The Moonstone

This morning I finished reading

This 1949 reprinted edition was given to me for my 80th birthday by my daughter Becky who had trawled the internet trying to find a suitable 1942 impression of this 1868 novel acclaimed as the first detective novel. Above is a scan of the still intact book jacket.

Slipped inside the book is a double-sided advertising bookmark, offering bookshelves to suit different readers’ budgets. Note the price of the fine one.

The work is meticulously crafted as to be expected from one who was called to the bar in 1851, then devoted himself to literature.

There are many detailed reviews of the book on line, but I will employ my usual practice of not giving away the story. The choice of Dorothy L. Sayers to write the introduction was most apt. In particular she makes a point of signalling the strength of the author’s female characters.

The reader is gripped by this tale from first to last. Using the device of different sequential narrators Collins relates a complex story which romps through to the end, itself tied together by a number of voices. It is long enough to force us to put it down occasionally, although I have to admit I could have happily taken a break from Miss Clack’s perspective.

Wilkie Collins’s prose is fluent and descriptive, and his dialogue credible. He constantly links different aspects of the story reminding us of earlier details. In his own prefaces he states that the reader will find all the necessary clues in the first ten chapters, thus setting a pattern for later writers of the genre and their later aficionados. I’m no good at spotting these anyway, so I will take his word for it.

This is perhaps the writer’s most famous book, but he, himself, wished to be best remembered for ‘The Woman in White’

Should anyone wish to read a much more detailed review of ‘The Moonstone’ I would refer them to https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/jul/22/book-beach-the-moonstone-wilkie-collins

Robert Gibbings Once More

In the summer of 1942 I blinked into the daylight as, making my first cry, I emerged from my mother’s womb – hardly “ripped untimely”, but, all the same, ¬†premature enough to require us both to remain in Leicester General Hospital long enough to make up the 7 weeks snatched from gestation.

At the same time Robert Gibbings was delivered of “Coming Down The Wye” from The Temple Press, Letchworth.

Clearly, despite falling in the midst of the Second World War, this was a vintage year. Apart from that world-wide devastation, life three quarters of a century ago was lived at a gentler, simpler, pace. Technology, albeit harnessed for the killing machines, was primitive compared with that of the 21st century.

My mother sees many parallels between the global battles of conflicting nations of the days of her young motherhood and the international war against the current pandemic.

Mr Gibbings’s book

bears a statement that its production conforms to wartime economy standard. I might add that, apart from slight foxing the stout quality of the paper and binding of my copy far exceeds normal trade production of today. The water damage seen at the very tops of the pages was probably sustained during the half century I have owned the work.

Anyone seeking inspiration really to look and listen to the delights of the nature that appears to be teaching the world lessons we would do well to heed, is encouraged to sample the pleasure of the splendid prose using fluent, lilting, language with which the author seemingly effortlessly evokes the experience of his exploration of another of his liquid lifelines. This time the River Wye.

Robert Gibbings’s observation is detailed and attentive; his ear acute and sensitive; and his knowledge of the natural world exemplary. He is widely read and able to include appropriate historical and poetic references. As usual he includes local conversations in the vernacular with a sauce of myth and legend.

The delightful writing is a perfect accompaniment to the work of the author as fine artist. As usual with this craftsman I have reproduced a plentiful selection of complete pages of the work in order that those who wish may be able to try the text for themselves;

and to demonstrate the power and delicacy of the engravings and their placement on the page.

 

While I was scanning the above pictures patient robin Ronnie was allowed on to the feeding tray by the greedy sparrows.

Jackie had begun weeding and tidying the footpath into the Rose Garden.

This afternoon she completed the task magnificently. Her photographs are pretty good, too.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s superb sausages in red wine; very creamy mashed potato; crunchy carrots, and tender green beans with which the Culinary Queen drank Budweiser and I drank more of the Rheinhessen.

Gentle Poetic Prose And Bucolic Beauty

I had planned this morning, in order to avoid all the build-up chat and the ITC adverts, to watch a recording of the Rugby World Cup Semi Final between England and New Zealand. Unfortunately the recording failed. I therefore had to watch on the ITV Hub with all the trimmings. But what a cracking match it was.

Afterwards I finished reading

 

Because of the quality of the engravings I have shown here both front and back of the dust jacket.

The frontispiece reproduces one of the artist’s paintings. Although the author does not say so, the halfpenny, or one old halfpenny, would have been the toll fare for crossing the bridge. One crossing the Regents canal at Harrow road near my London counselling room is still called the Halfpenny Steps.

Having recently finished reading Normandy ’44, depicting the devastation inflicted on the French countryside by the insufferable violence of the battle for Normandy, I felt in the need ¬†of some gentle poetic prose and bucolic beauty. It was natural that my next book would be one by Robert Gibbings, in this case “Till I end my song”, published by J.M. Dent in 1957.

The author’s exquisitely supple and sinuous wood engravings profusely supplement his riverain ramblings displaying profound knowledge of nature in all its forms; charming anecdotes gleaned from country folk and from history, myth, and legend; a pleasing sense of humour and a wonderful command of language.

As usual with Mr Gibbings I show sample sheets from the book, bearing both a selection of the illustrations and the text that accompanies them.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s plump piri-piri chicken breasts; savoury vegetable rice topped with an omelette; and tender green beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Fleurie.

 

 

Cruck Frames

Jackie spent most of the morning watering the garden. I managed a token dead heading session which nevertheless filled two trugs. Nugget even followed me around. It helps if you use his name.

Regular readers will know of my penchant for leaving bookmarks or other tokens in my books, for posterity’s pondering.

Occasionally previous owners of my second hand copies have had the same idea. The volume I finished reading this afternoon contained two examples.

One is an engraving or possibly a linocut clearly cut from another book. I wonder whether I will ever see the original?

The other is a transparent bookmark. Who left it? Perhaps a rep for CIBA; perhaps a sufferer of chronic bronchitis. Could it have been Kellettt (or perhaps Kenneth) Carding whose name appears inscribed upside down on the bottom left-hand corner of the endpaper? If so would that explain the equally sized clip taken from the top right hand corner of the flyleaf; perhaps the name of an earlier owner?

If the first is an engraving, although charming, it lacks the finesse of the work of Robert Gibbings, whose ‘Sweet Thames run Softly’ is the book concerned.

This is the first of the author’s meanderings along an eponymous river. Originally published in 1940, my copy is the third imprint – darted 1941.

Gibbings blends elegant descriptive prose into simple philosophy, amusing anecdote, sensitive observation, and informative history; profusely illustrated with fine wood engravings.

Here I present

sample pages

displaying both the author’s engaging writing and his exquisite illustrations.

With a work of Robert Gibbings, my delight is often enhanced by his material having been covered by me, either in prose or photography;

an example of a cruck built house as described above, is more fully featured in my post “Afternoon Tea”.

This final sentence would surely not be out of place in any publication today.

Later, I retouched this image of my Grandpa Hunter, Mum, and Uncles Ben and Roy taken at Conwy c1926. The sandcastle being built may have heralded Ben’s later employment as Clerk of Works.

This evening Jackie produced a meal of roast chicken marinaded in Nando’s spicy Chilli and Mango sauce on a bed of succulent peppers and mushrooms; crunchy carrots; and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank Domaine Franc Maine Bergerac 2016 – one of Lidl’s finest.

“Doing [My] Research”

One of the benefits of a thoroughly wet day, apart from watering the garden, is that it gives an opportunity to finish reading a book such as

Apart from the evident foxing, this virtually unblemished dust jacket has protected and preserved

the gold embossed design on the cover of J.M. Dent’s first edition of the work for 66 years, 40 of which have stood on my shelves in various abodes. Even the desiccated spider which slid from between two pages as I opened them left no mark on the almost pristine leaves.

Mr Gibbings has treated us to another delightful ramble into his mind and his talents. He takes us along the river of Paris from its source to its mouth, diverting from his poetic prose descriptions into the realms of history, pre-history, geography, nature, geology, myth, and legend. We are treated to anecdotes picked up on the way; to the Bayeux tapestry; to relations between England and France, and even Quebec; to the Lascaux caves; to the art of Sisley and Monet. And much more. All this with effortless humour. The many wood engravings number more than 50.

As usual I have reproduced complete sample pages

in order that the elegance of both engravings and writing can be displayed.

When, after drafting this, I settled down to start on my next book, Jackie decided to offer an image of me “doing [my] research”.

On Sam’s stag day in December 2007, we toured the wine tasting establishments at Margaret River. I had enjoyed the samples so much that I enquired about the cost of shipping a case to England. It was prohibitive. I had no such problem with the superb bottle of Ringbolt Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 brought all the way from Perth by Mick and Gay on their recent visit. This was a superb accompaniment to Jackie’s chicken thighs marinaded in sweet chilli sauce; vegetable rice, and broccoli served for our dinner this evening. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden.

A Collaboration

One of Robert Gibbings’s diversions in ‘Trumpets from Montparnasse’ was his recounting of the request of his friend, Charles Ede of The Folio Society to produce a series of engravings for ‘The Discovery of Tahiti’ by George Robertson. This was a joint project with Gibbings’s publisher, J. M. Dent, published in 1955.

Naturally, this led me to my own copy of this work, in fact a 1973 reprint. I finished reading it this morning.

The transparent jacket to this slender volume reveals the embossed designs on the front and back boards and the spine.

Here is the frontispiece. Oliver Warner’s editing and his introduction are exemplary. He has modernised the spelling of his 18th century source, and interspersed summaries of sections from other seamen’s diaries when they provide amplification of the narrative. His explanatory footnotes and occasional correction of Robertson’s assumed facts are enlightening.

But, of course, my major interest was in the illustrator.

In order to produce reasonably large images of the woodcuts, I have scanned sections of the pages, with a little of the text by way of explanation.

Here is the dramatic opening paragraph,

and what was soon revealed to the crew’s delighted eyes;

and yet more.

This paragraph reflects the difficulty of establishing trust with no common language.

Sailors and islanders were fascinated by each other’s artefacts. In particular the nails of various sizes carried on board became the most valuable trading items.

Robertson never established the purpose of this place.

What nails could buy is suggested here.

Fresh food was also essential to the traders.

The artist’s final illustration admirably encapsulates what was clearly a very sad day for both parties of this 6 weeks’ acquaintance. The paragraph in square brackets is one of the editor’s additions.

I watched the last three matches of this year’s Six Nations rugby tournament. Before the England versus Scotland game we dined on pork spare ribs and a selection of Chinese starters, with which I drank Doom Bar. Jackie now has the cold as well, so this finger food suited us both.

A Cornucopia

is a cornucopia of literary and artistic delights from the pen, brush, and chisel of the author. Mine is the 1955 first edition of J. M. Dent protected by a somewhat worn jacket.

The embossed designs on the front board and the spine are therefore as fresh as they were 64 years ago.

Gibbings earned his living as a highly skilled and sought after wood engraver. This book tells of a trip to Paris and to Positano following his desire for colour and brushes as a break from the black and white bread and butter work. The writer’s memoirs are peppered with fascinating anecdotes from his own encounters and from tales of other artists. The history and geography of his subjects are presented with deceptive ease.

The book contains eight colour plates, one of which is repeated on the jacket above.

There are also forty examples of Gibbings’s wood engravings. These scans of sample pages offer the reader tastes of his elegantly simple prose; the last image above containing one of his many entertaining and informative insights into the art world.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s powerful smoked haddock, creamy mashed potato, piquant cauliflower cheese, crisp carrots, tender runner beans and cabbage, followed by ginger ice cream and lemon drizzle cake.