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review 2019-11-18 22:31
The Haunted House: a True Ghost Story (Hubbell)
The Haunted House - Hubbell, Walter

Walter Hubbell, the author of this curiosity, was apparently an actor with a strong interest in the paranormal, like many others in the late 19th century. The transcription I read (on Kindle) is from the "Daily News" Steam Publishing Office, Saint John, N.B., 1879, and since it is about events that took place (or ostensibly took place) in Amherst, N.S. shortly before, it falls into the Canadiana bucket, though written by an American.


How firmly it also falls into the "fiction" column depends largely on how much the reader is disposed to give any credit to Hubbell as a believer in the phenomena he describes, with his rather flat style of reportage. Myself, I find only one thing more incredible than the rolling furniture, flying matches and knives, conversation by mysterious thumps, and spontaneous fires, and that's the report here of other people's reactions to the phenomena, which appears to have been in some cases joking and complete lack of worry about physical harm. There exists a fairly lengthy article in the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychic Research (13: 89-130; 1919, Walter Franklin Pierce) examining the merits of the case from a distance of forty years. One of the its most interesting observations, in my view, is that none of the many witnesses cited by Hubbell are independently verified; even the newspaper accounts of the time appear to have got their citations from Hubbell rather than the friends and neighbours. In other words, it seems entirely likely that Hubbell, if he didn't create the narrative, shaped it to his liking. There was indeed a real Esther Cox in Amherst, and it does appear she had a reputation that was linked with strange happenings and fires (in fact, she ended up in jail for a month or two for arson).


I found it interesting that Esther's various ailments and inflictions in the narrative are directly linked by Hubbell to an incident where she was held at gunpoint in a wooded area, and though Victorian decency obscures the narrative it's pretty clear she was either raped (by a man named Bob) or was just spared that fate because her attacker was spooked by a passer-by. In any case, it's interesting to see her trauma so clearly set out as a precursor - Hubbell does not call it a cause, but he does take some pains to tell the story - to her paranormal afflictions. The principal ghost was even dubbed "Bob" by Esther and her family. It seems likely there were some inexplicable symptoms of poor Esther's trauma, that there was gossip, and that Hubbell, a self-appointed investigator, visited the family for a month as he says he did. After that - well, he sold 55,000 copies of his book to a credulous Canadian and American public (the book also had an American publisher).


I end up placing this work in the same category as "ghost-hunters" TV programs - or indeed, professional wrestling. In other words, believe it (or pretend to) if it amuses you, but there's little to no doubt it's all just so much bunk, and in this case not executed with a great deal of skill. It's fiction, but by no means deserves to be called a novel.


Poor Esther Cox. I hope she did in fact recover in a new environment, as Hubbell claims, after her fifteen minutes of celebrity (including the tour of speaking engagements he dragged her on) were over.


Here, as an appendix to my comments, is Mr. Hubbell's account of what another Esther-observer (and likely a rival, if you believe them both to be in the business of capitalizing on her) had to say about her. It reflects the fascination of the time with the newly-discovered properties of electricity. Hubbell says this about Dr. Edwin Clay, Baptist minister:


He, however, was of the opinion that through the shock her system had received the night she went riding, she had become in some mysterious manner an electric battery. His theory being, that invisible flashes of lightning left her person, and that the knocks which everybody could hear distinctly, were simply minute claps of thunder. He lectured on this theory, and drew large audiences as he always does, no matter what the subject is. Perfectly satisfied that the manifestations are genuine, he has nobly defended Esther Cox from the platform and the pulpit. 

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review 2019-03-24 22:15
The Christian's Wedding Ring, containing Five Letters and a Series of Poems, written by A Lady with the Sincere Desire of Sowing the Seeds of Union in the Christian Church
The Christian's wedding ring [microform]: containing five letters and a series of poems - Jane Porter

I'm being a bit disingenuous marking this "read". Unless you're passionately interested in obscure Christian theological apologetics of the 1870s (I'm not), this volume is pretty much unreadable. However, as the product of a Canadian woman of some apparent intelligence, though little literary talent and less taste in subject matter, it still was worth scanning through for points of interest.

The broad subject of all of the lengthy sermonizing in the 5 "letters", and much of the undistinguished verse - I won't call it poetry - is ecumenicalism. In addition to desiring the "union in the Christian Church" referred to in the subtitle (her explanations of doctrinal differences reveal her as definitely Protestant), this author appears to hold out some desire for the reunification of all adherents of the Abrahamic religions, under the Christian umbrella of course.

The volume, which exists physically at the University of Toronto library and in e-form on both the Internet Archive and the CIHM free miccrofilm scans (http://eco.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.03865/3?r=0&s=1), was published by Montreal's Lovell publishing house in 1874. Unlike many items coming out of Canadian publishing houses at this period, this appears to be genuinely Canadian in origin, which means that I was somewhat perplexed at first to see that it is attributed in worldcat to "Jane Porter".  The 19th-century literary Jane Porter I know of, the authoress of "The Scottish Chiefs", died in 1850 and has nothing to do with Canada. However this, it appears, is another Jane Porter, and there is a little - a very little - further literary activity by her tracked in Watters' definitive bibliography of Canadian literature. However, we don't know much about her, though the small personal clues in the miscellaneous verse suggest that she was single, fairly active and interested in Canada and current events, a churchgoer in Montreal, and very likely was published by Lovell as a favour to help her financially. (There's one short poem where she asks readers to buy her books, and ruefully tells us her publisher would prefer her to write romances).

I scribbled down a few notes about two things - comments about religion that struck me as different from mere convention; and phrases or subjects of poems that reflected either Canada or current events or both.

On the religious front, her five letters certainly have an ecumenical set of addressees. The first is to Princess Victoria (Queen Victoria's daughter, Queen of Prussia, politically liberal). All the blithe internalized misogyny of her time comes out in this letter of a woman to a woman, even though at the same time Princess Victoria is urged to exert her considerable political influence. "Female education is not practical," and the calling of wives and daughters is home-making. Indeed, Miss Porter goes so far as to deride nuns for abandoning their home duties. The second letter is to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (whom she congratulates, by the way, on the opening of the Suez Canal in 1870).  The third letter is to "Dear Jewish friends", while the fourth is to Pope Pius IX (accompanied by a portrait of him that looks quite demonic). The last letter to so the "Archbishop of Syra and Tenos" (orthodox) who had taken part in ecumenical talks - unsuccessful, one presumes - with the Church of England at Ely in 1870.

Canada is not really present in the prose, but quite a lot of the verse is either explicitly on Canadian subjects, or contains references such as:
The rapids with majestic roar
Proud St. Lawrence at our shore.

On the subject of the Friday fish fast, she has this to say:
The Esquimaux on fish subsist.
Without it, how can they exist?
If eating fish is called a fast,
Their fasting days forever last.

(Apparently Miss Porter was not aware of Inuit seal-hunting).

Other Canadian subjects memorialized in verse include John Bethune, the very prominent Montreal Anglican clergyman who died in 1872; a church in Trois Rivieres, Niagara Falls, the April 1873 wreck of the "Atlantic" off Halifax, a boat race in St John NB in which a man died, and a Montreal incident in which nine people were poisoned with stolen wine. For reasons unknown, there are also some Boston poems, and poems about 1871 fires in both Chicago and Wisconsin, as well as an unexpected poem "On Philately". A few people will know what I mean if I say some of these poems are "McGonagall-esque" (no, not the Harry Potter one).

It's easy to be derisive about this kind of bad book that pops up (only because some of its contents have rhyme and metre, I'm sure) in the miscellaneous anonymous literature sections of very large research libraries. And, I suppose, it's also easy to be too imaginatively sympathetic with the Miss Jane Porters of the Victorian colonial world, trying to sell flat conventional poetry and tortuous, untutored theology as belles lettres. Perhaps Miss Porter had a very comfortable life and was merely a hobbyist. She is dust and we will never know; thanks to big libraries, microfilm, and the internet, her book has been saved from that same dust for other odd ducks like myself to ponder over.

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review 2016-07-16 03:24
Sacred Allegories (William Adams, 1849)
Sacred Allegories: The Shadow of the Cross, The Distant Hills, The Old Man's ... - William Adams

This volume is a posthumous collection of four short works, all of which appeared in the 1840s. The Rev. William Adams was a scholar and cleric of the Church of England; he died at a relatively young age after a prolonged illness, during which he had time to put forth these allegorical stories, principally though I assume not entirely aimed at children. I read this in an 1882 Rivington's reprint, as reproduced in pdf on the Internet Archive. If one can't read the original volume, the pdf is the way to do it, because not only does it avoid the hazards of poor OCR (I also downloaded the .mobi file for Kindle, but it was practically unusable) but more importantly it gives clear reproductions of the illustrations (about 100, many of them half-page or more). These allegories were apparently fairly popular, since they were being reprinted more than three decades after the author's death, and in an edition illustrated by some quite recognizable names such as Birket Foster.

Adams has a talent for the elaboration of an allegory, following in the footsteps of the mediaeval allegorists, and, of course, Bunyan. The first two items, "The Shadow of the Cross" and "The Distant Hills" are relatively similar. Both are on the subject of keeping the mind on heavenly rather than worldly affairs, and both feature contrasted life paths of child protagonists.  In "The Distant Hills" there are simply two options represented by two sisters, one of whom keeps herself in sight of the distant hills of heaven, and the other of whom goes behind the worldly wall and gets lost and eventually crushed. "The Shadow of the Cross" is a bit more inventive and nuanced, since it involves three possibilites (Innocence, who goes straight to heaven young; Wayward, who is the bad kid; and Mirth, who runs the more interesting middle path of repentance and salvation). Extensive catechisms at the end of each of these ensure that no detail is left uninterpreted. The imagery of "Shadow" amuses me, because each of the children carries around a little cross in their hand, without which they can't navigate - rather like certain people these days who can't navigate without their phones in their hands. The last allegory in the collection, "The King's Messengers" is not so much about Christian life in general but almsgiving as a particular virtue, and Adams attaches an appendix to explain earnestly that, his allegory notwithstanding, this one virtue can't be treated upon its own. Again we have parallel lives (4 brothers this time), one of whom hoards his wealth, one who uses it on building a tower of worldly fame, one who does give it away, but insists on parades and praise, and one who does things properly.

The third item, "The Old Man's Home" is a bit anomalous because it's much more personal. Unlike the other three, this story has a real setting (the Undercliff area on the Isle of Wight, of which Adams was apparently very fond). Even though he has a go at making the landscape allegorical (it's prone to slippage and landslides, apparently), that *cough* slips away very quickly, and we end up dealing entirely with the question of whether the old man of the title, who resides in an insane asylum and is obsessed with getting "home" is in fact insane, or merely completely migrated to the spiritual side of life.  There's a bit of meat for social historians here, because apparently Rev. Adams' father was involved in improving conditions for inmates of asylums, and Adams makes a pitch for gentle treatment, and describes the principal doctor quite sympathetically even though he's on the worldly side of the argument.

Anyway, I don't subscribe to Adams' Christian worldview in the least, but there's something rather attractive about the way it hangs together as a system, if only so that a reader like me can then examine at which points the system simply does not work in relation to my own world.  

And the illustrations are pretty!



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review 2016-07-14 21:09
Corpus de Crossword
Corpus de Crossword - Nero Blanc

This is either a mystery with some added crosswords, or a small book of crosswords, with an accompanying mystery, depending on your point of view. It probably serves the crossword puzzler better than the mystery buff.

There are six crosswords, not cryptic; the mystery is set in small-town eastern U.S. The mystery itself is passable, and does not depend on the reader completing the crosswords for its solution, though a rather awkwardly introduced plot device ensures that the female protagonist, a crossword maker named Belle, gets her principal insights from said crosswords.

For a work that's so self-congratulatory about its use of a wide variety of words, there are some irritating slips of diction in the story, and likewise some slips or downright errors in the crossword clues. Examples of the former: "free reign"; "a might touchy".  An example of the latter: "assai" as the solution of "musically quick". ("Assai" means "very". The puzzle-maker probably saw it in the phrase allegro assai, which means very quick - but "assai" by itself as a solution is a nonsense).

I'm not a fan of crosswords that are neither cryptic nor soluble by having a large but modern vocabulary without knowledge of obscure words not in use outside of crossword dictionaries. So I'm probably not the target audience for this volume. In the end, I'm probably being too severe because the work is clearly simply a pass-time. For my money, it was a mediocre one.

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