RATS, RAGS AND RICHES – Grove House (Wandsworth)

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Yolande Duvernay was born in December 1812 in Versailles. Little is known about her youth, apart from the fact that she was brought up in poverty. Her domineering mother, only known as Madame Duvernay, had been a dancer in her youth and steered her six-year old daughter into the same direction. An underfed and poorly clad girl, she was enrolled in the School of Dance where pupils were known as petits rats de l’Opéra. 

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Under control of their mothers, the rats spent their days in school and their evenings on the stage of the opera house, appearing in a variety of juvenile roles. Dance may have been a career for some in the end, for most girls it was an instruction into coquetterie and a pathway into the shady world of sex and abuse. Men of society kept an eye on ballet pupils and, through mothers who ‘managed’ their daughters, made sexual assignations with the young rat of their choice. The school was a stage where mothers ‘auctioned’ off their daughters. Some girls did make careers and Yolande fared particularly well. She was described as an elegant young woman and a graceful dancer. Aware of the situation, Madame Duvernay was intent to exploit her daughter’s eye-catching presence. In 1831, Yolande became the mistress of Louis-Désiré Véron, the newly appointed director of the Paris Opéra after the toppling of the Bourbon monarchy. He took her out of ballet school and promoted her straight into leading roles. She made her début in Jean-Baptiste Blache’s neo-classical ballet Mars et Vénus ou Les fillets de Vulcain (1809). Having adopted the stage name Pauline Duvernay, she became the star of the theatre.

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Her fame crossed the Channel where Princess Victoria loved her performances. Young Wiliam Makepeace Thackeray was in awe of her and, according to fellow dancer and friend Antoine Coulon, she was the ‘idol of all the dandies’ in London. In October 1836, Pauline performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where she danced the role of Florinda in the first London production of Le diable boiteux. Published as a novel set in Madrid by Alain-René Lesage in 1707 (translated as ‘The Devil upon Two Sticks’ in 1708), the story was turned into a ballet by Jean Coralli in 1836. Her performance of an unusual Spanish-Cuban solo dance, the ‘cachucha’, catapulted her to unequalled fame. Alone on stage, castanets in her hands, wearing a pink satin dress trimmed with black lace, she added a provocative twist to the curious steps of the dance (captured in a hand-coloured lithograph by John Frederick Lewis in February 1837). Society went wild. Men of all ages were eager to pay for the privilege of being near to her. The price (set by Madame Duvernay) was high. All rivals in the ‘sale’ of sexual favours were outbid by a self-effacing, but immensely rich man. His name was Stephens Lyne-Stephens. His wealth was inherited.

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Protestant glassmaker William Stephens was the illegitimate son of Cornish schoolmaster Oliver Stephens and servant girl Jane Smith. In 1746 he travelled to Portugal where one of his relations worked as a merchant. In 1755 he survived the Lisbon earthquake and during the next decade he made a living out of burning lime to provide mortar for rebuilding the city. In 1769, he was asked by Sebastião José de Carvalho e Mel, 1st Marquis of Pombal, Secretary of the State of Internal Affairs in the government of Joseph I and its de facto head, to re-open a derelict glass factory which was located some ninety miles north of Lisbon. Such was the urgency to stimulate commercial activity that he was granted a number of lucrative privileges: exemption from all taxes; a monopoly of glass supply in Portugal and its colonies; and free use of fuel from the Royal pine forest. Joseph I died in 1777 and was succeeded by his eldest daughter Maria I who hated Pombal and his policies. The latter lost his position, but Stephens held on to his status and build a good working relationship with the new queen. That in itself was remarkable. She was a Catholic monarch who believed that her authority was derived from God; he was an illegitimate and foreign Protestant ‘heretic’ – and they enjoyed each other’s company. William retained his privileges for almost forty years and build up an enormous fortune. After he died, unmarried and childless, his wealth was bequeathed to a cousin in London, Charles Lyne, who applied for Royal license to take the name Lyne-Stephens. Charles’s inheritance made him the richest commoner in England. It became a cause célèbre and his only son and heir, Stephens Lyne-Stephens, found himself in great demand by families with unmarried daughters. But Stephens was an unassuming young man who showed little interest in the company of women – until the day he encountered Pauline Duvernay on stage at Drury Lane. 

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At that time she was the mistress of the diplomat Charles, Marquis de la Valette, but in an arrangement negotiated between Count d’Orsay (a friend of Stephens and himself a colorful French figure in British high society) and Yolande’s greedy mother who took two-thirds of the cash deal, Stephens paid a considerable amount of money for the pleasure of ‘owning’ the ballerina. Stephens provided Yolande with a comfortable lifestyle and a property in Kensington, whilst he remained at his father’s estate in Portman Square, Marylebone, to keep up appearances. In 1837, he persuaded her to retire from the stage and live with him at his father’s house. The latter felt uncomfortable with the arrangement (she demanded that he addressed her in French) and, in June 1843, he acquired Grove House in Wandsworth. Pauline remained Stephens’s mistress for eight years. In 1845, out of the blue, the couple married at St Mary’s Church in Putney for an Anglican service, followed by a Catholic one at Cadogan Terrace chapel in Chelsea. To keep a mistress in Victorian society was quietly accepted, but to marry in a mixture of religion was considered a social disgrace. Ostracised by relations and friends, London became a prison to them. When his father died in 1851, Stephens became the richest man in Britain. He bought Hôtel Molé, a grand mansion in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, acquired Lynford Hall near Thetford (Norfolk), and built up a celebrated art collection. The couple settled at Grove House.

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The Grove estate was re-designed and built in the later eighteenth century by James Wyatt for the Dutch immigrant merchant and financier Joshua van Neck (the name was later anglicised as Vanneck). At his death in 1777, he was one of the richest men in Europe. Yolande settled in an environment of traditional wealth and she acquired her share of it. When Stephens died in 1860, he left his entire fortune to her. She became the nation’s wealthiest woman, richer – it was rumoured – than Queen Victoria. She owned three grand estates in England and Paris, thousands of acres of land, and employed hundreds of staff. Yolande continued to live at Grove House, building a Romanesque mausoleum in its grounds. In addition, she acquired the 1863 sculptural group Fighting Bulls by Jean-Baptiste Clésinger which was sited in the gardens of Lynford Hall also as a memorial to her late husband. 

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Not equipped to handle her financial obligations, she befriended Edward Stopford Claremont, a former British military attaché in Paris and friend of Napoleon III, to help her out. Yolande persuaded him to join her at Lynford Hall and live in a ménage-à-trois with his tragically unhappy wife. The arrangement lasted for two decades. Then the past started to trouble her. There were dark secrets and two abandoned children in Paris. Religion took hold of her. She gave huge sums of money to the church and financed the building of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge, one of the biggest Catholic churches in England. With the tallest spire in the city, the building remains a landmark sight.

Yolande Duvernay died on 2 September 1894. She rests in the Grove House mausoleum, next to her husband. Since the marriage had been childless, the trustees put the contents of Lynford Hall and most of the furniture and paintings in Grove House up for sale. The auction took place at Christie’s in May 1895 and lasted nine days. A whole day was devoted to pictures, including portraits of Philip IV and the Infanta Maria Teresa by Velazquez; paintings by Albert Cuyp, Bellini, Veronese, Watteau, Murillo, Claude Lorrain, and others. The furniture was French, mostly Louis XIV and Louis XVI; there was a large quantity of (Sèvres) porcelain; and a wide variety of exclusive objets d’art. Day nine was exclusively dedicated to silverware and jewelry for which a separate catalog was issued for this day (17 pages, 158 items). The sale attracted buyers from Paris, Vienna, Berlin, New York, and elsewhere. The proceeds of the sale were mind-boggling. It was a classic rags-to-riches story with an immigration twist: a young rat who had been ‘auctioned’ by her mother in Paris setting a record art sale at Christie’s after her demise as Britain’s richest widow.

Yolande Marie-Louise Duvernay, Mrs Stephen Lyne-Stephens (1812-1894) by Lorenzo Bartolini (Vernio, Tuscany 1777 ¿ Florence 1850)

Highgate Road (Kentish Town)

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Boost, Baste and Lambast (How to Poach a Periodical)
On 27 January 1990 a ninety-three year old man named Alfred John Barret died in the cathedral city of Wells in Somerset. He was cremated and his ashes scattered. Having moved from London in 1952/3, he had lived in Wells for some four decades with his Scottish wife, leading an unassuming life in a modest red brick housing estate. His death went unnoticed.

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Alfred Perlès was born in 1897 in Vienna. His father was an affluent Czech Jew; his mother French and Catholic; his education Austro-German in the tradition of Goethe, Hölderin, and Mozart. As a young man he had the ambition of becoming a writer and, according to his own memoirs, he had sold a German-language film synopsis shortly before the outbreak of war – his only pre-war publication. Apparently there were several novels (or fragments thereof) written in German, but these were never published. During World War I he served as a junior officer in the Austrian army. Having been sent into action in Romania, he was court-martialled for a serious dereliction of duty and spent the remaining years of the war in an asylum. After the war he left Vienna never to return. The first phase of his life had ended in disgrace.

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Carrying a Czech passport and very little money, he roamed through the streets of Berlin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, before arriving in Paris around 1920. When his affluent parents realised that their son had falsely told them that he was studying medicine at the Sorbonne, they stopped sending him money. Battling extreme poverty, he held a variety of odd jobs and survived in the margin of society, acquiring a ‘wolf nature’ (his own term) with a street instinct for securing shelter and food. He lived the life of the wandering artist: exiled, rootless, and assuming numerous identities (his aliases were Alf and Joey and Joe and Fredl; he was the infamous Carl of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Quiet Days in Clichy). Perlès was one of the ‘Internationale’ of drifters in Paris – possessing an amazing ability to adapt to new socio-cultural surroundings. He quickly began writing in French and thought of himself as standing in the tradition of Joseph Conrad, Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, or William Saroyan. They all had adopted a foreign tongue and made creative use of it. To Perlès it was a condition of modernism: writing in another language intensifies one’s consciousness, opens new horizons, and deepens the range of feelings and sensations.
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Perlès met Henry Miller when the latter first visited Paris in April 1928, but it was not until early 1930 that their close friendship began. At the time, Perlès was scraping together a living as a journalist, writing feature stories for the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune. Miller once described Perlès’s existence in the metropolis as the ‘life of a cockroach’. Miller himself was in an even worse state, broke, starving, and homeless. Perlès offered him all the help he could afford. They became roommates in Clichy, a poor district just outside Paris. Six years older than his companion, Perlès was Miller’s mentor in how to survive hardship and be an artist. Miller memorised the experience in Quiet Days in Clichy (written in 1940; published in 1956). Together they penned a pseudo-manifesto called ‘The New Instinctivism: A Duet in Creative Violence’ (1930). In 1936 Perlès wrote his first French novel Sentiments limitrophes. Creatively, these intimate friends and artistic rivals spurred each other on.

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In 1934 Perlès was made unemployed once again with the closure of the Chicago Tribune office. Soon after, an unexpected opportunity came his way. Situated about twenty miles east of Paris, the American Country Club of France had been founded by elderly businessman Elmer Prather for the pleasure of affluent Anglo-American expats and a handful of local lovers of the game. The Club also provided its members with tennis facilities and a swimming pool. Prather launched a monthly magazine with club notices, sporting news, and advertisements for golf clubs, waterproof clothing, etc. Lacking editorial expertise, he decided to delegate the job to a professional. In 1937, he handed over ownership to Perlès on condition that the magazine’s old name be kept and its connection to the Country Club maintained by printing in each number two pages of golf news. For Prahter it seemed a shrewd move. The editorial responsibility was given to a proper writer whom he did not have to pay. At the same time he would have his notices published for free and the Club’s name would benefit from its association with a quality magazine.
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It was a golden opportunity for Perlès & Friends. Together with Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, and Anaïs Nin, he poached the journal and turned it into an avant-garde enterprise (in English & French). Modernism was the motivator. In a letter soliciting subscriptions, Henry Miller announced that the editors were planning to ‘boost, baste and lambast when and wherever possible. Mostly we shall boost. We like to boost, and of course to begin with we are going to boost ourselves’. In the wider Parisian artistic scene, the modernist idea had been pushed forward in countless manifestos that were diffused in a flow of little magazines. Manifestos were battle cries, not sets of rules and regulations. One of the ambitions of the movement was to abolish all directives that had been imposed upon writers and artists. Modernist art was spontaneous rather than ‘programmed’. The Booster took a unique place in that tradition. Its starting team was impressive: managing editor: Alfred Perlès; society editor: Anaïs Nin; sports editor: Charles Nordon (Lawrence Durrell); butter news editor: Walter Lowenfels; department of metaphysics and metapsychosis: Michael Fraenkel; fashion editor: Earl of Selvage (Henry Miller); literary editors: Lawrence Durrell and William Saroyan.
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Since the magazine was dependent on advertising patronage of the golfing elite, a measured approach would have been a pragmatic position to take. The opposite was the case. The editorial stance was uncompromising and subversive. Financial backing soon dried up and was halted with the publication of Nukarpiartekak, a Greenland saga which had been brought to European attention in 1884 by the Danish explorer Gustav Holm.* It tells the tale of an old bachelor, a lustful Eskimo, who disappears entirely in the vagina of a young woman. What is left of him is a small skeleton she passes into the snow the next morning. The publication was publicly denounced as obscene by the Club’s president. The magazine changed its name to Delta. It ran for another three issues before being discontinued. Boosting was no longer acceptable.
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In 1938 Alfred published his second French novel Le quatour en ré majeur. Soon after, the band of friends broke up. Miller moved to Greece and Perlès fled to London. The Bohemian stage of his life came to an end. After coming to England in December 1938, he was briefly interned (he recorded his experiences in 1944 in Alien Corn). On his release he joined the British Pioneer Corps helping to clean up rubble after the Blitz. He turned into a British patriot, concerned about the future of humanity and with an intense hatred of Nazi Germany. He expressed a moralistic seriousness which his friends of old greeted with dismay. He suggested in writing that he ‘had conquered the futility’ of his existence and emerged on ‘a higher plane of life’. He may have regretted his wild years in Paris, but there remains at least a linguistic link between his involvement in the avant-garde and his activities in the Pioneer Corps. By the mid-fourteenth century the word ‘pioneer’ (of French origin) referred to foot soldiers who marched ahead of their regiment to prepare the way, dig trenches, clear roads and terrain, with their picks and shovels. Pioneers were send in advance of the army. Napoleon’s use of the term avant-garde was identical before it became a cultural metaphor. 007
In 1943 Perlès published his first novel in English, entitled The Renegade. Around this time, he met Anne Barret who became his partner and later, in 1950, his wife. At the time of his naturalisation on 11 November 1947, he was living at Lissenden Mansions, Highgate Road in Kentish Town. By then he had changed his name to Alfred John Barret. In 1952 the couple moved to Wells. Perlès and Miller maintained a lifelong friendship. Miller visited Perlès in Britain and Perlès went out to see Miller in 1954/5 in Big Sur, California, where he wrote My Friend Henry Miller. In 1979, Miller composed a tribute to Perlès in the memoir Joey (the name given to him by Miller and Nin). The latter’s autobiography Scenes of a Floating Life is out of print (and should be re-issued). His relative quietness as an author in Britain and his disappearance from public life is intriguing and goes deeper than a more ‘mature’ outlook at life.

Ironically, it was the friendship with Miller that lies at the bottom of Alfred’s reduced creative powers. Perlès was a floater, an individual who was able to assume a variety of identities and act out different parts without ever belonging to any specific cultural group. He drifted from Vienna, to Paris, to London, writing in German, French, and English, but was unable to find a sense of totality or personal completeness. His psychological make up was as bewildering to himself as it was to others. He never showed the force of character to channel his creative talent. Young Miller was of a different disposition. Working in Paris on his first novel Tropic of Cancer, he submitted himself to a set of rules which were formulated in the process. It was a program of obsessive work based on a regime of relentless self-discipline. Sustained creation is not possible, but work always necessary (Miller was the fastest typist Perlès had ever met in his life). In the end, Miller’s sheer creative power inhibited his friend. It proved impossible to wrench himself free from the presence of genius. Perlès was acutely aware that his younger roommate would overshadow him in creative achievement – in the domain of ultimate human pride. He withdrew into the quiet splendour of England’s smallest city.
Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939–1947

* Nukarpiartekak – Modernist Magazines Project – Magazine Viewer
http://www.modernistmagazines.com/magazine_viewer.php?gallery…article_id=681

Euston Road (Camden)

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Brass instrument maker Gustave Auguste Besson was born in Paris in 1820. At the age of eighteen he produced a revolutionary design of cornet which surpassed all contemporary models. He formed the Besson Company in 1837 and his products quickly gained a great reputation throughout Europe.

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In 1857, he moved to London where he built a large factory at no. 158 Euston Road. Following Besson’s death in 1874, the company changed its name, becoming Fontaine-Besson in 1880 in France, and Besson in England. At the end of the nineteenth century (1894), the Besson factory of London employed 131 workers, producing some hundred brass instruments a week. In 1968, the group Boosey & Hawkes acquired the Besson London brand. As a consequence, Besson cornets, horns, trombones, tubas and other instruments are still made today. The Boosey family was of Franco-Flemish origin. The company traces its roots back to John Boosey, a bookseller in London in the 1760s and 1770s. His son Thomas continued the business at no. 4 Old Bond Street.

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Gresham Street

 

001Merchant banker Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Schröder [known as: Baron John Henry Schröder] was born on 13 February 1825 in Hamburg into a prominent dynasty of bankers and merchants. His father was one of the foremost merchants of his generation in Hamburg. During the Napoleonic wars he lived in London, where he built up a mercantile business with his brother. In 1818 he established his own merchant banking firm, J. Henry Schroder & Co (now at no. 31 Gresham Street).

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John Henry Schröder joined his father’s London firm in 1841, aged sixteen, learning the business under the supervision of a resident partner. The London partnership was restructured in 1849, the new resident partners being John Henry and Alexander Schlüsser. The latter was a specialist in trade with Russia. Much of the firm’s business was conducted in Hamburg and other commercial centres with John Henry’s brothers and cousins, who formed an extensive network of family firms. Schröder married Alexander’s niece Dorothea Eveline Schlüsser. They took up residence in fashionable Bayswater.

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On Alexander Schlüsser’s retirement in 1871, Henry Tiarks, the son of a pastor to London’s Anglo-German community who had worked at the firm as a clerk since 1847, was made a partner. The 1870s and 1880s were John Henry’s heyday as a businessman. He was a director and later chairman of the North British and Marine Insurance Company; in 1888 he became a director of the West India Dock Company, and two years later a member of Lloyd’s of London.

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In 1895, being childless, he brought in his nephew Bruno Schröder from Hamburg to represent the family in the partnership. The latter soon assumed control of the firm’s affairs. John Henry spent the remainder of his time looking after his extensive collection of objets d’art and the cultivation of orchids. Throughout his life, Schröder was a generous benefactor to German institutions and charities. From the outset he was treasurer of the German Hospital, Hackney, and in 1862 he became a trustee of the Hamburg Lutheran Church, London’s oldest German institution. He died in April 1910. He was one of only thirty persons to leave a fortune in excess of £2 million in the years between 1895 and 1914.

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Of Electric Belts and Bands Regent Street (West End)

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During the late eighteenth century whilst teaching at the University of Bologna, Luigi Galvani investigated the effect of electricity on dissected animals (frogs). He found that when an external charge was applied to the muscles, opposite electrical charges on the inside and outside surfaces would cause an attraction which in turn produced a muscle contraction. He summarized his observations in 1791 in an essay entitled ‘De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius’. Electricity sparked interest in European medical circles. Once again Italy seemed to be pointing the way in research.

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On 18 January 1803 George Forster was hanged at Newgate for the murder of his wife and child by drowning them in London’s Paddington Canal. The fairness of the trial (in retrospect) has been questioned and it remains far from certain that Forster committed the crime. Shortly after his execution the body was taken to a nearby house and handed to Giovanni Aldini to be used for a scientific experiment. The Italian scientist and nephew of Luigi Galvani performed a public demonstration of the electro-stimulation technique on the corpse’s deceased limbs. He aimed at convincing sceptic colleagues of the scientific value of galvanism. The famous Newgate Calendar (a detailed account of public executions outside the prison) reported that life re-appeared in the dead body, one eye opened, the right hand was raised and clenched, and the legs were set in motion. Those present were shocked. As Forster was sentenced to hang until he was dead, it was assumed that a re-execution needed to be performed. Galvanism made a huge impact. The medical use of direct current became the rage of the day. Vocal members of the sect of ‘galvanists’ promised that the shocks and sparks of electricity would turn the long held dream of a miracle cure into reality. The technique was subsequently applied to needles, hence the first form of electro-acupuncture pioneered by Louis-Joseph Berlioz at the Paris medical school in 1810. It was inevitable that theories about the ‘spark of life’ would touch upon literature. The notion of bringing an organism to life by the use of electricity was explicitly stated in the 1831 revised edition of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. The novel reflects the interest in and uncertainty about the boundary between life and death by suggesting that this dividing line might be breached. By the time Gustave Flaubert published Madame Bovary in 1856, such fundamental questions had receded because electro-therapy had become an almost routine medical treatment. 

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When the story was serialized in La Revue de Paris between October and December 1856, public prosecutors attacked it for being obscene. The author was taken to court. After Flaubert’s acquittal in February 1857 the novel became a bestseller when it was published in two volumes three months later. An intriguing character in the story is Monsieur Homais, the town pharmacist, and rival of Charles Bovary. He is vehemently anti-clerical and practices medicine without a license. A rather pompous character, he is a man with a strong erotic appetite (shared by his bourgeois wife). In order to improve his performance Homais wears Pulvermacher chains (chapter 11):

‘Il s’éprit d’enthousiasme pour les chaînes hydro-électriques Pulvermacher ; il en portait une lui-même ; et, le soir, quand il retirait son gilet de flanelle, madame Homais restait tout éblouie devant la spirale d’or sous laquelle il disparaissait, et sentait redoubler ses ardeurs pour cet homme plus garrotté qu’un Scythe et splendide comme un mage.’

[He was enthusiastic about the hydro-electric Pulvermacher chains; he wore one himself, and when at night he took off his flannel vest, Madame Homais stood quite dazzled before the golden spiral beneath which he was hidden, and felt her ardour redouble for this man more bandaged than a Scythian, and splendid as one of the Magi].

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Flaubert seems to assume in this passage that his readers would be familiar with this allusion to Pulvermacher. To the contemporary reader the name may be somewhat of a mystery. The reference nevertheless hides a fascinating aspect of European migration and assimilation in the later nineteenth century.

Electrical engineer Isaak Louis [Lewis] Pulvermacher was born Isak Löbl Pulvermacher on 15 March 1815 in Breslau into a Jewish family. He may have spent his younger years in Vienna and signed later documents with ‘from Vienna’; he certainly studied at the Technischen Universität Wien (1846/7). He too became an enthusiastic follower of the Galvanist school. By 1850 he had moved to London. He invented and marketed a string of new instruments and was famous for the Pulvermacher [hydro-electric] chain. The instrument was reported as a useful source of electricity for medical and scientific purposes (and particularly popular amongst quack practitioners). He established the firm J.L. Pulvermacher at no. 194 Regent Street from where he produced and sold electric belts for every part of the human anatomy: limbs, abdomen, chest, and neck – sometimes all worn at the same time. Among Charles Dickens’s late correspondence is a letter dated 3 June 1870 to Pulvermacher’s firm with the request for a ‘voltaic band across his right foot’ as a remedy against neuralgia. Pulvermacher even had a model designed to attach to the male genitals which was claimed to cure impotence and erectile dysfunction. He promoted a theory that loss of ‘male vigour’ was a consequence of masturbation in early life. Pulvermacher’s device was meant to address this shortcoming. Flaubert seemed to hint at this aspect of male potency when he describes Homais’s pride in his sexual prowess.

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Pulvermacher made a fortune out of his belt and band business. The family home was Windmill House, located in one of the most exclusive spots in Hampstead. There he died in September 1884. The process of assimilation of this family of German-speaking Jewish immigrants was quick and profound.  was born in 1882. In the course of a career as an able journalist, he was appointed editor-in-chief and member of the Board of Directors of the Daily Mail. In 1933 he objected to the sympathetic leanings towards Hitler by the Mail’s owner Lord Rothermere and resigned. A month later he was engaged by the Daily Telegraph. It took a generation for the Pulvermachers to become part of the powerful matrix of official and social relations known as the British establishment.

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JAMES JOYCE AND THE BERGSON BROTHERS Ordnance Road (Marylebone)

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In 1727, Alexander Pope coined the literary term bathos in his short polemic essay ‘Peri Bathous, or The Art of Sinking in Poetry’. To him, the word meant a failed attempt at sublimity, or a sudden transition from a lofty style or grand topic to a common or vulgar one. The effect is one of anti-climax. For Pope, it violated ‘decorum’ and the fittingness of subject. In a modernist context bathos suggests an irreverent attitude towards our cultural heritage; it is mixing learning with bawdiness and confronting the serious with the frivolous, the lofty with the vulgar, or the revered with the ridiculous. James Joyce was a master of the bathetic.

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Leopold Bloom in Ulysses is a middle-aged Jewish advertising salesman who seeks commissions from small businesses, designs imagery and copy, and negotiates its placing in Dublin newspapers. At the same time, he has literary ambitions. Explaining the term ‘metempsychosis’ to his wife Molly who had come across the word in a popular novel, he points to a picture named ‘The Bath of the Nymph’ which is framed above the marital bed in order to illuminate the finer detail of his argument. The print itself, in spite of its Classical allusion, was a handout given to those who had bought the Easter number of the softcore weekly magazine Photo Bits – Joyce uses pornography in aid of exploring Greek philosophy. The intellectual high and low are entangled in a single passage. Time and again, Joyce counter-balanced erudition with aspects of popular urban culture such as sexy peephole machines, music-hall tunes, or naughty images – Ulysses may follow the structure of Homer’s Odyssey, but it is the (erotic) vibrancy of the modern city not a legendary past that captured the author’s creative attention.

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Bathos in Ulysses works at a more subtle level. A particular reference in the ‘Calypso’ episode is a literary one, its location less elevated. Seated on the loo, Leopold Bloom opens an old issue of the penny weekly Titbits, taking his time to read the columns of its main story, and allowing his bowels to release the constipation he had suffered from the previous day: ‘Asquat on the cuckstool he folded out his paper, turning its pages over on his bared knees. Something new and easy. No great hurry. Keep it a bit. Our prize titbit: Matcham’s Masterstroke. Written by Mr Philip Beaufoy, Playgoers’ Club, London. Payment at the rate of one guinea a column has been made to the writer. Three and a half. Three pounds three. Three pounds, thirteen and six’. Bloom admires Beaufoy. He dreams of writing a story himself and of emulating the author of a series of prize-winning contributions. The magazine was known for sponsoring competitions. P.G. Wodehouse, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, and D.H. Lawrence all submitted stories seduced by the financial reward (young Joyce himself once planned to contribute a story). The wish to write a story returns in the ‘Circe’ episode. Bloom imagines a literary trial against him in which he is attacked by Beaufoy for being a plagiarist and a fake author.

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The real Philip Beaufoy was a hack, a writer of shoddy and melodramatic prose, of books for children, the author of practical handbooks such as How to Succeed as a Writer, and he was indeed a member of the Playgoers’ Club on the Strand (founded in 1884 with the aim of raising the status of traditionally rowdy playgoers). Beaufoy contributed articles, stories, and letters to various other periodicals at the turn of the century. He was a prolific writer of immediately forgettable fiction – the kind of author Joyce would have despised. And yet he was given a portrait in the Dublin gallery of characters to which Joyce introduced his readers. Who then was this Philip Beaufoy (also known as Philip Beaufoy Barry)? The family history is an extraordinary one.

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Composer and piano teacher Michael Bergson was born Michał Bereksohn in Warsaw on 20 May 1820 into a prominent Jewish family. His great-grandfather Szmul Jakubowicz Sonnenberg, called Zbytkower, was a prominent banker and a protégé of Stanisław August Poniatowski, King of Poland from 1764 to 1795. He studied in Dessau and Berlin (under Chopin?) and started his career in Italy. In 1865 he was appointed Professor of Music at the Conservatory of Geneva. On the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and living in Paris at the time, he took his family to London where he would stay for the rest of his life. He initially settled at no. 1 Ordnance Road, Marylebone (now: Ordnance Hill, St John’s Wood). In 1881 the family lived at no. 92 Percy Road, Hammersmith; by 1891 they had moved to no. 50 Alexander Road, Willesden. He worked as a piano teacher, composed, and promoted Chopin in Britain. His composition A Dream Wish was played at a Promenade concert in 1875. He wrote two operas and a large number of songs. One of his best-known pieces is the ‘Scena ed Aria’ for clarinet, was played by military bands throughout the world. His Islington-born wife Catherine [Kate] Levison, daughter of a Yorkshire surgeon and dentist, was from an Anglo-Irish Jewish background. The couple had seven children, three of which are worth mentioning in this context.

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Mina [Minna] Bergson was born on 28 February 1865 in Geneva. She was still young when the family moved from Paris to Ordnance Road, Marylebone. At the age of fifteen Mina was admitted to the Slade School of Art, she shared a studio with Beatrice Offor, and became close friends with Annie Horniman who would later sponsor her research in the occult. In 1887 she met Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers [S.L. Mathers] who she married three years later in the library of the Horniman Museum, changing her name to Moina Mathers. Her partner was the founder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn of which she was the first initiate in March 1888. In their occult partnership, her husband was described as the ‘evoker of spirits’ and Moina as the clairvoyant ‘seeress’. In 1918, when her husband died, Moina took over the Rosicrucian Order of the Alpha et Omega, a successor organisation to the Golden Dawn, as its Imperatrix. 

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Mina’s younger brother Zaleq Philip Bergson was born in 1878 in London and educated at the City of London School. One of the great benefactors of the school had been Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy, a wealthy London distiller, Member of Parliament for Hackney Wick, and collector of books (copies from his library of the First Four Folio Editions of Shakespeare were auctioned separately by Christies in July 1912). The ambitious young author most likely considered this figure a role model and took his nom de plume from him. Both in the 1891 and 1901 census Philip was living at home at no. 92 Percy Street, Hammersmith. By then, his career as an author and journalist had taken off (he is mentioned in the 1933 edition of Who’s Who in Literature under the name of BARRY, Philip Beaufoy). There is evidence that there was some musical collaboration with his father. Beaufoy, the ‘old hag’ as he is referred to in Ulysses, made a prosperous career out of creating literary garbage. A notice of his death on 19 January 1947 in the London Gazette mentions his residence as the Heathfield Hotel in Guilford Street, Bloomsbury. He had previously resided at no. 31 Regent Square, Bloomsbury, one of London’s most desirable areas. James Joyce, the novelist who revolutionised fiction, had died six years earlier, half-blind and in poverty.

The Bergson clan that moved to Ordnance Road in 1870 included an eleven year old son. Henri Bergson had been born in Paris on 18 January 1859 (the year Darwin published On the Origin of Species) at Rue Lamartine, close to the Palais Garnier, the old opera house in the capital. Having entered the Lycée Fontanes (renamed Lycée Condorcet in 1883) in 1868, he returned to Paris to complete his studies and maintained his French citizenship. By 1900 he was a Professor at the Collège de France and one of Europe’s outstanding intellectuals. His mother being English, he was familiar with the language from an early age and he remained in close contact with Britain. 

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In 1889 Bergson published his doctoral thesis Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. The study was translated by Frank L. Pogson into English in 1910 as Time and Free Will. It established Bergson’s international reputation as a highly original thinker – 1911 was a crucial year in the process. That year L’évolution créatrice was translated into English (Creative Evolution) and Joseph Solomon published his groundbreaking study on Bergson. One of his dedicated supporters was Herbert Hildon Carr, Professor of Philosophy at King’s College London, who published Henri Bergson: The Philosophy of Change (1911) and was involved in the organisation of Bergson’s first series of lectures in Britain. These included two lectures at Oxford University on The Perception of Change, and the Huxley Lecture delivered at the University of Birmingham on Life and Consciousness, published in the Hibbert Journal in October 1911. He also delivered four lectures at the University of London on The Nature of the Soul. Just before the outbreak of the Great War, Bergson was invited to deliver the prestigious Gifford lectures at several universities in Scotland. He presented the first series of eleven lectures on The Problem of Personality at the University of Edinburgh, but the outbreak of the war prevented his second lecture series. In 1913 he had been appointed President of The Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Founded in London in 1882, early members of this Society for investigating paranormal phenomena had included psychologist Edmund Gurney; poet and philologist Frederic W.H. Myers (who coined the term telepathy); philosopher Henry Sidgwick; physicist William Fletcher Barret; and journalist Edmund Dawson Rogers. During the early twentieth century other prominent members were Oliver Lodge and Arthur Conan Doyle. The escapologist Harry Houdini also had links to the Society. Mina’s Bergson interest in the occult was shared by her elder brother.

Joyce was a devotee of Bergson’s philosophy. He had a copy of L’évolution créatrice in his bookcase (and also of The Meaning of War, published in 1915) as well as Solomon’s study on the philosopher. The crucial influence of Bergson’s theories on the development of British literary modernism has frequently been discussed. In the early twentieth century his work was widely read and debated. His notion of ‘pure duration’, that is: the subjective and qualitative experience of time as set against the ‘spurious’ concept of time that is quantified into countable units, made a profound impact and left an imprint on modernist fiction and film. The psychological concept was developed by William James who described consciousness as ‘a teeming multiplicity of objects and relations’. Nothing is jointed; everything ‘flows’. James and Bergson contributed to developing the narrative device of a ‘stream of consciousness’. This stylistic process, masterly applied by Joyce, eliminates narratorial mediation in order to transfer a direct ‘quotation’ of the character’s mind, either in loose interior monologue or in relation to sensory reactions to external occurrences. Joyce’s literary technique owes a great deal to Henri Bergson’s erudite philosophy, but it is his brother Philip, the author of shoddy and melodramatic tales, who is represented in the narrative of Ulysses. Would it be too much to suggest that Joyce knew exactly what he was doing here? The author does not refer to the sophistication of thought to which the novel owes much of its structure, but instead he focuses on vulgar titbits penned down by an old hag for which he is richly rewarded by the word, the column, and the page. Two Bergson brothers representing extremes of the sublime and the vulgar. This is Joycean bathos in all its bravura.

James Joyce with Nora Barnacle

Big Hitting, Hard Drinking Dutch Sam : Petticoat Lane (Whitechapel)

 

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The London Jewish community of the mid-eighteenth century was expanding rapidly, mainly through immigration. These immigrants fell into two broad categories: Ashkenazim, who had arrived from Eastern and Central European countries, and Sephardim, largely of Iberian descent. The Ashkenazim were poorer and tended to integrate less well. They accounted for most of the Jewish pedlars and small-dealers.

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The Sephardim, by contrast, were wealthier and tended to be laxer about religious observance. As merchants and financiers they fought to have restrictions lifted on international trade. British law at the time dictated that foreign-born persons applying for naturalization had to receive the Sacrament at Anglican Holy Communion. Jewish immigrants could be exempted from this requirement, but were granted ‘endenization’ which carried fewer rights than full citizenship (such as the right to own land or trade with the colonies).

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In 1753 Henry Pelham’s Whig government proposed a bill allowing Jews who had been resident in Britain for three years might be naturalized without taking the Sacrament. The Jewish Naturalization Act (or ‘Jew Bill’) passed through both Houses of Parliament, but created press-inflamed agitation amongst the public. Tory papers denounced the Act as an attack upon Christianity. As it happened, 1754 would be an election year. Beginning in May 1753, the opposition sponsored articles in the London Evening Post attacking the Jew Bill. Much of the opposition was cynical politicking, but it revealed deep-rooted social anxieties too. The London Evening Post was particularly aggressive in building up a picture of Jews as cruel and sinister ‘monsters’.

Early in his career Henry Fielding had created The Grub Street Opera (1731). The ballad-opera failed, but one song survived and was integrated in Don Quixote in England (1734). Its title was ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’. Thanks to the intervention of singer-composer Richard Leveridge who added a few new stanzas and gave the song a catchier tune, it gained the status of a national anthem.

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In 1748, William Hogarth painted The Gate of Calais, better known as The Roast Beef of Old England. He established in visual form the stereotype of poverty-stricken French citizens that was used time and again by satirists after him. His picture shows a huge rib of red-blooded beef being delivered to Madam Grandsire’s English hotel in Calais. Surrounding the porter are a trio of poor fishwives, a pair of miserable soldiers, a salivating friar, a couple of emaciated cooks, and a pauper in the tattered uniform of the failed Jacobite rebellion. All are in contrast to the anticipated plenty represented by the hunk of English meat central to the scene.

The symbolism is plain: native means wholesome, foreign indicates weakness and effeminacy. Loathing of foreigners was multi-adaptable: what applied to one, applies to another. In the mind of the British public the Jew was a foreigner. The Evening Post’s adaptation of ‘The Roast Beef’ simply swaps hatred of the French for that of Jews (28 July 1753; first verse):

When mighty Roast Pork was the Englishman’s Food,
It ennobl’d our Veins and enriched our Blood,
And a Jew’s Dish of Foreskins was not understood,
Sing Oh! the Roast Pork of Old England,
Oh! the Old English Roast Pork.

The ‘pamphlet war’ was an ugly one. In broadsides and ballads Jews were accused of ritual murder, of planning to turn St Paul’s Cathedral into a synagogue, of wanting to force British males to be circumcised. Antisemitism had returned with a vengeance. The gloves were off. The outburst of hatred postponed any further attempt to modify the legal status of Jews within society. In the clamour of anti-Jewish propaganda the dictionary of medieval slurs was reopened and, more worrying, elements of modern ‘racial’ stereotyping were introduced. It undermined any tendency towards religious tolerance for generations to come. The rhetoric of the row suggested that Jewishness and Englishness were incompatible. Integration was impossible. Five months after its introduction, the government withdrew the Act.

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During the later decades of the eighteenth century the East End of London began to be occupied by poorer classes of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, their numbers overrunning those of long-established immigrants in the area which caused strains of overcrowding. In this tense atmosphere, Samuel Elias – better known as Dutch Sam – was born on 4 April 1775 in Petticoat Lane, Whitechapel. In this tough area, boxing was a narrative of the immigrant poor. For young Jewish boys fighting helped to confirm a sense of identity and ethnicity. The ring was a place to knock out stereotypes, a punching stage of liberation. Sam learned to box at former heavyweight champion Daniel Mendoza’s academy.

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Known as Mendoza the Jew, this bare-knuckle-fighter of Paradise Row, Bethnal Green, had captivated Regency London with his skills and set an example for Jewish kids to follow. Sam’s first recorded boxing match took place in 1801. He became the sensation of the pugilist circuit. The young lightweight faced opponents who were taller and heavier than he, but his blending of power and guile proved lethal. On 7 August 1894 he faced Caleb Baldwin, the ‘Pride of Westminster’. Sam ‘invented’ the uppercut and humiliated his celebrated opponent in the only defeat of his career. It cemented Dutch Sam’s reputation as the biggest hitter in the game, earning him the nickname of the ‘Man with the Iron Hand’. The ‘Terrible Jew’ (another nickname) was unbeatable. He succeeded Mendoza as the sporting hero of the London Jewish community.

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His training regime was unusual. Sam could not go through his exhausting physical routines without an ample supply of gin. In one of his fights (April 1805) he was, according to reports, ‘positively inebriated’ when entering the ring, but in spite of that he professionally trounced his opponent. Considering the ‘rules’ of the game at the time that was quite a remarkable feat. Until Queensberry, there were no written regulations, no weight divisions, no round limits, no rest periods, and no referees. A boxer was declared the winner when his opponent was physically no longer able to continue. A single bout went a long way. Dutch Sam fought Tom Belcher, the brother of former heavyweight champion Jem Belger, on three occasions. The first fight, held in 1806, ended in a 57th round knockout win for Sam. The second match, which took place the following year, ended in a draw; the third was a 36th round stoppage win for Sam. Such was his standing that Daniel Mendoza agreed to act as second in his corner for all three bouts. After defeating Ben Medley in 1810 in round 49, Dutch Sam retired undefeated in over a hundred contests.

Sam was admired for his skill and agility. Between 1812 and 1828 Pierce Egan published his Boxiana; or, Sketches of Modern Pugilism with illustrations by George and Robert Cruikshank (the book went through several editions in five expensive volumes). The author charted the ‘Sweet Science of Bruising’, the progress of bare-knuckle boxing from its emergence in the early eighteenth century to its decline in the 1830s (and he also included an anthology of pugilistic verse). His verdict on Dutch Sam was full of praise: ‘Terrific is the only word that adequately describes his manner of fighting’. In 1814, Sam made the fatal error of a comeback. Not for money or pride, but because of a drunken dispute with William Nosworthy, a young baker from Devonshire who had recently beaten a Jewish boxer.

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His anti-Semitic remarks upset the Dutchman who challenged him to a fight. Against medical advice he once again entered the ring. Although Sam had remained in training, his gin habit had deteriorated. A shell of his former self, he was knocked out by his opponent in the 15th round. After a life of fighting and boozing, he threw in the towel on 3 July 1816 and was buried in Whitechapel. His son, known as Young Dutch Sam, also became a professional fighter. Arthur Conan Doyle (who showed a keen interest in boxing and wrestling) included Sam as a character in his 1896 boxing novel Rodney Stone. The Iron Fist had made a mark, bruising his way out of a life of misery and discrimination towards levels of recognition that young London refugees could aspire to. East London’s uncompromising environment produced more champion fighters than any other part of Britain – most of them were of Jewish immigrant descent.