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0 - The Neglected Books Page

At the Green Goose, by D. B. Wyndham Lewis

greengooseAt the Green Goose, by D. B Wyndham Lewis (“not to be confused with the novelist Wyndham Lewis,” as nearly every biographical sketch notes), is an utterly throw-away book that you will either love or wonder why anyone would have published it.

It’s nothing more than a collections of absurd philosophico-academic monologues–or rather, monologues with occasional interruptions–by one Professor Silas Plodsnitch, “great poet, philosopher, and neo-Pantagruelist.” The professor walks into the Green Goose, orders a coffee, lights up his pipe, and begins to talk. His subject may be bees and bee-keepers, celebrity, matrimony, the works of Ethel Biggs Delaney (writer of stories for women’s magazines) or the Sitwells (Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell), but he veers off into other topics, carries on erratically, and then exits, usually without reaching a point.

“For three pence you can buy the index to the Estimates for Civil Services for the year ending March 31, which I have been looking through with some interest,” starts one of his lectures:

I calculate, after reading under the index letter I that every third man in these islands is an inspector of something or other–agriculture, aliens, alkali works, ancient monuments, audits, bankruptcy, canal boats, explosives, fisheries, inebriates, milk, mines, prisons, town planning–heaven knows what beside! This does not include, I suppose, the hordes of sub-inspectors, assistant inspectors, and pupil-inspectors (at present taking a correspondence course), nor yet the Inspector of Inspectors and his staff.

This leads to an imagined dialogue between a harried Inspector of Bankruptcy and an Inspector of Ancient Monuments, whose schedule is considerably more relaxed, which ends in one biting the other on the leg. Then he cuts abruptly into a meditation on the various ways of pronouncing the line, “Bring in the body,” which he’s recently read in a contemporary poem, and the various meanings one might take from them. After detours into a couple of more topics, he breaks off abruptly and marches out of the pub.

These pieces came from Lewis’ humorous column, Beachcomber, which he started writing for the Daily Express starting in 1919. Equally worth finding, if not quite so anarchic in style, are two collections of Lewis’ “Blue Moon” pieces from the column he wrote after switching over to the Daily Mail: (At the Sign of the Blue Moon (1924) and At the Blue Moon Again (1925)). They are, arguably, the funniest and most surreal things to have been printed in a major newspaper until the Irish Times started publishing Flann O’Brien’s amazing Cruiskeen Lawn column.

If you’re a fan of shaggy-dog tales, Tristram Shandy, Professor Irwin Corey, or Monty Python, you’ll find At the Green Goose well worth a read. If, however, you prefer to get from Point A to Point B by the shortest path, keep moving. Nothing to see here.

At the Green Goose is available on the Internet Archive.

At the Sign of the Green Goose, by D. B. W. Lewis
London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1923

“To My Books,” by Henry Vaughan, from The Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations of Henry Vaughan (1856)


To My Books

Bright books! the perspectives to our weak sights,
The clear projections of discerning lights,
Burning and shining thoughts, man’s posthume day,
The track of fled souls, and their milkie way,
The dead alive and busie, the still voice
Of enlarged spirits, kind Heaven’s white decoys!
Who lives with you lives like those knowing flowers,
Which in commerce with light spend all their hours;
Which shut to clouds, and shadows nicely shun.
But with glad haste unveil to kiss the sun.
Beneath you all is dark, and a dead night.
Which whoso lives in wants both health and sight
By sucking you, the wise, like bees, do grow
Healing and rich, though this they do most slow.
Because most choicely; for as great a store
Have we of books as bees of herbs, or more:
And the great task to try, then know, the good,
To discern weeds, and judge of wholesome food,
Is a rare scant performance. For man dyes
Oft ere ’tis done, while the bee feeds and flyes.
But you were all choice flowers; all set and dressed
By old sage florists, who well knew the best;
And I amidst you all am turned a weed.
Not wanting knowledge, but for want of heed.
Then thank thyself, wild fool, that would’st not be
Content to know — what was too much for thee!

From The Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations of Henry Vaughan
Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1856

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

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

A Cargo of Parrots, by R. Hernekin Baptist (pseudonym of Ethelreda Lewis)

Like many of the books I’ve written about on this site, I discovered A Cargo of Parrots serendipitously–that is, in the course of looking for something else. In this case, it was through reading about the career and works of Wallace Stegner, who, after some years of underappreciation, if not neglect, has come to be recognized as one of the major American novelists of the 20th Century.

When I learned that Stegner’s first novel, Remembering Laughter, was selected as the winner of a short novel contest run by Little, Brown in 1937 and was one of the five titles selected for publication out of the 1,340 works submitted, I immediately began wondering about the other four. Thanks to a Saturday Review item written by Howard Mumford Jones, “Hope for the Novelette”, it didn’t take long to identify them as:

Jones’ review agreed with Little, Brown’s assessment that Remembering Laughter was clearly the superior work of the five, but I was most intrigued by his comment that A Cargo of Parrots was “an almost perfect realization of the form” (that is, the novelette or short novel). That was enough to spur me to locate and buy a used copy.

But the cover illustration, of a Moorish, faintly pirate-ish (the man does have a parrot on his shoulder) with a sailing ship was enough to lead me to shelve it far away, to be read at some long distant time. Despite the fact that I’ve featured a fair number of nautical books over the years, I actually don’t care much for the subject and it’s only really good writing that can get me over that prejudice. So it sat there for a couple of years, until I picked it, almost at random, to read on a flight back to the U.S. this week.

Well, as I said, it takes really good writing to keep me reading a nautical book, and there is some exceptionally good writing in A Cargo of Parrots. And by that I mean not just that the prose is fine–balanced, fluid, subtle–but that the author’s perspective is quite remarkably open and sensitive. I started liking it within the first ten pages, and by the time I finished it a couple of hours later, I loved it.

It’s the story of a man named Ramazani, a native of one of the islands off the coast of what is now Tanzania. Kidnapped onto an Arab dhow as a child, he has passed through a series of masters until, somewhere in middle age, he is bound to an ailing German naturalist who survives by trapping exotic birds for zoos in northern Europe. When his bwana dies in a town on the Congo coast, Ramazani is left with the task to escort the parrots they have collected back to England and Germany.

This lands Ramazani and his birds on a hard-luck American steamer with a bitter, racist first mate, and from the moment the two men meet, it is clear that the story will have a violent end. Not that Ramazani is a violent man. If anything, as the author conveys within the first few pages of the book, he is quiet and perceptive, even if he interprets the actions and manners of Western men through a different lens. Indeed, it’s the civility of his manners that provokes the mate:

Had he been able to express his feelings he might have said to himself that no nigger should ever be given the advantage of such dignified clothing: the long and snowy-white coatlike garment coming to the feet; a spotless white cotton fex, delicately embroidered. The ancient garb of kanzu and kofia, which sets off so admirably the natural dignity of the East African Arab, roused in Mr. Jacob almost rage. Niggers should wear the cast-off garments of the white man, shouldn’t they?

When, a day or two later, the first confrontation takes place, it is not a clash of cultures but something primeval: they find themselves “staring at each other like two wild animals, hereditary enemies who have met by chance on a highway, man-made, between two sides of a forest.”

This last quote captures one of the remarkable aspects of A Cargo of Parrots, which is the sophistication of the author’s perceptions, in being able to accept and communicate the validity not only of what we would now call a Third World perspective, but also of an ecological sensibility. Ramazani holds deep respect for the German naturalist, in part because he reacts to African wildlife in a way that no other white men, to his knowledge, do:

It revolted him to see the enforced public intimacies of the mating season; the wonderful display–in Nature’s setting–of individual song and dance and gesture; of coquetry, of joy, rage, jealousy, revenge and even murder, taking place in the dark spaces and glades of the forest, in the solitary trees and the open grass of the African uplands, in the faces of ancient lichenous rocks and the newer, raw escarpment hanging over a two-thousand-mile valley which holds its bed, like pools left in the rocks after rain, lakes as big as England; or on the lily-patterned surface of forest lakes remote and small whose source springs hot from volcanic fires…. It wrung his heart to see some wretched substitute for the age-old routine of the nest–that miraculous inherited uniqueness and precision of form and material and site–the plaintive cries, the thwarted efforts of the parent birds to hide their eggs, to feed their young without the arduous and joyous duties of the hunt and without the food proper to the species; to see the swift decline and death, after a million of years, of instinct–like the blowing out of a sacred lamp, no less that the sudden stoppage of an elaborate system more exact than any man-made machine; to see the dullness of eye and feather that follows such outrage to body and spirit….

The word “ecosystem” hadn’t been coined when this was written, but I don’t think I’m exaggerating in saying that this passage might have been written by an environmental activist today.

So who was R. Hernekin Baptist, and how did he or she develop such an open and empathetic view of Africans and their environment? Well, first of all, this was the pseudonym chosen by Ethelreda Lewis, an English woman who came to South Africa at the age of nineteen and worked for a variety of magazines and newspapers before publishing in 1924 The Harp, the first of three novels with an African setting, under her own name. She also achieved international fame as the credited “as told to” author of three books of memoirs by the legendary hunter and ivory trader, Trader Horn. An abridgement of the three books is still in print today as Trader Horn: A Young Man’s Astounding Adventures in 19th Century Equatorial Africa. For various reasons, she decided, starting with her 1931 novel, Four Handsome Negresses: The record of a voyage, to begin publishing under the odd name of R. Hernekin Baptist, and there was a second book–Wild Deer (1934)–based on a murder at a Swiss mission in what is now Lesotho. (The story was retold a few years ago in Tim Couzens’ Murder at Morija: Faith, Mystery, and Tragedy on an African Mission. Her final book, Wild Deer, was published a year after A Cargo of Parrots. She died in 1946.

While I can’t fully support Jones’ assessment of A Cargo of Parrots as “almost perfect” (there is a disproportional amount of material whose only purpose is to provide Jacobs, the first mate, with a back story), it is a moving and powerful story. As the ship steams further north, and Ramazani and the parrots encounter the cold and storms of the North Atlantic, their sufferings becomes almost unbearable for the reader. This was not at all the story I expected from the book’s cover, and it has been to my considerable pleasure and appreciation to have looked past that.

A Cargo of Parrots, by R. Hernekin Baptist (pseudonym of Ethelreda Lewis)
Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1937

“Imperfection,” by Nathalia Crane, from Swear By Night and Other Poems (1936)



If no poor word

Stepped boldly from a sound,
For sake of sense

That while a critic frowned,
No blush could be,

The rose grow dull at times,
And poesy

Resent her perfect rhymes.
Let go the lure —

The striving to unmake;
Behold the truth

Whenever heart may ache —
There is a glory

In a great mistake.

From Swear by the Night and Other Poems, by Nathalia Crane
New York City: Random House, 1936

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

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

“The Connoisseur,” by Nobody, from Poems, consisting of Tales, Fables, Epigrams, etc., etc. (1770)


Tribuna of the Uffizi, (1772–1778), by Johan Zoffany

In that fam’d Room where Artist strive
True Taste and Genius to revive,
Where Modern Guidos put in Claim,
Contending for the Wreath of Fame;
Where Virtu’s Sons with great Decision,
A Judge allow’d, a Connoisseur,
With Buckram Gait, and Phiz demure,
Noting a Piece, on which the Crowd
Unusual Compliments bestow’d,
His Glass first peeps thro’ with an Air,
(True Connoisseurs short-sighted are)
The Painting carelessly survey’d.
And when inform’d ’twas English made,
Thus to an Elbow-Friend, with Look
Oracularly Cynic, spoke:
“Sure never was Performance seen,
More Gothic, tasteless, lifeless, mean:
Painting! ‘Tis Canvas spoil’d! Oh, Gad!
‘Tis daubing! Execrable! Sad!
No Colouring! Keeping! And such Clare-
! All Englise! All Barbare!
And how unnaturally shows
That ill-made Fly on the vile Rose!
A Fly! ’tis no more like.” When quick,
Pointing toward the Fly his Stick,
To prove his Criticism true,
Away the little Insect flew.

Fromm Poems, consisting of Tales, Fables, Epigrams, etc., etc., by “Nobody”
London: Printed for Mess. Robinson and Roberts, T. Davies, and T. Slack, 1770

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

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

The Big Drag, by Mel Heimer

“Life along the Big Drag is a pinwheel, a rollercoaster, a fast-motion movie; everything is stepped up twenty times in tempo, and the Broadwayite, whether for better or worse, has at thirty-five lived four times as many lives as the Kansan at seventy.” That sentence tells you everything you need to know about Mel Heimer’s 1947 ode to Broadway, The Big Drag. Yeah, it’s a bucket-full of eyewash and a crystalline gem of the Big Apple myth. “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere”: you know how the number goes before you’ve finished the first line.

melheimerHeimer’s New York City is “a town full of thieves, touts, fanatics, pigeon-lovers, pigeon-haters, dreamers, schemers, professional bums, dancers, refugees and knife-throwers.” His man wears slacks with a razor-sharp crease–even if the seat is shiny with wear–and loud neckties: “Riotous colors, weird designs, lush batik prints, paintings of horses or ducks or geese the Broadway boy goes for them all.” His Broadway is “a winding path full of shooting galleries,
movie houses, shirt shops, pineapple juice stands and cafeterias.” His list of celebrities includes the still-remembered (Milton Berle, the somewhat-remembered (Tallulah Bankhead), and the hardly-remembered (Rags Ragland, Richard Maney, and Renee Carroll, the hat-check girl from Sardi’s who was once enough of a name in her own right to publish a book about her experiences in the club (In Your Hat (1933)).

This book is an express ticket to “Guys and Dolls” land:

Nine out of every ten guys along Broadway are betting men; they were when they came to the main stem, and if they weren’t, they soon were converted. They will bet on everything and anything on the respective speed of two raindrops skidding down a restaurant window, on the poker hands involved in automobile license-plate numbers, on which horse will finish last in a given race, on whether the next batter will walk or strike out.

In other words, if you’re a sucker for the New York you’ll never see again, except on a movie screen, The Big Drag is like a big bag of potato chips: empty calories that are utterly irresistible. If Damon Runyon’s work now rates being packaged as a Penguin Classic, then Mel Heimer’s The Big Drag rates at least an honorable mention as its postwar counterpart.

You can find The Big Drag in electronic format for free on the
Internet Archive (link).

The Big Drag, by Mel Heimer
New York City: Whittlesey House, 1947

“The Beerdrinker’s Song,” by James Henry, M. D., from Poems (1856)

Under a Picture of Gambrinus.

GambrInus was a gallant king–
Reigned once in Flanders old,
He was the man invented beer
As I’Ve been often told.

Of malt and hops he brewed his beer
And made it strong and good,
And some of it he bottled up
And some he kept in wood.

The golden crown upon his head,
The beer jug in his hand,
Beerdrinkers, see before ye here
Your benefactor stand.

Beerlovers, paint him on your shields,
Upon your beerpots paint —
‘Twere well a pope did never worse
Than make Gambrinus Saint.

And now fill every man his pot
Till the foam overflows;
No higher praise asks the good old king
Than froth upon the nose.

Bacchus I’ll honor while I live
And while I live love wine,
But still I’ll hold th’ old Flanders king
And beerjug more divine.

While I have wine night’s darkest shades
To me are full moonlight
But keep my beerpot filled all day
And I’ll sleep sound all night.

So blessings on th’ old Flanders king,
And blessings on his beer,
And curse upon the tax on malt,
That makes good drink so dear.

Written while walking from Schopfheim to Gersbach in the Black Forest (Baden), Octob. 6, 1854

From\m Poems, Chiefly Philosophical, in Continuation of My Book and a Half Year’s Poems, by James Henry, M. D
Dresden: C. C. Meinhold and Sons, 1856

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

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

Miles Gibson, Harold T. P. Hayes and other Reader Recommendations

Several fans of neglected books have contacted me in the last few weeks with recommendations, all of them new to me and well worth passing along.


• Miles Gibson

Paul Connolly from the U. K. writes to recommend “avery neglected English author named Miles Gibson
who has written two fabulous novels which deserve to be celebrated:

The Sandman (1984)

“A black comedy about a genteel murderer called Mackerel Burton which manages to be warm and chilling at the same time. Written with flashes of wit and poetic touches, this is hilarious and unforgettable.”

The Sandman is technically in print, but the edition dates back to 1998 and reports just one copy left in stock. It is, however, available for Kindle.

Kingdom Swann

“Even better. Swannis an eccentric Victorian painter who in old age takes up photography with amazing results. A wonderful, wonderful book which I’ve read at least ten times and will read again.”

The same situation as The Sandman. Both books were reissued in the late 1990s by the Do Not Press, whose website reports they are no longer publishing.

Hold the phone!: It turns out that The Sandman, along with Kingdom Swann and Gibson’s 1985 novel, Dancing with Mermaids, are available as Faber Finds.

• Harold T. P. Hayes

Jack Schrift writes from Spain to recommend two books by Harold T. P. Hayes, who put Esquire in the forefront of magazine publishing and journalism in the 1960s (see the 2007 Vanity Fair piece, “The Esquire Decade”). After stepping down as editor, Hayes wrote two books that combined journalism with philosophical contemplation in an elegant and thoughtful way. Last Place on Earth (1977) recalls trips he made to Kenya and Tanzania in the company of naturalists, noting the impacts of encroaching civilization on the native wildlife. Three Levels of Time (1981) deals with three discrete stories “that Hayes manages to link in a deft but mind-opening manner”: the origin of the universe; the origin of life on Earth; and the ordeal of John Vihtelic, who was pinned inside a wrecked car for two weeks in a remote section of Mt. Rainer National Park before managing to free himself. (You can read the Readers Digest version of his story here and see him recount it years later on a local TV news segment on YouTube.) “Twenty years after first reading it, I picked it up again and was utterly blown away. Hayes helps the reader see the connection between the most initimate and the most cosmic dimensions.” Blogger David Friedman was similarly moved by the book, and posted a long piece on it on his Explorations site.

• Robert Wilson Lynd

Finally, Ivo Cosentino writes to say, “I would like to mention the forgotten and neglected Irish essayist and literary critic Robert Wilson Lynd (1879–1949), essayist. Born in Belfast and educated at QUB [Queen’s University Belfast–Ed.], he went to London and joined the Daily News in 1908. Rambles in Ireland (1912) was illustrated by Jack B. Yeats. Ireland a Nation (1919) is an essay in nationalist historiography. Dr. Johnson and Company“>Dr Johnson and his Company (1929) was a success.”

Ivo later wrote to recommend as well the poetry of L. Adda Nichols Bigelow and of the Rev. Hugh Francis Blunt.

“Cracked Record Blues,”by Kenneth Fearing, from Afternoon of a Pawnbroker (1943)


Cracked Record Blues

If you watch it long enough you can see the clock move.
If you try hard enough you can hold a little water in the
          palm of your hand,
If you listen once or twice you know it’s not the needle, or
          the tune, but a crack in the record when sometimes
          a phonograph falters and repeats, and repeats, and
          repeats, and repeats

And if you think about it long enough, long enough, long
          enough, long enough then everything is simple and
          you can understand the times,
You can see for yourself that the Hudson still flows, that the
          seasons change as ever, that love is always love,
Words still have a meaning, still clear and still the same;
You can count upon your fingers that two plus two still
          equals, still equals, still equals, still equals–
There is nothing in this world that should bother the mind.

Because the mind is a common sense affair filled with common
          sense answers to common sense facts,
It can add up, can add up, can add up, can add up earthquakes
          and subtract them from fires,
It can bisect an atom or analyze the planets–
All it has to do is to, do is to, do is to, do is to start at the
          beginning and continue to the end.

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.

The Bitter Season, by Robert M. Coates

Cover of first U. S. edition of 'The Bitter Season'The Bitter Season, Robert M. Coates’ 1946 novel is, according to its dust jacket blurb, a story of “the civilian in wartime; the men a little too old, or a little too frail, to be warriors.” Like many such blurbs, it’s a poor attempt to make something of a book that it is not.

Tom, Coates’ protagonist and narrator, is “a little too old” to run the risk of being drafted, but certainly not too frail, given his many walks around Manhattan in the course of the book. And World War Two, particularly the impending invasion of France, looms large in his thoughts and life. But he is hardly an everyman and Coates never suggests that his is anything but an individual and unique perspective on his situation.

Tom is a writer, and as the book opens he has separated from his wife, Laura, a nightclub singer, after a dozen or so years of marriage. Over the course of the five months covered by the superficial narrative, he reflects upon their relationship, begins to build a life on his own, dates several women, and falls in love with one of them–Valerie, a Dutch refugee. As far as this slight and generally uninteresting story goes, the book might jokingly be summed up as “They also serve who only sit and mope.”

Personally, I think Coates could have dispensed with plot entirely, although it served at least as a skeleton upon which to hang his thoughts and observations, and probably also as an artifice by which to give his publisher a genre to categorize it with. Writing in Saturday Review, reviewer Donald Hough asked, with some frustration, whether The Bitter Season could even be labelled as fiction: “But what about something that in both form and content is nothing other than an outline of personal reactions to a given scene, of a point of view, and which by the device of naming a protagonist is called a novel?” Tom’s story is the weakest and most forgettable aspect of the book, and detracts from what is good in it.

The New Masses took a more lenient view, describing the book as “an experimental mixture of narrative, diary or journal, prose poem, and philosophic disquisition,” and pointing out that such things could be found in fiction as far back as Fielding and Sterne. Even so, it’s only the prose poems and philosophic disquisitions that offer the book’s lasting values.


As I noted, Tom spends a good deal of time wandering around the streets of Manhattan, which allows Coates to paint some memorable scenes of the city:

I walked up to Fiftieth or Fifty-first Street, and then zig-zagged back down through the quiet cross streets to Rockefeller Center. It was April, I think, and the night was warm, but there was still ice-skating at the rink there. The music was playing, and the glare from the floodlights, reflected from the cloudy surface of the ice, poured up like the glow of some mechanical aurora borealis upon the quiet darkness above. I stopped for a while to look down from the railing on Forty-ninth Street at the skaters circling to the music’s rhythm in the sunken rectangle below. They looked small, even at that little distance, and intent on their glides and their maneuvers–they seemed oddly disassociated from the life that went on above them; as I leaned on the rail there, watching, it was like looking down at the creatures in some air aquarium, darting this way and that in response to motives and impulses that were largely incomprehensible to me.

Tom’s wanderings also bring him into contact with men whose attitudes and opinions add a disquieting note to the relentlessly upbeat stream of bond-selling, war-boosting propaganda. A cab driver blames a fire in an office building on “the Jews” eager to collect the insurance. A man at a bar likens European refugees to vermin that have infested the city. Another says “the niggers” have been given too much freedom by Roosevelt and need to be brought back under control when the war is over. Coates notes a subtle parallel between the violence of the far-off battlefronts and the violence implicit in such views.

Coates’ is an existential perspective. Living on his own, cut off from friends who know him only as half of Tom-and-Laura, Tom is deeply lonely:

Loneliness, I’ve discovered–I discovered then–is a hard-to-define emotion. It’s the product of unfulfillment, a factor of frustration, and as such it is largely an emotion of negatives; it arises most often not from something that has, but from something that has not happened–a letter that has failed to arrive, a telephone that refuses to ring–and its worst feature is that its causes and its control are not governed by anything that you can do or can hope to do, but depend on the actions of some other. Thus it is that it has nothing to do with setting or with circumstance; it can descend on you anywhere, anytime, and as reasonlessly and as abruptly as a cloud can blot out the summer sun.

Coates describes what people were experiencing at this time as “a sort of global loneliness.” It was “the feeling that whatever was happening or was going to happen would occur despite anything you could do to aid or prevent it.” Despite the constant barrage of headlines, newsreels and radio reports, “the storm never touched us directly; all we felt was the heat and the omninousness and the tension.”


Although the great event looming offstage throughout the book is the D-Day invasion, when it finally arrives, there is no real sense of relief. The headlines of combat and casualties continue on. In a sense, The Bitter Season is less a book about life on the homefront during World War Two than an anticipation of life during the Cold War, when the threat against individual life became greater in scale even as it became more remote and beyond any individual’s control.

Ultimately, though, Coates’ choice to wrap his meditations around the frame of a plot undermines the book. Hough’s review for The Saturday Review wasn’t too far wrong in observing that Coates “… is a good workman at the typewriter end of his craft and he leads you on, paragraph by paragraph, through sheer competence in writing, and a dangling hope that something is going to happen, until finally he seems tired of chasing his tale and steps nimbly aside to let you read on into the dust-jacket flap.” Without the plot, The Bitter Season would probably have become a forgotten little book of “prose poem and philosophic disquisition.” With it, it just became a forgotten little novel.

The Bitter Season, by Robert M. Coates
New York City: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946

The Young Person’s Complete Guide to Crime, by C. G. L. Du Cann

youngpersonsguidetocrimeLast month, I posted an item on The Toady’s Handbook by William Murrell, a satirical D. I. Y. guide on how to succeed through concerted obsequiousness. Murrell’s book was part of a trilogy of sly little self-help books published by Grant Richards and Humphrey Toulmin back in 1929. Of remaining two, Charles Duff’s A Handbook on Hanging was rescued a few years ago as a New York Review Classic. The Young Person’s Complete Guide to Crime, by Charles Garfield Lott Du Cann, however, shares a common state of neglect with Murrell’s book.

The three books take a contrarian view of their subjects. Murrell argues, quite convincingly, that toadying is not only an effective way to gain a secure and influential place, but the only sane way to approach life as a member of society. Duff disparages those who would abolish hanging as cruel and offers a defense of its merits as both deterrent and art-form. And Du Cann holds that “the real truth is that crime is a highly respectable, semi-skilled, sheltered occupation,” one “reasonably accessible to the ambitious” and to be commended to the young.

A barrister and member of Gray’s Inn, Du Cann clearly took an impish delight in his tongue-in-cheek argument. Perhaps a little too much–for the book quickly veers down a side street and Du Cann spends most of the work skewering the ways and players of the British system of justice rather than noting the advantages of a life of crime. One gets the sense that the profession Du Cann referred to in his expansive subtitle is that of the law, not crime.
In fact, one of the primary advantages to becoming a criminal, according to the book, is that prison isn’t such a bad place to end up if you do get caught. That’s a little like recommending a restaurants by saying, “If you do get food poisoning, it won’t be too bad.” Du Cann does score a point, however, in noting that, for older men without fortune or family–at least in the England before the time of social welfare–prison offered a safer and healthier alternative to anything else life could offer.

Aside from this Swiftian advocacy of life in prison, however, the main pleasures of The Young Person’s Complete Guide to Crime are the epigrams Du Cann tosses in as asides to his mocking commentary. “When a respectable Englishman is convinced that there is nothing more to be done he always writes to the Times. It is the last gesture of despair and disillusionment,” he observes in the midst of a discussion of whether all or just almost all persons brought before court are guilty. (Du Cann sides with the “all guilty” camp).

He also offers, at the end, his own variant on Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary:

  • ACCUSED (THE). Indispensable raw material of the industry. Often manufactured by the industry itself.
  • HEARING IN COURT. A talking match. Hence the name.
  • SEX-OFFENDER. A male.

Of the three books in Richards & Toulmin’s set, Du Cann’s has aged most poorly in terms of subject and is least suitable for export. Occasionally, though, a still-relevant observation leaps off the page:

Expert Witnesses are often highly-paid, and they are expected to be (and are) entirely unscrupulous. It is true that Expert Witnesses are more frequently employed in civil than criminal proceedings, but the world of crime has a great use for them in deciphering hand-writing, detecting poisoning, and the like. The expert witness is not (as his name seems to say) an expert in giving testimony (that is called a policeman) but a man who considers himself, and is put forward as being, an authority on the matter upon which he testifies. He speaks to opinions, not to facts, but of course he tries to make the Court accept his opinions as facts.

Although only a slight jest, The Young Person’s Complete Guide to Crime remains entertaining today on the merits of Du Cann’s amusing and self-deprecating commentary. Du Cann wrote at least a dozen other books, but most of them appear to have been taken up as escapes from the duties of his life as a working lawyer. He seems to have been quite adept at adapting his arguments to his clients and subjects–how else can you explain the same man writing Getting the Most Out of Life and Will You Rise From The Dead? An Enquiry Into the Evidence of Resurrection?

The Young Person’s Complete Guide to Crime, by C. G. L. Du Cann
London: Grant Richards and Humphrey Toulmin at the Cayme Press, 1929

“Tornado,” by Jack Hirschman, from A Correspondence of Americans (1960)



Amid shambles blown, blown pages of a Gideon,
A farmer with a pitchfork stepped
Before the microphone and said it was a huge
Black arm did it, come sweeping across
The tabletop plain, grizzly, on a binge.

His wife, kind of scared and something shy
Of things stuck right before your face
To talk into, was in the distant field
Pecking at the wreckage of a moviehouse
Fallen out of the sky, for pans.

And still agog, the kid in overalls
Was dancing on shingles, leaping
From tree to tree, his blond crop fluttering,
Yelling to all the buried farmboys
About the swinging tail of the dragon that snapped.

from A Correspondence of Americans, by Jack Hirschman
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1960

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

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

“Son of Vermont,” from The Collected Poetry of Francesca Falk Miller (1956)


Son of Vermont

Its granite rocks thy sire.
Its soil thy mother’s breast.
Its fiercest storms thy discipline.
Its smiling peace thy rest.

Where, in that solitude,
Among those mountain streams,
Didst thou attune thyself to God
And give thyself to dreams?

They call thee “silent” Is
Not that an attribute,
A spell, born of thy native hills
Before which, man is mute?

One does not prate of power
In idle chatter, where
God dwells. And thou
Met Him in silence there!

from The Collected Poetry of Francesca Falk Miller
Chicago: Privately printed, 1956

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

A rare, perhaps unique specimen: an ode to Calvin Coolidge.

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

“Hartford,” from Wedge of Words: Poems, by Frederic Will (1962)



Where nothing’s uninsured except the slow
Still commotion of spring. That seems the least
Of certainties. (Who called it from the ground,
In parks, or gardens long more orderly?)

Where in the finest print calamities
Are exorcised, where death, as any housewife
Knows, has lost its sting, and pays at last.
(Where policies are read before each meal.)

Where spring, an accident that’s never covered,
Creeps libidinous from house to house,
And trickles, when the last martini’s gone,
Into the actuary’s careful blood.

from Wedge of Words: Poems, by Frederic Will
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

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

James Agate, Diarist

Although James Agate (pronounced AY-gett) was, during his lifetime, one of the best-known literary figures in England, it’s not surprising he’s utterly forgotten today. His primary form–theatre and film reviews for daily newspapers–is about as short-lived as there is.

Not that his work ethic ever acknowledged that fact. As his biographer, James Harding wrote,

As a talker, as a raconteur, he was spontaneous and witty without effort. As a writer, he was slow, uncertain and laborious. It took him three days to write his Sunday Times article, and he rewrote it as many as six or seven times. the manuscript ended up as a maze of crossings-out and second thoughts. He would go to bed reasonably satisfied with what he had done. In the middle of the night, new phrases would present themselves, and he would get up and slave at his desk again until dawn.

He made it a habit, in fact, to draft his review before even going to a play, just to ensure that he had something ready in time to make his deadline. But though he worked at a time when theatre was the leading form of lively arts in Britain and reigned for years as its most influential critic, there would be little reason for mentioning his name here had he limited his output to criticism (and three minor works of fiction).

What earns Agate a place not just on this site but on the shelves of any lover of literate amusement are the nine volumes of his Ego–a unique work that combines autobiography, journal, causerie, commonplace book, and collections of letters written to him by others. They are, in Harding’s words, “the perfect bedside books. You pick one up to check a point, and, before you realize what is happening, you are bewitched into reading on, and on, and on.” This is an echo of Jacques Barzun’s introduction to The Later Ego, which collects Ego 8 and Ego 9: “One can only say that nine volumes of this ideal bedside reading are none too many.”

Agate was approached to write his autobiography in the early 1930s. From today’s vantage point, one wonders why. At the time, he’d been working as a critic for over twenty years, covering theatre, music, books and, lately, film. A theatre lover from an early age, Agate found his talent for acting lacking and turned to criticism as an alternative. It was a profession he joined late, having spent the first twenty years of his working life following in his father’s footsteps as a cloth merchant. Although he’d begun to acquire a nationwide reputation through his appearances on BBC radio, his autobiography would seem to have more in common with a quickie book published to capitalize on a minor celebrity’s fame than anything of lasting literary value.

Yet when the first Ego was published in 1935, most reviewers acclaimed it as an exceptional work. Rebecca West wrote, “One would like to organise some graceful national demonstration in its honour. … Really, there is not anything much better than our Mr. Agate, save Mr. Pickwick and such bright diamonds of literature.”

The comparison with Pickwick was accurate. Agate was a larger-than-life character: foppish, heavy-drinking and smoking, a lover of cricket and horse racing, extravagant in his spending (he would keep cabs waiting for hours while he dined and wined with friends), and vastly well read. He was also gay, though his public brash drew attention away from his private preferences. He liked to be one of the last to enter a theatre, which he did with a flourish, and wherever he went, he loved the company of lively personalities … as long as he was allowed to outshine them. He once described himself as a character “who looked like a farmer, dressed like a bookmaker, ate like a Parisian, and drank like a Hollander.”

He also spent money like there was no tomorrow. While he did quite well when he worked in the cloth business, once he came back from serving as a purchasing agent in the British Army, buying fodder in the south of France for use by cavalry horses in France and Greece, he gave up all pretense of keeping his books. He opened a small shop when he first moved to London and it quickly went bust. He bought and sold horses with expert eye for horseflesh, but usually came out at a loss after factoring in his stabling costs. “Debt worries are a legitimate hell,” he wrote in his very first entry. In his very last, he notes, “Received this morning a curt communication from the Revenue saying that unless I find £940 within a week everything in my flat except the bed I lie on will be taken away.”

Although Ego and all the subsequent volumes were subtitled, “The Autobiography of James Agate,” it’s really a set of diaries than a narrative life story. The first entry in Ego 1 is dated 2 June 1932; the last in Ego 9 exactly fifteen years later–just four days before his death, of a heart attack, just short of his 70th birthday. Across the over two thousand pages comprising the nine volumes, Agate wrote and quoted–without ever a note of apology–whatever he felt. “It will be a relief to set down just what I do actually think, and in the first words to hand, instead of pondering what I ought to think and worrying about the words in which to express the hammered-out thought.”

It was never intended to be a private diary. He kept keeping it after being approached about the autobiography, and, as Harding puts it, “Agate wrote for immediate publication.” After Ego 1, the subsequent volumes appeared roughly every 18 months, and from the responses from critics and readers he quotes, each was eagerly anticipated. “I enjoy keeping this diary, yet would not write a word except with the notion that some day somebody may read it.”

Agate was opinionated, bitchy, frank (but not candid), and witty. Or, as Alistair Cooke described him in one of his last “Letters from America,” “irritating, brilliant, perceptive, self-centred, argumentative, charming, spoiled, explosive, capacious.” Agate was fluent in French, German and Latin, prodigious in his knowledge of literature and the history of the theatre in both England and France, and ready to pounce on the slightest mistake in a quotation from Shakespeare, Jonson, Congreve, and most of the other major playwrights.

Yet he managed to be expert without becoming pompous. He was capable of finding fine and funny things in the highest and lowest. An example: “I hold this Pipe Night [a short story collection by John O’Hara] to be ten times better than James Joyce wrote towards the end of his life, and a hundred and fifty times better than Gertrude Stein wrote at any wrote wrote at wrote wrote wrote period any any at.”

He also, it seems, trusted and liked well enough by a very broad reading audience for thousands of them to have felt free to write him on almost any topic at all. Agate includes hundreds of such letters–everything from an RAF airman in a remote station in Malaysia asking for a donation of a few books to enliven the base library to two girls in Manchester asking for career advice.

It’s a literary potpourri, and if you don’t find something funny or enlightening, keep reading: you will in the next page or two. I can’t agree with James Harding’s claim that, “The full flavour of the Ego books cannot be appreciated without reading them through consecutively. So much depends, as in a musical composition, on the individual themes which are stated, taken up, varied, developed, and then succeeded by other motifs that recur at given points.”

It just isn’t possible. Agate was a prodigious worker, enormously proud of his output, which he toted up each year and compared with the likes of Balzac and Trollope. But the diary entries are just as likely to be ephemera (“7.0. Get up. 8.0. Start to motor to Manchester. 12.15. Arrive Manchester”) or clippings (excerpts of other peoples’ reviews or articles) or letters from his many correspondents, high and low (“Dear Mr Agate, Are you a self-made man because I wish you could advise me how to be one too”) or jokes:

From a Harley Street lecture on the subject of How to Sleep Well: “Be careful how you spend the evening. It’s what you do out of bed that affects you when you turn in.” One of those cases, surely, in which the converse is equally true!

It’s this unpredictability that makes the volumes of Ego so wonderful for serendipitous browsing. I dip into Ego 6, arriving in mid-1942:

May 31, Sunday
Opening my paper in the train to Bournemouth, I read that John Barrymore has died. Oddly enough, among the books I have brought down with me is a review copy of Mrs. Alma Power-Water’s biography published this week. “For God’s sake don’t whitewash me,” Barrymore said to her. “Play me as I am.” ….

July 1, Wednesday
Billy Bennett, the music-hall comedian, died yesterday….. Billy Bennett was forthright, bawdy, and wholesome. He knew what sailors and soldiers on leave look for is not a rock bun, a symphony concert, or a lecture on modern poetry. He knew that a Saturday night audience is a crowd of clerks and shop assistants, let out after being pent up for the week in warehouse or store. He was a wiser man than Burke, who ought to have known that vice which loses its grossness doubles its evil. Bennett’s grossness had that gusto about it which is like a high wind blowing over a noisome place.

July 30, Thursday
Meric Dobson, now a sub-lieutenant in the R. N. V. R., told me this. During his recent leave he visited a travelling circus near Bristol. Introducing “Miss Zelfredo, the world-famous snake-charmer,” the ringmaster said, “It is with great regret that I have to announce one of the great tragedies of the Ring. Doreen Zelfredo’s python, which had been with her for six years, died on Friday at Knowle. I am sure the audience will join with me in sympathy for Doreen, and in the wish that she may soon find a new pal. If ever a woman loved a snake Doreen did. Miss Zelfredo will not enter the ring and perform her act without her snake.”

A few days after this, Agate wrote,

This sixth and possibly final volume of Ego–I can feel an October nip in the air–will be my thirty-seventh book, unless, of course, I publish some more while it is writing. This means thirty-seven slabs of stolen time. Every moment spent on Ego had been filched from the hours I should have been giving to this editor or that…. But since, all deductions made, my books have never brought me in even a hundred pounds a year, I must continue reviewing plays, films, novels. And then there is the old income-tax nuisance. My arrears tie me to the stake. Bear-like, I must fight the course.

The lucky readers who discover Ego will thank James Agate for filching these moments, for these are pages that are still to be enjoyed long, long after his finest Sunday Times reviews will have been forgotten.

It would be a challenge to assemble all nine volumes of Ego, as several of the early books are quite rare. The later volumes, however, are easier to find, and fairly cheap. Easier still are the three volumes of A Shorter Ego (Vol. 1 (1946); Vol. 2 (1946); and Vol. 3 (1949)). There is also The Later Ego, (1951) edited by Barzun, and the rather slim The Selective Ego (1976), edited by Tim Beaumont. Any of these is a great place to start–and I challenge you to stop with just one. There’s a good reason why Barzun, in his magnum opus, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, called Agate “the Supreme Diarist.”

“Dog in a Car,” from A Star by Day, by David McCord (1950)


Dog in a Car

He grins a little as they drive him by.
Of what his nose needs there’s a fresh supply
Round every corner, up the rainy field:
He has no daily walk of equal yield.
His head hangs out, his tongue out farther still;
His bark is bolder from that window sill.
His nose is longer on the modern breeze—-
His father being Scotch, not Pekingese.

A lesser breed on leash or running loose
Would find his comradeship of little use;
A dog transported by the family Ford
Rides far beyond the days he loved or warred.
His ancestors on purely urban smells
Leaned hard enough, but they had nothing else.
They hadn’t won to his synthetic taste:
Investigation kept them out of haste.

You drive a dog from State to other State:
His senses meet with scents he can’t relate.
He hasn’t time. His little nostrils twitch.
Was that a rabbit, mole, or brindle bitch?
His eye grows bright. He reaches out in space.
The local brothers hardly see his face.
He’s whirling through a night of strange impact:
Of atavistic cats he once attacked.

from A Star by Day, by David McCord
Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Company, 1950
Available on the Internet Archive: Link

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

Ira Wallach, parodist

Humor is a bit like wine: a lot of it doesn’t age well, and depending on your taste, it might not even young well. And unlike other forms of literature, for which there’s a chance that the right teacher or critic might help you appreciate what first turned you off or left no impression at all, it’s pretty hard to make something funny by persuasion.

Cover of 'Hopalong Freud Rides Again'Given that, I caveat all that follows by saying that while I found Ira Wallach’s four collections of parodies–How to be Deliriously Happy (1950); Hopalong-Freud and Other Modern Literary Characters (1951); Hopalong-Freud Rides Again: Another Literary Ambush (1952); and Gutenberg’s Folly: the Literary Debris of Mitchel Hackney–funny, they may strike you as stale as sixty year-old bread. Or, as they say on the Internet, your mileage may vary.

If you Google “Ira Wallach,” you’re more likely to find pages about the millionaire philanthropist than about the novelist, Hollywood screenwriter, playwright and, back in the early 1950s, industrious writer of parodies. Even the bios of Ira Wallach the writer focus on his work for Hollywood and the stage. Frankly, unless you’re S. J. Perelman, writing parodies is unlike to earn you a significant spot in literary history. Parodies rank pretty low on the totem pole, just slightly above “How To” books.

Actually, “How To” books have a better chance of surviving in the eyes of the reading public. Dale Carnegie still sells thousands of copies a year, while no one cares about How to be Deliriously Happy, Wallach’s send-up of the blithely optimistic Carnegian school of self-help books.

Wallach, who turned to satire after his first book, The Horn and the Roses (1947), had better luck with Hopalong-Freud and Other Modern Literary Characters, which not only went into five printings but spawned a sequel, Hopalong-Freud Rides Again.

Both Hopalong-Freud books collect parodies of a wide variety of then-current writers and styles. Fortunately for today’s reader, most of Wallach’s targets have since earned a lasting place in the literary canon, so one can easily appreciate his success or failure in exaggerating their quirks and flaws. Hopalong-Freud, for example, is a take-off of T. S. Eliot’s 1949 play, The Cocktail Party, which was his greatest popular success. Freud, Wallach’s twist on Eliot’s psychiatrist-comme-priest, Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly, offers up such weighty pronouncements as,

No, no, one never knows the Glutzes.
One may have the glimmer of the Glutzes
Or feel the shadow of the Glutzes as they pass,
But to know the Glutzes is to know oneself,
And to know oneself is more than
It is given to man to know.

Of course, shooting at Eliot as his most solemn is a bit like shooting at a balloon: it’s already laden with enough gas to be on the verge of bursting. The same goes for “Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Soup,” which blasts Hemingway with a mortar–rather as Wallach’s protagonist does a duck (along with “one sparrow, one caneton, and a B-36″) in the story’s opening scene.

A couple of Wallach’s pieces no longer have a solid point of reference to stand up against. How many will recognize Lin Yutang’s somewhat dated bits of Chinese wisdom, let alone Wallach’s pastiche (which naturally involves large quantities of tea). On the other hand, while Bob Hope’s ghostwriters have long since put down their pens, the best-seller lists are still full of routines by stand-up comedians recycled as books. Wallach’s “Modern Joe Miller” is a wonderful example, taking the following story and running it through the wringer several times in a row:

Walter Hampden told this to Eddie Cantor when they were visiting Eleonora Duse at George Bernard Shaw’s house shortly after they had all been guests of the Prince of Wales at the Ascot Races. Seems the late Czar of Russia once met a familiar figure walking down the streets of Moscow. Seizing him by the shoulders, the Czar exclaimed, “Rasputin, how you’ve changed! You used to be tall. Now you’re short. You used to have a beard. Now you’re clean-shaven. You used to be stoop-shouldered. Now you stand erect.”

The Czar’s friend stopped him. “Your Majesty,” he said, “my name’s not Rasputin. It’s Kerensky.”

“Oho!” cried the Czar. “So you’ve changed your name, too!”

Cover of 'Gutenberg's Folly'The best of the four books, for me, is Gutenberg’s Folly, which provides a sampler of the works of the late Mitchel Hackney, a contemporary of Hemingway, who tried his hand at most of the major literary styles and genres of the 1930s to 1950s, along with a selection of critical commentaries. This device allows Wallach to play upon the worst aspects of Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe, Tennessee Williams, William Saroyan, William Faulkner, and others.

I particularly liked “The Pilgrimage of Bixie Davis,” Hackney’s attempt to trump Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March. Having recently tried to listen to an audiobook version of another Bellow novel, I was ready to appreciate Wallach’s spot-on version of Bellow’s style, which always seems hell-bent on tossing another ingredient into an already-overloaded prose stew:

Uncle Gordon who lived with us had a stand where he sold rubber goods, razor blades, sundries, and life insurance. His face was clear of wens but he had blebs, straggling hairs anchored at the top of his head, the whites of his eyes green, and above the eyes two eyebrows, one black, one red, condor-nose horning a Roland-call for breakfast. Which was oatmeal and tea. He was a Tenth Avenue Marco Polo and he Cathayed the years away, Gordon, until he parlayed a fortune into three more, Midas-fingered, gilding his daughter into the arms of Bolo Snider, the bookie.

Bolo gave me my first job taking the phone and keeping book behind the cigar store, buttering the cops and dunning the deadbeats while the ponies dug hooves into Belmont. A two-buck-across-the-board life. In general Bolo was a good man but constricted, a frog in the mouth of a snake, bug-eyed, face wenned and warted, full of blebs, long hairs dropping from his nose to his chin, one ear quartered, the other halved–O judgment of Solomon!–nose straight, Praxiteletic, from having been knocked to one side in a fight and knocked back in another. Well, “le présent est chargé du passé, et gros de l’avenir.” Or if you wish, dolce far niente. What the hell!

After publishing Gutenberg’s Folly, Wallach headed Hollyward, where he wrote a few novels and a lot more screenplays. His 1959 novel, Muscle Beach, a typical satire of Los Angeles life, was eventually filmed as “Don’t Make Waves” (1967). His 1960 novel, The Absence of a Cello, was recently remembered by one of the tweeters responding to a request by the Guardian’s Hannah Freeman for “the best and most obscure book you have read?”: “Wonderful slice of late 50s US middle-class angst.”

Wallach returned to the East Coast, where he lived, mostly writing for Broadway, until he died of pneumonia in 1995 at the age of 82.

If you’re interested in sampling Wallach’s work as a parodist, you can find electronic versions of Hopalong-Freud: and Other Modern Literary Characters on the Internet Archive: Link.

“Song,” from Poems, by Bessie Rayner Belloc (1852)



When my lady’s blue eyes glisten
With the love I hold so dear,
And for joy to look and listen,
All my pulses thrub and stir!
And I, timid, bow before her,
Scarcely daring kiss her hem,
Holy seems she–I adore her.
Wondering whence so bright a gem!

Gracious maiden! I think rather
That thou art that wandering star,
For whom all the weeping Pleiads
Ever vainly longing are.
Oh! I tremble lest they win her
To go back,–the sisters seven.
Scornful all of me, a sinner.
From their shining walk in Heaven.

from Poems, by Bessie Rayner Belloc
London: John Chapman, 1852

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

I reprint this poem for my own gracious lady’s birthday and for the found art delight of the OCR’d version of its second verse, as preserved for digital eternity:

Gracioiiii maiden ! 1 think rather
Tliat thou art tliat wandering star,
For whom all the weeping Pleiads
Ever Miinl}’ longing are.
Oh ! I tremble lest they \vm her
To go l>aek, — the Kistei*s seven.
Scornful all of nu.% a sinner.
From their shining walk in Heaven.

I dread that the Kistei*s might \vm my gracioiiii maiden. Shudder.

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

“Written on Seeing the Bodies of Two Beautiful Women, Cast Away Near Milford,” from Poems, Now First Collected, by Chandos Leigh (1839)

Written on Seeing the Bodies of Two Beautiful Women, Cast Away Near Milford

A dreary waste of snows around
O’er-spread the inhospitable ground;
The storm-blast scarce had ceased to roar,
There lay two corpses on the shore.
Thou, pamper’d lecher, come and see
These shapes, so oft embraced by thee!
What does it shame thee? look again
These were once women, ay, and vain;
Rock-bruised and mangled now, they seem
More horrid than a ghastly dream.
Now kiss their livid lips, and bless
Their fragrant stench, sweet rottenness.
The gay gold rings bemock their fingers,
Where not one trait of beauty lingers;
But, like the shrivell’d star-fish, lie
Their hands in sand, all witheringly.
We start to see this loathsome clay,
Uncoffin’d, rotting fast away;
Yet, we can bear the noisome pest,
Vice, gathering, blackening in the breast.

from Poems, Now First Collected, by Chandos Leigh, 1st Baron Leigh
London: Edward Moxon, 1839

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

Pretty grisly as poems go–a bit like a preliminary sketch for the coroner’s report.

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

“The Funerals,” from Poems, by Seumas O’Sullivan (1912)


The Funerals

As I go down Glasnevin way
The funerals pass me day by day,
Stately, sombre, stepping slow
The white-plumed funeral horses go,
With coaches crawling in their wake
A long and slow black glittering snake
(Inside of every crawling yoke
Silent cronies sit and smoke).
Ever more as I grow thinner
Day by day without a dinner,
Every day as I go down
I meet the funerals leaving town;
Soon my procession will be on view,
A hearse, and maybe, a coach or two.

from Poems, by Seumas O’Sullivan
Dublin: Maunsel & Company, Ltd., 1912

Available on the Internet Archive: Link

(Inside of every crawling yoke
Silent cronies sit and smoke).

T’ats a marvelous t’ing, t’at rhoime is!–Ed.

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