Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Cabell and the Rabble

I have written previously about the unknown source of the couplet that tells how to pronounce correctly Cabell's surname ("Tell the rabble / My name is Cabell").  Some recent digging has produced some interesting further information. 

Burton Rascoe (1892-1957) discovered Cabell's The Cream of the Jest in the fall of 1917, and early the following year he serialized parts of Cabell's next book, Beyond Life (published in book-form in January 1919), in The Chicago Tribune. This began a bit of controversy, summed up by H.L. Mencken in The Smart Set for August 1918 ("A Sub-Potomac Phenomenon"). But ancillary to the main commentary there appeared a bit of verse by Bert Leston Taylor in his Chicago Tribune column, "A Line o' Type or Two": 

The Seething Question
In all literary gabble
Concerning Mr. J.B. Cabell
No one has yet got up to tell
If it be Cabell or Cabell.

To which, Burton Rascoe (himself by that time a correspondent of Cabell's) replied: 

You may slip it to the rabble
That his name is James B. Cabell. 

This appeared in the 27 May 1918 issue of The Chicago Tribune.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Dunsany Himself on Film

The photograph of Dunsany reproduced at right comes from a magazine from 1950.  Dunsany looks, at age 72, a bit scruffier than in most other contemporary photos, with a longer and less-artfully trimmed beard.  But what is especially interesting to me is the caption, with the information that Dunsany is reading one of his Jorkens stories before the BBC television cameras. I know of audio recordings of Dunsany's voice (he occasionally read stories over the radio in the 1930s), and I wrote about one here. But the possibility that he was filmed reading a story is new to me. If anyone knows any further details about such things, please let us know via the comments. 

The only time (currently) that I know of when Dunsany was filmed was for a ten-minute segment of the long-running  BBC Television show "Speaking Personally," which ran from November 1936 through April 1964. Dunsany's segment was broadcast at 9 pm, on Tuesday, 7 June 1938. Likewise, I do not know whether it, or any filmed footage of Dunsany, still survives.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Dunsany's headstone

In perhaps the oddest scene of Digby Rumsden’s frustrating one-hour documentary on Lord Dunsany, Shooting for the Butler (2014), the filmmaker himself looks for Dunsany’s gravestone in grounds of the St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Shoreham, Kent. Unable to find it, he concludes that it is no longer there. But others have not only found it, but photographed it.

Mike Barrett (a Kent resident) wrote about visiting it in “Dunsany: The Final Resting Place” in The New York Review of Science Fiction for December 2008. He noted that “the unpretentious grave is easy to find.” In Roy Bateson’s The End: An Illustrated Guide to the Graves of Irish Writers (2004), there appears the below photograph. Bateson notes that he “found the grave almost immediately. Go up the path and stand in front of the church, The grave is about 30 paces to the left of the church and about four metres back towards the road.” 


 Both Barrett and Bateson transcribe the headstone:

DIED 30TH MAY 1970

Barrett identified the qute from Walter Savage Landor’s four-line poem, “Dying Speech of an Old Philsopher” (1849):

I strove with none; for none was worth my strife;
Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of life;
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

There is a poem (presumably by Lord Dunsany, but it has no known publication) on the plaque at the bottom, reading:




Sunday, March 7, 2021

Dunsany on Politics and Art

Dunsany was a candidate for political office in 1906. He lost. He quickly decided that his loss was a good thing. And he seems never to have written much about his political views. But in 1919, Norman MacDermott was founding the Everyman Theatre in Hampstead, and he solicited a statement from Dunsany for his new (short-lived) journal, Theatre-Craft: A Book of the New Spirit in the Theatre. Dunsany's commentary, though brief, touches on both politics and art, and is nonetheless quite interesting.  I copy it below. 


I am a Tory. That is to say, I believe in leadership by the class whose leisure and opportunities give them the best chance of thinking rightly.

Yet if it happens that this class, in spite of its opportunities, fail to lead rightly, I do not then believe in the continuance of their leadership merely for the sake of old romantic traditions.

Our age lives; live people must lead it.

To what depths animal life descends, and whether there be any­thing lower than the sponge, I do not know; but at the top of life the highest manifestation is the arts. We are not more powerful, nor hardier, than many of the beasts, nor do we endure wounds as well; it is in our intellect that we are superior to the beasts, and of the intellect the arts are the supreme flower.

What of the arts in England? Especially what of the theatre?

A struggle upwards is taking place among the people of England for better homes, better wages, better conditions of life. Will the workingman be content in his better conditions with no pictures upon his walls, no music in his house, and no thoughts in his head? I doubt it. Hence the revolution against the holy places, the autocratic playhouses of the West End.

A theatre is soon to be set up in Hampstead in which it will be possible to see plays that touch on the affairs of man without re­stricting their scope to the crudest emotion of all; for though we be cousins of the ape, we have also had dreams of the angels.

I have heard it said that they will not get people to go as far as Hampstead. But are there no people there already?

I have no bitterness against any community and no axe to grind; but I live in a great age, and when for the first time after four and a half years I enter what should be the temples of human thought, I come away depressed and sometimes disgusted. . . .

Of course, there are exceptions. But if reverent and decent ser­vices were exceptions in cathedrals religion would be in a bad way.

How will Hampstead take it? If they welcome and keep a better theatre than there is in the West End, they will have done more for the prosperity of their district than if they raided Bond Street and looted all the jewellery that was there and displayed it in windows of Hampstead. The West End of London has almost been a centre of civilisation. The situation goes begging!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Dunsany's Famous Story Ledger

In the 1919 "new and revised edition" of Edward Hale Bierstadt's Dunsany the Dramatist (originally published in 1917), Bierstadt printed a sample year from Dunsany's record book of what he wrote and when.  Dunsany had sent this sample year, 1912, to Bierstadt in the autumn of 1917, noting "I send you a sample year from the record I have kept of all the tales I have written since the end of 1906." Dunsany readers have been salivating over this record ever since. Here is the transcription, from pages 212-213 of Bierstadt's book (click on the illustration to make it larger). 

Especially intriguing are the tales marked "unpublished." And of course the hints of publication entice the bibliographer, like the entry for "The Food of Death":  "Saturday Review? Some chatty book about the stage; name forgotten and immaterial."  ("The Food of Death" did appear in the Saturday Review of  30 August 1913, and the "chatty book about the stage" was The Era Almanack and Annual for 1913.) One really, really wants to see the whole of this record!  

Oddly, I recently happened upon a reproduction of the handwritten version of this year that Dunsany sent to Bierstadt, reproduced in a periodical just prior to the publication of the new edition of Bierstadt's book. Bierstadt's transcription of Dunsany's handwritten copy of the record is pretty accurate. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Dunsany's Wax Seals

I have previously written about Dunsany's clay caricatures at Wormwoodiana.  Recently I discovered some photographs of Dunsany's sealing wax stamps. I've long known of one example, which appears on the Sunwise Turn edition of A Night at an Inn (1916). In fact it appears there twice, in color (stamped in red wax) on the upper cover:

and as a line drawing on the title page (of the first printing only):

A note on the copyright page states the design is from "a silver seal cut by Lord Dunsany."  Elsewhere, in making an example in wax of a similar seal for a friend, Dunsany noted that the scarlet color of the wax "is too strong and might blind the eyes of men so I will make a less glaring dawn," pouring a violet blue over the scarlet and making a blend of the violet red which shows just before the sun appears. "And now you will see my horse riding along the dawn ..." 

Here are a few other of Dunsany's seals, with his descriptive captions. 

The Epistolary God: taking care of Letters to Friends. To whom the Atlantic is but a running stream and all the Plains but a Garden.
A God of the Mountain

A holy man; as some believe, a God, this being a heresy wherefore men are damned

Here is a slightly different version of the first seal given above (note the positioning of the forelegs of Pegasus, and the differing number of sun-rays), with a caption:

Pegasus taking a gallop above Sunrise

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Truly a Strange Creation Myth

Here follows the strangest creation tale I think I've ever encountered.  Authorship at bottom.

Let Us Make Gods

There was once upon a time a god who, at the beginning of things, merely existed and had nothing to do. He hung on empti­ness and looked out on space, and, except those parts of himself that he could see, nothing ever moved in his whole horizon, and nothing ever came into sight. He was a worm-like deity, and his movements were quite methodical and regular, a mere pendu­lum-like swing of the tail to and fro: it never occurred to him to do anything else; he did not, in fact, know that he was doing it.

One day, however, something happened—­something wonderful and astonishing—which had never happened to him before. Inside his tail, which he had never before known to have an inside, he felt a pain, and with a sharp twitch, in order to avoid and get away from it, he swung it up and round and hit himself sharply in the mouth. And the evening and morning—if one may speak in parables of things that did not exist—were the first day.

When I say that he hit himself in the mouth, I merely mean that he hit two parts of himself together that had never come together before, and had not had a notion that they could come together or even that they existed. It was only on contact that they began to realize themselves, and to wish, in a vague sort of way, for a repetition of the experience—to get back on each other, so to speak, though so high and exalted an idea as revenge or retribution had not yet occurred to them. So from that time on, for a few centuries, or æons, or whatever the time was under conditions where time could not be measured, the god continued to dis­locate his tail with vague plungings in the direction whither he wished it to go, much as a child plunges its spoon toward the mouth which it cannot yet find. And very gradually, as a result of these plunges, his tail became, not wiser or more experienced, but more muscular. And so every now and again, by a sheer fluke, mouth and tail came together again; and every time that his tail smacked his mouth, the god smacked his lips. Life was becoming sweet to him.

And then one day—if day it may be called—the great thing happened; just as the god’s tail struck, the mouth, responsive, made a sudden grab at it, caught hold of it, and clung. And there they were: the god had joined them together, and marriage in heaven had begun.

Slowly, softly but firmly, the god began chewing his own tail, and the evening and morning were the second day.

At first the tail liked it, and then it didn’t; and the more it disliked it, the more it wriggled to escape. So there was war in heaven: but the mouth still held its own. Peacefully, from its own point of view—if a matter of taste may be so called—it determined to investigate, to its own satis­faction, what its tail really was, or what it was capable of becoming. And so it chewed and chewed.

The tail was now in great pain, and was beginning to communicate its feelings to the brain. But the brain did not understand, or did not know how to deal with the matter; and so when it told the tail to pull it told the mouth to pull also, and the suction and the pain increased greatly, and the mouth, believing that it was enjoying itself greatly, continued to absorb the tail.

In course of time—for at last time was really beginning to shape itself—there came results. The god began to find nourishment in the eating of his own tail; and his body began to put out queer little fins, with feelers and suckers attached to them—some taking after the head and some taking after the tail, as is the way with all things born of double parentage; and the strife, or mutual benefit scheme, according as we view it, which had started between the primordial pair of opposites, was taken up and repro­duced all over the god’s body by a thousand flattering imitators. And whatever the evening and the morning were at this pre­cise stage of affairs, nobody could say that the god was not now alive.

Presently the creative eruption which had broken out over the god’s body extended in the direction of his head; and round the great parent mouth small and very animated heads and tails—fins, feelers and suckers, or whatever you like to call them—­sprang up and began disputing in their own way which should be first. Now and then, turning from each other, they made excited grabs at the parental orifice, disturbing its adjustment, and distracting its attention from its own solid and immemorial feed on the now disappearing tail. “Making them­selves to be as one of us!” ruminated the slow-mouthing deity; and, turning from his own proper employ to take a snap at them, he loosed hold of the tail of things, and, letting, it slip away, recovered it no more.

The tail was now master of the situation; though bruised, flayed and corrupted by the digestive processes, it at last found ground to go upon; and, conceiving the altogether fallacious notion that by mere retrogression it could recover its primitive form, it began to drag its body backwards, and, if ever the head made any sign of resistance or of thinking otherwise, to bash it violently against the obstacles which lay in its path.

Following upon this came a change in the composition of the deity. The synthetic process of creation or self-realization having, come to an end, disintegration took its place: gradually all the fins, feelers and suckers began to separate and fall away from the parent body and start life on their own account. They passed out of view; the deity lost cognizance of them; what became of them he did not know.

Presently, deprived of these excrescences born of earlier conflict, he settled back into peace: head and tail contended no more; pace slackened and became imperceptible; finally it ceased.

The pendulum swing was not resumed; in the course of his changes the deity had found ground; bedrock was under him. Very slowly and slidingly he curled himself round in many coils, close and comfortable; head rested on tail, he dozed. As he did so, merely from old habit and absence of mind, he took his tail once more into his mouth and began chewing it. The tail resisted no more; it seemed unaware of the process which was going on. Gradually it coalesced and was absorbed; the coils of its spiral became fewer; the rate of absorption diminished, but never entirely ceased; back from tail to head it chewed its way; and, unity achieved, rested from its labour, closed eyes, and slept fast. When, many æons later, those separated entities, having found for themselves other forms, came upon him lying asleep, they did not recognize him as a god at all; but they came and hung about his sides, climbed on him, fattened on him, and told stories to themselves of an altogether different god—­one whom they themselves had made.

From Gods and Their Makers and Other Stories (1920), by Laurence Housman, brother of fantasist Clemence Housman and poet A.E. Housman.  The bulk of this volume was originally published in 1897 (though written in 1889). I suspect the above story probably dates from the same time period, but presently I know of no appearance in print before 1920.