Whale Oil from the 1890s

In Moby-Dick, Melville writes, “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!”

Recently I opened up a 130-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.

The Fleet Revisited

Over the past few years, I have made several attempts to film the River Fleet as it passes under a storm grate on Saffron Hill. You can see one of these attempts in an earlier blog post about the subterranean waterway. The Fleet is one of London’s “lost” rivers, a once-important tributary of the Thames that was covered over and incorporated into the sewer system in the 1800s.

My most recent attempt has proven successful, yielding clear footage. You can watch the video at YouTube, or below.

Dog and Duck Punch

In the 1920s, Arthur Machen and his wife, Purefoy, were renowned for the garden parties that they hosted at their home in St John’s Wood, in north London. At these gatherings Machen served a libation of his own concoction, called Dog and Duck punch. The Fleet Street journalist D.B. Wyndham Lewis recalled it in his memoirs years later as a “golden, harmless, seductive, suave, crystalline compound, drunk in beakers,” that “crept up quietly and sandbagged you from behind, without warning.” To illustrate this last point Lewis offered the cautionary tale of “an eminent American critic” who had been discussing New England philosophy with other guests when suddenly he began to gnash his teeth and wail, “She was a tigress but my God I tamed her!” Lewis concluded that “the Dog and Duck punch had got to him.”

Machen named the potion after a lawn game, also of his own invention, played around a D-shaped green in his garden. He explained the game in an essay for The Lyons Mail, subsequently collected in the 1924 volume, Dog and Duck. The rules are so convoluted that one can easily imagine hilarity ensuing after a few too many cups of the eponymous punch. In a collection of letters between Machen and his friend Montgomery Evans, which they edited, Sue Strong Hassler and Donald M. Hassler offer the gist of the game: “one rolled a battered tennis ball from the gate entrance” of the garden “toward the duck which was at the top of the D. Success was measured by the progress of the dog-ball.” Lewis described it as “subtle and maddening,” like the punch.

So what exactly was in the drink that Machen served to his guests? The recipe was, apparently, a closely guarded secret. Biographer Wesley D. Sweetser identified it as a dry martini, but that is not quite correct. Lewis speculated, with tongue in cheek, that:

But for the impinging of the war on Arthur Machen’s 80th birthday, the distinguished strewer of pearls before the public should have been compelled to reveal to the world at last the secret of Dog and Duck punch, which made the stars to reel so often round his guests on summer evenings in St John’s Wood some years ago…The secret formula pronounced while brewing the punch would probably be familiar to those who know the Code of Hammurabi. It was noted that its victims invariably came back next week for more.

Machen revealed the recipe to Montgomery Evans in a list of cocktails that he included with a letter dated January 16, 1925. Machen wrote:

Dog and Duck Punch, No. 1
3 bottles of Sauternes, Graves, or Barsac
½ bottle of Gin
Be careful NOT to use Chablis or any of the white Burgundies in place of the Bordeaux wine

If this resembled a martini it would have been an exceptionally “wet” one. The wine—”the sweeter the better,” he told Colin Summerford—would have been the dominant flavor. By December of 1925, Machen wrote, in another letter to Evans, that “people come around on Saturday night and drink Dog and Duck Punch (No. 2).” This variation, he later explained to Summerford, was the same as the first “but with the addition of any small Burgundy or Bordeaux. The quantities have never been measured; they are ascertained in mixing and follow the taste of the mixer. Or, as one has said: ‘Dog and Duck Punch is an essentially fluid conception.'”

This essay was published in the Spring 2018 issue of Faunus: The Journal of the Friends of Arthur Machen. Subscribe here.

Inklings Pub Updates

Last year I reported on the closure of The Lamb and Flag in Oxford, where the Inklings held meetings in the early 1960s. The pub has now reopened after renovations. A community group signed a lease to operate the establishment, which is owned by St John’s College.

Meanwhile the group’s primary meeting place, The Eagle and Child, faces a similar situation. The pub closed in 2020 and remains shuttered as St John’s seeks a tenant.

Fall of the Hardy Tree

In the 1860s, Thomas Hardy was a young architect employed to oversee the removal of graves from St Pancras Old Church in the London Borough of Camden. This project was undertaken to make room for the tracks of the Midland Railway. The future author of Far from the Madding Crowd stacked several dozens of tombstones around the base of a young ash tree which subsequently grew up around them, partially absorbing some into its root system.

Today, the Camden New Journal reports that the historic Hardy Tree has fallen:

Camden Council had warned in the summer that the tree had been weakened by a heavy storm and would almost certainly fall at some stage. It had been fenced off for some time.

In a statement in July, a Town Hall spokesperson said: “We are looking at ways to commemorate this tree, and its story, when it does eventually fall. The council recognises the importance of the veteran Hardy Tree, both for our local communities and nationally, which is why we’ve taken measures over the last eight years to manage this stage of its lifecycle, keeping it safe for visitors.”

I imagine that any commemoration of the tree must necessarily include the preservation of the headstones in situ. Photographer Simon Lamrock has posted images of the aftermath on Twitter.

The Lincoln Room

This week: lunch at Keen’s Chop House in Manhattan. Keen’s is the last remnant of the old New York theater district, which was located around Herald Square in the nineteenth century, before moving to Times Square in the twentieth. With the recent closure of Delmonico’s and 21, Keen’s is among the last remnants of Old New York altogether.

The ceilings are covered with clay pipes. Each belonged to a regular customer, and was kept on site, to be brought out after a meal.

The walls are covered with theatrical memorabilia: posters and programs dating back to the restaurant’s founding in 1885. The collection includes many delightful pieces, and one most terrible and awe-inspiring.

Upstairs in the Lincoln Room is the play bill that the President held in his hand at Ford’s Theater on the night he was assassinated. Stained with the great man’s blood, it is framed on the wall amidst portraits and a handwritten copy of the Gettysburg Address.

Uncertain Bells

I have tried to record any new developments regarding the fate of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry since that ancient and venerable London manufactory closed in 2018. Last year the situation seemed grim, indeed. But now the plan to redevelop the site into a modern hotel has fallen through. The Gentle Author reports:

A new chapter opens in the ongoing saga of the historic Whitechapel Bell Foundry as the American developers put the building up for sale. When their option lapsed to buy the land at the rear of the foundry, where they had planned to build their tower of hotel rooms with a swimming pool on the top, we knew that the ill-conceived bell-themed boutique hotel scheme was dead and it was only a matter of time before this outcome arrived.

Shame on all those who killed the world’s most famous bell foundry that operated in Whitechapel for five hundred years from the reign of Elizabeth I to the reign of Elizabeth II, where the Liberty Bell and Big Ben were cast.

The Gentle Author proposes a plan to restore the factory to working order:

The challenge now for the London Bell Foundry is to acquire the building in Whitechapel and reopen it as a fully-working foundry, employing a marriage of new and old technology, establishing the foundry as an international centre for the culture and science of bell-founding, and maximising the educational potential, through apprenticeships for local people and work with schools and colleges in East London.

The same plan would have been instituted by the UK Historic Building Preservation Trust, which had tried unsuccessfully to buy the foundry back from the developers in 2018. Hopefully a successful bid can be made now.

Weird Science

Hunter Dukes writing at Public Domain Review:

Electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, “the man who invented the twentieth century”, reignited his correspondence with friend and mentor William Crookes in an arresting way. On a photograph of himself seated beneath a giant “magnifying transmitter”, arcing twenty-two-foot-long bolts of electricity, Tesla inscribed: “To my illustrious friend Sir William Crookes of whom I always think and whose kind letters I never answer!”

The photograph originally appeared in a Century Magazine article from 1900 describing Tesla’s ambition to develop wireless energy transmission. The cartoon below explains his (theoretical) process.

It was this project, and its proposed use in warfare—a “death ray”—that made Tesla the model for every “mad scientist” in films and pulp fiction of the 1930s.

Escalation of War

In February of this year, the President of the United States boasted that his regime would have the final decision on whether Nord Stream 2, a pipeline carrying gas from Russia to Germany, would be opened. The following exchange took place at the outset of the Russian special military operation in Ukraine, as reported by ABC News:

Pres. Biden: “If Russia invades…then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.”

Reporter: “But how will you do that, exactly, since…the project is in Germany’s control?”

Biden: “I promise you, we will be able to do that.”

Two weeks later German Chancellor Olaf Scholz abruptly cancelled Nord Stream 2, under pressure from the United States. At the time, I commented: “It is entirely plausible that economic pressure will cause him to reconsider. How much is the European Union willing to pay for petrol?” But that question has now been preempted.

Both Nord Stream pipelines were damaged, perhaps beyond repair, by explosions yesterday. Of course, it will be Europe that suffers. Are we to understand that the President’s statement was not so much a boast but a threat? Is the American regime willing to sacrifice its allies—to sabotage their industry—to leave their people without sufficient heat and power—to cause an environmental catastrophe—in order to prevent the normalization of relations between Western Europe and Russia? If so, will European nations begin to reconsider their alliances?

See also: The New World Order in Crisis and Western Philistinism.

Update (February 2023): The journalist Seymour Hersh has published compelling evidence for the culpability of the United States. Read: “How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline” at Substack.