Monday, 8 June 2015

The Hole in the Zero

      “We aren’t going to get through,” said Kraag.
      “No,” said Paradine, rising to his feet.
      Merganser began to laugh uncontrollably. "You— Boss Kraag— Miss Helena—Warden— me— did we know— what we were looking for? Perhaps it's here— in the nothing."
      "Look," said Helena, "oh what does it mean?" She pointed to the monitor screens where the patterns had now frozen, but flickered slowly on and off.
      "Stasis," "said Paradine, "dimensional inversion, total instability."

The Centauri Device

Well, there's always a plus side. I'm in hospital again, and a bit stuck for reading. But among the books in Richard's Room, the little family/chillout room next to the Yeo Ward in Exeter's RD&E - amid Cookson, Cussler, King, Cornell, Helen Fielding ... aaargh! ... I did find just one good book, one I haven't read for around 35 years, M. John Harrison's classic SF novel The Centauri Device.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Apart from that, how did you enjoy the visit?

Sorry, but I keep finding Blackgang Chine out-takes. This one's from The Quiver and a serialised inspirational novel Borne Back, by Emma E Hornibrook, another late-Victorian writer with more credits than you'd think (cue bibliography).

Friday, 5 June 2015

When London meets Japan

The author Douglas Sladen - writer of the May 1895 Windsor Magazine piece "Odd Scenes in Japanese Streets" - rang bells, though I've never written about him on JSBlog. It eventually dawned on me that I'd mentioned him in A Wren-like Note as a neighbour of Maxwell Gray after she moved to Richmond.

The Amè-ya

Further to Blossoms from a Japanese Garden (5 June 2015), I just had to check the context on this one. What exactly was an Amè-ya, the vendor celebrated in the first poem in Mary Fenollosa's 1913 illustrated collection of poems for children, Blossoms from a Japanese garden: A Book of Child-Verses? I'll quote first.

Blossoms from a Japanese Garden

Blossoms from a Japanese Garden by Mary Fenollosa: cover image found during a quick camera purge.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Reades' ministry: Blackgang and Punrooty

Another Blackgang, Isle of Wight, story: "Mr. Charles Reid, at Blackgang, in the Isle of Wight, is indefatigable in calling the sinner to sobriety.” notes the author of Drink: the Vice and the Disease, in the October 1875 London Quarterly Review. This one-liner spins off into an unusual saga of 19th century missionary activity by unlikely people in unlikely places.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

At a Month's End: part 3

Continuing with part 3 of At a Month's End: leaves from the diary of a man of the time, told in three parts in London Society magazine in 1887: one of the less findable Bertha Thomas stories I decided to rescue from archive limbo, in part for its Devon interest.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

An Episode at Blackgang Chine

A purge of 'out-takes' from a recent post series - see Blackgang Chine, March 2015 - finds this rather static romance story in an 1878 Tinsleys' Magazine, and a slight bibliographic puzzle relating to the authorship of two obscure 1870s novels.

Monday, 1 June 2015

At a Month's End: part 2

Continuing with part 2 of At a Month's End: leaves from the diary of a man of the time, told in three parts in London Society magazine in 1887: one of the less findable Bertha Thomas stories I decided to rescue from archive limbo, in part for its Devon interest.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Ouida: The Little Earl, Bimbi, and an elegy for Shanklin

The Little Earl is a fable by Ouida (Maria Louise Ramé) telling of a young French earl's 'walkabout' in the Isle of Wight - a kind of 'Prince and the Pauper' experience that teaches him a hard lesson to take on at eight: "I see I am nothing. It is the title they give me, and the money I have got, that make the people so good to me. When I am only me, you see how it is."

Saturday, 30 May 2015

London Society: a Devonshire Savages sighting

The Devonshire Savages: a me-too hatchet job on a Devon rural family from an 1878 edition of London Society, a monthly periodical billed as publishing "light and amusing literature for the hours of relaxation", but which often had features and fiction that were anything but.

At a Month's End: part 1

As a follow-up to Bertha Thomas: bibliography, I decided to rescue one of her less findable stories from archive limbo: At a Month's End: leaves from the diary of a man of the time, told in three parts in London Society magazine in 1887.

Friday, 29 May 2015

A Wren-like Note: important update

I've released my book A Wren-like Note: the life and works of Maxwell Gray (Mary Gleed Tuttiett) on a Creative Commons license, as an electronic version that allows its sharing and copying, without modification and retaining attribution to me as author.

Brinjal dumbdown!

I don't normally peeve about such things, but I'm a trifle disappointed at the decision of Patak's to rebadge their veteran brand of Brinjal Pickle as Aubergine Pickle. I take it they've always assumed that aficionados of Indian cuisine know what a brinjal is, and find resonances in the traditional name. But ...

JSBlog on British Library's UK Web Archive

The British Library UK Web Archive, I'm pleased to report, has accepted JSBlog (Journal of a Southern Bookreader) for archiving in its Literature section. Actually, this happened a few months ago, but it slipped my mind. I thought I'd mention it now, as I'm engaged in a spot of 'posterity management' for the site and other work, such as the Maxwell Gray biography, that seems worth recording.

Devon Garden: RD&E Exeter

Clare and I had a potter around the "Devon Garden" - a sensory / memory garden for dementia sufferers - at the RD&E yesterday. Neither of us is a sufferer; this is more serendipity of the sort that got me to see Yeo Ward's lovely Tree of Life courtyard mosaic in June 2014.

It ain't that kind: three years on

Hwæt ... (well , Seamus Heaney thought it was a good equivalent to "So ...") ... it's been near enough three years. I was first investigated for metastatic cancer of unknown primary (CUP) in June 2012, and "three months ... to three years" was one of the few explicit figures anyone mentioned along the way. I had a scan yesterday and a solid case review today, and the news is far from good.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Mrs. Disney Leith: bibliography

Another annotated bibliography with an Isle of Wight connection: Mrs. Disney Leith is one of the several names in the literature for the Scottish author Mary Charlotte Julia Leith (née Gordon, 1840-1926) a.k.a. Mary Gordon a.k.a. "M. C. J. L." a.k.a. Mary Leith. Her chief route into history is as the first cousin of the poet Swinburne, who she corresponded with, and later recalled in memoirs.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Mrs Harcourt Roe

Ryde, Shaw's Tourist's Picturesque Guide to the Isle of Wight, 1873
"Mrs Harcourt Roe" is another forgotten novelist with an Isle of Wight connection. She's described in an 1893 Isle of Wight Observer review of her novel A Man of Mystery as "a lady, well-known in the Island”, and she lived at Ryde in the 1890s. I just researched a bit (well, more than a bit) on her life and works.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

More Holme Lee children's illustrations

Further to Harriet Parr: bibliography, "Tuflongbo", and a dog's life, here are some more of the off-the-wall illustrations from the handful of 1860s children's fairytale books by the prolific Shanklin, Isle of Wight, novelist Parr (who wrote as Holme Lee).

Saturday, 23 May 2015

"That Figure-Head."

"That Figure-Head." is a short story by Mrs Harcourt Roe that originally appeared in 1901 in the London-based literary magazine Temple Bar. I was interested to read it while researching Mrs Roe's works, but ran into problems: it's not hosted anywhere straightforward, and there's a glitch with Google Books that for some reason makes it impossible to retrieve in full, even via the usual workaround of a proxy server (Poe springs to mind: "er lasst sich nicht lesen"). I couldn't resist the puzzle of hacking it by 'jigsaw method' from the Google Books snippet view.

The Sacrifice of Enid: a Dartmoor melodrama

The Sacrifice of Enid (1909) is a romantic melodrama - one, I think, with a strong thematic hat-tip to The Hound of the Baskervilles - set around a paper mill in the fictional Dartmoor village of Willowbridge. I'm just compiling a bio-bibliography for the author, "Mrs Harcourt Roe", who lived in Ryde, Isle of Wight, in the 1890s and wrote several novels (again, more than appear at first sight). Pending that, here's a sampler of one of them.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Harriet Parr: bibliography, "Tuflongbo", and a dog's life

Harriet Parr
While we're on Shanklin topics: I've expanded the 2014 Harriet Parr in Shanklin post to include a detailed bibliography, and I'm also delighted to say that I've finally found a portrait of her! Parr is another of those low-key writers who've turned out to be astonishingly prolific (in her case mostly as the pseudonymous "Holme Lee"). En route, I encountered her mid-career children's stories such as the odd "Tuflongbo" elf-saga, and the canine tear-jerker The true pathetic history of Poor Match. I'll only inflict the pictures on you.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Shanklin Home of Rest

Further to the previous post, I checked out Shanklin Home of Rest as planned. Its history turns out to be quite well-documented. But I'm always of the opinion that there's never any harm in another take on a topic - especially as this, it turns out, ties in with a previous Shanklin post on JSBlog.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Rambles Through England: Isle of Wight

Rambles Through England: Isle of Wight is a rather idealised description of an 1890s Isle of Wight visit by the uncredited correspondent of the Fleet Street based Ludgate Monthly - launched in 1891 as "a new illustrated threepenny magazine". A deal of it is pretty standard stuff - feel free to skim - but it's a pleasant account of touring the Wight in more genteel days, with a few topics worthy of commentary, such as the uncommon account of the decor of Mrs Harvey's Home of Rest in Shanklin, and the procedures for getting to visit Osborne House when Queen Victoria was alive.

Monday, 18 May 2015

A Vision of Communism

The works of Bertha Thomas (1845-1918) continue to produce a crop of surprises. A while back I mentioned Maxwell Gray's excursion into post-apocalyptic SF, After the Crash; and now I find Bertha Thomas too moved into borderline SF/fantasy on occasion, as in her 1873 A Vision of Communism, which interested me for its strong similarities to a classic 20th century SF story.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

We are not enthused: regional roots of a peeve

A slight sidetrack: I just ran into a bygone usage peeve - or at least one that ought to be bygone - via a review of Bertha Thomas's 1913 Picture Tales from Welsh Hills., in which the Dial reviewer takes umbrage at "enthuse".

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Bertha Thomas: bibliography

A spinoff from the previous post that may be of use/interest to someone. Even a brief search for works by Bertha Thomas (1845-1918) finds she was a greatly more varied and prolific writer than you'd expect from the handful of novels that appear in most credits. I got on the trail, and at the end of an evening I found myself with a detailed bibliography: what she wrote; what about; and where (if possible) to find it.

The House on the Scar: A Tale of South Devon

I offer Bertha Thomas's 1890 The House on the Scar: A Tale of South Devon as a regional curiosity worth reading if you're into Victorian melodramatic romances. I found it syndicated in the Sydney Mail, starting in the Jan 18, 1890 issue, and it turned out to be in the Internet Archive. Set in the South Hams, Devon, it's one of the few - but apparently popular - novels by the Worcestershire-born author Bertha Thomas (1845-1918).

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Isle of Wight: in a series of views printed in oil colours (1874)

The Isle of Wight: in a series of views printed in oil colours is the Victorian  equivalent of a coffee-table book, published in 1874 by Thomas Nelson & Sons of London, Edinburgh & New York. I always like these collections, of which the 19th century Isle of Wight supported a huge industry, and the best of them are lusciously printed, showcasing state-of-the-art chromolithography. This is one of the many lovely and otherwise scarce books now downloadable from the Bodleian Library digital collections.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ferny Bank House of Rest for Women in Business

Back in 2010 I picked up and ran with the topic of a short piece in the Western Morning News - Holiday retreat offered women a break from urban life – and men (Peter Carroll, WMN, Nov 13th 2010) - where there seemed to be a great deal more to tell. This is the story of the Ferny Bank House of Rest for Women in Business, a holiday home for working women, founded in 1878, that operated on Babbacombe Downs in the last quarter of the 19th century.

JSBlog topic indexes

For your reading and reference convenience, I've compiled post listings for two of the major topic areas on JSBlog:
I chose them as areas where, over the years, I've produced the articles on historical and topographical subjects that I'm most pleased with. You'll find permanent links in the left-hand sidebar.

Isle of Wight: index

In parallel with the Devon history subject list, here's another for the currently some 140 Isle of Wight posts on JSBlog. Like the Devon posts, they're a mix of walk photos, galleries from out-of-print travelogues, looks at at old novels, and a good number of detailed explorations of Isle of Wight historical and topographical subjects.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Lyon's Holt well revealed

A railway station clean-up last year revealed a relatively unsung piece of Exeter local history. At St James Park station, Exeter, if you look to the left from the Exeter-bound train, you can see by the platform 1 access steps a little brick building marking the site of one of Exeter's most important ancient wells.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Coelacanth and the tiger scene

A celebration of a classic movie scene. I don't follow dance as an artform, but this evening Clare was watching the BBC Four Young Dancer competition, and I overheard from my office some music that was very familiar and evocative. It accompanied the duet by Jacob O'Connell and Jason Mabana performed for the Contemporary Final. It took a few minutes to place it - or, it turned out, to place what it was so strongly recalling.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Prickly ash revisited

An elaboration further to my March review of Mitch Cullin's Sherlock Holmes novel A Slight Trick of the Mind: the linguistics weblog Language Log has a very good post and discussion of the "prickly ash" that's central to one of the main threads of the book.

Devon history: index

It never quite registers with me that Clare and I have now been living in Devon for nearly twenty years. I had a reminder this week with my decision to officially retire as website maintainer for the Devon History Society. What I didn't realise - until looking at the Wayback Machine - was that I've been doing that for 15 years. New blood is long overdue! During that time, and particularly since 2010, I find I've also written many more Devon history posts than I realised, here at JSBlog. While they're findable via the devhist label in the sidebar, readers may find the following explicit compendium of interest.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Thomas Dalling Barleé in Dawlish and elsewhere

I just had a spot of déjà vu on seeing Thomas Dalling Barleé's 1837 Miscellaneous Poetry, where I found the address of Lady Watson for the previous post South Devon Railway: 1844 NIMBY list. The subscriber list is quite a nice window on the great and the good of 1837 Dawlish - James 'Sea Lawn Gap' Powell is there - as well as the author's family in Suffolk and social circuit in Bath. But the name Barleé definitely rang bells from somewhere else.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

South Devon Railway: 1844 NIMBY list

A while back I found this interesting list of the petitions objecting to the South Devon Railway Act, 1844, which set up the infrastructure for the building of Brunel's railway link from Exeter to Plymouth, following the now-classic coastal route via Dawlish and Teignmouth. The petitions relate to a number of people and places of historical interest.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Agnes Ibbetson, Exmouth botanist

Another spinoff from Memorials of Exmouth: Mrs Agnes Ibbetson (née Thomson, 1757-1823) was an outstanding self-taught plant physiologist and polymath: the most prolifically-published female researcher on botany of the early 19th century. It's a pity, then, that the most readily-found contemporary biographical description drifts from listing her achievements into portraying her as an insanely charitable opium-swiller surrounded by an entourage of dotards.

Sunday, 26 April 2015


Some sort of prize for "most egregious appropriation of a literary source" has to go the makers of this 2015 Xbox One advert that just began airing on UK television.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Blackgang: Five Rocks

"Here once was a fine house
Spacious, warm and bright.
Where the island’s lords and ladies
Danced all thro’ the night.
But then the boggarts and the brownies
And elves, in they came.
Took over the mansion
Now things aren’t the same.
It’s dark and it’s gloomy.
The humans have fled.
It’s a fine house no longer.
It’s Rumpus instead!"
- cited from transcript at

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Beauties of the Shore and bogus quotations

I have a regular peeve about misquotations, but I suppose it was more forgiveable a couple of centuries ago when you couldn’t Google sources. Nevertheless, you occasionally run into positively wilful examples that arent explicable by good-faith misremembering, as in DM Stirling’s 1838 The Beauties of the Shore; Or, A Guide to the Watering-places on the South-east Coast of Devon.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Damnation trolley

A spot of technical geekiness for a change: something struck me as very familiar about the "stair-climbing shopping trolley" on the cover of the Late Spring 2015 catalogue for Solutions World, a catalogue of labour-saving devices. It connects, maybe surprisingly, to a 1977 SF movie, and indirectly to a Roger Zelazny novel.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Temple and Tower at Exmouth

If you're in the area of the Imperial Hotel at Exmouth, Devon - on Alexandra Terrace, or its junction with Morton Road and the Esplanade, or the Clock Tower on the Esplanade - you can see an unusual neo-classical building in the grounds of the hotel. This is the surviving member of a pair of Grecian follies built in 1824.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Memorials of Exmouth

Memorials of Exmouth by the Rev. William John Wesley Webb (aka the Rev. William Everitt) is a pleasant and eclectic late 19th century compendium of Exmouth history and trivia - as the author describes it, a "scrap-book ... put together as a History for the Parishioner rather than a Guide to the Visitor. The latter, however, may get from it as much as he cares to know".

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Wilhelmina Stitch on Blackgang

Reading Geoffrey Grigson's 1945 description of Blackgang Chine bazaar (see Blackgang: a whale of a chine), I assumed that his reference to "Fragrant Minutes of verse by Wilhelmina Stitch" was just a general example of the keepsakes sold there in that era. But no: it turns out that there was actually a specific piece of Blackgang Chine merchandise by this bygone inspirational writer.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Blackgang: a whale of a chine

There aren't many roles for whale skeletons in literature, but one appears in Maxwell Gray's 1913 novel Something Afar (published in the USA as The Desire of the Moth), where the author gets in a reference to her native Isle of Wight and a description (fancifully embroidered by Blanche, the protagonist's wife) of the celebrated whale skeleton at Blackgang Chine.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Blackgang Chine, March 2015

Finally, after years of visiting the Isle of Wight, and many walks starting or finishing at the Blackgang Chine bus stop by the giant smuggler, we visited the Blackgang Chine theme park itself. And an interesting visit it turned out to be ...

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Alum Bay

On 31st March - a gusty and cold, but bright, day - we took the bus from Newport to Alum Bay, whose beach I haven't visited since around 1970. Out of season, the chairlift doesn't operate, and I was worried about the climb (what with cough, etc). I was very pleased to find no problems - altogether a pleasant visit to a location rich in geological and literary assocations.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Princess Elizabeth at Newport Minster

Coincidental to the recent celebrations of the discovery and reburial of Richard III, a few days ago we visited the site of an earlier royal reburial: Sts Thomas Minster, Newport, Isle of Wight, which contains the memorial and tomb of Princess Elizabeth Stuart, second daughter of Charles I.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Rocked in the cradle of the deep

"He had, besides, many plans of the utmost importance to occupy his mind. There was his long-pondered invention to be perfected, the oscillating berth that was going to do away with seasickness".
- Stephen French Whitman, Children of Hope: A Novel (1916)