|. . . 2013-02-23|
JOHN BASKERVILLE was born at Wolverley, in the county of Worcestershire, in the year 1706. He began life as a footman to a clergyman, and at the age of twenty became a writing-master in Birmingham. This occupation he appears to have supplemented by, or exchanged for, that of engraving inscriptions on tombstones and memorials; a profession in which he is said to have shown much talent. [...]
Of Baskerville’s personal character, a biographer observes: ‘In private life, he was a humourist, idle in the extreme; but his invention was the true Birmingham model, active. He could well design, but procured others to execute; wherever he found merit, he caressed it; he was remarkably polite to the stranger, fond of shew; a figure, rather of the smaller size, and delighted to adorn that figure with gold lace. Although constructed with the light timbers of a frigate, his movement was stately as a ship of the line. During the twenty-five last years of his life, though then in his decline, he retained the singular traces of a handsome man. If he exhibited a peevish temper, we may consider that good nature and intense thinking are not always found together. Taste accompanied him through the different walks of agriculture, architecture, and the fine arts. Whatever passed through his fingers bore the living marks of John Baskerville.’
A less pleasing sketch of his character is given by Mark Noble in his Biographical History of England:— ‘I have very often’, he says, ‘been with my father at his house, and found him ever a most profane wretch, and ignorant of literature to a wonderful degree. I have seen many of his letters, which like his will, were not written grammatically, nor could he even spell well. In person he was a shrivelled old coxcomb. His favourite dress was green, edged with narrow gold lace, a scarlet waistcoat, with a very broad gold lace, and a small round hat, likewise edged with gold lace. His wife was all that affectation can describe.... She was originally a servant. Such a pair are rarely met with. He had wit; but it was always at the expense of religion and decency, particularly if in company with the clergy. I have often thought there was much similarity in his person to Voltaire, whose sentiments he was ever retailing.’
Professing a total disbelief of the Christian religion, he ordered that his remains should be buried in a tomb in his own grounds, prepared by himself for the purpose, with an epitaph 1 expressing his contempt for the superstition which the bigoted called Religion. Here, accordingly, his body was buried upright, and here it remained, although the building that contained it was destroyed by the Birmingham riots of 1791. About half a century after his death his body was exhumed and exhibited for some time in a shop in Birmingham. Its final resting-place is to this day a matter of debate.
beneath this cone, in unconsecrated ground,
a friend to the liberties of mankind directed his
body to be inurn’d.
May the example contribute to emancipate thy mind
from the idle fears of Superstition,
and the wicked arts of Priesthood.’
Touching this epitaph Archdeacon Nares has the following note:— ‘I heard John Wilkes, after praising Baskerville, add, “But he was a terrible infidel; he used to shock me!”’A History of the Old English Letter Foundries:
With Notes, Historical and Bibliographical,
on the Rise and Progress of English Typography
by Talbot Baines Reed
Dr. Franklin kindly writes from Craven Street, London, 1760:
Dear Sir,— Let me give you a pleasant instance of the prejudice some have entertained against your work. Soon after I returned, discoursing with a gentleman concerning the artists of Birmingham, he said you would be a means of blinding all the readers of the nation, for the strokes of your letters being too thin and narrow, hurt the eye, and he could never read a line of them without pain. “I thought,” said I, “you were going to complain of the gloss of the paper some object to.” “No, no,” said he, “I have heard that mentioned, but it is not that; it is in the form and cut of the letters themselves, they have not that height and thickness of the stroke which makes the common printing so much more comfortable to the eye.” You see this gentleman was a connoisseur. In vain I endeavoured to support your character against the charge; he knew what he felt, and could see the reason of it, and several other gentlemen among his friends had made the same observation, etc. Yesterday he called to visit me, when, mischievously bent to try his judgement, I stepped into my closet, tore off the top of Mr. Caslon’s specimen, and produced it to him as yours, brought with me from Birmingham, saying, I had been examining it, since he spoke to me, and could not for my life perceive the disproportion he mentioned, desiring him to point it out to me. He readily undertook it, and went over the several founts, showing me everywhere what he thought instances of that disproportion; and declared, that he could not then read the specimen, without feeling very strongly the pain he had mentioned to me. I spared him that time the confusion of being told, that these were the types he had been reading all his life, with so much ease to his eyes; the types his adored Newton is printed with, on which he has pored not a little; nay, the very types his own book is printed with (for he is himself an author), and yet never discovered this painful disproportion in them, till he thought they were yours.
I am, etc.,
|. . . 2013-03-04|
Whether your hard science be economics or evolutionary determinism, it's surely painful in the passing.
squatting, as it does, in the midst of all...
|. . . 2013-03-05|
You can't hurry love. Nor can you hurry a dead horse.
|. . . 2013-03-09|
"... duly frothy but hardly progressive (never more apparent than when the film concludes, quite unlike Coward's stage version, with a return to the unworkable platonic arrangement)"
I don't mean to pick on Calum Marsh in particular, but my god! I'm tired of people disparaging Lubitsch's Design for Living as a cop-out compared to Noel Coward's, dismal speechifying about as thrillingly transgressive as Demme's Philadelphia.
Maybe present-day pre-Code marketing has left critics less attentive to the "surreptitious suggestions" of pre-1934 Hollywood. Well before Joseph Breen imposed his own signature mix of hypocrisy, racism, and Catholic propaganda, there were production codes, there were bans in key markets, and then as now professionals exerted whatever self-censorship and artful ambiguity might be required to recoup studio costs. Given the homophobic panic which greeted a drunken hug in a mainstream comedy of 2007, what would viewers expect to see from 1933?
Well, more of the same, quite reasonably. Comedies about unresolvable romantic dilemmas (e.g., sticking with Coward, Private Lives) almost always do close on a this-is-where-we-came-in gag. People expect one here and so they see one here, cued by the repetition of a single line: "It's a gentleman's agreement."
But don't they notice the changes that accompany that reptition? The change in Gilda's kisses? (First, two chaste foreheads; last, two mouths luscious enough to call for a reflective lipsmack.) And in the witnessing of those kisses? (First, jealous apprehension; last, mellow ease.) In the three-way handshake that binds the deal? (First, the male hands gingerly sandwiching the female; last, a hearty clasp with a lady on top). Don't they remember the line that's not repeated? ("No sex.") Haven't Lubitsch and Hecht indicated as clearly as any could in their circumstances that the boys learned much in China and that this is a gentleman's agreement with a difference?
Joseph Jon Lanthier writes, quite wonderfully:
With respect to your quaternary take on DESIGN FOR LIVING:
Not having been the one on whom you picked (at least not "in particular") I'm perhaps better suited to respond with the "yes, but...!" approbation such a thoughtful rejoinder to our inaugural MUBI column deserves. And, certainly, your revisionist perspective of pre-Code's infamously explicit naughtiness as instead differently-coded (i.e. differently restricted) naughtiness is usefully sobering. (An aside: In its current usage, where it helps to sell DVDs by the hot and bothered half-dozen, the term "pre-Code" is oddly indicative of both absence and presence--the latter facilitated by the former. As though the Breen Office were preceded by a lively, lissome ellipse with room enough for all the exposed thighs and extramarital affairs the early 30s had to offer.)
I'm really only surprised that you haven't taken colloquial context into account. See, when the kids today hear the phrase "make love"--and the phrase is applied as liberally as lotion in the film--they think... well, they think of what they think when they think pre-Code. But the OED has thoughts of its own; as I'm sure you're aware, to "make love" was mere courtship until the 1950s doused it with sin. Point being: Your astute close reading of Hecht & Lubitsch's valedictory exchange aside, the language of naughtiness spoken by the film reads like such a distant and distorted cousin of our own that discerning what's been censored (or what's been purposefully left to the imagination) isn't always evident. DESIGN FOR LIVING's peculiar alloy of frankness and innuendo might as well be its own dialect. And researching such stuff *should* be obligatory (to be fair to own young myself, I did attempt to negotiate this linguistic history when writing the film up for Slant a few years back). But I'm mostly responding to your cries of "don't they notice?"; in at least my case, what I primarily noticed at first was how knottily codified pre-Code cinema can be compared to, er, plain ol' Code cinema. Which was more or less your original point.
By the way, I was led to your site through the comment you left at MUBI a few hours ago; I'd leave, but my screen's been pelted with tabs from all those irresistible little hyperlinks. I tethered myself to your SON OF PALEFACE post in the href storm, only to discover that it was more of a steeple than a post. Regarding this, though... [continued in the belfry]
I thank Lanthier and highly recommend his Slant essay.
|. . . 2013-03-18|
Mrs. Paradise,1 leaning over the Kirwans 2 & Charlotte, who hardly got a seat all Night for the crowd, said she begged to speak to me. I squeezed my great Person out, & she then said ‘Miss Burney, Lady Say & Seal3 desires the Honour of being introduced to you.’
Her Ladyship stood by her side. She seems pretty near 50, at least turned 40,— her Head was full of Feathers, Flowers, Jewels, & gew gaws, & as high as Lady Archers,4 her Dress was trimmed with Beads, silver, persian, sashes, & all sort of fine fancies; her Face is thin & fiery, & her whole manner spoke a lady all alive.
‘Miss Burney, cried she, with great quickness & a look all curiosity, I am very happy to see you,— I have longed to see you a great while,— I have read your Performance, & I am quite delighted with it! I think it’s the most elegant Novel I ever read in my life. Such a style!— I am quite surprised at it: I can’t think where you got so much invention.’
You may believe this was a reception not to make me very loquacious!— good Heaven! I did not know which way to turn my Head.
‘I must introduce you, continued her Ladyship, to my sister,— she’ll be quite delighted to see you,— she has written a Novel herself!— so you are sister Authoresses! A most elegant thing it is, I assure you,— almost as pretty as yours,— only not quite so elegant. She has written two Novels,— only one is not so pretty as the other. But I shall insist upon your seeing them. One is in Letters, like yours, only yours is prettiest. It’s called the Mausoleum of Julia!’5
What unfeeling things, thought I, are my sisters! I’m sure I never heard them go about thus praising me!
Mrs. Paradise then again came forward, & taking my Hand, led me up to her Ladyship’s sister, Lady Hawke, saying aloud, & with a courteous smirk ‘Miss Burney, Ma’am, Authoress of Evelina.’
‘Yes, cried my friend Lady Say & Seal, who followed me close, it’s the Authoress of Evelina! So you are sister Authoresses!’
Lady Hawke arose & Curtsied. She is much younger than her sister, & rather pretty; extremely languishing, delicate, & pathetic; apparently accustomed to be reckoned the Genius of her Family, & well contented to be looked upon as a Creature dropt from the Clouds!
I was then seated between their Ladyships, & Lady S. & S., drawing as near to me as possible, said,— ‘Well,— & so you wrote this pretty Book!— & pray did your Papa know of it?’
‘No, Ma’am, not till some months after the Publication.’
‘So I’ve heard!— it’s surprising!— I can’t think how you invented it! there’s a vast deal of invention in it! And you’ve got so much humour, too!— now my sister has no humour,— her’s is all sentiment,— you can’t think how I was entertained with that old Grandmother & her son!— ’
I suppose she meant Tom Branghton for the son.
‘Lord, how much pleasure you must have had in writing it!— had not you?’
‘Y — e — s, Ma’am.’
‘So has my sister,— she’s never without a Pen in her Hand,— she can’t help writing for her Life,— when Lord Hawke is Travelling about with her, she keeps writing all the way!’
‘Yes, said Lady Hawke, I really can’t help writing. One has great pleasure in writing the things,— has not one, Miss Burney?’
‘Y — e — s, Ma’am.’
‘But your Novel, cried Lady Say & Seal, is in such a style!— so elegant!— I am vastly glad you made it end happily. I hate a Novel that don’t end happy.’
‘Yes, said Lady Hawke, with a languid smile, I was vastly glad when she married Lord Orville! I was sadly afraid it would not have been.’
‘My sister intends, said Lady Say & Seal, to print her Mauseoleum, just for her own friends & acquaintances.’
‘Yes, said Lady Hawke, I have never printed yet.’
‘I saw Lady Hawke’s name, quoth I to my first friend, ascribed to the play of “Variety”.’6
‘Did you indeed! cried Lady Say, in an extacy,— sister!— do you know Miss Burney saw your name in the news papers about the Play!— ’
‘Did she? said Lady Hawke, smiling complacently, But I really did not write it: I never writ a Play in my life.’
‘Well, cried Lady Say, but do pray repeat that sweet part that I am so fond of,— you know what I mean,— Miss Burney must hear it,— out of your Novel, you know!’
Ly H. ‘No, I can’t,— I have forgot it.’
Ly S. ‘O no,— I am sure you have not,— I insist upon it.’
Ly H. ‘But I know you can repeat it yourself,— you have so fine a memory,— I am sure you can repeat it.’
Ly S. ‘O but I should not do it Justice!— that’s all, I should not do it Justice!’
Lady Hawke then bent forward, & repeated ‘If when he made the declaration of his Love, the sensibility that beamed in his Eyes was felt in his Heart, what pleasing sensations, & soft alarms might not that tender avowal awaken!’
‘And from what, Ma’am, cried I, astonished, & imagining I had mistaken them, is this taken?’
‘From my sister’s Novel! answered the delighted Lady Say & Seal, expecting my raptures to be equal, it’s in the Mausoleum!— did not you know that!— Well, I can’t think how you can write these sweet Novels!— And it’s all just like that part!— Lord Hawke himself says it’s all Poetry!— For my part, I’m sure I never could write so. I suppose, Miss Burney, you are producing another? A’n’t you?’
‘O, I dare say you are! I dare say you are writing one at this very minute!’7
Mrs. Paradise now came up to me again, followed by a square man, middle aged, & hum drum, who, I found, was Lord Say & Seal,8 afterwards from the Kirwans, for though they introduced him to me, I was so confounded by their vehemence & their manners, that I did not hear his Name.
‘Miss Burney, said Mrs. P. — , Authoress of Evelina!’
‘Yes, cried Lady Say & Seal, starting up, ’tis the Authoress of Evelina!’
‘Of what?’ cried he.
‘Of Evelina!— You’d never think it!— she looks so young!— to have so much invention, & such an I elegant style! — Well, I could write a Play, I think, but I’m sure I could never write a Novel.’
‘O yes, You could if you would try; said Lady Hawke, ‘I assure you.’ ‘O no, I could not! answered she, I could not get a style! — that’s the thing, I could not tell how to get a style! — & a Novel’s nothing without a style, you know!’
‘Why no, said Lady Hawke, that’s true But then you write such charming Letters, you know!’
‘Letters? repeated Lady S. & S. simpering,— do you think so? — do you know I wrote a long Letter to Mrs. Ray just before I came here!— this very afternoon!— quite a long Letter!— I did, I assure you!’
Here Mrs. Paradise came forward with another Gentleman, younger, slimmer, & smarter, & saying to me ‘Sir Gregory Page Turner,’9 said to him, ‘Miss Burney,— Authoress of Evelina.’ At which Lady Say & Seal, in fresh transport, again arose, & rapturously again repeated ‘Yes,— she’s Authoress of Evelina! Have you read it?’
‘No,— is it to be had?’
‘O dear yes!— it‘s been printed these 2 years!— You’d never think it!— But it’s the most elegant Novel I ever read in my life! writ in such a style!’
‘Certainly, said he, very civilly, I have every inducement to get it. Pray where is it to be had? every where, I suppose?’
‘O no where, I hope!’ cried I, wishing at that moment it had been never in human ken.
My square friend, Lord Say & Seal, then putting his Head forward, said very solemnly, ‘I’ll purchase it.’
Lady Say & Seal then mentioned to me an hundred Novels that I had never heard of, asking my opinion of them, & whether I knew the Authors: Lady Hawke only occasionally & languidly joining in the discourse. And then, Lady S. & S., suddenly arising, begged me not to move, for she should be back again in a minute, & flew to the next Room.
I took, however, the first opportunity of Lady Hawke’s casting down her Eyes, & reclining her delicate Head, to make away from this terrible set,— & just as I was got by the Piano Forte, where I hoped Pacchierotti would soon present himself, Mrs. Paradise again came to me, & said, ‘Miss Burney, Lady Say & Seal wishes vastly to cultivate your acquaintance, & begs to know if she may have the Honour of your Company to an Assembly at her House next Friday? And I will do myself the pleasure to call for you, if you will give me leave.’
‘Her Ladyship does me much honour, but I am unfortunately engaged.’ was my answer, with as much promptness, as if it had been true!10— FB.
- Frances Burney to her sister, Susanna Burney Phillips,
February or March, 1782,
from The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney: Vol. 5 1782-1783,
ed. Lars E. Troide & Stewart J. Cooke
|. . . before . . .||. . . after . . .|
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2013 Ray Davis.