Friday, 30 June 2017

Vasari's Lives of the Artists Chapter VIII: Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Lorenzo Ghiberti is the eighth artist in my abridged version of Vasari's Lives of the Artists, which means I'm about a quarter of the way through, though there are some very lengthy chapters ahead! As, I'm afraid to say, with all the other artists so far, Ghiberti was new to me, and now I'd say he was a new favourite.

The Life of Lorenzo Ghiberti, Sculptor
[c. 1381 - 1455]

"There is no doubt that in every city, those individuals whose talents achieve some fame among their fellow man become, in most instances, a holy light of inspiration for many others, both those who are born after them as well as those who live in their own age, and they also receive infinite praise and extraordinary rewards during their own lifetime. There is nothing which more arouses men's minds or causes them to consider less burdensome the disciple of their studies than the prospect of honour and profit that is later to be derived from the exercise of their talents, for these benefits make difficult undertakings seem easier for everyone, and men's talents grow more quickly when they are exalted by worldly praise. Countless numbers of people, who see and hear others being praised, take great pains in their work to put themselves in a position to earn the rewards they see their compatriots have deserved. Because of this in ancient times, men of talent were either rewarded with riches and hoonoured with triumphs and statues. But since it rarely happens that talent is not persecuted by envy, it is necessary to do one's utmost to overcome envy through absolute pre-eminence or to become vigorous and powerful in order to endure under such envious attacks. Lorenzo di Cione Ghiberti (also known as Lorenzo di Bartoluccio) knew how to do so very well, thanks both to his merits and good fortune, for Donatello the sculptor and Filippo Brunelleschi, the architect and sculptor, both superb artists, declared him their equal and recognised him to be a better master in casting than they were themselves, although common sense might have led them to maintain the contrary. This was truly an action that redounded to their glory, but to the confusion of many other presumptuous men who are set to work  and seek to usurp the rank earned through the talent of others, and who, after straining for a thousand years to produce a single work without any success, trouble and frustrate the works of others by their malice and envy."
Ghiberti, Vasari writes, started his professional life as a goldsmith, learning from his father Bartoluccio Ghiberti. He left Florence during the plague, and when he returned he was commissioned to build the doors of the church of San Giovanni, the oldest church of the city, and he went on to work on other doors, working in bronze, such as those of the Office of the Works Department. As with many of the other artists in Varari's Lives, his inspiration came mostly from the Bible, particularly the New Testament, and the lives of the saints. As well as castings, Ghiberti also cast statues, such as those at Orsanmichele. Vasari concludes this relatively long chapter with a quote from Vettorio Ghiberti,
"When Michelangelo saw the panels
shining upon the church in gilded bronze
he stood amazed; and after long wonder, he broke the solemn silence in this way:
'Oh divine work! Oh door worthy of heaven!'"
Here are some of Ghiberti's works, the majority of which I found on the wonderful Web Gallery of Art:

Story of Joseph from The Gates of Paradise.

Sybil, from The Gates of Paradise.

Detail from The Gates of Paradise.

Cain and Abel from the Eastern Doors of the Florence Baptistery.

Eastern Doors of the Florence Baptistery.

Jacob and Esau from the doors of the Florence Baptistery.

The Last Supper on the doors of the Florence Baptistery.

Noah and the Flood on the doors of the Florence Baptistery.

North Doors of the Florence Baptistery.

Sacrifice of Isaac (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence).

Self-Portrait of Ghiberti on doors of the Florence Baptistery.

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba on doors of the Florence Baptistery.

John the Baptist (Orsanmichele, Florence).

The Creation of Adam and Eve on the doors of the Florence Baptistery.
The Story of Abraham on the doors of the Florence Baptistery.

The next artist from Vasari's Lives will be The Life of Masaccio from San Giovanni di Valdarno, Painter.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde.

From The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde.
Illustrated by Charles Robinson (1920).
The Selfish Giant is a children's story by Oscar Wilde first published in The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888. It's very short and simple: whilst the Selfish Giant of the title is visiting his friend the Cornish Ogre, children love to play in his beautiful garden:
"It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit.  The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them.  'How happy we are here!' they cried to each other."
One day, however, the giant returns and is furious to see the children have been in his garden. So, he puts up a sign: "Trespassers will be prosecuted" and the children no longer have anywhere to play.

But, something strange occurs: as winter passes and spring begins in the world, it does not begin in the garden:
"Then the Spring came, and all over the country there were little blossoms and little birds.  Only in the garden of the Selfish Giant it was still winter.  The birds did not care to sing in it as there were no children, and the trees forgot to blossom.  Once a beautiful flower put its head out from the grass, but when it saw the notice-board it was so sorry for the children that it slipped back into the ground again, and went off to sleep.  The only people who were pleased were the Snow and the Frost.  “Spring has forgotten this garden,” they cried, “so we will live here all the year round.”  The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak, and the Frost painted all the trees silver.  Then they invited the North Wind to stay with them, and he came.  He was wrapped in furs, and he roared all day about the garden, and blew the chimney-pots down.  “This is a delightful spot,” he said, “we must ask the Hail on a visit.”  So the Hail came.  Every day for three hours he rattled on the roof of the castle till he broke most of the slates, and then he ran round and round the garden as fast as he could go.  He was dressed in grey, and his breath was like ice.
“I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,” said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; “I hope there will be a change in the weather.”
But the Spring never came, nor the Summer.  The Autumn gave golden fruit to every garden, but to the Giant’s garden she gave none.  “He is too selfish,” she said.  So it was always Winter there, and the North Wind, and the Hail, and the Frost, and the Snow danced about through the trees."
Perpetual winter: one cannot help but be reminded of Narnia, which was first published some sixty-two years later. One day, however, he wakes up to find spring has returned, and so too have the children having crept in through a little hole. The giant realises the horribleness of his actions and was truly repentant. When he goes out to see the children, though, they run away, all but one who does not desert him. He helps the boy into the tree, and the children return along with spring. The story does not end there, however; the children continue to play in the garden all summer, with the exception of the little boy who seems to have disappeared until one day he returns:
"Downstairs ran the Giant in great joy, and out into the garden.  He hastened across the grass, and came near to the child.  And when he came quite close his face grew red with anger, and he said, “Who hath dared to wound thee?”  For on the palms of the child’s hands were the prints of two nails, and the prints of two nails were on the little feet.
“Who hath dared to wound thee?” cried the Giant; “tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him.”
“Nay!” answered the child; “but these are the wounds of Love.”
“Who art thou?” said the Giant, and a strange awe fell on him, and he knelt before the little child.
And the child smiled on the Giant, and said to him, “You let me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise.”
And when the children ran in that afternoon, they found the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms."
It is a very moving little story and it's not difficult to see the Christian and socialist undertones. The Giant represents excess, acting only on his own self-interest and disregarding the happiness of others in his greed. But he is saved by the Christ-like figure of the boy who, it could be argued, died for him: the Walter Crane illustration (1910) is a reminder too - the placing the boy into the tree perhaps mimics the crucifixion. The Giant is saved, and, ultimately, he dies in peace. 

And that was my 26th title for the Deal Me In Challenge: the half way point! Next week: The Rose and the Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith.

Over the past fortnight I've been reading books that I've been meaning to read for several years, and my latest is The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith (1766). I've had this novel on my list for ages, at least three years and probably more, and have no reason at all as to why it's taken so long! 

The beginning rather reflects Goldsmith's earlier essay Old Maids and Bachelors (1760), in which he stated,
"I behold an old bachelor in the most contemptible light, as an animal that lives upon the common stock, without contributing his share; he is a beast of prey, and the laws should make use of as many stratagems, and as much force to drive the reluctant savage into the toils, as the Indians when they hunt the rhinoceros. The mob should be permitted to halloo after him, boys might play tricks on him with impunity, every well-bred company should laugh at him, and if, when he turned sixty, he offered to make love, his mistress might spit in his face, or, what would perhaps be a greater punishment, should fairly grant the favour."
And here is the opening sentence of The Vicar of Wakefield:
"I was ever of opinion, that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single, and only talked of population."
An odd sentiment, I thought, for a bachelor such as Goldsmith. But I digress. The paragraph goes on on the subject of his wife, a description I thought rather charming,
"From this motive, I had scarce taken orders a year before I began to think seriously of matrimony, and chose my wife as she did her wedding gown, not for a fine glossy surfaces but such qualities as would wear well. To do her justice, she was a good-natured notable woman; and as for breeding, there were few country ladies who could shew more. She could read any English book without much spelling, but for pickling, preserving, and cookery, none could excel her. She prided herself also upon being an excellent contriver in house-keeping; tho’ I could never find that we grew richer with all her contrivances. However, we loved each other tenderly, and our fondness encreased as we grew old. There was in fact nothing that could make us angry with the world or each other. We had an elegant house, situated in a fine country, and a good neighbourhood. The year was spent in moral or rural amusements; in visiting our rich neighbours, and relieving such as were poor. We had no revolutions to fear, nor fatigues to undergo; all our adventures were by the fire-side, and all our migrations from the blue bed to the brown."
He goes on to describe an idyllic life as a countryside vicar, however things abruptly go wrong as our vicar, Dr. Charles Primrose, makes an unwise investment and loses everything. The family move, and Primrose is demoted from a vicar to a curate (an assistant to a vicar) as well as working as a farmer. His son George's wedding to Arabella Wilmot, one of the first trials Primrose faces, along with the small  matter of trying to marry off his daughters, something that becomes increasingly complex as time marches on.

It's a great little novel and has an interesting publication history. In the words of Samuel Johnson,
"I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and, as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was dressed, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion: I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return; and, having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill."
Goldsmith tells the story of a vicar, once rich, now in poverty and his attempts to navigate the tricky path of morality and prudence with such radically changed circumstances. It's a warning too against vanity, and excess: excessive prudence, which leads to naïvety, and comments very much on social class. The vicar shows great strength and moral courage, his faith is his rock and, in a way, this novel is not unlike the Book of Job, if one imagines The Book of Job to be an 18th Century comedy of manners!

To finish, some illustrations by Arthur Rackham:

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Top Ten Books Read So Far in 2017.

Galerie Bortier by Andrea.

We're almost at the half-way point of the year (can you believe it?!) and, appropriately this week's Top Ten Tuesday is Best Books You've Read In 2017 So Far. Here's my list:

To Walk Invisible written and directed by Sally Wainwright (2016).

In December 2016 the BBC aired To Walk Invisible by Sally Wainwright, a dramatisation of the lives of the Brontës. I adored it and when I learned it had used Juliet Barker's biography as reference (Wainwright referred to the biography as her "bible") I knew I had to read it. So, in January I began and I could not put it down, reading well over 100 pages a night and going to bed at 8 o' clock to do so! It's the best biography I've ever read, and so far the best read of 2017.

This is a natural history book, an account of the flora and fauna of Selborne in Hampshire. White shares not only the natural details of his area but also his love and enthusiasm for the subject. It's very readable and very beautiful (mostly; there is a grim account of a battle between a toad and a raven).

The Diary of a Farmer's Wife.
This is a charming account of the life of a farmer's wife in Herefordshire in the late 18th Century. It's also a bit of a mystery: it's authenticity is questioned, but whoever wrote it and whenever they wrote it, it is a lovely escape from the present back to rural England.

This is a collection of inspirational fables inspired by Sufism and Syriac Christianity. It's short, but very moving and very beautiful, and, yes, very inspiring.

This is a combination of a young man growing up and a snapshot of post-WWII Czech Republic. Aside from enjoying it, I also learned a lot from it.

Yes, I loved a book by a Tory Prime Minister 😨! It's hard to judge a man by his autobiography but he did seem to be a decent chap and might well have been the last decent Conservative Prime Minister (don't know much about Ted Heath who followed him so I'll reserve judgement). Whatever the case it was a good read and I learned a lot from it, about him, politics, and the Conservative governments of the first half of the 20th Century.

7. The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon (10th - 11th Century).

I know when it comes to listing my Top Ten of 2017 at the end of the year this one will be on. A fascinating account of Japanese court life in the late 10th, early 11th Century.

I don't reach much Steinbeck because, stupidly enough, I adore the ones I have read and I fear that there will come a day when I'm disappointed. It was a massive four years between Steinbecks and I was overjoyed to see that this one didn't let me down. Cannery Row is an outstanding achievement.

I read this about a week before the General Election (in June: I better make that clear because there's bound to be another one) and it was the perfect antidote to the unpleasantness that surrounded the campaigns. I will always have fond memories of Heidi.

This I read after the General Election when there was no official government, the Tories appeared to be on the point of collapse, and no one knew what was happening (at this point they hadn't yet bribed the DUP with £1b to prop them up). Politics was all I could think about and I couldn't concentrate on anything. I began A Little Princess with the hope of winding down and ended up reading it in one go. I was absolutely lost in it, and this book brought me back from a mini reading lull.


And there is my Top Ten so far! I wonder what books the next half of 2017 brings...

Monday, 26 June 2017

Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus.

Left: Portrait of Thomas More by Hans Holbien the Younger (1527).
Right: Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam by Hans Holbein the Younger (1523).

Praise of FollyThe Praise of Folly, or In Praise of Folly (Lof der Zotheid) is a long essay by Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam first published in 1511, and said to be written in just a week in 1508. It's addressed to his friend Sir Thomas More, a councillor to Henry VIII and  Lord High Chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532, and the author of Utopia (1516). It was written in Latin under the title Moriae Encomium - literally 'The Praise of Folly'.

More and Erasmus had spent that week together and, as Erasmus explains in the preface, that week had largely inspired the essay. He goes on,
"... I decided to amuse myself with praise of folly. What sort of goddess Athene put that notion into your head, you may well ask. In the first place, it was your own family name of More, which is as near to the Greek work for folly, moria, as you are far from it in fact, and everyone agrees that you couldn't be father removed. Then I had an idea that no one would think so well of this jeu d'espirit of mine as you, because you always take such delight in jokes of this kind, that is, if I don't flatter myself, those which aren't lacking in learning and wit. In fact you like to play the part of a Democritus in the mortal life we all share. Your intelligence is too penetrating and original for you not to hold opinions very different from those of the ordinary man, but your manners are so friendly and pleasant that you have the rare gift of getting on well with all men at any time, and enjoying it."
Erasmus then goes on to adopt the persona of Folly who, quite simply, addresses to a crowd her numerous virtues. She is said to be a goddess, the daughter of Plutus, the god of wealth and a nymph, Freshness. Her nurses were Inebriation and Ignorance, her friends Philautia (self-love), Kolakia (flattery), Lethe (oblivion), Misoponia (laziness), Hedone (pleasure), Anoia (madness), Tryphé (wantonness), Komos (intemperance) and Negretos hypnos (deep sleep). Her virtues, she tells us, are many, and primarily, she brings the happiness that is much needed by all, especially the afflicted. She brings amusement, contentment, hilarity, and entertainment that effectively keeps the world turning, without which basic functions, even marriage and childbirth, could not be met.

She then goes on to criticise those who would dismiss her, for example churchmen and academics, lawyers, and doctors. They, she argues, are hypocritical, denying her whilst embodying a higher kind of folly that brings not happiness but harm. She then turns her attention to Christianity, saying it is in fact the worst kind of folly that separated its believers from God.

It is an entertaining and thought-provoking read, and, given the time period, a brave piece of writing. Though it reads in a rather light and airy way, it is dense, attacking many of the norms and values of its day; theology and, critically, the conduct of theologians, mainstream Christianity, and even philosophy and the loftiness of philosophers. It also pokes fun at the seriousness of society, the self-importance of it, a society that takes itself far too seriously to enjoy life in short. It does raise questions on the nature and importance of happiness, and how essential it is not only to the individual but wider society.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Monkey by Wu Ch'êng-ên.

Illustration of the birth of Monkey from E.T.C. Werner's
Myths and Legends of China (1922)
Monkey: A Folk-Tale of China is an abridged translation of Wu Ch'êng-ên's Journey to the West (西游记). Monkey was translated by Arthur Waley and published in 1942, winning the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in that year, but Journey to the West is far older, written in the 16th Century (Ch'êng-ên lived from 1505 - 1580) during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644).

The novel begins with the birth of Monkey:
"There was a rock that since the creation of the world had been worked upon by the pure essences of Heaven and the fine savours of Earth, the vigour of sunshine and the grace of moonlight, till at last it became magically pregnant and one day split open, giving birth to a stone egg, about as big as a playing ball. Fructified by the wind it developed into a stone monkey, complete with every organ and limb. At once this monkey learned to climb and run; but its first act was to make a bow towards each of the four quarters. As it did so, a steely light darted from the monkey's eyes and flashed as far as the Palace of the Pole Star. This shaft of light astonished the Jade Emperor as he sat in the Cloud Palace of the Golden Gates, in the Treasure Hall of the Holy Mists, surrounded by his fairy Ministers. Seeing this strange light flashing, he ordered Thousand-league Eye and Down-the-wind Ears to open the gate of the Southern Heaven and look out. At his bidding these two captains went out to the gate and looked so sharply and listened so well that presently they were able to report, 'This steely light comes from the borders of the small country to Ao-lai, that lies to the east of the Holy Continent, from the Mountains of Flowers and Fruit. On this mountain is a magic rock, which gave birth to an egg. This egg changed into a stone monkey, and when he made his bow to the four quarters a steely light flashed from his eyes with a beam that reached the Palace of the Pole Star. But now he is taking a drink, and the light is growing dim.'"
Sun Wukong and the Moon Rabbit 
by Yoshitoshi (1889).
Monkey goes on to accompany Tripitaka on a pilgrimage: Tripitaka is a monk based on Hsüan Tsang (玄奘), a monk who lived in the 7th Century (602 - 664) who walked from China to India for the Buddhist sutras (roughly the guide or rules of Buddhist life). In Monkey Buddha requested that a pilgrim would travel to Tianzhu (India) to obtain these manuscripts and Tripitaka volunteered, taking with him the three disciples he met on his journey: Monkey (known also as Sun Wukong), Pigsy (Zhu Bajie), and Sandy (Shā Wùjìng). Together they travel to the west - India - and we follow their grand adventures and battles with fairies, ogres, gods, and monsters as they seek the manuscript and, among other things, liberate a captive princess.

It's a mix of philosophy, comedy, satire, fantasy, mythology, politics, adventure, drama, and everything else in life almost! It is too an allegory, and we see through the literal journey the spiritual journey of each character as they learn about life and spiritual matters. It's a fascinating tale, not always easy, but Monkey is truly dazzling and rich, and it's not surprising that Journey to the West is considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (the other three being Water Margin by Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn and Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Sānguó Yǎnyì of the 14th Century, and Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin of the 18th). I do think I would benefit from a second read of Monkey a few years down the line (or even tackle Journey to the West): it's not been easy to really fully grasp it and sum it up, or keep track and understand the vast array of characters, so for now: I loved it, and I'm happy to have finally read it.

Further Reading

Friday, 23 June 2017

Rumpel-Stilts-kin by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm.

Illustration by Warwick Goble for 'Rumpelstiltskin' from The Fairy Book by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (1913).

Rumpel-Stilts-kin, more commonly known as Rumplestiltskin, is a fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm first published in Children's and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen) in 1812 as Rumpelstilzchen. However, research by Sara Graça da Silva and Jamshid J. Tehrani would suggest the tale is far older than that, having roots as far back as 6,000 years ago. They write of Rumplestiltskin and Beauty and the Beast that they were -
"... first written down in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While some researchers claim that both storylines have antecedents in Greek and Roman mythology, our reconstructions suggest that they originated significantly earlier. Both tales can be securely traced back to the emergence of the major western Indo-European subfamilies as distinct lineages between 2500 and 6000 years ago, and may have even been present in the last common ancestor of Western Indo-European languages."
6,000 years ago was 4,000 B.C., about the end of the Neolithic Age and going into the Bronze Age, which coincidentally was when Bede calculated the beginning of the world in De temporum ratione (The Reckoning of Time). It is quite remarkable that these tales do seem to be almost as old as time.

'Round the fire an indescribably ridiculous
little man, hoping on one leg and singing'
by Arthur Rackham (1920)
The Brothers Grimm's story is very short and very familiar: a vain miller is so proud of his daughter he shows off about her and claims that she can spin straw into gold. An avaristic king hears of it and orders her before him. He then takes her into a chamber, gives her a spinning-wheel and straw, and says "All this must be spun into gold before tomorrow morning, as you value your life". He leaves her to her task, but she is soon joined by a goblin who asks her why she's crying. He agrees to help her in exchange for her necklace, and the next day, when the goblin has spun the straw into gold the king is pleased, but, being greedy, he orders her to spin yet more straw. The goblin returns and performs the task in exchange for her ring, and the king once more orders to her to spin even more straw. Now she has nothing more to give, so he makes her promise that when she is queen she will give him her first child. Thinking she will never be queen she consents, however the king, pleased with all his gold, marries her. At the birth of her first child the goblin duly appears and is not persuaded by her attempts to bargain with him. Instead he says, "I will give you three days' grace, and if during that time you tell me my name, you shall keep the child". She tries and tries to guess his name to no avail, but finally a messenger arrives and tells a story: of a "funny little man" who was dancing and singing,
"Merrily the feast I'll make,
To-day I'll brew, to-morrow bake;
Merrily I'll dance and sin,
For next day will a stranger bring:
Little does my lady dream
Rumpel-Stilts-kin is my name!"
Thus, the queen is able to tell the little goblin is name, and he is laughed out of the kingdom for his failure.

It's a great little story steeped in Medieval imagery: the spinning wheel like the wheel of fortune, the folk-devil, and a moral message of the dangers of being greedy, boastful, or making false-promises. Yet it has a happy ending, giving some comfort that the young woman who tried to survive being caught between vanity and avarice, does get her happily ever after.

For more information, there's a great article on Pook Press that I highly recommend!

And that was my 25th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde.

Illustration of Rumpelstiltskin by Kay Nielsen for
Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories by the Brothers Grimm (1925).

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Chapters XLI - XLIII of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

Two months have passed since the last instalment of The Pickwick Papers and, in June 1837, the country was saddened at the death of William IV on 20th June. He had been King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover from 26th June 1830, and he was in fact the final king of the House of Hanover. The final monarch of Hanover would be Queen Victoria, whose coronation was on the 28th June 1837 (she would be followed by Edward VII, the first monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha). Queen Victoria recorded the death of William IV, her uncle, in her diary:
"I was awoke at 6 o'clock by Mamma, who told me the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Conyngham were here and wished to see me. I got out of bed and went into my sitting-room (only in my dressing gown) and alone, and saw them. Lord Conyngham then acquainted me that my poor Uncle, the King, was no more, and had expired at 12 minutes past 2 this morning, and consequently that I am Queen."
June 1837 also, of course, saw a welcome return to The Pickwick Papers which had been delayed due to the death of his sister-in-law Mary Hogarth (the fifth instalment of Oliver Twist was also delayed for that reason) on 7th May 1837. When we last saw Mr. Samuel Pickwick he was about to enter debtor's prison for refusing to pay damages to Mrs Bardell who had sued him for a breach of promise (a misunderstanding in which Mrs. Bardell wrongly thought Pickwick had proposed). Chapter XLI picks up the story...

Chapter XLI. What Befell Mr. Pickwick When He Got into the Fleet; 
What Prisoners He Saw There, and How He Passed the Night.

'The Warden's Room' by Phiz.
'The Fleet' of the chapter heading refers to Fleet Prison, originally built in 1197 (it was rebuilt several times, for example after being deliberately destroyed during the Peasants' Revolt in the 14th Century, after the Great Fire of London in 1666, and after the Gordon Riots in 1780) and used from about the 18th Century as a debtors' prison. Famous inmates include Sir Thomas Lodge (Lord Mayor of London, 1562-63), John Donne and John Cleland, as well as Shakespeare's Falstaff and our Mr. Pickwick. The chapter begins,
Mr. Tom Roker, the gentleman who had accompanied Mr. Pickwick into the prison, turned sharp round to the right when he got to the bottom of the little flight of steps, and led the way, through an iron gate which stood open, and up another short flight of steps, into a long narrow gallery, dirty and low, paved with stone, and very dimly lighted by a window at each remote end.
‘This,’ said the gentleman, thrusting his hands into his pockets, and looking carelessly over his shoulder to Mr. Pickwick—‘this here is the hall flight.’
‘Oh,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, looking down a dark and filthy staircase, which appeared to lead to a range of damp and gloomy stone vaults, beneath the ground, ‘and those, I suppose, are the little cellars where the prisoners keep their small quantities of coals. Unpleasant places to have to go down to; but very convenient, I dare say.’
‘Yes, I shouldn’t wonder if they was convenient,’ replied the gentleman, ‘seeing that a few people live there, pretty snug. That’s the Fair, that is.’
‘My friend,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘you don’t really mean to say that human beings live down in those wretched dungeons?’
‘Don’t I?’ replied Mr. Roker, with indignant astonishment; ‘why shouldn’t I?’
‘Live!—live down there!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
‘Live down there! Yes, and die down there, too, very often!’ replied Mr. Roker; ‘and what of that? Who’s got to say anything agin it? Live down there! Yes, and a wery good place it is to live in, ain’t it?’
Mr. Pickwick then observes his surroundings, in one of the darker moments of The Pickwick Papers:
"It was getting dark; that is to say, a few gas jets were kindled in this place which was never light, by way of compliment to the evening, which had set in outside. As it was rather warm, some of the tenants of the numerous little rooms which opened into the gallery on either hand, had set their doors ajar. Mr. Pickwick peeped into them as he passed along, with great curiosity and interest. Here, four or five great hulking fellows, just visible through a cloud of tobacco smoke, were engaged in noisy and riotous conversation over half-emptied pots of beer, or playing at all-fours with a very greasy pack of cards. In the adjoining room, some solitary tenant might be seen poring, by the light of a feeble tallow candle, over a bundle of soiled and tattered papers, yellow with dust and dropping to pieces from age, writing, for the hundredth time, some lengthened statement of his grievances, for the perusal of some great man whose eyes it would never reach, or whose heart it would never touch. In a third, a man, with his wife and a whole crowd of children, might be seen making up a scanty bed on the ground, or upon a few chairs, for the younger ones to pass the night in. And in a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth, and a seventh, the noise, and the beer, and the tobacco smoke, and the cards, all came over again in greater force than before.
In the galleries themselves, and more especially on the stair-cases, there lingered a great number of people, who came there, some because their rooms were empty and lonesome, others because their rooms were full and hot; the greater part because they were restless and uncomfortable, and not possessed of the secret of exactly knowing what to do with themselves. There were many classes of people here, from the labouring man in his fustian jacket, to the broken-down spendthrift in his shawl dressing-gown, most appropriately out at elbows; but there was the same air about them all—a kind of listless, jail-bird, careless swagger, a vagabondish who’s-afraid sort of bearing, which is wholly indescribable in words, but which any man can understand in one moment if he wish, by setting foot in the nearest debtors’ prison, and looking at the very first group of people he sees there, with the same interest as Mr. Pickwick did."
Pickwick, ever positive, thinks this won't be so awful, whilst Sam Weller also makes his own observations, and he tells Pickwick of a man who was effectively institutionalised to the point that he was frightened to be free. A little later Pickwick's mood takes a downward turn as he takes in more of his new abode:
There is no disguising the fact that Mr. Pickwick felt very low-spirited and uncomfortable—not for lack of society, for the prison was very full, and a bottle of wine would at once have purchased the utmost good-fellowship of a few choice spirits, without any more formal ceremony of introduction; but he was alone in the coarse, vulgar crowd, and felt the depression of spirits and sinking of heart, naturally consequent on the reflection that he was cooped and caged up, without a prospect of liberation. As to the idea of releasing himself by ministering to the sharpness of Dodson & Fogg, it never for an instant entered his thoughts.
In this frame of mind he turned again into the coffee-room gallery, and walked slowly to and fro. The place was intolerably dirty, and the smell of tobacco smoke perfectly suffocating. There was a perpetual slamming and banging of doors as the people went in and out; and the noise of their voices and footsteps echoed and re-echoed through the passages constantly. A young woman, with a child in her arms, who seemed scarcely able to crawl, from emaciation and misery, was walking up and down the passage in conversation with her husband, who had no other place to see her in. As they passed Mr. Pickwick, he could hear the female sob bitterly; and once she burst into such a passion of grief, that she was compelled to lean against the wall for support, while the man took the child in his arms, and tried to soothe her.
Mr. Pickwick’s heart was really too full to bear it, and he went upstairs to bed.
Low spirits drive him into an argument, but then he proceeds to get to know a few of his fellow inmates.

Chapter XLII. Illustrative, Like the Preceding One, of the Old Proverb, that Adversity Brings a Man Acquainted with Strange Bedfellows— Likewise Containing Mr. Pickwick’s Extraordinary and Startling Announcement to Mr. Samuel Weller 

'Discovery of Jingle in the Fleet' by Phiz.
Mr. Pickwick learns that he can have a room to himself if he pays and, wanting to distance himself from his rather rough cellmates he makes the necessary arrangements. In this chapter we also see the return of Alfred Jingle and Job Trotter, both looking very much defeated by life. Pickwick, deeply moved, gives them some money. When he returns to his room, so depressed and disturbed by his new surroundings (there are more descriptions of the bleakness in this chapter) he decides to dismiss Sam Weller from his service:
‘I have felt from the first, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with much solemnity, ‘that this is not the place to bring a young man to.’
‘Nor an old ‘un neither, Sir,’ observed Mr. Weller.
‘You’re quite right, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘but old men may come here through their own heedlessness and unsuspicion, and young men may be brought here by the selfishness of those they serve. It is better for those young men, in every point of view, that they should not remain here. Do you understand me, Sam?’
‘Vy no, Sir, I do not,’ replied Mr. Weller doggedly.
‘Try, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Vell, sir,’ rejoined Sam, after a short pause, ‘I think I see your drift; and if I do see your drift, it’s my ‘pinion that you’re a-comin’ it a great deal too strong, as the mail-coachman said to the snowstorm, ven it overtook him.’
‘I see you comprehend me, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Independently of my wish that you should not be idling about a place like this, for years to come, I feel that for a debtor in the Fleet to be attended by his manservant is a monstrous absurdity. Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘for a time you must leave me.’
‘Oh, for a time, eh, sir?’ rejoined Mr. Weller rather sarcastically.
‘Yes, for the time that I remain here,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Your wages I shall continue to pay. Any one of my three friends will be happy to take you, were it only out of respect to me. And if I ever do leave this place, Sam,’ added Mr. Pickwick, with assumed cheerfulness—‘if I do, I pledge you my word that you shall return to me instantly.’
‘Now I’ll tell you wot it is, Sir,’ said Mr. Weller, in a grave and solemn voice. ‘This here sort o’ thing won’t do at all, so don’t let’s hear no more about it.’
I am serious, and resolved, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘You air, air you, sir?’ inquired Mr. Weller firmly. ‘Wery good, Sir; then so am I.’
Thus speaking, Mr. Weller fixed his hat on his head with great precision, and abruptly left the room.
‘Sam!’ cried Mr. Pickwick, calling after him, ‘Sam! Here!’
But the long gallery ceased to re-echo the sound of footsteps. Sam Weller was gone.
Chapter XLIII. Showing How Mr. Samuel Weller Got Into Difficulties

Dear Sam Weller indeed shows his loyalty in this final chapter of the fifteenth instalment. He meets his father at the Insolvents' Court; he and his friends are watching their friend being tried, the events and people are described, and then we learn about Sam's plan: he will borrow £25 from his father and then default on the payment, at which Tony Weller will file a suit and Sam will be imprisoned along with Mr. Pickwick in Fleet Prison. The plan goes accordingly, and Sam is happily reunited with Pickwck:
Sam, having been formally delivered into the warder’s custody, to the intense astonishment of Roker, and to the evident emotion of even the phlegmatic Neddy, passed at once into the prison, walked straight to his master’s room, and knocked at the door.
‘Come in,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
Sam appeared, pulled off his hat, and smiled.
‘Ah, Sam, my good lad!’ said Mr. Pickwick, evidently delighted to see his humble friend again; ‘I had no intention of hurting your feelings yesterday, my faithful fellow, by what I said. Put down your hat, Sam, and let me explain my meaning, a little more at length.’
‘Won’t presently do, sir?’ inquired Sam.
‘Certainly,’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘but why not now?’
‘I’d rayther not now, sir,’ rejoined Sam.
‘Why?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘’Cause—’ said Sam, hesitating.
‘Because of what?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick, alarmed at his follower’s manner. ‘Speak out, Sam.’
‘’Cause,’ rejoined Sam—‘’cause I’ve got a little bisness as I want to do.’
‘What business?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick, surprised at Sam’s confused manner.
‘Nothin’ partickler, Sir,’ replied Sam.
‘Oh, if it’s nothing particular,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with a smile, ‘you can speak with me first.’
‘I think I’d better see arter it at once,’ said Sam, still hesitating.
Mr. Pickwick looked amazed, but said nothing.
‘The fact is—’ said Sam, stopping short.
‘Well!’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Speak out, Sam.’
‘Why, the fact is,’ said Sam, with a desperate effort, ‘perhaps I’d better see arter my bed afore I do anythin’ else.’
‘Your bed!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, in astonishment.
‘Yes, my bed, Sir,’ replied Sam, ‘I’m a prisoner. I was arrested this here wery arternoon for debt.’
‘You arrested for debt!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, sinking into a chair.
‘Yes, for debt, Sir,’ replied Sam. ‘And the man as puts me in, ‘ull never let me out till you go yourself.’
‘Bless my heart and soul!’ ejaculated Mr. Pickwick. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Wot I say, Sir,’ rejoined Sam. ‘If it’s forty years to come, I shall be a prisoner, and I’m very glad on it; and if it had been Newgate, it would ha’ been just the same. Now the murder’s out, and, damme, there’s an end on it!’
With these words, which he repeated with great emphasis and violence, Sam Weller dashed his hat upon the ground, in a most unusual state of excitement; and then, folding his arms, looked firmly and fixedly in his master’s face. 
And there ends the fifteenth instalment. And we're back on track for monthly instalments - the final five are as follows:
XVI –     July 2017 (chapters 44–46)
XVII –   August 2017 (chapters 47–49)
XVIII –  September 2017 (chapters 50–52)
XIX –     October 2017 (chapters 53–55)
XX -       November 2017 (chapters 56–57)
I'm looking forward to July's - will Sam and Pickwick be released? Not long to wait to find out... 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A Midsummer Night's Dream illustrated by W. Heath Robinson and Arthur Rackham.

It's summer solstice, and to celebrate the arrival of summer I thought I'd share some of my favourite illustrations of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1600). It's usually the case that I prefer colour illustrations, but for this play the black and white illustrations really adds something to the magic. Here they are....

𝕎. eath obinson (1914)

𝔸rthur  ackham (1908)

I hope you enjoyed these as much as I do 😊

Happy Summer, everyone!

Popular Posts of the Year