Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Bindon Landslip of 1839

view from Great Bindon - Coneybeare and Buckland monograph
low-res image from Lyme Regis Museum scan
It's probably obvious that I have a bit of an obsession with the coastal landslip terrain of the English south coast. In that vein, I found a real treat yesterday: a new page from Lyme Regis Museum, The Bindon Landslip of 1839, which hosts a high-resolution scan of Conybeare and Buckland's rare monograph Memoir and Views of Landslips on the Coast of East Devon &c. 1840 (with artwork by William Dawson and Mary Buckland).

I've mentioned this classic landslip before: Clare and I visited in June 2010 (see Undercliff: visited at last), and I also wrote about its featuring in Sabine Baring-Gould's 1900 novel Winefred, a story of the chalk cliffs (see Seaton, slips and Sabine Baring-Gould).

Nowadays, the terrain is heavily overgrown, and has been described as "the nearest thing to a jungle in Britain". But the local geologists the Rev William Conybeare and Dr William Buckland visited it shortly after it happened, when the geology was fully exposed, and produced "the first fully scientific report ever produced about a major landslip". The report features remarkable sketches of the fresh landslip, what must have been an amazing and terrifying terrain of dissected blocks of wheatfield with chasms between.

In addition, the report features for comparison a sketch of the Hooken Undercliff between Beer and Branscombe, then relatively fresh from the 1790 slip that created it.

Hooken Undercliff, from Coneybeare and Buckland monograph
low-res image from Lyme Regis Museum scan
Hooken Undercliff, October 2010
Anyhow, see The Bindon Landslip of 1839 at the Lyme Regis Museum site for the full-resolution monograph, which includes the text and ten plates, as well as a link to Thea Hawkesworth's paper Lyme’s History in Museum Objects 12: The Undercliff Model, which documents the general history and geology of the landslip via a description of William Dawson's 1841 post-slip model of the undercliff.

Via Lyme Regis Museum blog.

- Ray

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Taiblet's awfu' guid

I can never see the word "tablet" without it raising somewhere in my mind this kind of tablet, the traditional Scottish confection - a buttery semi-crystalline fudge - that probably sprang from the same national sweet high-calorie tooth that gave the world the deep-fried Mars Bar. I first ran into it decades back, visiting Scottish relatives-by-marriage, and about that time found the accolade ...
Taiblet's awfu' guid — Wee Macgreegor
... in a reprint of Florence Marian McNeill's 1929 The Scots Kitchen: its traditions and lore, with old-time recipes.

I only recently tracked the quotation down to a story by the Scottish journalist and author John Joy Bell, who wrote for the Glasgow Evening Times a series of dialect stories about a working-class Glasgow family. The central character is a young boy called Mcgregor Robinson ("Wee Mcgreegor"), and the quotation about tablet comes from the introductory story of the series, in which "Mcgreegor" and his father, against his mother's wishes, conspire to share a secret stash of almond tablet in a paper bag in his father's pocket: .
"Ha'e ye ett yer baurley sugar?" asked his father, during a pause in the childish queries.
"Ay; I've ett it...It's no' as nice as taiblet, Paw."
"But ye'll no' be carin' fur taiblet noo?"
"Taiblet's awfu' guid," returned Macgregor guardedly, with a glance upwards at his parent's face. "Thomson's paw gi'es him taiblet whiles."
"Aweel, Macgreegor, I'm no' gaun to gi'e ye taiblet...But if ye wis pittin' yer haun' in ma pooch ye micht—Ye're no' to let on to yer Maw, mind!"
The enraptured Macgregor's hand was already busy, and a moment later his jaws were likewise.
"Ye've burst the poke, ye rogue," said John, feeling in his pocket. "Noo, ye're to get nae mair till the morn. Yer Maw wud gi'e 't to me if she kent ye wis eatin' awmonds."
The compilation book of the first series is online: see Wee Mcgreegor (JJ Bell, pub. New York and London, Harper & Bro, 1903, Internet Archive ID weemcgreegor00belliala); the Project Gutenberg Australia copy (1100201.html) has an introduction by Bell explaining the origin of the stories. Unlike many fictional child characters, Wee Mcgreegor aged as the cycle of stories continued, and we find him somewhat older in Later Adventures of Wee Mcgreegor (1904) and, topically, at 19 and joining the army in Wee Mcgreegor Enlists (c.1915). By this time, Macgreegor's adventures have taken a far darker flavour than worrying about sweets; his fiancée breaks off their engagement, and he kills a German and is wounded in battle, before things turn for the better.

While the JJ Bell stories have been pretty well forgotten, a look through Google Books shows the fallout that probably still continues: generations of people, animals and things called Macgregor being saddled with the prefix "Wee".

Tablet digression aside, I finally made the jump to tablet computing. A Samsung Internet-capable phone has proven far more useful than I'd imagined, but the small screen size, multi-tap input and poor bandwidth are impediments that had set me thinking about better options. A couple of weeks back I was discussing this with Felix Grant (of The Growlery), and he recommended the Android Allwinner. At only £50 for the 7" screen option, it seemed not a great risk to try out, so I got one a week ago.

It's brilliant. I won't go into vast technical detail, as I'm sure tablets are familiar territory to many readers, but it's just what I wanted for note-taking on the move, along with web browsing and e-mail if I'm in range of a  BT wi-fi hotspot. The package I got didn't include a word processor, but it was easy to find a free app, Kingsoft Office, for creating Word documents, and the pop-up keyboard is fine for two-fingered typing. I tried the voice input, but I think it might need a deal of adjustment on my part to what accent it expects (maybe I'm not RP enough). Even when configured for British English, it persistently hears "six" as "sex", and it produced this ...
will there be a bit forward into the future are you still ask puggles become such will heidi's week old is a pickle roman computer code
... when I tried it on a bit of text handy, the blurb to RA Lafferty's Space Chantey:
'Will there be a mythology in the future, they used to ask, after all has become science? Will high deeds be told in epic or only in computer code?'

The instructions, a tiny flyer in Engrish ("Use headphones shoulds not be too big volume, If feel tinnitus, Lower the volume or stop using it"), are pretty minimal, but there's plenty of generic guidance on Android operating systems online. It has to be said that this is an enthusiast's device: in a lot of areas, you may be on your own in unfamiliar areas, and need to be comfortable with working out how things work; for instance, this is my first introduction to the possibility of cloud storage, as well as a lot of the protocols of wi-fi connection.

I found only one major problem: the so far inexplicable failure to be able to see some files and directories via the USB connection to my PC. However, there proved to be a simple workaround: to e-mail Word files as attachments to myself, from inside Kingsoft Office, using the built-in Gmail connection and another free add-on app, Android Attach, that over-rides Android Gmail's limitation to photos and videos.

All in all, taiblet's awfu' guid value for fifty quid.

Addendum: even better. Felix just drew my attention to the availabilty of another app, Graffiti for Android. Graffiti is a stroke-based input method using stylised alphanumeric gestures. Since I'm thoroughly familiar with the stylus-based version on my old Palm M100 organiser, I just gave it a try, and was sold on it instantly; for me at least, it's far superior to the touch-screen keyboard.

- Ray

Thursday, 21 February 2013

... in the Isle of Wight #2

I previously mentioned two of a quartet of unfamiliar travelogues of the Isle of Wight: see ... in the Isle of Wight #1 for the 1884 Rambles in the Isle of Wight by John Gwilliam, and the 1846 Owen Gladdon's wanderings in the Isle of Wight by "Old Humphrey" (George Mogridge). Now on to the second pair.

Days in the Isle of Wight (Paul Bourget, trans. MC Warrilow, pub. HW Bell, 1901, Internet Archive ID daysinislewight00bourgoog) is a quite short book - "a set of prose pieces written mainly in Shanklin, August 1880".

As an 'outsider view' by a French novelist and critic taking his first visit to England, it makes an interesting contrast to the majority of accounts, which tend to filter the experience of the Isle of Wight through the cultural assumptions of English life. Bourget notices different things: he likens Shanklin, for instance, to a watered-down Deauville, noting the lack of a casino, and the solemnity of Sunday religious observance compared to his own country ...
Not a whisper, not a smile, nothing of that mundane character, half-decorous, half-sceptical, to be found in a similar ceremony in a seaside town in France.
His observations include the initial crossing from France to England, and then on to Ryde; observations of Shanklin; a train trip to Ryde ("a Dieppe without its port") and a visit to a charity bazaar at Quarr Abbey; a trip to Portsmouth ("the English Toulon") to see troops embarking for Afghanistan - how little has changed - on the HMS Jumna; and attending a cricket match at Shanklin. There may be more; the Internet Archive copy is truncated.

And finally: A Driving Tour in the Isle of Wight: With Various Legends and Anecdotes; Also a Short Account of George Morland and his Connection with the Island (Hubert Garle, IOW County Press, 1905, Internet Archive ID adrivingtourini00garlgoog).

As the cover shows, this wasn't a motor tour, but one by gig, Garle exploring the Island with an antiquarian friend, just called Miller. Like Bourget's, Garle's account is drawn from his diaries of a couple of decades earlier. It's extremely heavily padded with Isle of Wight historical anecdote, and it was an exercise in nostalgia (Garle's other book was the 1896 Hunting in the Golden Days) even at the time it was written:
The days I am writing of were before the shrill scream of the railway-engine and its foul smoke were known in the Isle of Wight, and when all was peaceful solitude compared to the present times of noise and bustle.
(It's fascinating how the modern horrors of yesteryear become the nostalgia of today; now many people yearn for the days when the Isle of Wight had a full rail network, and steam rail at that).

There is some interest in the historical detail in Garle's book - for instance, the account of Portsmouth when it was still heavily militarised, and the difficulties in getting a "horse-boat" to the Island - but personally I found most of his own account of his visit pretty dull. The illustrations, however, pleasant watercolours by E Hadfield, are lovely, if unrealistically 'warm'; the section about the artist George Morland is very good; and there's an appendix about Isle of Wight shipwrecks, and a nice selection of adverts at the end.

Brading Church

The Crab Inn, Shanklin Old Village

Shanklin Chine

Brading Old Church


Carisbrooke Castle
- Ray

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

... in the Isle of Wight #1

I always find it interesting to pursue obscure novels about places I know, and I just ran into a 'possible': the anonymously written In the Isle of Wight: A Novel. It turns out not to be findable online, and, from the short piece in The British Quarterly Review, quite possibly not worth the effort of finding in any other form:
In the Isle of Wight. A Novel. Two Vols. (Sampson Low and Co.) There is not much to be said of this story. It has neither strength, depth, nor brilliancy, it is a mechanical narrative of numerous fallings in love— often abruptly — and without any delineation of underlying processes. The contrast of the two brothers, Henry and Gilbert, is fairly maintained. Gilbert, a fickle, handsome, brilliant soldier, falls in love with Elsie, who is engaged, but without much affection on her part, to his elder brother Henry, a clergyman. Henry discovers their mutual passion, and releases her; but Gilbert falls in love, and makes an offer to Maud Fortescue while engaged to Elsie. Maud rejects him, and at the very time he receives a telegram to say that she is dying from a fall from her horse. Henry afterwards marries Elsie's sister, and facile Gilbert marries his cousin Mira. That is all. and the telling is very poor.
- The British Quarterly Review, January 1874
There's an extended review in The Spectator of 27 December 1873, of which the salient summary is this:
The novel is not sensational, nor is it written in conspicuously bad English ; but it is common-place and mindless, and destitute, so far as we have been able to discover, of a single literary merit.
- read the rest here
However, the failed search for the phrase "In the Isle of Wight" produced some pleasant out-takes: a set of Isle of Wight travelogues, in different eras and very different styles, that I hadn't previously encountered. Some have very nice pictures too.

Bonchurch: Undermount Rock aka Flagstaff Rock aka Hadfield's Lookout
from Rambles in the Isle of Wight. Note that despite the overall similarity in shape, this is not the same rock as Pulpit Rock. Pulpit Rock is on the cliffs to the north of Bonchurch;
Underdermount Rock is on the ridge that bounds the village to the south.
Undermount Rock aka Flagstaff Rock, September 2012
Rambles in the Isle of Wight (John Gwilliam, pub. Simpkin, Marshall, 1844, Internet Archive ID ramblesinislewi00gwilgoog)is a travelogue of the Wight written as a cycle of poems, each section with an explanatory prose note. While a lot of it is pretty conventional nature-description, some of it is fiercely polemical; Gwilliam was writing at a time when the spectacular wooded landslip terrain of Bonchurch was being taken over for the ongoing property development that turned it into a fashionable and upmarket village of villas and mansions (the same development that George Brannon decried - see Brannon on Bonchurch). Here's Gwilliam's verse commentary:
Unrivall'd Bonchurch ! how shall I depict
Thy various beauties, those superb retreats.
Those mural heights and ever peaceful downs.
Those gurgling rills and sweetly-scented nooks.
Those hills and dales, and weed-encircl'd rocks.
That have for cent'ries render'd thee the first
And chief attraction of the Undercliff !
Vain is the poet's or the painter's skill
In pict'ring thy enchantments — thou hast scenes
Their arts can ne'er develop, lofty sites
Whose boundless prospects of the Channel Sea
Enlarge the calm and contemplative mind.
And fill with rapture the enthusiast's soul !
But Fashion now is stealing thro' thy groves.
Tainting thy lucid rills and shady lanes,
Plucking thy roses froom polluted stems
And turning all thy lone and quiet paths
Into trim roads and populated ways —
Whilst speculation rooting up thy elms,
Thy knotted oaks and sun-excluding firs.
Seems bent upon illimitable waste :
For here already are her slaves at work.
Blasting the rocks and tearing up the trees.
Whilst Gibson, anxious to increase his fame.
And add importance to a weighty purse.
Has rais'd a villa of enormous size.
Fit for some eastern Croesus to inhabit !

Can such things be, and all the woodland pow 'rs.
The nymphs and dryads of the neighb'ring groves.
Observe them unaffected ? — can they hear
The ruthless axe assailling their tall elms.
Nor call on heav'n to check destruction's hand ?

But so it is — their spirit is subdued
By man's insatiate waste, and now, alas !
They wisely shun their customary haunts.
And fly to glooms congenial with their grief.

But where will riot stop ? and where will end
This brutal havoc, sacrilege and wrong ?
"Here," says some tasteless, money-lusting knave,
" A vast improvement gratifies the sight.
Whilst there a mansion, worthy of a prince.
Will shed its blessings on the neighboring poor.
And add distinction to the gen'ral scene ! "
False reasoning this — those very piles but shame
The cotter's lowly dwelling, and the good,
The boasted benefit of which he prates.
Will prove a vain and visionary dream.
And end in nothing but the babbler's froth !

There's scarcely aught the inmates may require
But what the London markets will supply.
For Av'rice prompts e'en Riches to procure
Its food and raiment at the cheapest rate.
And shun the mart its patronage should aid!
Gwilliam either ran out of Isle of Wight inspiration, or wanted an excuse to publish his other poetry, as there's a 40-page section of his miscellaneous poems mid-book. But he returns on form with Gibson's Villa, taking a dig at a notable villa's owner, George Gibson, for making money out of the misfortunes of others as Official Assignee (the official who distributes the assets of bankrupts to creditors). There sounds to be an interesting story here, as Gwilliam prefaces the poem with ...
"This delightful summer residence was built by the late Mr. George Gibson, the official assignee, and was, no doubt, one of the causes that led to the rash act which terminated his eventful career"
... but I haven't yet been able to find out what this "rash act" was.

Gwilliam is described - here - on the site Spenser and the Tradition: English Poetry 1579-1830 as "a prolific writer of occasional verse". He wrote another Isle of Wight book, Norris Castle, or recent tramps in the Isle of Wight, though this is not online. Tait's Edinburgh Magazine said of it this ...
Norris Castle; or Recent Tramps in the Isle of Wight. By John Gwilliam, author of " Rambles in the Isle of Wight," &c. &c. London : Effingham Wilson. Mr. Gwilliam professes that his present publication, like his " Rambles" over the same ground, aims at two things—" amusement and utility;" and what is more to the purpose, he is certain that he has succeeded in his aims, and that his name will long be remembered in the Isle of Wight. The "recent trips" are mostly versified; and upon the whole the author is on such happy terms with himself, that the approbation of the critics can hardly be required for his contentment.
 ... and the Athenaeum review was even harsher:
The dedication to ' Punch' shows the vein attempted; the preface also commences very funnily with an apology for a superfluous letter t to be found in the exordium of the poem. Whether the author meant to insinuate that no graver fault could be charged upon it or him, he has scarcely left in mystery; for, by his book,he tells us, he proposes "amusement and utility"—nor will he permit himself to doubt having ob tained his end, since he confesses he had "the vanity to think that the poetry it contained would not be treated with contempt by persons of discernment and taste;"—. candidly adding,—" for though it may have a local feature about it, I think that, on an attentive perusal, it will be found to possess inherent qualities of a more elevated and aspiring character. If I may take the opinions of sensible and unprejudiced scholars, as vouchers of its effects, I am quite certain that the effusions in that work will render my name familiar to the residents of the Isle of Wight long after I have bid adieu to all worldly ambition." With such an opinion of his own labours, the author can scarcely want that of a reviewer. We, however, recommend the public to exercise considerable caution before they accept it as a veridical and unquestionable verdict—for ourselves, we dislike the tone and temper in which the work is written, and which is often wantonly offensive.
- The Athenaeum, No. 931, page 857, August 30, 1845.
Norris Castle is, by the way, the Gothic-style faux castle at East Cowes, built in 1799 by James Wyatt for Lord Henry Seymour.

Owen Gladdon's wanderings in the Isle of Wight ("Old Humphrey", pub. Robert Carter, NY, 1846, Internet Archive ID owengladdonswand00oldh) is a didactic work for children, in which great uncle Owen gives an account of his travels on the Wight to his great niece and nephew, with a lot of geology, history, anecdote and sermonizing. For example, here's part of the description of the geology of landslips:
"What do you mean by the Undercliff, uncle?"

"I mean a strip of broken land called the Undercliff, that is about half a dozen miles long, reaching from Bonchurch to Blackgang Chine, and varying in breadth of from half a mile, or less, to a mile. It has been formed by a succcession of landslips, in which hundreds of acres have separated from the high downs above, and slid down towards the sea."

"Oh the sea undermines the cliff, and then it falls; is that it, uncle ?"

"No, not exactly so; I will try to make it clear to you. If you were to put a large stone on a sloping bank of clay, perhaps it would remain there if the clay were dry, but if water should be poured on the clay it would become slippery, and then the large stone would most likely slip down."

" Yes, that it would. It would slide down the bank directly."

"But if I put my foot to prevent it sliding down, it would keep its position, nor would it begin to slip till my foot was removed ; and this is just the case with the chalky cliffs of which we are speaking."

"How can that be ? Who can prop up the high cliffs by putting his foot against them?"

"I might reply, that He who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth! He who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand. He who has meted out heaven with a span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, He who has weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance, can do all things. How illimitable his wisdom and power in making the round world and they that dwell therein! How immeasurable his mercy in the redemption of mankind! But I am now speaking of second causes, and will therefore, as I said, try to make clear to you the cause of the landslips. Underneath the high chalky cliffs is a stratum, or layer of bluish marl, I think it is called 'blue slipper;' and the rain in wet weather, and the landsoaks, and the springs, make this blue marl muddy and slippery, so that the chalk cliffs would slip down if it were not for the earth at the bottom of them, that acts as a foot to support them."
If you ignore the religion, it's surprisingly readable and informative; the author, George Mogridge (1787-1854), was a keen walker and traveller, and Wanderings in the Isle of Wight is clearly based on real explorations.

Mogridge was an astonishingly, obsessively prolific writer, poet and author of children's books and religious tracts, who also wrote under the pseudonyms Jeremy Jaunt, Ephraim Holding, Old Father Thames, and Peter Parley (the last not to be confused with Samuel Griswold Goodrich, an American who wrote somewhat similar, but considerably duller, didactic works also under the name Peter Parley - and who was ridiculed as "Cousin Cramchild" in Kingsley's The Water-Babies).

See George Mogridge: His Life Character and Writings, Charles Williams, 1856, for a contemporary account.

Continued in ... in the Isle of Wight #2

Addendum, March 2014. I just found a good illustration of the 1840s development of Bonchurch: see Newport: research visit and Little London.

- Ray

Thursday, 14 February 2013

MWDEU gone from Google Books!

I just had a major bibliographic disappointment: I find that Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, which for years has been available in full on Google Books, has been removed.

Alongside the full Oxford English Dictionary (which I can access via Devon Library Services) MWDEU is probably my favourite reference book. As the introduction says, it arranges in dictionary format a collection of "common problems of confused or disputed English usage" from a historical background and present-day usage. Despite being an American reference, it covers US and UK usage equally, and the neat aspect of it is that it's resolutely descriptive, often with page-long lists of citations to well-known authors to demonstrate that an allegedly wrong usage has actually been used widely by writers who knew their craft.

I've noted over the years a few examples:
  • Its demonstration that a list of notable writers - Swift, Byron, Thackeray, Lewis Carroll, Robert Frost, Noam Chomsky - have used "if I was" for the hypothetical form where traditional grammar says it should be "if I were".
  • The evidence of many respectable writers using the non-possessive form ("Do you mind me eating chips?") rather than the 'possessive with gerund' ("Do you mind my eating chips?").
    The construction, both with and without the possessive, has been used in writing for about 300 years. Both forms have been used by standard authors. Both forms have been called incorrect, but neither is.
  • The evidence, with a long list of prestigious examples, of the use of "whose" for inanimate entities.
    The notion that "whose" may not properly be used of anything except persons is a superstition: it has been used by innumerable standard authors from Wycliffe to Updike, and is entirely standard as an alternative to "of which the" in all varieties of discourse.
  • A description of the use of "off of":
    "Off of" is an innocuous idiom ... that has been in use since the 16th century ... Ayres 1881 seems to have been the first to question the phrase ... It is an idiom that occurred naturally in the speech of William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Harry S. Truman, and James Thurber, among others. If it is part of your personal idiom and you are not writing on an especially elevated plane, you have no reason to avoid "off of".
  • The evidence on preposition stranding:
    recent commentators — at least since Fowler 1926 — are unanimous in their rejection of the notion that ending a sentence with a preposition is an error.
  • An analysis of the equal correctness, depending on register, of "It is me" and "It is I" (where traditional grammar says "It is I" is solely correct):
    Clearly, both the "it is I" and "it's me" patterns are in reputable use and have been for a considerable time. "It is I" tends to be used in more formal or more stuffy situations; "it's me" predominates in real and fictional speech and in a more relaxed writing style.
  • On the use of "oldest" for one of two:
    The rule requiring the comparative [for two] has a dubious basis in theory and no basis in practice.
  • Split infinitive:
    the objection to the split infinitive has never had a rational basis.
  • The evidence for the use of "that" for people:
    In current usage, "that" refers to people or things.
  • On the idea that it's wrong to use "can" to ask permission:
    we are dealing with a pedagogical tradition. The "can"/"may" distinction is a traditional part of the American school curriculum. The fact that the distinction is largely ignored by people once out of school is also a tradition
  • On the vague perception of wrongness that attaches to the verb "to get":
    One of the more important verbs in English, "get" is handled with considerable diffidence in the handbooks. Part of the problem, as the handbooks see it, is the large number of vigorously expressive idioms get enters into; the "Choice English" — to use the term of Roberts 1954 — that college freshmen are expected to cultivate much prefers colorlessness to vigor. Vigorous expressions are often suspected by usage critics of being "colloquial" — that is, slightly improper in some way or other not easily specified. If you are writing with the idea of getting your point across, however, you will not avoid the rich fund of idomatic phrases with "get".
  • and so on ...
MWDEU is a brilliant and extensively-researched work, invaluable to any beleaguered descriptivists looking for confirmation based on solid evidence (it features quotations from some 20,000 authors). Its Wikipedia entry mentions endorsements from the linguistics blogger Stan Carey (In praise of a reference book: MWDEU) and top linguist Geoffrey Pullum (Don't put up with usage abuse). Pullum says:
MWCDEU explains what actually occurs, shows you some of the evidence, tells you what some other usage books say, and then leaves you to make your own reasoned decision. It won't tell you either that you should split infinitives, or that you shouldn't. But it will give you a number of examples of writers who do, and point out that the construction has always occurred in English literature over the last six or seven centuries, and that nearly all careful usage books today agree it is entirely grammatical, and it will then leave you to decide.
I'm not sure this is strictly true; though it's ostensibly neutral, at times its studied acerbic commentaries quietly drip with hostility toward the prescriptivist position. It's a delight to read.

I don't know why it's been removed from Google Books - perhaps too many people like me were using it rather than buying the print version? - but it's a loss.

- Ray

Addendum: Stan Carey has commented that he's told that the issue appears to be at Google Books' end. More on this later, perhaps.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Devonshire scenery in verse and prose

I've apologised before to Wayland Wordsmith for poaching his blog topics, but very often our blogs interweave out of a kind of 'convergence of evolution' from having similar interests. His recent post Musopolus featured a poem about the view near Budleigh Salterton by a pseudonymous and "a truly awful Victorian poet who was collected by William Everitt in his anthology of Devon verses".

By coincidence I'd already bookmarked this anthology, which I found while Googling for material on Budleigh after my walk on Saturday (see Sherbrook now) because it's on the Internet Archive: Devonshire scenery: its inspiration in the prose and song of various authors (Everitt, William; pub. London, Gibbings; 1899; ID devonshirescener00everuoft).

I admit I'm not terribly poetry-literate, but it seems a lot of this poetry is mock-classical doggerel at the level of "See! Exon doth arise". The chief interest for me is in spotting familiar places, because Everitt compiled the anthology topographically. And, despite the title, it also includes a good selection of prose accounts, some of the best being from Francis George Heath's explorations of the crannies of Devon, in the "pteridomania" era, which he wrote up in The Fern World and the The Fern Paradise: a plea for the culture of ferns (Internet Archive fernparadiseplea00heatiala). Devonshire scenery is, all in all, worth checking out.

PS: I can find no clues to the identity of "Musopolus". But I suspect it was someone acquainted with some pretty obscure literature; the pseudonym appears to allude to a character called Musopolus in a 1550 Latin comic play about student life, Studentes, comoedia de vita studiosorum, by Christoph Stymmel (aka Christoph Stummel aka Christophorus Stymmelius, a Lutherian theologian who himself wrote under the pseudonym Ignoto Peerdeklontio).

- Ray

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


Ptak Science Books just featured a very nice post - Beautiful Techno-Art & Invention: Circular Adding Machines, 1850-1900 - featuring technical illustrations from US patents for various rotary adding machines. I haven't looked into the background, but patents aren't proof of technical feasibility, and quite possibly many of these devices didn't make it to the stage of practical use. However the W Lang adding machine (pictured above) certainly was feasible, because I have one of exactly this type.

This British-sold "Addometer" works on a straightforward principle; you use a metal stylus to turn a dial to add and subtract, and overflow cascades to the adjacent dial. A slide lever clears everything to zero. (see YouTube demo - I can't show you the workings, as the casing is riveted shut, but the Vintage Calculators Web Museum Addometer page has pictures). These multi-spindle adders were a popular, robust and successful design; they recur in 19th / early 20th century patents, with no clear attribution trail, and continued in use right through to the end of the mechanical calculator era.

This particular one - dating I think from the 1920s-30s - is both technologically and conceptually obsolete: it adds Sterling currency - pounds, shillings, pence, and farthings.  As the front logo says, it's US-made (by the Reliable Typewriter and Adding Machine Co., Chicago, Illinois) but the brass logo on the edge has been milled out, and the device rebadged to "Taylor's 74, Chancery Lane, London": a firm that historically sold typewriters and other office equipment.

I'm mildly puzzled that I don't remember any such devices from my childhood. My mother worked in various offices as a secretary, and took me there sometimes when I was on school holidays (this would be very early 1960s). I don't remember seeing anything but typewriters and duplicating machines. Were these calculating devices so expensive, or so cumbersome, that they weren't widely used?

- Ray

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Sherbrook now

View Larger Map

Clare was off at a writers' meeting today, so I took myself off chine-spotting. (Chines, as I've mentioned previously, are the miniature coastal ravines typical of the soft sedimentary cliffs of southern England.

The one in question was Sherbrook Chine, which cuts through the cliffs a little to the west of Budleigh Salterton, and appears as a very distinctive coastal feature on a number of historical postcards of East Devon. Its existence is down to erosion by a stream, running at an angle to the shore. that since the 1800s has been intercepted as a water supply for Budleigh; it's now an overflow from a reservoir. As I briefly mentioned in an earlier post, it was called "Sherbrook Ravine" in the Devonshire Association's 1890 Notes on the parish of East Budleigh. The pamphlet Budleigh Salterton - as it used to be (Richard D Woodall, 1954) shows that it provided access to the beach then ("In Victorian times ... Access to the beach at Sherbrooke Chine was then much easier").

Ordnance Survey map, 1890. Screen shot from Old Maps
reproduced for small scale, non-profit use:
© and database right Crown copyright and Landmark
Information Group Ltd. (All rights reserved 2013).
Here are a few such images found on the Web - I'm assuming they're old enough to be out of copyright.

Sherbrook Chine 01/04/1908 showing railed path
British Geological Survey, National Archive of Geological Photographs
GeoScenic, Cat. No. P201109 - reproduced with permission
It's not so distinctive now. I took the scenic path up the cliff at the west end of Budleigh, which when the houses end turns into the South West Coast Path. After around half a mile, the path dips into an area of scrub and mature woodland, and you can see the top end of the chine, where the reservoir overflow stream goes under the path. Beyond the railings, it starts to descend coastward in shallow cascades:

From the path east of this, however, you can see that the stream bed rapidly becomes a deep (and inaccessible) wooded ravine. There's such a vegetation cover that it's hard to convey it in photographs, except for the general V shape of the treeline that shows it's there; but you can see the sheer pine-topped western wall, which appears as a promontory when you get further away. Even that is not all that easy to photograph, since the edge of the cliff is flanked by thorny ground cover, making it difficult to get to a location with a clear view.

After taking these photos, I walked back down to Budleigh and west along the pebble beach, under scarily carious cliffs, toward Littleham Cove. As you go on to this stretch, you pass a "Clothing Optional" sign, though on a drizzly chilly February afternoon, I didn't have to worry about running into nudists. It's pretty heavy walking - I don't recommend it, unless the tide's low enough to expose the sand at the base of the pebble beach.

a rare bit of path on a beach that's pebble hell

another proto-chine in the much-eroded cliffs
From beach level you can see the lower end of the chine, where the stream finally descends as a waterfall to beach level. The cliff profile has - naturally, given the long-ongoing erosion - radically changed since the old postcard photos were taken, and there certainly aren't any steps going up the chine. Land use on the clifftop has also altered, from open pasture (as you can see from the old map) to scrub, heath and tree cover. I don't know if this is just managed neglect, or intentional planting to stabilise the cliff..

See Sherbrook later for an update and further exploration, 26th May 2013.

On a purely personal note, this was a bit of a test run: my first proper walk (i.e. something with a climb, and more than about a mile) since finishing chemotherapy, and in fact the first of any serious kind since starting the treatment about four months ago. Our normal coastal walks have been impossible, due to the general exhaustion and 'heavy legs' from the chemo. Today was pretty hard work - especially the hill-climb up from Budleigh, and the bit along the pebble beach - but I was determined to do it, and suddenly I find I've crept over the dividing line between feeling ill-tired, and merely feeling out of condition from four months of slobbing-about. While I'd have to take it slowly, I feel I'd be OK for more ambitious walks. Not a bad result. (And actually, I'm wildly understating - I feel quite euphoric to be something like up to speed again, like this).

- Ray

Addendum: Oh, damn - I've given myself an earworm. The post title was a deliberate allusion to song Barrett's Privateers (version by The Real McKenzies) which has the refrain "I wish I was in Sherbrooke now". Now it's stuck in my head.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Philip Stanhope Worsley: naff retouching

Philip Stanhope Worsley, from Poets of the Wight

I was wondering at the weirdness of this photo of the poet Philip Stanhope Worsley in the previously-mentioned book Poets of the Wight. Where are his shoulders? The answer seems to be that whoever was behind the graphics for Poets of the Wight did a completely amateurish retouching of an intimate, powerful, classic - and naughtily uncredited - Julia Margaret Cameron portrait taken in 1866, one of her brilliant trademark close-cropped portraits. The nameless retoucher has removed a pillow and sheet, and put Worsley's head in a larger framing background, with a fake and ill-proportioned black-coated body that makes him look like a Cluedo figure; it's a travesty of the original (below). Worsley, a tuberculosis sufferer, was on his deathbed; as described in Cameron's letter to Sir Henry Cole on 21st February 1866 (see the V&A page), she spent weeks helping nurse him prior to his death on 8th May that year. She gave the photograph the double-edged inscription "From life".

Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron
image from Slovenian Wikipedia (public domain USA)

You can see full details of the original print at the Metropolitan Museum of Art page: Philip Stanhope Worsley. The provenance is described there as:
(sold, Christie's, South Kensington, London, Lot 456, June 26, 1980); Gilman Paper Company Collection, New York 
I haven't been able to find the full details, but there seems to have been some controversy in the early 1980s about its exportation to the USA. The British Journal of Photography reported in 1981 that "A successful petition was made earlier this year to save a Julia Margaret Cameron portrait of Philip Stanhope Worsley for the nation" (BJP, Volume 128, p.909) but evidently this didn't work long-term, and it was one of the examples cited of 'drain' of British artworks by exportation, in Export of Works of Art; Report, Volume 20, Part 1972 (H.M. Stationery Office, 1984).

- Ray

Poets of the Wight

A while back - New Maxwell Gray photo - I mentioned that Brighstone Library had kindly sourced me a clipping from the then-unfindable 1933 book Poets of the Wight (Charles John Arnell, County Press, 1933). I can't find the death date of Arnell, a poet and poetry editor, but he was born in Carisbrooke in 1850 and judging by bibliographics - a Google Books search on inauthor:"Charles John Arnell" finds his last book came out in 1937 - it seems likely he's dead more than 75 years and out of UK copyright. I just found on the Internet Archive the 1922 edition of the book scanned in 2011 from the University of Toronto collection.

Poets of the Wight is a rather strange selection. As you'd expect, there are the obvious major poets with a well-known Isle of Wight connection - Tennyson, Swinburne and Keats - and alongside these it includes lesser-known poets of objective reputation and interest, including Mary F Johnson, John Sterling, the light verse writer William Woty, Edmund Peel, Lionel Tennyson, Philip Stanhope Worsley, the novelist Ena Fitzgerald, Mrs Disney Leith, Alice Meynell, Ellen Mary Sewell and Elizabeth Missing Sewell, Hallam Tennyson, and Mary Gleed Tuttiett ("Maxwell Gray", better known for her novels than her poetry).

But the book is padded out with a nepotistic line-up, including a large section by Arnell himself, of verse from the then-elderly Arnell's friends, family, and associated Isle of Wight worthies: his sister Caroline Annie Arnell, his son Hubert Frederick Barstow Carstairs Arnell, Thomas Lee (editor of the Isle of Wight County Press, which published the book), Mrs Jemima Luke, Sir Frederick Black, K.C.B., Robey Frank Eldridge (a Newport solicitor and small-town politician), Miss Innell Jolliffe (proprietor of the Isle of Wight Advertiser), Leonard Jordan, Mary Maude, Percy G Scott-Jackson, and Percy Goddard Stone, It seems, in part, a vanity effort.

"Maxwell Gray"
It is, however, worth reading for some of the poetry and for the biographical sketches, and there are a number of characterful author portraits, including the above one of Maxwell Gray, evidently taken at the same sitting as this one in The Bookman; a review of books and life. v.3, March 1896.

See Poets of the Wight. An anthology of Vectensian poets, namely of poets native to or otherwise identified with the Isle of Wight, with selections from their works and prefatory introductions and portraits (Charles John Arnell, Newport Isle of Wight, County Press, 1922, Internet Archive ID poetsofwightanth00arne).

- Ray
Percy Goddard Stone
Percy G Scott-Jackson
Mrs Disney Leith
Leonard Jordan
Portrait of Philip Stanhope Worsley
ripped off from Julia Margaret Cameron.
Here's why it looks weird.
Ena Fitzgerald
Robey Frank Eldridge
Sir Frederick Black, K.C.B.
Charles John Arnell
Canon Laurence Tuttiett - uncle of "Maxwell Gray"
Lionel Tennyson
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
uncredited ripoff of George J Stodart engraving
Algernon Swinburne
Albert Midlane - Newport ironmonger and hymn writer
Mrs Jemima Luke
Thomas Lee
Hubert Arnell, the author's son who died
of "heat-apoplexy" in Buenos Aires
Caroline Annie Arnell - the author's sister