Thursday, March 31, 2016

Guest Post: Fugues and Fish Heads: Arthur Machen and Johann Sebastian Bach by Dale Nelson



Today, March 31 (New Style), is the 331st birthday of J. S. Bach.

When Machen wrote of “a highly elaborate and elaborated piece of work, full of the strangest and rarest things,” he was referring to a great romance that he never managed to compose.  But he could have been referring to compositions by Bach.

In “The Great Return,” the senses of the inhabitants of Llantrisant are transfigured by the Graal.  To evoke the sublime wonder that opened upon them, Machen’s narrator tells us that sailors heard “the creak and whine of their ship on its slow way” as being “as exquisite as the rhythm and song of a Bach fugue” as heard by a lover of music. 

Conversely, to express his scorn of Gradgrindian education, the recluse of Hieroglyphics imagines hapless pupils being asked to write as follows: “What do you mean by ‘music’?  Give the rational explanation of Bach’s fugues, showing them to be as (1) true as Biology and (2) useful as Applied Mechanics.” 

That contemptuous reductio ad absurdum follows the recluse’s exposition of the difference between artifice and art.  “Artifice is explicable.”  It may amuse and delight us, “but we have no sense of miracle, of transcendent vision and achievement” such as is imparted by art.

James Gaines's Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment (2005) gets at something similar to Machen's distinction between artifice and art.

An Enlightenment composer wrote to please his audience.  As a Dresden Kapellmeister of the day said, music is supposed to be "popular and pleasing to the reasonable world" (cited on p. 220).  Hence the agreeable galant style, still good for background music on a Saturday morning with coffee and croissant. 

But for those steeped, like Bach, in the "elaborated codes and principles" of counterpoint, in canon and fugue, the Pythagorean and Boethian quest of music was a far more searching endeavor.  Gaines relates it to alchemy (p. 46).  The "learned composer's job was to attempt to replicate in earthly music the celestial harmony with which God had joined and imbued the universe, and so in a way to take part in the act of Creation itself" (p. 47).

Gaines says that, by its contrast with perhaps charming but superficial Enlightenment music, "Bach's Musical Offering leaves us... a compelling case for the following proposition: that a world without a sense of the transcendent and mysterious, a universe ultimately discoverable through reason alone, can only be a barren place; and that the music sounding forth from such a world might be very pretty, but it can never be beautiful" (p. 12).  Conversely, what "is greatest about Bach's work is literally impossible to talk about, a characteristic that perhaps more than any other distinguishes his music from the galant" (p. 240). 

It’s ineffable, as Machen would say.

Those curious about Bach should by all means read Gaines's book, which includes a selective discography.  To it may be added an EMI release, Morimur, which with a compact disc includes an interesting essay on Bach’s use of gematria.

In “How the Rich Live” (collected in Dreads and Drolls), Machen passes on a story that Bach told of himself.  As a very poor lad, Bach walked a long journey to hear a Hamburg organist.  On the way back, almost penniless, weary and hungry, Bach rested on a bench by an inn.  “Suddenly, a window was opened, and two herring heads fell at Bach’s feet.  He picked them up,” since there might be a little flesh left to eat.  “And behold!  he found on examination that in each head was a piece of gold.  He never found out how it had happened, but, refreshed, he went back and heard the great [organist] again, and [thereafter] was able to go on his way home at ease and rejoicing.” 

And that tale could stand as a parable of Machen’s own conviction, whereby the sometimes drab forms of the visible world conceal something of great worth.

© 2016 Dale Nelson

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Rex Ryan, Midnight Love


Book collector and researcher extraordinaire, Andrew Parry, has found a "lost" Rex Ryan novel, Midnight Love, published by the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Co. in the mid-1920s.  The book is listed in Anglo-Eastern advertising, but a copy has not heretofore turned up.  A newspaper report of the mid-1920s indicated that Ryan had written "2 or 3 novels" around this time, but only Tyranny of Virtue, written under the pseudonym, Noel Despard, was known with any certainty.  In the 1930s Ryan began to publish thriller novels as R.R. Ryan.

While it's always dangerous to tell a book by its cover, the image of a young woman in an opium den appears to reflect the plots of Rex Ryan's alter ego, Dennis Clyde's early plays.  Andrew will provide a synopsis in the coming weeks which may tell us one way or the other.  Well done, Andrew, on a great find!

Also shown above is a Louise Heilgers novel published by the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Co. first published by Stephen Swift and Co. in 1912.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A new issue of Biblio-Curiosa

A quick note to point out a new issue (no. 6) of Chris Mikul's zine Biblio-Curiosa, covering "unusual writers" and "strange books." Much of this issue is given over to a study of the writings of Frank Walford, whose Twisted Clay (1933) was reissued in 2014 by Remains Books, supplemented with essays by Johnny Mains, Jim Smith and James Doig. Also included in this issue of Biblio-Curiosa are some materials related to Fergus Hume, Ward Greene, and another candidate for that highly competitive classification as the world's worst poet, William Nathan Stedman. 

Mark Valentine has written here at Wormwoodiana about previous issues of Biblio-Curiosa.

Biblio-Curiosa is available from Chris Mikul at P O Box K546, Haymarket, NSW 1240, Australia, or via cathob[at]zip[dot]com[dot]au.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Guest Post: Eating and Drinking with Machen and Orwell by Dale Nelson



We are animals, but not mere animals.  Sometimes we may feed like animals – by which expression I don’t mean gross gobbling, but rather mere satisfaction of the drive to eat.  The dog may eat in a leisurely manner sometimes, but we doubt that this is because his experience of eating is then accompanied by delightful or poignant memories and poetic associations; he simply isn’t very hungry.  At all times, we must assume, he eats precisely like an animal.

Our eating, however, may be far more than chewing and swallowing food; may be an experience in which the “animal” process is interpenetrated by the pleasures of fellowship, memories of other meals, ambience, visual imagination, the associations of names, and more.  Eating becomes an appropriate subject of literary composition. 

Machen’s “The Gray’s Inn Coffee House,” originally printed in the Spring 1938 issue of Wine and Food, was reprinted in book form in We Shall Eat and Drink Again, edited by Louis Golding and Andre L. Simon (1944).  Machen begins by recalling the place where Dickens’s David Copperfield ate when he returned to England from his European tour.  “I remember taverns that were like it,” Machen adds.  Nowadays, Machen writes regretfully, the beef is probably imported meat, lean, nutritious but flavorless, the pudding too likely to be “a solid and a greasy and a viscous slab, sodden and detestable,” and the potatoes “ugly, stony things,” “green and yellow, in texture wax-like.” 

But “in real English beef… the lean is throughout intermingled with fat.”  And this good beef should not be baked in an oven but roasted -- turned on a spit and “basted in front of blazing coal fires.”  The Yorkshire pudding he remembers is “a dish that seemed to have gone through some great convulsion of nature and emerged triumphant.  There were golden plains and valleys all smiling before you; but here and there internal heats had blown the smooth regions into volcanic and mountainous appearances blackened as by hidden fires,” and beneath this crust was “bland delight, fit to mingle with the full flavours of the smoking beef.”  The potatoes were baked “in the brown jackets of the yeomanry, huge, stout fellows, which, broken, fall in a dry, white flour on the plate.”

Machen’s description of the remembered food is rich in enargeia, “the stylistic effect,” as Dionysius of Halicarnassus put it, “in which appeal is made to the senses of the listener [or reader]… in such a way that the listener will be turned into an eyewitness.”  But too Machen’s descriptions are interpenetrated by literary reminiscence – of Dickens at the beginning, and of an anecdote about old English ale in Casanova at the end; and memory of conversation and good fellowship; and a wholesome kind of patriotism.  All of these things pertain to the imagination.

It was poetic imagination that enabled a woman, during the Second World War, to write on a Mass Observation questionnaire: “I always liked to see my grandmother having a drink of beer at night.  She did seem to enjoy it, and she could pick up a dry crust of bread and cheese, and it seemed like a feast.” 

That’s in Orwell’s “A Nice Cup of Tea,” which, in the collection As I Please (1968), is immediately followed by “’The Moon Under Water’” (1946), a piece like Machen’s in being an evocation of an ideal English eating place, in this case the ideal London pub.    But Orwell’s essay focuses on the social aspects rather than on the food and drink.  Still, Machen’s essay too pays tribute to the English people, and when you read it you will forget to think of him as a “Welsh writer and mystic.”

My citation of Dionysius is taken from a 1981 essay by G. Zanker, “Enargeia in the Ancient Criticism of Poetry.” The rendering of sensory details in writing is a skill that can be learned; consult A New Rhetoric by the Christensens. 

© 2016 Dale Nelson

Monday, March 21, 2016

Poisoned Binding


Hints for the Preservation of Health in Tropical Africa

The advice offered by The Crown Agents for the Colonies in this 1945 guide is brisk, if sometimes a little austere:

"Alcohol in moderation is neither essential nor harmful, and it is wise to take no spirits before sundown."

"The cocktail-party prolonged till nine o'clock and later, improves neither the dinner nor the digestion...".

"Where conditions or inclination do not favour the playing of games, a walk round the station, the making of a public or private garden, planting trees, a tramp into the bush after guinea fowl or pigeon, will provide the necessary exercise."

"Comfort and personal idiosyncrasy are the only criterion; but a sun helmet or solah-topee should be used by all newcomers."

"In the absence of mosquito boots, two pairs of socks, turned up over the trouser leg, will afford considerable protection."

"Prickly Heat may be very troublesome. Fresh lime juice rubbed over the parts is useful."

"For those working in outstations, a Fitzsimmons’ snake bite outfit should be kept with other emergency articles.”
(An example of this kit offered for auction contained "a tin filled with all the original serums etc., a glass NASAL DOUCHE, and a Benzedrine INHALER, as well as Greenbury's SUTURE NEEDLES, and a box containing five glass WIDAL TUBES").

Sound maxims, no doubt, for many walks of life. But the reason I got the book, from a charity shop in Kirkby Stephen, Westmorland, a place whose climate is not exactly in the tropical range, was the sticker, clearly added as an afterthought by the publisher, on the top left of the front fixed endpaper. It must be amongst the most singular i have so far discovered in a book:


Here for ease of reading is a close-up:


“Whatever did happen to that young ass Carruthers out in the Nyassaland station?”
“Oh, didn’t you hear? Well, he was always studying those health hints issued by the interferin’ blighters in the Crown Agents.”
“Yes, he was a bit keen. Well, what of it? Didn’t it keep him fit?”
“Nothing of the sort. Some clever pen-pusher had the book stuffed with fly-spray, d’you see? And he would keep licking his fingers as he turned the pages…”.

Of course, by now, I'm assuming that any toxin has long since dissipated and it is perfectly safe to...to...to...

Mark Valentine

Friday, March 18, 2016

Lovecraft's Lost "Cancer of Superstition" Typescript?

On April 9th, 2016, the Chicago auction house Potter & Potter will be selling a typescript which they claim is by H.P. Lovecraft, ghost-writing for Harry Houdini, entitled "The Cancer of Superstition."  The web has been flooded with news of a lost Lovecraft manuscript being found. Alas, on closer look, the claim of Lovecraft's authorship is certainly debatable, and is to some extent demonstrably dubious.  (See the news stories dated 3/9/2016 and 3/16/2016 at the Potter & Potter website here.)

It has long been known that Houdini employed Lovecraft to ghost-write a story for Weird Tales, published as "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" (May-June-July 1924), and that Lovecraft's friend C.M. Eddy, Jr., based like Lovecraft in Providence, also worked for Houdini as a scout as well as a ghost-writer.  And some of the story behind Houdini hiring Eddy, with assistance from Lovecraft, to ghost-write "The Cancer of Superstition" is known from The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces (1966) by H.P. Lovecraft & Divers Hands, edited by August Derleth, which also published the outline and first chapter of "The Cancer of Superstition." Derleth clearly had first-hand information from Eddy when putting this together, and more about that will be found below, but here is what Derleth says in his headnote to the publication:
[Houdini] enlisted the talents of C.M. Eddy, Jr., and in the course of their work together Houdini outlined sketchily a book he thought ought to be done on the origins, growth and fallacy of superstition. He suggested that Eddy might prepare the book, and furnished him with voluminous notes and ideas that he wanted incorporated in the book; he suggested also that perhaps H.P. Lovecraft could put the notes into shape so that Eddy could work from the outline Lovecraft prepared. Lovecraft was not averse to the idea and duly prepared the following outline under the title, The Cancer of Superstition.
There follows a 1,500 word outline for the book in twelve numbered sections.  And just before printing the first chapter, Derleth gives another headnote: 
With this outline in hand, Eddy went to work and began to write The Cancer of Superstition, showing his pages to Lovecraft as he went along. The manuscript, with Lovecraft's interlinear emendations and additions, began to evolve.
Next follows what is apparently the first chapter, labelled  I. "The Genesis of Superstition", comprising nearly 4,100 words.

At the end of this chapter, Derleth gives another note, saying Houdini had approved Lovecraft's outline and Eddy's initial work, but after he died on October 31, 1926:
his widow did not elect to go on with the book he had visualized. Eddy nevertheless pushed forward, and Lovecraft made slight interlinear corrections and additions, but the project, insofar as it had gone--through three chapters--basically lacked body and authority, and it was presently abandoned, though not before the three chapters were recast into an article--of which the above is the initial part, for which no publisher was ever found.
Now, turning to what Potter & Potter are auctioning, it is a typescript of some 31 leaves, numbered 1-10, [11-13 missing] and 14-34, the final two leaves being a bibliography.  The typescript is divided into three sections, "The Genesis of Superstition" [as above], "The Expansion of Superstition", and "The Fallacy of Superstition."  From the first page of the typescript, visible in the auction catalog and in the illustration below, the text appear to match closely that published in The Dark Brotherhood.  
The Cancer of Superstition typescript

Considering "The Cancer of Superstition" typescript as if the three missing pages were present, it should contain about 32 pages of text (not counting the bibliography), or, estimating 300 words a page, around 9,600 words.  Thus, it appears that over half of the typescript (5,500 words) is unpublished; and (huzzah!) the missing text from pages 11-13 should be present near the end of the version published in The Dark Brotherhood.

Apparently, what versions exist of "The Cancer of Superstition" comprise:

1) the outline, by H.P. Lovecraft, apparently handwritten, published in The Dark Brotherhood

2) the manuscript, apparently handwritten by Eddy, with (as Derleth noted) "Lovecraft's interlinear emendations and additions"--the first chapter of this is also published in The Dark Brotherhood

and 3) the typescript, as offered for sale by Potter & Potter.  This typescript was likely prepared by Eddy's wife. She is known to have prepared typescripts for her husband and for Lovecraft, as he hating typing.

What is currently unknown is the location of items one and two (above), including the manuscript continuation that is represented by the latter half of the Potter & Potter typescript.

It is clear that Derleth and Eddy were in touch in the 1960s, not only over the matter of "The Cancer of Superstition" manuscripts, but also concerning the use of Eddy's three stories that also appear in The Dark Brotherhood. And Derleth must have had access to the further two chapters of Eddy's manuscript (with "slight interlinear corrections and additions" by Lovecraft) but chose not to publish them. Unfortunately the surviving letters from Eddy to Derleth, held at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, are incomplete, but some facts can be gleaned from the surviving letters.

First, Eddy discussed "The Cancer of Superstition" with Derleth as early as 1944, and wrote on 23 October 1944:
Sorry that I wasn't absolutely clear. THE CANCER OF SUPERSTITION was mine. Completely revised, deleted and annotated by H.P.L."  
In April 1962, Eddy sold to a Lovecraft collector "for his own collection" the "4 1/2 page outline" made by Lovecraft "that I could use as a guide-post to base various chapters of the book on."  After he sold this outline, Eddy was digging through a hitherto buried box of old manuscripts and came across the "manuscript"--i.e., the "collaboration between H.P.L. and myself.  Except for the fact that the basic subject matter is the same, this has no connection whatsoever with the notes that I sold." Derleth was able to publish both the outline and the first chapter in The Dark Brotherhood, which appeared four years later in 1966.

So, what we have here for sale is more precisely a lost Eddy typescript, which includes some subsumed revisions by Lovecraft, from a previous manuscript. Thus, Eddy was the primary author, with Lovecraft in more of an advisorial role.

One hopes that the entire typescript can eventually be published.  Meanwhile, one wonders whether the typescript as it survives might have been the complete book--or rather, booklet, owing to its short size.  It covers, in its three sections, what Derleth notes as Houdini's remit of  "the origins, growth and fallacy of superstition." Perhaps the talk of a "book" referred only to a small book, of about ten thousand words, and the typescript recently discovered, including its bibliography in the final two pages, is actually complete. One hopes also that some further documentation might turn up that provides more context, one way or another. Meanwhile, it would be interesting to compare Lovecraft's outline with the content of the unpublished second and third chapters.






Thursday, March 17, 2016

Guest Post: Machen’s Teilo in “The Tree of Life” and the Talosian Situation by Dale Nelson



In the Star Trek pilot “The Cage,” a spaceship crashed and only a child survived.  Inhabitants of Talos IV raised the girl, Vina, as well as they could, but she is severely maimed.  However, thanks to their powers of illusion, she can seem, to herself and others, young and lissome.  Given the chance to leave the planet with the crew of the Enterprise, which would mean losing her dream of health and beauty, Vina chooses to stay on Talos.  The captain, the only member of the crew who is aware of the situation, agrees with her choice.

In Machen’s 1936 tale “The Tree of Life,” Teilo Morgan had a few boyhood years of health in the Welsh hills, but he’s stricken by sudden illness and becomes an invalid and recluse.  Teilo’s father had been a rakehell before he discovered the young girl he took to himself and on whom he fathered the boy.  Years later, an elderly clubman remembers him mourning his innocent son’s plight; “’He used to talk about his sins finding him out.’”

Teilo suffers mental impairment as well as ruined physical health.  At his father’s direction, the boy’s tutor “teaches” him in such a way that learning is a delight, even if riddled with error.  However, when the father dies, it turns out that the boy’s mother has no proof of marriage, and she and her son end up in a London slum.  Later, Harry Morgan, who inherits the property, tracks them down, not in time to save the mother’s life, but bringing Teilo back to Wales, and instructing the estate agent, Captain Vaughan, to keep him in the illusion that he is lord of the property and to encourage him in his fanciful notions about agricultural improvement.  Teilo loves thinking of clever innovations that will benefit everyone in the area, e.g. relating to growing pineapples, and talking his ideas over on Vaughan’s weekly visits.  Vaughan plays his role right up to Teilo’s death, conjuring vivid images of the land round about, which Teilo relishes.  (One thinks of the dog in Ray Bradbury’s “The Emissary.”)  The story ends with a strong affirmation of Vaughan and Morgan’s compassionate deception, voiced by a major who has listened to the story.

The Star Trek pilot and “The Tree of Life” make a strong emotion-based case to justify deception.  The utilitarian principle implied: Lying is justified when it promotes the happiness of someone evidently incurably doomed otherwise to misery.  But “hard cases make bad laws.”  Is the principle really just?  There are several objections to be made.

First, in The Abolition of Man C. S. Lewis demonstrated the existence of a perennial and transcultural moral awareness, which he called the Tao.  Lewis’s short book is a defense of the natural law.  The Tao forbids lying. 

Second, before one assents to the utilitarian principle just stated, one should ask: Whom would you trust to decide for you whether you should know the truth or be deceived?  How painful does the situation have to be in order to “justify” lying?   These who and how questions are only two of the questions that proliferate if one allows the principle and wishes to implement it.  Vina, at least, did know the truth eventually, and chose the easier way.  Teilo never was allowed to choose.  His guardians might reply that no choice was possible: once he was told the truth, he could not recover the happy illusion as Vina could.  But isn’t pity for him overriding considerations of his dignity as he is deceived?  His guardians might respond that Teilo didn’t have the mental capacity to assess the situation.  At any rate he didn’t have the opportunity, so we’ll never know what capacity he might have demonstrated, or might have developed, to deal with reality.  Most of his life will have been spent in a “cage” created by others who have made assumptions about him that he never had the chance to challenge.

Third, one may ask: cui bono?  who again is it who benefits here?  In “The Cage,” it transpires that Vina’s benefactors are also voyeurs, highly intellectual telepaths who are gratified by vicariously savoring the passions of their subjects when they believe they are fighting enemies or enjoying erotic embraces.  Telepathy doesn’t come into the story of Vaughan and Teilo, but is at least part of the appeal of the deceiving of Teilo the appeal of convenience, thus not so much a matter of disinterested kind-heartedness as it seems?  If Teilo is happy in his delusion, he will be more manageable than he might be if here were not deluded.  (Of course, Harry Morgan and Captain Vaughan cannot really know how Teilo would have responded to the truth, or if his response to it would have been the same from one year to another.)  

Also: the story leads us to be confident that Morgan’s and Vaughan’s wishes are for Teilo’s happiness; they wish to make the best of a rotten situation for Teilo’s sake.  Yet it may be pointed out that neither of them doubts that Teilo genuinely is his father’s son.  True, as (possibly) a bastard, Teilo’s legal claim to the estate may be uncertain.  Indeed, in court an attorney might argue successfully that Teilo has no legal rights vis-√†-vis the estate at all, since his mother’s marriage is (so far!) undocumented; why, “anybody” could be Teilo’s father!  But Harry Morgan evidently can have no doubt that on the point of paternity, Teilo is the heir, not himself.  The arrangement shown in the story lets Morgan enjoy ownership of the property without the inconveniences of possible legal inquiry.  The fact is that (from motives of admirable compassion) he has appointed himself the invalid’s guardian.  But a court could determine that there’s a conflict of interest here, and also that a determined search should be made for possible documentation of Teilo’s parents being married after all.  (“’I fancy the truth was that [Teilo’s parents] were married in some forgotten little chapel up in the mountains by a hedge preacher or somebody of that kind, who didn’t know enough to get in the registrar.’”)  The agreement between Harry Morgan and Captain Vaughan implies that any such search will not be made.

(By the way, readers who haven’t traipsed the story’s location can trace some places in the story by perusing the 1:25,000 topographic British Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 152 Newport & Pontypool.)


© 2016 Dale Nelson