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.

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.

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.

Maps of Arkham

The fictional city of Arkham, Massachusetts appears in more than a dozen stories by H. P. Lovecraft, beginning with “The Picture in the House,” published in 1921. The city’s (Ivy League?) institution, Miskatonic University, sponsors ill-fated expeditions in At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Out of Time, both published in 1936.

Given the centrality of Arkham to Lovecraft’s New England setting, what S. T. Joshi calls the Miskatonic region, after its river and university, there is no wonder that Lovecraft mapped out the city in great detail.

The street plan below was drawn by the author in 1934. He wrote to Donald Wandrei in March of that year, “One thing I did lately was to construct a Map of Arkham, so that allusions in any future tale I may write may be consistent.”

The map is in the collection of Brown University Library.

Steeple and Fog

Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.

—Robert Frost, “October.”

Pictured: the steeple of Centre Congregational Church rises out of the fog in Brattleboro, Vermont.

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.”