April 14th, 2014

Ginx’s Baby and Little Hodges, by Edward Jenkins

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Son of a missionary and minister who took his family to India, Canada and the U.S. and who was ordained in three different churches–Wesleyan, Methodist, and Presbyterian–Edward Jenkins had stronger Protestant and anti-imperialist roots than perhaps any other Victorian radical, which is why he might be considered 19th Century England’s closest counterpart to Jonathan Swift. And like Swift, he used the infant as the instrument for his most savage satires.

edwardjenkinsJenkins’ first book, Ginx’s Baby: His Birth and Other Misforuntes (1871), used its title character–the thirteenth child both to Mr. and Mrs. Ginx, a London navvy and his wife–to mock the pretensions of religious charities and high-minded reformers, who claimed to serve the poor but more often used them to serve their own interests. Ginx, his wife, and all their children manage to fit into one tiny room filled mostly with on “thirteenth-hand” bed:

When Ginx, who was a stout navvy, and Mrs. Ginx, who was, you may conceive, a matronly woman, were in it, there was little vacant space about them. Yet, as they were forced to find resting-places for all the children, it not seldom happened that at least one infant was perilously wedged between the parental bodies; and latterly they had been so pressed for room in the household that two younglings were nestled at the foot of the bed. Without foot-board or pillows, the lodgment of these infants was precarious, since any fatuous movement of Ginx’s legs was likely to expel them head-first. However they were safe, for they were sure to fall on one or other of their brothers or sisters.

Although the Ginxes, like good Victorian subjects, take their lot in life for granted (“They regarded disease with the apathy of creatures who felt it to be inseparable from humanity”), the latest Ginx is one too many, and Mr. Ginx considers drowning the newborn in the Thames as a solution. A crowd gathers, and a debate erupts among them as to where the responsibility for the situation lies. One man blames Ginx and his wife for having children when they couldn’t afford them and another wonders why “Parlyment” doesn’t provide better care for the poor. Finally, a nun intervenes and persuades a policeman to let her take the baby back to “the Sisters of Misery.”

There, the nuns consult with the Church authorities and soon little Ginx–now named Ambrosius–becomes the centerpiece of a campaign to encourage procreation as a means for creating more Catholics. This draws the wrath of Protestant churches, and an “Evangelical Alliance” forms to rescue him. They “favor of teaching him at once to hate idolatry, music, crosses, masses, nuns, priests, bishops, and cardinals,” and form a Committee of the Protestant Detectoral Union on Ginx’s Baby to determine the correct approach to the infant’s religious education. Unfortunately, after holding twenty-three meetings and releasing countless announcements, the Committee is forced to disband for lack of funds.

In the meantime, Mr. Ginx resorts to abandoning the baby on a shopkeeper’s doorstep, which then leads to his being placed in one poorhouse and then another. Now near death, the child is rescued by a visiting doctor and his case becomes a cause celebre in the press. The respective guardians of the two poorhouses go to court to determine which is at fault. The baby is returned to the Ginxes, who have given up any hope of surviving in England and decided to emigrate to Australia, and once again Mr. Ginx abandons him, this time on the doorstep of a political club in Pall Mall.

Here he comes to the service of the Radicals, who attempt to launch a debate in the House of Commons on the plight of the poor. However, the Minister for the Accidental Accompaniments of the Empire takes them by surprise by launching his own debate in the House of Lords. Though “he never seen the Baby, and knew nothing or very little about him,” this does not prevent him from delivering “an elaborate speech in which he asked for aristocratic sympathy on his behalf” and proposes a practical solution: send the child to Australia. Unfortunately, this motion runs afoul of the great economic authority, Lord Munibagge, who protests, “Ginx’s Baby could not starve in a country like this. He (Lord Munnibagge) had never heard of a case of a baby starving.” The Lords conclude that “there was no necessity for the interference of Government in the case of Ginx’s Baby or any other babies or persons.”

In the end, passed along from charity to charity, Ginx’s baby grows into a young and still hungry delinquent and decides one night to resort to his father’s first solution: he quietly jumps off Vauxhall Bridge and drowns himself in the Thames.

littlehodgeSeveral years after publishing Ginx’s Baby, Jenkins took another satirical stab at the inertia and hypocrisy of Victorian society through the instrument of a baby–this time in the form of the world’s tiniest baby, known as Little Hodge (1878). Weighing just over three pounds at birth, Little Hodges’ fame soon spreads: “Many visitors came to the workhouse — physicians, surgeons, comparative anatomists, and one or two social science philosophers.” They all come to the same conclusion: “that he was very small,” and “that he could not live.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Hodges, a farm laborer with eight other children, he does live, and, with his mother dead from childbirth, he needs to eat. Hodges turns to his landlord, then to his parson, then to his local poorhouse, and so on, finding all of them greatly concerned and utterly unable to help. When he tries to forage and poach to find some free food for his family, he’s brought up on charges. His plight inspires some of his fellow farm workers to form a union and revolt against the landowners, but this movement also fails to provide solution to the immediate problem of getting enough to eat. Hodge dies one night, probably murdered by his landlord, and his children are taken off to America by a Yankee philanthropist.

Like many other attempts to rework a fictional formula, the tone of Little Hodges seem tired and bitter compared to the gusto with which Jenkins skewered English society high and low in Ginx’s Baby. Where in Ginx’s Baby Jenkins pumped up his targets to exaggerated proportions before bursting them with quick jabs, in Little Hodges, mockery too often gives way to anger and sermonizing. One could trace a line from Swift to Kafka’s The Trial that passes through Ginx’s Baby; Little Hodges, though, is closer to Ten Nights in a Bar-room than anything in the way of lasting satirical literature.

Both Ginx’s Baby and Little Hodges are available at the Internet Archive.


Ginx’s Baby: His Birth and Other Misfortunes, by Edward Jenkins
London: Strachan & Company, 1871


 

April 9th, 2014

“The Brigadier General Bar,” from Naked Morning, by R. V. Cassill

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bar

The Brigadier Club had never endured for more than ten months under any single management and it had borne half a dozen names since the war. Bur it recurs, Martin thought, and may be here in a fresh avatar when the pigeon-loved bronze of General Dirksen has been sublimed away.

It had opened after the war as the clubhouse of a campus Veterans’ organization. The American Legion and the VFW had their own permanent buildings in the business section of town, but a large part of their membership was from townspeople or the incorrigible patriots who would always find something subversive in any organization they had helped found themselves.

The club had moved twice before it found quarters in the labyrinthine back rooms of a hotel that was thirty years fallen from its highwater mark of prosperity. It had gone broke and had been reorganized repeatedly. While it was still—with some pretense of legitimacy–a veteran’s co-operative project. Then it was “taken over” by an ex-aviator. For a while his name had been painted over the main entrance on a side street five blocks from the campus. He told all those who had by this time become addicted to it that “nothing would change.” He was going merely, to put it on a paying basis, “for them.”

Since then the club had been closed some ten times. Now and then it was closed (and disbanded) at the orders of the outraged university or municipal administration on a variety of charges which added up to something like mass moral turpitude. Sometimes bankruptcies closed it–at which times the onetime flyer “re-incorporated” and changed the name, clinging only to those names which had a common military denominator.

The outrage of authority sprang from semi-public disclosures that liquor was being sold here to minors, that obscene movies had been shown on stag nights, that the ROTC staff was using it as an outlet for the French erotic supplies they imported from tours of duty at overseas posts, or that whores from Chicago and Kansas City occasionally based there during the football season or the annual state basketball tournament.

The bankruptcies sometimes resulted from setting the price of drinks too low (the manager had moments of unbusiness-like compassion for his whole clientele), sometimes from over-paying the local police with bribes which they did not respect (a bribe plus a fine can ruin any business venture), and sometimes from emergencies in the manager’s private life (he fell head over heels for one of the Chicago hookers and went home with her when she left, carrying all his liquid assets and dissipating them on her in a six week binge).

But it was open again this fall, as it had been for at least part of every year, “under new management.” This merely meant that the manager would spend more time in a back room at one of the poker tables and less time hanging from the bar corner in ostentatious drunkenness, reaching for the girls as they danced. Each reopening was signalized by some amateur remodeling of the decor will wallboard and gaspipe, the immemorial peephole between the men’s and women’s toilets was usually plastered shut, and a new program of entertainment was advertised on mimeographed handbills. But essentially, year to year, college generation to generation, as Clare had promised–as he didn’t even need to bother promising, Martin thought–the club had not changed. As it had been, it would be.


 

April 7th, 2014

“Travelogue in a Shooting Gallery,”by Kenneth Fearing, from Afternoon of a Pawnbroker (1943)

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shootinggallery

Travelogue in a Shooting Gallery

There is a jungle, there is a jungle, there is a vast, vivid, wild,
wild, marvelous, marvelous, marvelous jungle,
Open to the public during business hours,
A jungle not very far from an Automat, between a hat store
there, and a radio shop.

There, there, whether it raihs, or it snows, or it shines,
Under the hot, blazing, cloudless, tropical neon skies that
the management always arranges there,
Rows and rows of marching ducks, dozens and dozens and
dozens of ducks, move steadily along on smoothly-oiled ballbearing feet,

Ducks as big as telephone books, slow and fearless and out
of this world,
While lines and lines of lions, lions, rabbits, panthers, elephants, crocodiles, zebras, apes,
Filled with jungle hunger and jungle rage and jungle love,
Stalk their prey on endless, endless rotary belts through
never-ending forests, and burning deserts, and limitless veldts,

To the sound of tom-toms, equipped with silencers, beaten
by thousands of savages hidden there.
And there it is that all the big game hunters go, there the
traders and the explorers come,

Leanfaced men with windswept eyes who arrive by streetcar,
auto or subway, taxi or on foot, streetcar or bus,
And they nod, and they say, and they need no more:
‘There . . . there . . .
There they come, and there they go.”

And weighing machines, in this civilized jungle, will read
your soul like an open book, for a penny at a time,
and tell you all,
There, there, where smoking is permitted,
In a jungle that lies, like a rainbow’s end, at the very end of every trail,
There, in the only jungle in the whole wide world where
ducks are waiting for streetcars,
And hunters can be psychoanalyzed, while they smoke and wait for ducks.

from Afternoon Of A Pawnbroker And Other Poems, by Kenneth Fearing
New York City: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1944

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

This is one in a series of neglected poems taken from the Internet Archive.


 

April 4th, 2014

Ambrosia and Small Beer, arranged by Christopher Hassall

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The delight of reading John Guest’s Broken Images, which I posted about recently, led me to look for his other works. A short search, as his few other publications were collections of other people’s work.

ambrosiaandsmallbeerOne, for which he did not even claim credit, bears the odd title of Ambrosia and Small Beer. Subtitled “The Record of a Correspondence between Edward Marsh and Christopher Hassall, Arranged by Christopher Hassall,” the book was being prepared for publication by Hassall when he died suddenly at the age of 51. Guest, who had been a close friend of Hassall since the two served together in an anti-aircraft battery in 1940, was a senior editor at Longmans, Green and Company, Hassall’s publisher, and took over the final work on the book.

Christopher Hassall and Edward Marsh first met in March 1934. Hassall was 22, just graduated from Oxford, trying to pull together his first book of poetry, and working for Ivor Novello, the legendary singer, actor, composer and playwright. Marsh was 61, a senior Civil Servant nearing retirement, and already well-known as a mentor and patron to creative talents such as Novello, D. H. Lawrence, and Rupert Brooke. The four collections of Georgian Poetry he edited had been hugely successful–selling as many as 20,000 copies each–and Marsh was also known to have been responsible for editing and maturing the prose style of his minister/MP, Winston Churchill. Marsh’s Wikipedia entry categorizes him as a “polymath”–probably one of the few people to earn that label.

Marsh was also something of a cornerstone figure in the homosexual community of his time. At 22, Christopher Hassall was a beautiful young man, and that, combined with his poetic talents, certainly held a strong attraction for Marsh. Within days of their meeting, Marsh was writing long letters filled with detailed criticisms–word by word examinations in some cases–of Hassall’s poetry. Soon, however, the correspondence moved into the wider world of Marsh’s intellectual interests, artistic passions, and social contacts.

Marsh never married and appears never to have had any long-term intimate relationships. He lived alone and had the time and, apparently, tremendous energy to devote to those friendships he most valued. Hassall identifies this as an vital factor in their relationship: “As a solitary man, Marsh tended to live the private lives of other people. Some of his most intense experiences were lived vicariously.” While Hassall includes excerpts from many of his own letters and notes to Marsh, the bulk of Ambrosia and Small Beer comes from Marsh’s pen.

Fluent in a half-dozen languages, Marsh had a prodigious memory for facts, concepts, and poetry. His was a mind of both tremendous breadth and surgical precision. “Nothing seems to have got lost between the brain and the pen,” the writer George Moore once remarked of a letter calling for a civil list pension to be granted for James Joyce. But he was also a great lover of gossip and jokes. Hassall called him “an ornament of society with an inexhaustible fund of small talk,” and the title comes from his description of Marsh’s conversation: “an engaging blend of ambrosia and small beer.”

Marsh continued to write to Hassall as the young man became–in partnership with Novello–a successful librettist, as he married, served in the Army during the Second World War, and enjoyed success as an actor, poet, and producer after the war. Indeed, the correspondence continued right up to Marsh’s death in 1953. Ambrosia and Small Beer collects perhaps a third of the total material, but one suspects that what is omitted is hardly to be missed. As Hassall remarked in his preface, Marsh loved to indulge in gossip that had little lasting value.

What’s left, however, is great fun for anyone who loves literature, people and humor. Marsh knew almost everyone who was anyone in Britain of the 1930s and 1940s, and a healthy share of them invited him to dinner and country house weekends. He read a good share of the better and lesser books published during that period and is generous in devoting space to his personal reviews. I’ve discovered a fair number of neglected titles in the course of reading this book. And he delighted in sharing jokes. I suspect that one of the services Hassall performed on posterity’s behalf was to weed out the duds from the gems, because there are plenty of good laughs to be found here.

In many ways, Ambrosia and Small Beer reminds me of James Agate’s Ego–the nine volumes of diaries that he published between 1935 and 1946: it’s erudite, bitchy, and funny. I would give Ambrosia a slight edge, however, for the invaluable leavening effect of Hassall’s editing and his own contributions. While Agate was notorious for endlessly rewriting his own work, Hassall had a wonderful sense for what to include and what to delete.

We can be grateful, for example, that he chose to include the text Marsh enclosed to accompany the following comment, from a letter in April 1944:

Someone named Adrian Earle wrote to say he was writing a life of Lionel Johnson, and asked if I could contribute anything. I send you the rough copy of what I wrote for him–it’s inexpressibly slight.

Marsh’s piece is as follows:

I met Lionel Johnson only once, when we both stayed with the late Lord Russell for a night in the latter nineties at a little house near London. I forget who else was there, except Harry Marillier and Edmund Garrett. When Russell and the others went to bed, L. J. asked me to stay up with him: he was born with insomnia, he told me, and had never been able to sleep, in his cradle or since; so we settled down to talk. His conversation was enthralling, but alas very little of what he said has stuck in my memory. One topic was the novels of George Meredith, which he put very high; but he owned that after giving one week of his life to the first chapter of The Egoist he had come to the conclusion that it had no meaning whatever. Later in the night he discoursed with eloquence on the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas, which he exalted as the most wonderful structure of thought that the world had produced; and–this is my last fragment–he said that he had never in his life been able to do a sum of any kind.

At about five or six in the morning he poured himself out a tumblerful of neat whisky, after drinking which he said that now he would be able to sleep; so I went to bed, leaving him curled under a rug in a big armchair.

For the justification to forego reading The Egoist alone, I am grateful that Hassall chose to include this.

After Marsh’s death, Hassall began collecting materials for a biography, which he published in 1959: Edward Marsh: Patron of the Arts. One reviewer called it, “The most entertaining biography since Boswell.” If Ambrosia and Small Beer is any indication, I am eager to make my own assessment of the biography.


Ambrosia and Small Beer: The Record of a Correspondence between Edward Marsh and Christopher Hassall, Arranged by Christopher Hassall
New York City: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965


 

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