Summer Jaunt at Harewood House

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Summer found this Lion not merely affable, but amicable, gregarious – why, positively clubbable, ravenous for the fellowship of sympathetic scholars, critiks, antiquarians, pedants, scribblers, idlers and ramblers. And so it was with no small delight that I passed a most tranquil – yet invigorating – sojourn far from the madding crowd – on the estate of Harewood House. http://harewood.org

Set amidst the rolling hills and verdant outskirts of North Leeds, Harewood is the ancestral seat of the Lascelles family, who hold the title Earl of Harewood. The Lascelles arrived with the Conquest, with their originary abode a feudal manor on the Harewood estate. But in 1738, Henry Lascelles expanded the Harewood estate with the proceeds from his West Indian plantations. His son, Edwin Lascelles, the First Baron Harewood, laid the foundations of the new house in 1759. Initially drawing upon the plans of the local designer John Carr of York, much of Harewood’s grand style was later added by the renowned architect Robert Adam. The genius of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was also employed in the grand task of sculpting the estate’s dynamic topography. In particular the impressive artificial lake was created by damming local streams, and by flattening the valley floor beneath of the hooves of strategically deployed grazing cattle.

The house hosts an embarrassment of riches, from mahogany Chippendale furniture, to Wedgwood porcelain and enamel; a whole cabinet of curios including a troupe of musical monkeys (complete with bagpipes), and a treasure trove of works by many great masters: allegories by El Greco, landscapes of the estate by a very young J.M.W. Turner, and portraits of the family by Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Lawrence and Thomas Gainsborough – including Gainsborough’s last portrait, a youthful George Canning upon his leaving Eton College.

A special treat was a tour of the downstairs servant’s quarters, and a truly cavernous kitchen replete with rows of great cooking pots, a colossal wood-fire kitchen range, and an enormous table of ancient oak. Our own repast was a hearty meal served in the former stables, which we greeted with great gusto and relish.

The small second-hand bookshop provided a brief distraction for those antico-maniac antiquarians in our midst, rifling through faded parchments in search of concealed marvels.

Besides the majestic sweep of the lake, the lush gardens hosted some intriguing chinoiserie, and a charming kitchen garden, rich with hanging fruit and the riches of the soil, where several young cubs sported foolishly with the faddish craze for croquet.

A most entertaining hour was whiled away perusing the fine and exotic aviary, boasting in its bestiary such ornaments as ravens, owls, macaws, and a playful colony of Humboldt penguins. Birds of a different feather circled and wheeled as we took our afternoon refreshment on the terrace overlooking many a hunting kite, wimpling on the wing.

Such halcyon days! But now the hour-glass whispers to the lion’s roar, the curfew tolls the knell of parting day, and the start to a new year! Once more this Lion pads the familiar fields of academe, and bids Summer adieu!

– Pete Newbon

[P.S. We thought they had sculpted us on the South Wall; but the keeper of our bestiary informs us that this is an image of a bulldog, not a lion]

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An Edinburgh Lion

‘Tis summer and we are lazy. However, things are afoot: this week we go on our annual outing, so you can look forward to a detailed tour journal, a la Boswell.

Before that, a small encounter. We were recently in Edinburgh hunting literary lions at the book festival. The best of them is assuredly Martin MacInnes, whose novel Infinite Ground is astonishing. We were equally enchanted by Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project: one for fans of James Hogg.

It took us back to this encounter between the foremost literary lion of the nineteenth century, Walter Scott, and a lion of our own stamp in Edinburgh:

‘saw Nero the great lion whom they had the brutal cruelty to bait with bulldogs against whom the noble creature disdaind to exert his strength. He was lying like a prince in a large cage where you might be admitted if you dared. I had a month’s mind – but was afraid of the Newspapers. I could be afraid of nothing else for never did a creature seem more gentle and yet more majestic. I longed to caress him. Wallace, the other lion, born in Scotland, seemd much less trustworthy. He handled the dogs as his namesake did the Southron.’

  • El Leone

A Poetical Tribute to Geordie Beards

[The Lion has a mane, but he never thought that he had a beard. And, yet, he has a hairy face. It is a puzzle. Such ponderings aside, beards are always troubling. It is rare that a beard-sporter enters the finest coffee house in Newcastle, Akenside and Spence’s. We had a Scotch visitor for a time whom we christened ‘Beardie’: razor would not touch his cheek, he said, until the Jacobite cause was won. One admires the steadfastness of it all, but he was a scruffy sight. From our window we occasionally see youths with monstrous growths from their necks – our medical man, Dr Lawlor, was sure it was another outbreak of the Lupine Fever such as we had in the year 12, but we fear it is merely a lamentable fashion. Below you shall find some rather more elegant speculations on the topic from the proudly beardless Helen Williams]

There are many good jokes in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, but Tristram’s truism that ‘every man chuses to be present at the shaving of his own beard’ is a firm favourite. It seems funniest, perhaps, when we imagine shaving as a solitary pursuit in front of the mirror. Tristram pokes fun at the passivity of the shaved man, and, by extension, his potential vulnerability. This blogpost includes two poems by Tyneside authors suggesting that the story of facial hair in eighteenth-century Newcastle was not always a case of DIY. There was, in these examples, at least one other person involved, either in the preparation of the blade or in the act of shaving itself. Here, a poem by Thomas Whittle and a song by William Stephenson paint entertaining pictures of shavers and their facilitators in the eighteenth century. Mr Moody and Madame Scrape held enormous amounts of power over the bearded folk of Newcastle. Who do you trust with yours? Beard1Title-page of John Croft’s Scrapeana: Fugitive Miscellany (London: Blanchard, 1792)

Legend has it that Thomas Whittle, a Tyneside poet, songwriter, and artist, arrived in Cambo on an old goat. In 1735 he published one of his comic poems in London-based The Gentleman’s Magazine. The Magazine, founded in January 1731 by London bookseller Edward Cave and best-remembered for providing Dr Johnson with his first literary outlet, functioned not only as a publisher of current affairs but also as a reasonably-priced and widely-read poetic miscellany which anthologized canonical and popular poets alongside advertisements and current affairs. Whittle’s comic epistle to his razor-setter appeared in the regular ‘Poetical Essays’ section for June 1735 (Gentleman’s Magazine, Or, Monthly Intelligencer, volume 5 (1735), p. 326):

Newcastle on Tine [sic], May 29.

Tho. Whittle, his humourous Letter

To Master Moody, Razor-Setter.

 

Good Mr Moody, my beard being cloudy,

My cheek, chin, and lips, like moon in th’ eclipse,

For want of a wipe.

I send you a razor, if you’ll be at leisure

To grind her and set her, and make her cut better,

You’ll e’en light my pipe.*

Dear Sir, you know little, the case of poor Whittle;

I’m courting, tantevee, if you will believe me,

Pray mark what I say.

I’m frank in my proffers, and when I make offers

To kiss the sweet creature, my lips cannot meet her,

My beard stops the way.

You’ve heard my condition, and now I petition

That without omission, with all expedition,

You’ll give it a strike,

And send it by Tony, he’ll pay you the money,

I’ll shave and look bonny, and go to my honey,

As snod as you like.

If you do not you’ll hip me, my sweetheart will slip me,

And if I should smart for’t, and break my brave heart for’t

Are you not to blame?

But if you’ll oblige me, as gratitude guides me,

I’ll still be your servant, obedient and fervent,

Whilst Whittle’s my name.

 

*A North Country Phrase, expressing a particular Favour done to one.

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Frontispiece to William Stephenson’s Collection of Local Poems, Songs, &c. &c. (Gateshead: Stephenson, 1832).

Gateshead poet, songwriter and schoolmaster, William Stephenson senior (1763–1836), had an altogether less eccentric reputation as a man of letters in the North East. In his popular song, ‘The Quayside Shaver’ (c.1810), he preserves the dying art of barbering as practiced by women on Newcastle quayside. It is transcribed below from John Bell’s edition of Rhymes of Northern Bards: Being a Curious Collection of Old and New Songs and Poems, Peculiar to the Counties of Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, and Durham (Newcastle: Bell, 1812), pp. 43-45. Scroll down for the tune.

 

The Quayside Shaver*

On each market day, Sir, the folks to the Quay, Sir,

Go flocking with beards they have seven days worn,

And round the small grate, Sir, in crowds they all wait, Sir,

To get themselves shav’d in a rotative turn;

Old soldiers on sticks, Sir, about politics, Sir,

Debate—till at length they quite heated have grown;

May nothing escape, Sir, until Madame Scrape, Sir,

Cries, ‘Gentlemen, who is the next to sit down?’

 

A medley the place is, of those that sell laces,

With fine shirt-neck buttons, and good cabbage nets;

Where match-men, at meeting, give a kind greeting,

And ask one another how trade with them sets:

Join’d in with Tom Hoggards and little Bob Nackers,

Who wander the streets in their fuddling gills;

And those folks with bags, Sir, who buy up old rags, Sir,

That deal in fly-cages, and paper windmills.

 

There pitmen, with baskets and gay posey waistcoats,

Discourse about nought but whee puts and hews best:

There keelmen, just landed, swear may they be stranded,

If they’re not shav’d first while their keel’s at the Fest;

With a face of coal dust, would frighten one almost,

Thro’ off hat and wig, while they usurp the chair;

While others stand looking, and think it provoking,

But, for the insult, to oppose them none dare.

 

When under the chin, Sir, she tucks the cloth in, Sir,

Their old quid they’ll pop in the pea-jacket cuff;

And while they are sitting, do nought but keep spitting,

And looking around with an air fierce and bluff:

Such tales as go round, Sir, would be sure to confound, Sir,

And puzzle the prolific brain of the wise;

But when she prepares, Sir, to take off the hair, Sir,

With lather, she whitens them up to the eyes.

 

No sooner the razor is laid on the face, Sir,

Then painful distortions take place on the brow;

But if they complain, Sir, they’ll find it in vain, Sir,

She’ll tell them there’s nought but what Patience can do;

And as she scrapes round ‘em, if she by chance wound ‘em,

They’ll cry out as tho’ she’d bereav’d them of life,

‘’Od smash your brains, woman! I find the blood’s coming,

I’d rather been shav’d with an au’d gully knife!’

 

For all they can say, Sir, she still rasps away, Sir,

And sweeps round their jaw, the chop torturing tool;

Till they in a pet, Sir, request her to whet, Sir:

But she gives them for answer, ‘Sit still you pist fool!’

For all their repining, their twisting and twining,

She forward proceeds till she’s mown off the hair;

When finish’d, cries, ‘There Sir’; then straight from the chair, Sir,

They’ll jump, crying, ‘Daresay you’ve scrap’d the bone bare!’

 

*Formerly on the Sandhill, and afterwards on the Quay, near the Bridge, were people (chiefly women) who, in the open street, on market days, performed the office of Barber.

Helen's beard 3

Music from Chris Wilshaw, ‘Quayside Shaver’, ABC Notation, http://abcnotation.com/tunePage?a=tunearch.org/wiki/Quayside_Shaver.no-ext/0001

– Helen Williams

 

An Easter Byron

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Some of our readers may know that we harbour an artist in our midst. Alya, the Hogarth of Newcastle, is to be found frequently at Akenside and Spence’s, our Coffee House, sketching images of those who ‘do congregate’: a satirical view of the Dutch Spy over her pint of purl; a picturesque tracing of the tout ensemble at the end of a merry sing-song led by the Hibernian Radical; a sublime vision of The Lion himself in his splendour, reciting from Goldsmith’s Deserted Village when all have gone home. You may see some of her other work by scrolling down to our entries from November and December 2015 at our magnificent Night at the Museum. You can find out a little more in the ‘Contributing Members’ section.

For Easter, Alya has delighted us with this magnificent image. Would it were true that the noble Lord had graced us with his presence at our COFFEE HOUSE! We await the happy day, but until then: delight comes sudden on our hearts, with this magnificent envisioning. Here we see Byron in the flower of his youth, the gay innocent of Hours of Idleness dreaming happily at Harrow, or gazing at the Spring flowers promising warmth to Balgownie Brig’s black arches. And yet the fluttering scarf seems tossed by another, later wind, a Grecian breeze that would fan his temples on Easter Monday, 1824.

With that, we wish you all Easter greetings, and can promise a new post very shortly. It features beards and a song – but I anticipate. Happy Easter from all at Akenside and Spence’s!

The Press Teems with Fresh Thrills!!!

[We have received this missive, slid under a plate of chops we were enjoying at Akenside and Spence’s. In March, we often feel the chill of the Northern Blast the stronger, and it is in March that we turn to bid a fond farewell to the pleasures of Winter before it (we trust) finally slings its hook. That is, we take to our wing chair, book in hand, with a plate of devilled kidneys and a glass of negus. Our Dutch Spy has supplied us with the first part of the equation [vide below]; would only Akenside or Spence come to supply the second and our joy would be complete]

 

Dear Mr Lion,

I write with news of great import on receiving a missive from a friend in the city. This gentleman, one Mr. B-, is at present residing in the vicinity of Covent Garden – thought by some a dissolute neighbourhood, but one, it cannot be denied, at the heart of all intelligence relating to the spheres in which we both take such an interest, viz. literature, coffee and the performances of the celebrated Drury Lane Theatre. Our Mr B. was taking his afternoon coffee with a number of reputed hacks and other adventurers in the publishing world when a worthy piece of news came to his attention. Messrs. Lintot and Tonson, those esteemed publishers of the leading literati of our age, are to reissue once again – under the imprint of Pickering & Chatto – a collected works of our greatest playwright, and poet laureate, Nicholas Rowe.

You may well roar upon this news, and can well imagine the ecstasies I felt on hearing this most welcome of intelligence. I have long wished to obtain a complete edited works of all Rowe’s writings, from his occasional poems to his esteemed translation of Lucan’s Pharsalia, to, of course, his many tragedies, which, for so long, have held our hearts in sway as the great actresses of our age swoon and faint their way across the Drury Lane boards as a fallen Calista or repentant Jane Shore. As you must be aware, Rowe’s plays have always proved to be especially popular with the ladies and, despite Mr. Gildon’s objections, I cannot but feel them to be a proper reading matter for home performance, instilling good Christian principles and encouraging respectable behaviour in the weaker sex. Such reading material is surely much needed in the provincial towns of the nation, and our great city of Newcastle will benefit from an abundance of ladies styling themselves as the next Ethelinda or Jane Gray.

Mr B., who was also much excited by the news of this impending publication, informs me that the esteemed editors of the works have by now submitted their manuscripts to the printer, with the hope that Rowe will be in the hands of the booksellers by October of this year (MMXVI). I await the advertisement with all anticipation, and am planning on subscribing to the edition with the intention of donating a calf-bound copy to our venerable Literary and Philosophical Society, so that we may all benefit from a reading of that esteemed poet’s most celebrated verse.

Yours Sir, faithfully, as ever,

Dr. van Hensbergen.

Our Night at the Museum: Fashion, Dance and Health in the Eighteenth-Century City

[A Leonine note: Our writer here dashes merrily through events that we class among the finest moments of our existence; they form, indeed, an epoch in our minds. Yet we wonder whether we consumed to fully the advice of Dispensary David Hope: for it all seems a dream, and a dream in which a lion might find himself metamorphosed into a poet. We babble, readers, but glance at the post below by Dr Williams (and glance backwards to some earlier posts) and you will forgive, we hope, our reckless enthusiasm]

On November 21st 2015, Northumbria’s Eighteenth-Century Research Group was delighted to host A Night at the Museum: Fashion, Dance and Health in the Eighteenth-Century City as part of the AHRC-funded Being Human festival, the nationwide Festival of the Humanities. We collaborated with the Laing Art Gallery and local arts organisations to bring the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gallery of the Laing to life through drama, dance, and interactive exhibits. This post reflects on some of the projects that contributed to that evening.

Night 1

[credit Nur Alya Omar]

On arrival, our visitors were provided with free drinks tokens whilst a range of mountebanks touted their wares and promised to heal body and soul with a range of lotions, potions, and literary prescriptions. Guests were treated to free tasters and demonstrations of eighteenth-century hot chocolate and coffee by PhD student Anna (Dame) Hope. Despite being described by contemporaries as ‘burnt sulphur’, or as ‘nauseous’, ‘bitter’, ‘black’, ‘stinking’ ‘puddle water’ (sorry, Anna!), our guests were very brave indeed and consumed samples for their historic healing properties. Dispensary David (PhD student, David Hope) operated a highly popular disease lottery, horrifying our guests with their latent ailments and chronic complaints.  Guests did not suffer long, however, as D.D. soon prescribed them with miraculous cures, which in every case consisted of the most enjoyable Madeira wine.

[Credit: Anita O’Connell]

Our resident Bard, Doctor David Stewart, regaled us with verse one one hand and in the guise of muse on the other inspired us to come up with our own comic ditties in his quick and easy poetry competition. We learned that the city of Newcastle is home to many a genius, and many a hack. Perhaps our most attractive stand was manned by the nymph at her dressing table, our 18th-century beautician, Elizabeth Phyzzpatch (Dr Katie Aske), who demonstrated the most on-trend contouring, helped hide those pesky pockmarks, and touted the new season craze: mouse brows.

[credit Nur Alya Omar]

After being primed with lead, stuck with patches, squeezed for couplets and lubricated with medicinal liquors and coffee-house tonics, the good people of Newcastle were ushered upstairs to the stay-maker (PhD student, Leanne Cane), wrapped in the latest fashions, and primped into prettiness. The eighteenth-century paparazzi were out in force, catching digital gravures of guests posing behind our portrait cut-outs of William Holman Hunt’s Isabella and Joshua Reynolds’s Elizabeth Riddell (thanks to Dr Wessie Ling of Design).

[Credit: Anita O’Connell]

After being papped on the proverbial red carpet, Newcastle’s good citizens were invited to listen to our eighteenth-century storytellers, Northumbria’s BA and MA students who volunteered as art stewards for the evening, and even turned up in period dress. Guests engaged in games of hazard with (yes, we are very generous) eighteenth-century cash and were invited to sit for their very own fashion plates, drawn by Ann-Marie Kirkbride and her fashion illustration team from the Design school.

Night 8

[credit Nur Alya Omar]

In the run-up to the festival, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums were kind enough to invite our staff into the clothing archives. Dr Anita O’Connell collaborated with TWAM and Caroline Whitehead, Freelance dress and textile curator, presenting for the Night at the Museum a one-off exhibition of eighteenth-century dress, which dazzled the gallery with its sumptuous fabrics and sparkling embroidery exemplifying the very latest in Georgian discowear. Caro interpreted these artefacts and recapped their interesting adventures to bustling crowds of the most fashionable city-dwellers.

Night 9

As the clock chimed the eighth hour, the gallery suddenly took on a different function as theatrical space, with the bumbling entrance of Mistress Slurp, proprietor of Pickin Productions, eighteenth-century dowager actress, and gin connoisseur. Mistress Slurp delivered a panegyr-satiri-comic-dramatical demonstration, assisting the young and not so young members of the assembly to communicate their deepest desires through Joseph Addison’s coded language of the fan. The room (and many a heart) was a-flutter.

[credit Nur Alya Omar]

Finally, Inaudible dance team demonstrated the movements of the eighteenth-century minuet and updated the formations of the Georgian ballroom for the twenty-first century. Having studied the most up-to-date dance manuals by dancing-master Kellom Tomlinson, their use of Georgian formations in their hip-hop and break routines brought new movements to the oaken boards of the Laing galleries. Indeed, their original combination of Charles Avison and Jessie J was one which echoes in the memories of many a Geordie citizen!

Night 12

[credit Inaudible Dance Team]

By Our Notable and Quotable Shandean, Dr Helen Williams

Our Correspondence

My dear friends,

IMG_5268You will be aware, I hope, that we recently staged a Night at the Museum. Our most recent post gives a little overview, and one of our regular correspondents will shortly give a fuller picture. It was, ah, yes, it was indeed one of the best of nights! We met so many friendly faces at Dr Stewart’s literary stall, and learned a new dance (‘the Avison Allez-Oop’). Thank you for that, ladies of South Shields. Our paws have never moved so nimbly.

But, we have a debt to pay. Witness the above image of our desk. Our duelling pistol was necessary (not for any affair of honour) but simply to weigh down the immense pile of witty letters we received. Many of those of you who passed by Dr Stewart’s Temple of the Muses, his Land of the Literary, stopped to drop off some messages in the Lion’s Mouth. We shall respond to our correspondents here. But we shall also reveal the results of the POETRY COMPETITION!!! !!! !!!

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Let us take a few of these. Ms Fabulous (are you French, ma petite?) provides what her compatriot might call un petit poème en prose, providing (in English, though we sense it has been translated) un voyage autour de la nuit. ‘Red potion for my foul lips / Madeira wine 2x day for my weakness / Hot chocolate with cloves and Spanish fly to make me passionate / Oh what a night at the Laing!’ Ah! we feel the giddy whirl of the night return! 18th-century hot chocolate is a little odd (we liked it, but there were murmurings of dissent). Well, we salute you, Madame. We are, though, a cosmopolitan bunch, and were you to contact us with a missive in the original we should be most glad to give you space on The Affable Lion’s blog. Write again!

On y va! Zoe Marion (we think – a bit of a scrawl) writes beautifully: we salute the sentiments most thoroughly. We cannot tell your age (youthful, we doubt not), but your pleasure in meeting so many ‘like-minded people my age with the same interests’ at an event you found to be a ‘most uplifting and enlightening experience’ warms our heart. Where else can you do this? Well, we hope to do it all again next year, but in the meantime why not do it virtually? We’d be glad to have your thoughts (or yours, dear reader), at any time.

Hyacinthe Jena (a pseudonym, of a certain M. Schiller?) has attempted some verse: ‘Most merciful demon / To have forgiven your surgeon / That made your face like a gallion’ [all sic erat scriptum]. A mystical lot, those German Romantics. Terribly clever, we don’t doubt, but quite over our leonine head. Perhaps you might address us in the form of a critical essay?

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The above is hardly conventional verse, but a beautifully observed pictogram. A new logo for the Being Human festival? Or do you mean ‘manatees’? Anyway, we love it! A shake of the lion’s mane to you!

‘Anon.’ writes tolerably metrical verse, but this is a triumph of style over substance: ‘Lions in general they do like to prance, / They twinkle most delicátely; / But now I’m convinced I’ve got ants come from France / Who tickle quite déliciously’. It goes on like this a bit. Not our best contribution.

A question! Adele Chen asks ‘what inspires you the most in modern society?’ That’s a poser. Some people might expect us to say ‘nothing’ and to decry the ‘filthy modern tide’ of X-Factor and all that. But – no – our difficulty is that we tend to like so much that we can’t choose. The dancing we saw the other night suggests that modern life can be sculpted from the past and yet reflect the flash and clatter of the modern. We’d like to say more, but here are some things we like: the films of Mark Cousins; the music of Lana Del Rey; the books of Javier Marías; watching reruns of Frasier; the video for Taylor Swift’s ‘Wildest Dreams’; talking to people about what interests them. (P.S. Adele – we are a Lion, so prefer meat as a rule, but to tell the truth, our favourite dinner is Moroccan spiced aubergine). This sounds to me like a column for one of our correspondents to write in future.

Celimene also treats us like an 18th-century Dear Deirdre. ‘Could you please advise a young lady on some Improving Literature? My shelves are crouded with Novels, and, Sir, I fear they do me no good’. Oh, what a sad response! Have you been reading the dull strictures of Ms Hannah More? Novels are the very thing for a young gal! Read on, read thy Samuel Richardson, thy Fanny Burney, yea, even thy John Cleland. But should you tire of these, ask Mr Google about the poetry of Winthrop Mackworth Praed or Leigh Hunt. Their merry wit will cure any malady.

We move to the POETRY COMPETITION’s top four. Celimene, avert your eyes.

First, a Jacobin Spy.

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It treats of Politicks. ‘Oh Lion so Roary /’Tis sure you’re no Tory; / With well-writ command / The TRUTH spreads o’er the Land!’. This, sir, is a versified POLITICAL JUSTICE! And, sir, we SALUTE YOU FOR IT! The Lion pins his colours to the mast! He hates Tories! Down with Pitt into a pit! Hurrah for William Godwin and @Godwin_Lives! But, I’m afraid, though I salute your message, as verse – you have been trumped by others.

‘A man’ has scant regard for metrical scansion. I shall quote a few lines: ‘All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a thousand enemies. / And if they catch you, they will kill you’. The advice is given to the Prince of Rabbits. The epistle ends ‘Back! Foul scourge of all that is precious and high!’ We feel rather like the early criticks of Mr William Blake. Are we in the presence of genius? Or is this gibberish? We invite ‘A man’ to submit an explanation in prose. But you have not won.

We have, indeed, two winners. One for the best poem, one for the best presentation. Here they are:

On the left, Alya has submitted a weakish poem (we shall not quote it, but shall just say that we do not usually consider ‘cocoa’ and ‘evening’ to be a rhyme) with quite the best illustrations we have ever seen. Alya, thank you. These are truly wonderful. Please send in any of your sketches at any time.

On the right, Comrade Olga writes magnificently (across TWO PAGES!) about the joys of the night. The Comrade rejects metrical rules as a bourgeois imposture, but is careful to rhyme every line. We have a celebration of the information provided about the paintings, of the wigs, the smallpox, that ‘Lead was not just used for weight, / But ground down into makeup paste’ (how cleverly she pivots mid-line from grinding down to making up!) – the dancing, the glee, the wigs (did we mention the wigs?), the ‘crack of a fan’. She ends: ‘Finally those dancers walked through the door / Making me breathless and wanting for more; / University seems so interesting now! /Can I try it again, even with furrowed brow?’. Well – yes you can! Please keep following our blog, and you’ll see lots more events coming up at Northumbria and beyond (or enrol to do a degree!). You (and you, sir, and you, mademoiselle) are most heartily welcome.

Your prize, Alya and Olga, is small, we are afraid. It is this: you have now officially been enrolled as ‘Spies in the Provinces’ on the blog! You are, therefore, officially allowed to write a guest post. From that, fame and fortune await. Please write to us at your earliest opportunity. Leave a comment below.

To end: Silvia is glad that the youth come to A Night at the Museum with us Northumbrians rather than ‘just staying in a pub drinking’. More than that, ‘I like to see that culture is part of everyday life and that the past could be so interesting in our technological life’. Well, Silvia, you probably have seen that the Lion likes to be amusing, but he also likes to be sincere. This is beautifully put, and absolutely right (we think). It’s everything we try to do via this blog and via all the events we put on. You haven’t won the poetry prize (because this isn’t a poem), but yours is the letter that has given us all most heart. So – thank you, and we hope to see you, and everyone who thinks like you, very soon in virtual or non-virtual form.

The Affable Lion

P.S. We shall publish Comrade Olga’s poem in full at a later date.

A Night at the Museum

Well, friends new and friends old, what a joyous night it was. We shall have some proper reflections when sobriety returns, but our sketcher (Mr Hogarth) has dashed off a few impressions that we thought we’d share.

So: we had a NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM as part of the Being Human Festival. Words, for the moment, fail us (what’s that? uncharacteristically? why, thankee, kind sir, molto gentile). We made many new friends; we contracted a new disease. We dosed the latter with Dispensary David’s Madeira prescription; we toasted the former with Mistress Hope’s hot chocolate.

The Lion has received many entries for his poetry competition: and these he shall respond to shortly. The two page (TWO PAGE!) verse epistle we received at the end of the night is, we doubt not, the very thing.

For now, though, a caption competition. Clockwise from top left:

  1. ‘So, sir, you tell me that the learned author’s TOUR OF THE LOW COUNTRIES takes him not through Holland, though the climate is similarly wet?’
  2. ‘Stroike a loight! Polly Peachum’s lost er ed!’
  3. ‘It is a common disease, my lord, and although some suggest the cure is mercury, I caution you against such quacks; try my PATENTED delicacy from the Coast of Africk’
  4. ‘From Flo Rida to Fielding, from Beyonce to Behn, from Yeezy to Yorick, Mistress Slurp’s Hippity-Hop Quadrillistes!’
  5. ‘Fiddle-de-dee, my dear’
  6. ‘Oh, no, madam, a beauty mark on the cheek is a signifier of rare distinction!’

You shall hear from us anon.

The Lion’s Floors Tour

A POSTCARD FROM ACROSS THE BORDER – LATE AUGUST 2015

DEAR CUBS BACK HOME,

THE LION has been a’travelling! As is his custom, long established now over some nine years (since his time as a Before Depressive – http://www.beforedepression.com ), he and a Company of the hardiest and most jovial of his Fellow Roarers set off on the latest of their famous Summer Jaunts (https://theaffablelion.wordpress.com/literary-and-scientific-intelligence ). North of the Border, as he has found before, offers rich pickings for the keen Enlightophile, and so it proved once more, when the Pride, in our two fair Conveyances, with our two fair Drivers, descended (or ascended, geographically speaking) on Floors Castle (http://www.roxburghe.net/castle ) – up the Road to Scotland.

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Young Lions: beware! The way from Newcastle to the North can be long and treacherous! Not the least of the traveller’s nightmares are the coaches and carriages queuing at the Gate of the Cows, in our own fair City. Even when safely across the Border, and almost within sight of the Goal, there are hazards in store – street closures in Kelso, obliging the valiant Lion to seek electronic aids to navigation, sadly in vain, and finally, tantalisingly cul-de-sacced at the Floors Plant Centre, within sight of the noble Pile itself, to enjoin an affable Gardener for the final directions.

Success! The two travelling parties become again one, the Pride establishes itself in the Scottish sunshine, at a table outside the Courtyard Café. Roars of joy at our Reunion give way to gentler Growlings as the Pride sates itself on the ample offerings of the Bill of Fare [no Legs of Mutton, we note – ed.], sips its Coffee (not our customary Akenside and Spence standard, but a very acceptable second, especially after so hazardous a journey), and looks ahead to the afternoon.

First, a prowl round the Estate: the soft gravel, the sweep of the lawns, the Millennium Parterre and the Walled Garden. The Lion is at ease. Some of the party yearn for the Adventure Playground, but Decorum restrains them – a fine period Virtue! Others sniff the offerings in the Plant Centre – but we are not here to buy.

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Then the tour. This is Roxburghshire, and Floors was the creation, between 1721 and 1726, of William Adam, one of our Scottish Cousins, as was his son Robert. Adam was under commission from the 1st Duke of Roxburghe, John Ker, already 5th Earl of Roxburghe and created Duke for helping to enable the Act of Union between Scotland and England in 1707 [a parcel o’ rogues – ed.]. Adam’s building was substantial, and certainly grander than anything else around it – Roxburgh Castle, founded by David I in the twelfth century, was demolished in 1460 by the Scots themselves. It is now a ruin in the grounds of Floors. The Lion Growls. The passage of time – the destruction wrought by men.

Adam produced a noble Georgian home, fit for a Duke, but not, it seems, fit enough for the 6th Duke, Sir James Henry Robert Innes-Ker, who clearly felt he needed more space for his names and titles! The Lion Growls again! Sir James had the architect William Playfair turn his house into a Castle. He began work in 1837: it took ten years! The result is extensive, magnificent, awesome! (The Lion makes a mental note: ‘Renew subscription to the Socialist Workers’ Party.’ [vide. our Twitter feed – ed.]) Entrance Hall, Ballroom, Drawing Room, Dining Room, Fake Dining Room, Gun Room – and the Room with life-sized model Aristocrats, which some of the party found spooky, and others just silly! And the William and Mary chairs, the Chippendale furniture, made to order, the carpets, the silverware. In 1903 the 8th Duke, Sir Henry Innes-Ker, married the American heiress Mary (May) Goelet, who brought a huge dowry (reputedly twenty million dollars) and, subsequently, a treasure-house of artworks. Re-enter the architects, as Duchess May had the Ballroom reconfigured to house the series of seventeenth-century Gobelins Tapestries she had inherited; while in the Drawing Room more of the Tapestries were themselves reconfigured – cut and reframed – to fit the Alcoves. The Confidence! (The Nerve!).

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And then Duchess May’s Pictures: Picasso, Matisse, Augustus John…. The Lion slavers! And, wonder of wonders, a previously unknown letter by Robert Burns, in big, bold handwriting, to James Gregory, the famous Professor of Medicine in Edinburgh, from Ellisland on 13th May 1789! It was discovered, the Lion learns, only in 2011, and takes pride of place among the display of the 6th Duke’s autograph collection, where it was found. Burns is asking for comments on his poem, ‘On Seeing a Wounded Hare’, a draft of which he includes.

Inhuman man! Curse on thy barb’rous art,

And blasted be thy murder-aiming eye:

May never pity soothe thee with a sigh,

Nor ever pleasure glad thy cruel heart!…

Oft as by winding Nith, I, musing, wait

The sober eve, or hail the cheerful dawn,

I’ll miss thee sporting o’er the dewy lawn,

And curse the ruffian’s aim, and mourn thy hapless fate.

Burns never used a word like ‘sober’ lightly, muses the Lion: he must have felt strongly. Gregory criticised the poem, not liking the stanza form or the coarseness of the language!

The wounded Hare is a pretty good Subject: but the Measure or Stanza you have

chosen is not a good one: it does not flow well, and the rime of the 4th line is almost

lost by its distance from the 1st…. Stanza 1. The Execrations in the first 2 lines are

too strong or coarse … Murder-aiming is a bad compound epithet, and not very

intelligible.

No pleasing some people, thinks the Lion. But as an afterthought, he nods: two pillars of arts and sciences in constructive interchange, supportive: a feature of Enlightenment. He wonders: did Gregory ever seek Burns’ advice over treatment for a Consumption , or an Apoplexy?

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Well, Cubs, the Jaunt draws to its close. Tea and Buns, back at the Courtyard Café, to strengthen ourselves for the trials of the A68, and a fond farewell to Picasso, Burns, the Chippendales and Sir James and his names! The Lion goes South, for the Winter! Next year will be another Story.

Happy Travels!

A****** L***

Allan Ingram

Summery Reflections on Puns

‘A pistol let off, not a feather to tickle the intellect’

The Lion takes seriously Mr. W.H. Auden’s reminder that ‘The hour-glass whispers to the lion’s paw’. But if we might just take paws for thought, while I – with no small pride – unpack the mane object of my discourse, and hope that so roar and unrefined a subject grates not on delicate sensibilities – but I see you have grasped my drift: Puns!

Criticks have never been comfortable with puns. Samuel Johnson rebuked Shakespeare for allowing himself to be seduced: ‘A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures, it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire’. The ephemerality of the pun does not square with Matthew Arnold’s earnest quest for the ‘best that is thought and known’. It falls well beneath T.S. Eliot’s ideals of classical ‘maturity’. To the Leavisite, trifling punnage appears the apogee of artistic and critical ‘irresponsibility’. Complaining at Deconstruction’s ludic slipperiness, Harold Bloom dubbed Jacques Derrida as ‘French Joyce’ (an epithet it is hard to interpret as only critical). Puns have ever been seen as a distraction, an annoyance, and a regrettable foible.

Contemporary academics are still made queasy by puns. Criticks often feel uncomfortable writing about funny literature. Perhaps this is because such analysis almost always involves explaining why a joke is funny – and so murdering to dissect. Moreover, criticks feel self-conscious about justifying such labours, in a way they would not if writing about more serious topics or genres. If as criticks we have a somewhat parasitic relationship to that which we analyse, the study of subjects and mediums that are avowedly ephemeral and silly might be cause for existential anxiety.

Furthermore, puns, word-play and jokes make us uneasy as criticks for a more methodological reason: we don’t always know how to evaluate them. In a lovely post from last November, David Stewart focused on Keats’s relationship to Regency dress. Clothing is a form of semiotics, whose meaning becomes obscure without a semiological archaeology. Writing on puns, Charles Lamb raises a similar problem:

A custom is sometimes as difficult to explain to a foreigner as a pun. What would become of a great part of the wit of the last age, if it were tried by a test? How would certain topics, as aldermanity, cuckoldry, have sounded to Terentian auditory, though Terence himself had been alive to translate them?

Recent scholarly engagements with puns and word-play of the eighteenth-century and Romantic-era are most welcome. These include Olivia Smith’s magisterial work on the politics of language in the 1790s; Jonathan Culler on puns and linguistic disruption; Tim Fulford and James McKusick on Coleridge’s linguistic philosophy; and Vic Gatrell on the role of puns, jokes and hoaxes as a form of muted counter-culture in the 1820s. Puns and word-play were integral to the sociability and creativity of circles of ‘Cockneys’ and ‘Wits’ including Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt, Hartley Coleridge, John Hamilton Reynolds, and Thomas Hood (to name and shame but a few culprits). Such studies tend to argue for the clandestine profundity of puns. But I want to take a step back from this, and suggest that puns are important even where they are not profound: perhaps even where they are abysmal.

Firstly, perhaps there is something unique in the phenomenology of puns, which in itself deserves attention. Like a linguistic trompe d’oeil the pun brings together two disparate concepts into comical relationship. But the humour often lies not so much in the content itself, but in the mind’s emergent awareness of the juxtaposition erected. Lamb gives this example:

An Oxford scholar, meeting a porter who was carrying a hare through the streets, accosts him with this extraordinary question: “Prithee, friend, is that thy own hare, or a wig?”

There is no excusing this, and no resisting it.

This discourse of ‘resistance’ echoes Johnson’s sense that Shakespeare is ‘seduced’ by puns. This experience is surely manifest in our response to puns: the reflexive guffaw followed co-mingled with the countervailing self-conscious groan. As Lamb observes, the response to puns must be spontaneous:

A pun, and its recognitory laugh, must be co-instantaneous. The one is the brisk lightning, the other the fierce thunder. A moment’s interval, and the link is snapped. A pun is reflected from a friend’s face as from a mirror.

Is it too far to describe the response to a pun as a ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion’? (Albeit, rarely recalled in tranquillity). If ‘powerful’ is too strong, there seems no way of denying the authenticity of the reflexive response, whether mirth or consternation.

Secondly, there is sometimes an academic danger of overstating the meaning of a joke. Much ink has been spilled on the seeming metaphysical significance of Blake’s comment to Henry Crabb Robinson, that Wordsworth’s ‘Preface’ to The Excursion caused ‘a bowel complaint which nearly killed him’. But perhaps Blake intended something far more vulgar, Swiftian and scatological than has often been construed. To read Blake not as wracked by philosophical, but merely calling Wordsworth’s poetry execrable, is still important in revealing something about Blake’s reading of Wordsworth, and the concretion of Blakean wit. In addition to over-thinking jokes, academic criticism sometimes embraces a culture of word-play which is, already, overly-wrought. Take for example Jacques Lacan’s now infamous description of Shakespeare’s Hamlet as ‘l’Hommelette’ (blending both a ‘little man’, and man fragmented, like eggs used to make omelettes). Contrasted with Lamb’s statement that: ‘A pun is not bound by the laws which limit nicer wit. It is a pistol let off at the ear, not a feather to tickle the intellect…A pun may easily be too curious and artificial’, we see that Lacan’s recherché witticism is too erudite for Lamb: a tickle, not a bang.

Finally, puns tell us a lot about people, friendships and intimacy. Lamb visualises the face of a friend responding to a pun. He describes puns in the context of writing to distant correspondents, and fears puns suffer from such arrested conveyance. There is much to be gleaned about Lamb’s character from his raising a toast to the much calumniated King Herod at a well-to-do children’s party. As a visitor to London society, John Clare described attending parties with Lamb, Reynolds and Hood, who would ‘punch’ their guests with puns which contained clout but no malice. Moreover, the confidence to crack a bad joke intimates a bond of trust between the jokester and his audience. Maybe sometimes the genesis of wit depends upon a sphere of intimacy where truly terrible – even shocking – humour is permissible without censure.

To give a modern (and perhaps unlikely) analogy to the 1820s ‘Wits’, both the late polemicist Christopher Hitchens, and the contemporary novelist Salman Rushdie, were bonded (with others) by their liking for terrible puns. Unravelling the canard of ‘Intelligent Design’, that evolution is ‘as likely as a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and spontaneously assembling a Boeing 747 airplane’, Hitchens slew with the Parthian shot that such sophistry was not at all ‘intelligent’ but merely ‘the same old mumbo-jumbo (or in this instance, jumbo-mumbo).’ Rushdie’s novels burst with polyglotic puns. In Shame, Rushdie plays to great effect upon the apocryphal anecdote that following his unauthorised capture of the Sindh province, General Charles James Napier wrote to his superiors one word ‘Peccavi’ (‘I have Sindh’). Yet in contrast, Hitchens, Rushdie, and their fellow novelists Ian McEwan and Martin Amis reminisce, about their youthful delight in a game whereby they would exchange the word ‘love’ in any film or novel title for ‘hysterical sex’: ‘Hysterical Sex in a Time of Cholera’. ‘Stop in the Name of Hysterical Sex’ (etc etc).

Friends, I positively feel you cringe! But perhaps this sort of convivial feebleness is seedbed for real humour. And besides, puns are almost inherently embarrassing. And as Christopher Ricks demonstrated long ago, embarrassment is a rich indicator of moral sentiment. And besides, as Lamb opined: ‘What though it limp a little, or prove defective in one leg – all the better’.

This is surely long enough paws for thought, as this Lion grows long in the tooth, and needs must go lie down with the Lamb.

  • Pete Newbon