Saturday, November 27, 2021



Charles Reade  (1814-1884)

Dion Boucicault  (1820-1890)

John Wardlaw is a successful business person but is retiring.  He's leaving the company to his son Arthur, who has just left Oxford and needs a job.  Arthur is none too honest, but he's quite ambitious, so he dives right in and spends a lot of money investing in chancy enterprises.  Soon he owes money to a lot of bankers and loan sharks and is about to lose everything.  So he forges a note-of-hand ( a check) for two grand and gets the blame shifted onto his best friend, Robert Penfold.  Robert has just graduated as a clergyman and is about to take up a position in a country curacy, when he's arrested and thrown in jail.  He and his dad try desperately to clear his name, but Arthur has hidden his devious moves too well and Robert is jailed for a year and then expelled to Australia, where he is appointed gardener to General Rolleston as a ticket-of-leave employee.  He works away at his job and falls in love with the daughter, Helen Rolleston.  The Rollestons are about to embark on a trip to England, and Robert, desperate, shaves his beard and buys a ticket under the name James Seaton, so as to be near his sweetheart.  Unknown to any of them, Arthur has employed a seaman, Joe Wylie, to do some dirty work for him.  The plan is to switch cargos between two of Arthur's ships which are anchored in Sydney harbor and about to sail to England, one of which will leave with the Rollestons on board.  One ship is loaded with commercial goods and the other one has a shipment of gold.  One night Wylie sneaks into the warehouse where both cargos are being stored temporarily, and moves the boxes around so that the ones designated for the Proserpine will be sent to the Shannon and vice versa.  Then Joe is supposed to sink the first ship in the middle of the Pacific so that Arthur can save his neck by collecting on the insured cargo, which is presumably laden with gold, when in point of fact the gold is being successfully carried to Liverpool.

Everything goes according to plan.  Seaton (Penfold) spots Joe drilling holes in the bottom of the ship one night and soon afterwards it sinks.  Two life boats full of crew and passengers abandon ship.  The one with the crew aboard (and the General) is eventually picked up by a passing trader, but the other one, with only crew members and James and Helen, get caught in a storm and driven westward into unknown territory.  The starving crew have murder in their eyes and are observing the two passengers thoughtfully, but they fight among themselves and commit mass suicide for one reason or another.  With only Helen and James left, the cutter (a small two masted lifeboat) sails before the wind and they are about to expire when James sees a palm tree in the distance.  They sail to the island and begin a Robinson Crusoe existence.  

After almost a year, dealing with food, shelter, and the wildlife, James has a brilliant idea.  He's seen that flocks of ducks pass over occasionally and stop for refreshment in a small lake situated in a caldera.  He realizes that, being land-based creatures, they must be going somewhere, so he captures one and attaches a message to its foot.  He does this fifty times and eventually the island's human occupants are rescued.  Well, one of them is.  The rescue team includes Helen's father who informs James that if he returns to civilization, he'll be arrested as an escapee.  So he's left to fend for himself.  By this time Helen and Robert have fallen deeply in love with each other, and are not happy about the separation.  But she leaves anyway, determined to investigate and clear James' name in London.

After continuing his survival studies on the island for a while, James gets fed up with hanging around and equips the cutter with water and food and sails east, where he's picked up by a Down East whaler.  During his isolation, James has discovered gold in a buried Spanish vessel, so he has plenty of money to reward the captain and to pay his way to London.

Meanwhile, back in London, Helen has been working hard to exonerate James, but without too much luck until she meets Mr. Undercliff, a hand-writing expert.  Undercliff becomes fascinated by what his analyses are telling him about the situation, and he throws himself whole-heartedly into  unveiling the perpetrators of the forgery.

It's probably fairly obvious what happens next, but in the interest of keeping mum in deference to whomever might want to peruse this book, i'll stop here.

I've read books by Reade before.  I read "The Cloister and the Hearth" when i was in my teens, about sixty years ago, and have liked his style ever since.  He's the sort of author who will never use one word when a hundred would do.  If the word "potboiler" were to have a defining identity, Reade would be it.  There's just something about his work that's attractive:  he's light-hearted normally, and never leaves the reader imagining that something dire is going to occur without indicating that things will all turn out for the best nevertheless.  And he's so obviously having so much fun creating whatever book it is, that he carries the reader right along with him.  Also, his career began in the theater, and some of his explications seem taken directly from the script of a play.  Boucicault, who was one of his friends, was even more into theater than Reade, having had an extensive vocation in England and America both.  His reputation as an actor was without parallel.  Unfortunately i don't know exactly how the two friends organized the production of this novel, but i can imagine that it didn't happen without a lot of laughter and jollity.  Recommended to anyone who's able to find a copy.  Mine was from Gutenberg, under "Reade".

Saturday, November 20, 2021


A Taste of Walter de la Mare:

                                IN THE LOCAL MUSEUM

They stood - rain pelting at window, shrouded sea -

Tenderly hand in hand, too happy to talk;

And there, its amorous eye intent on me,

Plautus Impennis, the extinct Great Auk.

            WINTER COMPANY

Blackbird silent in the snow;

Motionless crocus in the mould;

Naked tree; and, cold and low, 

            Sun's wintry gold...

Lost for the while in their strange beauty - self how far! -

Lulled were my senses into a timeless dream;

As if the inmost secret of what they are

           Lay open in what they seem.


I saw bleak Arrogance, with brows of brass,

Clad nape to sole in shimmering foil of lead,

Stark down his nose he stared;  a crown of glass

Aping the rainbow, on his tilted head.

His very presence drained the vital air;

He ate erect - stone-cold, self-crucified;

On either side of him an empty chair;

And sawdust trickled from his wounded side.

           AND SO TO BED

"Night-night, my Precious!";  "Sweet dreams, Sweet!"

"Heaven bless you, Child!" - the accustomed grown-ups said.

Two eyes gazed mutely back that none could meet,

Then turned to face Night's terrors overhead.  

Mr. de la Mare lived on the same street that Tennyson did but at a later date.  He also wrote a biography of Lewis Carroll which i'd love to get my hands on.  He was noted for his appreciation of child-like minds (why i identify with him, lol) and for his classic horror stories as well.  A rare and rarified personality;  not many of them left, nowadays...

Sunday, November 14, 2021


Sherlock Holmes (1887---)

Adrian Conan Doyle (1910-1970)

John Dickson Carr (1906-1977)

This is a collection of pastiches about Sherlock.  Twelve stories in the traditional assemblage.  Carr and Doyle wrote the first six and Doyle alone was responsible for the rest:

The Adventure of the Seven Clocks:  Celia Forsythe is traveling is Switzerland with her employer, Lady Mayo, when they meet Charles Hendon, a suave gentleman of leisure traveling by train through the Alps.  Celia is interested in him, but doesn't understand why he hates clocks, destroying them with his stick or burying them in the snow...

The Adventure of the Gold Hunter:  What does the death of Squire Trelawney have to do with a gold watch (a hunter) and a jar of vaseline?

The Adventure of the Wax Gamblers:  Sherlock engaged in fisticuffs with Bully Boy Rasher and knocked him out, receiving a sprained ankle in the melee.  Watson is pressured into touring a wax museum in order to get the goods on Sir Gervase Darlington, a loud-mouth braggart with too much money.

The Adventure of the Highgate Miracle:  Mr. Cabpleasure worships an umbrella and his wife is upset.  What has this to do with the misplacement of a bottle of milk?

The Adventure of the Black Baronet:  Colonel Jocelyn Dalcy has been fatally stabbed while drinking a cup of port.  How is the Battle of Bosworth Field between the York and Lancaster adherents relevant to his death?

The Adventure of the Sealed Room:  Colonel Warburton has been shot and killed in a locked room.  A game of bezique and a fireplace poker almost end Homes's career.

The Adventure of Foulkes Rath:  Is Squire Addleton's nephew implicated in his uncle's death?  And what has a medieval executioner's axe have to do with it?  Holmes, meanwhile, collects samples of dust...

The Adventure of the Abbas Ruby:  Black thumbs, red camellias, and the NonPareil Club all lead Holmes and Watson to Oxford Street when Holmes accuses himself of idiocy.

The Adventure of the Dark Angels:  Joshua Ferrers lives in the country and never mows his lawn or weeds his garden.  Dark nights and seraphic post cards spell his doom..

The Adventure of the Two Women:  Blackmail and secret documents lead Holmes and Watson into the world of crime...

The Adventure of the Deptford Horror:  not for the faint of heart unless interested in arachnology.

The Adventure of the Red Widow:  Watson marries, but leaves his bride in the lurch when Lord Jocelyn Cope is slain in Arnsworth Castle.  Rug fibers tell Holmes that the perp is fifty years of age, has a malformed left foot and smokes Turkish tobacco in a cigarette holder.  Holmes gets a chance to practice his pyromania.

These stories were a lot of fun, taking me back to when i first read the originals.  The first six were quite in the style of Arthur Doyle;  the last ones were very slightly different in aura, perhaps using a bit more detail than Adrian's father would have employed.  i've noticed in the past, and in reading these stories, that too much detail can interfere with the reader's mental conception of the action.  Arthur Doyle was a master at providing entrancing descriptions that drew in the reader but didn't hamper his/her imaginative facilities.  Pastiches in general, the ones i've read anyway, usually are couched in the author's habitual style, with not much attempt at duplicating that of Arthur.  The first six included in this volume come very close to imitating to perfection the atmosphere of the originals, and are very well done.  The last six are also good, but not quite possessing the genuine ambience of Arthur's descriptions, even though they are just as enjoyable as the first six.  If you're interested at all in re-visiting Holmes and Watson, these stories would be a great place in which to do that.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021


Will Irwin (1873-1948)

Gelett Burgess (1866-1951)

Coffee John and Big Becky were part of a vaudeville act when Sol Bauer, a newspaper editor,  fell for Becky.  John managed to finagle $4,000 out of him when he decided to marry Bertha Wolfstein instead.  John used his share, $2,000, to buy a cafe in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco.  To celebrate he invited three down-and-out friends to a feast at his place, paid for by Bauer.  After oysters, steak, halibut and other unaccustomed delicacies, John gave each friend a dime and told them to go find their fortunes.  

James Coffin began by winning 40 cigars, then betting another scrounger that he could smoke all of them one after another for $100.  He won but it put him off tobacco for the rest of his life.  Coffin had been a student at Harvard who was kicked out for hiding alarm clocks in his professor's houses all set to go off in the middle of the night.  So he started riding the rails and wound up broke in San Francisco.  He had been arrested for stealing bananas on Fisherman's Wharf just before meeting Coffee John.  Professor Vango was a medium who was doing well, bilking society ladies through the use of necromantic trickery, until Mrs. Higgins began haunting him whenever he tried to continue his business.  Consequently he was broke and in dire straits.  Admeh Drake was a cowboy for two and a half years until he met Susie Latham who he promised to marry but couldn't because he had to go fight in the Philippines (the Spanish-American War) except he never went there.  He had a friend send Susie fake messages from the islands describing all his heroic adventures while he was down and out in San Francisco the whole time.  Now Susie has come to the city to welcome him back at the end of the war and he doesn't know where to hide.

The three "picaroons" each have a series of hilarious and bizarre adventures in which they meet other victims and opportunists whose stories are related, resulting in a chain of tales that in the end result in the them meeting one another again at Coffee John's place to see how and if they have succeeded in improving their individual lots in life.  Professor Vango meets Harry Maidslow who regales him with a story of mixed identities and how he survived in the Philippines while being chased around the back country by enemy natives.  One long history concerned a lady who married a Chinese dope smuggler and how she managed to win a fortune by outwitting the San Francisco Tong while stealing a boat-load of their opium.  And there's the street car conductor (horse drawn in those days)named Eli Cook who got into the habit of pilfering some of the coins paid by the passengers until he got greedy and decided to stop doing that, but noticed that the street car began squeaking when he reformed.  It got so bad that people wouldn't use that car any more because the creaking and banging was so disturbing.  So he had to retire and because he was afraid of the car's threatening attitude, he had to use some of his ill-gotten gains to buy it.  He parked it on one of the SF beaches and lived in it.  There's the history of the Klondyker who struck it rich in Alaska, but was robbed and left for dead by a no-account villain.  He was rescued by an Indian girl who showed him a mountain of gold and then married him:  actually he bought her for ten sled dogs and a rifle.  To celebrate they sailed to SF and blew the whole fortune:  "We skated through town like a forest fire" was his description.  He blamed it all on his wife, who didn't know what money was for.  When they decided to return to Alaska, she decided she didn't like money and threw the $20.00 gold pieces they had left over into the bay.

Burgess and Irwin were both newspaper reporters and editors in San Francisco.  Irwin was kicked out of Stanford for "rowdy behavior" and Burgess went through a series of odd jobs before deciding to write.  They were good friends and undoubtedly had a great time writing this book together.  At times, reading it was a jaw-dropping experience;  i've don't recall reading a book that portrayed such bizarre events.  At the very end, the three meet once more at Coffee John's to share their experiences and John was so excited by the tales he heard that he...  well, i'll leave to the next reader to discover what he did!  Any time a reader becomes bored with average, everyday literature, he or she would be advised (by me) to investigate the uproarious shenanigans included in this one-of-a-kind excursion into old San Francisco for a comprehensive attitude readjustment, lol...  available at the Gutenberg site.