Back in September 2013, Frank Key posted on The Dabbler his idea of writing a book of very, very brief lives. Thanks in part to the enthusiastic reaction of the Dabbler audience and commenters, this idea has now become a reality, and Mr Key’s Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives will be published by Constable in October (with an introduction by our own Brit).
You can pre-order it on Amazon here. In the meantime, following the initial taster a few weeks ago, here are some more extracts…
Atherton, Gertrude (American writer, 1857 – 1948). Atherton declined an invitation to meet Oscar Wilde, having been shown his photograph. “His mouth covered half his face, the most lascivious, coarse, repulsive mouth I had ever seen. I might stand it in a large crowded drawing-room, but not in a parlour, eight by eight, lit by three tallow candles. I should feel as if I were under the sea, pursued by some bloated monster of the deep.”
Cardew, Cornelius (British composer, 1936 – 1981). In 1966, Cardew was in New York, while his wife Stella remained in London, struggling with four small children and virtually no money in a top-floor flat. Stella wrote a stream of letters to Cardew complaining bitterly about the couple who had come to stay with her. They were helping themselves to food, not paying a penny towards the housekeeping, and leaving Stella to look after their pneumonia-racked child while they went off gallivanting to swish parties. Nor did they show any sign of leaving until Cardew eventually wrote a stern letter ordering them to do so. The names of the couple were Tony Cox and his then wife, the avant-garde Japanese artist Yoko Ono.
Casement, Roger (Irish nationalist, 1864 – 1916). When Casement was serving as British consul in the Congo in 1903, his meals were prepared by a cook known as “Hairy Bill”. Casement noted in his diary ““Chicken, chicken, custard, custard… every day… Goddam”.
Firbank, Ronald (British writer, 1886 – 1926). Chapter XX of Firbank’s 1916 novel Inclinations, complete and unabridged:
“Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!
Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!”
Hemmerde, Edward (British barrister and politician, 1871 – 1948). Hemmerde was variously described as a profligate, a wastrel, a stormy petrel, a soured man, a good-time Charlie, an “irrepressible, loud-mouthed, honourable and outspoken braggart”, and “a man who was much maligned and misunderstood”. When he was overexcited – which was most of the time – his voice rose to an ear-splitting high-pitched screech.
Hopkins, Gerard Manley (British Jesuit and poet, 1844 -1889). Hopkins noted in his journal that on the twenty-seventh of April 1871 he mesmerised a duck. He does not say why.
Oswald, Lee Harvey (American schoolbook depository worker and assassin, 1939 – 1963). To avert the probability of his grave being desecrated by people unhinged by the killing of President Kennedy, Oswald was buried under the name “William Bobo”.
Warlock, Peter (British composer, real name Philip Heseltine, 1894 – 1930). Warlock was declared unfit for military service during the First World War on account of general neurasthenia and “an inability to micturate when mentally excited, and especially in the presence of other people, with the consequence that he has had occasional prolonged retention”, according to a Harley Street doctor’s report. As a seemingly fit young man swanning about London, he was subjected to insults from “officious patriots”. His common retort was to declaim, loudly, one of his favourite quotations, from Samuel Butler’s poem Psalm Of Montreal:
O brother-in-law to Mr. Spurgeon’s haberdasher,
Who seasonest also the skins of Canadian owls,
Thou callest trousers ‘pants’,whereas I call them ‘trousers’,
Therefore thou art in hell-fire, and may the Lord pity thee!
Wilcox, Toyah (British popstrel, b. 1958). Mindful of her status as a cultural icon, Toyah Wilcox maintains a separate property solely for the storage of her archive, including press cuttings and VHS recordings of all her appearances on Top Of The Pops.