Friday 15 June 2012

'Better than a dog anyhow'

Charles Darwin considers marriage ...


Children—(if it Please God) — Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one,—  object to be beloved & played with.— better than a  dog anyhow.— Home, & someone to take care of house— Charms of music & female chit-chat.— These  things good for one’s health. — but terrible loss of time. — My God, it is intolerable to think of spending ones whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all.— No, no won’t do.— Imagine living all one’s day solitarily in smoky dirty London House.— Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books &  music perhaps— Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro’ St. Marry—Mary—Marry Q.E.D.


Freedom to go where one liked— choice of Society & little of it. — Conversation of clever men at clubs— Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle.— to have the expense & anxiety of children— perhaps quarelling— Loss of time. — cannot read in the  Evenings— fatness & idleness— Anxiety & responsibility— less money for books  &c— if many children forced to gain one’s bread.— (But then it is very bad for ones health to work  too much) Perhaps my wife wont like London; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool—

For the full correspondence, click here ...

Wednesday 13 June 2012

George Bernard Shaw on Photoshop

The polymathic George Bernard Shaw here takes an early stand against the use of retouched photographs of celebrities in publishing:- 

13 November 1893
Dear Sir,

     As usual, the Stereoscopic people have taken a decent photograph and then deliberately ruined it by rubbing every line and mark out of the face, which looks like a piece of dirty drawing paper. Please, in the interests of reasonable art and common sense, do not have it reproduced. There are three alternatives: 1. Don't portray me at all, which I should prefer to any encouragement of this abominable retouching business, which I have always denoucned as an art critic. 2. Use the excellent wood-cut you published in the R. of R. last January (I think) and which was done for the Ill. London News. 3. Reproduce the enclosed untouched photo, which you can see at least represents a human face with the traces of a human life on it, instead of the slob of wet dough which the Stereoscopic people have felt bound to produce. It has never been reproduced before and even a half successful print of it would be better than an entirely successful print of the other.

         Yours very truly,

                 G. Bernard Shaw

Aubrey Beardsley's favourite restaurant

I would associate him with the St. James's Restaurant, "Jimmy's" as it was called, a resort to which the young men and young women who had spent the earlier hours of the evening in the promenades of the Empire or the Alhambra would repair when those markets were closed. One used to eat oysters and kidneys at "Jimmy's", and, if one could pretend to being any kind of artist, one used to study human nature - or say that one did. Anyhow, it was one of Beardsley's favourite haunts. He would find there the types which, back at his desk, he would translate into the sinister creatures of his brain. Beardsley was an exquisite. He loved the beauty of women's clothes, the little decorations and the conventions of men's fashions. We came out of "Jimmy's" together one night - you had to leave at half past twelve, or on Saturdays at twelve, but until those hours no restraint was put on what one ate or drank - and walked together towards Coventry Street where at the shop of la veuve Subtil he wanted to buy some new and surprising French book.  It was piercingly cold - an early March night when sleet had fallen, and the wind was from the east - and he fell to lamenting the sombre, sober nature of the clothes he had to wear. I recall that he wanted an overcoat of white whose lining and revers were to be of some faint shade of pink .... But it was very, very seldom that Beardsley indulged in extravagance of talk.

Grant Richards, Memories of a Misspent Youth, 1932

Sunday 10 June 2012

How many Peelers away?

This change of residence caused me to lose my way when trying to walk back on the first night of my stay there. Not knowing which way to turn I appealed to a policeman for help. Without a word he signed me to follow him. At the end of the street, he handed me over to another policeman with the two words "Bond Street". This one escorted me the length of his beat, and there another one took charge of me, and so on, till I had counted twelve. None of them spoke a single word to me, and the lose one simply pointed to the door. It is a novel way of reaching one's destination! You just inform your friends that you are eight or ten peelers away, they calculate the time needed, and so can dispense with maps. I had noticed during my walk that policemen were busy testing the doors of houses, which I thought an excellent precaution. Evidently the inviolability of an Englishman's home is not respected by burglars.

Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties, 1935

Whitebait Dinners at Greenwich

Six hours later we were sitting down to dinner at the Trafalgar Hotel at Greenwich. The management of organised pleasure trips invites the excursionists to a banquet there on the eve of their departure. As one cannot when one is alone witness the sight of such a spread served in the English fashion, I joined those of my compatriots who were still in London as a guest of the "Voyages Parisiens," These touristic organisations obtain special permits for visiting places of interest, which are not always open to the public, a convenient arrangement, which saves much personal trouble. I easily obtained an invitation for this Homeric repast, famous for its thirty fish courses. This culinary experience is most interesting for us as any museum. As with Aesop's tongues, fish is disguised in a variety of ways. Turbot, salmon, sole, sturgeon are served with incendiary sauces that stagger and parch one. These peppery concoctions left me unmoved if not cold - but a friture of whitebait is really a dish to set before a king. As those microscopic gudgeons are only to be found in the Thames, it was a novelty for us and one we are not likely to forget.  The meal was served in a verandah overlooking the river, which shimmered in the rays of the setting sun. Numerous small craft glided to and fro, their sails sharply outlined against the flaming sky. When dessert came toasts were drunk to all political parties urbi et orbi, and a few English people attracted by the shouts of revelry joined in with hearty hurrahs. Even the naval cadets out at practice in rowing boats cheered enthusiastically in their childish treble.

Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties, 1935

More on fish dinners at Greenwich here.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Street Signs

Streets bearing the same names can be found in every district. There are at least twenty Prince's Streets, Queen Streets, Charles Streets, etc. Then each appellation is subdivided into lane, road, place, terrace, row, etc. and even these are not necessarily adjacent. The street may be at one end of London, the terrace at the other. It is most dreadfully confusing. When at last you have located your street your troubles are not over. Numbers are carelessly painted, sometimes illegible, or they may lurk playfully round the corner of some other street as though having a game of hide and seek. It is impossible to remember a house however often you have been to it as all the others are identical, and the whole row seems to stare at you in derision with its shutterless windows like glassy unblinking eyes. The name of the street is not indicated in a uniform way as it is in Paris, but just haphazard - sometimes on one side only and in a variety of letterings. As other inscriptions are also to be seen on walls and houses the unwary foreigner is liable to make most ludicrous mistakes. The adventures of the wretched Frenchman who most carefully copied out "Commit No Nuisance" and gave it as his address are too well known to bear repetition, but there is no reason why the story should not be perfectly authentic.

Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties, 1935

Saturday 2 June 2012

Vexations Unknown

A Frenchman goes inside the Reform Club in the 1850s and provides us with a great description. Clubs were unparalleled in their luxury - to have both cold and hot running water would have been very unusual in this period, I think, even in grand houses.

The Reform Club is a majestic building, practically square and reminiscent of the Farnese Palace in Rome. It is two floors high, with nine windows along the frontage and eight on the sides. A porter sits at a desk in the lobby, to answer visitors' questions and probably to see that none but members penetrate within its imposing portals. The interior hall is surrounded by colonnades supporting a large gallery. The floor is tessellated in imitation of Roman mosaic. The pillars are made of stucco of the colour of Siennese marble; the dome which lights the hall is of diapered flint glass and is supported by twenty Ionic columns; their red porphyry basements breaking the line of a stone balustrade rest on the gallery, which is reached by a broad white marble stairway. This gallery, where one can stroll as in a covered cloister, is fitted with easy chairs, mirrors, pictures and a thick carpet. It is a kind of general sitting-room from which you can observe the hall below into which visitors are ushered. A drawing-room so large that it must intended for dancing, a card-room, reading-room, and private reception-rooms open into this gallery, as do also the two important libraries; the one containing literary works, the other legal and political ones. There are two librarians on the staff of the club. On the upper floor there are a considerable number of bedrooms. London is so vast, time so precious, that large sums of money are spent on saving minutes. If a member happens to have businses appointments for the next morning, or expects to be kept late in the evning, instead of going home he brings or sends his things to the club and spends the night there. Every bedroom has a recessed fitted with a white marble basin into which through two taps hot an cold water can be poured at any time. Soaps, unguents, perfumes, essences, toilet articles; a complete array of them is to be fuond there, as well as highly trained valets always in readiness to dress or shave one. If a member merely want s to change his clothes, he can do so just as conveniently of the ground floor and thus avoid the fatigue of climbing the stairs. Even well-appointed bathrooms are to be found there. In the basement are the kitchens, planned by the famous French chef Alexis Soyer; there one can see roasting, in front of a wall of fire five feet high, enormous sections of beef, sheep cut in half and long chaplets of fowls. A double screen enables the cooks, by taking an occasional peep, to keep an eye on the roast without being themselves grilled alive. In another room fitted with a gigantic baking oven all the pastry is made. Further along are the dairy, the stillroom, the larder, where pieces of meat ready cut are placed in enormous chests on beds of ice that drain off into zinc receptacles. Fish is kept in the same way. Everything is clean, even luxurious, and the kitchen utensils are resplendent. Having been shown all these marvels by Mr. P., who was delighted at my unfeigned admiration, we went into the coffee-room, a large high room giving on to a charming garden. Twenty servants in dress clothes wait on a number of small table noiselessly and with extreme promptitude. They tread with felt soles on th ethick pile of expensive carpets; plates and dishes, instead of being piled up on top of one another, are brought and removed singly. The sound of footsteps, creaky shoes, the clatter of crockery and knives and forks are vexations unknown to the fortunate mortals who dine in clubs.
Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties, 1935