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Friday, April 25, 2014

Mrs. R. explores Bengal by riverboat

Eleanor Reid's journal in Calcutta continues

Early in November [1800] a budgerow was engaged for an excursion to Chandernagore, a French settlement about forty miles above Calcutta. As we were to sleep in the budgerow, cots and curtains were provided, as well as table-linen, earthenware, and all necessaries for the trip. 

On the 6th we embarked, and proceeded with the flood tide as high as Cossipour, during which time we had a fine view of the fertile land on both sides the river; but it is too flat to be interesting. 

As we passed along we saw several fires at the edge of the water, and were told that human bodies were burning. This I could scarcely believe until we anchored close to the shore, where a poor woman was making great lamentation; and when our boatmen enquired the cause, she told them she was going to burn the body of her daughter, who had died that morning. She had been performing some part of the funeral ceremony at the water side, before setting fire to the pile, which was only a few yards off. 

Some of our party wished to examine it, but were told if they did, they would interrupt the ceremony, and distress the relatives. The pile was presently set in a blaze, and in the course of an hour the whole was consumed to ashes. The smoke which the wind occasional wafted towards us, had a most disagreeable smell. This is certainly the best mode of disposing of their dead; if they committed them to the Hoogley, they would be torn and mangled by sharks and birds of prey; and were they to bury them, they would be dug up by jackalls and wild dogs. To prevent this, the burial grounds of the Europeans are surrounded by a high wall.

Next day we passed Barrackpore, where the Governor-general has a country house, opposite to which is a Danish settlement called Serampore, where a society of English missionaries from Bristol have an establishment and a printing press; they are most useful in instructing the natives, and are much esteemed for their meek Christian deportment. We then passed Chinsurah, a Dutch settlement on the same side the river, a little above which we beheld a sight shocking to humanity. 

An old woman had been brought by her relatives to the bring of the river at low water to die; she was stretched on a sort of cradle in the scorching sun, and appeared delirious, crying out in a most piteous manner; some inhuman wretches belonging to her were looking on at a distance with apparent indifference. This is another effect of their brutalizing superstition; it is the privilege of certain castes to be carried, when life is despaired of, to fie on the banks of their sacred Ganges; and if the tide rises high enough to float them away before the breath is out of the body, their souls are believed to be secure of happiness.

In the afternoon we reached Chandernagore, where we landed, and had an excellent dinner at a French tavern. There was little to be seen here worth notice, except spacious empty house; for the greater part of the inhabitants had left the place on account of the war. We returned to the budgerow, and next day retraced our course to Calcutta, where we arrived the following evening.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wellington bus stop an icon

More from the Dominion Post

An unsanctioned art protest against traffic congestion and parking wardens has been embraced as a suburban curio.
Photographer Alan Knowles installed the exhibition, entitled Rest Area #6265, at a bus shelter in Miramar as an "outside the Fringe" piece during the Fringe Festival in February. It featured five pictures of rest areas in scenic spots around New Zealand.
It was meant to come down when the Fringe ended on March 2, but residents took such a shine to the work that it has stayed in place more than a month longer than intended.
Knowles said he was really surprised by the reaction - including 22 pages of comments "mostly supportive and insisting I don't take it down", written in a notebook left in the shelter on the No 24 Miramar Heights bus route.
An off-the-cuff comment turned into a neighbourhood sausage sizzle after a message writer suggested the "rest area" needed a barbecue and Knowles sent out the call to neighbours.
Carol Glover hosted about 50 locals at the barbecue on her front lawn opposite the bus stop, and said the exhibit had brought the community together, connecting people who might not otherwise have met.
The shelter has become a place of reflection for passers-by, who pore over the message book or simply sit and ponder.
It has also grown into an offbeat tourist draw, with foreign visitors trekking from the city to catch a glimpse. "It's embraced the community spirit and brought a lot of people together."
And I bet someone in the US of A embraces this lovely idea by emulating it in their home town...

The World comes to Wellington

From the Dominion Post

The World has come to Wellington but it remains to be seen whether The Terminator, James Bond or Madonna have come with it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Roger Moore and Madonna are all rumoured to have luxury apartments on The World - billed as the largest residential yacht on Earth - which berthed yesterday at Queens Wharf.
It has 165 privately owned apartments, ranging from studios to expansive three-bedroom units, and a palatial penthouse that comfortably accommodates up to 12 people.
The apartment owners collectively own the NZ$384 million ship.
According to the Cruisemates website in 2013, a two-bedroom, 102sqm apartment started at $2.3m.
Bigger apartments were priced at up to $7.9m, although other sources from 2010 say a World Suite was priced at $15.7m. Additional annual maintenance fees range from $70,000 to $310,000.
The ship, launched in 2002, has a gourmet deli and grocery store, fitness centre, billiard room, golf simulator and putting greens, the only full-sized tennis court at sea, a jogging track, a spa, swimming pool and cocktail lounge.
The 219 owner-passengers on board the ship while it's in Wellington are being tended to by 275 crew.
Some owners live on board fulltime as the ship continuously circumnavigates the globe, while others visit periodically.
The visit of The World to Wellington was the 77th, and second last, of the cruise ship season.
Sigh.  I'm not sure that that is what I would do with my money, but how lovely to be so rich.  It certainly makes P&O cruises look tame ... and very low budget!

Titanic menu to be auctioned

From the New York Daily News

A rate postcard menu from a second class restaurant on the Titanic is expected to fetch a staggering 135000 greenbacks.

The carte details the breakfast on offer on Thurs. Apr. 11, 1912 - just three days before the ill-fated liner struck an iceberg and sank.

On the flip-side, saloon steward Jacob Gibbon had written "Good voyage up to now" to his girlfriend - Miss L Payne - who was living in Studland Bay, Dorset, England.

He posted the card after the ship stopped at Queenstown, Cork, Ireland, which has since been renamed Cobh.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Eleanor Reid and the shocking side of Calcutta

Mary Roxburgh, daughter of Dr William Roxburgh, superintendent of the Calcutta Botanical Garden, must indeed have been beautiful: she was the great-great-great grandmother of the actress Helena Bonham Carter.

As Eleanor continues:

Early in October, we accompanied Capt. B— B—, by invitation to the botanic garden where we dined with a very agreeable party, and spent a pleasant day. The doctor’s daughter, Miss [Mary Roxburgh], was an accomplished beautiful girl, lately arrived from England, who afterwards married Mr. [Henry Stone], a civilian. We also met Dr. G—, who proposed sending some children home with us.

In our walks through the gardens, the wonderful banyan-tree most attracted my notice, whose pendent branches had taken root in several places, and supported the immense weight of the spreading canopy above. If I were botanist enough, I should attempt to describe many other plants, but my treacherous memory could not retain one-hundredth part of those the doctor was so kind as to point out. In the evening we crossed over from the gardens and came up by land. The ride through Fort William is beautiful; had it not been for the number of cannon and troops I should have thought it was some gentleman’s enclosure; every thing appeared in excellent order, and deer and sheep were grazing on the banks and trenches.

We were told that Lord Mornington intended to have a superb palace built to the south of the city, facing the fort, which no doubt, when finished, will be a great ornament to Calcutta. St. John’s church is an elegant light building, and well adapted to the climate.

We had often been invited to visit the school at Kidderpore. It is an institution for the natural daughters of officers of the army, who are unable to maintain them. By allowing a small sum from their monthly pay, they may have them placed in the school, where they are clothed and well educated; they are allowed to remain there as long as their friends think proper. We were much gratified with the regularity and order observed. Mr. [Richard Thomas Burney], the head-master, is a most worthy man, and, as well as the mistress, is much respected. It happened to be the dancing evening, when the children are allowed to stand up with gentlemen invited by the school-mistress. During this time tea was served to the visitors, who generally retired at an early hour in the evening. The scholars are young ladies of colour, but many of them form very good connexions, in spike of the endeavours of the present governor-general to prevent marriage between them and young men in the service.

Although it is said that this city contains upwards of half a million of inhabitants, I question if one twentieth part of that number occupy brick dwellings. So little serves the natives for shelter, that a few rupees are sufficient to purchase materials to erect a house for a large family; these huts, however, composed of mats and grass sticks, occasion much misery in the fires, which are but too frequent here. During our stay a fire happened, which in a few hours deprived upwards of ten thousand poor creatures of shelter, and several of life. It is said that this suffering if often purposely inflicted by wretches who deal in the materials. About a week after the fire, we drove past the place, and were surprised to find the ground nearly covered with new huts. The wants of these people, particularly the Hindoos, are few. A piece of cloth loosely thrown over the body, and another rolled round the head as a turban, constitutes their wardrobe. Their food consists of rice and vegetables, which they make into curries: this simple fare, with water, is all the luxury they require.

I had an opportunity of witnessing that deplorable fanaticism for which they are so celebrated. This was the time of their grand festival, for regaining their castes, and other ceremonies. I was surprised by the Sircar one day asking me to allow the Materanny (the woman who swept the house) to regain her caste. I told him I had no objection, and that she might perform any ceremonies she pleased, provided her place was supplied. Three days after this, the woman presented herself, having cords passed through the flesh covering the ribs. There were a number of frantic looking men before and behind, some of whom held the cords while she danced backwards and forwards, drawing them through the wounded part at every movement, at the same time laughing and singing to the noise of their uncouth music. I was so much disgusted by the exhibition that I dismissed her. 

This however was nothing compared to the ceremony of swinging, which I afterwards saw at a place called the “Bita Connah.” This is a wide road, in which three posts were placed at angles across the top, where they met a long beam, which rested upon a pivot; this could be swung round at pleasure, by means of ropes managed by those below. To the extreme ends of the pole, or beam, were affixed by ropes several iron hooks, which were thrust into the naked back under the shoulders of the devotee, who is then raised into the air and swung round many times; in the meanwhile he throws down flowers, and other things to the gazing and admiring multitude, with the greatest apparent indifference. This was performed by many men and women while we remained. We returned home, disgusted and distressed at the superstition and ignorance of these poor people; the streets were crowded with them, and wherever we turned our eyes, some spectacle of fanaticism presented itself. Some having cords passed in through their sides, in the way I have described, others had a long iron spit through the tongue, left to remain there for a certain time by way of expiation; but I shall not attempt a description of all the acts prompted by this atrocious enthusiasm. The horrid noise of their tom-toms, and other barbarous instruments playing before the different processions and idols in the streets, made it a great relief to our party to get out of the crowd and retire home.

We had invitations to several “nautches,” or grand entertainments given by Rajahs and rich natives, in honor of their idols. We attended one of these, which fully satisfied our curiosity. I think the name of the chief who entertained his friends at this nautch was Rajah Nup Kessein. When we entered his house, we were struck by the blaze of light and the number of guards, &c. in attendance. In the principal hall the first objects that attracted our notice were their three deities, Bramah, Vishnu, and Sheevah; they were large gilded wooden figures, most frightfully formed. We were told these these people admit no converts to their idolatrous worship, for none but those born Hindoos, and strictly adhering to their laws and ceremonies, will be retained amongst them; the slightest deviation is sufficient to render them outcasts.

We were received with politeness by the Rajah and sprinkled with rose water. After we were seated sweetmeats were handed round, and the dancing and singing girls began their performance; but the whole exhibition appeared to us most stupid and inanimate. The tricks of jugglers, sword eaters, &c. formed part of the evening’s entertainment. We left this scene at 10 o’clock, and were all very glad to return home.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Afraid of failure?

The first book by Dr. Seuss, And to think I saw it on Mulberry Street, was rejected by 27 publishers.

It went on to sell six million copies, and as you can see, the creator finished up on a postage stamp.

The report of Fred Astaire's first screen test read: "Can't act! Slightly bald! Can dance a little!"

Astaire kept that memo framed over his fireplace in his Beverly Hills mansion.

Albert Einsten's teacher's report read: "mentally slow, unsociable and adrift for ever in his dreams."

He was expelled.

He was refused entrance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.

The University of Bern turned down his PhD dissertion: irrelevant and fanciful, they said.

The manager of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, fired Elvis Presley after just one performance. "You ain't goin' nowhere," he said. "You ought to go back to driving a truck."

And -- yes, you've guessed it -- Margaret Mitchell's classic Gone with the Wind was turned down by more than 25 publishers.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ants, jackals, and snakes

Eleanor Reid continues her diary in Calcutta, October 1800

I must confess I thought this country full of plagues, arising equally from the air, the water, and the land; for, without great precautions, Europeans could not exist, nor are they neglected by the opulent natives. The air is full of devouring animals, from the majestic adjutant to the small musquito, from whose tormenting attacks nothing but a gauze completely round your bed with preserve you. 

On land objects of terror and annoyance are innumerable, from the royal tiger to the ant; the latter you are obliged to keep from the bed by a trench of water, the foot of each bed-post being placed in a large brass or stone cup of water, to prevent their ascending among the bed-clothes. The destroyers in the river I have already mentioned; many human beings are devoured by the ravenous sharks. One melancholy instance occurred to Mr. Henderson, the boatswain of our ship, while we were here, who by some accident fell from a small boat called a dingay, which was lying alongside the ship: he sunk to rise no more. Much blood was seen to discolour the water astern of the ship immediately after the accident; as this could not be occasioned by the fall, we concluded that he was immediately seized by some monster. The loss of this worthy man and good seaman was severely felt by the captain and officers.

When our live stock was collecting for the voyage, the poultry was sadly destroyed by jackalls, who came over the walls of the compound, although it exceeded seven feet in height. A trap, made of a wine chest, open at one end, was set for them. The first night a very large jackall was caught; it was shot in the trap, but none of the servants would touch it, and we were obliged to get scavengers to take it away. Its legs appeared short in proportion to its body; it was covered with bites and scars, and had but little hair: it had a strong offensive smell.

A covering was made for the poultry of mats and gram [pea] sticks, but still they were molested by these animals, and I have no doubt that if a dozen had been killed on one night, as many more would have appeared the next, rending the air with their dreadful howlings.

One forenoon some natives came to the gate with large round baskets, asking leave to exhibit the snake dance; when I permitted them to proceed, a man opened one of the baskets, where I observed a large snake about eleven feet long coiled up, which when irritated, sprung out, darted his forked tongue upon the man, who caught it near the head, and flung it from his several times; at length he let him bite his forehead, and the blood started from the wound. This appeared to me very surprising, but I afterwards understood they have a method of extracting the poison from the fangs when the animal is first caught. 

They also exhibited smaller snakes, one called the cobra di capello, the most dangerous of the serpent tribe; they appeared perfectly under command, and when the baskets were again opened they instantly crept in and coiled themselves up. The native music, the tom-tom and pipe, was played during this exhibition. At their departure I gave the men a rupee, with which they were well satisfied, and went away, making me many salams.

Scoop for Hardman and Swainson

Up-and-coming UK literary agency snares major New York representation

Caroline Hardman and Joanna Swainson made a real celebration of Christmas 2013, as it marked the end of their first, hectic, full year as the Hardman and Swainson Literary Agency.

These two energetic young women have perfect backgrounds for the job.

Joanna Swainson ran a business for several years, providing a range of copy writing and editing services, and freelancing for a number of literary agents, including one of the most commercial agencies in London and a specialist children's agent.

 Caroline Hardman started out at Waterstone's as  a bookseller -- and what better qualification for a literary agent is there than that?

Then she worked as an agent at the Christopher Little Literary Agency and The Marsh Agency, where she also specialized in translation rights. 

It was while she was at The Marsh Agency that she met Laura Langlie, which is probably the reason she is now able to proudly announce, "We are the UK representatives of US agent Laura Langlie." 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Setting up house in Calcutta

Eleanor Reid's diary continues

[September 1800]

When my husband return I found he had procured a house in a street called Cossitollah, at eighty rupees per month, unfurnished.

Just before breakfast this morning, Mr. Muirhead informed me that a person had come from the shore with a present of fruit, &c. saying that he had got the house matted, and all ready for our reception, and that a couple of palanquins and bearers were waiting for us, at the ghant, or landing place. 

As my husband had gone on shore very early, and I could not think of quitting the ship before his return, I desired to see the person who had come off.  He advanced to the cabin door, took off his shoes, and made three salams with great apparent humility; he was dressed in fine white muslin, thrown loosely over his body and shoulders, over this he had a beautiful Cashmere shawl. His complexion was not very dark, and his person was upon the whole rather prepossessing; he appeared to be about twenty-five years of age; he had two attendants. I inquired if he spoke English: he replied, “not great much.” I soon however understood by his broken sentences that his name was Kissen Chunda Bose; that the Captain, then mate, had employed him as sircar, and that he wished me to speak in his behalf now, which I promised to do. 

At that instant the Captain came on board and informed me that all was ready on shore, and that it would be advisable to land before the sun got too high. We accordingly left the ship and proceeded to the spot where the palanquins were waiting; we seated ourselves in them, and as we passed along the winding streets new scenes opened to our view. Every part was thronged with natives, of whom I shall not attempt a description until I have been some time resident among them. 

We soon gained our appointed station in Cossitollah Street, where I was glad to rest, for in the narrow streets I found the heat very oppressive; the house was large and convenient, having on the first floor, which was the upper story, four good bed rooms, a spacious hall, with a veranda in front; apartments of the same size below, occupied by the ship’s stores, and a large piece of ground, called the compound, at the back, for the live stock, &c. A winding staircase led up to the flat roof terrace all round, to which we sometimes resorted after our evening’s ride for the benefit of the cool air.

We found ourselves obliged to submit to the custom of the country, in keeping up the following establishment: a Durwan, or porter, at the gate; a Sircar and two assistants for the ship; a Bobagee, or cook, and his assistant; a Beastie, or water carrier; a Mater, or linkboy, and a sweeper, for the house; a set of bearers for one palanquin, seven.

In addition to these we had the servants from the ship, and an ayah, or female attendant, for myself. All these, we were informed, were absolutely necessary in this place, we were therefore obliged to confirm. 

The same evening, my husband drove me round the circular road, Chouringa, and the course, to which all the fashionables of Calcutta resort morning and evening; the course is regularly watered in the dry season, which renders it by far the most agreeable place for an airing. I thought at first that all the Europeans here looked sickly and pallid, but this impression wore off after a short time. 

I was introduced to several very respectable women, amongst whom were Mrs. K., now Lady M. K. with whom I frequently took a morning drive; I found her pleasing, and well informed; she kindly explained every thing which appeared a novelty to me. She resided with her sister, Mrs. J., whose husband was a merchant, and from whom we received friendly attentions. We were under the necessity of limiting our morning’s exercise to an hour or two, for after seven o’clock the sun became so powerful that we were glad to return as quickly as possible to the house, and to remain there until evening, unless obliged to pay morning visits, which was generally done at the expense of a bad head-ache.

One morning the sircar told me we should have good fortune, for three argalls, or adjutants [cranes], had rested upon our house-top all night. They had no doubt been attracted by the rats, which were generally caught in a trap, and thrown out at night. The quantity these gigantic birds will devour is astonishing. One morning, nine large rats had been caught, which one by one were thrown to an adjutant, who picked them up and swallowed them as a pigeon would peas; after which a leg of Bengal mutton, from which only a slice or two had been cut, was thrown out, which he picked up in a dexterous manner, and bolted down his throat. 

The crows however, in this country, are the most daring of the feathered tribe; I have seen them come in at the windows of the dining room, and take cold meat off the table. So expert are they in thieving, that a watch is obliged to be set to prevent a surprise; a fine little English terrier, which we had was often annoyed by these depredators, as well as by the kites. When meat was sent out for the dog a battle generally ensued between her and the crows; while she was occupied in chasing one another came to plunder, the kites at the same time darting down from the house top, snatched up in their talons the bones of contention; those were in their turn attacked by their own tribe, and obliged to surrender the spoil in the air to others, who in their turn found themselves unable to resist some new competition.

A View of Government House from the Eastward," 1819. Engraved by R Havell Jr. In Views of Calcutta and its Environs by James Baillie Fraser (publ. 1824). Interestingly shows a large number of Greater Adjutant Storks perched on the buildings.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pulitzer Prizes 2014

From Dianna Dilworth and GalleyCat @

Donna Tartt has won The Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her book The Goldfinch. The novel about an orphan, also won Amazon’s Best Books of the Month “Spotlight Pick” in October 2013 and was shortlisted for 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award.

The Flick by Annie Baker won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Alan Taylor‘s The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 won the prize for History. Megan Marshall‘s Margaret Fuller: A New American Life took the Pulitzer for the Biography category. Vijay Seshadri won the Poetry prize for 3 Sections.
Dan Fagin‘s Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation won the prize for General Nonfiction. John Luther Adams‘ Become Ocean took the prize for Music.