Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Henry Torrens: The Forgotten Man of the 1001 Nights

Should you ever have occasion to look up the name of Henry Torrens on Wikipedia, you may have some difficulty actually locating him. You'll find Major-General Sir Henry Torrens KCB, author of that standard textbook Field Exercise and Evolutions of the Army (1824):

Sir Henry Torrens (1779-1828)

Chances are you'll also find his grandson, the even more eminent Lieutenant General Sir Henry D'Oyley Torrens KCB KCMG, without too much trouble:

Felice Beato: Henry D'Oyley Torrens (1833-1889)

What you won't find, unless you look very hard indeed, is the entry on Henry Whitelock Torrens, son of the first, and father of the second of the military gentlemen listed above:
Henry Whitelock Torrens (20 May 1806 – 16 August 1852), son of Major-General Henry Torrens, was born on 20 May 1806. He received his B.A. at Christ Church, Oxford (where he was a president of the United Debating Society), and entered the Inner Temple. After a short service under the Foreign Office, he obtained a writership from the Court of Directors of the East India Company and arrived in India in November 1828 and held various appointments at Meerut. In 1835 he joined the Secretariat, in which he served in several departments under Sir William Hay Macnaghten. In 1839 he assisted in the editing of the Calcutta Star, a weekly paper, which became a daily paper called the Eastern Star. He was secretary (1840–1846) and a Vice-President (1843–1845) to the Asiatic Society of Bengal (now the Asiatic Society). In December 1846, he was appointed Agent to the Governor-General at Murshidabad. Here in his endeavours to improve the Nizamat administration, his relations with the Nawab Nizam and his officials became greatly strained.
He was a clever essayist as well as a journalist and scholar, and his scattered papers were deservedly collected and published at Calcutta in 1854.
Torrens died of dysentery at Calcutta while on a visit to the Governor-General on 16 August 1852 and was buried in the Lower Circular Road Cemetery.
A bit of a nobody, one might feel tempted to conclude: a lawyer and journalist, who died young, leaving behind a son and a pile of "scattered papers."

What this entry fails to mention, however, is his importance as the author of the first serious attempt at a complete English translation of the 1001 Nights from the Arabic. He is included on the page devoted to Translations of One Thousand and One Nights, however:
Henry Torrens translated the first fifty nights from Calcutta II, which were published in 1838. Having heard that Edward William Lane began his own translation, Torrens abandoned his work.

There's a bit more to it than that, however. Luckily Richard Burton, in the preface to his own complete 1885 translation of the collection, is somewhat more expansive:
At length in 1838, Mr. Henry Torrens, B.A., Irishman, lawyer ("of the Inner Temple") and Bengal Civilian, took a step in the right direction; and began to translate, "The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night," (1 vol., 8vo, Calcutta: W. Thacker and Co.) from the Arabic of the Ægyptian (!) MS. edited by Mr. (afterwards Sir) William H. Macnaghten. The attempt, or rather the intention, was highly creditable; the copy was carefully moulded upon the model and offered the best example of the verbatim et literatim style. But the plucky author knew little of Arabic, and least of what is most wanted, the dialect of Egypt and Syria. His prose is so conscientious as to offer up spirit at the shrine of letter; and his verse, always whimsical, has at times a manner of Hibernian whoop which is comical when it should be pathetic. Lastly he printed only one volume of a series which completed would have contained nine or ten.
- Richard F. Burton, "The Translator's Foreword." A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, Now Entituled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, 10 vols. Benares: Kamashastra Society, 1885. vol.1: xi.
You'll note that his wikipedia entry above made no mention of Torrens' Irish antecedents. Burton's remarks about the "Hibernian whoop" in his verses underlines it rather patronisingly ("plucky" seems a rather belitting epithet to apply to a fellow author, also). The curious thing is that Burton himself was often discriminated against as an Irishman by his intensely class and caste-conscious English contemporaries. Whilst he himself was born in Torquay, both of his parents were of Irish extraction.

Anyway, whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, here are the title-pages of Torrens' two principal publications. Fortunately both are readily available online as free e-texts:

  1. Torrens, Henry. The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night: From the Arabic of the Aegyptian Ms. as edited by Wm Hay Macnaghten, Esqr., Done into English by Henry W. Torrens. Calcutta: W. Thacker & Co. / London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1838.

  2. Hume, James, ed. A Selection from the Writings, Prose and Poetical, of the late Henry W. Torrens, Esq., B.A., Bengal Civi Service, and of the Inner Temple; with a Biographical Memoir. 2 vols. Calcutta & London: R. C. Lepage & Co., 1854.

The editor of the second of these volumes explains that:
I have taken nearly all the poetry from the volume of the Arabian Nights ... because I found selection most difficult where all appeared good. The book is out of print, or nearly so I believe, and the severest critic will not blame me for preserving what otherwise might soon have been lost, or at any rate difficult to procure.
So who's correct? Did Torrens have any poetic talent or not? Burton (of course) had a tendency to play down the merits of any possible rivals. He himself has a reputation as a most execrable versifier (unlike his fellow Nights translator, John Payne).

William Harvey: The Ifrit and the Lady (1839)

Perhaps, then, you should judge for yourselves:
Then they both gave her rings from off their hands, and she said to them, "This Ufreet carried me off secretly on the night of my marriage, and put me into a coffer, and placed the coffer in a chest, and put on the chest seven strong locks, and laid me low in the midst of the roaring sea, the ever restless in the dashing of waves; yet he does not know that when a woman desires aught, there is nothing can prevail against her, as certain poets say.
"With confidence no women grace,
Nor trust an oath that's given by them;
Passion's the source and resting place,
Of anger and joy with them;
False love they show with lying face,
But ’neath the cloak all's guile with them;
In Yoosoof's story you may trace,
Some of the treacheries rife in them;
See ye not father Adam's case?
He was driven forth by cause of them.
Certain poets too have said,
“But alas! for you, who blame me
Fix the blamed one in his fault!
Is the sin with which you shame me,
Great and grievous as you call't?
Say, I be indeed a lover,
Have I done aught greater crime
Than in all men you discover,
Even from the olden time?
Ne'er at earthly thing I'll wonder,
Whatsoe'er the marvel be,
Till on one I chance to blunder
Scaped from woman's wile scot free."
The passage above comes from the frame-story to the Nights, where the two brothers Shahryar and Shahzaman, having executed their wives for adultery, are riding out to try and discover a virtuous woman. This one, even though she was abducted on her wedding night by a seemingly all-powerful Ifrit, has still managed to cuckold him more than 500 times.

Albert Letchford: The Ifrit and the Lady (1897)

Here's Burton's 1885 version of the same passage:
When they had drawn their two rings from their hands and given them to her, she said to them, "Of a truth this Ifrit bore me off on my bride-night, and put me into a casket and set the casket in a coffer and to the coffer he affixed seven strong padlocks of steel and deposited me on the deep bottom of the sea that raves, dashing and clashing with waves; and guarded me so that I might remain chaste and honest, quotha! that none save himself might have connexion with me. But I have lain under as many of my kind as I please, and this wretched Jinni wotteth not that Destiny may not be averted nor hindered by aught, and that whatso woman willeth the same she fulfilleth however man nilleth. Even so saith one of them:—
'Rely not on women;
Trust not to their hearts,
Whose joys and whose sorrows
Are hung to their parts!
Lying love they will swear thee
Whence guile ne'er departs:
Take Yusuf for sample
'Ware sleights and 'ware smarts!
Iblis ousted Adam
(See ye not?) thro' their arts.'
And another saith:—
'Stint thy blame, man! 'Twill drive to a passion without bound;
My fault is not so heavy as fault in it hast found.
If true lover I become, then to me there cometh not
Save what happened unto many in the by-gone stound.
For wonderful is he and right worthy of our praise
Who from wiles of female wits kept him safe and kept him sound.'"

John Tenniel: The Sleeping Genie and the Lady (1865)

And here's John Payne's (1882):
So each of them took off a ring and gave it to her. And she said to them, "Know that this genie carried me off on my wedding night and laid me in a box and shut the box up in a glass chest, on which he clapped seven strong locks and sank it to the bottom of the roaring stormy sea, knowing not that nothing can hinder a woman, when she desires aught, even as says one of the poets:
I rede thee put no Faith in womankind,
Nor trust the oaths they lavish all in vain:
For on the satisfaction of their lusts
Depend alike their love and their disdain.
They proffer lying love, but perfidy
Is all indeed their garments do contain.
Take warning, then, by Joseph's history,
And how a woman sought to do him bane;
And eke thy father Adam, by their fault
To leave the groves of Paradise was fain.
Or as another says:
Out on yon! blame confirms the blamed one in his way.
My fault is not so great indeed as you would say.
If I'm in love, forsooth, my case is but the same
As that of other men before me, many a day.
For great the wonder were if any man alive
From women and their wiles escape unharmed away!"

My 1001 Nights Project: The Ifrit and his Stolen Bride (tumblr)

So what do you think? I certainly think it would be difficult to claim that Torrens's version was any worse than either of the others. On the contrary, it's much easier to follow, and seems to mean much the same thing. As for Burton's accusation that the former's translation exemplified "the verbatim et literatim style," it's surely the case that both Payne and Burton make far greater efforts to follow the verbal and syntactical oddities of the original Arabic.

No doubt it's true that Torrens gave up on his project when he heard that Edward W. Lane was engaged in a not dissimiar work - not knowing, perhaps, how sadly bowdlerised the resulting translation would turn out to be. There's a curious echo, there, of Burton's discovery, fifty years later, that John Payne was embarked on the same project of a complete and literal translation of The Thousand Nights and One Night.

Unlike Torrens, though, Burton did not choose to step aside meekly. Instead he offered Payne priority of publication, but then went on to issue his own extensively annotated version a year later. The embarrassing similarities between large parts of the two translations has led to accusations of plagiarism on Burton's part. Whether or not this is true, even Burton admitted that when a previous scholar has hit on the perfect way to express something, it would be needless pedantry to insist on phrasing it differently. Make of that what you will.

It does seem possible that Burton was so scornful of Torrens because the latter resembled him in so many ways: the 'un-English' exuberance of manner, the gift for languages ... Unlike Torrens, though, Burton was sent down from Oxford without a degree, and managed to antagonise almost all of his well-wishers both in India and England.

Torrens, by contrast, managed to work harmoniously even with the eminent but eccentric William Hay Macnaghten, whose four-volume edition of the Arabic text of the 1001 Nights - the basis for his own translation - remains a monumental and irreplaceable work.

Of course, to anyone familiar with the history of nineteenth-century India, and particularly the ill-judged 1839 invasion of Afghanistan, Macnaghten is better known as the blundering political officer who was captured and killed by the Afghans in December 1841, shortly before the disastrous retreat from Kabul - generally thought to be among the worst military disasters in British history.

Macnaghten has a cameo role in the section devoted to the Afghanistan debacle in George MacDonald Fraser's irreverent but highly readable pisstake version of imperial history Flashman (1969), which purports to be the memoirs of the bully from Tom Brown's Schooldays.

George MacDonald Fraser: Flashman (1839-42)

Interestingly enough, the city I live in, Auckland, is named after George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland, Governor-General of India between 1836 and 1842, whose other great claim to fame is principal responsibility for the Afghanistan disaster.

My father could never walk past the toga'd statue of the great fool - originally erected in Calcutta in 1848, but donated to our city in 1969 - without shaking his fist and calling down curses upon his name.

The connections are all there, once you're ready to see them.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Fifteenth Anniversary (Crystal)

I started this blog on the 14th of June, 2006, so this is the fifteenth anniversary of The Imaginary Museum. Ten years ago I put up a post which listed five major web projects I'd undertaken in the first five years of the blog's existence, and five years ago I published a follow-up, with five more projects undertaken between 2011 and 2016.

The statistics on the blog are interesting. It took till December 2018 for it to break the "Million-hit Barrier", and another two years after that to reap another quarter million hits, so I guess I must be averaging a fairly consistent 125,000 per year (10,400 per month / 2,400 per week / 340 per day). I only have 100-odd followers, so there must be a pretty consistent number of returns on online searches to build up that amount of traffic.

Pageviews (6/12/2018)

Comments are way down from what they used to be. I don't take that too personally, as that seems to be the case for most blogs nowadays - certainly ones that include moderation. I get a large number of comments from spammers pretending to be successful members of the Illuminati every since I put up a mildly sarcastic post on the subject a few years ago now ("Worried about the Illuminati?"). You'd think that the date it was posted - April 1, 2016 - would offer some clue to its nature, but apparently not.

My web-based endeavours do seem to have slowed down a bit, but there are still some reasonably substantial ones to list below. Here they are, then, in (rough) chronological order:


  1. (December 2, 2016- ) Jack Ross: Showcase.

  2. This ... is meant more as a vitrine than a catalogue: the closest simulacrum I can achieve online to my own personal cabinet of curiosities.
    - Jack Ross. "Site-map" (2016)
    For a long time now I've maintained a large, quite complex site called Works and Days as a combination curriculum vitae / comprehensive list of publications (and reviews of same). Even I find it a bit difficult to navigate at times, though, so I decided to make a more streamlined showcase site where I could display my major publications in a convenient, easy-to-reference style.

    The idea is to maintain both sites in tandem: to put everything of interest on the first site, and to select only those few details likely to concern others on the second. It's a bit difficult to gauge the success of the endeavour so far, but I do feel the medley of covers and titles combine to make an attractive design.


  3. (September 19, 2017- ) Paper Table.

  4. A few years ago I participated in a fairly haphazard and poorly organised book fair ... The book table that I was helping out at was decorated with a selection of paper models I had made, designed to catch people’s attention, make our table seem more welcoming, and hopefully generate a few sales as a result ...
    At a certain point in the day, a little girl approached us. She was about eight years old and she asked if she could buy the paper table from our display. She held out $15.00 to pay for it. Of course, I gladly gave her the table for free, and for some time afterwards I glimpsed her walking around the large room, the paper table carefully balanced on the palm of her hand, staring at it with an expression of utter delight.
    - Bronwyn Lloyd. "Mission Statement" (2017)
    Having published a number of books through our Arts-oriented small publisher Pania Press, Bronwyn Lloyd and I decided to move into fiction publishing with this new endeavour. Specifically, we hoped to put out a series of novellas which could contribute to the richness of this form in New Zealand writing.

    Unfortunately the costs and organisation involved proved more than anticipated, and we were forced to suspend the series after the first three volumes had appeared. It was a nice idea while it lasted, though, and we may well return to it at some point in the future if the commercial balance of such initiatives tips our way again.

    The three books that did appear were as follows:


  5. (September 20, 2017-March 2019) Poetry NZ Review: Local Poetry Books in Review.

  6. As in the print edition of the magazine, there are a lot of opinions on display in the Poetry New Zealand Review. Some of them the editors may happen to agree with, others not. A well-argued point merits its own space, however, and we see our function on this site more as curators than as advocates of particular views.
    - Jack Ross. "Guiding Principles" (2017)
    I had hoped to make this a more substantial site, featuring year-round reviews of poetry books which weren't able to be fitted in the annual volumes of Poetry New Zealand Yearbook. However, my interest in the project began to wane after I decided to give up the managing editorship of the magazine after six years and six issues (five edited by me directly, one edited by Dr Jo Emeney).

    It's a shame, as I think it could have been a useful resource for recording the immense stream of published poetry - much of it of high quality - which appears each year in New Zealand from small presses as well as established publishers. Now that Poetry New Zealand has moved to Waikato under Tracey Slaughter's editorship, I feel that I might just leave the site as it is for the present. Who knows? The time may come to revive it in one form or another.


  7. (October, 2019) The Lonesome Death of Brigid Furey. Ka Mate Ka Ora 17: 62-79.

  8. It is some years now since I tried to contact Bridget Furey, the elusive and enigmatic poet whom Jack Ross discusses in his beguilingly performative essay ‘The Lonesome Death of Bridget Furey or: Pessoa Down Under.’ The nearest I got, when I wrote to the only and clearly out-of-date address I had, was to reach Bridget’s older, doting sister, Maud (Maudlin) Furey. Maud replied to me by snail mail (as I had written to Bridget). She explained that her brilliant, but implicitly erratic, sister had long since done with poetry. And the next sentence hinted that she might have long since done with life itself, too. But Maud did not elaborate or unpick her dark hints. All she added was: “I wish she hadn’t!” Then Maud had copied out by hand into the letter a text message, which she said was the last communication she had received, quite a while ago now, from her sister, and that she feared that would be the final: “Out on the margins the oddballs bounce the highest.” And that was all. Except for a PS added in tiny letters (Maud’s hand-writing was very neat and small) beneath her signature: “My sister overdosed on life – I wish I had.”
    Bridget Furey’s characteristically enigmatic text comes into sharp and meaningful focus when applied to this issue of Ka Mate Ka Ora. This is an issue of high-bouncing oddballs ...
    - Murray Edmond, "Editorial Notes: Out on the Margins the Oddballs Bounce Highest." Ka Mate Ka Ora 17 (October 2019)
    This article - in full: "The Lonesome Death of Bridget Furey, Or: Pessoa Down Under,” & (ed.) ‘The Complete Poetical Works of Bridget Furey (1966-c.1997)'" - started off as a paper on the influence of Portuguese Modernist poet Fernando Pessoa on a number of Antipodean writers, which I delivered in mid-2018 at the 15th International Conference on the Short Story in English in Lisbon, Portugal.

    I had originally intended to write it up for the Conference Proceedings, but the editors felt (not unreasonably) that it was more focussed on poetry than short fiction. I therefore rewrote it substantially for our local New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics, Ka Mate Ka Ora, based at my old alma mater the University of Auckland.


  9. (January 1, 2018 - September 4, 2020) NZSF: The Psychogeography of New Zealand Speculative Fiction.

  10. George Bernard Shaw and E. M. Forster were great admirers of the later Samuel Butler, who brought a new tone into Victorian literature and began a long tradition of New Zealand utopian/dystopian literature that would culminate in works by Jack Ross, William Direen, Alan Marshall and Scott Hamilton.
    - "Samuel Butler (novelist)." Wikipedia (accessed 17 August 2020)
    I originally planned to collect all the various articles and reviews I've written about NZSF between covers as a rather discursive history of the topic, but the publishers I submitted it to seemed to feel that it fell between two stools: two nerdy to appeal to "general readers" (whoever they may be), and too anecdotal and personal to please an Academic public.

    However, I think they might have done me a favour, as I feel far more comfortable with this online version of the project. It has the great virtue of being able to be expanded and revised continuously, and it's also far more colourful and image-rich than anything short of a coffee-table book would have allowed me to be.

So what does the future hold for this blog - and for the bloggy empire to which it constitutes the gateway (38 at last count)? Who can truly say? These are deep waters, Watson.

More of the same, no doubt, but perhaps it might be a good idea to learn to expend my energy in ways which make more sense to the Academic authorities presiding over my professional development: PBRF [Performance-Based Research Funding, for those of you lucky enough not to be in the know], for instance ...

Nah, just kidding.

Geoff Murphy, dir. The Quiet Earth (1985)

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

The Wizard of Helensville: John Perry (1943-2021)

Any Given Day: John Perry (2016)

It was a real shock to hear, earlier this week, that art historian, curator and antique dealer John Perry had died. It seems like forever that I've been driving up to Helensville periodically to check out his immense horde of vintage treasure: books, ceramics, furniture, pictures, prints, and everything in between.

Judging from the faded posters for Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown and James Cameron's Titanic in the lobby of the old cinema which John Perry had made his own, it must have closed down sometime around 1997. Certainly he'd been there for a good two decades or so.

In the early days, it was still possible to enter the body of the auditorium, and to get some sense of the sheer size of his collection. For many years now that part of the building has been closed off to the public, however, with only the front rooms accessible even to the most agile visitors.

Was it a hoard? Its intractable size and - it seems - uncontrollable tendency to grow made it seem so, but there were always strong themes and schemes underlying his accumulations. For a start, his longterm interest in primitive and outsider art made it essential to look not just at the pictures on the walls, but also those stacked in the narrow aisles.

As a book-collector, I can state with some confidence that John had an unerring eye for quality. I've bought so many treasures there it's hard to list them. But it took some time to learn how to do it. No prices were attached, so one had to be very keen before starting on the negotiation. I never haggled with him, but I found that the longer he talked about any given prize, the lower the price would tend to be.

I've listed, below, a few sample purchases: some of them dazzling coups, others merely interesting, but all bearing witness to his catholic tastes and interests in literature, as well as art!

    Henry Cary, trans.: The Vision of Dante (1910)

  1. Alighieri, Dante. The Vision, or Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Trans. Henry Francis Cary. 1814. With 109 Illustrations by John Flaxman. Oxford Edition. London: Henry Frowde / Oxford University Press, 1910.
  2. A nice copy of the first major translation of Dante into English.

    J. C. Beaglehole, ed.: The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, 1768-1771 (1963)

  3. Beaglehole, J. C., ed. The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, 1768-1771. 2 vols. 1962. The Sir Joseph Banks Memorial. Sydney: The Trustees of the Public Library of New South Wales, in association with Angus and Robertson, 1963.
  4. John was certainly very interested in everything to do with Captain Cook, and had a most impressive collection of old maps and early editions of the Voyages.

  5. Barrow, Sir John. The Eventful History of the Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of HMS BOUNTY its Causes and Consequences. 1831. Ed. Captain Stephen W. Roskill. London: The Folio Society, 1976.
  6. Another classic piece of maritime lore, in a reprint by the Folio Society.

    Ernest Sutherland Bates, ed.: The Bible Designed to be Read as Literature

  7. The Bible Designed to be Read as Literature. Ed. Ernest Sutherland Bates. Introduction by Laurence Binyon. London: William Heinemann Limited, n.d. [c. 1930].
  8. A reprint of the King James version arranged for easier reading, with some omissions here and there: a very popular book in its day.

  9. Butler, Rev. Alban. The Lives of the The Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints. 1756-1759. 5 vols. Ed. Rev. F. C. Husenbeth. Supplementary Volume by Rev. Bernard Kelly. Preface by Rev. J. H. McShane. London, Dublin & Belfast: Virtue & Co. Ltd., 1928.
  10. I think that John told me that he'd acquired the library of an old clergyman, hence the large number of theological books visible latterly on his shelves.

    Arthur Machen, trans.: The Memoirs of Giacomo Casanova di Seingalt (1922)

  11. The Memoirs of Giacomo Casanova di Seingalt, Translated into English by Arthur Machen. Privately Printed for Subscribers Only. 1894. Limited Edition of 1,000 numbered sets. + The Twelfth Volume of the Memoirs of Giacomo Casanova; Containing Chapters VII. and VIII. Never Before Printed; Discovered and Translated by Mr. Arthur Symons; and Complete with an Index and Maps by Mr. Thomas Wright. 12 vols. London: The Casanova Society, 1922-1923.
  12. This was an unexpected windfall one day when I was passing through Helensville with David Howard.

    Chuang Tsu: Inner Chapters (1974)

  13. Chuang Tsu. Inner Chapters. Trans. Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English. London: Wildwood House Ltd., 1974.
  14. John's predilection for Eastern art and philosophy was strongly to the fore in a good deal of what he collected.

    Richard M. Dorson, ed.: American Negro Folktales (1967)

  15. Dorson, Richard M. ed. American Negro Folktales. Greenwich, Conn: Fawcett Premier, 1967.
  16. This classic piece of folklore I bought on an early visit to Helensville with my father, many years ago. Even then it was hard to get at many of the books. One could see but not touch.

    Robert Graves & Joshua Podro: The Nazarene Gospel Restored (1953)

  17. Graves, Robert, & Joshua Podro. The Nazarene Gospel Restored. London: Cassell & Company Limited, 1953.
  18. I could hardly believe it when I first saw this. As a confirmed fan of Robert Graves, even in his nuttier moments, this fabulously rare tome was the only one of his major works which had so far escaped me.

    George & Weedon Grossmith: The Diary of a Nobody (1969)

  19. Grossmith, George, & Weedon Grossmith. The Diary of a Nobody. 1892. Drawings by John Lawrence. 1969. London: The Folio Society, 1970.
  20. A nice Folio edition of this minor classic.

    H. W. Longfellow: Poetical Works (1908)

  21. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The Poetical Works of Longfellow. Oxford Complete Copyright Edition. London, New York & Toronto: Henry Frowde / Oxford University Press, 1908.
  22. This I bought on my last trip up to the shop. I wrote about it here.

    Harry Price: The End of Borley Rectory (1946)

  23. Harry Price. The End of Borley Rectory: 'The Most Haunted House in England'. 1946. London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1952.
  24. And this I found the time before. I wrote about it here.

    George Ryley Scott: The History of Torture throughout the Ages (1940)

  25. Scott, George Ryley. The History of Torture throughout the Ages. 1940. London: Torchstream Books (Charles Skilton Ltd.), 1964.
  26. This was one of a pair of books by this English eccentric: the other being devoted to a history of flagellation. Not really my thing, to be honest,but they're certainly both quite collectable.

TVNZ: John Perry (2019)

That last (and oddest) volume on the list above seemed increasingly prophetic the last few times we saw John. He had such a strong desire to get away - to do the overseas trips he'd always planned, to live in some exotic otherwhere for a year or two.

He told us he'd worked out that he'd only spent 18 months or so of his life outside New Zealand, and felt that this was far too little for a man of his tastes. And yet, somehow, it just didn't happen.

Health worries, business worries (the sheer complexity of dealing with - let alone handing on - his building and its contents), and of course the epidemic, combined to make this an unattainable dream.

The second-to-last time we saw him, he invited me upstairs into his apartment, and I got some sense of how he lived there, surrounded by pictures and curios, with his rooftop garden out the front, there on the outskirts of the ancient Kauri kingdom of Helensville.

Mind you, it didn't seem too bad a place to live out your days - his apartment had a slightly Latin American air, as if he were one of those retired Colonels in a García Márquez novel, watching the rains come and go across the sinuous flatlands of the Kaipara.

Perhaps Kendrick Smithyman, who grew up in Te Kopuru, just up the coast, put it best, in one of his earlier, uncollected poems:

English visitors find strangely unlovely
a river all silt prospecting coarse paddocks
as though reluctant of its way with tides.
Sluggishly it bends south, half-circling
raw hills which even in summer eat at clouds.
Mornings break out cold on a terse view.
Westward, they bear the Tasman’s unstopped rumour.

They want cars to take them north to an alien bush,
or would get back to the brashest city – its harbour
is famed more tantalising. A city may offer
even the least men a consolation of like crowds.
Whereas, that northern country proffers nothing,
but lies suffering all wounds made in its soils
and knows to be spoiled and rent and made over
is to have estranged spirit, but can be patient.
Sensual men are dulled. Earth is tutored bearing.

Yet if you make your peace with that soil
which burns barren this season the land will give
peace in return. Eyes will learn to open
the clay scars, bush burns, water courses;
learn way of manuka and lank toitoi, harshly winded.
Then, not heard before but some morning unpredicted,
a certain music is sensed to have spoken.
At midday there are birds springing beyond sight,
evening is tempered. Dogs barking summer away.

I can never drive through Helensville without thinking of that phrase: "Dogs barking summer away." Now it makes me remember how much John hated the screech of brakes as cars and trucks hooned round the bend into town. He'd shrug, stop for a moment in mid-discourse, then resume once they'd made their way by.

Rest in peace, John. You'll be greatly missed by all your many friends, here and elsewhere.