Saturday, April 26, 2014

My Encounter with a Bison

This afternoon I took a hike in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and found myself bang in front of this bison.

Bison are unpredictable creatures and can attack when their space is suddenly invaded.  But this one was calm.  He was quiet.  He was stuffed.

Israel Zangwill The Penalties of Fame

Taken from the article "The Penalties of Fame" from the 1896 compilation Without Prejudice by the novelist, playwright, and humorist Israel Zangwill (1864-1926):

The conductor of a penny journal, not unconnected with literary tit-bits, honoured me with a triple interrogatory.  This professional Rosa Dartle wanted to know –

(1) The condition under which your write your novels.
(2) How you get your plots and characters.
(3) How you find your titles.

I was very busy.  I was very modest.  But the accompanying assurance that an anxious world was on the qui vive for the information appealed to my higher self, and I took up my pen and wrote: –

(1) The conditions under which I write my novels can be better imagined than described.
(2) My plots and characters I get from the MSS. submitted to me by young authors, whose clever but crude ideas I hate to see wasted.  I always read everything sent to me, and would advise young authors to encourage younger authors to send them their efforts.
(3) As for my titles, they are the only things I work out for myself, and you will therefore excuse me if I preserve a measure of reticence as to the method by which I get them.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A. A. Milne Punch 1914 A Hanging Garden in Babylon

Before Alan Alexander Milne (1882 –1956) found enduring fame with his Winnie-the-Pooh books, he was a very talented writer of light verse and comic stories for Punch magazine from 1904 to 1914 and then sporadically afterward.  He was Ashley Sterne's immediate predecessor at Punch and, judging from the similarity in their approach to humor, was likely a great influence on Ashley Sterne's style.  The story below, from Punch v146 May 27th 1914, was one of Milne's last Punch stories before joining the British Army to serve in The Great War.  The story was later republished in Milne's 1921 collection The Sunny Side.

A Hanging Garden in Babylon

"Are you taking me to the Flower Show this afternoon?" asked Celia at breakfast.

"No," I said thoughtfully; "no."

"Well, that's that. What other breakfast conversation have I? Have you been to any theatres lately?"

"Do you really want to go to the Flower Show?" I asked. "Because I don't believe I could bear it."

"I've saved up two shillings."

"It isn't that—not only that. But there'll be thousands of people there, all with gardens of their own, all pointing to things and saying, 'We've got one of those in the east bed,' or 'Wouldn't that look nice in the south orchid house?' and you and I will be quite, quite out of it." I sighed, and helped myself from the west toast-rack.

It is very delightful to have a flat in London, but there are times in the summer when I long for a garden of my own. I show people round our little place, and I point out hopefully the Hot Tap Doultonii in the scullery, and the Dorothy Perkins loofah, but it isn't the same thing as taking your guest round your garden and telling him that what you really want is rain. Until I can do that, the Chelsea Flower Show is no place for us.

"Then I haven't told you the good news," said Celia. "We are gardeners." She paused a moment for effect. "I have ordered a window-box."

I dropped the marmalade and jumped up eagerly.

"But this is glorious news! I haven't been so excited since I recognized a calceolaria last year, and told my host it was a calceolaria just before he told me. A window-box! What's in it?"

"Pink geraniums and—and pink geraniums, and—er—"

"Pink geraniums?" I suggested.

"Yes. They're very pretty, you know."

"I know. But I could have wished for something more difficult. If we had something like—well, I don't want to seem to harp on it, but say calceolarias, then quite a lot of people mightn't recognize them, and I should be able to tell them what they were. I should be able to show them the calceolarias; you can't show people the geraniums."

"You can say, 'What do you think of that for a geranium?'" said Celia. "Anyhow," she added, "you've got to take me to the Flower Show now."

"Of course I will. It is not only a pleasure, but a duty. As gardeners we must keep up with floricultural progress. Even though we start with pink geraniums now, we may have—er—calceolarias next year. Rotation of crops and—what not."

Accordingly we made our way in the afternoon to the Show.

"I think we're a little over-dressed," I said as we paid our shillings. "We ought to look as if we'd just run up from our little window-box in the country and were going back by the last train. I should be in gaiters, really."

"Our little window-box is not in the country," objected Celia. "It's what you might call a pied de terre in town. French joke," she added kindly. "Much more difficult than the ordinary sort."

"Don't forget it; we can always use it again on visitors. Now what shall we look at first?"

"The flowers first; then the tea."

I had bought a catalogue and was scanning it rapidly.

"We don't want flowers," I said. "Our window-box—our garden is already full. It may be that James, the head boxer, has overdone the pink geraniums this year, but there it is. We can sack him and promote Thomas, but the mischief is done. Luckily there are other things we want. What about a dove-cot? I should like to see doves cooing round our geraniums."

"Aren't dove-cots very big for a window-box?"

"We could get a small one—for small doves. Do you have to buy the doves too, or do they just come? I never know. Or there," I broke off suddenly; "my dear, that's just the thing." And I pointed with my stick.

"We have seven clocks already," said Celia.

"But a sun-dial! How romantic. Particularly as only two of the clocks go. Celia, if you'd let me have a sun-dial in my window-box, I would meet you by it alone sometimes."

"It sounds lovely," she said doubtfully.

"You do want to make this window-box a success, don't you?" I asked as we wandered on. "Well, then, help me to buy something for it. I don't suggest one of those," and I pointed to a summer-house, "or even a weather-cock; but we must do something now we're here. For instance, what about one of these patent extension ladders, in case the geraniums grow very tall and you want to climb up and smell them? Or would you rather have some mushroom spawn? I would get up early and pick the mushrooms for breakfast. What do you think?"

"I think it's too hot for anything, and I must sit down. Is this seat an exhibit or is it meant for sitting on?"

"It's an exhibit, but we might easily want to buy one some day, when our window-box gets bigger. Let's try it."

It was so hot that I think, if the man in charge of the Rustic Bench Section had tried to move us on, we should have bought the seat at once. But nobody bothered us. Indeed it was quite obvious that the news that we owned a large window-box had not yet got about.

"I shall leave you here," I said, after I had smoked a cigarette and dipped into the catalogue again, "and make my purchase. It will be quite inexpensive; indeed, it is marked in the catalogue at one-and-six-pence, which means that they will probably offer me the nine-shilling size first. But I shall be firm. Good-bye."

I went and bought one and returned to her with it.

"No, not now," I said, as she held out her hand eagerly. "Wait till we get home."

It was cooler now, and we wandered through the tents, chatting patronizingly to the stall-keeper whenever we came to pink geraniums. At the orchids we were contemptuously sniffy. "Of course," I said, "for those who like orchids—" and led the way back to the geraniums again. It was an interesting afternoon.

And to our great joy the window-box was in position when we got home again.

"Now!" I said dramatically, and I unwrapped my purchase and placed it in the middle of our new-made garden.


"A slug-trap," I explained proudly.

"But how could slugs get up here?" asked Celia in surprise.

"How do slugs get anywhere? They climb up the walls, or they come up in the lift, or they get blown about by the wind—I don't know. They can fly up if they like; but, however it be, when they do come, I mean to be ready for them."

Still, though our slug-trap will no doubt come in usefully, it is not what we really want. What we gardeners really want is rain.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Artistic Railings at the Nature Center

Yesterday I trudged (or slogged or plodded -- however one might describe my slow and laborious pace) up to the top of Lookout Mountain and visited the Nature Center.  As I recovered by sitting on a bench on their back porch, I admired the clever design of the porch railings.  Instead of commonplace balusters,  wrought iron vines or branches filled in the area between the stout posts.

Joseph Addison The Transmigration of Pug the Monkey

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) was an English poet, essayist, and statesman.  His excellent short essays, the best of which were published in The Spectator from 1711 to 1712, ranged from satire to religious commentary to allegory to comments on art and society.  I especially enjoy the graceful and inventive writing in his comic essays.  My favorite is given below.

The Transmigration of Pug, The Monkey

Will Honeycomb told us that Jack Freelove, who was a fellow of whim, made love to one of those ladies who throw away all their fondness upon parrots, monkeys, and lap-dogs. Upon going to pay her a visit one morning he wrote a very pretty epistle upon this hint. Jack, says Will, was conducted into the parlor, where he diverted himself for some time with her favorite monkey, which was chained in one of the windows; till at length observing a pen and ink lie by him, he writ the following letter to his mistress, in the person of her monkey; and upon her not coming down so soon as he expected, left it in the window and went about his business. The lady soon after coming into the parlor, and seeing her monkey look upon a paper with great earnestness, took it up and to this day is in some doubt — says Will — whether it was written by Jack or the Monkey:

"Madam — Not having the gift of speech, I have for a long time waited in vain for an opportunity of making myself known to you; and having at present the convenience of pen, ink, and paper by me, I gladly take the occasion of giving you my history in writing, which I could not do by word of mouth:

"You must know, Madam, that about a thousand years ago I was an Indian Brachman, and versed in all those mysterious secrets which your European philosopher, called Pythagoras, is said to have learned from our fraternity. I had so ingratiated myself by my great skill in the occult sciences with a Daemon whom I used to converse with, that he promised to grant me what ever I should ask of him. I desired that my soul might never pass into the body of a brute creature; but this he told me was not in his power to grant me. I then begged that into whatever creature I should chance to transmigrate, I might still retain my memory, and be conscious that I was the same person who had lived in different animals.

"This he told me was within his power, and accordingly promised, on the word of a Daemon, that he would grant me what I desired. From that time forth I lived so very unblamably that I was made President of a College of Brachmans — an office which I discharged with great integrity till the day of my death.

"I was then shuffled into another human body, and acted my part so well in it that I became First Minister to a Prince who lived upon the banks of the Ganges. I here lived in great honor for several years, but by degrees lost all the innocence of the Brachman, being obliged to rifle and oppress the people to enrich my sovereign; till at length I became so odious that my master, to recover his credit with his subjects, shot me through the heart with an arrow as I was one day addressing myself to him at the head of his army.

"Upon my next remove I found myself in the woods under the shape of a Jackall, and soon lifted myself into the service of a lion. I used to yelp near his den about midnight, which was his time of rousing and seeking after his prey. He always followed me in the rear, and when I had run down a fat buck, a wild goat, or a hare, after he had feasted very plentifully upon it himself, would now and then throw me a bone that was half-picked, for my encouragement; but unsuccessful in two or three chases, he gave me such a confounded grip in his anger that I died of it.

"In my next transmigration I was again set upon two legs, and became an Indian Tax-gatherer; but having been guilty of great extravagances, and being married to an expensive jade of a wife, I ran so cursedly in debt that I durst not show my head. I could no sooner step out of my house but I was arrested by somebody or other that lay in wait for me. As I ventured abroad one night in the dusk of the evening, I was taken up and hurried into a dungeon, where I died a few months after.

"My soul then entered into a flying fish, and in that state I led a most melancholy life for the space of six years. Several fishes of prey pursued me when I was in the water, and if I betook myself to my wings, it was ten to one but I had a flock of birds aiming at me. As I was one day flying amidst a fleet of English ships, I observed a huge Sea-gull whetting his bill and hovering just over my head. Upon my dipping into the water to avoid him, I fell into the mouth of a monstrous shark that swallowed me down in an instant.

"I was some years afterward, to my great surprise, an eminent Banker in Lombard Street; and remembering how I had formerly suffered for want of money, became so very sordid and avaricious that the whole town cried shame upon me. I was a miserable little old fellow to look upon, for I had in a manner starved myself, and was nothing but skin and bone when I died.  

"I was afterward very much troubled and amazed to find myself dwindled to an Emmet. I was heartily concerned to make so insignificant a figure, and did not know but some time or other I might be reduced to a mite, if I did not mend my manners. I therefore applied myself with great diligence to the offices that were allotted to me, and was generally looked upon as the notablest ant in the whole molehill. I was at last picked up, as I was groaning under a burden, by an unlucky cock-sparrow that lived in the neighborhood, and had before made great depredations upon our commonwealth.

"I then bettered my condition a little, and lived a whole summer in the shape of a Bee; but being tired of the painful and penurious life I had undergone in my last two transmigrations, I fell into the other extreme and turned Drone. As I one day headed a party to plunder a hive, we were received so warmly by the swarm which defended it that we were for the most part left dead upon the spot.

"I might tell of many other transmigrations which I went through: How I was a Town Rake, and afterward did penance in a bay Gelding for ten years; as also how I was a Tailor, a Shrimp, and a Tom-tit. In the last of these my shapes I was shot in the Christmas holidays by a young jackanapes, who would needs try his new gun upon me.

"But I shall pass over these, and several other stages of life to remind you of the young Beau, who made love to you about six years since. You may remember, Madam, how he masked and danced, and sung, and played a thousand tricks to gain you; and how he was at last carried off by a cold that he had got under your window one night in a serenade. I was that unfortunate young fellow whom you were then so cruel to.

"Not long after my shifting that unlucky body, I found myself upon a hill in Ethiopia, where I lived in my present grotesque shape, till I was caught by a servant of the English factory and sent over into Great Britain. I need not inform you how I came into your hand. You see, Madam, this is not the first time you have had me in a chain. I am, however, very happy in this my captivity, as you often bestow on me those kisses and caresses which I would have given the world for when I was a man. I hope this discovery of my person will not tend to my disadvantage; but that you will still continue your accustomed favors to Your most devoted and humble Servant, Pug.

"P. S.  I would advise your little Shock-dog to keep out of my way; for, as I look upon him to be the most formidable of my rivals, I may chance one time or other to give him such a snap as he won't like." — The Spectator. No. 343.