January 26, 2004

Daddy Darwin's Dovecot, Juliana Horatio Ewing

...Dovecot was the story I liked the best from the collection Jackanapes, Daddy Darwin's Dovecot and Other Stories. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Darwin of Beagle fame, although that Darwin considered pigeon-fanciers' results when describing the force of selective breeding. Pigeon-fanciers not only developed all sorts of funny-looking pigeons, but ones with characteristic peculiar flight:

some Air Tumbler pigeons were turning somersaults on their homeward way, at such short and regular intervals that they seemed to be tying knots in their lines of flight.

The story begins with the news that a young man out of the workhouse is now the owner of "Daddy Darwin's Dovecot"; readers would probably know that pigeon-breeding was an old, usually respectable amusement, complete with protective laws from the days of James I and expensive gambling in the nineteenth century. A framing character is surprised to hear that a workhouse boy (not a real local - now, how could they know that? not an acknowledged local, anyway) is the owner of such a place. And the rest of the story is a standard, pleasant tale of someone making good by hard work and virtue. I notice that one of the virtues is one thought of as modern; the unknown child and the inheritor of the dovecot are, in the end, family, by action love and choice, not by default. And the old argot can adopt the idea:

setting a wild graff on an old standard

Other good dialect words: steek, here to 'fasten tight'; I know it from Knitting in the Old Way, where it describes a dense stitch in the underarms where a round sweater-body is going to be split for the sleeves. I don't know what at t'last feather of the shuttle means - is it a pigeon term, used by the fancier character; or a weaving term, from the author, or a weaving term when it wasn't gendered quite as much as it is now (Silas Marner)? Badminton's possible, but odd when asking for the last sacrament.

First three paragraphs of the next story, very tidy:

There was once an old man whom Fortune (whose own eyes are bandaged) had deprived of his sight. She had taken his hearing also, so that he was deaf. Poor he had always been, and as Time had stolen his youth and strength from him, they had only left a light burden for Death to carry when he should come the old man's way.
But Love (who is blind also) had given the Blind Man a Dog, who led him out in the morning to a seat in the sun under the crab-tree, and held his hat for wayside alms, and brought him safely home at sunset.
The Dog was wise and faithful--as dogs often are--but the wonder of him was that he could talk. In which will be seen the difference between dogs and men, most of whom can talk; whilst it is a matter for admiration if they are wise and faithful.

You can read the first story, "Jackanapes", with the original Caldecott illustrations - that would be the Caldecott of book-award fame.

URI: Gutenberg EBook #7865

So wrote clew in Fiction (19th c.). | TrackBack
And thus wrote others:
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