Saturday, 29 March 2014

The Purloined Letter

"I paid especial attention to a large writing table near which he sat, and upon which lay confusedly, some miscellaneous letters and other papers, with one or two musical instruments and a few books. Here, however, after a long and very deliberate scrutiny, I saw nothing to excite particular suspicion.

At length my eyes, in going the circuit of the room, fell upon a trumpery fillagree card-rack of pasteboard, that hung dangling by a dirty blue ribbon, from a little brass knob just beneath the middle of the mantelpiece.  In this rack, which had four or five compartments, were five or six visiting cards and a solitary letter.  This last was much soiled and crumpled.  It was torn nearly in two, across the middle -- as if a design, in the first instance, to tear it entirely up as worthless, had been altered, or stayed, in the second.  It had a large black seal, bearing the D---- cipher very conspicuously, and was addressed, in a diminutive female hand, to D----, the minister, himself.  It was thrust carelessly, and even, as it seemed, contemptuously, into one of the uppermost divisions of the rack.

No sooner had I glanced at this letter, than I concluded it to be that of which I was in search. ...

…I protracted my visit as long as possible….I kept my attention really riveted upon the letter….and fell at length upon a discovery which set at rest whatever trivial doubt I might have entertained.  In scrutinising the edges of the paper, I observed them to be more chafed than seemed necessary.  They presented the broken appearance which is manifested when a stiff paper, have been once folded and pressed with a folder, is refolded in a reversed direction, in the same creases or edges which had formed the original fold.  This discovery was sufficient.  It was clear to me that the letter had been turned, as a glove, inside out, redirected, and re-sealed."

The Purloined Letter  Edgar Allan Poe

Friday, 28 March 2014

The uses of philately


The judge greeted them charmingly and for half an hour Leslie and Spiro sat at his table sipping coffee while Leslie talked to him in voluble, but inaccurate Greek. ...
They returned to our table where we waited agog for the news.

'Charming old boy,'  said Leslie.  'Couldn't have been nicer.  I promised to get him some stamps.  Who do we know in England who collects them?'
'Well, your father used to,'  said Mother.  'He was a very keen philatelist when he was alive.'
'Gollys, don't say that, Mrs Durrells,' said Spiro, in genuine anguish.
A short pause ensued while the family explained to him the meaning of the word philatelist.

'I still don't see how this is going to help the case,' said Larry.  'Even if you inundate him with penny blacks.'...

For the next few days Leslie, convinced that Spiro could obstruct the course of justice, wrote to everybody he could think of in England and demanded stamps.  The result was that our mail increased threefold and practically every space in the villa was taken up by piles of stamps which, whenever a wind blew, would drift like autumn leaves across the room to the vociferous, snarling delight of the dogs.  Many of the stamps began to look slightly the worse for wear,

'You're not going to give him those, are you?' said Larry disdainfully surveying a pile of mangled, semi-masticated stamps that Leslie had rescued from the jaws of Roger half an hour previously.

'Well, stamps are supposed to be old, aren't they?' said Leslie belligerently.
'Old, perhaps,'  said Larry,  'but not covered with enough spittle to give him hydrophobia.'
'Well, if you can think of a better bloody plan, why don't you suggest it?'  enquired Leslie.
'My dear fellow, I don't mind,' said Larry.  'When the judge is running around biting all his colleagues and you are languishing in a Greek prison, don't blame me.'

'Well, dear,' said Mother adjusting her spectacles, 'I do think he may be right, you know.  After all, some of those stamps do look a little, well, you know, second-hand.'
'He wants stamps and he's bloody well going to get stamps,' said Leslie.
And stamps the poor judge got, in a bewildering variety of sizes, shapes, colours and stages of disintegration."

Birds, Beasts and Relatives  Gerald Durrell


Monday, 24 March 2014

The Penny Post

"[Henry] Cole became the secretary [of the Mercantile Committee] and used the experience gained in the battle over public records to good effect [to campaign for a more efficient postal system].   [Rowland] Hill said of him:
' He was the author of almost innumerable devices, by which in his indefatigable ingenuity he contrived to draw public attention to the proposed measure.'
The most interesting of these was his weekly newspaper The Post Circular or Weekly Advocate for a Cheap, Swift & Sure Postage.   Newspapers were carried free by the Post Office, so Cole could distribute news, notices of meetings, forms of petitions to both Houses of Parliament and so on, all over the country for the cost of printing only.  Generally about 1700 copies of the Post Circular were sent out each week, so that the Post Office was forced to carry the propaganda for its own reform."

" The Edinburgh Mail' -wood engraving after Henry Cole The Post Circular, April 1839, captioned:
'This sketch - an exact representation of the contents of the Edinburgh Mail on the 2d March, 1838 -- has been designed for the particular instruction of the Postmaster-general, who, notwithstanding he stands at the head of the Post-Office class, has shown that he is at the bottom of it, in respect of knowledge of the rudiments of his business' ."

King Cole, A picture portrait of Sir Henry Cole, KCB 1808-1882  Elizabeth Bonython




Sunday, 23 March 2014

World Poetry Day

"Here we all are, by day; by night w'are hurled
By dreams, each one, into a sev'rall world."

Hesperides   Robert Herrick 1648

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Pigeon S.O.S

"The little boat swung round, headed into the wind, and stopped at their feet.  Roger knelt on the pier and grabbed her.
'Jolly well done,' he said.  'Hullo. You've got another pigeon.'
'Hop aboard,'  said Peggy. 'And hang on to the pier.  We've got to send her off with a message.  What's the time?'
'My watch is bust,' said Roger. 'It always is.'
'Fourteen minutes past seven,'  said Dick.
Peggy was scribbling on a piece of paper.  She rolled it up tight, opened another wicker basket like the one that had been sent to meet them, and brought out a pigeon. 'Come on,' she said.  'You slip the despatch under the ring …the rubber one.'

The pigeon had a metal ring on one leg and rubber one on the other.  Titty, with trembling fingers, trembling for fear of doing it wrong and making the pigeon uncomfortable, slipped in the tiny roll of paper.
'Off you go,' said Peggy, and the pigeon was circling above their heads, above the yachts in the bay, and was suddenly flying straight as an arrow for the distant promontory.
'Cast off,' cried Peggy,  and in another moment they had left the pier, and with a fair wind to help them were sailing up the lake after the pigeon."

Pigeon Post  Arthur Ransome

Monday, 17 March 2014

Iscariot Hackney's confession

"And Richard Savage,  in his witty pamphlet called 'An Author to Be Let,' betrays that the abuse is not only of our day.  Iscariot Hackney of that book confesses that:
      'Many a time I wrote obscenity and profaneness, under the names of Pope or Swift.  Sometimes
 I was Mr Joseph Gay, at others Theory Burnet, or Addison. I abridged histories and travels, translated from the French what they never wrote, and was expert at finding out new titles for old books.  When a notorious thief was hanged,  I was the Plutarch to preserve his memory; and when a great man died, mine were his Remains, and mine the account of his last will and testament.'  
That is the whole trade put in a paragraph."

Bohemia in London  Arthur Ransome


Friday, 7 March 2014

The broken-backed "f "

"One of my most loved books -- I return to it again and again -- is that classic of bibliographical detection, a thousandfold more exciting than anything Agatha Christie and her kind ever penned, the majestically entitled An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets by John Carter and Graham Pollard, which nailed one of the greatest bookmen in British history, Thomas J. Wise, as a forger, a swindler, and a thief.  The detection, however, was only made possible because the detectives were versed in every detail of bibliography, printing and the book trade; a lover of books and books' integrity can find tears in his eyes when contemplating the plate between pp. 58 and 59 of An Enquiry, in which the famous 'broken-backed f ', with its missing kern, brought nearer the solution of the mystery."

"Going by the Book"  The Times Saturday Review  Bernard Levin

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

The Chinese vase

"  'Twas on  a lofty vase's side
Where China's gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow,
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.

Her conscious tail her joy declared:
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw, and purr'd applause.

Still had she gazed, but 'midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The Genii of the stream:
Their scaly armour's Tyrian hue
Through richest purple to the view
Betray'd a golden gleam.

The hapless Nymph with wonder saw;
A whisker first, and then a claw
With many an ardent wish
She stretch'd, in vain, to reach the prize --
What female heart can gold despise?
What Cat's averse to Fish?

Presumptuous maid! with looks intent
Again she stretch'd, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between --
Malignant Fate sat by and smiled --
The slippery verge her feet beguiled;
She tumbled headlong in!

Eight times emerging from the flood
She mew'd to every watery God
Some speedy aid to send:--
No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirr'd,
Nor cruel Tom nor Susan heard --
A favourite has no friend!

From hence, ye Beauties, undeceived,
Know one false step is ne'er retrieved,
And be with caution bold;
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize,
Nor all that glisters, gold!"

On a Favourite Cat, Drown'd in a Tub of Goldfishes  Thomas Gray

Monday, 3 March 2014

In Bevis Marks

"There was not much to look at.  A rickety table, with spare bundles of papers, yellow and ragged from long carriage in the pocket, ostentatiously displayed upon its top; a couple of stools, set face to face on opposite sides of this crazy piece of furniture; a treacherous old chair by the fireplace, whose withered arms had hugged full many a client and helped to squeeze him dry; a second-hand wig-box, used as a depository for blank writs and declarations and other small forms of law, once the sole contents of the head which belonged to the wig which belonged to the box, as they were now of the box itself; two or three common books of practice; a jar of ink, a pounce box, a stunted hearth-broom, a carpet trodden to shreds but still clinging with the tightness of desperation to its tacks -- these, with the yellow wainscot of the walls, the smoke-discoloured ceiling, the dust and cobwebs, were among the most prominent decorations of the office of Mr. Sampson Brass."

The Old Curiosity Shop  Charles Dickens