A Clockwork Orang

A portrait of the clockmaker Thomas Mudge by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland (1772)

Note: The title of this incendiary intervention was buried by Anthony Burgess in the title of his magisterial A Clockwork Orange (1962): in Malay, orang means “man” (as in orangutan, “man of the forest”). The book asks whether man is clockwork or has free will. Obviously, Thomas Mudge was a “clockwork orang” in another sense.


Performativizing Papyrocentricity #60

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Conteur CompatissantShort Stories, Guy de Maupassant, translated by Marjorie Laurie (Everyman’s Library 1934)

Riff-Raph100 Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces, Gordon Kerr (Flame Tree Publishing 2011)

Fall of the WildA Fall of Moondust, Arthur C. Clarke (1961)

Orchid and OakVine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, W.E. Vine et al (Thomas Nelson 1984)

Hoare HereRisingtidefallingstar, Philip Hoare (Fourth Estate 2017)

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Santa Ana

Biblia anagrammatica, or, The anagrammatic Bible: a literary curiosity gathered from unexplored sources and from books of the greatest rarity, Rev. Walter Begley, Privately Printed for the Author, 1904


After considerable research, I have only discovered two writers who have attempted this excessively difficult literary device. One was the eccentric Pierre de St. Louis, a Carmelite, whose book is dated 1672, and the other an Hungarian priest, who gave his contribution to the public in a work published as recently as 1869.

Luc. i. 28.
Ave, Maria, plena gratia; Dominus tecum.


Pierre de St. Louis, Carmelite, 1672.

Nigra sum. At Janua Coeli demum aperta.
Amica pia et Rosa grata, Lumenve Mundi.
Gemma Vitis in ea clara Domu pure nata.
Virgo clemens pia miranda, Eva mutata.
Regia summa Patrona, Clientem adjuva.
Virgo meum lumen, pia et sacrata Diana.
Ira placata rigidum mutas Evae nomen.
O Musa, jam ad te levia carmina pergunt.
Area mea totiusve Mundi ampla Regina.
Mater Carmeli. In eo, pia, munda, augusta.
Magna diu semper, Carmeli o Janua Tuta.
In Te valida via, magna sperat cor meum.
Amate prodigium naturas sine macula.
Semper inviolatam, argute canam. Audi.
Gemma tuis pie cara, in Domu Lauretana,
Jam tum via miranda per angelos vecta
Permagna Domus aurea in alta emicuit.
Vera, Alma Domus Agri Piceni tuta mane.
Amica ad te unam, jam Peregrinus volat.
Tu Dia, quam Pia, ore angeli arcanum sume.
Sanctuarium a Dei mei Angelo paratum.
Eia, Pia, Caram Mundo genitura salutem.
Ea pia, edita Regula omnium sanctarum.
Virgo casta Diana Emmanuelem rapuit.
Alma Porta jam antea Decus Virgineum.
Summa Diva ac Virgo plane intemerata.
Tam magna Deipara, una te jure colimus.
Via mea, Paradisi gratum Lumen, te cano
Intus a gaudio camera impleatur. Amen.
Mater cujus amaritudo ei plane magna
Elucens Virgo, tu jam pia Mater amanda.
In Amanda vivam ego. Petrus Carmelita
Mea Virago Lauretana est prima mundi.
Mira simul et pia, erga Numen advocata.
O Luna magnum a Dei pietate sacrarium.
O Unica sanave Margarita, Dei templum.
Summa Regina Poli, tute ac jure amanda.
Tu Regia, non Eva prima, sed Immaculata.
Sum Luna Picena amata, Virgo Mater Dei
Tu mea ardua ara, olim in Picenum gesta.
O veri Dei Munus, Palma, caritate magna.
Alma vere Integra, Pudica. Nos jam muta.
Due Regina et viam tutam sine malo para.
Num pia amata, et sacra Virgo de Lumine.
Eva intacta Deum jam paris angelorum.
Ita amata parens miraculo Deum genui.
Ardua sancta pia meum Genitorem alui.
Tu pia amica Mundo. Salve Regina Mater,
O augusta mire pia. Nunc Dei Mater alma.
Ipsa ter magna aut nimium decora. Vale.
Optima, cara Mater Numinis. Vale. Gaude.

This very eccentric Carmelite who framed the above fifty-one anagrams, and the first anagrammatic dialogue in Part I., some pages back, has been presented entire, and not tithed. The reasons of this special privilege are that he is rare to a degree, an “original” here and always, and the specimens above have been picked out, for the first time, from different parts of his work, for which, and for more about him, see the Bibliography.

Biblia anagrammatica (1904)

Anne’s Hans’

Anne Cresacre by Hans Holbein

Anne Cresacre by Hans Holbein (c. 1527)

Prince, n’enquerez de sepmaine
Où elles sont, ne de cest an,
Que ce refrain ne vous remaine:
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!

Ballade des Dames du temps jadis, François Villon (1431-c.1489)

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #59

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Mobile MetalBattleground: The Greatest Tank Duels in History, ed. Steven J. Zaloga (Osprey Publishing 2011)

Allum’s Album – The Collector’s Cabinet: Tales, Facts and Fictions from the World of Antiques, Marc Allum (Icon Books 2013)

Aschen PassionDeath in Venice and Other Stories, Thomas Mann, translated by David Luke (1988)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #58

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Diamond in the DirtDirty Story: A further account of the life and adventures of Arthur Abdel Simpson, Eric Ambler (Bodley Head 1967)

Spin DoctorateGossamer Days: Spiders, Humans and Their Threads, Eleanor Morgan (Strange Attractor Press 2016)

Kid ChaosStill William, Richmal Crompton (1925)

Permission to BlandSomething Fresh, P.G. Wodehouse (1915)

Succulent Selections – for Sizzlingly Serebral Splanchnoscopophilists…

Tempting a Titan – a further exclusive extract from Titans of Transgression (TransVisceral Books, forthcoming)

• Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #57

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Do and DieThe Reason Why, Cecil Woodham-Smith (1953) (posted at O.-o.-t.-Ü)

Liddell im WörterlandLiddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott (1843)

Lunar or LaterMoon: From 4.5 billion years ago to the present: Owners’ Workshop Manual, David M. Harland (Haynes 2016)

Headlong into NightmareHeadlong Hall (1816) / Nightmare Abbey (1818)

Twisted TalesBiggles’ Big Adventures: Four Classic Stories Starring the British Empire’s Most Fearless Pilot Adventurer, Captain W.E. Johns (Sevenoaks 2007)

Stop the Brott – staying the serial slaying of a sanguinivorous psychoanalyst

• Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Do and Die

The Reason Why, Cecil Woodham-Smith (1953)

History is a branch of literature, not of science. That’s why it’s so important that historians be good writers. Cecil Woodham-Smith (1896-1977) was a very good writer and this is one of the best works of military history ever written. I don’t know whether she – that “Cecil” is misleading – was influenced by Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918) but Strachey’s sublime “Cardinal Manning” is an obvious comparison. Like Strachey’s, her prose has grace, lightness and concision:

Military glory! It was a dream that century after century had seized on men’s imaginations and set their blood on fire. Trumpets, plumes, chargers, the pomp of war, the excitement of combat, the exultation of victory – the mixture was intoxicating indeed. To command great armies, to perform deeds of valour, to ride victorious through flower-strewn streets, to be heroic, magnificent, famous – such were the visions that danced before men’s eyes as they turned eagerly to war.

It was not a dream for the common man. War was an aristocratic trade, and military glory reserved for nobles and princes. Glittering squadrons of cavalry, long lines of infantry, wheeling obediently on the parade-ground, ministered to the lust both for power and for display. Courage was esteemed the essential military quality and held to be a virtue exclusive to aristocrats. Were they not educated to courage, trained, as no common man was trained, by years of practice in dangerous sports? They glorified courage, called it valour and worshipped it, believed battles were won by valour, saw war in terms of valour as the supreme adventure.

It was a dream that died hard. Century followed century and glittering armies faded before the sombre realities of history. Great armies in their pride and splendour were defeated by starvation, pestilence and filth, valour was sacrificed to stupidity, gallantry to corruption. (ch. 1, opening paragraphs)

But Woodham-Smith is a more masculine writer than Strachey: more serious, more sober and much more at home with military affairs. It would be wrong to call The Reason Why a pleasure to read, because although it is often is, it treats of horrors both on the battlefield and in civilian life. The Irish Famine played its part in forging the character of Lord Lucan, one of the chief figures in “The Story of the Fatal Charge of the Light Brigade”, as the subtitle of a modern re-issue of the book puts it. Woodham-Smith later wrote a book called The Great Hunger (1962) about the Famine, but I’m reluctant to read it: what she describes here is horrible enough.

I have, however, read her biography Florence Nightingale (1950), the book that began her career amid an explosion of plaudits. I was disappointed, just as I was by Strachey’s Queen Victoria (1921). Both writers set such high standards in their best work that the rest of it can suffer by comparison. And history is difficult to write well. Against that, however, are the gifts it offers its practitioners: the wholly improbable situations that no writer of fiction could expect his readers to swallow. The Charge of the Light Brigade was like that. Who would invent a concatenation of incompetence, misinterpretation and personal enmity that sends a brigade of cavalry charging down an occupied valley against a battery of artillery?

No-one would invent that. But it is precisely what happened during the Crimean War. If any small link in the chain of causality had broken, the charge would not have been launched. Nor would it have been launched if Lord Lucan had been less stubborn, Lord Cardigan less stupid, Lord Raglan less incompetent and Captain Nolan less impetuous. Nolan was the rider who delivered Raglan’s scribbled order to Lucan, descending hundreds of feet from a perspective where Raglan’s meaning was clear to a spot where it wasn’t clear at all. That was part of why the charge took place. Another part was Nolan’s contempt for Lucan and Nolan’s misinterpretation of the order:

The crucial moment had arrived. Nolan threw back his head, and, “in a most disrespectful and significant manner”, flung out his arm and, with a furious gesture, pointed, not to the Causeway Heights and the redoubts with the captured British guns, but to the end of the North Valley, where the Russian cavalry routed by the Heavy Brigade were now established with their guns in front of them. “There, my lord, is your enemy, there are your guns,” he said, and with those words and that gesture the doom of the Light Brigade was sealed. (ch. 12, pp. 233-4)

So was Nolan’s own doom. Within a few minutes he himself would be dead, killed by one of the early volleys fired by the Russian guns. He seems to have realized his error and tried to stop the charge, committing “an unprecedented breach of military etiquette” as he overtook Lord Cardigan at the head and shouted with raised sword “as if he would address the Brigade”. Woodham-Smith asks:

Had he suddenly realized that his interpretation of the order had been wrong, and that in his impetuosity he had directed the Light Brigade to certain death? No one will ever know, because at that moment a Russian shell burst on the right of Lord Cardigan, and a fragment tore its way into Nolan’s breast, exposing his heart. The sword fell from his hand, but his right hand was still erect, and his body remained rigid in the saddle. His horse wheeled and began to gallop back through the advancing Brigade, and then from the body there burst a strange and appalling shriek, a shriek so unearthly so to freeze the blood of all who heard him. The terrified horse carried the body, still shrieking, through the 4th Light Dragoons, and then at last Nolan fell from the saddle, dead. (ch. 12, pg. 240)

Nolan was Irish and his death-shriek was like something from Celtic mythology, as though he had been possessed by a spirit of the doom that was about to engulf the splendid ranks of the Light Brigade. And the charge was a mythic occasion: a pointless slaughter enabled not only by the incompetence, stupidity and arrogance of the British officers, but also by the courage, discipline and skill of the men they led:

And now the watchers on the Heights saw that the lines of horsemen, like toys down on the plain, were expanding and contracting with strange mechanical precision. Death was coming fast, and the Light Brigade was meeting death in perfect order; as a man or horse dropped, the riders on each side of him opened out; as soon as they had ridden clear the ranks closed again. Orderly, as if on the parade-ground, the Light Brigade rode on, but its numbers grew every moment smaller and smaller as they moved down the valley. Those on the heights who could understand what that regular mechanical movement meant in terms of discipline and courage were intolerably moved, and one soldier burst into years. It was at this moment that Bosquet, the French General, observed “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.” (ch. 12, pg. 242)

But the charge occupies little space in this book, just as it did in the War and the history of the Victorian Age. Woodham-Smith magisterially sets the stage for 232 pages, describing the horrors of the war, the incompetence of the officers, and the courage of the troops that enabled some improbable victories against overwhelming odds. Then she devotes a single chapter to the charge. It was both horrible and glorious, representing both the worst and the best of the British army in Victorian times. And the army represented both the worst and the best of Victorian Britain. Like Eric Ambler, Woodham-Smith can re-create a complex world and its participants on paper. And like Ambler, she is sympathetic to all her characters, from the best to the worst. Strachey mocks and subverts in Eminent Victorians, partly because that was in his nature as a homosexual outsider and partly because he blamed the horrors of the First World War on the legacy of the Victorians.

By 1953, when The Reason Why was published, that legacy was much further in the past, many reforms had taken place, and a second, and much less senseless, world war had been fought by Britain and her allies. Woodham-Smith could be more objective than Strachey. Moreover, men like Lord Cardigan hardly need a satirical or subversive pen: his absurdities speak for themselves. But if you want a humorous take on the Charge of the Light Brigade, I recommend George MacDonald-Fraser’s Flashman at the Charge (1973), in which the bully, coward and liar Flashman is caught up, wholly against his will, in the two astonishing cavalry actions that took place that day: the Charges of both the Light Brigade and the Heavy Brigade.

Neither of them could plausibly be invented by a writer of fiction, but the Charge of the Heavy Brigade was a success, not a tragic farce. That is why it is much less well-remembered. But the Charge of the Light Brigade has never been so well-remembered, or well-explained, as it was by Cecil Woodham-Smith. If you want to know the Reason Why – or the Reasons – then you’ll find them here. You’ll also find an excellent introduction to Victorian England and one of the best military histories ever written.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #56

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Sympathetic SinnerThe Light of Day, Eric Ambler (1962)

Voy PolloiThe Voynich Manuscript: the unsolved riddle of an extraordinary book which has defied interpretation for centuries, Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill (Orion paperback 2005)

Non Angeli, Sed AnglicaniThat Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People, Andrew Brown and Linda Woodhead (Bloomsbury 2016)

Geller FellerThe Magic of Uri Geller, as revealed by the Amazing Randi (1982)

Voy VehThe Voyeur’s Motel, Gay Talese (2016)

• Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR