Thomas Hood (1799-1845)

Herbert Tyrrel, late of St. Kitts in the eastern Caribbean, arrives in a sickly condition at the “Rabbits”, a roadside inn near the seat of Tylney Hall, the estate of Sir Mark Tyrrel, the current baronet.  He is put to bed and Doctor Bellamy is sent for.  Bellamy is the only local professional, but his methods are viewed askance by Mrs. Hanway, the inn-keeper’s wife, a self-labeled herbsperson, with a talent for despatching all and sundry to a quick and occasionally painful demise.  The doctor is slightly more competent, but imbued with all the prejudices and procedures common to early nineteenth century medical authorities.  In short order, the two practitioners reduce Herbert to a critical state, at which point Sir Mark is sent for and he arrives in time to witness his brother’s decease.

Accompanying Herbert is his son Walter, a comely but dark hued youth of sixteen.  Mark has two sons, also:  Ringwood, the eldest, and Raby the younger.  They are youths in their late teens;  Ringwood is a devoted hunter to hounds, and a horse enthusiast, while Raby is mostly interested in books, poetry, and Latin.  Mark invites Walter (later referred to as St. Kitts by the two brothers) to come and live at the Hall and he accepts.

Walter feels out of place and resentful because of his skin coloring and his supposedly unsanctified heritage.  His mother, presumably of native origin, was not married to his father.  Tension grows between the three youths, and is fanned by their interests in local girls.  Grace is the daughter of Justice Rivers, a rigid, unyielding magistrate, compared by the author to the infamous Justice Jeffries, a hanging judge of Welsh fame who was elevated to Lord Chancellor, probably because of his iron interpretation of the laws.  The Twigg family, newly arrived in the area, have purchased a nearby farm and are busy remodeling it and learning how to make it a profitable enterprise.  Their daughter, Flora, is a comely but bovine lass, who is the object of admiration by Ringwood.  Raby is attracted to Grace. The Twiggs throw a garden party for the local gentry;  it’s an extravagant display with a pageant, a champagne tent, a floral exhibit, and a horse race, among other features.  The cow, Daisy, takes a major part when she escapes and careers through the yard, knocking over tables and making a mish-mash of food, plateware, and silverware, scaring the ladies and wreking havoc right and left…  The champagne bottles explode, having been left in a hot tent, and the affair is washed out at last by an intense rain storm.

Walter is at a disadvantage in all of these goings-on, partly because of his racial characteristics, and partly because he is sort of a sneaky, underhanded manipulator.  Helping him in his nefarious schemes is a local gypsy-like vagabond, a lady with the reputation of a fortune-teller named Indiana.  She tells Walter that she was a friend of his mother’s, and she displays a greedy interest in Walter’s efforts to attain power in the Tyrrel family’s activities and enterprises.  He becomes enamored of Grace and jealous of Raby.

The three youths leave home to attend Oxford.  Ringwood spends a lot of time in sports and gambling.  Raby reads and studies himself into a state of physical enfeeblement.  Walter makes a few artful associations that serve him in some of his devious operations.

Returning home, their relative positions are not much changed and Walter is more bitter than ever.  He persuades Raby, one day, to go rabbit hunting with him.  After flailing about in the brush for a while, Walter, espying Ringwood partially hidden behind a tree, advises Raby, whose eyesight has been damaged through overuse, that a rabbit is lurking behind the same tree.  Raby shoots, killing Ringwood.  Aghast at what Walter has made him do, he runs away and disappears in London. The cynical Walter blames the assassination on him and uses the opportunity to become more familiar with Grace.

Meanwhile, Sir Mark, grieving over losing both sons, is wasting away, to the bitter sorrow of his best friend, Ned, a local hunt master and inventor of mechanical gadgetry.

After Mark passes, Walter, having received a supposedly original copy of his mother’s marriage certificate, given to him by Indiana, assumes possession of the Tylney Estates, and more or less crowns himself Sir Walter.  And begins courting the inconsolable Grace, who hates him, especially after a major flood during which the body of a man was found, resembling Raby.

Several years pass, during which Walter gleefully exercises his seigneurial rights, firing the servants, changing the furniture, and selling the horses. As Grace, fading and miserable, is about to obey her father and marry Walter, Ned, angered at the loss of his friends, chases Walter down, riding over fences and leaping small streams (at a single bound).  They duel:  Walter tries to shoot Ned in the back, so Ned, swerving about, plugs him through the heart.  A passing stranger has observed these carryings-on, and, walking up, notes that Walter is lying dead on the ground.  Ned recognizes him as Raby, who has just shown up after walking all the way from Dover.  Apparently Raby was kidnapped while hiding in London, and experienced some years of adventure on the high seas, fighting pirates, being taken prisoner by the French, escaping and eventually arriving back in England.  He had traded clothes with a local inhabitant while running away to London, so as to conceal his identity.

The plot continues to unfold, but in the interest of non-spoilage, i’ll cut off my precis at this point;  suffice it to say, there is a happy, more or less, ending, with the various threads neatly polished off.

There’s very much more to the book than i have recorded here.  Hood’s genius for satire and comedy is very much in evidence, and many of the characters are true originals.  Mrs. Hanway, unlucky Joe Spiller, the ranting preacher Bundy and others are vehicles illustrating Hood’s rather negative understanding of English society.  He really believes, and with some justification, that the system is upside down:  the rich and powerful are immoral and nasty while the poor are honest and true.  “The moral balance preponderates in favor of the wicked;  evil wins, goodness loses”.  Hood struggled for recognition his whole life, and what success he achieved was at the expense of his health.  He died at 45.

If a copy of this book can be found, i recommend reading it…  it’s sort of a cross between Thackery and Dickens, but not inferior to either, so far as i could estimate…



Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937)

D-503 is the tag assigned to the principle unit in the story.  He’s an engineer and has been in charge of building the space craft “Integral”.  The society he lives in is a glass-enclosed habitat with glass walls separating it from the wilderness outside of the city.  The time is a thousand years in the future, following the “200 Years War”, in which mankind has been divided into the urbanites and the outsiders.  Life inside the city is extremely regimented:  every moment of existence is regulated by the Machine and it’s operator/representative, the Benefactor.  During meals, each bite is to be chewed fifty times;  rising and retiring hours are rigid and enforced.  Periodically, group assemblies are scheduled for all citizens, in which appreciation and praise are showered on the Benefactor, and cases of civil disobedience are punished via the “Glass Bell Jar”, in which offenders are placed and the oxygen pumped out.  The city is almost totally automated and the workers are there mainly for maintenance purposes;  they work four hours a day.

D-503 has a girl friend, O-90, whom he sees on a periodic basis.  She loves him but he’s fallen for another unit, I-330.  I-330 is something of a mystery, as she apparently does little work, and has a penchant for disappearing at odd times.  At one point D-503 follows her into the depths of the “Ancient House”, a local tourist attraction, supposedly a remnant of the long war.  The two explore the edifice, eventually discovering a subterranean tunnel that leads outside the “Green Wall” (the wall made of glass which keeps out the surrounding forest and its inhabitants).

D-503 is informed that O-90 is expecting a child.  After a flurry of futile expedients, O-90 is rescued from the city via the Ancient House tunnel, and is welcomed by the outlanders, where she can lead a more normal life.  Led by I-330, the outsiders manage to breach the wall during Vote Day, a mass gathering celebrating the Machine’s authority.  Panic ensues, the city denizens running in all directions, while flocks of birds fly through the open spaces above.  Order is established in due course, and a temporary radio wave wall is erected.  The unbridled confusion causes the Benefactor to announce that a new brain operation has been invented that will eliminate the capacity for imagination.  All citizens are required to undergo the procedure.  Afterwards, the society will be perfect, with no dissidence or turmoil to disturb the sublimity of the Machine’s order.

Meanwhile, the ship has been stocked for a long tour through the galaxy;  it’s purpose is to spread the Benefactor’s influence and the merits of Machine civilization throughout all the habitable planets they discover.  D-503 and I-330 both board the ship, hoping to escape the clutches of the Benefactor.  Achieving orbit around planet earth, Integral is about to leave on it’s mission, when, after a mental and physical struggle, D-503 pushes the lever that causes the Integral to return to Earth.  He is the victim of the life-long conditioning to which he has been exposed by the rigid authoritarianism of his social upbringing.  What occurs then falls under the aegis of spoilerism;  suffice it to say that it is not a happy ending…

Zamyatin was a naval engineer and a member of the Communist party.  He became disillusioned with the Bolsheviks and the authoritarian dictates of Communist Russia and began to write works that got him sent to Siberia once, and at the end of his life, banished to Paris.  He traveled a lot, and worked on ice-breakers for the British government at one point.

There’s a lot going on in this book.  In addition to the plot, which in some sense seems supererogatory, his main purpose was to illustrate the results of extrapolating the governing policies of the Russian governing machine.  And in so doing, pointing out that perfection is equal to death.  He has one character comment that the square root of minus one represents both the perfect mind and the perfect state.  Which may or may not mean anything…  But the message is clear:  humans need stimulation to be alive;  authoritarian regulation doesn’t work.

It was an influential book.  “1984” and “Brave New World” both were inspired by it, according to some reviewers, and it continues to be read in college classes.  Mrs. M read it in one of her graduate courses…


Nathaniel Bishop (1837-1902)

A “Sneak Box” is the colloquial term for a Barnegat duck-boat, commonly built by craftsmen on the New Jersey coast.  It has a flat bottom, with a six-inch draft, and a domed deck with several hatches that allow it to be closed up, creating a sort of a coffin for those boaters who dislike mosquitoes.  Bishop had one made for him for $75.00, including sleeping bag, cooking apparatus, and personal gear.

Bishop was a seasoned traveller and adventurer, having walked across South America from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso at the age of 17.  He began that trip with $45.00 and finished with $50.00, indicating the nature of his New England parsimony.

At any rate, he began this trip on December 2, 1875, at Pittsburg, the confluence of the Monongehela and Allegheny rivers.  His intention was to row down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans and thence along the Gulf Coast to the Suwanee river about half-way down Florida.  When he first set out, there was lots of ice on the river, and he had to pursue a circuitous route to avoid holing his relatively thin-hulled craft.  Initially, he had to stay awake for 36 hours, as he was just ahead of gigantic ice dam that stretched from bank to bank and that was floating along behind him, threatening to crush him and the “Centennial Republic”(the name of his boat) to a pulp.  After about a hundred miles, the ice broke up a bit and his major complaint became smog.  Below Pittsburg lay a country economically dependent on the coal industry, mining and burning it for money and heat.  The fallout was so bad that after a night sleeping in his “coffin”, there was an eighth inch of coal dust on the top of the boat.  Passing Wheeling, he noted that the water was coated with oil;  that, combined with the fires, smoke, and noise from the mills, made the area  resemble a kind of Hades, especially at night.  Later, Bishop commented on the shanty rafts that he frequently met and occasionally visited.  These were pieced together affairs of timber remnants and scrap lumber that held one or more families or groups, and were voyaging down to New Orleans.  The residents hunted along the shores for deer, pigs, and birds, and traded for corn, bread and other necessities with the settlers and farmers along the way.  Some of the travelers were more interested in cards and whiskey than anything else. Some were more ambitious, offering goods and services to each other and the riverside populations..  Bishop talked to one boat that was a sewing machine repair station, and trades from carpentry to shoemaker were proffered by enterprising shantyboat sailors.  He saw one raft that had been made into a photographic gallery.

Approaching Cincinnati, he saw the first suspension bridge on the river , connecting Kentucky with Ohio.  While sleeping in a slough one night, the Box became frozen into the ice and Nathaniel was fortunate enough to find hospitality with a local German farmer for a few days.  They charged him 25 cents per meal and nothing for bed.  The temperature got down to 7 degrees below zero.  Worried about the possibility of thieves, he managed, with local assistance, to free his boat and slide it into the river.  Avoiding  lots of “bob sawyers”(sunken trees whose branches could perforate ship hulls), Nathaniel soon arrived at Big Bone Lick Creek, the site of a very large collection of Pleistocene fossils:  mammoths, mastodons and smaller fauna.  Approaching Cairo, the convergence of the Mississippi and the Ohio, steamboats became numerous:  the first one to ascend this far was the “New Orleans” in 1811.  Passengers were generally quite riotous, and Nathaniel became adept at dodging thrown whiskey bottles and other disposable trash.

Bishop described the meandering Mississippi’s geographical characteristics briefly: the oxbow lakes, and the 1150 miles of sediment composing the river bed and the sandstone cliffs along the banks.  He noted some of the still observable results of the New Madrid earthquakes that had changed the river’s course and fractured many of the local sedimentary formations in 1811-1813.  He also stated, quite vehemently, that the Missouri was the longest river in the world.  Camping at Reed Lake, Carolina Parakeets were much in evidence:  green bodies, yellow heads with red cheeks and forehead, and white bills and eyes.  These birds were extremely gregarious, nesting together in holes and feeding as a flock, and thereby presenting an easy target for hunters with shotguns.  They were declared extinct in 1939.

One night Nathaniel had a dream:  he was talking to Jules Verne who told him about a second moon circling the earth that was 4650 miles distant and orbited the planet in 3 hours and 20 minutes.  The dream stayed with him and turned into a city in the sky, which he observed for several minutes, wondering how it got there, until he realized that he was looking at the city of Vicksburg.  He blamed the mirage on the fog.

Arriving in New Orleans, he was confused about which watercourse to take and finally ended up on the Atchafalaya, the main passageway to the city.  Here he stayed for several days at the local yacht club.  During this time he experienced altercations with local drunk residents who wanted to abuse him because they suspected him of being a government spy.  He was rescued by the yacht club members, but not without a more or less major physical confrontation.  As a result of this event, he agreed to continue his journey in company, with a local boat person whom he called “Saddles”.  Together, with Saddles in a double-ended canoe, the pair paddled and rowed into the Gulf of Mexico and turned eastward.

Their progress was a more or less a hit or miss excursion:  they travelled for the most part behind a series of off-shore islands that decorate the coast all along the way to Florida.  They had to portage some of the time, and occasionally  ran into dead-ends and had to retrace their steps.  Interesting locals they met included light-house keepers, farmers, hermits, hunters, periodic murderers (living outside the law) and even a naturalist compiling a list of indigenous birds.  When they reached Florida, Saddles became sick with swamp fever.  The lack of his medicine (whiskey) threatened to permanently incapacitate him, so Bishop had to continue on alone.  Eventually he arrived at the Suwanee river, at the same location that he had arrived at when engaged in a trip he had taken a year before, in a paper canoe from Quebec.  But that’s another story.

I liked this book quite a bit, in spite of, or maybe because of the erroneous data provided, and because of the grit and determination Bishop displayed in overcoming and dealing with hostile drunks, environmental hazards, and harsh climatic challenges; his  descriptions and opinions of the local cultures he encountered were lucid and periodically acerbic.  His views of history and geography and his opinions on the educational and political practices of the time were enlightening and sometimes amusing.  The prose was easy to follow and I plan on tackling his other two books….  sometime….


Jules Verne (1828-1905)

Mr. Jeorling, having been on a three year tour of global attractions, has arrived at the Green Cormorant inn, located in the Kerguelen islands southeast of the Cape of Good Hope.  He’s interested in continuing his travels and queries the innkeeper about the best way to get to the Falkland islands.  The schooner “Halbrane” has been embayed for several days, and Jeorling learns that the Falklands are its next destination.  So he attempts to interview Captain Len Guy when he sees him in the bar-room about traveling with him.  The Captain turns him down rather abruptly, giving the impression of a man preoccupied to the point of distraction.  Determined to board the ship, Jeorling next consults the boatswain, a friendly, gossiping sort of sailor who reassures him that it is entirely possible for him to obtain passage aboard the Haldane.  And so it transpires:  Hurliguerly (the bos’n) does indeed persuade the captain to accept Jeorling as supercargo.

En route to Prince Edward island, one of several islands visited on the way to the Falklands, the captain opens up to his passenger and tells him the story of his brother William’s disappearance on an expedition to Antarctica.  Eleven years ago, William had found a message in a bottle on Kerguelen island from Arthur Gordon Pym, detailing his intention to discover the South Pole.  Becoming interested in Pym’s journey, William found out some more about him by reading an account published by Edgar Allen Poe, which described in some detail the events recorded in Pym’s journal.  William traveled to Vandalia, Illinois and discovered that Pym, together with his friend Dirk Peters, had been captivated by the urge to go to sea;  the two left town precipitously and stowed away on a ship sailing south.  After many adventures, the journal recounted the discovery of Tsalal island, south of the 80th parallel, and how the ship had been destroyed and the crew slain by the perfidious natives.  But Arthur and Dirk had escaped and the end of the journal described them in a small boat, being carried by the current toward the pole in a thick white mist.  The last sentence talked of a giant figure looming above them, shimmering in the fog.

William had been so entranced by Pym’s tale, that he determined to voyage to the south to rescue him or to find out what happened to the pair.  So he and his crew in the ship “Jane”, stocked up on provisions in the Falklands and ventured south.  And no information had ever arisen, in the ensuing eleven years, as to the fate or resolution of the voyage of the Jane.

Len Guy had also become curious, principally about his brother’s fate, and has determined on following the Jane to investigate Tsalal island and to find his brother.  Mr. Jeorling can hardly credit all of this, but he agrees to go along and even pay for part of the trip.  So the Halbrane, after provisioning at the Falklands, carries on south, in pursuit of the lost expeditions.  They reach Tsalal island after many dangers and perilous experiences, only to discover that instead of the trees and vegetation described in Pym’s journal, there was nothing there but vast acres of black, basaltic ash and lava, with not a sign of life anywhere.  Verne, explaining the reason for the desolation, has Jeorling surmise that violent earthquakes have destroyed the island.  The crew is becoming restive, because the antarctic summer is drawing to a close and they are afraid of being trapped in the ice.  But Mr. Jeorling offers them money and they all agree to continue on. They find themselves sailing across a gulf or bay, obstructed with lots of icebergs, and being carried along by a southward current.  A heavy mist sets in, and the travelers postulate that they’re traveling through a channel of some sort;  one night there is gigantic crash, and all the crew and officers are thrown out of their bunks and the ship has assumed a steep angle of some sixty degrees.  They dash outside to find out that while sailing by a berg, it has become topheavy and rotated 180 degrees, catching the Halbrane in a crevasse and stranding it several hundred feet in the air.  Being inventive and capable, the crew sets about the task of righting the ship and digging a trough so as to effect the sliding of the vessel down the ice into the sea.  They are about ready to do so, when, again during the night, there’s another huge crash and jumping up, they realize that one side of the trench in which the ship had been clutched had given way and allowed the Halbrane to fall into the ocean.

As one might expect, mutiny was the next incident.  Part of the crew steals the largest boat and makes off with a large part of the provisions, leaving the rest with a minimal amount of food and a smaller boat.  The malcontents are headed north, hoping to escape the ice before winter, but the captain, Jeorling and a few more continue south in the smaller boat.  Soon they are caught in a swift current that carries them through a channel, apparently penetrating a large island or continent, until by creative use of their navigational tools, they perceive that they have passed through the Pole area and are headed back north.  After many arduous days, fishing and starving, they discover another island, and…

The saga continues, but in aid of evading spoilers, i’ll only add that the wayfarers eventually discover the amazing fate of Arthur Gordon Pym, and find themselves sailing in a sinking boat in the vast, storm-ridden southern ocean.  Whether Captain Guy found his brother, and what was the final fate of the former adventurers, remains to be revealed…  to the inquisitive reader.

This was one of Verne’s more complicated and imaginative adventures, i thought.  The idea of adapting Poe’s tale  and adding on to it was pretty ingenious, imo…  and in spite of the geological and geographical errata, it captured my interest and made for an entertaining reading experience.  After all, Verne used the scientific knowledge of the time quite appropriately, and in spite of a few egregious extrapolations, especially at the end, it all made for a riveting exposition.


Henry Kingsley (1830-1876)

After graduating from Oxford in 1789, James Elliot and his friend, George Hilton, travel to France and narrowly avoid Madame Le Guillotine.  Returning to England, George enters business, becomes wealthy, and fathers Eleanor and Robert.  Elliot is appointed to the position of Inspector of Shoals and Quicksands and is responsible for the upkeep and repair of the entrances to British ports and rivers.  Also for the collecting of taxes and fines for those vessels that violate some of the obscure laws relating to navigational hazards.  His son is Austin.   James, being crazy about politics, raises him to become a professional politician.  Accompanying the Elliots on a tour of inspection, the Pelican (the official Shoals and Quicksands inspection boat) runs aground while inspecting a buoy and Lord Cecil (one of the seven Lords on board) is precipitated into the scuppers, from which undignified position Austin helps him out.  Appreciative, the Lord invites Elliot to visit him in his castle at Caernarvon.  In transit, Elliot meets a charming lass who he later discovers is Cecil’s daughter and he falls for her, unaware that she and Lord Mewstone, a powerful neighbor of the Cecils, are promised to each other and mutually in love.  Austin has temporarily forgotten that his true sweetheart is Eleanor Hilton, whom he has known since childhood.

The blackguard Captain Hertford is also present and has designs on Fanny (Lord Cecil’s daughter), principally because he loves money and is a habitual gambler.  One of Fanny’s dear friends is Eleanor.  Eleanor is the only inheritor of 9000 lbs. a year, as her father has recently died. Her brother, Robert, is rumored to have committed suicide as a result of being ousted from the army because he stole everything he could get his hands on.

Hertford, stymied over his plans to marry Fanny, sets his sights on Eleanor and finds a complicitress in aunt Maria, the sister of the deceased George, and Eleanor’s governess.  The Captain plans on shooting Austin in a duel so he can marry Maria and have access to Eleanor’s money.  But Austin’s boyhood friend, Charles Barty, is alert to Hertford’s evil plan and communicates his negative opinions of the Captain to his friends, thus ensuring that Hertford will be forced to fight with him instead of Austin.  Austin doesn’t learn about this until it’s too late, and Charles is slain by the evil Captain.

Accused of participating in the illegal duel, Austin is arrested and jailed for a year, thus destroying his position in society and alienating his friends because of his supposedly non-honorable conduct.

Austin pays bail and is free for three weeks.  He follows Hertford to Germany, where the latter has fled in escaping from the law, and finally tracks him down at Ems.  They have another duel and the Captain misses his target due to being drunk.  Austin fires into the air, thereby restoring his honor in his own mind, but not in the general estimation of the London upper-classes.

During one of his tours with his father, Austin had visited the Scottish island of Ronaldsay and became familiar with the inhabitants, one of whom, Gil Macdonald, follows him to London after Austin is jailed.  Gil is his only visitor during Austin’s durance vile, and helps to see him through his dire experiences.  There is a riot in the prison and Austin saves the life of the warden with the help of an inmate named Goatley.  The two are freed in recognition of their bravery.

During his incarceration, Austin wrote to Eleanor but never received an answer and she never visited him, so he thinks that she has married Hertford.  How the two are reconciled and how their plans on emigrating to Canada with Gil are thwarted, and the role played by Goatley, occupy the final section of the book.  No spoilers on this one.  Well, just a little one:  1848 saw one of the periodic failures of the potato crop in Ireland and on some of the islands;  what happens to the Ronaldsayites and how Austin and friends are involved constitute the resolution of the novel.

Henry was the brother of Charles, a well-known author of “Westward Ho”. “The Water-Babies”, “Hypatia”, “Alton Locke”, and many other books.  Henry himself wrote about eighteen works, the most famous being “Ravenshoe”, with “Geoffrey Hamblyn” running a close second.  This latter novel is an exciting story based on Henry’s adventures in the Australian bush.  Other members of the Kingsley clan were writers, also:  Mary, Charlotte, and George.  Charlotte was a botanist and George wrote about his travels.  Mary wrote novels.  Unfortunately none of these works are readily available, unless egregious amounts of money are expended.

I liked this book pretty well, as i have most of the books i’ve read by Henry and Charles.  This one did have an irritating basis which i found rather silly:  none of the events that happened to Austin would have had any importance if the upper classes weren’t so imbued with “honor” as the ultimate mark or possession of the upright gentleman.  Austin’s behavior after the first duel, in deeming himself to have been projected beyond the pale, was directly related to how he felt his peers would judge him.  It’s pretty inconceivable that a person in the present day would have the same reaction that Austin did.  But that’s just one of the differences between today and yesterday.  Henry’s writing style is sort of hit or miss.  Sometimes it’s like he was telling the reader what he was thinking about writing instead of just writing about the next event.  But in a way it was nice, too;  it lent a kind of intimacy to the reader/writer relationship that is not very common:  sort of like reading a letter from an old friend.  I think that’s why i’ve kept reading Henry’s books and liked them overall…