Elephant and Swastika

A souvenir from the recent trip to Vermont is this very threadbare cloth and wood elephant from India. It was given to my parents many years ago as a gift and in my infancy I rode it over the Alps, so to speak, in no small part contributing to its present condition. My oldest and dearest friend has been its custodian of late and kindly passed it back to me when he visited us for tea.

It seems a fitting curio to take home since we were staying at the former house of Rudyard Kipling, whose association with India and the British Raj needs no elaboration.

Kipling used a roundel depicting the head of an elephant surmounted by a swastika as a personal logo. It appears on most editions of his books published in the early twentieth century, after his residence in Vermont. Kipling employed the ancient Indo-European sun symbol as a good luck charm. The Sanskrit word swastika means “conducive to well-being,” with roots derived from fortune and auspiciousness.

The medallion was designed by Kipling’ father, John Lockwood Kipling, whose decoration of the house is examined in an previous post. Lockwood Kipling had earlier connected the elephant and swastika in an illustration for the 1894 book, Tales of the Punjab, by Flora Annie Steel.

The illustration depicts a scene from “The Two Brothers,” wherein the king is is be chosen by a sacred elephant “kneeling down and saluting the favored individual as he passed by, for in this manner Kings were elected in that country.” The swastika appears on the elephant’s headdress.

The Night Cometh

Rudyard Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, visited his son’s family at Naulakha in Brattleboro, Vermont, in June of 1893, shortly after the house was built. The elder Kipling was an accomplished illustrator and art teacher. His appointment to a professorship in Bombay accounted for the family’s long association with India. He illustrated many of Rudyard Kipling’s novels, including The Jungle Book, which was written in Vermont. One of his most famous illustrations was his son’s ex libris.

During that summer, Lockwood Kipling contributed a number of interesting decorative touches to the house, at least two of which survive. I have been exploring Naulakha, as detailed in my previous post, At Rudyard Kipling’s House. It has been a pleasure to discover—and even to touch—Lockwood’s work, having seen a nicely curated exhibit at the Victoria and Albert in London several years ago.

Above the fireplace in the study, Lockwood inscribed in bas relief a quotation from the King James Bible: “The Night Cometh when No Man can Work.” It comes from John’s Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.”

Upstairs another example of Lockwood’s art can be found. In the day nursery, now a dressing room connecting two bedrooms, a plaster relief of a cat and two birds adorns a thin panel beside the bay window.

The house is full of remnants left behind by the Kiplings. This includes furniture and framed prints: George Frederic Watts’s Hope, which hangs on the wall of the master bedroom, is original, as are a number of French military prints. Above the desk in Kipling’s study are two Tiffany stained glass windows that light up like the dawn sky. These features can be seen in the earlier post linked above.

At Rudyard Kipling’s House

In 1893, Rudyard Kipling and his American wife Caroline settled near her family in Brattleboro, Vermont. Kipling designed a house to suit them: an Indian bungalow in the New England shingle style. He named it Naulakha. The word means nine lakh, or nine-hundred thousand, an extraordinary price in rupees, signifying its value. There is a pavilion of that name at Lahore Fort in the Punjab.

Kipling intended to make Vermont his permanent home. But after a very public falling out with his brother-in-law it was not to be. He felt hounded by the local press, his family’s privacy encroached upon, and his home no longer a haven. The Kiplings moved back to England in 1896.

The three years that he lived at Naulakha were fruitful for Kipling. In his study at the back of the house, he wrote The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, parts of Kim and The Just So Stories. In 1896 his daughter Elsie was born there.

Growing up I spent many school holidays in lower Vermont: many long lush summers and white Christmases. I had seen Naulakha once or twice from the road but had never been inside. This week my family and I are up for the foliage, which begins just a little earlier than our own in the Hudson Valley. We have been staying at Naulakha, which is now a guest house. It is little changed from Kipling’s day. The desk where he wrote The Jungle Book sits in the study.

Where the statue of a lion appears on the bookcase today, the statue of a wolf can be seen in a photograph of Kipling from the 1890s (above). We found that same wolf in the attic, one of two plaster pieces given to the Kiplings by Joel Chandler Harris, the author of Br’er Rabbit. They depict Bagheera and Gray Brother from The Jungle Book.

Kipling belonged to a family of artists active in the Arts and Crafts movement. His father John Lockwood Kipling was the subject of a retrospective at the Victoria and Albert in 2017: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London. The Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones was an uncle by marriage. The Arts and Crafts aesthetic permeates the interior design of Naulakha, leaving many built-ins and decorative fittings even as the house changed hands between then and now.

In order to reach Kipling’s study, visitors had to pass through Caroline’s office. She was the arbiter of who was admitted to see him. Above her desk hangs a portrait of the author by his cousin Philip Burne-Jones.

The house has a happy and comforting atmosphere—all the more so this time of year, with a fire in the hearth, and the children marching around exploring. We brought our happiness with us, of course. But the Kiplings found it here too.

“There are only two places in the world where I want to live,” Kipling wrote in 1898, “Bombay and Brattleboro. And I can’t live at either.”

The Saint-Gaudens Diana

When Stanford White designed the second Madison Square Garden at 26th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan, he commissioned the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a statue of the Roman goddess Diana, which would surmount the tower.

The venue opened in 1890 and Diana was installed the following year. Saint-Gaudens made several versions and casts of the sculpture. At eighteen feet and eighteen hundred pounds the original was deemed too large and was replaced. It went on to adorn the Women’s Pavilion at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago where it was ultimately destroyed by the fire that ravaged the fairgrounds eight month after the exhibition concluded.

A second version was installed at Madison Square Garden in November of 1893. A much lighter thirteen feet of hollow gilt copper, it functioned as a weathervane, turning on an orb plinth in the wind. This version became an iconic feature of the New York City skyline, lit at night by electric lights.

When Stanford White’s Madison Square Garden was demolished in 1925 the statue was moved to the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it remains today.

Diana of the Tower still has a presence in New York, in the form of a 1928 cast. It stands in pride of place in the courtyard of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in front of a fine Neoclassical facade, both pictured below.

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 this summer season after being closed for more than a year. I took the opportunity to visit on opening day back in May.

The exterior could pass for a gothic ruin weathered by centuries. The interior is Arts & Crafts. The walls are covered in woven rattan. Secret doors communicated between rooms so Gillette could surprise (or avoid) his guests.

While the house was being built he lived on a boat named Aunt Polly. It was later destroyed in a fire but a few details remain.

Upstairs in the tower is a collection of theatrical memorabilia, including sketches of Gillette in character by Pamela Colman Smith, who illustrated the Rider-Waite tarot.

A miniature railway once traversed the estate. Gillette housed his engines in a shed he called Grand Central Station. Walking trails now follow the route of the rails.

Gillette Castle is currently opened for tours through September 6, 2021.

Nantucket Scrimshaw

If you watched my experiment with a whale oil lamp, you know that I have an interest in nineteenth century whaling. There are two fine museums dedicated to that bygone industry, located in the Massachusetts coastal towns that feature in Melville’s novel, Moby Dick: New Bedford and Nantucket. Having sailed out to Nantucket recently, I visited the museum on the island.

Pictured below are examples of scrimshaw from the collection—in this case whale teeth—laboriously engraved by sailors, as well as the once ubiquitous whalebone corset.

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.

The Yale Club Bookplate

Howard Pyle was born on this day in 1853. He was the first of the golden age American illustrators, followed by his pupil N.C. Wyeth. Through Pyle a faint Pre-Raphaelite influence came to characterize the genre.

It interested me to discover a work by Pyle that I had seen many times before noticing his initials: the ex-libris of The Yale Club of New York City. Pyle’s design was commissioned in 1905. The plate was engraved by Edwin Davis French, whom Pyle described as “the best engraver in the world.” The ex-libris is affixed to every book in the clubhouse library.

Dickens at 209

“I always go to bed at eight o’clock, except when it is my birthday, and then I sit up to supper.”—Charles Dickens, letter to Hastings Hughes, December 12, 1838.

“This is my birthday. Many happy returns of the day to you and me. I took it into my head yesterday to get up an impromptu dinner on this auspicious occasion—only my own folks, Leigh Hunt, [Harrison] Ainsworth, and [John] Forster.”—Charles Dickens, letter to J. P. Harley, February 7, 1839.

The great Boz was born on this day in 1812. I commend to your attention the following excerpts from my book Victoriana:

Dickens and the Stage
A Ghost Story for Christmas

and assorted Dickensian posts:

London By Gaslight
A Map of Dickensian London
A Lost Portrait of Charles Dickens Rediscovered
A Portrait of Charles Dickens Returns Home
A Dickensian Shop Sign