Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Rings of Saturn and other Litmaps

Folowing on from the Bruges-la-Morte post, I still haven't completely read WG Sebald's The Rings of Saturn (I came as close as I ever have to swearing in front of a customer a few weeks back when he bought the single copy I hadn't noticed was on the shelves). Meanwhile, there are continuing interesting posts at the blog Vertigo: Collecting & Reading W.G. Sebald.

I'm very much inspired by the possibilities suggested in Mapping Sebald's Literary Landscape, which links to Barbara Hui's "Litmap" - an annotation of Google Maps with the places mentioned during the East Anglian walking tour of the unnamed narrator of The Rings of Saturn.

See her Litmap Presentation Notes for background. The notes mention a similar project, Gutenkarte, that mines Project Gutenbeg texts to create presentations with placenames hyeprlinked to a map. It has rough edges - for instance, it thinks Providence might be a location in

they had a notion that Providence would interfere in favour of him who was in the right.
- The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D., James Boswell

but it seems a very good interface for reading works with a strongly geographical component.
- Ray

Friday, 23 October 2009

Prisencolinensinainciusol: Grammelot?

A cult revival via MetaFilter: Prisencolinensinainciusol, an unusual pop song from 1973 by the Italian singer, actor and director Adriano Celentano. I've mentioned "auteur du mondegreens" - phonetic transliteration of songs into other languages - a couple of times before, as well as the garbled English of Aserejé ja de jé de jebe refrain of the Ketchup Song, but this goes even further into unintelligibility as a mix of complete gibberish peppered with stock phrases such as "all right", "my man", "baby", etc.

Prisencolinensinainciusol, which was released internationally as a single - see Billboard - imitates very accurately the sound of the Afro-American influenced English of US pop songs of the era. Despite the weirdness, it's being acclaimed as proto-rap, having come out several years before rap as a genre became formally known with the 1979 release of the Sugar Hill Gang's Rapper's Delight (itself the phonetic origin of the refrain of the Ketchup Song.

Here's Centenano singing it in 2006; it'd be great if anyone who understands spoken Italian could tell me what he's saying in the inteview afterward, as it might be enlightening about the origin. I notice a couple of comments mention the term "grammelot" - a form of macaronic, onomatopoeic gibberish particularly used in Italian satirical theatre by exponents such as Dario Fo - and this is probably the closest analogy to the language of Prisencolinensinainciusol. Much the same is said in the Prisencolinensinainciusol entry at the Italian pop website Galleria del canzone, which likens the style to halfway between jazz 'scat' and Fo's Grammelot.

As to what, if anything, it might mean, the Galleria del canzone piece explains how people have striven for meaning, such as believing the title to be an acronym or reading significance into the original accenting on some record covers: Prisencolinénsináinciúsol. The most widely quoted explanation comes from the song's intro on the Formula Two TV show, where Celentano explains in the guise of a teacher (quote trimmed for conciseness)
"Questa canzone è cantata in una lingua nuova che nessuno capirà; avrà un solo significato: AMORE universale ... Io ho capito che oggi nel mondo non ci capiamo più. Proprio è difficile, non c'è dialogo ormai... E quindi ho ritenuto opportuno fare una canzone sul tema, cioè sviluppando il tema dell'incomunicabilità... Noi non comunichiamo, siamo Incom… Ho voluto sviluppare questo tema lasciando come riferimento una sola parola, che vuol dire 'Amore universale'… Se voi dovete fare un gesto d'amore verso qualcuno basta che diciate Prisencolinensinainciusol...

This song is sung in a new language that nobody understands and will have only one meaning: universal LOVE ... I understand that today in the world we do not understand each other any more. It's difficult, there is no dialogue now ... And then I thought it appropriate to do a song on the theme, that is developing the theme of incommunicability ... We do not communicate, we incomm ... I wanted to develop this theme as a reference, leaving a single word, which means "universal love" ... If you must make a gesture of love for someone to just tell "Prisencolinensinainciusol" ...
Being "in-mythos", that explanation may not be reliable, but Galleria del canzone adds:
Anni dopo, Celentano ha confermato l'intento della canzone nel libro "Il paradiso è un cavallo bianco che non suda mai", affermando: "E' un pezzo che rappresenta la situazione del mondo di oggi, nel quale è difficile comunicare".

Years later, Celentano confirmed the intent of the song in the book Heaven is a white horse that never sweats [his 1982 autobiography], saying: "It's a piece that represents the state of today's world, where it is difficult to communicate".
PS: Language Log discussed Grammelot a while back: see Gibberish by any other name, Fo did it, and Maybe Jacques Lecoq did it.

PPS: Ashley Spurgeon of the music blog Nashvile Scene has transcribed what he hears of the song: see Prisencolinensinainciusol, Alright.

PPS: I just found this fuller explanation by Celentano on his official website
Anticipazione mondiale del rap, puro ritmo, puro nonsense, ma questa volta esercitato come una provocazione linguistica, una sfida alla canzonetta e ai suoi contenuti di “fiori e amori”. Celentano brevetta la sua lingua che mischia il gioco fonetico a un inglese più che inventato “parlato”. È quello che faranno gli african-american distorcendo le parole e adattandole alla cadenza rap (anche nella scrittura, l’inglese dei neri è distorto per marcare il proprio protagonismo culturale: night diventa nite). Adriano fa impazzire non solo l’Italia e l’Europa, ma arriva perfino alla blindata classifica statunitense.

Il singolo che segna un’epoca nella canzone internazionale esce il 3 novembre 1972 ed è tutto uno “sberleffo poetico”. Un po’ omaggio un po’ canzonatura della centralità musicale anglo-americana. Adriano canta “Prisencolinensinainciusol ol rait” e pronuncia parole come: “bebi la dai big iour”. Una canzone in “esperanto”, così contagiosa da trascinare nel tempo divi musicali di tutte le nazionalità. Da ricordare, per esempio, il coro travolgente con Manu Chao durante lo show tv “Francamente me ne infischio” (1999).

- Ray

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Ships and sexism

Language Log recently reported the death of newspaper columnist William Safire. He's not so well known in UK, but in the USA and among language enthusiasts he'll be particularly remembered for his "On Language" column for the New York Times Magazine.

The obituaries from linguists have been generally positive; although he started from something of a "language peeve" basis, he moved from that stance over the years and commentators such as Benjamin Zimmer (see Remembering the Language Maven) recall him as a nice guy who was genuinely fascinated with language and ready to learn from descriptive linguistics. Some of his early columns, however, were less in tune with that field; he was strongly prescriptive and traditionalist about usages with inherent gender, and in the mid-1980s, Douglas Hofstadter wrote in his book Metamagical Themas that "Safire has without doubt been one of the most vocal opponents of nonsexist language reforms". By 1999, Safire had considerably mellowed, and his article Genderese: Looking for a masterful Webmistress? asked merely if reform toward nonsexists form was moving too fast, and even endorsed a number of gender-free forms such as "firefighter", "police officer" and "mail carrier" (see Gender shifts in the history of English Studies in English language, Anne Curzan, Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Bearing in mind, then, that it ceased to apply to the later Safire, it's still interesting to read as a historical piece Hofstadter's A Person Paper on Purity in Language, by William Satire. This satire takes arguments against nonsexist usage collected from Satire's columns of the time, and recasts them in an alternate world where there is no sexism, but an inherent racism that is reflected in language. It's a diatribe against, for instance, the "negrists" who object to the phrasing of the Declaration of Independence, "All whites are created equal". Anyhow, enjoy: A Person Paper on Purity in Language.

Case in point: the practice of calling ships "she". In 2002 - see 'She' is no longer a ship, The Telegraph - formally altered its house style to refer to ships as "it". I don't feel strongly one way or another about that: seafarers have a practical job that isn't going to be altered by what pronoun they use, and the origin apears to be a respectful animism based on a ship's life-preserving and nurturing role, the positive aspects of being a "she". However, I'm always irritated by a spinoff of this usage: the frequent appearance in coastal gift shops of teatowels and other merchandise that use the metaphor of a ship being a "she" as vehicle for a parade of demeaning stereotypes about women. For example:
It takes a lot of paint to keep her good-looking. It is not the initial expense that breaks you; it is the upkeep ... it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly; and without a man at the helm she is uncontrollable.
Try complaining. You'll get, variously, blank astonishment; claims that it's a harmless joke; accusations of having no sense of humour; failure to grasp that the objection is not to ships being called "she" but about the statements about women used to explore this metaphor; etc, etc. It's a small manifestation of sexism, but it's still quite astonishing how people even now are happy to acquiesce in the demeanment of one sex. I assume shops wouldn't display posters saying:
Women need lots of cosmetics to stay good-looking. They place a crippling financial burden on their male partners, though not on first acquaintance. They need controlling by a man or will go delinquent.
Why should it be acceptable when dressed up as a joking metaphor about a ship?

- Ray

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A fan letter to the Epicureans

Unreal Nature featured a recent interesting post, Gastrosophy, mentioning various philosophical takes on food - such as Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's thoughts that there should be a tenth Muse, Gasterea - which made a couple of references to "epicurism".

It's a pity that "epicure" and "epicurean" have become more or less synonyms for gourmet - elite ostentatious foodyism - as this is a disservice to Epicurus (341-270BC). Of ancient Greek philosophies, Epicureanism is the one I most rate. It viewed the goal of life as happiness through the absence of pain and anxiety. It was based in a radical materialism - not in a consumerist sense but in a belief that the material world is all there is. There are gods, but they don't interact with human existence, nor is there an afterlife; so we have no need to fear posthumous punishment nor indulge in irrational activities to prevent it. It believed that the world and society had evolved from earlier forms. In many respects it strongly resembles a modern secular world-view.

A couple of millennia of bad press give Epicureanism the reputation of being mere hedonism and selfishness. The description at the Catholic Encyclopedia is typical of such critique (one might strongly suspect Epicureanism's lack of interests in gods and suffering-as-a-virtue are especially downers to a Christian mindset). Criticisms were even more robust in Epicurus' own time: Idle Idols: Epicurus at the Idler tells how contemporaries spread stories that Epicurus was a drunken debauched glutton. However, Epicureanism promoted moderation - because excess could equally give rise to suffering - and although it wasn't keen on political involvement (seeking a quiet life rather than the drama that's sometimes needed to stand up against injustice) it strongly supported altruism.

Very little survives of Epicurus' own words, but his beliefs are known through a number of secondary sources, particularly via the biographer Diogenes Laërtius, the Epicurean philosopher Philodemus and Titus Lucretius Carus (aka Lucretius) whose poem De rerum natura (On the Nature of the Universe) is probably the best-known exposition of the scientific and cosmological side of Epicureanism. This is extremely worth reading: see the commentary at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the text itself: Project Gutenberg EText-No. 785. Epicureanism's interest purely in the material and what is perceivable might be viewed as potentially shallow, but far from it: it's an acute and wide-ranging exploration, and attempted explanation, of how everything in the natural world functions and interacts.

As such, it frequently comes up with stunning insights. For example:

Let me now explain why one man's meat is not another's, and what is bitter and unpalatable to one may strike another as delicious
In order to understand how this happens, the first point to remember is .. the diversity of atoms that are commingled in objects. With the outward differences between the various types of animal that take food ... there go corresponding differences in the shapes of their component atoms. These in turn entail differences in the chinks and channels - the pores as we call them - in all parts of the body, including the mouth and palate itself. In some species these are naturally smaller, in others larger; in some triangular, in others square; while many are round, others are of various polygonal shapes. In short, the shapes and motions of the atoms rigidly determine the shapes of the pores: the atomic structure defines the interatomic channels. When something sweet to one is bitter to another, it must be because its smoothest particles caressingly penetrate the palate of the former, whereas the latter's gullet is evidently invaded by particles that are rough and jagged.
- On the Nature of the Universe, Book 4

With the proviso that "atoms" can't be taken to mean anything like the modern term, this insight that taste is to do with shape interactions is staggeringly close to the modern understanding of chemicals and receptors that interact by molecule shape, and how things taste different to different people because of genetic differences in the shape of the receptors (see Bitter Taste Gene). I so love the rightness of his explanation that if post worked backward in time, I'd send Lucretius a fan letter about this.

Of course, one can cherry pick, and many of Lucretius' other explanations are distinctly off-the-wall. He argues, quite reasonably, that we see things because our eyes encounter "films" (a modern equivalent might be "wavefronts") emitted by objects; but he extends this to ideas too. Our thoughts are merely a swirl of interaction between such films; so, for instance, if we think of a centaur, it's because we've picked up the interaction between the films emitted by a horse and by a human. He believed that large animals had become extinct in the past: not bad. But he also believed that they had been spontaneously generated by the earth. He gets seriously weird in the section on sex, having a particular downer on passionate erotic love as a kind of madness; and the book ends abruptly after a depressing rant about pestilence and death. The latter rather played into the hands of his critics, who claimed that he had been driven mad by a love potion. But this shouldn't detract from the generally calm and rational tone.

There's a very nice Penguin Classics edition of On the Nature of the Universe translated by Ronald Latham. From the cover notes:

Lucretius (c. 100 - c. 55 BC) remains one of the very few in any age able to accept unflinchingly the evidence of the senses, to dismiss metaphysical abstractions, Providence and immortality as vain illusions and yet continue to find wonder and pleasure in the perceptible world and the processes of natural law. His poem is a working out of that philosophy, a rigorous exposition of the scientific attitudes of his time towards matter, space, atoms, life, mind, sensation, sex, cosmology, meteorology and geology, all rendered beautiful and palatable through what he called 'the sweet honey of the muses'. It can be consulted now, as it was two thousand years ago, as a source of wisdom and comfort in an age of disillusionment.

I definitely find it so: "dismiss metaphysical abstractions ... and yet continue to find wonder and pleasure in the perceptible world and the processes of natural law" describes my world-view so closely, it's spooky. Epicurus and Lucretius were cool.

An associated recommendation: Ian Watson's SF anthology Slow Birds and Other Stories (Gollancz, 1985). Lucretius makes an appearance in the story Ghost Lecturer, in which academics devise a means to temporarily resurrect historical figures. The unfortunate side-effect is that their world-view becomes literally true, and after initial culture shock

Lucretius eyed Jim with a pained expression. "DO you still believe in gods?"

things take a turn for the worse with the appearance of bizarre manifestations of clouds and nature, and when the main characters become victim to love-frenzy.
- Ray

Friday, 16 October 2009

Dark fairy tales

From the Guardian Books Blog, Adult content warning: beware fairy stories: a known-but-worth-repeating reminder from David Barnett that fairy tales have roots in very dark mythologies that were considerably sanitised to become children's stories.

This links somewhat to a chat I had recently with one of the organisers of the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival, who said nice things about JSBlog but thought the taste in music "unusual". It's a fair cop - but I'll slightly justify it by explaining that I like music with cross-genre style and layers of meaning. The music of the German industrial metal band Rammstein is a case in point. Whatever the classification, their music is highly eclectic and often powerfully operatic, particularly with the unusual vocals of the lead singer Till Lindemann. I first encountered Rammstein via their Sonne, whose lyrics are, taken literally, in praise of the sun
Sie ist der hellste Stern von allen
Und wird nie vom Himmel fallen

She is the brightest star of all
And will never fall from heaven
However, the song underwent a number of turns in meaning. It was originally written as an entrance song for the Ukrainian boxer Vitali Klitschko (the portion of the lyrics "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, aus" being a clear allusion to a boxer being counted out). But ideas for the video went through various possibilities that led in the direction of a sun that was more terrifying than the darkness; after a draft that took it to be commentary on the first atomic explosion, it finally settled on fairy tales: the final Sonne video depicts a group of miners in thrall to a malign gold-addicted Snow White.

Rammstein's Rosenrot (Rose Red) has similar deeps, with strong allusions to "Schneeweißchen und Rosenrot", a folktale collected by the Grimm Brothers, and Goethe's Heidenröslein (both the latter and the Rammstein lyrics are about a boy picking a rose). The video for Rosenrot expands the story into a human drama, itself very folklore-like, about a wandering monk who is seduced into murdering a village girl's parents, upon which she immediately betrays him.

My current Rammstein favourites are Mein Herz Brennt (My Heart Burns) and Ohne Dich (Without You), which are very different. Mein Herz Brennt is characteristically scary, an exposition of childhood terrors.
Sie kommen zu euch in der Nacht
Dämonen Geister schwarze Feen
sie kriechen aus dem Kellerschacht
und werden unter euer Bettzeug sehen

They come to you in the night
demons, ghosts, black fairies
they creep out of the cellar shaft
and will look under your bedding
The narrator appears to be an evil Sandman figure. According to the FAQ at the Rammstein fan site, the lyrics derive from a German children's show introduced by Das Sandmännchen (The Little Sand-Man). This benign character, based on Hans Christian Andersen's Ole Lukøje, would begin with the words
Nun, liebe Kinder, gebt fein Acht.
Ich habe euch etwas mitgebracht

Now, dear children, pay attention.
I have brought you something
before telling a bedtime story. Rammstein's song subverted this (in the original version the bad Sandman explicitly said he had killed the good one) to bring a figure telling a far darker story:
Nun liebe Kinder gebt fein acht.
Ich bin die Stimme aus dem Kissen.
Ich hab euch etwas mitgebracht.
Hab es aus meiner Brust gerissen.
Mit diesem Herz hab ich die Macht
die Augenlider zu erpressen
Ich singe bis der Tag erwacht
ein heller Schein am Firmament
Mein Herz brennt.

Now, dear children, pay attention.
I am the voice from your pillow.
I have brought you something.
I have ripped it from my chest.
With this heart I have the power
to blackmail your eyelids
I sing until the day awakes
a bright shine in the firmament.
My heart burns.
Then again, such an inversion recalls folklore yet again, as in the widespread motif that Saint Nicholas has a dark counterpart (variously called Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus, Père Fouettard, and so on) who will punish bad children. Ohne Dich, on the other hand, is a simple and expressive song about loss of a loved one, whose lyrics could have been written by any of the 19th century German romantic poets:
Ich werde in die Tannen gehen
Dahin wo ich sie zuletzt gesehen
Doch der Abend wirft ein Tuch aufs Land
und auf die Wege hinterm Waldesrand
Und der Wald er steht so schwarz und leer
Weh mir, oh weh
Und die Vögel singen nicht mehr

I'm going to go into the fir trees
There where I last saw her
But the evening is throwing a cloth upon the land
and upon the ways behind the edge of the forest
And the forest it is so black and empty
Woe is me, oh woe
And the birds sing no more

- unofficial translation by Jeremy Williams
The "Doch der Abend wirft ein Tuch aufs Land" is such a beautiful metaphor. See the video of Ohne Dich, which uses the setting of an alpine ascent. (Note that "Weh mir" and "Oh weh" are not as archaic in German as their literal translations in English).

PS: check out, via the comment thread, the Laibach cover of Ohne Dich. It's exquisite.
Till Lindemann has a poetry anthology, Messer (Knives), in print. The composer Torsten Rasch was commissioned by the Dresdner Sinfoniker to write a song-cycle, Mein Herz brennt, based around the poems; according to this interview on the London Philharmonic Orchestra site, Lindemann's chief influences are "the German romantic poet Rückert and French writers like Rimbaud". There's more about the collaboration at Music & Vision: see The Basic Essence.
- Ray

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Full of anachronism? Yes and no.

A nice example, found in the wild, of recency illusion (a term coined by the linguist Arnold Zwicky for "the belief that a word, meaning, grammatical construction or phrase is of recent origin when it is in fact of long-established usage"):

Some scenes in the first episode of Emma (4 October, BBC1) ... were well and carefully extended, but in others, exquisite renderings of Jane Austen's own texts were interspersed with anachronistic expressions like "paid up front" and "full of himself". They stuck out like a sore thumb ...
- "Jarring with Jane", Hilary Potts, London W13, Letters, Radio Times magazine, 17-23 October 2009

Anachronisms? Partially true. Google News produces a lovely graph showing the recent origin and growth - post 1970 - of the phrase "paid up front".

The phrase "up front" by itself dates from around 1900 - see Google News - but this is for its general usage (US English for "at the front" ... "in the vanguard").

On the "full of himself". This refers to the section in Emma where Mr Knightley comments on the egotistical Mr Elton.
She remembered what Mr. Knightley had once said to her about Mr. Elton, the caution he had given, the conviction he had professed that Mr. Elton would never marry indiscreetly; and blushed to think how much truer a knowledge of his character had been there shewn than any she had reached herself. It was dreadfully mortifying; but Mr. Elton was proving himself, in many respects, the very reverse of what she had meant and believed him; proud, assuming, conceited; very full of his own claims, and little concerned about the feelings of others.

TV version:
Mr Knightley: "That man is is so full of himself I am surprised he can stay on that horse."
While Austen doesn't use the phrase herself, to think "full of himself" a modern anachronism for the time of Jane Austen is definite recency illusion. Emma was published in December 1815. A Google Books search for "full of himself", 1810-1815, gets many hits, showing it to have been perfectly current in the period when Emma was being written. It's actually considerably older; the oldest example I can find is
And the proud man is too full of himself to hear any good counsel.
- A commentarie, or exposition upon the prophecie of Habakkuk: together with many usefull and very seasonable observations, delivered in sundry sermons, Edward Marbury, 1650
It's quite nice because it explains what the phrase means: when someone is so full of themself that it leaves no space for outside input. It has been in currency ever since.

- Ray

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Toff: cod etymology and duff metadata

My cod etymology alarm rang when reading yesterday's Western Morning News

Mr Bell may be interested to learnt that "toffs" is an abbreviation of toffee-nosed person, a term arising when snuff was the favoured "stimulant" used by the very rich; the ones who could afford the many varieties and strengths of snuff.

As a pinch of snuff was inhaled into nostril, and because dribbling noses are not uncommon in winter, it appeared as if toffee was falling from the nostrils of the partakers of this "drug" - the rich upper class
- Getting up to snuff on why toffs are so called, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, Letters, Western Morning News, October 13 2009

Picturesque an image though this is, I'm of the opinion that it's complete bilge. As this Guardian review says, this etymology for the terms appears in Ian Kelly's 2006 biography Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Dandy -

... the origin appears to derive from the unsightly brown droplets that dripped from a gentleman's nose after taking snuff - which of course was only taken by the "upper class"

- but I'll believe that when I see a contemporary source. And that's the key point with origin stories: it's not sufficient that they be plausible; you have to find evidence of their formation. As far as I can find, there's no sign of anyone using the terms historically to refer to snuff-taking (if this usage existed, you'd expect to find it in descriptions such as A pinch of snuff, anecdotes of snuff taking, with the moral and physical effects of snuff, by Dean Snift of Brazen-nose, Benson Earle Hill, 1840).

In fact the evidence is that "toff" predates "toffee-nosed", and neither of the terms are very old. The Oxford English Dictionary's first citation for "toff" is 1851, in Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (it appears in the account of crossing-sweepers of how they solicit money from customers - here). The most likely etymology according to the OED is from "tuft", a term for upper-crust Oxbridge undergraduates, who distinguished themselves from the hoi polloi by wearing a gold tuft or tassel on their college caps. The pseudonymous 1854 college novel The Adventures of Mr Verdant Green - see Wikipedia - has a footnote

As "Tufts" and "Tuft-hunters" have become "household words," it is perhaps needless to tell any one that the gold tassel is the distinguishing mark of a nobleman.

John Camden Hotten's 1874 Slang dictionary: etymological, historical, and anecdotal explains "tuft-hunter" as being a social hanger-on who seeks the society of the wealthy. Hotten also has a significant entry for those who might think "tuft" to "toff" an unlikely jump; he lists an intermediate form "toft"

Toft, a showy individual, a swell, a person who, in a Yorkshireman's vocabulary, would be termed "uppish"

On to "toffee-nosed". The OED's first citation for this is 1943.

Toffee-nose, another of the expressions chiefly heard amongst the W.A.A.F. This refers to a snob or someone who considers herself ‘superior’. It is very apt since it implies that the nose is kept high to prevent it coming into contact with the mouth.
- Service Slang, John Leslie Hunt, A. G. Pringle, 1943

"Toffee-nosed", then, is "toffy-nosed": having the nose of a toff. The description "the nose is kept high" evidently refers to body language - the stereotypical nose-high posture indicating contempt for the lower orders - rather than any toffee-like nasal exudation.

Of course, etymologies are always open to question, and things may not be so clear-cut. Nevertheless, the chronology at least is readily verifiable using Google Books. I can find no pre 20th century uses of "toffee-nosed" (or "toffy-nosed" or "toffee nose"). Here's the search for the range 1600-1900: nothing, except three false positives from dodgy metadata. I couldn't resist, however, trying to pre-date the OED 1943 citation, which seemed a bit late, and the earliest example I can find is in a 1914 edition of Punch, where a cartoon features the aftermath of a fight between Boy Scots, with the caption:

The Victor (after being admonished for un-scoutlike behaviour). "Well, you may say what you like, Sir, but I consider it distinctly subversive of discipline for an ordinary private to call his patrol-leader 'Toffee-nose.'
- Punch or the London Charivari, Vol. 147, December 2, 1914. Project Gutenberg.

A 1921 Notes & Queries lists "toffee-nosed" as trenches slang equivalent to "stuck up". Nevertheless, it chiefly kicked off during World War II, evidently still rooted in military slang:

A premature 'life' will do more to disgust the select and superior people (the RAF call them the 'toffee-nosed') than anything.
- The Letters of TE Lawrence, Thomas Edward Lawrence, ed. David Garnett, 1939

They're county people, all frightfully toffee-nosed and Poona.
- Pastoral, Nevil Shute, 1944

"You wouldn't know a gentleman if you was ter see one, you toffy-nosed coot!"
- Tinned soldier: a personal record, 1919-1926, Alec Dixon

For various reasons, tracking "toff" via Google Books gets into a mess of metadata and indexing problems. Firstly, a search gives many false positives on the German word "Stoff" in Fraktur typeface, so a good start is to limit the search to English texts. Secondly, as you go into older and older texts, you find results increasingly contaminated by mishits on words vaguely resembling "toff" or "toffs" (such as love, Topp, taff, feoff, Tait's, and so on), making it very difficult to search for occurrences in the pre-1851 slot of interest. I don't know what this means about the digitising/indexing process; it happens with the Times Digital Archive and the British Library Nineteenth Century Newspapers database too. Mishits for "toffs", a species of fragrant thistle, are another sidetrack. Once you get to the late 1800s - see search results for 1870-1900 - the false hits clear up, and the results at least show "toff" appears several decades before "toffee-nosed".

So, no luck with beating the OED on "toff" citations. Still, I found a spectacular Google Books metadata crash en route: this hit whose metadata is for the 1845 Archäologische Aufsätze by Otto Jahn, but whose text is Theodore Watts-Dunton's 1898 novel Aylwin. I also found a lovely Melbourne Punch article for September 3rd 1868, Toffs, which leads with spoof etymologies into a taxonomy of varieties of toff as exotic creatures.

- Ray

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Spooky ... Sparky

Via Metafilter, The Speaking Piano, and Transforming Audio to MIDI: a project to make a piano "speak". First thing I thought of was Sparky's Magic Piano - an audio story from 1947 (see Wikipedia) in which a boy who hates piano practice finds his sentient piano will play for him. He develops a concert career until, predictably as the classic retribution for hubris, the piano gets annoyed at being exploited and won't perform, humiliating Sparky (though luckily it's all a dream from which he awakes sadder but wiser, and resolving to practise).

The piano comes alive when Sparky goes into a reverie wondering what it would be like to play like "Mr Padroosky" (3m15s in the above video: "Sparky, oh, Sparky. It is I, your piano..." 1).  I always found its voice - an early example of vocoder synthesis - very melancholy and creepy, and it rather shaped my general perception of vocoder output as either sinister or naff.  However, it can be sublime when used creatively, as in Imogen Heap's Hide and Seek.

The preceding Sparky was the source of the nickname for the late Birmingham pianist, saxophonist and composer John "Sparky" Sly. Sly, who died aged 70 in 2005, was one of Gene Vincent's British Blue Caps.  I met this particular Sparky a couple of times, as I bought several harmoniums (harmonia?) from the music shop, Sparky's Magic Pianos in Digbeth, that he ran in later life.  An energetic performer for charity, he was a friendly and eccentric man; his exploits included taking a piano to Loch Ness to charm the monster with songs such as "Serenade for Nessie" and "Rock Around the Loch", and his shop used to have curios outside such as a suit of armour and an effigy of Elvis (see Light goes out on Sparky, Birmingham Evening Mail, September 3, 2005). Somewhere I still have the strange flyer he handed out, which outlined his claim to be descended from William Shakespeare. The core of it was the contention that Shakespeare and Sparky's ancestor the Shakespearean actor William Sly were the same person: see YouTube for his many expositions on the topic.  I guess there are far worse things to believe.

The number of other Sparkies is surprising.

1. That puts me off the piano straight away. As Geoff Pullum says in this press release for The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language
The forms with nominative pronouns sound ridiculously stuffy today. In present-day English, the copular verb takes accusative pronoun complements and so does "than." My advice would be this: If someone knocks at your door, and you say "Who's there?" and what you hear in response is "It is I," don't let them in. It's no one you want to know.
Not to mention the dubious flavour of the relationship between Sparky and the piano, which can play itself but takes suspicious relish in inviting Sparky to run his fingers over its keys. Its motives are further suspect in waiting so long before terminating the arrangement; if it really cared about Sparky's integrity as a piano player, it would have stopped long before the imposture reached concert performance level.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Hannah Cowley, playwright and feminist

While Googling to find material to counterbalance the DWM emphasis of another site I maintain, I just ran into the Wikipedia page for the Tiverton-born Hannah Cowley, who was completely unknown to me. Quoting:

Hannah Cowley (14 March 1743 – 11 March 1809) was an English dramatist and poet. Although Cowley’s plays and poetry did not enjoy wide popularity after the nineteenth century, critic Melinda Finberg [in Eighteenth-Century Women Dramatists, OUP, 2001] rates Cowley as "one of the foremost playwrights of the late eighteenth century" whose "skill in writing fluid, sparkling dialogue and creating sprightly, memorable comic characters compares favourably with her better-known contemporaries, Goldsmith and Sheridan". Cowley’s plays were produced frequently during her lifetime. The major themes of her plays; including her first, The Runaway (1776), and her major hit, The Belle’s Stratagem (1780); revolve around marriage and how women strive to overcome the injustices imposed by family life and social custom.
- Hannah Cowley, Wikipedia, retrieved 01:37, 7th October 2009

She's so interesting that it looked worth collating the basics of her life and work. Google Books finds a wealth of material relating to her, such as this extended biography and sympathetic critique during her lifetime: Mrs Cowley, pp437-449, Public characters [Formerly British public characters] of 1798-9 - 1809-10, 1801 edition. There are a number of contemporary obituaries also findable on Google Books: Account of the late Mrs Hannah Cowley, pp208-211, Select reviews, Volume 2 (Hopkins and Earle, 1809); pp457-458, The Universal magazine, Volume 11, 1809; and Sketch of the Life of Mrs Hannah Cowley, pp172-174, The Mirror of taste, and Dramatic censor, Volume 2 (Bradford and Inskeep, 1810).

A three volume edition of her complete works was published by Wilkie & Robinson, London, in 1813: see Volume I (Dramas, including The Belle's Strategem), Volume II (also Dramas) and Volume III (Poems).

For modern views, see pp.204-212, British Women Poets of the Romantic Era: An Anthology (Paula R Feldman, JHU Press, 2000) and Hannah Cowley, Tiverton's Playwright and Pioneer Feminist 1743-1809 (Devon Books, 1997 - by the Tiverton historian, author and former mayor Mary de la Mahotière, who also contributed the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). The ODNB mentions the controversies of her otherwise successful career, particularly the scandal caused by a female character in The Runaway questioning the "honour and obey" part of the marriage vow; the hostility from Sheridan; and the drama between Cowley and fellow playwright Hannah More over the latter's alleged plagiarism - see The Paper War of Hannah Cowley and Hannah More, Getting into the Act: Women Playwrights In London, 1776-1829, Ellen Donkin, Gender in Performance Series. London: Routledge, 1994).

In her home town of Tiverton, Hannah Cowley is commemorated by a Blue Plaque, at 10 Bridge Street, which reads:

Hannah Cowley 1743-1809 Playwright, poet, pioneer champion of women’s rights, lived here from 1801. Hannah, who was born in Tiverton, was a leading playwright of her day, her first play being produced by David Garrick at Drury Lane.
- the Tiverton Civic Society's Blue Plaques page

Echoes of SF

From the BBC: Blind boy uses his ears to 'see', an account of Lucas Murray, who uses an increasingly popular 'click' echolocation technique developed by Daniel Kish and others (see the Times - Blind taught to ‘see’ like a bat). Although I knew of hardware setups - the "sonar cane" systems - I'd never run into this low-tech method using human-made sounds, despite its use by the famous "Blind Traveller" James Holman. Not in the real world, at least: however, such techniques are central to Daniel F Galouye's post-apocalyptic Dark Universe.

One of a number of Galouye SF novels focusing on some form of perception, Dark Universe is told from the viewpoint of Jared Fenton, a young man and skilled hunter of "soubats", in a tribe called the Survivors living in the "Lower Level" - what is evidently the depths of a cave system. Light having been forgotten except in name, the Survivors find their way about using echos: by a central "echo-caster" in their main dwelling area, and by rattling "clickstones" elsewhere. Their sense of smell is also well-developed. Jared has various problems - a forthcoming arranged marriage, his tribe's dwindling resources, and the incursion of foul-smelling wrinkly-skinned monsters that bring "screaming silent sound" - that lead him into an exploration, first meeting "zivvers" (humans who have evolved to see infrared), and finally the worldview-shaking reality that the monsters are clothed people from the outside world bringing light. There's a strong allusion to Plato's Parable of the Cave.

From a perceptual standpoint, the end of Dark Universe, when Jared emerges from the caves and adapts to his newly-discovered sense of sight, is unfortunately nonsense. It's now known - Google Wiesel and Hubel if you must - that if eyes aren't exposed to visual input at a formative age, the neural equipment to process it won't work. But the story is so well told and the details so well worked out, right down to the bureaucracy and ritual (among the Survivors, the "Misplacement of Bulky Objects" is a crime on a par with murder) that it's easy to suspend disbelief. I've mentioned other Galouye works in a previous post, PK Dick, Ubik and conceptual breakthrough.

- Ray

Monday, 5 October 2009

Tom Paine hanged in Topsham

It happened here. The arched brick building (right) used to be the old market, on whose construction site The Rights of Man was burned and Tom Paine denounced in effigy in 1793. The organisers' junket was held afterward in the Salutation Inn's Assembly Room, the upstairs room with the multi-paned window (also right). Image: Topsham carnival day, 2009.

A fascinating and somewhat chilling find via Google Books:

An Account of the Procession made by the loyal Inhabitants of the Parish of Topsham, in Devon., on Tuesday, January 22, 1793, to express their Attachment to our Gracious Sovereign King George the Third, and the present happy Constitution of this Realm - pp. 98-101, The Republican, Volume 9, Richard Carlile, 1824.

The context was national fear of revolution. The American Revolutionary War had taken place a decade previously, the French Revolution was at its height, and there was significant sympathy to such causes. The radical Thomas Paine had been a leading thinker behind these revolutions, and thus was demonized by his opponents in England, with many burnings and hangings in effigy in 1792-1793. One such took place at Topsham.

According the account in The Republican (which is copied from The Weekly Entertainer, a regional magazine published in Sherborne, 1783-182? 1) the procession was announced at 8.30am, and gathered an hour later on the lawn of The Retreat, Sir Alexander Hamilton's 2 villa just outside Topsham on the Exeter road. It then marched around the town, visiting the houses of country gentlemen of the parish, led by a band playing patriotic music. Taking a break from 2-4 pm, it then reassembled in the town itself

At four o'clock the whole procession ... arrived at a roomy space, in the middle of the town, intended for the new market-house: here the effigy was very properly addressed by a person who attended for that purpose: Thomas Paine's execrable book, entitled the Rights of Man, with some other publications of the same nature, and a handbill which had been dispersed among the inhabitants, to endeavour to dissuade them from shewing their loyalty, and their hatred of Thomas Paine, in the manner here mentioned, but which encountered universal and deserved contempt, was first burnt by the hands of the executioner, and then the effigy was hung in the usual manner, amidst the shouts and acclamations of the surrounding populace; upon its being cut down the men under arms fired a volley, and the acclamations were repeated.

The effigy was then conducted to a point of land ... where ... after being put in chains, [it] was hung upon a gibbet 50 feet high, where it is likely to remain a monument of the people's loyalty, until destroyed by the injuries of time, or the elements. The men under arms then fired another volley, and the people sung, and the band played, God Save the King; a hogshead of cyder was distributed amongst the populace to drink the King's health, when everyone dispersed as quietly, and as orderly, and as much satisfied in the morning, expressing to each other their sincere attachment to, and hearty resoluion to die in defence of their King and the constitution.

This event was followed by a junket at the Salutation Inn, presided over by the Reverend James Carrington, for army and navy officers resident in the town, and other gentlemen of the town. The overall turnout for the procession is described as:

Three Town Constables.
Drum and Two Fifes.
Two Gentlemen Managers on horseback in the constitutional uniform.
The Captain of the men under arms.
Six men under arms to guard the colours.
A young gentleman on horseback, on each side, to carry the fly of the colours, both dressed in the constitutional uniform.
Six men under arms to guard the colours.
Three hautboys, two horns and a bassoon.
Twelve additional constables, two and two, to guard the cart with the effigy of Tom Paine.
Four Gentlemen Managers on horseback, in the constitutional uniform.
Two riding constables to form the cavalcade as they joined, and to preserve order.
Grand Cavalcade of 126 horsemen, with sashes and cockades, and many in the consitutional uniform.
About 4000 foot, with cockades in their hats.
Foot colours.
Ships carpenters carrying the implements of their trade.
Blacksmiths and anchorsmiths, ditto.

Carlile's commentary, written over two decades later, is extremely hostile, calling the people of Topsham "stupid, ignorant and brutal ... in thus dealing with a man and his book". This is rather unfair in hindsight, as it's doubtful the ordinary inhabitants of Topsham were the movers of this event. 4000 soldiers in town is a big incentive to smile and go along with it. The account Carlile quotes was sent to The Weekly Entertainer by an "A.B." whose identity we'll probably never know. It spins the event as an undisputed expression of popular sentiment, but Crowds, culture, and politics in Georgian Britain (Nicholas Rogers, Oxford University Press, 1998) notes that such burnings were strongly stage-managed by loyalists to target disaffected areas - though they kept away from major hot-spots - such as the textile districts of the south-west, the mining districts of Somerset and Northumberland, and the cotton district of Manchester. (Ian Maxted's Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History 51 mentions the focus on Devon, with burnings taking place "in Chagford, Newton St Cyres and Okehampton on 20 December 1792 and at Rewe, Netherexe and Huxham on 14 February 1793").

Disaffected working classes had been at the core of previous revolutions, and the establishment wasn't taking any chances.

Some of the effigy burnings of Paine were clearly political interventions designed to offset the contagion of radicalism amongst potentially sympathetic workforces. In some of the Wiltshire and Dorset towns, for example, the burnings were sponsored by the military as a morale-boosting exercise. Captain Crawford of the Queen's dragoons reported to the Home Office that he had ordered mock executions of Paine to counteract the disaffection that the troops had encountered in local pubs and markets.
- Crowds, culture, and politics in Georgian Britain, p.204

It would be interesting to know how many of those attending the Topsham excursion were local and how many loyalist rent-a-crowd: 4000 foot amounts to a massive show of force in what was a strategic port town. See pp144-5, Thomas Paine: social and political thought (Gregory Claeys, Routledge, 1989) for other accounts of Tom Paine burnings, including ones known to have been sponsored with money and/or beer.

Richard Carlile, by the way, is also of Devon interest. A radical who campaigned strongly for universal suffrage and freedom of the press, he was born in Ashburton. His Sherwin's Weekly Political Register gave the first published account of the Peterloo Massacre. He wrote his journal The Republican from Dorchester Gaol where he was imprisoned, for blasphemy, blasphemous libel and sedition, for publishing the works of Tom Paine and other anti-government material.
1. Here's an example of the publication from 1783: The Weekly entertainer; or agreeable and instructive repository.
2. Effectively the local squire, who had served as High Sheriff of the County of Devon in 1786.

Update. See also Salutation Inn, which mentions a literary connection and a sinister find.

- Ray

Sunday, 4 October 2009

North Devon Magazine, 1824

From Google Books: North Devon Magazine: containing The Cave and Lundy Review, Volumes 1-2 (W Searle, Barnstaple, 1824).

Online in full, this is the 274-page compilation of two early 19th century provincial magazines; here's the general index. The content is varied and quaint, as described in John Presland's 1917 Lynton and Lynmouth:

They are the Lundy Review and The Cave, and they contain stories, poetry, puns, epigrams, acrostics, all with the mild, faint flavour of a curate's tea-party in a cathedral town ... There is poetry of the Lake School fashion, exhortations to Bideford and Woody Bay, to Lynton or "The Beauties of Devon"; there is more poetry of the Byronic fashion, fierce and satiric invective (yet never, be it understood, transgressing the bounds of decency or good manners!) against the lady of the poet's affection; there are stories, in which love and virtue triumph over temptation and evil-doing; there is, of course, at least one story of a blind girl, and one of a consumptive; there is much harmless punning, and in the acrostics which the ladies of 1820 so much loved are fantastically woven the names of the handsome young women of Barnstaple whose only other record is now on a tombstone

Not only the people but also the topical references are long gone. You run into sentences like this:

The Cave ... will also be regularly deposited, for earlier perusal, and the convenience of the wet-paper clubs, at ...
- p5, North Devon Magazine

"Wet-Paper Club" turns out to refer to groups who would gather and get first look at newspapers as soon as they came off the press - see p319, The Visitor: or, Monthly instructor, Religious Tract Society, 1841) - while the paper was still damp from the necessary wetting prior to printing.

Considering the date, the publication is very readable. There's a strong focus on Barnstaple - such as this song about Barnstaple Fair - with frequent use of the old name Barum that was revived in Victorian times. The place sounds very lively, with a lot of gossip and romance conducted in coded form through the pages of the magazines. A handwritten annotation to the Google Books copy identifies the pseudonymous editor, "Dry-Den Beauclerc", as the curate of Braunton. Barnstaple was, incidentally, quite a busy place for literature in the early 19th century: The Western antiquary, Volume 11 (William Henry Kearley Wright, 1893) has a series, "Extinct Devonshire Periodicals", mentioning a number of similar publications, all short-lived: the The Crackling Goose (1823), the weekly The Gossip (1823) and The Universal Medley (1824). A newspaper, the Barnstaple and Bideford Miscellany and North Devon Advertiser, was published in the same time slot.

If you can find it, Sketches of the literary history of Barnstaple: being the substance of a series of papers read at The Literary Institution, Barnstaple. To which is appended the diary of Philip Wyot, town clerk of Barnstaple, from 1586 to 1608 (John Roberts Chanter, 1866) goes into considerable detail about Barnstaple's literary connections. For instance, John Gay was born there; the liberal journalist John Lash Latey was educated in Barnstaple; John Dodderidge of Barnstaple founded the Dodderidge Library; and Percy Bysshe Shelley's early works were published by a Barnstaple printer called Syle.

Presland's Lynton and Lynmouth is itself online: Project Gutenberg EText-No. 22765 includes an HTML version with the colour plates.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Hedge School

click to enlarge

We had a pleasant and enlightening walk last weekend round Highfield Farm, Topsham. The trail by the River Clyst - see map - doesn't seem much visited, but it's one of the few places around Topsham where you can completely forget the closeness of the town. We ate lots of blackberries, which reminded me of Seamus Heaney's Blackberry Picking and Owen Sheers' poem Hedge School. The title derives from hedge schools, a system of unofficial schooling in rural Ireland devised to circumvent the prohibition of Catholic education, but the poem's thrust is that the hedge itself teaches the narrator something about his own dark side, as in the final stanza where he crushes blackberries instead of eating them.

Or, as I did just once, strolling towards the low house
growing at the lane's end,
not to eat them at all,
but slowly close my palm into a fist instead
dissolving their mouthfeel over my skin
and emerging from the hedge and tree tunnel
my knuckles scratched and my hand blue-black red,
as bloodied as a butcher's or a farmer's at lambing
or that of a boy who has discovered for the very first time
just how dark he runs inside.

The enlightening aspect was that en route round Highfield we also had a nice chat with members of Climate Rush, the suffragette-themed group protesting against lack of government action on CO2 emissions (the fine people who dumped horse manure at the appalling Jeremy Clarkson's gate - see the Guardian). The group was camping at Highfield on the last leg of their Climate Rush on the Run tour from the endangered village of Sipson to Totnes: see the Climate Rush website and their Climate Rush on the Run blog.

- Ray

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Google Books / London ruined yet again

From Zikkir: A Writer’s Plea: Figure Out How to Preserve Google Books by Rita Isaac, a science writer at

But let’s not let the litigation obscure that Google Books provides an unprecedented and irreproducible service to its users.


The searchability, accessibility and breadth of the Google Books collection do not just portend some future best-ever digital library. It’s already the best resource for research that exists.

I’m not a traditional library- or book-hater. I’m a visiting scholar at Berkeley’s Office for the History of Science and Technology and have dozens of books checked out from the UC system. I smell the insides of old books for pleasure.

But traditional library digging is almost unbelievably inefficient when you’re used to the instant access provided not just by the internet, but the Internet Archive, JSTOR, arXiv and newspaper archives like Proquest and Chronicling America.

We take search relevance for granted ...but libraries are still organized around keywords and subject headings

I couldn't agree more. Despite my complaints about the sometimes major metadata faults and the current legal disputes over the Google Books agreement, the fully indexed texts provided by Google Books (and other online services) are the only way to perform a "deep search" for words and phrases that may be only incidental to the text's main subject.

Case in point: I've been in correspondence for some years with David Platt at Stanford University, passing on finds for his excellent Where London Stood project (updated 16th September), which explores the recurrent imagery of ruined cities in art and literature, with a focus on London. To collect and collate such references, typically scattered across obscure publications, would be many years' work without the window into historical texts provided by Google Books.

I've just found a few more examples via the search "ruins of London", revealing that Victorian writers also enjoyed this kind of search, with a particular preoccupation in finding precursors to Macaulay's "New Zealander":

"She [the Roman Catholic Church] may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Paul's.2
- Thomas Babington Macaulay, Ranke's History of the Popes, Edinburgh Review, October 1840, reprinted in Essays, critical and miscellaneous (1858)

A book of sibyls - Mrs. Barbauld, Miss Edgeworth, Mrs. Opie, Miss Austen (Anne Thackeray Ritchie, 1883) mentions a poem by Mrs Barbauld in which visitors may come to a ruined to the ruined London:

Night, Gothic night, again may shade the plains
Where Power is seated, and where Science reigns ;
England, the seat of arts, be only known
By the grey ruin and the mouldering stone ;
That Time may tear the garland from her brow,
And Europe sit in dust, as Asia now.

Yet then the' ingenuous youth whom Fancy fires
With pictured glories of illustrious sires>
With duteous zeal their pilgrimage shall take
From the Blue Mountains, or Ontario's lake.
But who their mingled feelings shall pursue:
When London's faded glories rise to view ?
The mighty city, which by every road.
In floods of people poured itself abroad;
Pensive and thoughtful shall the wanderers greet
Each splendid square, and still, untrodden street;
Or of some crumbling turret, mined by time.
The broken stairs with perilous step shall climb.
Thence stretch their view the wide horizon round.
By scattered hamlets trace its ancient bound,
And, choked no more with fleets, fair Thames survey
Through reeds and sedge pursue his idle way.
- "Eighteen Hundred and Eleven", The works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld: With a memoir (1825)

In 1886, Francis Jacox wrote an essay on the subject, About the coming man from New Zealand (The New Monthly Magazine, Volume 138, 1886) mentioning other precursors, notably a letter from "Miss Eden" (the novelist Emily Eden) imagining a reversal of fortunes between England and India.

This is a great place for ruins, and was supposed to be the largest town in India in the olden time, and the most magnificent. There are some good ruins for sketching remaining, and that is all. An odd world certainly! Perhaps two thousand years hence, when the art of steam has been forgotten, and nobody can exactly make out the meaning of the old English word "mail-coach", some black Grovernor-General of England will be marching through its southern provinces, and will go and look at some ruins, and doubt whether London ever was a large town, and will feed some white-looking skeletons, and say what distress the poor creatures must be in; they will really eat rice and curry; and his sister will write to her Mary D. at New Delhi, and complain of the cold, and explain to her with great care what snow is, and how the natives wear bonnets, and then, of course, mention that she wants to go home.
- Emily Eden, 'Up the Country': Letters written to her sister from the Upper Provinces of India, Richard Bentley, 1867

Jacox also mentions previous drafts of Macaulay's image of ruination. He had come up with a rather similar idea a decade previously:

Is it possible that in two or three hundred years a few lean and half-naked fishermen may divide with owls and foxes the ruins of the ruins of the greatest European cities — may wash their nets amidst the relics of her gigantic docks, and build their huts out of the capitals of her stately cathedrals?
- TB Macaulay, Mill's Essay on Government, Edinburgh Review, March 1829, reprinted in Essays, critical and miscellaneous, 1856

The letters of Horace Walpole, Jacox mentions, contain a number of passages to similar effect, such as:

At last, some curious traveller from Lima will visit England and give a description of the ruins of St Paul's
- Horace Walpole, letter to Sir Horace Mann, 24th November, 1774 (cited in Jacox)

Another from Jacox: Shelley in 1819:

Hoping that the immortality which you have given to the Fudges, you will receive from them; and in the firm expectation, that when London shall be an habitation of bitterns; when St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey shall stand, shapeless and nameless ruins, in the midst of an unpeopled marsh; when the piers of Waterloo Bridge shall become the nuclei of islets and reeds and osiers, and cast the jagged shadows of their broken arches on the solitary stream, some transatlantic commentator will be weighing in the scales of some new and now unimagined system of criticism, the respective merits of the Bells and the Fudges, and their historians.
- Percy Byshe Shelley, prefatory dedication, Peter Bell the Third, written 1819, pub. 1839

Another nice find via Jacox is Excursions to the Ruins of London (Albert Smith, in The Comic Album: a Book for Every Table, 1844) in which spacefarers from the Martian port of Anteros visit the site of London. I ran into a couple of other sources that list similar passages. Predictions realized in modern times, collected by Horace Welby, John Timms, 1862, has a section "The New Zealander visiting the ruins of London" mentioning Constantin-François Volney's The ruins, or, A survey of the revolutions of empires and Henry Kirk White's poem Time. Oldest yet, perhaps, is Thomas Lyttelton's 1780 Poems, by a Young Nobleman, of Distinguished Abilities, lately deceased; Particularly the State of England, and The once flourishing City of London. In a Letter from an American Traveller, Dated from the Ruinous Portico of St. Paul’s, in the Year 2199, to a friend settled in Boston, the Metropolis of the Western Empire. Also Sundry fugitive Pieces, principally wrote whilst upon his Travels on the Continent. I can't find it online in full, but a deal of it is quoted in the London Review, Volume 11, 1780,

I could go on, but it eventually gets very samey and I'll stop before it gets too boring. Punch thought the same at the time, and on 7 January 1865 it issued a moratorium, via a Proclamation to consign to limbo "used up, exhausted, threadbare, stale and hackneyed" constructs, and Macaulay's New Zealander was number one:

The retirement of this veteran is indispensable. He can no longer be suffered to impede the traffic over London Bridge. Much wanted at the present time in his own country. May return when London is in ruins
- page 9, Punch, January 17, 1865

Still, the sheer number of examples show this to be an astonishingly enduring meme in mid-Victorian Britain, and it's strange to see, in mid-Empire, such an obsession with post-apocalyptic images of a future after its fall. The articles Contemplating the Ruins of London: Macaulay's New Zealander and Others and "Tourists at the Ruins of London" (Cercles 17, 2007) , both by David Skilton, explore possible reasons.

PS Further to discussion with Dr C in the comments, see for comparison John Ames Mitchell's 1889 The Last American (Gutenberg EText-No. 27307). "A Fragment from The Journal of KHAN-LI, Prince of Dimph-Yoo-Chur and Admiral in the Persian Navy" it takes a Persian visitor to the ruins of New York in 2951. One of the Gutenberg formats is an illustrated edition.
- Ray