Sunday, 28 September 2014

Dark Encounters ~ William Croft Dickinson

William Croft Dickinson (1897 ~ 1963) was an English historian and writer. He was one of the foremost experts in the history of early modern Scotland (his first scholarly work appeared in The Scottish Historical Review in 1922) and the author of both fiction for children and ghost stories for adults. Dickinson loved a good story; one of his many accomplishments whilst at the University of St. Andrews, which he attended from 1915, 'is said to have been spinning impossible yarns to unwary visitors'.*

Dickinson's first book of supernatural stories, The Sweet Singers, and Three Other Remarkable Occurrents, was published by Oliver and Boyd in 1953. The four stories that book contained ('The Sweet Singers', 'Can These Stones Speak?', 'The Eve of St. Botulph', and 'Return at Dusk') were later republished, along with nine other tales, in Dark Encounters, by Harvill Press in 1963. A second edition of Dark Encounters, with identical contents aside from the addition of an introduction by Susan Dickinson, the author's daughter, was published by John Goodchild in 1984 (see the image below). Written in the tradition of M. R. James, his stories have been referred to as 'Ghost Stories of a Scottish Antiquary'.

If you like tales about bookish scholars going poking around in ruined places that are best left unpoked, or uncovering dusty old manuscripts that are best left undiscovered and unread, then you're bound to like Dark Encounters. Of all the tales in the collection, to my mind the first five are the best. They will leave you in no doubt that scholarly curiosity is a dangerous thing!

In ‘The Keepers of the Wall’, Robson, a new Professor of Mediaeval Archaeology, tells of an experience he had just before he travelled to Edinburgh to take up his new post. The events in the professor’s tale take place on the west coast of Scotland, in the twelfth-century castle of Dunross. Robson, wanting to examine a section of the ruins one more time and make alterations to his drawings of them, tells the crofter he is staying with that he intends to return to the castle at night. ‘You cannot go there after the dark,’ the crofter replies. ‘It would be madness. You would not come back. The wall would shut you in.’ According to the crofter, the bodies of six MacLeods were buried at the foot of one of the castle walls by their enemies, the MacDonalds, so that their ghosts would hold the structure secure. You wouldn’t think a simple stone wall could be menacing, but you’d be wrong.

In the second story, ‘Return at Dusk’, a Professor of Anthropology by the name of Drummond tells his students a tale about events in Cairntoul Castle in Mar, in the winter of 1939-40. Sent there by the War Office at the beginning of the Second World War, to take charge of a special section devoted to counter-espionage, he finds that he is not alone in his turret room at twilight.
‘Now what made me look up into that mirror, I cannot say. But look up I did, and, as I looked into the mirror, I saw that the door to the turret was slowly opening. I watched that door opening like one fascinated, and, somehow, I could neither move nor cry out. Slowly the opening grew wider and wider. Then a face appeared, peering round the side of the door. In the mirror, the face seemed to look straight into mine, but in the twilight I could recognize no features - just the blur of a face, that, and no more.’
The narrator of ‘The Eve of St Botulph’ is reading a copy of the Scottish Historical Review when the university librarian, Mair, puts a folded packet of old papers in front of him. On the outside of the packet, written in a neat hand, are the words: ‘To be opened in the event of my failure to return. Alexander Hutton.’ According to Mair, Hutton was a minor antiquary of the early nineteenth century, and, as he must be long dead, the two men decide it is safe to open the package. Inside is an account of Hutton’s visit to Kirkcudbright, where he went to examine the newly discovered chronicle of the Abbey of Dundrennan, and where he deciphered the strange sections of text within it which had been expunged... much to his own detriment.
‘For two whole days I was fully and happily occupied with my manuscript. But now all that has changed, and I am disturbed and distracted. For today, for the first time, I have examined those three strange passages. Today I have paid a visit to the north grange of the Abbey, and there “imagined” things. Tonight I shall visit the north grange again, “on the eve of St Botulph”.’
The thing about these antiquarians (and I can't point the finger, because I am just as bad) is that they will insist on reading old manuscripts, exploring ancient ruins, and doing all the things they're warned not to. The moment a bundle of old papers turns up, they should run for the hills, but they cannot resist the urge to investigate, and I'm so glad that they can't. ‘The Eve of St Botulph’ is one of my favourite tales of the collection.

In ‘Can These Stones Speak?’, Henderson, a mediaeval historian, tells of his visit to the home of his friend Alexander Lindsay, the University Librarian, who lives in a house called The Monal - one of the historic old houses purchased, renovated and rented out by the university. Lindsay, having discovered an old manuscript containing information that relates to his house and its ghost, invites Henderson to stay in his ‘pillared room’, which was built in 1574 using stones taken from the wall of an old nunnery where a nun had been immured. Woken during the night by strange sounds in his room, Henderson is forced, as echoes of the past invade the present, to listen to the scrape, tap-tap, scrape of a bricklayer’s trowel.

The narrator of ‘The Work of Evil’ is invited by Maitland Allan, Keeper of Printed Books, to view a special collection of volumes on the subject of black magic and necromancy that once belonged to John, third Earl of Gowrie, who, while a law student at Padua, dabbled in magic and witchcraft. One of the volumes, ‘only one small book, yet it is evil itself’, is kept separate from the others, in a locked safe. The book, Allan insists, strangles to death anyone who reads it.

Sadly, Dickinson seems to have been all but forgotten by modern readers. The situation isn't helped by the rarity of his book of ghost stories. It's seems nigh on impossible to find a fine copy of the first edition of Dark Encounters. A very good copy costs in the region of eighty pounds ($135), if you can find one. The second edition in fine condition, or any condition at all for that matter, seems to be even harder to find; the only copy I've ever seen is my own. As I can't find a copy listed for sale at the moment, I haven't a clue what the price of one would be. But all is not lost, for the Kindle edition is available for $6.99 from the Ash-Tree Press website.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Frivola ~ Augustus Jessopp

Augustus Jessopp (1823–1914) was a cleric, school teacher, antiquary and writer. He and M. R. James first became friends when they worked together on the Life and Miracles of St William of Norwich by Thomas of Monmouth (published in 1896). Of their collaboration, James wrote, in Eton and King's, published some thirty years later, "I thought that Dr Jessopp would be the right person to handle a monument of Norwich history of this importance... The resulting friendship with Dr Jessopp and the visits to Scarning were handsome rewards for any weariness entailed by the translation..."

The first thing I ever read by Augustus Jessopp was 'Hill-Digging and Magic', an entertaining article about the link between treasure hunting and sorcery, which was published in The Nineteenth Century in January 1887. I'd heard that it might have been a source for James' 'A Warning to the Curious', and that was my primary reason for ferreting out a copy of the book it later appeared in - Random Roaming and Other Papers (pub. by T. Fisher Unwin in 1894). I found that, regardless of the connection with James, the article was fascinating in its own right. I really warmed to Jessopp's tone and style of writing. So, I decided to look for a copy of Frivola, and I managed to get hold a nice second edition.* Neither book was expensive; we're talking about tens of pounds rather than hundreds. Oh and by the way, not everything in Frivola is supernatural in nature.

The first ghostly tale in the collection is 'An Antiquary's Ghost Story', an account of real events which took place on the 10th of October, 1879, at Mannington Hall, the home of Lord Orford. Jessopp had gone to the hall to examine some very rare books, and he stayed up alone in the library to make transcripts of what he found. He was busy writing when he saw a large white hand not far from his elbow. The hand turned out to belong to a large man dressed in an ecclesiastical habit, who appeared to be examining the pile of books that Jessopp had been working on. He felt curious, not fearful. The tale ends with Jessop inviting us to draw our own conclusions.

The account originally appeared in The Library Magazine and The Athenaeum in January 1880. It created quite a stir, and The Athenaeum was overwhelmed with numerous letters. Many correspondents suggested some sort of scientific explanation for Dr. Jessopp's experience, others wanted to know if the ghost sat on a real chair.

'The Dying Out of the Marvellous' is a short essay about the absence of belief in the modern age (Jessopp was talking about his own day, but we're no more capable of belief now than we were then... less so, in fact). This particular essay is where I got the quote that appears on the right side of this blog:
'A fig for men and women who brag of what they do not believe!. . . if he can't believe because he cannot imagine anything that he cannot handle, what shall we say of him but that he is an intellectual cripple?'
After reading the essay, I couldn't help feeling that Jessopp must have been rather ticked off that so many people wrote in about his ghost story in The Athenaeum, trying to prove some scientific cause for the whole thing, unwilling to take his account at face value... unwilling to believe. 'Give me the man who can believe anything,' he wrote in his article.
'What a dreary, monotonous, uneventful age we live in! We have sneered the ghosts and dragons away. We feed our children upon grammar and the multiplication table. Yet there are wonders still if we had but eyes to see them.'
'Dreams' is a short piece about dreaming and dream interpretation. 'I cannot say,' writes Jessopp, 'that I ever knew any man, woman, or child the better for dreaming anything. I have known several who were distinctly the worse for it.' In 'A Night of Waking', sleep and dreams evade Jessopp. Overtired but forced to lie awake, his 'memory was roused to preternatural activity', conjuring up dead friends, who converse with him about fascination, possession and mesmerism.

'The Phantom Coach', a very entertaining yarn, was inspired by local folklore. Within the story are several accounts of the comings and goings of the spectral coach, including that of old Biddy, who tells of its night-time visit to Breccles Hall ninety years earlier, when it 'called there and fetched away Jarge Mace. And who was Jarge, and how much of him was fetched?' To my mind, 'The Phantom Coach' is the best of the stories.

I'm not sure whether we can really call any of Jessopp's tales 'ghost stories'. They seem to be narrated from personal experience; none are intended to terrify. Reading them is rather like listening to a dear old friend reminisce about things he's seen, done or heard... with tea and iced buns laid on. I don't say this to put you off, though. No, not at all! Jessopp has a charming narrative voice, and such a lovely sense of humour. His tales are very entertaining; I highly recommend them.

I've not seen a first edition of Frivola for sale, so I can't say how much one might sell for. Nice second editions seem to go for about thirty pounds (which is about fifty dollars), but it's not easy to get hold of one (at the moment, at least).

In 1998, Richard H. Fawcett published The Phantom Coach: And Other Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. The individual tales from Frivola that I've mentioned above are all in it. It's a very nicely produced little book, with an attractive black dust jacket, and a fine copy seems to sell for about twenty pounds (which is about thirty-five dollars, I think).

* The second edition was published by T. Fisher Unwin in 1907. Frivola was first published in 1896. The first edition did not include 'Simon Ryan' and 'Notes on the History of Breccles Hall, Norfolk', but did include 'Books That Have Helped Me'.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Ionicus ~ The William Kimber Covers

During the seventies and eighties (of the last century, which I personally remember - oh, that makes me feel old), William Kimber & Co. published a number of supernatural fiction books with jackets designed by Ionicus. Kimber founded his publishing company in 1950, after working for Hutchinson for seventeen years. Initially specialising in war memoirs, autobiographies and books about motor-racing, Kimber began producing supernatural fiction regularly after the success of Haunted Cornwall, edited by Denys Val Baker, in 1973. The company published anthologies containing both classic and new stories, single author collections and novels, until it was bought out by Thorsons in 1988.*

They do say that you should never judge a book by its cover, but I began buying Kimber books a little while back precisely because I like the Ionicus covers. They remind me of wet Saturday afternoons spent browing around bookshops with my family when I was a nipper - happy days. The covers are atmospheric but polite, lacking in blood and guts... gently sinister. I find them nostalgically charming.

Ionicus was the pen name of Joshua Charles Armitage (1913 ~ 1998). He contributed beautifully crafted illustrations to Punch for more than forty years (his first design appeared in 1944), and designed covers and internal illustrations for more than four hundred books, including numerous titles for children. He was best known for his cover designs for P. G. Wodehouse reissues; he produced more than fifty covers for Penguin Books' Wodehouse paperback series.

I set out to find as many Kimber-Ionicus books as possible in nice condition, but found that it wasn't easy to get a complete listing of them. So, I decided to start my own list, with as much bibliographical information added as possible, including contents listings and scans of complete dust jackets. It's a work in progress, and you can find it by clicking here.

The cost of William Kimber's supernatural books vary quite a bit from title to title. For example, you can pick up a nice copy of Stories of Haunted Inns for five to ten pounds (that's about $8~17), whereas Tales from the Other Side, by R. Chetwynd-Hayes, is scarce and goes for around £150 ($250) in similar condition at the moment. Quite a lot of Kimber books offered for sale now were remaindered or are ex-library books, so it's not difficult to get reading copies, but it can be pretty difficult to get ones in fine condition.

 *  According to WATCH (Writers Artists and Their Copyright Holders): William Kimber was purchased by Thorsons in 1988. Thorsons was purchased by William Collins in 1989. William Collins became wholly owned by News Corporation in 1990, and was then incorporated into HarperCollins Publishers. The name of William Kimber has not been used for publishing since about 1989.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

S. Baring-Gould Alleges That He Is Not Dead

This morning papers announced the death of the well-known and picturesque clerical novelist, the Rev S. Baring-Gould. Although the rev gentleman is to-day one day nearer the dissolution which lies before the best of us than he was this time yesterday, we can assure our readers that this morning's statement is slightly wide of the real facts of the case. This morning's papers announced: -

Death of the Rev S. Baring-Gould
The Rev Sabine Baring-Gould, the well-known novelist and the author of the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers," died on Saturday evening at Port Elizabeth on board the steamer Norman. He was born at Exeter on the 28th of January, 1834, his father being a country squire, the owner of an estate of 3,000 acres. (Full obituary followed...)

The Rev S. Baring-Gould telegraphs as follows from his home in Devonshire:-
"The news of my death is false. I have not been in Africa."
The gentleman who is dead is Mr E. S. Baring-Gould, of Boxgrove House, Merrow, near Guildford. Mr E. S. Baring-Gould was a cousin of the novelist, and has a brother living at Guildford.


The Rev. S. Baring-Gould
The Western Gazette, Friday 8th of June 1906

Nearly all the morning papers praised the novelist's versatility and productiveness. One pays tribute to his "lively imagination and humour," adding that "these characteristics sometimes ran away with him;" another, giving a list of his numerous works, is of the opinion that he will probably be known to posterity as the author of "Onward, Christian Soldiers;" a third remarks that "he became rather a shadow to the present generation."

"If he never at any point touched or even attempted high literary distinction he did many things," another journal admits, "with brilliance and success."

Regret is expressed by several newspapers that he did not restrict himself to one subject or one branch of literature. Had he done so it is thought he might have left an enduring name.

Mr. Baring-Gould is, however, by no means the first celebrity who has lived to read his own nekrology, and to enjoy the sensation of seeing how people will write of him after his death. It was burning curiosity in this respect which caused Lord Brougham to circulate a report of his own death, and he was by no means flattered by the result.


Rev. S. Baring-Gould Describes the Sensation
The Western Times, Friday 15th of June 1906

The Rev. S. Baring-Gould, in the "Graphic," complies, although with reluctance, to the request of the Editor, to whom he is "under many obligations," to describe the sensation on reading the obituary announcement in the papers of Tuesday of last week. Mr. Baring-Gould says:- "On Friday and Saturday I had been with a friend at Sidmouth, and I had written a postcard to him on my return to inquire whether I had left my shaving tidy and brush in his house. I got a wire from him: 'Condole with you on your death. No shaving tackle here.' Then came a shower of condolences from sympathising friends to my wife. One message was sufficiently curt: 'When and where is the funeral to be?' The following morning came congratulations by wire, and letters 'To the representatives of the late Rev. S. Baring-Gould,' containing cuttings from the papers relative to myself. One made the liberal offer of having a complete set mounted and handsomely bound - I suppose with a death's head and crossbones on the cover - for three guineas. I intended to make a bonfire of the whole lot unread, but instead have packed them in an envelope, sealed, and stowed away with my will. The milliners also sent in their cards and offers to supply widow's weeds. I doubt not that the undertakers would have done the same in their line had not the mistake been rectified in the afternoon papers.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

E. Joyce Shillington Scales

I said in my previous post that I hadn't been able to find out anything about E. Joyce Shillington Scales, other than the fact that she was born in 1897. At the time, I also couldn't find any reference to any  artwork by her, aside from her contribution to Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye by Arthur Gray. Well, no sooner had I said that than I stumbled across one of her etchings, The Library and King's College Chapel, for sale at a London print gallery, so I bought that. Then, after a bit of digging, I discovered a few entries in local newspapers, including an engagement announcement; in March 1930 she got engaged to Dermot Cather (brother of Geoffrey St. George Shillington Cather VC), and they married later that year.

She seems to have dropped the 'E.' (for Elizabeth) and simply called herself Joyce. She was the youngest daughter of Dr. Francis Shillington Scales, one of the early pioneers of radiology, who was educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. Her family home was no. 4 Adams Road, Cambridge, where her father pioneered x-ray techniques in the garage.

I realise that all of the above information may well be of interest to nobody but me, but I like Shillington Scales' illustrations for Arthur Gray's book so much that I simply can't help being curious about her.

The Library and King's College Chapel, etching with aquatint, signed and dated in pencil, E. Joyce Shillington Scales, 1923.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye

From October 1910, a series of stories appeared in The Cambridge Review, The Gownsman and Chanticlere (the College Magazine), by a writer called 'Ingulphus'. The true identity of their creator remained unknown until they were collected together in 1919 and published by W. Heffer & Sons as Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye, when the author was given as Ingulphus, with ‘Arthur Gray, Master of Jesus College’ added in parentheses on the title page. The poem and nine tales contained within the slim card-backed volume are accompanied by sixteen superb illustrations by E. Joyce Shillington Scales (one of which, A Corner of the Library, I’ve included below). I have not been able to find out anything about the very talented Miss Shillington Scales, other than the fact that she was born in 1897.

Arthur Gray (1852 ~ 1940) became Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1912, and remained so for the rest of his life. He wrote a number of books, predominantly about Cambridge history and Shakespearean studies, but he doesn’t appear to have written any fiction aside from these tales by Ingulphus.

The first story in the collection, 'The Everlasting Club', concerns an eighteenth century University club, the minute book of which, 'by a singular accident', finds its way into the hands of the Master of Jesus College. Members, referred to as Everalstings, are limited to seven in number, and membership does not cease upon death, much to the chagrin of those still living.

'The Treasure of John Badcoke' is not a supernatural tale. Set in the time of Henry VIII and Edward VI, it concerns the murder of the ex-Prior of Barnwell, later resident of Jesus College, by a treasure-seeking villain by the name of Adam Waller. It seems to me that, whether it's burying it or digging it up, the mere mention of treasure in an antiquarian tale often signals the horrible end of one fellow or another.

'The True History of Anthony Ffryar' is the story of the final days of Anthony Ffryar of Jesus College, a sixteenth century priest and alchemist. Following the outbreak of an epidemic called 'the sweat', and the subsequent closure of the college, Ffryar, entirely alone save for one college servant, locks himself away in his laboratory, determined to finally discover the magisterium, the master-cure for all human ailments.

In 'The Necromancer', Adoniram Byfield, chaplain attached to the Parliamentary forces in seventeenth century Cambridge, becomes convinced that Thomas Allen, a Fellow of Jesus College, is is league with the Evil One. Allen is a student of mathematics and astronomy at a time when mathematicians are looked upon as necromancers; he is also a loner who is rarely seen outside his room. Byfield, convinced that Allen is the cause of a number of suspicious deaths at the college, begins watching him.
'Once through his partly open door he caught sight of him standing before a board chalked with figures and symbols which the imagination of Byfield interpreted as magical. At night, from the court below, he would watch the astrologer's lighted window, and when Allen turned his perspective glass upon the stars the conviction became rooted in his watcher's mind that he was living in perilous neighbourhood to one of the peeping and muttering wizards of whom the Holy Book spoke.'
Is Thomas Allen a wizard, able to transform himself into a cat at night, and the cause of several deaths in his vicinity? Or is Adoniram Byfield a crazed religious fundamentalist fanatic who imagines demons in every nook and cranny? You'll have to read it and see.

In 'Brother John's Bequest', John Baldwin, a funny old character who is 'apparently under a religious obligation to abstain from washing', leaves two bequests: one to his friend and the other to Jesus College. Not realising that the whereabouts of Brother John's treasure only becomes apparent when the contents of both bequests are placed together, both beneficiaries think themselves cheated of what is rightfully theirs. It's a comical tale, and one of my favourites of the collection.
'Brother John had been a disappointment: uncharitable persons might say he was a fraud. He had got into the College by false pretences. In life he had disgraced it by his excesses, and, when he was dead, he had perpetrated a mean practical joke on the society. It is not well for a man in religious orders to joke when he is dead.'
In 'The Burden of Dead Books', set in the year 1604, Demetrius Commagenus reveals the secret of perpetual youth to Matthew Makepeace. Commagenus, having acquired the secret from his dying master, has remained alive for one hundred and seventy years by transferring his consciousness from one body to another, exchanging an old worn out body for a youthful one each time death approaches. Makepeace, mourning a wasted life and wishing for a chance to do things over, decides to exchange his body for that of his pupil, Marmaduke Dacre, and too late wakes 'to reason and a horrible dread' once the deed is done. It's my favourite tale of the collection. I love the opening lines:
'By its air of reverend quiet, its redolence of dusty death, in the marshalled lines of its sleeping occupants, and in the labels that briefly name the dead author and his work, an ancient repository of books, such as a college library, suggests the, perhaps, hackneyed similitude of a great cemetery.'
Again in the seventeenth century, this time 1652, 'Thankfull Thomas' is the story of a sexton who goes looking for buried treasure on the very night - the festival of the Name of Jesus - when the 'old dead folk' are said to attend Chapel in phantom procession. 'It was said that you could hear them trooping down from their chambers outside by a stair that does not exist, and they came through the church wall by a door that is unseen.'

The final two tales are not supernatural. 'The Palladium', set in the year 1026, tells of the translation of the relics of Saint Felix from Soham to Ramsey church. 'The Sacrist of Saint Radefund' tells of Margery Cailly, who, during the great pestilence of 1390, returns from an illicit meeting only to find that she has brought back more to the nunnery than a broken heart.

Gray is very skilled at constructing an authentic period atmosphere, particularly so in 'The True History of Anthony Ffryar' and 'The Burden of Dead Books', the latter of which is the most creepy of his tales. There's something about the idea of body theft that really makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up (watching the Hoodoo-body-swapping scene in 'The Skeleton Key' had the same effect on me). How do you prove it's been done to you? You don't. Your life has been stolen and you're done for, and you're left alive for long enough to really appreciate what's been done to you. Creepy. 

The Ghost Story Press republished Gray's collection of stories in a limited edition in 1993, in pictorial grey boards in emulation of the first edition. It included a story that wasn't in the original edition: 'Suggestion', which first appeared in The Cambridge Review in October 1925.

In 1996, Jesus College republished Gray's stories as The Everlasting Club: and Other Tales of Jesus College, on the occasion of the Quincentenary of the college’s foundation. Bound in a very fetching bright red cloth, the collection retained the striking cover design of the first edition and it's original size.

A third reprint appeared in 2008, published by Ash-Tree Press. A limited edition, with dust jacket (see cover photo below), this also included the extra story, 'Suggestion'.

A first edition of Tedious Brief Tales in fine condition can go for up to two hundred pounds (that's about $350). The original boards are fragile, so getting a copy in fine condition can be a bit difficult. A very good copy costs about a hundred pounds (about $170).

You can expect to pay £100 (that's about $170) for a copy of the Ghost Story Press edition in fine condition. The Ash-Tree Press volume, which is a tad smaller in size, will cost up to about fifty pounds ($85). The Jesus College volume, which, to my mind at least, is the most charming of the modern editions, sells for surprisingly little - about twenty to thirty pounds ($35 ~ 50 or thereabouts). It can be a bit more difficult to get hold of, though, especially in really nice condition.

To the best of my knowledge, there isn't a Kindle edition available at the moment.