Views of The Grange

Seven photographs depicting the home of Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones, taken in 1887 by Frederick Hollyer, will be auctioned at Christie’s later this month. The artist and his family moved into The Grange, an 18th century house in West Kensington, London, twenty year earlier. Views include the exterior, drawing room, dining room; garden studio, and daughter Margaret’s bedroom. The lot, which is being sold by descendants, is estimated between one and two thousand pounds.

White Horse

But thou, Goddess, farewell, and turn thy steeds to the Ocean stream,
And I will endure my misery still, even as I have borne it.
Farewell, bright-faced Selene; and farewell too, ye stars,
That follow the slow-moving chariot of the tranquil Night.

—Theocritus, Idylls.

Pictured above: head of a chariot horse belonging to the moon-goddess Selene, designed by Pheidias in marble, once situated on the east pediment of the Parthenon in Athens, now at the British Museum.

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 see it in the video below, or at YouTube.

A Tower Raven

An apocryphal but well-known story tells of a prophesy: if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the Kingdom will fall. Out of an abundance of caution a flock of the birds are kept in residence.

Pictured above: a raven perched on a surviving portion of London Wall (the Roman defensive works that surrounded third-century Londinium) beside the White Tower.

Stonehenge Field Notes

2022 is the year of Stonehenge. A new exhibit at the British Museum collects artifacts from Neolithic and early-Bronze Age Europe, giving context to “The World of Stonehenge.” I recently took a camera through the gallery, as part of a larger video project about the monument. This culminated in Wiltshire where I spent the morning filming within Stonehenge itself.

You can watch the video below, or at YouTube.

See also: Help Save Stonehenge.

The Edward Gorey Stamp Campaign

The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust has launched a petition for a postage stamp to honor the artist best known for his whimsical and macabre illustrations:

February 22, 2025 marks the 100th anniversary of Edward Gorey’s birth, and we would like to see it celebrated with a U.S. postage stamp recognizing him as one of America’s most inventive and influential cultural figures. And, we need your help!

Please join the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust and our friends at the Edward Gorey House in our joint campaign for a centennial 2025 Edward Gorey postage stamp. To make this stamp a reality, please consider sending a letter of nomination to the United States Postal Service. To petition USPS for a stamp, we all must send in actual letters on paper at least three years in advance of prospective publication.

You can visit the Trust’s website for instructions on how to support the campaign. Alas, we never had a set of postage stamps designed by Gorey. My photo essay on the artist’s house in Cape Cod can be read here at the blog.

Charles Dickens in Boston

On his second tour of the United States in the late 1860s, Charles Dickens took rooms at the Parker House in Boston. This hotel was his headquarters for five months between 1867 and 1868, during which time he traveled extensively among other cities. Next door at the Tremont Temple he gave the first American reading of A Christmas Carol—from memory—together with the trial scene from Pickwick, a perennial favorite with audiences.

The Parker House was torn down and rebuilt in stages during the 1920s, with the present building completed in 1927. Two artifacts related to Dickens and his residency can still be found on site. The first is a mirror in which he rehearsed. On stage he would seem to transform into the various characters from his books, not only in voice, but in body and mannerism.

If you find yourself at the Parker House, you will see his mirror on the mezzanine floor, to the left of the elevator bank.

The second artifact is the very door to the suite of rooms that he occupied, with the numbers 138 and 139 affixed. This was salvaged during the demolition of the original building and stands in a small gallery downstairs from the lobby.

See also: Dickens and the Stage.

Bocca Baciata

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has two excellent paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in its collection. I have been in Boston this week and paid a visit to the MFA, as I always do on such trips.

The highlight for any admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites is Rossetti’s 1859 painting Bocca Baciata. This work marked a transition in the artist’s career, away from the narrative Medieval paintings of his youth and toward the sensuous female portraits of his mature period. The title comes from a line in Boccaccio’s Decameron, which is written on the reverse of the canvas:

Bocca baciata non perde ventura, anzi rinnova come fa la luna.

‘The mouth that has been kissed does not lose its good fortune:
rather, it renews itself just as the moon does.’

Bocca baciata means, “The mouth that his been kissed,” or “the kissed mouth.”

The model was Fanny Cornforth, who lived with Rossetti at the time. She also sat for the the second painting in the collection: Belcolore, or Girl with Rose, from 1863. It is a fitting companion piece as the subject is likewise drawn from the Decameron. The character of Monna Belcolore is a married woman who is courted by her village priest in one of the stories within the story.

College Verse of 1931

The first and only volume of Best College Verse was published by Harpers in 1931 as a projected annual anthology. I purchased an inexpensive but unique copy recently, mainly for Donald Wandrei’s poem, “Lyric of Doubt.” Wandrei was a correspondent of H.P. Lovecraft (who was of course a prolific letter writer). As it happens, several of the contributors had a connection to Lovecraft. Douglas A. Anderson identifies Richard Ely Morse and Winfield Townley Scott. The former was a correspondent and the latter an early critic and admirer.

My copy belonged to a contributor named Alicia K. O’Donnell from the University of Montana. Her bookplate is pasted into the front cover. The contributor’s copies are quite handsome, quarter bound in leather with marbled boards and endpapers, unlike the trade edition.

Miss O’Donnell’s poem is called “Engines”:

There is in the movement of trains
That go silently out from cities
And come silently into cities
Something that is a blend of efficiency,
Manifest in the thoughtless hurry of towns,
And of strength that knows its strength
And is unforced.

And I have read in the eyes of men who sit
Smoking their pipes in cupolas,
Sitting and looking out with still eyes
Over the curving backs of trains,
Something that is not earth’s strength
Nor cities’ eagerness,
A thing blended of both
And greater far.

There is a foreshadowing of Ayn Rand in it, perhaps? Wandrei’s poem by contrast is rather ellegiac and Poe-like. Anderson describes Scott’s contributions as cosmic. The theme of his poem “The Last Man” brings to mind Shelley’s “Ozymandius” with its bitter awe at the vanity and futility of human endeavor. Scott writes:

Slowly and painfully and all alone
He climbs the hill to watch the setting sun;
Sickly and pale and cold as ancient stone
Its final light on this remaining one. 
He watches it; where clouds were thick with rain
A rainbow glimmers—God’s last mockery;
He hears below the dim edge of the plain,
Far off, the gradual stilling of the sea. 

Standing there, bowed before the thin green light,
He looks down were so many million souls
Set banners flying and went beating drums
And tended fires and sped abroad to fight,
All—all for causes over which dust rolls. 
The sun goes out, and the great darkness comes.

I am not sure why subsequent volumes were not published. Anderson suggests that the commencement of the Great Depression must have curtailed the series, but I am not sure why it would have been affected more than any other publishing venture.

Puritan Graves

The Granary Burying Ground in downtown Boston is best known for the Founding Fathers interred there: Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock among them. Founded in 1660, it is the third oldest cemetery in Boston and thus contains many more ancient monuments.

The oldest stone marks the graves of four children of Andrew Neal, dated 1666. It is the work of a craftsman known alternately as “The Old Stone Cutter” and “The Charlestown Master.”

Nearby is the grave of Elizabeth Elliot, who died in 1680 aged 96, which means that she was born in the reign of Elizabeth I and died toward the end of the reign of Charles II, a momentous span.

The tombstone of John Checkley gives the date of his decease as January 1684/5. Until 1750 the Civil or Legal Year began on March 25, while popular New Year’s celebrations were held on January 1, so both dates were often given to avoid confusion.

The Granary Burying Ground served the Puritan congregations of Boston and so the stones contain the familiar Puritan motifs seen throughout New England: the winged death’s head in particular.