Saturday, 11 August 2012

Edward Douglas Fawcett

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It was a pleasant reminder to see the name Edward Douglas Fawcett on Torquay's Other History.

One of the first SF anthologies I owned, back in the 1960s, had an extract from Fawcett's best-known work, the 1893 novel Hartmann the Anarchist; or The Doom of the Great City. Hartmann is a terrorist very much in the genre of the 'dynamite fiction' of the late 1800s and early 1900s: fiction reflecting a cultural scare about dynamite - highly akin to modern post-9/11 paranoia and fear of suitcase nukes - following Fenian dynamite attacks on English cities in the 1880s (see Explosions, previously). But he also resembles other obsessive supervillains of early SF, such as Captain Nemo and Robur, - Fawcett was strongly influenced by Verne - and his terrorism takes the form of aerial attacks on London with artillery, dynamite and incendiaries from an airship, the Attila. The novel is online: see Internet Archive ID hartmannanarchi00fawcgoog.

Fawcett was a keen chess player, and there's a good biography at the Keverel Chess club website: E. Douglas Fawcett (1866 – 1960). It mentions his other SF works: the 1893 The Secret of the Desert, or How We Crossed Arabia in the “Antelope“, whose catalogue description was ...
The story of three young Englishmen who form a relief party to succor a college friend who had made an expedition to Central Arabia two years previous and never been heard from. The Antelope, upon which they travel, is an invention of one of them; it runs on wheels, is propelled bv a gas-engine, and fitted up with electricity, search-lights, etc.; they have thrilling adventures, and finally discover their friend and an immense treasure.
 ... the Antelope being esssentially an armoured tank; and the 1894 Swallowed by an Earthquake, which was essentially a retread of Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. (The hollow earth scenario was one actually believed in by Edward's brother Percy Fawcett, who's probably best known for his disappearance in the Brazilian jungle while seeking the Lost City of Z). Only Hartmann is findable online, unfortunately.

Edward Fawcett's other books focused more on the philosophical and spiritual (he was a Theosophist, and into Eastern mysticism). He wrote a number of very heavy works in this territory, including the 1893 The Riddle of the Universe, the 1909 The Individual and Reality, and the 1916 The World as Imagination, and its 1921 sequel Divine Imagining. They may well be worthy, but they're the kind of books I'd "leave laying in the same position".

One other Fawcett book that isn't online is his first work, the 1880 The Wrath of Ana, a self-published epic fantasy poem written when he was 13. The Bookseller of Novermber 5th 1880 said of it, somewhat ambiguously:

Composed by a boy, aged 13, while at Westminster School, on a mythical and heroic subject, in some 1,500 lines of blank verse. The young poet writes with considerable fire, and has caught as true a sense of poetic numbers as many older versifiers ever attain. He has not studied Homer for nothing. We would recommend him next to try a few home subjects, and to study rhyme.

I was able to find an extended contemporary review of it in The Newtonian, the house magazine of Newton Abbot College.

by a present Newtonian

TRULY a terrible title! And what of the author? Can this be the mythical schoolboy for whom the world has been waiting since the days of Macaulay? Or is it a sign of the march of intellect, when a lad of thirteen boldly plunges into an epic poem of one thousand and ever so many lines? Pope tells of himself that he 'lisp'd in numbers,' and it has been said of Pindar that 'when he lay in his cradle the bees swarmed about his mouth': but here is a gerund-giinding schoolboy of the 19th century, a dealer in longs and shorts, sketching the outline of an epic with inimitable sang froid.

The preface is a masterpiece of modesty: "Perhaps, as Ovid says, there may be some who will deem these unpretensive (sic) lines the superfluous emanations of an overteeraing imagination. They are not such, my readers, but merely the rude effusions of an uncultured pen kindled by the daily intercourse with the Classics. Their noble sustained beauties and elegancies cannot fail to impress a peruser with the idea that our language is far inferior in its idioms, expressions, 'and modes of conveying notions. These elegancies combined cannot but produce a constant habit of thoughtfulness, which will ever prove a boon. How heavenly it is to reproduce scenes long passed, to vividly repaint them in the mind when Imagination's glorious hand sets off every incident!" Truly our young friend is intoxicated with 'the exuberance of his own verbosity.'

To pass to the actual poem, there is much to admire, while there is naturally much to condemn. The chief faults consist in a profusion of epithets, and an unfortunate tendency to make a break in the middle of each line, whereby the rhythm is apt to become terribly monotonous. Take the following description of the palace of the Storm-Goddess:
Onward with forceful grasp
She winged his journey, till before his eyes
Rushed the dire palace of the Queen of Storms:
Majestic in its grandeur, far and wide,
It stretched a vast expanse, its massive dome
Glittered with diamonds, and its golden walls
Shone with effulgence. Midst the fleeting clouds
Arose its pinnacles. Gay rosaries
The roof sustained, while from the fertile soil
Embracing creepers sprung, which ever bloom
Unfaded. As the wildered youth approached
The portal grim, fresh mysteries anew
Oppose his passage: on the frowning front
Sculpture stood prominent such as excelled
The art of Phidias, or th' adorning touch
Of Denmark's chisel. In her early youth
The goddess graved them. As the two drew near,
Obsequious the mighty gates recede
With laboured swing, and when their mistress passed
Resumed their guard.
In spite of its faults there is a Miltonic swing about this passage, of which many a riper poet would not be ashamed.

That 'daily intercourse with the Classics' has produced some effect on our author's mind cannot for a moment be denied. Such terms as 'immits the reins,' 'omniconquering rule,', 'ineffable in fraud', 'the tardy pinnacle,' &c, if bold in design, yet smack suspiciously of the Mantuan bard. The following passage reveals the poet either in the light of a profound metaphysician, or as a heartless jester poking fun at Father Time :—
To whom an able mate
Came Time, the offspring of Infinity,
His sister Limitation. These when born
Yearned for their homes and in their madness chased
Infinity. He caught with thrifty hand
Compressed blank-space: each roving particle
Adhered to others. Then he loosed his grasp
And space rebounded, but the solid mass
Remained intact.
But leaving this vexed question, we cannot refrain from presenting to our readers a few of the sugar-plums of .this remarkable poem. The metaphor conveyed in the line,
Floats amidst
The tossing billows of Uncertainty,—
if not new, is certainly clever.

Again, after describing the clamber up the Temple of Fame, the poet remarks that
The wearied few
Embrace delights, and fanned by Glory's hand
Contented doze.
Neat too is the expression
Th' immortal pair
Champed for their ruler.—
when the brazen car of Ana awaits her coming.

To our mind however the following passage is the gem of the poem, not so much for its intrinsic worth, as for the boldness with which this youth has ventured to tread in the steps of his great masters. Describing the pictures in the palace of Ana, he says:—
Midst this fine array
One beamed conspicuous, where Bellerophon
Seized Pegasus: hard by, the sacred font
Of pure Pirene. On th' adjoining wall
Narcissus was depicted gazing fond
Into the waters, where the image danced
In bright reflection. Next this doedal work,
Glittered the form of Idas in his car,
Poseidon's gift, bearing afar his love
The sweet Marpessa and defying the wrath
Of fierce Apollo. With such noble scenes
Teemed the huge hall.
But space warns us to be brief. Having introduced our poet, we cannot part from him without imploring him to clip his wings for a season, if only to leave some legacy to the school in the shape of a Carmen Newtoniense, which has yet to be written: and finally we must launch our Parthian shot, and ask him if ' in his daily intercourse with the classics' he has yet come across the Horatian maxim:
Nocturna, versate manu, versate diurna?1
1. turn over [the pages] by night and by day - A quote from Horace's Art of Poetry where he advises close study of Greek verses. - Ray

 - The Newtonian, Volume 5, No.2, February 1880.

- Ray

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