Robert Bage (1728-1801)

The narrator, Gregory Glen, is the son of George Grooby, a hunting  squire living on his manorial estate near Lichfield, England.  His mother was a house-maid, Ellen Glen.  Gregory was farmed out to a great-grandmother, then to several laborer’s wives in turn, and finally to Parson Brown, who undertook to educate and socialize him.  The good Parson’s niece was residing in the same house and  young Greg fell madly in love.  When she married a local land-owner,  he was devastated and left home to find the nearest ocean for the purpose of putting an end to his misery.

Stopping at an inn for refreshment, he drank too much ale, fell into more difficulties, but was rescued by Mrs. Garnett, a friend of the Parson.  The latter expired, leaving Greg 200L, with which the young man walked to London and got a job in a counting house.  Having no talent for numbers, he tried writing poetry with an equal amount of success.  Running low on money, he traveled to the Grooby estate and was granted an annuity of 80L a year.  Mrs. Garnett formerly lived in Grondale, so for no more sufficient reason, Greg moved there to live.  He rented a small house and lived moderately, “exercising pen, pencil and fiddle” for five years.

Up to this point in his story, Gregory has narrated his own history in the third person.  He now begins to tell the story of Hermsprong, a late arrival in the area.  Hermsprong was an American, recently arrived from France, where he had spent four years touring the country, absorbing culture, and establishing a personal code of ethics, featuring honesty and truth as the beacons of his philosophy.  One morning, while strolling through the bosky countryside near Grondale, a carriage passed him at full tilt, drawn by a panic-stricken team and headed toward the Lippen Crag, a fearsome cliff at the end of the road.  Hermsprong rallied and, grabbing the reins of the leading pair, turned them from their deadly course and saved the lives of the passengers, Mrs. Merrick, the former house-keeper, and Caroline Campinet, daughter of Lord Grondale, master of the local manorial estates.

Mrs. Merrick had been retired from her position because of the emergence of  Mrs. Stone, the girl-friend of the Lord;   he was sixty-ish and in dubious health as a result of a life devoted to wine, women, and cards.  He was a man of pride and vanity, proud of his possessions and a stolid adherent of the English class system.  He regarded Hermsprong as a young worthless upstart, and frowned on his Caroline having anything to do with him.  But they become friends anyway,  cementing their friendship after both are invited to spend time with the Sumelins.  Mr. Sumelin, a cousin of Mrs. Merrick, is in the banking business, and has daughters.  One of the latter had fallen in love with Fillygrove, a clerk at the bank. They  had run off to Belgium to get married;   Ms. Sumelin soon discovered her sweetheart was a rake and fell out of love with him.

Subsequently, Hermsprong, who was traveling through the area on his way to England, rescued her and was material in returning her to the bosom of her family.  While sojourning at the Sumelin’s, Hermsprong and Caroline meet the young widow Maria Fluart, a distant relation of the Grondales;  the three become great friends.    Meanwhile, the Lord hears of all the fun his daughter is having with the visitors at the Sumelin establishment, and insists on her returning home.  Possessed of a biting wit and accompanying intelligence,  Miss Fluart skewers Lord Grondale later in the novel.

Later, Mrs. Merrick dies, and her small country house falls into the hands of Hermsprong, who outbid the Lord for the property when it was auctioned off.  Thus a social and moral struggle is begun between Grondale and Hermsprong, depicting the hypocrisy of the Lord in particular and the conscienceless class-system in general, and the egalitarianism, honesty, and veracity promulgated by Hermsprong.  Clashes of varying intensity occur between the two, exercising the moral capacities of each, until, at the penultimate crisis, Lord Grondale imprisons his daughter and tries to have Hermsprong arrested as a French spy.

In the interim, we’ve learned something of Hermsprong’s background.  He was born in France to an upper-class lady and German officer exiled from his country.    The two emigrated to America and, through New York contacts, they became fur-traders with the Nawdoessie Indians; they flourished both financially and culturally in their association with the local tribe.  Hermsprong learned truth and bravery, stoicism and honesty, from the tribal leaders, and established these qualities as the basis of his character, carrying them along in his travels and using them in his war with Lord Grondale.  So, when Hermsprong is summoned before the village bar to answer to the charge of spying for France, he is able to deny the accusation both through his personal qualities and through his associations, one of whom was his old retainer, a servant who had accompanied Hermsprong’s father in Germany and America, and who knew the whole story of who Hermsprong actually was…  In fact, we now discover that Hermsprong was the son of Lord Grondale’s older brother, whom he had cheated out of his inheritance!

I may have spoiled the ending for some potential readers, but that astonishing revelation is not the end of the book.  How Caroline and Charles Campinet (AKA Hermsprong)  get together, the ultimate resolution of Lord G’s dilemma, and what happens to all the ancillary personae are still to be described;  and although they go through more trauma, the denouement is a happy one.

I liked this book:  it was sort of what i imagined Jane Austen’s books to be like, except Hermsprong has more action.   Bage (he was a paper manufacturer for fifty years, and an enlightened employer in a period during which such a creature was a distinct oddity), intended the story to be a description of what was wrong with the English social structure.  Bage was termed a radical at the time, and, although he was in legal trouble for a while, he managed to stay out of jail, being a property holder and a person with contacts.  His writing style was quite comprehensible and avoided a lot of the florid wordiness found in other 18th C. novels.  In some spots, his descriptions of repartee were rather Shakspearean, both in language and entendre…  He wrote more books, but none were as popular as Hermsprong, published in 1795.  (i’m grateful to Mrs. M for help in editing and making some sort of sense out of this somewhat random post…)



George Perec (1936-1982)/ Addenda and Edited materials by Harry Mathews and Jacques Roubaud

Grianta is a town on the African coast somewhere near Tunisia.  Governed by a Tyrant (in the Greek sense), military forces are a constant on the city streets.  Veyraud, a math teacher, is having a cup of coffee in a local bistro while waiting for the resident Consul, with whom he has an appointment.  The Consul is a half-hour late, but denies it, claiming that Veyraud was early.  (This denial more-or-less sets the tone of the book, which has to do with illusion and enigmatic interpretations of past and future events.)  Robert Serval, a state investigator and mystery writer, has vanished, and the Consul enlists Veyraud to find out what happened to him, mainly because Serval had warned the Consul that his life was in danger.  Serval and Veyraud were former class-mates, although Veyraud doesn’t remember him.  The Consul gives Veyraud an envelope containing a manuscript supposedly written by Serval explaining the plot against him.  The title of the proto-novel is The Crypt;  on the frontspiece is a picture of camels and a herdsman in the desert, with a sign pointing to the distant horizon saying:  Timbuktu, 52 miles. (Stendhal claimed to have written The Charterhouse of Parma in 52 days, although it wasn’t compiled for another day, making 53, in point of fact-this coincidence may or may not be germane to the plot).  Veyraud reads the book, realizing it is a detective novel about an accident occurring during a conference in the northern city of Gotterdam, located in the state of Fernland.  After one of the meetings, the French delegate, Rouard, has a car accident:  his red Jaguar leaves the road, plunges down a cliff and explodes.  No trace of Rouard is found and bomb fragments and brakeline damage indicate that the car was sabotaged.  One of the principal suspects was Vichard, a fellow delegate.  In a search of Vichard’s house, Serval discovers another mystery novel, “The Magistrate is the Murderer” by Lawrence Wargate.  (Lawrence Wargate was the name of the murderer in Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None””, originally entitled “Ten Little Indians”).  Serval notices that certain episodes in this novel parallel the murder of Rouard that he’s investigating, although there are no definitive answers to the mystery of what occurred to Rouard after the crash.

Veyraud notes that the last page in Serval’s book is missing.  He interprets this as some sort of clue as to the disappearance of Serval.  Examining the typescript, Veyraud, after some research, locates the typist, with whom he establishes a relationship.  With Lise Carpenter’s help, he discovers twelve lines in the Serval manuscript that seem to have been lifted directly from a book called “The Koala Case”.  Reading this book, Veyraud finds that it was used as a code book for international spies, who had encrypted it as “a grammar of the Malayan language”.  Puzzled over the various books, Veyraud concludes that the secret of Serval’s disappearance lies in the connection between them, not in the actual sentences of the books themselves.  In a sort of alphabetical parsing, Veyraud unearths an unpleasant fact:  somehow connected with the Serval case is the leader, Alphonse Blabami, the local leader of the Black Hand, a criminal organization that literally controls the government and business of Grianta.  Shortly after, a blacked out vehicle picks up Veyraud and conducts him to a hide-out where he’s informed that for his health he should give up his investigations.

At this point a side issue arises:  how a very large statue of Diocletian came to be stolen en route to the Louvre.  It was originally revealed in the process of an excavation of an ancient Roman Military encampment in the Ethiopian foothills.  Somehow the crate in which it was transported came to be filled with clay pots instead of the statue. Instigated in the affair was the former Consul of Grianta, Mirouet.  A letter surfaced that an American billionaire had written to him offering to buy the statue, as he wanted it for a hatstand in the forum of his mansion.  At this point, subsequent to some references to gold-tipped walking sticks and the Fountain of Arethusa, Georges expired.

Mathews and Roubaud acquired the rights and opportunity to review Perec’s notes and other materials relating to “53 Days”, and these are included in the balance of the volume.  They include even more literary references examined by Georges, covering a vast army of literary works ranging from Stendhal to Shakespeare.  However, it’s made fairly clear, in reference to the book’s ending, that either the Consul had murdered Serval, or vice versa, and/or the Consul actually WAS Serval, and the ultimate intent was to pin the murder on Veyraud.  (I know this is a spoiler, but i doubt that few readers would care to embark on this dark and stormy sea…).

I wouldn’t have read this book, if i wasn’t quite interested in Perec and his productions.  He was a founding member of OULIPO, the French association devoted to researching the more esoteric meanings of words and language, including little-known usages, relations to other disciplines and sciences, and the most obscure and impenetrable cryptographic re-organizations possible to conceive.  Georges was an expert cross-word puzzle constructor, a fiendish investigator into minute literary crevices and crannies, and lived a mental life of totally unfettered regulation and creation.

I can’t honestly say i enjoyed this book, but i’m glad i read it.  I would recommend his “Life: A User’s Manual”, however,  a unique and detailed survey of the inhabitants and environs of a Parisian apartment building.


MY WORLD LINE: An Informal Autobiography

George Gamow (1904-1968)

“World Line” describes a line connecting data points plotted at interstices located on a graph of space versus time;  thereby indicating episodic intervals along a biographical pathway, if you follow…

George was born and enjoyed his childhood in Odessa on the Black Sea.  It was a cultured city, with an opera house and a university at which George’s father taught literature.  One of his students was Trotsky, who attempted, unsuccessfully, to have Professor Gamow dismissed because of political disagreements.  There must have been more to it than that, though:  during the first World War, George noticed that his father, starting a fire in the kitchen stove, was using one of Trotsky’s old papers for the purpose.  George was precocious, naturally, reading Verne before he was seven and accompanying his father to the opera at regular intervals.  George’s forbears were Russian Orthodox and military figures;  after attending church one day, he placed a bit of the body of Christ under a microscope along with another piece of bread and noted no difference between the two.  This put a damper on his understanding of religion.  The family had a difficult time during the war.  Odessa was situated on top of a 150′ cliff at the edge of the sea and there was no municipal water system.  The nearest available source was at the foot of the cliff, and that was inadequate, so there was a permanent line of householders waiting to fill their assorted containers from the dripping tap.  One day a British sailor offered to give them water from his ship.  He brought out a 2″ hose and began filling everyone’s buckets.  It was only when the suppliants arrived home again that they discovered that they’d carried seawater up 150 feet of stairs!  As expected, shortages were rife during the four year war:  one of the bake shops, finding a pile of grain left by a departing regiment of Moroccans, made bread out of it only to discover that it was inedible, having been originally acquired as mule food.  A popular piece of doggerel of the time:

“The dough of Baker Bosch is such delicious, thin dough.  It serves to mend galoshes or putty up a window.”

George was noted for his peculiar memory.  He had difficulty with names or numbers, but could recall poetry by the yard.  After he emigrated to the U.S. he was challenged as regards this gift and was able to chant poetry continuously for an hour and a half.

The World War degraded into a civil conflict between the White Russians and the Communists, after which G was able to attend Odessa University, majoring in mathematics.  One of the professors was Shchatunovski, a natural eccentric.  He asked a student:  “If you multiply five cab-drivers by three candlesticks what do you get?”  No answer. “Well,”, said Shchatunovski, “it will be fifteen cab-driver-candlesticks.”  This exchange gave George the basic idea of Dimensional Analysis and influenced his later scientific endeavors.  About the same time, the same professor, irate over being corrected for a simple mistake, exploded:  “It is not the job of mathematicians to do correct arithmetical operations. It is the job of bank accountants.”  After Odessa, George went to Leningrad to study physics.  At the same time, due to some peculiar circumstances, he was appointed, at a mere twenty years of age,  a colonel in the Red Army Artillery School, where he taught classes in range-finding and meteorology.  After nearly blowing up an ancient Orthodox church in a nearby village, however, he was placed on inactive duty.  After graduating, he became interested in optical physics and did some research into spectral absorption lines and the refractivity of gases.  This led to an attraction to some of the early relativity researches;  Friedmann’s and Einstein’s.  At this point in cosmic/atomic physics, there was still debate over whether the universe was a closed sphere or an unlimited expanse of stars.  At one point the conflict was characterized as “the difference between a chicken fence and a pond”.  Over the next few years, G became associated and got to know many of the principal researchers, including Nils Bohr, Max Born,Pauli, Dirac, Heisenberg, and many others.  He was still a Russian citizen, but with the rise of Stalin, his situation became precarious and, married to Rho in 1931, they made several attempts to leave the country.  They tried paddling a rubber boat across the Black Sea at first, but got caught in a storm and almost perished.  Changing climates, George applied for a position with a marine biology station near Murmansk with thoughts of the Norwegian border in mind, but upon arrival, the director was arrested, Siberianized, and the station was closed.  They thought about skiing through the Karelian area for a while, but were discouraged by the intense presence of border troops.  Finally, through sheer accident, George was allowed to attend a Physics Conference in Brussels, together with his wife, although obtaining her passport was only achieved by the intercession of Marie Curie, the famous investigator into radiation, with the Soviet authorities.

George worked with Rutherford in Cambridge, Bohr in Denmark and Norway, and achieved a certain amount of recognition in the international physics community, so when at last he and Mrs. Gamow settled in America, he was never without work.  He taught at George Washington University to begin with, and, at various times, did research for the navy and the army, as well as many educational institutions nation-wide.  In his later years he became interested in biology and was instrumental in code analysis having to do with Crick and Watson’s discoveries in genetics.  He published a series of introductory works in the physical sciences, featuring his character, Mr. Tompkins:  “Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland” was one of his most popular publications;  many others followed.  And he wrote textbooks as well, principally in the field of physics, but also in cosmology (he had done some original work involving the Big Bang Theory, having to do with calculating the temperature of the event at approximately 25 billion degrees, and demonstrating that the present temperature of outer space, 3 degrees above absolute zero, coincided with the expansion and element distribution of matter in the universe).  He died of liver difficulties in 1968.

It was a lot of fun reading this book, in part because GG was, as were, and are, many physicists, possessed of an impish personality.  Richard Feynman comes to mind, and even the ones with a more staid reputation like Bohr or Pauli were apt to engage in impromptu didos and capers, often having nothing to do with their investigations, or some times just out of release from the pent up field strength generated by long term intense thinking.  The “Mr. Tompkins” books are excellent introductions to the quantum world;  i read them at an early age and have been interested, although i’m not mathematically inclined, in quantum mechanics ever since…



Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

Granpere is a peaceful village in Alsace, consisting of larger houses and estates, with a population devoted to flax-growing and linen weaving, in the main.  The Golden Lion is a roadside inn, operated and owned by Michael Voss, together with his son George, Madame Voss, niece Marie, and assorted servants, hostlers, and chamber-maids.  As the story opens, George has moved to Colmar, a larger town, not too far away, because his father, Michael, is concerned that he will develop feelings for Marie, the twenty-year old general supervisor of operations at the inn.  Michael is ambitious for Marie, convinced that she will only find happiness and permanence if she is wedded to a rich businessman or landowner.  What he doesn’t know is that George and Marie have already expressed their love for each other, without, however, making any marriage plans for the future.  Soon, Michael has arranged a marriage for his niece to a young linen dealer from Basle, much to her displeasure.  She has received no letters  and has had no contact with George for a year, so, reluctantly, she goes along with the proposition, even though George remains her true-love.  The suspense builds over time, with Marie agreeing to the wedding, while becoming, at the same time, increasingly uncomfortable and upset about her prospective husband, who demonstrates qualities that she dislikes.  Urmand is a linen broker, modern in outlook, overly fastidious in his dress, and somewhat swishy in his mannerisms.  In typically Trollopian fashion, the plot unwinds with detailed analyses of each character’s mental states and peculiarities, discussing their preferences and habits and states of mind.  Michael holds fiercely onto his original idea of providing security for Marie;  Marie eventually refuses, in spite of the banns already being posted, to marry Urmand, Madame Voss supports her husbands views, Urmand, rather aimlessly, anticipates an agreeable relationship, and George, working away in another hotel in Colmar, is worried and fretful, not wanting Marie to marry one she’s not in love with, but hesitant about approaching her because of not knowing whether she feels the way he does.  The denouement has all the persons concerned gathered together in the inn, all struggling to achieve some sort of resolution, but repeatedly failing to do so.  As the tension builds, Marie takes to her bed, George wants to fight Urmand, and Michael is at his wits end, trying to convince Marie to marry the linen factor.  Eventually, things work themselves out, in a comparatively weak finale, that, however, satisfies all parties concerned.

This was one of T’s more interesting productions.  His presentation of the different characters deals with their indecision, mental predilections, worries, and hopes in a realistic and magnetic manner.  I’ve never read a Trollope novel in which these sorts of themes are so exhaustively described.  Following along, after a while,  a trance-like feeling began to develop that i’ve only experienced in listening to a symphony by Beethoven or Tchaikovsky.  The writing style was repetitive, seemingly too much so, but mesmerizing at the same time.  I finished the book in about three hours, not willing to tear myself away.  It was an unusual experience, one that i’m not sure i would like to repeat.  But i’m glad it occurred once, anyway…


Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

In 1745, Edward Waverley was the son of Richard, a member of parliament and sometime politician who was too busy to look after his son.  Edward’s mother died when he was quite young, so his uncle, Everard Waverley housed him in his formative years.  He was a dreamy, imaginative youth, fond of reading and walking in the extensive grounds belonging to the manse;  introduced to his uncle’s large library, he “drove through the sea of books, like a vessel without a pilot or a rudder”, acquiring an undisciplined taste for literature that contributed to his delusional understanding of the real world.  So his uncle and father decided to enlist him as a captain in the army.  Accordingly, Edward, accompanied by a servant or two and with four or five horses, made his way north to Aberdeen, where his regiment was located.  After a few months of camp life, becoming bored with the routine, he requested leave to visit friends in the interior.  He arrived at the Bradwardine estates in central Scotland after a leisurely excursion through the Highlands and was welcomed by the Baron and his daughter.  The first night, after an elaborate dinner, degraded into an inebriated celebration involving the consumption of whiskey and brandy, and Edward found himself embroiled in an argument with one of the Baron’s associates, a man named Balmawhapple.  Cooler heads prevailed, but in the morning Edward heard that the Baron had taken Balmawhapple to task and had engaged in a duel with him that same morning, slightly wounding the younger man, and causing the latter’s departure, together with his friend, Killandcureit, in a state of grudging resentment.

After several weeks, Ed becomes restless once more, and with a guide, penetrates further into the Scottish heartland where he meets Donald Bean Lean, a local cattle rustler and all around blackmailer.  Lean and his crew of banditti treat Ed with respect, even though they steal his titular seal, with which he was accustomed to mark his letters.  Time passes and further adventures are experienced by the wandering Edward:  he enters the estate of the Vich Ian Vohr, one of the principal leaders of the Scottish effort to reinstate James III as King of England. Edward falls in love with Vohr’s sister Flora but she rejects his suit.  Vohr tries to enlist Ed in the rebellion, but Edward, discovering that his relatives have been arrested because  he has been listed AWOL from the army, determines on traveling to Edinburgh to clear his name and free his father and uncle.  Passing through a small village, Ed becomes involved in a dispute with a local blacksmith and is arrested as a rebel and is subsequently conveyed under charge to Doune Castle.  On the way, he’s rescued by Bean and led to a remote croft, where after several weeks, Bean’s daughter, Alice, arrives with another letter packet.  Vich Ian Vohr and associates appear soon after and they all travel to the Doune Castle, and later to Holyrood to see the Prince.  Prince Charlie is at present in the country, drumming up support for re-establishing his father, James III, as king, and Edward becomes entangled in the morass of political in and outfighting.  Entranced with the Bonny Prince, Edward commits to the rebellion.  The followers of Charles march toward Edinburgh, but en route they meet Edward’s former regiment and a battle results at the town of Preston.  Although outnumbered in materiel as well as manpower, the rebels win.  During the battle, Ed saves the life of Colonel Talbot, an experienced and well-connected soldier.  Straggling onward, the rebel army eventually finds itself ensconced in front of Edinburgh Castle, besieging the loyalist inhabitants and using the time to acquire new recruits.  Talbot, a prisoner of the rebels, discovers through a letter that his wife is dying.  Edward convinces the Prince to give the Colonel parole so he can visit her in London. Talbot departs, taking with him the packet of letters that Alice had delivered to Edward and in which, it had been discovered, Donald Lean had used Edward’s seal to convince the colonel in Edward’s regiment that Edward had turned traitor.   In the meantime, more British troops are combing the Highlands looking for the rebels, trying to organize a methodical counter to the popular revolution.  In the attempt to deal with the constant and dangerous internecine rancor pervading his troops, Prince Charles decides to invade England.  Heart-high with victory, the Whiggish rebels charge south, reaching as far as Derby.  Here, they realize that they don’t have the artillery, munitions, or manpower to continue the invasion, so they turn back toward Scotland.  They soon realize that they are being pursued by the Duke of Cumberland with a formidable force.  Reaching a small village (Clifton), they engage in a minor skirmish with the British troops;  in the melee, Edward is separated from his friends and after wandering aimlessly, is befriended by a farmer, where he abandons the tartan and dresses himself like a normal English gentleman.

Back in London, Edward visits Talbot and they plan on how to clear Edward’s name and assist his relations, although Ed also discovers that in spite of Lean’s perfidy, his uncle was free and not under suspicion, and that his father had suddenly died, leaving Ed an estate and 15000 lbs. in cash.  While in Edinburgh, he had fallen in love with Rose, the Baron of Bardwardine’s daughter, and had finally given up on Flora, who didn’t like him.  So, Edward is exonerated, his uncle is no longer in danger, he and Rose can get married and Talbot’s wife gets better.  They travel to Scotland some time later, after the decisive defeat of Prince Charles’ troops at the battle of Culloden and visit the Bradwardine estate, which had been burned down and ravaged by British troops, then rebuilt by Edward,  who had sold his recently inherited estate to Talbot, who then used the money to pay for the restoration.  They have a big feast and live happily ever after.

As the reader might ascertain, this is a complex novel.  I’ve just tried to give a coherent, linear account of the protagonist’s adventures, omitting in the process much of the witty and humorous minutiae that pervade the action.  Scott’s novels do tend to be verbose, although he’s such an interesting character, that the prolixity is not offensive, at least imo…  Years ago, browsing in a bookstore, i bought a complete collection of Scott for a very reasonable price and have been working my way through his works ever since.  I’ve read about ten of them so far and have quite a few to go, so, if energy doesn’t vanish, i’ll eventually get around to posting on more of them…



Christopher Milne, (1920-1996)

Christopher Robin spent most of his childhood romping around Cotchford farm and the local environs until he was 9 years old, when he was sent off to boarding school to learn Latin and exercise his natural talent for mathematics.  He was more or less raised by a nanny, his parents busy either writing or gardening.  Mrs. Milne was from the de Selincourts, a well-to-do family with high connections and A.A. was educated at Henley House(H.G. Wells was his tutor), and graduated in mathematics from Cambridge.  He was a successful playwright and made a substantial living.  When his stories about Christopher Robin and Pooh were published, however, his serious interest in writing for the stage was greatly upstaged by the overwhelming popularity of the stories about Christopher Robin and his friends, somewhat to A.A.’s chagrin.  Mrs. Milne was a talented gardener and housekeeper and a major influence in Christopher’s developing love of, and exploration of, the local creeks, woods, bridges and forests.  She allowed him the freedom to paddle his own canoe in the nearby muddy stream and encouraged him to examine and discover the mysterious secrets hidden in the Ashdown Forest, the Five Hundred Acre Wood, Posingford Wood, Poohsticks Bridge, and even to make friends with the local charcoal burner, a mysterious figure lurking in the deep woods.  His occasional partners in these explorations were Anne Darlington, who lived in a farmhouse just across the creek, and Hannah, the daughter of a local chicken farmer.  There was a large, ancient walnut tree behind the house that had split during a severe winter frost.  The inside was large enough for a small boy and his bear, and provided a vertical view of the sky, as well as low branches suitable for owls and the rare adventurous rabbit.  There was a donkey in the lower pasture that had neck trouble, causing it to peer constantly down at the ground, and gave it a pensive, somewhat sorrowful mien.  His name derived from the habitual sound emitted by donkeys:  Eeyore, the spelling of which has to do with the way “R” was pronounced in 1920 England:  sort of ignored, so that the way it was heard was like “HeeHaw”…  Christopher was good with his hands at an early age.  He made his own furniture and chairs and once created a tiled path leading into a weedy patch, at the end of which he built a Heffalump trap.  Tasker, one of the part-time garden helpers, absent-mindedly fell into it once, fortunately without serious injury except to his normally placid demeanor.  There was a friendly neighbor named Henry Woggins, a nondescript four legged investigator of ignored garbage piles.

Christopher was fond of reading, especially the adventures of “Dr. Dolittle”, written by Hugh Lofting.  On one occasion they exchanged letters, expressing mutual esteem as regards the presence of, and approachability to, talking animals…  Christopher was also a noted singer until his voice broke, for which he won at least one award.  He was an agile boy, taking after his mother, who was noted for her poise and posture;  however, this quote is characteristic of his father:  “it was generally agreed within the family that my father couldn’t eat a pear without getting his elbows wet, and that after a honey sandwich he had to have a bath”.  But both father and son were excellent mathematicians, graduating from Cambridge with majors in the subject.  And they both were crazy about crossword puzzles, the British sort, the elder capable of solving the inventions of Torquemada and Ximenes, two of the top-notch puzzlists in the world who regularly published in the London Times.  (I like them also, from the New York Times, tho, which are an entirely different thing from the English ones…).  As a family, evenings were commonly spent reading to each other from “The Wind in the Willows” or from one of the many novels of P.G. Wodehouse.  A.A.  loved mysteries;  he and Christopher shared an admiration of Richard Jeffries “Bevis”, the history of a country lad much like Christopher, which described the protagonist’s adventures in woods and streams.  A.A. participated in both WW I and II;  Christopher in WWII.

After WWII, both parent and son experienced depressions resulting from the popularity of the Christopher Robin books.  The son because he was so identified with the figure in the book and the father because no one would take his plays seriously anymore…  Eventually, Christopher opened a bookstore that became popular, although he disliked customers who brought the up the Pooh association.

This was an interesting book even though it was episodic and descriptive instead of plot or travel-driven.  Like many, I read the Pooh books when young and loved them, and i’ve been curious about the derivation thereof off and on for years.  Hence, when i found this book…  A.A. and Christopher were a lot alike and were rather classic examples of English character at it’s most representative.  Quite admirable, i thought and think…