Tuesday 22 May 2007

London Walks


I must confess that I'm not that fond of organised walks, preferring to ramble through London at random. Nonetheless, I was impressed recently by the breadth of walks listed on the London Footprints site. I'd also like to mention the peculiar London Adventure who provide a fascinating and recherché list of subjects! The latter, however, is almost more of a club, which (yes, you guessed it, dear reader) I have never attended ... email Mr. Granger-Taylor if you would like to participate. ... ngrangertaylor@aol.com ... the site seems a little out of date ... their 2007 programme is mentioned here

Crystal Palace, Revisited


Although I like to explore Victorian London's more obscure quarters on this blog, I've just recalled Dr. Russell Potter's excellent page of tit-bits on the Crystal Palace, which are well-worth a visit. What caught my eye most was a picture of the "Talking Telegraph" whose description I'd come across in the Illustrated London News, of which Dr. Potter provides a picture (where is it now, I wonder? I must make discreet inquiries!). Talking of which, readers may wish to note that the Illustrated London News library is online - not every picture, as yet, but still a good deal of interesting Victoriana.

Tuesday 8 May 2007

Plaques and Places


Another site for the topography list, London Remembers, as spotted by www.londonist.com ... a guide to obscure London plaques, dedications, memorials etc., going way beyond the call of duty with interactive map and lots of historical detail, including obscure Victoriana. A random browse finds, for instance, the plaque marking the location of the Queen's Theatre. My only criticism is that it seems a little slow ... but worth the wait!

Thursday 3 May 2007

Episodes in an Obscure Life


Digitisation is a bit on the back-burner at the Victorian Dictionary at the moment; however, that said, you can find the start of Richard Rowe's "Episodes in an Obscure Life" ... a Mayhew-esque study of the poor East End by a local clergyman (I think a fictionalised version of his own life, but I may be wrong) ... the first chapters are here ... (1-2) (3) (4).

Mesmerising, Again


Astute readers may have noticed a recent upsurge in my interest in mesmerists. This is because the second Sarah Tanner novel will feature mesmerism (envisaged, I hasten to add, before I came across this - d'oh! but never mind, we press on regardless ... any other forthcoming novels featuring mesmerists, I don't want to hear about it) and it's a fascinating subject to research. One great source is Jane Welsh Carlyle's brush with a mesmerist. I was impressed to find her letters online (must read all of them when I have the chance) ... here's the one in question:-

To John Welsh, Esq., Liverpool.

Chelsea : Dec. 13, 1847.

My dearest Uncle, - I write to you de profundis, that is to say, from the depths of my tub-chair, into which I have migrated within the last two hours, out of the still lower depths of my gigantic red bed, which has held me all this week, a victim to the 'inclemency of the season'! Oh, uncle of my affections, such a season! Did you ever feel the like of it? Already solid ice in one's water jug! 'poor Gardiners all froz out,' and Captain Sterling going at large in a dress of skins, the same that he wore in Canada! I tried to make head against it by force of volition - kept off the fire as if I had been still at 'Miss Hall's,' where it was a fine of sixpence to touch the hearthrug, and walked, walked, on Carlyle's pernicious counsel (always for me, at least) to 'take the bull by the horns,' instead of following Darwin's more sensible maxim, 'in matters of health always consult your sensations.' And so, 'by working late and early, I'm come to what ye see'! in a tub-chair - a little live bundle of flannel shawls and dressing-gowns, with little or no strength to speak of, having coughed myself all to fiddle-strings in the course of the week, and 'in a dibble of a temper,' if I had only anybody to vent it on! Nevertheless, I am sure 'I have now got the turn,' for I feel what Carlyle would call 'a wholesome desire to smoke'! which cannot be gratified, as C. is dining with Darwin; but the tendency indicates a return to my normal state of health.

The next best thing I can think of is to write to thee; beside one's bedroom fire, in a tub-chair, the family affections bloom up so strong in one! Moreover, I have just been reading for the first time Harriet Martineau's outpourings in the 'Athenæum, and 'that minds me,' as my Helen says, that you wished to know if I too had gone into this devilish thing. Catch me! What I think about it were not easy to say, but one thing I am very sure of, that the less one has to do with it the better; and that it is all of one family with witchcraft, demoniacal possession - is, in fact, the selfsame principle presenting itself under new scientific forms, and under a polite name. To deny that there is such a thing as animal magnetism, and that it actually does produce many of the phenomena here recorded, is idle; nor do I find much of this, which seems wonderful because we think of it for the first time, a whit more wonderful than those common instances of it, which never struck us with surprise merely because we have been used to see them all our lives. Everybody, for instance, has seen children thrown almost into convulsions by someone going through the motions of tickling them! Nay, one has known a sensitive uncle shrink his head between his shoulders at the first pointing of a finger towards his neck!

Does not a man physically tremble under the mere look of a wild beast or fellow-man that is stronger than himself? Does not a woman redden all over when she feels her lover's eyes on her? How then should one doubt the mysterious power of one individual over another? Or what is there more surprising in being made rigid than in being made red? in falling into sleep, than in falling into convulsions? in following somebody across a room, than in trembling before him from head to foot? I perfectly believe, then, in the power of magnetism to throw people into all sorts of unnatural states of body; could have believed so far without the evidence of my senses, and have the evidence of my senses for it also.

I saw Miss Bölte magnetised one evening at Mrs. Buller's by a distinguished magnetiser, who could not sound his h's, and who maintained, nevertheless, that mesmerism 'consisted in moral and intellectual superiority.' In a quarter of an hour, by gazing with his dark animal eyes into hers, and simply holding one of her hands, while his other rested on her head, he had made her into the image of death; no marble was ever colder, paler, or more motionless, and her face had that peculiarly beautiful expression which Miss Martineau speaks of, never seen but in a dead face, or a mesmerised one. Then he played cantrups with her arm and leg, and left them stretched out for an hour in an attitude which no awake person could have preserved for three minutes. I touched them, and they felt horrid - stiff as iron, I could not bend them down with all my force. They pricked her hand with the point of a penknife, she felt nothing. And now comes the strangest part of my story. The man, who regarded Carlyle and me as Philistines, said, 'Now are you convinced?' 'Yes, said Carlyle, there is no possibility of doubting but that you have stiffened all poor little Miss Bölte there into something very awful.' Yes, said I pertly, but then she wished to be magnetised; what I doubt is, whether anyone could be reduced to that state without the consent of their own volition. I should like for instance to see anyone magnetise me!' 'You think I could not?' said the man with a look of ineffable disdain. 'Yes,' said I,' I defy you?' 'Will you give me your hand, Miss?' 'Oh, by all means;' and I gave him my hand with the most perfect confidence in my force of volition, and a smile of contempt. He held it in one of his, and with the other made what Harriet Martineau calls some 'passes' over it, as if he were darting something from his finger ends. I looked him defiantly in the face, as much as to say, 'You must learn to sound your h's, sir, before you can produce any effect on a woman like me!' And whilst this or some similar thought was passing through my head - flash there went over me, from head to foot, something precisely like what I once experienced from taking hold of a galvanic ball, only not nearly so violent. I had presence of mind to keep looking him in the face, as if I had felt nothing; and presently he flung away my hand with a provoked look, saying, 'I believe you would be a very difficult subject, but nevertheless, if I had time given me, I am sure I could mesmerise you; at least, I never failed with anyone as yet.'

Now, if this destroyed for me my theory of the need of a consenting will, it as signally destroyed his of moral and intellectual superiority; for that man was superior to me in nothing but animal strength, as I am a living woman! I could even hinder him from perceiving that he had mesmerised me, by my moral and intellectual superiority! Of the clairvoyance I have witnessed nothing; but one knows that people with a diseased or violently excited state of nerves can see more than their neighbours. When my insane friend was in this house he said many things on the strength of his insanity which in a mesmerised person would have been quoted as miracles of clairvoyance.

Of course a vast deal of what one hears is humbug. This girl of Harriet's seems half diseased, half make-believing. I think it a horrible blasphemy they are there perpetrating, in exploiting that poor girl for their idle purposes of curiosity! In fact, I quite agree with the girl, that, had this Mrs. Winyard lived in an earlier age of the world, she would have been burned for a witch, and deserved it better than many that were; since her poking into these mysteries of nature is not the result of superstitious ignorance, but of educated self-conceit.

In fact, with all this amount of belief in the results of animal magnetism, I regard it as a damnable sort of tempting of Providence, which I, as one solitary individual, will henceforth stand entirely aloof from.

And now, having given you my views at great length, I will return to my bed and compose my mind. Love to all; thanks to Helen. With tremendous kisses,

Your devoted niece,


That wretched little Babbie does not write because I owe her a letter. A letter from her would have been some comfort in these dreary days of sickness; but since she has not bestowed it, I owe her the less thanks.