Sunday, May 24, 2009

R.S.Smythe respite

This past month I have over-Smythed myself. I have been going like a bull at a gate and have found his early work environment, a possible exterior sketch of his work place at Robson and Levey (in London beyond my grasp both in kilometres and pounds sterling) next to the Three Tuns pub and located Peel's Coffee house which registered internally as important and there, which indeed it was. I have all the addresses for Smythe's life in London (1841, 1851 census') until he left in 1855. My next move is to track down his brother will and obituary to see what can abstracted from them. There are three references in a British Library; two interviews with Old Bullfrog (his step grand daughter who recently passed away called his photo that when she was younger, having never met him.) and one obituary for Robson to which I have earlier alluded. (Smythe above right aged 18)

Then there is Elsasser whose image eludes me. I have seen a pencil labelled photo of him in an album and next week I am slated to see an album at the University of Melbourne which they tell me is wholly unidentified, each and every portrait. Elsasser spent sometime in England before coming out here at a progressive school in Nottingham. Who is Elsasser? Oh I should tell you...where are my journal manners?

Carl Gottlieb Elsasser was a German musician, composer of average but local note whose father was a School Teahcer and friend of Heldenmaier (whose life and work is quite amazing, centering around the education of children, both able and disabled and quite a revelation to all of us who think of Victorian education as all tyrants, barefeet and soot...which is mostly was). Elsasser was the singing teacher of Smythe's wife Amelia Elizabeth Bailey.

Elsasser was written about sometime ago by a vanishing act of an author named William Percival Nash (proprietor of Innisfallen Press, Heidelberg Heights. No longer Extant) whom, from the reactions I have catalogued had an as yet, non-descript and seemingly inharmonious relationship with Academic Institutions and 'types' which I can well understand. His book did not include from memory any image of Elsasser but one is out there and lack of recording these images is of great vexation to me as it should have been done many years ago. Some word based academics seem to view images as less important than text and while they will cite via footnote of citations (usually the size of small circus parades) any notations of images and their whereabouts, even if not published in thesis or in book form seem to relegated to the caboose along with the suitcases, hatboxes and sacks of mail. No buttoned and be-glassed travelling compartment for them . Shame.

Why is there no National Portrait Gallery publication such as was done by Dover many years ago? It's magnificent book, large enough to terrorize un unruly crowd and crammed full with over 1,000 famous American's in small photographs during the 19th century and before.

All of which is no surprise. People no longer know how to see, to look, or to farm from an image all the information that is there and so images serve only as tools to break up areas of text and provide mood, context, costume, effect or minimum of visual-ity (sorry to have fabricated another word but visibililty would not have done). From the small fuzzy photo I have seen of Elsasser I can see that his hairstyle is one he has kept since his early days for  it belongs to the 1840s, his cravat is very floral in a time when they simply were not and it's gathered together with a silver broad-ring. This man was a progressive and a real German Romantic. Both his face and regard can tell you things the text cannot. Despite being the most visual saturate culture that has ever been I suspect we are the most visually illiterate. Art is becoming noise.

Images can be read, interrogated and husbanded. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chasing Gingerbread

This is the cover of "Chasing Gingerbread" a photo-book of performers who, though encountered in footnotes are rarely if ever seen. A group of us are attempting to compile a small ark of some kind from our meagre collections. Gingerbread is slang for the gilded bit of nonsense of rich peoples architecture and furniture. The term then evolved in theatrical slang to stand for box office profit. It is a 7 x 7 inch format and only holds about 40 images. If the quality is up to it's promise I shall try and assemble collectors to fill a 500 image book. My visions tend to be much bigger than my capacity to fulfill them but such is the thing. I might even be able to talk the State Library of Victoria into taking part or at least publish their own versions. Did you know there are images of people, fascinating for their accomplishments or simply just for their image that have never been seen at all? And, when they are lucky enough to get a witness of any kind to visit they usually luck upon an academic who has no funds nor publisher to shell out the shekels necessary to pay for the copyright, reproduction rights, original copy and other such legal confections that managers believe will generate vast amounts of income. Cultural heritage IS NOT a resource, it is the collective family silver and no diploma bearing Oompah-Loompah manager will convince me otherwise. Let them board longships and try and take my opinion and take it by force. I will auto-scuttle before that happens.

Charles Robson

If you examine the letters on line of 19th Century Scots author (who was 1/64th mystic) Thomas Carlyle you can look up several mentions of a man called Charles Robson (his printer), who during the course of my Smythian researches, has held a kind of magnetic pull over my attention and despite knowing only his name and that Smythe was employed by him, I knew I had to find out more as I was sure there was more to find. He died in 1876, did my Mr. Robson and the strange intermittent and slightly psychotic returns of Google Book search threw up a publication from 1876 called "The Bookseller: a newspaper of British and Foreign literature" (Why do Victorian books and periodicals have titles so long they should be equipped with a hospice half way betwixt the first word and the last for those of us whose lung capacities are not industrially sufficient enough to read them in one breath?) which contains an obituary only scraps of which I can see. Harvard University seems to be in the business of floating bits of burned treasure map onto the information sea and hoping I can stick it together. Whom am I, Jack Sparrow?

Anyway, before I start kvetching about Harvard University and their other bad habits, I learned that Mr. Charles Robson came from a family of numerous brothers and sisters and became a compositor at age 15 (born in Kelso, 1805) and was sent from from London by whom I know not. He then became a reader at a place in Hatton-Garden. He taught himself Latin, Greek, Arabic and other impressive intellectual feats later going into business with Mr George Levey in St. Martin's Lane, then Great New Street next to the Three Tuns. Now, Robert Smith (Mr. R.S.Smythe much later) had I believe, a drunken absent father which drove my then brother Frederic into music and the Temperance movement and Smythe into books. I do remember fondly Mr. Robson for his quietude, learning and powers of concentration and Mr. George Levey I remember for his business acumen and perfume of ruthlessness. I am sure that Smythe had these men as proxy father figures, one demonstrating self education, which I in this lifetime believe to be the cornerstone of a strong identity and, Mr Levey who illustrated a certain degree of toughness with the world. Emotional reactions to people I was associated with in my last time around are sometimes the only recognition I have to go on. The colour and makeup of that emotional response can usually be described a little more thoroughly and to date has not been wrong. I have to get hold of that obit from Harvard or whomever has a copy of the 1876 Bookseller.

"Between the tynes
are born the lines
that carry the current sage
from a tiny black and pregnant sea
out of the ink bottle
on to the page"

-The Gingerbread Cat, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Alice Zavistowski

The Zavistowski Sisters were two daughters and a mother with whose details I will not burden you. But, as they came to Australia, at first under George Coppin's contracted behest, then locally piloted by R.S.Smythe, they have been of interest to me. I happen also to know the current incarnations of the girls and have been researching both Alice and Emeline in order to understand Karmic structure.

I mention it here because the whole affair of the girls destinies, as managed by their mother Christine  was a right muddy boot in the syllabub. Emeline married a man who had been in the Civil War, an Army man and a Marine. His early military record showed him a con-man and an abuser of authority. Emeline had previously been married by elopement (annuled later) to a young singer named William Carleton, warbler of Irish Ballads. Mother stopped that with warrant and revolver and had her then married off to the respectable (on the surface) Major J. C. Shailer to whom she bore one too many children and she died in middle age. Her children melted into obscurity. Alice and Emeline's  father went mad separated from her mother who then died and left poor Alice, who had all her family and even her husband, an ill heir to a shipping magnate, Marshall Webb, dead and gone. She spent the rest of her days (with no relatives in the United States that I know of) in the Pavillion Cottages at Sharon Springs  in Sunnyside in the company of a Miss Eldredge. It saddens me, to see this bittersweet summer of butter and white linen end to a life whose details I had longed to find.

Those amongst my readers (of which there is but me for the moment) will be happy to know that Alice and Emeline are presently in a straight (one of them is male) life-partnership in California, fulfilling karmic commitments and dedicated to each other in a way that speaks volumes for their past life association and affection. Everything ends well...eventually.


In the course of my researches into the life of R.S.Smythe the question is often asked, why does an illustrator whose principal interest is art, design. music, song-writing and assorted other objects of interest, come to be occupied with the life a theatrical manager who has been a long time dead and to whom history has not even had the grace to leave even the most faded of clues.

The immediate answer is "Oh, I need something that occupies the non visual part of my brain..." and in the way of what the japanese call aizuchi it seems to work a treat. The actual answer is that R.S.Smythe was me. The other me, the 19th century me, the pre-Allister (my actual name) me. Smythe is my previous incarnation and my full investigation of his life is simply a part of my self education. His life is in no way an attempt to find my past glory days in the microfilms that I have rolled through, nor to function as an engine of vainglory by proxy. My sub-strata IS Smythe (and his/our previous lives) and the distance of an intravital period (between births) and my experiences to this date have made me a different person so that Smythe is my was-ness, but is not my is-ness (Pooh would understand that) although I do have his debts, I should say our debts, as well as rewards. Purists can be comforted though, for my book, when it arrives, shall not be a wispy and gossamer anfract of a 'past-life' tale but a real biography of a man and his time that I will not pollute with 'recollections' unless they can suffer the probity I impose. And Lordy, there will be footnotes, enough for a dinner party but not enough for a country fair I am afraid. Footnotes are like alleyways, a few are sufficient for further exploration and add charm to a street, but too many are instruments of intellectual perdition and lead to muggings of the brain.

Blog Royale

I have embraced the 21st century, yet again. About the Elizabethan period, the first coffee served after putting to sea was called the 'coffee royal' (I assume they raised their styrofoam cups to the Queen) or some such thing so in the spirit of Captain Hawking's et al, this is my 'blog royale' - the first posting after putting out onto the wide open technological sea.

Now,  I just have to think of something to say...which normally isn't a problem. Mmm. Oh yes! I have it. Yesterday while researching the death of cellist Ernst de Munck (famous for having married Carlotta Patti who died in 1889)  I found out that he had remarried at an age when he should have know better. 1911 to be precise to a lady named Augusta. They married, set off for Belgium where she gave birth to a girl, Helene Louise de Munck and when they returned to London, Ernst, having had an interesting life (and goatee) snapped his strings and died. Helen, I found out was recruited to MI5 as a spy. A spy! Lord, you have no idea how that made my day. Her mother, Augusta (Baroness de Munck) was found by the police at the bottom of her staircase in 1951 aged 70. Augusta, not the staircase. The article in the Times showed an obvious disinterest in the age or condition of the staircase down which the poor Baroness had tumbled. Bannisters are never remembered in history are they? They come off the lathe and are press-ganged upon a flight and there they stand until doomsday or the wrecking ball. Sad isn't it?