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Gillian Spraggs

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Come, O Rising Sun [27 December, 2016]

Come, come, O Rising Sun, comfort us with your coming. Dispel the shadows of night and the fearful darkness of night.

from 'Veni, veni Emmanuel' (Cologne, 1710)

Belated greetings to my friends online.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

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Things fall apart [29 June, 2016]
The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)
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Coming Out of Copyright [2 January, 2016]
Happy New Year!

Yesterday the writings and visual art works of creators who died in the course of 1945 came out of copyright in Britain and the other EC countries. (This does not apply to any of their works that were first published posthumously, nor to translations that were published more recently, or were made by translators who are still alive, or who died less than 70 years ago.)

For several years I have marked the New Year by posting details of some of the authors whose works are coming out of copyright. This year I plan to make two such posts, one today, and another in a day or so.

In this post I shall focus on three British authors of speculative fiction: David Lindsay (b. 1876), E.R. Eddison (b. 1882) and Charles Williams (b. 1886).

Williams, who worked for Oxford University Press, was a close friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and a core member of the informal reading and discussion group known as the Inklings. Eddison was an occasional visitor at meetings of the group. Lewis and Tolkien admired his books. They also greatly admired David Lindsay's science fiction novel A Voyage to Arcturus (1920).

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Oh the fine old English Tory times [17 May, 2015]
The following verses, a parody of a popular song, were published in the Examiner, the radical journal founded by Leigh Hunt, on 7 August 1841. The Conservatives had won a huge election victory in July.

The Fine Old English Gentleman

New Version

(To be said or sung at all Conservative Dinners.)

I'll sing you a new ballad, and I'll warrant it first-rate,
Of the days of that old gentleman who had that old estate;
When they spent the public money at a bountiful old rate
On ev'ry mistress, pimp, and scamp, at ev'ry noble gate,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

The good old laws were garnished well with gibbets, whips, and chains,
With fine old English penalties, and fine old English pains,
With rebel heads, and seas of blood once hot in rebel veins;
For all these things were requisite to guard the rich old gains
Of the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

This brave old code, like Argus, had a hundred watchful eyes,
And ev'ry English peasant had his good old English spies,
To tempt his starving discontent with fine old English lies,
Then call the good old Yeomanry to stop his peevish cries,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

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The bright old day now dawns again; the cry runs through the land,
In England there shall be dear bread—in Ireland, sword and brand;
And poverty, and ignorance, shall swell the rich and grand—
So, rally round the rulers with the gentle iron hand,
Of the fine old English Tory days;
Hail to the coming time!

Charles Dickens (1812–1870)
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Coming out of copyright [2 January, 2015]

Happy New Year!

Yesterday the writings and visual art works of creators who died in the course of 1944 came out of copyright in Britain and the other EC countries. (This does not apply to any of their works that were first published posthumously, nor to translations that were published more recently, or were made by translators who are still alive, or who died less than 70 years ago.)

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (b. 1863) was King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge. He was a prolific author of fiction, poetry and literary criticism; he also compiled a number of anthologies. His Oxford Book of English Verse and Oxford Book of Ballads were both in the library of my grammar school in the sixties, and I devoured them like I devoured every other volume of poetry I laid hands on. From a scholarly point of view his Oxford Book of Ballads is deplorable; he did not hesitate to 'improve' texts, to merge different versions of the same ballad, and even to bowdlerize them. But I owe him a debt, nonetheless, for making such a substantial selection of ballads available and accessible. I read the book from end to end, over and over again.

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O rising sun [24 December, 2014]

Greetings of the season to my friends online.

O rising sun, splendour of light, come and shed your radiance on those who wait in darkness.

from an antiphon for Advent, sixth century AD

Click on the image to see a larger version.
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The Poodle Vulnerability [18 October, 2014]

Attack of the week: POODLE:
Believe it or not, there's a new attack on SSL. …

The attack is called POODLE …

The rough summary of POODLE is this: it allows a clever attacker who can (a) control the Internet connection between your browser and the server, and (b) run some code (e.g., script) in your browser to potentially decrypt authentication cookies for sites such as Google, Yahoo and your bank. This is obviously not a good thing, and unfortunately the attack is more practical than you might think. You should probably disable SSLv3 everywhere you can. – Matthew Green, cryptographic engineer

Unfortunately, some sites, including a few banking sites, still do not support TLS. There is a list of such sites here: https://zmap.io/sslv3/ [Scroll down to the section 'Alexa HTTPS Sites Without TLS Support'.] If you use Firefox, you can install an addon which would disable SSL 3.0 but allow you to change the setting from a menu to access a particular site. See below, under Firefox.

Internet Explorer

To disable SSLv3 in Internet Explorer, versions 7--11, you can follow this procedure:

1. Click on the Tools menu and select Internet Options. (If the tools menu isn't visible, press ALT+ T in Internet Explorer 8 and ALT+ X in Internet Explorer 9--11.)

2. Select the Advanced tab.

3. Scroll down to foot.

4. Uncheck Use SSL 3.0.

5. Make sure Use TLS 1.0 is checked, and any other Use TLS setting as well (if there are others).

6. Click on OK.

If you are still using IE 6 you have a problem, since IE 6 can't use TLS. (But who is still using IE 6?)


To disable SSLv3 in Firefox you can install the addon on this page: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/ssl-version-control/

This will disable SSL 3.0 but allow you to change the setting from a menu if you find you need to use a site that lacks TLS support.

If for any reason you don't wish to install the addon you can follow this procedure:

1. Type about:config in the URL bar.

2. Disregard the warning.

3. Type security.tls.version.min in the search box. The settings for this preference will immediately appear at the top of the window below.

4. If Value = 0 double-click on the 0, type 1 into the box that appears, and click OK.

5. Close tab.


This page has a section on how to fix Chrome and related browsers: https://www.winhelp.us/news/144/207/How-to-protect-browsers-from-SSL-3-POODLE-attacks.html [Scroll down to 'How to disable SSL 3 in Google Chrome and other Chromium-based browsers']


Apple have issued an update that is supposed to fix OS X (Mavericks and Mountain Lion only): http://www.computerworld.com/article/2835654/apple-patches-os-x-to-protect-against-poodle.html [Scroll down to end of article for information on how to install it.]

No fix for IOS yet.
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The dragon harpist (ii) [12 October, 2014]

Contemplating the dragon harpist, I asked 'What songs do dragons sing?' papersky, wise in the ways of dragons, knows the answer.

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The dragon harpist [8 October, 2014]
Dragon playing the harp

This is a fifteenth-century roof boss in the cloisters at Lacock Abbey. By the looks of it the dragon is singing as well as playing a seven-string harp. What songs do dragons sing? Fierce, wild songs, I imagine. There are sharp teeth in those jaws. This is not a tame creature.

The carvings at Lacock include two mermaids, a manticore, Reynard the Fox making off with a goose, and a bowman who is possibly meant for Robin Hood. I have put all my photos of the Lacock roof bosses in a Flickr set.
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Surrealism on the Western Front [27 July, 2014]


To André Rouveyre*

Fireworks in steel
How bewitching this illumination is
  A firework-maker's art
To mix with bravery a little grace

Two star-shells
A burst of rose
Like two breasts just unlaced
Stretch their tips out saucily
                           what an epitaph

A poet in the forest
Gazes with indifference
   His revolver set to safety
On the roses dying of hope

He dreams of the roses of Saadi**
And suddenly his head drops
Because a rose repeats to him
The soft curve of a hip

The air is full of horrible alcohol
Filtered from half-closed stars
The shells caress the soft
Perfume of night where you are resting
     Mortification of the roses

*Writer and artist; friend of Apollinaire

**Mosleh al-Din Saadi Shirazi; Persian poet; fl. mid-thirteenth century. Author of The Rose Garden

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918)

translation © Gillian Spraggs 2014

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Extended Collective Licensing: an Online Survey [10 June, 2014]

If you are an author, agent or publisher and you already know plenty about ECL, you may wish to skip straight to the survey. Otherwise read on:

Extended collective licensing (ECL) is a form of collective licensing of copyright works under which collecting societies are legally permitted to license the use of works created by (or belonging to) persons who are not members of their society. Last summer the UK Parliament passed primary legislation to legalise extended collective licensing by UK collecting societies. Secondary legislation is expected this autumn: this will set out in detail the regulations under which such schemes will operate.

The libraries and archives sector (or at least, the big, well-funded libraries and archives) want an ECL scheme or schemes that will permit them to digitise printed books and other materials and make them available online. The Government has announced its intention that ECL should be available for mass digitisation projects. Rumours reach me that the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) are preparing to move ahead with licensing such projects as soon as the law allows.

These projects will sweep up the works of foreign as well as British authors, illustrators, photographers, etc.

[More at Action on Authors' Rights]
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LiveJournal [30 April, 2014]
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A salamander [23 April, 2014]

When I was about five years old my father happened to be in a basement-chamber of our house, where they had been washing, and where a good fire of oak-logs was still burning; he had a viol in his hand, and was playing and singing alone beside the fire. The weather was very cold. Happening to look into the fire, he spied in the middle of those most burning flames a little creature like a lizard, which was sporting in the core of the intensest coals. Becoming instantly aware of what the thing was, he had my sister and me called, and pointing it out to us children, gave me a great box on the ears, which caused me to howl and weep with all my might. Then he pacified me good-humouredly, and spoke as follows: “My dear little boy, I am not striking you for any wrong that you have done, but only to make you remember that that lizard which you see in the fire is a salamander, a creature which has never been seen before by any one of whom we have credible information.” So saying he kissed me and gave me some pieces of money.

Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571) in La Vita di Benvenuto Cellini scritta da lui medesimo (begun 1558)

translated by John Addington Symonds (1840–1893)
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Coming out of copyright [1 January, 2014]

Happy New Year!

Today the writings and visual art works of creators who died in the course of 1943 come out of copyright in Britain and the other EC countries. (This does not apply to any of their works that were first published posthumously, nor to translations that were published more recently, or were made by translators who are still alive, or who died less than 70 years ago.)

I have a brief but vivid memory of visiting the public library with my mother when I was four. I am running to find my mother, full of excitement, holding out a little squarish book that I know, from the pictures (I do not know how to read yet), is about the adventures of two mice. My mother is browsing the shelves in an alcove nearby; she is outlined against a big window glazed with frosted glass, through which the winter afternoon sunlight slants in a blaze of deep gold.

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Beware the Spare Rib Digitisation Project [19 December, 2013]
The British Library (BL) is working on a project to digitise Spare Rib, the landmark UK feminist magazine of the seventies and eighties. The Library wants to make the digitised issues available on the web. For this it will need the permission of the several thousand contributors who provided the magazine with its material. Some of the contributors have already received a letter about the project, and there was an item in the Guardian last Saturday.

I contributed to Spare Rib myself, back in the day, and so did a number of people I know, so when a friend forwarded me the letter with attached information sheet that is being sent out to contributors I read it with very great interest. And increasing alarm. And my alarm grew the more thoroughly I investigated the way in which the scheme is being conducted.

[More at Action on Authors' Rights]

See also Calling all Spare Rib veterans - the Register.
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The Legend of Wu Tao-tzu [15 June, 2013]

In the palace of the Emperor Ming Hwang, the walls were of great size, and upon one of these the Emperor ordered Wu Tao-tzu to paint a landscape. The artist prepared his materials, and concealing the wall with curtains commenced his work. After a little while he drew aside the veil, and there lay a glorious scene, with mountains, forests, clouds, men, birds, and all things as in nature. While the Emperor gazed on it with admiration, Wu Tao-tzu, pointing to a certain part of the picture, said, “Behold this temple grotto at the foot of the mountain — within it dwells a spirit.” He clapped his hands and the gate of the cave suddenly opened. “The interior is beautiful beyond conception,” continued the artist. “Permit me to show the way, that Your Imperial Majesty may behold the marvels it contains.” He passed within and turned round, beckoning his patron to follow, but in a moment the gateway closed, and before the amazed ruler could advance a step, the whole scene faded away, leaving the wall white as before the contact of the painter’s brush. And Wu Tao-tzu was never seen again.

Slightly adapted from the version quoted by Herbert A. Giles in An Introduction to the History of Chinese Pictorial Art from Pictorial Arts of Japan by William Anderson (1842–1900)

Wu Tao-Tzu flourished c. 720–c. 760
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A few chapters in the history of UKIP [5 May, 2013]

On Thursday 2 May the UK Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage, gained 23% of the national vote and more than 130 seats in the local elections in England [Guardian]

After many of the results had come through, David Cameron withdrew a claim, made in 2006, that UKIP are 'fruitcakes', saying: Look, it's not good insulting a political party that people have chosen to vote for. ... we need to show respect for people who've taken the choice to support this party.' [Guardian 2013; Guardian 2006]

Cameron's change of tone is almost explicitly tactical. It certainly isn't logical. Nothing about UKIP has changed recently, except the extent of their electoral success. If they were fruitcakes in 2006, then fruitcakes they still are. I myself think 'fruitcake' is a rather inappropriate tag for them. It almost makes them sound cuddly. They are not.
Some landmarks in the history of UKIP

1991 Alan Sked, a historian at the London School of Economics, formed the Anti-Federalist League, a group opposed to the Treaty of Maastricht, which established the European Union.

1993 Sked and others founded the UK Independence Party. The party's primary aim was to take Britain out of the EU. [Guardian]

1997 Sked resigned from UKIP. In 2010 he said, in a letter to the Times: 'I founded UKIP as a tolerant, liberal and democratic party. By 1997 I could already see the far-right writing on the wall and quit as party leader and member. It is a decision that I have never regretted...' [Junius on UKIP blog]

1999 Three UKIP MEPs were elected, including Nigel Farage, a City commodities broker.

Soon afterwards, a photograph was published showing Farage talking to two members of the British National Party (BNP): Mark Deavin, author of a paper that argues that what he calls "the mass immigration of non-Europeans into every White country on earth" was the result of an international Jewish conspiracy, and Tony Lecomber, jailed for three years in 1986 for possessing explosives, and again in 1991 for stabbing a Jewish schoolteacher. Farage admitted having lunch with Deakin, but had 'no recollection' of meeting Lecomber. The photograph was taken in the summer of 1997. A Guardian report stated that 'Farage ... is a man who often used words such as "nigger" and "nig-nog" in the pub after committee meetings.' [Guardian]

2004 UKIP took third place in the EU elections, with 12 MEPs elected. [Guardian]

New UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom quickly achieved a kind of fame when he put himself up for a seat on the parliament's committee for women's rights and promptly announced: "I am going to promote men's rights." He stated: "I want to deal with women's issues, because I just don't think they clean behind the fridge enough," explaining, "I am here to represent Yorkshire women, who always have dinner on the table when you get home." Then he clarified his views on local television: "The more women's rights you have, it's actually a bar to their employment .... No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age." [Guardian]
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Alan Garner [9 February, 2013]
I must have read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen quite soon after it was published in 1960. I know I found it in the public library when I was about seven or eight. I know the book stuck in my mind, so that I went over what I remembered of it – which was quite a lot – repeatedly during the next couple of years. I was also haunted by the cover image, a heavily bearded dwarf holding a red goblet. I never did work out exactly which scene of the book this was supposed to represent, but it stayed in my memory.

After that first reading I soon wanted to read the book again. I hunted for it on the library shelves, sometimes obsessively, but could not find it for months. I had forgotten the name of the author, though not the title. It never occurred to me to ask a librarian.

It was a couple of years, or close to that, before I saw the book again. On a second reading it still gripped me. Looking back, I think three things in particular made it stand out from other modern stories of magic and fantasy: its intense seriousness, the lofty archaic speech of those characters borrowed from legend and folklore, and the very specific descriptions of landscape and weather. Alan Garner has commented since that his main characters, Colin and Susan, are deficient in characterisation. That didn't matter to me. It may have been an attraction. It allowed me to join them in their journeys with a minimal experience of distancing.

In 1963 the book came out as a Puffin paperback, and I prevailed on someone – probably my mother – to buy it for me. I still have it. In the same year the sequel, The Moon of Gomrath, was published. Here was even more high-sounding language, and otherworldly wonders that stirred my imagination deeply. Some of my favourite parts of the book were taken, in places more or less verbatim, from Irish sagas, Highland folk tales and similar sources; but I didn't know that then.

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One of the passages I loved in The Moon of Gomrath comes at the end of Chapter 8, when Colin looks out of the window and sees the sky full of riders with hawks and hounds, 'nine young women …, gigantic, filling the heavens'. I think it was probably suggested to Garner by this story:

When Clanranald resided at Nunton, in Benbecula, two men were tending calves one night in a building known as 'an tigh fada', the long house. They sat talking of many things before the brightly burning fire, when suddenly two strange dogs rushed into and right round the house, to the consternation of the men and the terror of the calves. The dogs were leashed together on a leash of silver bespangled with gold and brilliant stones that sparkled in the bright moonbeams and the light of the fire. A voice was heard in the air without calling:—

'Sitheach-seang, sitheach-seang!
Slender-fay, slender-fay !
Siubhal-bheann, siubhal-bheann!
Mountain-traveller, mountain-traveller!
Dubh-sith, dubh-sith!
Black-fairy, black-fairy!
Cuile-rath, cuile-rath!
Lucky-treasure, lucky-treasure !
Cu-gorm, cu-gorm!
Grey-hound, grey-hound !
Sireadh-thall, sireadh-thall!
Seek-beyond, seek-beyond!'

When the dogs were thus recalled they rushed out, the men following as soon as they had recovered their scattered wits. And there in the bright blue sky they beheld a multitudinous host of spirits, with hounds on leash and hawks on hand. The air was filled with music like the tinkling of innumerable silver bells, mingled with the voices of the 'sluagh', hosts, calling to their hounds. The men were so astonished that they could only remember a few of the names they heard.

These were the spirits of the departed on a hunting expedition, travelling westwards beyond the 'Isle of the nuns', beyond the 'Isle of the monks', beyond the Isle of 'Hirt', beyond the Isle of 'Rockal', and away and away towards 'Tir fo thuinn', the Land under waves; 'Tir na h-oige', the Land of youth; and 'Tir na h-aoise', the Land of age, beneath the great western sea.

… Fortune follow them and luck of game—and oh, King of the sun, and of the moon, and of the bright effulgent stars! it was they who put fear and fright, and more than enough, on the men and the calves of Clanranald.

Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912)

from Carmina Gadelica, vol ii (1900), pp. 257–258

Text on Internet Archive

(You will find the mothan in there, and the incantation that Albanac used to expel the Brollachan.)
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A case of levitation [29 January, 2013]

In the last century, the reverend Father Dominic Carme Déchaux was raised from the ground before the King of Spain, the Queen, and all the court, so that they had only to blow upon his body to move it about like a soap-bubble.

Augustin Calmet (1672–1757)

In: Traité sur les apparitions des esprits et sur les vampires (1751), translated by Henry Christmas (1811–1868) as The Phantom World (1850)

Text on Project Gutenberg
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Coming Out of Copyright [1 January, 2013]
Happy New Year!

Here are the names of some of the authors who died in 1942, and whose writings (apart from those posthumously published) come out of copyright today in Britain and the other EC countries.

L. M. Montgomery (b. 1874) wrote many books but Anne of Green Gables (1908), her first book, was the most famous and successful. My mother possessed a copy of every book she published and I read them all when I was ten or eleven. I have never revisited them in adulthood.

When Mollie Gillen's biography of Montgomery The Wheel of Things came out in 1975 I bought a copy for my mother. I think it must be from reading that book that I learned of the unwise contract that Montgomery entered into with her first publisher, L.C. Page of Boston, and the subsequent disputes. For those who are interested in such matters, the best online account seems to be L.M. Montgomery and Her Publishers by Benjamin Lefebvre.

I have never read the Kai Lung stories of Ernest Bramah. That famously mannered, intricate style has always put me off. Maybe I should give them another go. Probably David Langford is right: 'In Chinese mode, Bramah is rewarding but should perhaps be taken in small doses, one story or chapter before bedtime to prevent over-exposure.' The author's real name was Ernest Brammah Smith (b. 1868).

The Austrian author Robert Musil (b. 1880) died in Switzerland. He and his Jewish wife Martha emigrated there in 1938. The last four years of his life were spent in poverty and obscurity; he died of a stroke. I read Young Torless as an undergraduate. I have never got very far with his major, multi-volume work, The Man Without Qualities. The English translations of his work remain in copyright.

Two famous anthropologists died in 1942, Franz Boas (b. 1858) and Bronislaw Malinowski (b. 1884).

Arthur Edward Waite (b. 1857), a prolific author on occult and esoteric subjects, is best remembered for the Rider-Waite Tarot deck and the associated book The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1910). So far as I am aware, it was Waite who began the practice of reconceiving the traditional pip cards as picture cards, which has since been followed by numerous imitators. The designs that he originated, which were drawn by Pamela Colman Smith, helped to suggest the 'wicked pack of cards' used by Eliot's Madame Sosostris in The Waste Land. 'The man with three staves' was certainly inspired by Waite's conception of the three of wands, and 'the one-eyed merchant' probably owes something to his six of pentacles. Pamela Colman Smith died in 1951, so the Rider-Waite tarot deck will remain in copyright. However, Waite's translations of Paracelsus and other alchemical writers and his seminal works on alchemy, the Kabbala and the Grail have now passed into the public domain.

When I was an undergraduate, forty years ago, Shakespeare's Imagery and What it Tells Us (1935) by Caroline Spurgeon (b. 1869) was recommended reading. I enjoyed it so much that I also read Mysticism in English literature (1913). Brighton Ourstory thinks Spurgeon was a lesbian. I would not take their word for it without more evidence than they provide, but this may be so.

Another author I came across first when I was a student was the Australian poet John Shaw Neilson (b. 1872). In this case, I was reading outside the curriculum: initially M. C. Bradbrook's Literature in action: studies in continental and Commonwealth society (1972). Muriel Bradbrook, a formidable personality, was the Mistress of Girton. I suspect I saw what was then the latest work in her prolific output on some library shelf of newly acquired works; the college library, most likely. Anyway, it intrigued me enough to borrow it. I don't remember anything about it except that it had a few pages on John Shaw Neilson, and I found the passages she quoted sufficiently appealing that I tracked down a couple of volumes of his poems in the University Library.

Today it is possible to download from the web a pdf variorum edition of his works edited by Margaret Roberts (see conditions of use), and also a pdf copy of his 1934 Collected Poems. In 1972 published texts of his work were not to be had in England for love or money outside certain major libraries. I believe I still have, somewhere on a shelf or in a drawer, a notebook into which I copied the poems I liked best.

The Orange Tree

The young girl stood beside me – I
Saw not what her young eyes could see.
A light, she said, not of the sky
Lives somewhere in the Orange Tree.

Is it, I said, of East or West?
The heartbeat of a luminous boy
Who with his faltering flute confessed
Only the edges of his joy?

Was he, I said, borne to the blue
In a mad escapade of Spring
Ere he could make a fond adieu
To his love in the blossoming?

Listen, the young girl said. There calls
No voice, no music beats on me;
But it is almost sound – it falls
This evening on the Orange Tree.

Does he, I said, so fear the Spring,
Ere the white sap too far can climb,
See in the full gold evening
All happenings of the olden time?

Is he so goaded by the green?
Does the compulsion of the dew
Make him unknowable but keen
Asking with beauty of the blue?

Listen, the young girl said. For all
Your hapless talk you fail to see
There is a light, a step, a call,
This evening on the Orange Tree.

Is it, I said, a waste of love,
Imperishably old in pain
Moving as an affrighted dove
Under the sunlight or the rain?

Is it a fluttering heart that gave
Too willingly and was reviled?
Is it the stammering at a grave?
The last word of a little child?

Silence, the young girl said. Oh, why,
Why will you talk to weary me?
Plague me no longer now, for I
Am listening, like the Orange Tree.

John Shaw Neilson (1872–1942)

Poem first published in 1921

A short account of Neilson's life
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Ceremonies for Christmasse [25 December, 2012]
Come, bring with a noise,
My merrie merrie boyes,
The Christmas Log to the firing;
While my good Dame, she
Bids ye all be free;
And drink to your hearts desiring.

With the last yeeres brand
Light the new block, And
For good successe in his spending,
On your Psaltries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the Log is a teending.

Drink now the strong Beere,
Cut the white loafe here,
The while the meat is a shredding
For the rare Mince-Pie;
And the Plums stand by
To fill the Paste that's a kneading.

Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

Happy Christmas to my friends online.
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Self-styled "uber-geek" overreaches [17 August, 2012]
My thanks to oursin for flagging up the FriendBlab incident. Briefly, for anyone who hasn't picked up on this yet: a Canadian guy called Randy Charles Morin has built a website called FriendBlab which has scraped a huge number of accounts on LiveJournal, Dreamwidth, InsaneJournal and other sites, and done this in a way that makes it appear that the users have set up accounts on FriendBlab. At the moment FriendBlab is offline; it seems to have been taken offline by the ISP, GoDaddy, after complaints from DW users began to flood in yesterday. There are, however, a number of page caches still visible on Google.

I don't know whether my LiveJournal or my journal on Dreamwidth have fetched up on FriendBlab. I can't find them in the Google caches, but it looks as though it is a couple of weeks since the googlebot last spidered the site.

A number of people are arguing that what Morin is doing amounts to copyright violation. Others have pointed out that he seems to be aggregating public feeds of various kinds, including RSS feeds of journal content. I frankly do not know what the legal position is over that, but I have taken the precaution of changing the RSS settings on my DW and LJ accounts. For anyone else who wants to do this, here is what you can do.

On Dreamwidth it is very easy. When logged in, click on the Account settings link at the top of the screen. Select the Privacy tab, find the Syndication Level setting, and choose between the options offered in the drop down menu. I hesitated over what to choose, but I have now opted for 'Title Only'. 'Brief Summary' is also an option: it serves up the title and the first few lines. The longer the entry the more lines it serves up.

The information about what to do on LiveJournal is buried in faq no. 149. Under 'Feed Content' it explains:

By default, all of the entry text will be present; you can change that by going to the Admin Console and using one of the following commands:

set synlevel title
set synlevel summary
set synlevel full

to include the title (subject) line only, the beginning of the entry, or all of the entry, respectively.

Whether Morin is simply displaying the contents of public feeds is a bit of a question. There is at least one report that material hidden behind cuts was being displayed publicly on FriendBlab despite the fact that the user had opted for the DW setting 'Cut Tag', which is only supposed to display the post up to the first cut tag.

There are also some even more worrying reports that some of the posts that were displayed on FriendBlab were locked posts that should not have been part of any public feed.

I note that RSS feeds on LJ and DW are limited to the last 25 posts. (The DW faq says 'only entries from the last 14 days' but that is demonstrably not the case.) Whatever the legalities are over reproducing RSS feeds, if Mr Morin is retaining the material in the feeds and aggregating it for continued display he seems to me to be breaking at least the implied terms on which RSS feeds are made available. I can't tell exactly what he is doing since I have only been able to see the Google caches.

For anyone who wants to dig deeper, dingsi on Dreamwidth has collected a lot of information and links. elf on Dreamwidth has dug into some of the history of the FriendBlab site. jenett has posted a very useful account of feeds, DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) notices, and other related matters.

Will FriendBlab reappear online? Hard to tell at this point. Here's a piece of advice though: if it does reappear, and if Morin scrapes/has scraped your journal, don't fall into the trap of signing up to a FriendBlab account in the hope of regaining control. Morin's Terms of Service are still visible in the Google cache. This is part of what they have to say about copyright:

By submitting material to any public area of FriendBlab, Subscriber automatically grants, or warrants that the owner of such material has expressly granted FriendBlab the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate and distribute such material (in whole or in part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media or technology now known or hereafter developed for the full term of any copyright that may exist in such material.

They contrast very strikingly with the DW TOS: 'We claim no ownership or control over any Content that you post to the Website. You retain any intellectual property rights to the Content you post, in accordance with applicable law.' And the LJ TOS: 'LiveJournal claims no ownership or control over any Content posted by its users.'

Here is another interesting bit from Morin's TOS:'the entire contents of FriendBlab are copyrighted as a collective work under the United States copyright laws'. US copyright law has many puzzling features to a British eye, but does it really permit anyone to copyright a mass of material they have scraped off the web without permission?

Modesty is not among Mr Morin's weaknesses. In a post on his blog www.therssweblog.com (cache; original is currently offline) he refers to himself as an 'uber-geek': 'The last week or two, I've been playing extensibly with FOAF (Friend Of A Friend). … This is a great idea and something we really need to tie the Web together and make it work the way us uber-geeks invision the Web working.'

A few days later, on the same blog, he remarks: 'If you look, there's neat little XML Web services all over the Internet. And behind those Web services is data. Also known as virtual gold.' Mr Morin is a would-be gold digger.

Another of his blogs (also currently offline) is at www.webvertization.com. (Cache of recent entries.) Most of the recent entries seem to be about the success or otherwise of Mr Morin's attempts at making money online. He also offers advice on how to become a 'successful online entrepreneur'.

There is a Wikipedia article about Randy Charles Morin. It was first added to the site by user Randymorin.

Update: It looks as though Morin has abandoned the FriendBlab project. The home page is now headed: "Not under construction.", followed by a list of his websites. - 18 August
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Dracula and the Kodak prints [2 March, 2012]

I am sad to see the disappearance of Kodak as a camera manufacturer. As a schoolgirl in Harrow, Middlesex, where Kodak still has a factory, I knew it was time to leave for school when I heard the Kodak hooter at eight o'clock. My first camera was an old Box Brownie passed down from my mother. Later, in my teens, I was given an Instamatic. And when I outgrew that, and acquired a Pentax SLR, I continued to prefer Kodak films.


We went thoroughly into the business of the purchase of the estate at Purfleet. When I had told him the facts and got his signature to the necessary papers, and had written a letter with them ready to post to Mr. Hawkins, he began to ask me how I had come across so suitable a place. I read to him the notes which I had made at the time, and which I inscribe here.

"At Purfleet, on a byroad, I came across just such a place as seemed to be required, and where was displayed a dilapidated notice that the place was for sale. It was surrounded by a high wall, of ancient structure, built of heavy stones, and has not been repaired for a large number of years. The closed gates are of heavy old oak and iron, all eaten with rust.

"The estate is called Carfax, no doubt a corruption of the old Quatre Face, as the house is four sided, agreeing with the cardinal points of the compass. It contains in all some twenty acres, quite surrounded by the solid stone wall above mentioned. There are many trees on it, which make it in places gloomy, and there is a deep, dark-looking pond or small lake, evidently fed by some springs, as the water is clear and flows away in a fair-sized stream. The house is very large and of all periods back, I should say, to mediaeval times, for one part is of stone immensely thick, with only a few windows high up and heavily barred with iron. It looks like part of a keep, and is close to an old chapel or church. I could not enter it, as I had not the key of the door leading to it from the house, but I have taken with my Kodak views of it from various points. The house had been added to, but in a very straggling way, and I can only guess at the amount of ground it covers, which must be very great. There are but few houses close at hand, one being a very large house only recently added to and formed into a private lunatic asylum. It is not, however, visible from the grounds."

When I had finished, he said, "I am glad that it is old and big. I myself am of an old family, and to live in a new house would kill me. A house cannot be made habitable in a day, and after all, how few days go to make up a century. I rejoice also that there is a chapel of old times. We Transylvanian nobles love not to think that our bones may lie amongst the common dead. I seek not gaiety nor mirth, not the bright voluptuousness of much sunshine and sparkling waters which please the young and gay. I am no longer young, and my heart, through weary years of mourning over the dead, is not attuned to mirth. Moreover, the walls of my castle are broken. The shadows are many, and the wind breathes cold through the broken battlements and casements. I love the shade and the shadow, and would be alone with my thoughts when I may." Somehow his words and his look did not seem to accord, or else it was that his cast of face made his smile look malignant and saturnine.

Bram Stoker (1847–1912)

from Dracula (1897)
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Partying in the eleventh century [20 February, 2012]

For at any time it is a pleasure to a man to contemplate a house that has been decorated internally, to listen to drinkers as they keep up their singing within it, and at the same time to drink wine from gilded horns, and smell flowers that have been scattered through the house, and to handle those flowers, or golden horns, or other things that are pleasant to the touch.

Aliquando enim delectat hominem domum interius ornatam conspicere, ebriosos in ea decantantes audire, ibidem et vinum cornibus deauratis potare, et flores per domum dispersos olfacere, ipsosque, vel cornua aurea, vel alia tactu delectabilia contrectare.

St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (c.1033–1109)

Similitudes, XVIII (Opera Omnia, vol II, ed J-P Migne, (1854), col. 610)

This was pure serendipity, a small reward in the course of a fruitless search for the source of the following allusion:

If one's a Subject, one at Helm,
'Tis the same Violence, says Anselm,
To rob a House, or waste a Realm.

Anon, To the Memory of Captain James Hind
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A nobleman's story [19 January, 2012]

… myself and Sir Thomas Lucy … came on our way as far as Dieppe in Normandy, and there took ship about the beginning of February, when so furious a storm arose, that with very great danger we were at sea all night. The master of our ship lost both the use of his compass and his reason; for not knowing whither he was carried by the tempest, all the help he had was by the lightnings, which, together with thunder very frequently that night, terrified him, yet gave the advantage sometimes to discover whether we were upon our coast, to which he thought by the course of his glasses we were near approached. And now towards day we found ourselves, by great providence of God, within view of Dover, to which the master of our ship did make. The men of Dover rising betimes in the morning to see whether any ship were coming towards them, were in great numbers upon the shore, as believing the tempest, which had thrown down barns and trees near the town, might give them the benefit of some wreck, if perchance any ship were driven thitherwards. We coming thus in extreme danger straight upon the pier of Dover, which stands out in the sea, our ship was unfortunately split against it; the master said, Mes amies, nous sommes perdus; or, My friends, we are cast away. When myself who heard the ship crack against the pier, and then found by the master's words it was time for every one to save themselves, if they could, got out of my cabin (though very sea-sick), and climbing up the mast a little way, drew my sword and flourished it; they at Dover having this sign given them, adventured in a shallop of six oars to relieve us, which being come with great danger to the side of our ship, I got into it first with my sword in my hand, and called for Sir Thomas Lucy, saying, that if any man offered to get in before him, I should resist him with my sword; whereupon a faithful servant of his taking Sir Thomas Lucy out of the cabin, who was half dead of sea-sickness, put him into my arms, whom after I had received, I bid the shallop make away for shore, and the rather that I saw another shallop coming to relieve us; when a post from France, who carried letters, finding the ship still rent more and more, adventured to leap from the top of our ship into the shallop, where falling fortunately on some of the stronger timber of the boat, and not on the planks, which he must needs have broken, and so sunk us, had he fallen upon them, escaped together with us two, unto the land. I must confess myself, as also the seamen that were in the shallop, thought once to have killed him for this desperate attempt; but finding no harm followed, we escaped together unto the land, from whence we sent more shallops, and so made means to save both men and horses that were in the ship …

Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583–1648)

from The Life of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, first published in 1764

Full text
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Coming out of copyright [1 January, 2012]

Happy New Year!

1941 was a fatal year for authors.
  • Virginia Woolf (b. 1882), fearing that her mind was going, drowned herself near her home in Sussex

  • James Joyce (b. 1882) died in Zurich following an operation for a perforated stomach ulcer; he had gone to Switzerland to escape the Nazi occupation of France

  • Marina Tsvetaeva (b. 1892), starving to death, hanged herself in Yelabuga, Tatarstan

  • Karin Boye (b. 1900), brilliant Swedish poet, took an overdose of sleeping pills

  • Henri Bergson (b. 1859) died of bronchitis; he had rejected the offer of the Vichy regime in France to exempt him from its anti-Jewish laws

  • Sir Rabindranath Tagore (b. 1861) died in Calcutta

All the works of these authors that were published before the end of 1941 come out of copyright this morning in Britain and the EU countries, and in any other country where the term of copyright is 70 years from the death of the author. This will not, of course, include works that were published posthumously, such as diaries or letters. Nor will it include most or all of the English translations of works by Tsvetaeva, Boye and Bergson. Rabindranath Tagore translated his own works out of Bengali to English, but I believe there have also been some translations of Tagore by other authors.

Karin Boye I came across when I was putting together an anthology of lesbian poetry. There is a website dedicated to her with the Swedish texts of her poems and also the English translations by David MacDuff. MacDuff's translations are also online on his personal site.

I quite liked Tagore when I was young, but can't comfortably read him now. It has been said that he is a bad translator of his own work, which seems quite likely.

I read Bergson's book 'Laughter' when I was a university student; I'd like to post a passage from it here, but I cannot find out the date when Fred Rothwell, one of his English translators, died. The original French text is available online.

Other authors who died in 1941 include:
  • Bessie Marchant (b. 1862), author of numerous girls' adventure stories. I know I read some of her books when I was a teenager, but I don't remember which. I suspect they were most of them written to a very similar formula. I know that I didn't read Lesbia's Little Blunder (1934), because I would have certainly remembered the title.

  • P. C. Wren (b. 1875). His adventure story Beau Geste was still popular when I was at school; I remember borrowing it off someone in my class

  • Elizabeth von Arnim (b. 1866), author of Elizabeth and her German Garden and a number of other works. My mother collected her books. I have to admit I have never read any of them.

  • Sir Hugh Walpole (b. 1884). I have never read any of his books, either. But I heard his name when I was very young, and never forgot it: some friends of my parents had called their large and drooly bulldog 'Hamlet'. They had a son called Jeremy too.

  • A. J. A. Symons (b. 1900), author of The Quest for Corvo, which I dimly recall reading many years ago. (I had a short-lived passion for 'Baron Corvo''s writings when I was about eighteen.)

Several important scholars died in 1941:

  • George Lyman Kittredge (b. 1860) wrote an excellent study of witchcraft beliefs which is still well worth reading: Witchcraft in Old and New England (1929)

  • Evelyn Underhill (b. 1875) is best remembered for her book Mysticism (1911) [electronic text]; she also edited the Middle English mystical treatise The Cloud of Unknowing [electronic text].

  • Benjamin Lee Whorf (b. 1897) is remembered as a leading exponent of the theory that the structure of a language organises the speaker's perception of the world.

  • Sir Arthur John Evans (b. 1851) is famous as the excavator of Knossos; he wrote extensively on the culture of the Minoans and other topics

This brings me to the anthropologist Sir James Frazer, the author of The Golden Bough (first edition 1890, but there were two further revised and expanded editions). I find Frazer irresistible. His theories may not always stand up to inspection, but his materials are endlessly fascinating.

Here is a passage from Frazer's Folk-lore in the Old Testament:

… the Hebrews would seem even down to comparatively late times to have been familiar with a form of witchcraft which aimed at catching and detaining the souls of living persons with the intent to do them grievous hurt. The witches who practised this black art were formally denounced by the prophet Ezekiel in the following terms : —

"And thou, son of man, set thy face against the daughters of thy people, which prophesy out of their own heart; and prophesy thou against them, and say, Thus saith the Lord God: Woe to the women that sew fillets upon all elbows, and make kerchiefs for the head of persons of every stature to hunt souls! Will ye hunt the souls of my people, and save souls alive for yourselves? And ye have profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to my people that hearken unto lies. Wherefore thus saith the Lord God: Behold I am against your fillets, wherewith ye hunt the souls, and I will tear them from your arms; and I will let the souls which ye hunt go free like birds. Your kerchiefs also will I tear, and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand to be hunted; and ye shall know that I am the Lord."*

The nefarious practices of these women, which the prophet denounces, apparently consisted in attempts to catch stray souls in fillets and cloths, and so to kill some people by keeping their souls in durance vile, and to save the lives of others, probably of sick people, by capturing their vagabond souls and restoring them to their bodies. Similar devices have been and still are adopted for the same purpose by sorcerers and witches in many parts of the world. For example, Fijian chiefs used to whisk away the souls of criminals in scarves, whereupon the poor wretches, deprived of this indispensable part of their persons, used to pine and die. The sorcerers of Danger Island, in the Pacific, caught the souls of sick people in snares, which they set up near the houses of the sufferers, and watched till a soul came fluttering into the trap and was entangled in its meshes, after which the death of the patient was, sooner or later, inevitable. The snares were made of stout cinet with loops of various sizes adapted to catch souls of all sizes, whether large or small, whether fat or thin. Among the negroes of West Africa "witches are continually setting traps to catch the soul that wanders from the body when a man is sleeping; and when they have caught this soul, they tie it up over the canoe fire and its owner sickens as the soul shrivels. This is merely a regular line of business, and not an affair of individual hate or revenge. The witch does not care whose dream-soul gets into the trap, and will restore it on payment. Also witch-doctors, men of unblemished professional reputation, will keep asylums for lost souls, i.e. souls who have been out wandering and found on their return to their body that their place had been filled up by a Sisa, a low-class soul. … These doctors keep souls, and administer them to patients who are short of the article."** Among the Baoules of the Ivory Coast it happened once that a chief's soul was extracted by the magic of an enemy, who succeeded in shutting it up in a box. To recover it, two men held a garment of the sufferer, while a witch performed certain enchantments. After a time she declared that the soul was now in the garment, which was accordingly rolled up and hastily wrapped about the invalid for the purpose of restoring his spirit to him. Malay wizards catch the souls of women whom they love in the folds of their turbans, and then go about with the dear souls in their girdles by day and sleep with them under their pillows by night. Among the Toradjas of Central Celebes the priest who accompanied an armed force on an expedition used to wear a string of seashells hanging down over his breast and back for the purpose of catching the souls of the enemy ; the shells were branched and hooked, and it was supposed that, once the souls were conjured into the shells, the branches and hooks would prevent them from escaping. The way in which the priest set and baited this soul-trap was as follows. When the warriors had entered the hostile territory, the priest went by night to the village which they intended to attack, and there, close by the entrance, he laid down his string of shells on the path so as to form a circle, and inside of the circle he buried an egg and the guts of a fowl, from which omens had been drawn before the troop set out from their own land. Then the priest took up the string of shells and waved it seven times over the spot, calling quietly on the souls of the enemy and saying, "Oh, soul of So-and-So," mentioning the name of one of the inhabitants of the village, "come, tread on my fowl ; thou art guilty, thou hast done wrong, come!" Then he waited, and if the string of shells gave out a tinkling sound, it was a sign that the soul of an enemy had really come and was held fast by the shells. Next day the man, whose soul had thus been ensnared, would be drawn, in spite of himself, to the spot where the foes who had captured his soul were lying in wait, and thus he would fall an easy prey to their weapons.

Such practices may serve to explain those proceedings of the Hebrew witches against which Ezekiel fulminated. These abandoned women seem to have caught vagrant souls in kerchiefs which they threw over the heads of their victims, and to have detained their spiritual captives in fillets which they sewed to their own elbows.

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Sir James Frazer (1854–1941)

from Folk-lore in the Old Testament (1918), vol. II, pp. 510ff; most of the references regretfully omitted. [electronic text]
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A Christmas Prognostication [25 December, 2011]

Lordynges, I warne yow al be-forne,
Yef that day that Cryste was borne
Falle uppon a Sunday,
That wynter shalbe good par fay,
But grete wyndes alofte shalbe,
The somer shalbe fayre and drye;
By kynde skylle, wyth-owtyn lesse,
Throw all londes shalbe peas,
And good tyme all thyngs to don;
But he that stelythe, he shalbe fownde sone;
Whate chylde that day borne be,
A grete lorde he shalle ge …

Fifteenth century

from Specimens of Old Christmas Carols selected from Manuscripts and Printed Books, edited by Thomas Wright for the Percy Society, 1841

Happy Christmas to my friends online.
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The Fall of Rome [11 November, 2011]

Right now, the poetry track in the back of my brain is quietly muttering Auden's The Fall of Rome to itself.

(The excellent poets.org website has reproduced this poem with permission from the agency that represents the Auden Estate.)
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All Souls' Day [31 October, 2011]

In Salop, &c: die omnium Animarum (All-Soules-Day Novem. 2d) there is sett on the Board a high heap of Soule-Cakes, lyeing one upon another like the picture of the Sew-Bread in the old Bibles. They are about the bignesse of 2d cakes, and every visitant that day takes one; and there is an old Rhythm or saying,

A Soule-cake, a Soule-cake,
Have mercy on all Christen soules for a Soule-cake.

This custome is continued to this time.

John Aubrey (1626–1697)

from Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme (begun 1688)
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The Love Spell that Went Wrong [6 October, 2011]

My father farmed very largely in Marshland*, and going into the stables one morning in 1867, when the lads had left, I found on the bin of one of them a small doll gaily dressed to represent a girl, but stuck through, about the heart, with tin tacks. On his return I questioned him not only about this, but also the pair of lovely black eyes he had gained in the interval. It appeared that he had had his doubts of the constancy of his lass, who was in service a good way off, and had taken this course, under the advice of a 'wiseman,' to compel her to meet him at Alford Fair. Sure enough no sooner had he got there than up she came, but with another 'gurt chap' along of her, and only to reproach him bitterly, for 'she knawed he'd been after some devilment along of her.' She 'hedn't been able to sleep for a week thinking of him and were draawed to him agin hersen, an' she threeaped up all mander things agin me, an' the gurt chap set on an' all and jacketed me outrageous. I reckun I must 'ed leff summat out. I draawed her proper enuff, but I cudn't uphold it right thruff, an' now I doubt she's gotten a scunner** agin mea, I wean't hardlins*** overset.'

* The coastal district of Lincolnshire between Alford and Wainfleet

** violent dislike

*** hardly

Robert Marshall Heanley (1848–1915)
from 'The Vikings: Traces of their Folklore in Marshland' in Saga-Book of the Viking Club, III i (January 1902), p. 44
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