The House That Sherlock Holmes Built

The Broadway actor-manager William Gillette was famous for playing Sherlock Holmes. His 1899 production was the first stage play authorized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The image of the character with his deerstalker hat, magnifying glass, and curved meerschaum pipe is largely derived from Gillette’s stage persona.

A native of Connecticut, Gillette built a large and eccentric country house in Hadlyme near the mouth of the Connecticut River. The estate is now operated as a state park.

Gillette Castle re-opened yesterday after being closed for more than a year. I took the opportunity to visit. You can watch a tour in the video below, or at YouTube.

Lovecraft and the Inklings

In the December 2018 issue of Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, Dale Nelson considers tentative connections between H. P. Lovecraft and the Oxford Inklings.

Devotees of fantastic fiction have wondered if the Ink-lings knew the work of the Lovecraft circle, and vice versa. Several points of likely or certain awareness may be sum-marized as follows:

[1] By sometime late in his life, Clark Ashton Smith, short story writer, poet, and artist, had read The Hobbit and some of The Fellowship of the Ring, according to a posting by “calonlan” on 30 Nov. 2011, in an Eldritch Dark discussion thread. “Calonlan” appears to have known CAS personally.

[2] Lovecraft himself had read more than one of Charles Williams’s spiritual thrillers. Their orthodoxy spoiled them for HPL. He wrote:

“Essentially, they are not horror literature at all, but philosophical allegory in fictional form. Direct reproduction of the texture of life & the substance of moods is not the author’s object. He is trying to illustrate human nature through symbols & turns of idea which possess significance for those taking a traditional or orthodox view of man’s cosmic bearings. There is no true attempt to express the indefinable feelings experienced by man in confronting the unknown . . . To get a full-sized kick from this stuff one must take seriously the orthodox view of cosmic organisation—which is rather impossible today.” (as quoted in S. T. Joshi, I Am Providence, page 878; I’m indebted to a 21 April 2016 posting by John Rateliff on his Sacnoth’s Scriptorium blog for this reference)

Lovecraft could not have read Descent into Hell and All Hallows’ Eve, which contain perhaps the most “Lovecraft-ian” sequences in Williams’s seven novels.

[3] Lewis almost certainly not only read, but was influ-enced by, a story by Lovecraft correspondent and Arkham House co-founder Donald Wandrei. On one of the last pages in his short novel The Great Divorce, Lewis acknowl-edges his indebtedness to an American science fiction story, the title and author of which he has forgotten. This appears to be “Colossus,” which appeared in the January 1934 issue of Astounding. Wandrei’s story plays with the idea of our universe being of subatomic tininess as com-pared to a super-universe; the hero journeys from the one to the other. Lewis’s novel involves a bus trip from hell to heaven. In the fiction, “‘All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world; but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World.’”

[4] Tolkien evidently read a 1963 paperback anthology called Swords and Sorcery, edited by L. Sprague de Camp, who gave him a copy. The anthology contains Lovecraft’s tale in the manner of Lord Dunsany, “The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” Smith’s “The Testament of Athammaus,” and Howard’s Conan story “Shadows in the Moonlight.” According to de Camp, who visited Tolkien in 1967, Tolkien liked the Conan story. Tolkien’s own copy of de Camp’s anthology was offered for bids on ebay a few years ago. http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/tolkien-book-store/000971.htm

[5] It is reasonably likely that Lewis read Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and “The Shadow Out of Time” in Astounding. His reading of American pulp magazines is certain. Below, I’ll say something about possible influ-ence of Mountains on Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet and of “Shadow” on Lewis’s Dark Tower fragment.

All that doesn’t come to a lot, but it’s more than might have been expected.

Tolkien reading Conan later in life is obviously the most satisfying of these nebulous associations. Nelson addresses Lovecraft’s partially formed mythopoeic imagination in greater detail. The essay can be read at the link above.

In a 1920s Biplane

The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Dutchess County, New York holds an extensive collection of antique aircraft which take part in air shows throughout the summer months.

This week I visited the field and was taken up by a pilot in a 1929 New Standard D-25 biplane. You can see our views of the Hudson River Valley in the video below, or at YouTube.

Silence at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

The UK government has given final approval to a development plan that will convert the Whitechapel Bell Foundry into a hotel with drastic architectural changes. The foundry operated on Whitechapel Road from 1739 until it was sold in 2017. Big Ben and the Liberty Bell were cast on the premises. Heritage groups attempted to intervene. In 2018 I covered a proposal by the UK Historic Building Preservation Trust to acquire the foundry and continue manufacturing bells.

All efforts have come to naught. Campaigners for Save The Whitechapel Bell Foundry wrote on social media that this decision “destroys the possibility of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry ever having a future as a fully working foundry.”

The Ghost of a Leaf

In the Greco-Roman collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art there are frescoed wall panels from the villa of Fannius Synistor which stood in the countryside outside of Pompeii. These were painted sometime between 40 and 30 B.C. and were recovered from the ruins of the villa which was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

One panel from a small bedroom or sitting room has an unusual adornment. The curators write, “A grape leaf sillhouetted against the vertical porphyry surface appears to have blown in mysteriously, bringing a touch of whimsy to the otherwise severely ordered architectural decoration.”

Napoleon’s March

Napoleon Bonaparte died two hundred years ago today. It is worth revisiting the amusing headlines that accompanied the Emperor’s return to France in 1815, following his first exile on Elba.

As reported in The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art, Volume XVIII,

The French newspapers which, in 1815, were subject to the censor, announced the departure of Bonaparte from Elba, his progress through France, and his entry into Paris in the following ingenious manner:

— 9th March, the Anthropophagus has quitted his den

— 10th, the Corsican Ogre has landed at Cape Juan

— 11th, the Tiger has arrived at Gap

— 12th, the Monster slept at Grenoble

— 13th, the Tyrant has passed through Lyons

— 14th, the Usurper is directing his steps towards Dijon, but the brave and loyal Burgundians have risen en masse and surrounded him on all sides

— 18th, Bonaparte is only sixty leagues from the capital; he has been fortunate enough to escape the hands of his pursuers

— 19th, Bonaparte is advancing with rapid steps, but he will never enter Paris

— 20th, Napoleon will, tomorrow, be under our ramparts

— 21st, the Emperor is at Fontainbleau

— 22nd, His Imperial and Royal Majesty, yesterday evening, arrived at the Tuileries, amidst the joyful acclamations of his devoted and faithful subjects.

Whale Oil from the 1890s

In Moby-Dick, Melville wrote, “But, though the world scouts at us whale hunters, yet does it unwittingly pay us the profoundest homage; yea, an all-abounding adoration! for almost all the tapers, lamps, and candles that burn round the globe, burn, as before so many shrines, to our glory!”

This weekend I opened up a 125-year old bottle of whale oil and used the oil to light a lamp. I filmed a short video of the process which you can watch below, or at YouTube.

A Letter in ‘Fortean Times’

Last year I posted anecdotes about Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt encountering gnomes.

As I had never seen these stories discussed elsewhere I sent them in a letter to the editor of Fortean Times, the British periodical about strange phenomena, for the consideration of readers.

The letter is published in issue #402 (February 2021) which has just reached me on the American side of the Atlantic.

An Ancient Megalith in New York

A dolmen is a type of Neolithic tomb architecture found in Western Europe. So what would one be doing in a small town in the Hudson Valley? Balanced Rock in North Salem, New York is a unique example of (what appears to be) a European megalith in North America, long predating recorded transatlantic contact.

I filmed a short video about the structure which you can watch below, or at YouTube.

Rest in Peace, Prince Philip

His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh has died, aged 99. The palace released the following notice:

It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.

Further announcements will be made in due course.

The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss.

Official forms of service for the Church of England have been published by The Queen’s Printer. Selected collects appear below:

Eternal God, our maker and redeemer, grant us, with your servant PHILIP, Duke of Edinburgh, and all the faithful departed, the sure bene ts of your Son’s saving passion and glorious resurrection: that, in the last day, when you gather up all things in Christ, we may with them enjoy the fullness of your promises; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Hear, O Lord, the prayers of your people, as we remember before you His Royal Highness PHILIP, Duke of Edinburgh: and grant that we who confess your name on earth may with him be made perfect in the kingdom of your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Merciful Father and Lord of all life, we praise you that we are made in your image and re ect your truth and light. We thank you for the life of His Royal Highness PHILIP, Duke of Edinburgh, for the love he received from you and showed among us. Above all, we rejoice at your gracious promise to all your servants, living and departed, that we shall rise again at the coming of Christ. And we ask that in due time we may share with your servant Philip that clearer vision promised to us in the same Christ our Lord; who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.