gien var ee guidevare o’ye londe ye zwae, - t’avance pace an livertie, an, wi’oute vlynch, ee garde o’ generale reights an poplare vartue.

We behold in you one whose days are devoted to the welfare of the land you govern, to promote peace and liberty – the uncompromising guardian of the common right and public virtue.

Ye pace – yea, we mai zei, ye vast pace whilke bee ee-stent owr ye londe zince th’ast ee-cam, proo’th, y’at wee alane needeth ye giftes o’generale rights, az be displayth bie ee factes o’thie goveremente.

The peace – yes, we may say the profound peace – which overspreads the land since your arrival, proves that we alone stood in need of the enjoyment of common privileges, as is demonstrated by the results of your government.

Ye state na dicke daie o’ye londe, na whilke be nar fash nar moile, albeit ‘constitutional agitation’, ye wake o’hopes ee-blighte, stampe na yer zwae be rare an lightzom.

The condition, this day, of the country, in which is neither tumult nor disorder, but that constitutional agitation, the consequence of disappointed hopes, confirms your rule to be rare and enlightened.

Yer name var zetch avancet avare ye, e’en a dicke var hye, arent whilke ye brine o’zea an dye craggès o’noghanes cazed nae balke.

Your fame for such came before you even into this retired spot, to which neither the waters of the sea below nor the mountains above caused any impediment.

Na oure gladès ana whilke we dellt wi’ mattoke, an zing t’oure caulès wi plou, wee hert ee zough o’ye colure o’ pace na name o’ Mulgrave.

In our valleys, where we were digging with the spade, or as we whistled to our horses in the plough, we heard the distant sound of the wings of the dove of peace, in the word Mulgrave.

Wi Irishmen ower generale houpes be ee-boud – az Irishmen, an az dwellerès na cosh an loyale o’ Baronie Forthe, w’oul daie an ercha daie, our meines an oure gurles, praie var long an happie zins, shorne o’lournagh an ee-vilt wi benisons, an yersel and oure gude Zovereine, till ee zin o’oure daies be var aye be ee-go to’glade.

With Irishmen our common hopes are inseparably bound up – as Irishmen, and as inhabitants, faithful and loyal, of the Barony Forth, we will daily and every day, our wives and our children, implore long and happy days, free from melancholy and full of blessings, for yourself and our good Sovereign, until the sun of our lives be gone down the dark valley (of death).

Edmund Hore, who consulted with Yola speakers to write the address, commented:

In all probability it was the first time regal or vice-regal ears were required to listen to words of such a dialect; and it is even still more probable that a like event will never happen again; for if the use of this old tongue dies out as fast for the next five-and-twenty years as it has for the same by-gone period, it will be utterly extinct and forgotten before the present century shall have closed.

The major documentation of the language was done by Jacob Poole around 1800: see Jacob Poole Of Growtown - And the Yola Dialect. His 1700-word glossary was published, edited by William Barnes, 40 years after his death, and is available in full online: A glossary, with some pieces of verse, of the old dialect of the English colony in the baronies of Forth and Bargy (1867). The glossary features a few examples of Yola folk songs.

The Graphic and Historical Illustrator for 1834 has an article on the district and dialect, Observations on the social habits and dialect of the Baronies of Forth and Bargy (commonly called "the English Baronies," in the County of Wexford, which has the following anecdote:

And here it may be related, as a singular fact, that the Rev. William Eastwood, Rector of Tacumshane, Barony of Forth, while amusing himself one day in his field with a volume of Chaucer, fancied some of the obsolete words which met his eye resembled those which also met his ear, as his workmen conversed together: he accordingly called them around him, and commenced reading a page or two of old Geoffrey aloud, to their great delight, as they well understood the most obscure expressions, and often explained them better than the glossarial aids of Dryden and Johnson.

"Yola", incidentally, means "old" in this language. It doesn't appear to be what its speakers called it - they referred to it, in its moribund days, as " oure yola talke" ("our old dialect") - but seems to have grown up among philologists due to the noted citation of a folksong, "a yola zong" ("an old song"). Several modern books repeat the factoid that Yola stands for "ye olde language" ("ye olde language" presumably - see Google Books), but this is bilge. No contemporary commentators mention this derivation, and pre 20th century acronyms are invariably suspect.
- Ray

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Artzybasheff and Artsybashev

Artzybasheff: Life panorama of fictional lunar inhabitants and visitors, 15th December 1958: click for full spread and associated article identifying them.

Further still relating to the link Bill Higgins sent, it's worth checking out the work of the Ukrainian-born artist Boris Artzybasheff (1899-1965). For some reason I'd never encountered his work before, and I'm sorry it took so long to make the acquaintance. It ranges from the near-photorealistic straight portraiture (though, more often than not, with surreal background elements) of his cover art for Time magazine to the highly surreal, such as the anthropomorphised machines of his Machinalia and Diablerie; his depictions of pathological mental states, Neurotica; and the nightmarish swastika-based fantasias of his anti-Nazi art for Time.

Life magazine also featured his artwork. See this Speaking of Pictures feature for 3rd November 1941; his explanation of flying saucers for 21st July 1947 (its biomorphic alien gun is remarkably reminiscent of the artwork of HR Giger, particularly the 'space-jockey' of Alien; the designs for improving the human form for 12th March 1951 (see man and woman); the previously-mentioned panorama of fictional Martians for 24th September 1956; and this similar panorama of fictional lunar creatures for 15th December 1958. See the Google Books magazine search option for many more.

Artzybasheff is further known for his book illustrations, such as those for Charles G Finney's forgotten classic The Circus of Dr Lao. His work is collected in a standalone book, As I See.

A striking collection of extraordinary images from one of the twentieth century’s most acclaimed and unique American artists. This fantastical collection teems with ironic imagery which documents our culture’s vanity, aggression, dreams, and neuroses with biting wit and wisdom. Boris Artzybasheff’s striking graphic style, which includes everything from grotesque experiments in anthropomorphism, to the depiction of vivid and extreme ranges of human psychology and emotion, is displayed to full effect in this seminal collection of his work. A stunning collection from an artist with a strong sense of design and humour!

- As I See blurb, Titan Books edition

Artzybasheff was the son of Mikhail Artsybashev (1878-1927, same surname - just different conventional transliteration). Artistic ability clearly ran in the family, as the latter went to art school. , However, Artsybashev instead turned a similar thematic interest in the outré to writing, producing short stories and novels - by turns amusing, subversive and horrific with their themes of sex, suicide and murder - that scandalised Russian society in the closing years of the Tsarist regime and were banned by the subsequent Soviet regime. His most popular novel was the 1907 Санин (transliterated as Sanin or Sanine) whose Wikipedia description deserves some kind of prize for the most misleadingly coy description of a novel:

Its hero, twentysomething Sanin, after a long absence from home, comes back to visit his mother and sister. During his stay he meets varied people, some of whom are neutral, amazed, threatened or excited by his way of thinking about the world and human existence. Sanin remains confident and self-assured and at the end of the book leaves town.

The Cornell Press blurb is more informative. The title character Sanin is an intellectual antihero who quietly goes around behaving with complete disregard for conventional morality:

The hero of Artsybashev's novel exhibits a set of new values to be contrasted with the morality of the older Russian intelligentsia. Sanin is an attractive, clever, powerful, life-loving man who is, at the same time, an amoral and carnal animal, bored both by politics and by religion. During the novel he lusts after his own sister, but defends her when she is betrayed by an arrogant officer; he deflowers an innocent-but-willing virgin; and encourages a Jewish friend to end his self-doubts by committing suicide.

At the time, the novel was denounced as pornographic, but it isn't remotely by modern standards; you can read it in translation at Project Gutenberg (EText-No. 9051). The cause for offence was that it appealed to, and appeared to encourage, the attitude of a disaffected generation in Russia who were cheesed off both with traditionalism and with the failure of political action to alter things. Sanin came out at the beginning of the "Period of Reaction" when pro-Tsarist factions were increasingly undermining progressive changes introduced after the 1905 Russian Revolution (though it wasn't written in response to this; it had been rejected by publishers in 1903).

Sanin appeared at the psychological moment, late in the year 1907. The Revolution was a failure, and it being impossible to fight the government or to obtain political liberty, people in Russia of all classes were ready for a revolt against moral law, the religion of self-denial, and all the conventions established by society, education, and the church. At this moment of general desperation and smouldering rage, appeared a work written with great power and great art, deifying the natural instincts of man, incarnating the spirit of liberty in a hero who despises all so-called morality as absurd tyranny. It was a bold attempt to marshal the animal instincts of humanity, terrifically strong as they are even in the best citizens, against every moral and prudential restraint. The effect of the book will probably not last very long, — already it has been called an ephemeral sensation, — but it was immediate and tremendous. It was especially powerful among university students and high school boys and girls — the "Sanin-morals" of undergraduates were alluded to in a speech in the Duma.

- Essays on Russian Novelists (William Lyon Phelps, 1911 - p 248 onwards).

A number of other Mikhail Artsybashev works are online at the Internet Archive: search on creator:"Artsybashev, M. (Mikhail), 1878-1927". His first anthology, Tales of the Revolution, is characteristic of his style and themes.
- Ray

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Percy Greg update

Further to last year's Early spaceships: JJ Astor and Percy Greg (a post on some rather eccentric early SF set on Mars), Bill Higgins - aka Beamjockey - kindly sent me a link to his weblog mentioning that Percy Greg has had a Martian crater named after him: see Hot Martian News: Craters Named for George Pál & Percy Greg. Thanks!

Bill's post links to a short obituary of Greg in The Academy and Literature, Volume 37, 1890, which summarises Greg's career and beliefs:
Mr Percy Greg, who died on Christmas Eve, was a native of Manchester, where he was born in 1836. His father was Mr. William Rathbone Greg, the well-known writer on social and economical questions. Mr. Percy Greg devoted himself to literature and journalism; and, after serving ou the Manchester Guardian, removed to London, where he wrote leading articles for the Standard and other papers. Some of his earliest work appeared under the name of Lionel H. Holdreth. Two volumes, entitled Shadows of the Past and The Spirit of Inquiry, were radical in their tone, as to both theology and politics. The list of books published under his own name is lengthy: Interleaves in the Workday Prose of Twenty Years (1875), The Devil's Advocate (1878), Across the Zodiac (1880), Errant (1880), Ivy, Cousin and Bride (1881), Sanguelac (1883), Without God (1883), The Verge of Night (1885), The History of the United States (1887). Mr. Greg was to the last a fierce partisan of the South in the war of the Secession, and the "Lost Cause" had no advocate on the other side of the Atlantic so warm and so implacable. Perhaps his best book is Interleaves—a little volume of verse that is very little known. Here too the Southern Confederacy is heroically sung; but, apart from these mistaken efforts, it contains "The Martyr of Doubt," "The Martyr of Faith," "Why should the Atheist fear to Die ?", "Thy Kingdom come," and "Hallowed be thy Name." These pieces are expressive of widely different sentiments; but all are marked by strong poetic feeling. The two last-named have been included in the recent Hymnal edited by the Rev. John Hunter.
- W. E. A. A.
So, if you missed it, do check out Early spaceships: JJ Astor and Percy Greg for more details on Greg's only SF novel, Across the Zodiac, of which a number of editions are online at the Internet Archive. A precursor to the "sword and planet" genre, it tells via the device of a purported found manuscript the spaceship journey to Mars of an unnamed narrator ("the Innominate") and his time among the "Martialists" there. The Martialist society is strange: a secular scientific culture far advanced in technology yet essentially feudal, and sexist even by late-Victorian standards (on Mars, women are not considered worth educating).

It's unsurprising that the few contemporary reviewers thought it weird. The Pall Mall Gazette (January 20, 1880) guardedly made no critical comment whatsoever, just giving an extended description of the plot and concluding
There is reason to suppose that Mr. Greg and his Innominate believe themselves to have been dipping far into the future, and to have seen "a vision of the world and all the wonders that shall be." This question the readers—and they should have many—must settle for themselves.
The Morning Post (January 27, 1880) was far less guarded.

This is a book written manifestly in imitation of Jules Verne's celebrated stories, and as an imitation it is decidedly successful, but it certainly lacks originality, the the humour which makes up "Un Voyage a la Lune" &c, so amusing is totally absent. Perhaps the most successful original work of this class of late years was Bulwer's "Coming Race," because, under the guise of fairy tale, there was also a thin and steely vein of satire, and the descriptions throughout were remarkably poetical and beautiful. Mr. Greg's "Across the Zodiac" seems wanting in purpose, and three volumes of fabulous adventure would need the pen of a Swift to render them interesting and readable. Still it would be unjust not to accord a fair meed of praise to this venture on the part of a clever man to inculcate his peculiar views and doctrines under the guise of a fiction, as said before, of the Verne class. As usual with writers of this kind of book, the author starts by declaring that he did not write it, but that it is the result of his clever talent at deciphering hieroglyphics. He finds a MS., and this description of a trip across the Zodiac is the result. The style in which the book is written is rather flowing and graceful than otherwise, and not a few of the descriptive passages are not deficient in poetical beauty. The main defect, however, is that there is too much of it—it is too long and spun out. We cannot feel interested beyond a very limited extent by accounts of fabulous places and scenes, so that more often than not books like "Across the Zodiac" resemble the man who tried to sit down between two stools—they come to grief. Too long and marvellous to interest grown-up people, they fail because they are, on the other hands, too learned to amuse children, who, in the present instance especially, are not likely to be amused by innumerable passages on the relationship that exists between the sexes in the Zodiac. Under a thin disguise Mr. Greg entertains his readers through not one but many chapters on his peculiar views concerning the proper intercourse which should be maintained between the fair and the sterner sex, the laws of marriage, and the education of children. After all, it is best perhaps to say your say boldly, and to express your serious opinions in the form of serious essays on social subjects, and not to have recourse to the somewhat played-out artifice of allegory. It is not given to every man to be a Dean Swift or a Bulwer, and Mr. Greg will do well in future to bear that fact in mind.
Greg is an interesting but odd character, an author who swung from youthful atheism and idealism to religiosity and ultra-Toryism, as well as being - at least in later life - something of a fantasist with a rabid hostility toward the winning Union in the American Civil War. The short obituary in the literary news section of The Star (Christchurch, New Zealand, 3rd March 1890) says that his best novels
... were laid in the South during this struggle, and the principal battles 'twixt Northerners and Confederates are most vividly and realistically described in "Errant" and "Sanguelac". Both of these stories are indeed admirable specimens of military romances. One imagined them written by a daring adventurous soldier, who had been through the war himself. As a matter of fact, Mr Greg was a pale, emaciated invalid who had never even crossed the Atlantic.
Addendum (upgraded from comments) Bill Higgins sent a further excellent link to a lovely image from Life magazine (see Picasa and the original in Google Books) of Boris Artzybasheff's 1956 painting of literary inhabitants of Mars. I have to admit I'm a literary philistine on this topic; I only recognised HG Wells' War of the Worlds Martians (and that from the graphic novel League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 2 rather than the Wells description). See the next post for more about the artist.

- Ray

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Last Sentence

As part of an ongoing project to read all the works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett), I just finished her novel The Last Sentence (serialised in 1892, published in three volumes by Heinemann in 1893, illustrated by Alfred Henke).

In brief, it concerns the events leading to the tragedy of an eminent judge forced to pass a death sentence on his own daughter by a secret first marriage when he was a young barrister.

All in all, it's a very readable novel, quite Hardyesque in its sometimes grotesque turns of fate, and it never goes entirely beyond the edge of believability. I am, however, not clear why Cecil's conflict of interest wouldn't be grounds for calling a mistrial. The scene of the judge dying after collapsing in court may well have been inspired by Thomas Noon Talfourd, an author and judge who died in 1854 after suffering an apoplectic fit while addressing the jury from the bench. The downside is that after reading more than a few Maxwell Gray novels, you start to spot leitmotifs such as the respectable central character tormented by a secret misdeed that comes back to bite him, and the feisty proto-feminist heroine with a trio of suitors (a Mary Sue if I ever saw one), and even locations (Mary Tuttiett had visited a few places such as Windermere before her lifelong incapacity, and her characters go there too). Unlike a number of her other novels, its setting isn't explicitly identifiable as the Isle of Wight, but the regional dialect and descriptions of a south-facing coastal location with a chalk down cut off by a sea cliff plausibly put "Swanbourne" as one of a number of manors somewhere slightly inland from Freshwater Bay or Alum Bay, either of which could be the coastal hamlet "Seagate" of which Cynthia thinks disparagingly:
... the little watering-place the sudden up-springing of which on her father's land was the chief source of her wealth. The sight of this, too, vexed her. Shortly before her father's death certain plots of his land had been sold on building leases. Hence a ghastly row of jerry-built stucco villas, a focus of cheap-trippers, bathing-machines, nigger bands and other horrors.
(I suspect this is the author talking; a number of Maxwell Gray poems are similarly hostile to modernity, and she refers similarly to "the latter-day torment of mushroom villas" in another novel, The House of Hidden Treasure).

The Last Sentence is available on the Internet Archive (ID: lastsentence00hencgoog). It was filmed in 1917 (see the IMDb) with some wise changes in character names; the novel is overloaded with very similar C- names.

The Last Sentence is discussed in more detail in my book A Wren-like Note: the life and works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett). See the official site,

- Ray