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glyph (plural glyphs)

  1. A figure carved in relief or incised, especially representing a sound, word, or idea.
    1. Any of various figures used in Mayan writing.
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  4. (architecture) A vertical groove.

 

Between Camden Town and Holloway

For me,

one of the more insightful parts of The London Adventure — both as a reader and also as curator of the Agincourt Project — are the four pages devoted to Machen’s ramble between Camden Town and Holloway, two north London neighborhoods. Camden Town is surely the better known of the pair, but the territory between them must have had very little prominence in the early 1920s. Which makes Machen’s observations all the more intriguing. So I have transcribed them here for your interest, edification, and entertainment.

Oh, and a note on Machen’s style: quite aside from certain Briticisms, which I’ll footnote as I am able, he eschews paragraphing as a convenience for his readers; indeed, the whole book is somewhat a stream of consciousness; there are “chapters” but I’m damned if I know why. So, as an aid, I have taken the liberty of paragraphing this excerpt to afford a little visual breathing room. It’s probable that Machen would think I’d done disservice to his tale.

…I remember once, I think it must have been in this borderland between the two quarters, coming at haphazard upon an unpretending street that to me was a whole chapter in social history.

The houses were modest little places enough, standing back from the road, houses for small incomes, one would say. But each one of them had its little coach house and its little stable; and for me here were compact histories of the “Sketches by Boz” period. Here lived, I suppose, people of the £250–£350 a year standard, as money was in those days. I conceive them as living quite carefully.

There would be one little maid who did the rougher work of the house, who got up very early indeed in the morning and swept the rooms and lit the fires. But the mistress, or perhaps a daughter, helped her to make the beds and very likely—see Miss Trotwood—washed up the real china cups and saucers, and was responsible for the cakes and the tarts and all the niceties of cookery.

The boy or hobbledehoy who looked after the pony and the basket-work chaise for six pounds a year, blacked the boots and did all sorts of odd jobs about the house and garden. I should suppose there were two joints of meat a week, but no more. There were eggs for breakfast but no bacon.

If master were “retired,” then the principal meal of the day was between one and three of the afternoon; otherwise the boy, the pony and the chaise took him into the city in the morning and brought him back to dinner in the evening. The gig and pony were sometimes put up in the dim stable yards and back places, the very site and existence of which, in our modern London, must remain a profound mystery; and what the boy did in the interval, between morning and evening I cannot imagine. Perhaps, even probably, he drove back to Camden Town and cleaned knives and worked in the garden till five o’clock, and then set out again to fetch the master.

Sometimes he would drive his mistress to Hornsey where Cousin Jane lived. Then master would walk back from the City and think nothing of it. It was a very small life. On the sideboard—Sheraton, very likely, for people of slight means could not afford to buy smart modern furniture—there were cake and wive; sherry wine and port wine—ready for anybody, who might pay a morning call; but in the absence of such visitors, I do not think that the mistress of the house or her daughters often partook of these dainties. The cake, I daresay, was apt to get somewhat dry and the wine to grow somewhat flat and weary before the sentence was uttered: “We may as well finish them.”

Three or four times a year the family started early in the morning and drove off to Twickenham go see Uncle James, who was well-to-do. There was roast veal or goose for dinner, veal and ham pie or beefsteak pudding, Scotch Ale or Madeira. There might be salmon, there might be pheasant—according to the season—and if there were ay sort of family anniversary, champaign might well be produced. If it were warm weather, the men of the party spent and hour or two of the afternoon in the summer house overlooking the river, drinking punch. The ladies did their “work” in the drawing-room and told family histories. At ten o’clock, after a bowl of bishop and a sandwich with the alternative of tea and thin bread and butter, the bell was rung, the boy was ordered to put in the pony, and the party returned to Camden Town. There was probably, almost certainly, “something hot” before going to bed; and this was also the case after one of the rare visits to the play.

These people took no regular summer holidays; now and again they stayed for a week or two with relations in Somerset, and that was all, and in return, a son or daughter of the relations in Somerset would stay for a week in the house in Camden Town, and for that week the family budget would be swollen. There would be ham for breakfast, something extra in the pudding way for dinner, a couple of theatres in the week, and oysters for supper afterwards, instead of the usual bread and cheese. Very few books in that house: odd volumes of Pope, Akenside, Smollett, the Rambler, Don Quixote, Drelingcourt on Death, Law’s Serious Call; none of them much read.

So much I saw as I passed down that street, Camden Town–Holloway, and I believe that most of it is truly seen, deduced rather, from the little coach houses and the little stables; and all a vision of a mode of life that has passed utterly away. [from The London Adventure, pp. 60-65.]

Arthur Machen could take for granted that his readers were acquainted with several terms and place names peppered causally through his narrative. Here are some that I’ve looked up:

  • hobbledehoy” — a clumsy or awkward youth.
  • Sketches by Boz” — a collection of short pieces Charles Dickens originally published in various newspapers and other periodicals between 1833 and 1836.
  • Hornsey“— a district of north London.
  • Twickenham” — during the 18th and 19th centuries, a number of fine houses were built and Twickenham became a popular place of residence for people of “fashion and distinction”.
  • Miss Trotwood” — Aunt Betsey Trotwood, a character in David Copperfield.
  • a bowl of bishop” — the word “bishop” was 19th-century code for port—which referred to a roasted clove and orange-infused port punch, warmed and mulled with baking spices.
  • Somerset” — A county in southwest England.
  • Smollett” — Tobias Smollett [1721-1771]
  • Drelingcourt on Death” — Drelincourt, Charles, The Christian’s consolations against the fears of death : with seasonable directions how to prepare ourselves to die well (1826).
  • Law’s Serious Call” — Law, William, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1729 and ff).

Just imagine. That’s a request to speculate; an invitation. Imagine the accumulated knowledge required for Machen to draw so much from an unfamiliar landscape. Imagine having such insight to the lives of other people, other times. It isn’t what he says that inspires; it’s that he can and with such conviction.

PS: By a remarkable coincidence, Fargo architect George Hancock lived in London municipal ward of Upper Holloway during the 1881 UK census.

The London Adventure

An Essay in Wandering, by Arthur Machen

The cover of this book is soiled and showing its age; and its dust jacket has long since turned to dust. So I include the title page, should anyone wish to find their own copy of a book long out of print.

Machen (pen name of Arthur Llewellyn Jones) was a Welsh mystic known for his supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction. For our purposes, he was also an early proponent of what has come to be called psychogeography. The London Adventure of 1924 is often mentioned by current psycholgeographers such as Iain Sinclair as influential on their own writing. Just half way through the book, I’ve already found support for some of the stuff done intuitively here in Agincourt.

There is one among many particularly potent passages about “London incognita“, where Machen questions our ability really know the city. “[H]ow many people know their Camden Town in any thorough and intelligent manner? They may know the main artery of it by which the omnibuses go up to Hampstead; but not the byeways, not the curious passages of Camden Town into Holloway.” He then discusses an out-of-the-way borderland community “between two quarters”, “unpretending” yet comprising a “whole chapter in social history”. For four and one-half pages, he then describes the daily lives of its denizens in detail worthy of Dickens, but intuited from what his senses reveal. How could I not see the people of Mesopotamia in a similar light? There is more than a chapter to be derived from just this one of Agincourt’s humbler neighborhoods. So I suppose I must derive it.

Little Magazines

 

Little Magazines and Small Presses

The turn of the last century — the 19th into the 20th, that is — was the heyday of the Little Magazine and the Small Presses which often printed them with handset type, on rich, textured papers, in small quantities for limited circulation. “Precious” might be the word that springs to mind. But they were published in thick of the Arts & Crafts Movement, after all; it was a precious decade. Many of them never achieved three complete volumes, however, but that had little to do with their influence: the ephemeral can sometimes have a large and lasting effect. Today, they have become highly collectible — and proportionally quite expensive.

Their content leaned toward the aesthetic; William Morris, Aubrey Beardsley (a.k.a, Awfully Weirdly), and Oscar Wilde are names we associate with the phenomenon. Indeed, it was The Yellow Book, a prominent U.K. literary journal published during 1894-1897, that made Beardsley a virtual household word — especially if your house were designed by Richard Norman Shaw. I’m privileged to have a nearly complete run, with literary contributions by Max Beerbohm and Baron Corvo (alias Frederick William Serafino Austin Lewis Mary Rolfe), among others probably not on your literary radar. [For a complete list, see F. W. Faxon’s Ephemeral Bibelots of 1903.]

Another exotic quarterly was The Blue Sky Magazine, published by Messrs. Langworthy and Swift at their Blue Sky Press [operational during 1899-1907] in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, not far from Robie House. Copies of their publications could have been perused at Browne’s Bookstore, a long-demolished interior redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright for Francis Fisher Browne in 1907; Browne was a leader in the Chicago literary renaissance and publisher of The Dial.

Glancing this evening at one of these journals caused me to wonder: Was there a print shop in Agincourt? Could it have been part of the Little Magazine-Small Press phenomenon, say some time between 1900 and the outbreak of World War One? And what might that imply about a rural Iowa community’s intellectual linkage with the wider world?

Wouldn’t it be fun to cobble an issue together (he inquired rhetorically)?

Heraclitus

Now and then, the introductory essays appended to an Amazon book listing are downright good. This unsigned/unattributed “review” is connected with HERACLITUS: I went in search of myself…:

It’s a zoo out there: monkeys and donkeys, dogs, hogs, chickens and more. And of course, then there are lice, and lots of them.

It’s also a zoo within. Heraclitus is brutal about it. He compares us to all these animals (except the lice–and revealed in this book for the first time is why). We are called swine delighting in mire, cattle stuffing ourselves, asses preferring garbage over gold, and just as beasts we need to be “guided by blows.”

But it’s not all good news. Heraclitus also calls us oblivious: we are sleepers, fools, drunkards, absent, deaf, and yes, dead. Once dead, Heraclitus instructs that our corpse should be thrown out faster than dung. He says we don’t know how to listen and neither can we speak. We are deluded and believe our own opinions. We are absent while present. Almost certainly, like most people, we will forever fail to grasp what Heraclitus is talking about, as he concludes at the opening of his book.

But then, Heraclitus did not try to teach most people. Not even those few who realize that in all these fragments this is not just colorful or poetic imagery, but Heraclitus is actually talking to us, about us. He only wrote for those even more rare individuals who are ready to do something about our devastating condition of oblivion, our state of sleep.

If that is you, if that is me, then the remaining fragments of his book (all in this new edition) contain exhortations so incisive, so powerful that they–when actually used and lived–will “deeply dye our soul with a continuous stream of thought” as Marcus Aurelius said.

Marcus Aurelius kept Heraclitus’ sayings constantly in mind: In Marcus’ words: “They [these exhortations, these commands] are brief and fundamental because they are thus more memorable, and because they should take effect at once.” As we also read in his Meditations: “The work of philosophy is simple and modest; do not lead me astray with pompous pride.”

Heraclitus exhorts us to “Rise up and become wakeful watchers of living men and corpses” and to “douse hubris faster and more thoroughly than a raging fire.” No matter the weariness that Heraclitus accepts as part of this struggle (and we must too), we have to start again, and again, an inner war: moment by moment to be beginners and answer the Delphic command “Know Thyself” by going in search of ourselves, to learn to re-cognite ourselves and then get to work: picking off our lice.

Rising from sleep, this time choosing gold over garbage.

The Ephebic Oath

Learning the Pledge of Allegiance was probably my introduction to civic notions of “patriotism”, though that word had not yet become part of my vocabulary. Within a year or two, though, when we got our first television, I distinctly recall news coverage of the hearings by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The senator had made unsubstantiated claims of the army and the government itself being riddled with Communists. And I also recall watching (kinescopes rather than live coverage, I suppose) the now famous exchange between attorney Joseph Welch and the senator: “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

At age nine I didn’t know what to make of that. In hindsight I should have been more concerned about the Boys Club leader Verle B***** who was quietly accused of molestation. Perhaps I wasn’t his type. But neither did I comprehend what Communism was nor why we had to root it out. Though we eventually studied small-C communism in civics class — when did those disappear from school curricula, by the way? — any awareness of Patriotism was learned by osmosis, I guess.

During the 1960s (my coming of age) “love of country” was a hotly contested issue and remains so today, as we find remarkably different and often contradictory ways of expression. How do you suppose Archers (the name for anyone from Agincourt; it’s a history thing) are divided on the topic? They are, after all, in the center of the 7th Congressional District, Steve King’s turf.

All this came to mind when I chanced upon something called the Ephebic Oath, taken by young Athenian men at about the age of eighteen as a step in achieving citizenship. I found a wonderful (and mercifully brief) explication, not only its role in that process, but also contrasting it with our own time and practice; contrasting the positions between civic oaths and those for military service was especially interesting. Your Ancient Greek is probably as rusty as mine, so here is an English translation:

Alexander McAdie, The Ephebic Oath and Other Essays (San Francisco / 1903)

The Ephebic Oath

“I will not bring dishonour on my sacred arms nor will I abandon my comrade wherever I shall be stationed. I will defend the rights of gods and men and will not leave my country smaller, when I die, but greater and better, so far as I am able by myself and with the help of all. I will respect the rulers of the time duly and the existing ordinances duly and all others which may be established in the future. Furthermore, if anyone seeks to destroy the ordinances I will oppose him so far as I am able by myself and with the help of all. I will honor the cults of my fathers. Witnesses to this shall be the gods Agraulus, Hestia, Enyo, Enyalius, Ares, Athena the Warrior, Zeus, Thallo, Auxo, Hegemone, Heracles, and the boundaries of my native land, wheat, barley, vines, olive-trees, fig-trees…“

A new pleasure…

“The first thing Arthur noticed as they entered into the thick of the party, apart from the noise, the suffocating heat, the wild profusion of colours that protruded dimly through the atmosphere of heavy smoke, the carpets thick with ground glass, ash and avocado droppings, and the small group of pterodactyl-like creatures in lurex who descended on his cherished bottle of retsina, squawking, “A new pleasure, a new pleasure”, was Trillian being chatted up by a Thunder God.” — The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

For some of us the internet is a boundless buffet. And I, for one, fail to recognize when my plate is overfull and it’s time to push away. Looking for who knows what today, I stumbled upon a postcard reproduction of a painting by an Italian artist (presumably living in Italy, because I can find so little about him in English) named Enrico Leonne [1865-1921]. Google insists I must be searching for “Henrico Leone”, an opera in three acts composed by Agostino Steffani, which  is comparably unknown to me.

So few of Leonne’s works materialize in a google image search that this pair of portraits are curiously balanced; the second showed up in my otherwise fruitless quest. Are they the same subject? And did all this slouching have any long-term consequences for her posture?

It probably goes without saying (so I’ll say it anyway): Signore Leonne is unlikely to have been represented in the Community Collection — though I wish that weren’t true.

Do you think he might have been influenced by Gustav Klimt?

Gustav Klimt / “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” a.k.a. “The Lady in Gold” / 1907

elionneDreams

Enrico Leonne (1865-1921) / “I Sogni” or “Dreams” (n.d.)