Thursday 21 August 2014

Robinson: the quiz (again)

Slack days, and I’ve been neglecting this blog. So in honour of Jack Robinson, and because when I first put this up last summer no one, despite the wondrous powers of Google, got all the answers, here’s the quiz again (slightly enlarged). First to email me before 31 August with author and title of each work from which the below are extracted can choose a couple of free CBe books.

June 21. – Very ill; frighted almost to death with the apprehensions of my sad condition—to be sick, and no help. Prayed to God, for the first time since the storm off Hull, but scarce knew what I said, or why, my thoughts being all confused. June 22. – A little better; but under dreadful apprehensions of sickness. June 23. – Very bad again; cold and shivering, and then a violent headache. June 24. – Much better. June 25. – An ague very violent; the fit held me seven hours; cold fit and hot, with faint sweats after it. June 26. – Better; and having no victuals to eat, took my gun, but found myself very weak. However, I killed a she-goat, and with much difficulty got it home, and broiled some of it, and ate, I would fain have stewed it, and made some broth, but had no pot.

The local museum’s asked me to
leave everything to them:
the flute, the knife, the shrivelled shoes,
my shedding goatskin trousers
(moths have got in the fur),
the parasol that took me such a time
remembering the way the ribs should go.
It still will work but, folded up,
looks like a plucked and skinny fowl.
How can anyone want such things?
– And Friday, my dear Friday, died of measles
seventeen years ago come March.

We are now settled in lodgings in Clock Lane off Long Acre. I go by the name of Mrs Cruso, which you should bear in mind. I have a room on the second floor. Friday has a bed in the cellar, where I bring him his meals. By no means could I have abandoned him on the island. Nevertheless, a great city is no place him. His confusion when I conducted him through the streets this last Saturday wrenched my heartstrings.
Our lodging is together five shillings a week. Whatever you send I shall be grateful for.

It happened one night that Robinson could not sleep. A pool of moonlight shone on the floor of the Residence. An owl called in the darkness, and he seemed to hear the very earth groan with a plaint of love deprived. His mattress of dried grass felt incongruously soft and unreal. He lay for a while thinking of Tenn’s mad, erotic dance round that open furrow, the body offered after being violated by Friday’s spade. It was a long time since he had visited the combe. His daughters, the mandrakes, must have grown big by now! He sat up with his feet in the moonlight and smelt the scent of sap rising in his big body, white as a root. He rose silently, stepped over the entwined bodies of Friday and Tenn, and set out for the copse of gum-trees and sandalwood.


The published confection has as much imagination as truth in it: Alexander becomes Robinson; the Scottish son of a cobbler becomes a merchant’s son from York who ignores the advice of his father; four years and four months becomes twenty-eight years, half a lifetime.


[Click on image to enlarge]

Usually Robinson reserved the same large table in a fashionable restaurant where a dozen or more of us sat down to dinner. He went out of his way to be charming and intriguing (answering a question with a question), his deliberate reticence about himself calculated to provoke speculation. Everyone had a different angle on Robinson, who was at his most Gatsby-like during this period, mixing high and low life at the same table, seating rebellious young aristocrats next to a former criminal associate of the Krays who explained how to saw off the barrel of a shotgun. ‘Dangerous thing to do, now looking back on it,’ he told me. ‘But they were available, yeah, and they were usable.’ He fixed me with a dead stare perfected in the course of thousands of protection money collections.

The vocation for murder that had suddenly come over Robinson struck me in a way as an improvement over what I’d observed up until then in others, always half hateful, half benevolent, always boring with their vagueness, their indirection. I had definitely learned a thing or two by following Robinson in the night.
But there was a danger: the Law. ‘The Law is dangerous,’ I told him. ‘If you’re caught, you with the state of your health, you’ll be sunk … You’ll never leave prison alive … It’ll kill you …’
‘That’s just too bad,’ he said. ‘I’m fed up with honest work … I’m getting old … still waiting my turn to have some fun, and when it comes ... if it does, with plenty of patience … I’ll have been dead and buried long ago … Honest work is for suckers … You know that as well as I do …’

Because I am done with this thing called work,
the paper-clips and staples of it all.
The customers and their huge excuses,
their incredulous lies and their beautiful
foul-mouthed daughters. I am swimming with it,
right up to here with it. And I am bored,
bored like the man who married a mermaid.

Recent occurrences to which he need not more particularly allude, but which have not been altogether without notice in some Sunday Papers, and in a daily paper which he need not name (here every other member of the company names it in an audible murmur), have caused him to reflect; and he feels that for him and Robinson to have any personal differences at such a moment, would be for ever to deny that good feeling in the general cause, for which he has reason to think and hope that the gentlemen in […] have always been distinguished.

‘Robinson is not a man for the ladies.’
That, too, I knew already. There is easily discernible in some men a certain indifference, not to woman precisely but to the feminine element in women, which might be interpreted in a number of ways. In Robinson I had detected something more than indifference: a kind of armed neutrality. So much for his attitude to me. And I thought it likely that he could be positively hostile to the idea of women in general.
‘Look here,’ I said to Jimmie, ‘I wasn’t born yesterday.’
‘Is so?’ said Jimmie gallantly.
‘And in any case,’ I said, ‘Robinson is not my style.’

‘Know my partner? Old Robinson. Yes; the Robinson. Don’t you know? The notorious Robinson. The man who smuggled more opium and bagged more seals in his time than any loose Johnny now alive. They say he used to board the sealing-schooners up Alaska way when the fog was so thick that the Lord God, He alone, could tell one man from another. Holy-Terror Robinson. That’s the man. He is with me in that guano thing. The best chance he ever came across in his life.’

Robinson afraid, drunk, sobbing Robinson
In bed with a Mrs Morse. Robinson at home;
Decisions: Toynbee or luminol? Where the sun
Shines, Robinson in flowered trunks, eyes toward
The breakers. Where the night ends, Robinson in East Side bars.

Robinson hesitated a moment, and then said, with a smile, ‘I am going to make you, sir, a very odd proposal after your last declaration; but what say you to a game at cards? it will serve to pass a tedious hour, and may divert your thoughts from more unpleasant speculations.’ I do not imagine Booth would have agreed to this; for, though some love of gaming had been formerly amongst his faults, yet he was not so egregiously addicted to that vice as to be tempted by the shabby plight of Robinson, who had, if I may so express myself, no charms for a gamester. If he had, however, any such inclinations, he had no opportunity to follow them, for, before he could make any answer to Robinson’s proposal, a strapping wench came up to Booth, and, taking hold of his arm, asked him to walk aside with her; saying, ‘What a pox, are you such a fresh cull that you do not know this fellow? why, he is a gambler, and committed for cheating at play. There is not such a pickpocket in the whole quad.’ A scene of altercation now ensued between Robinson and the lady, which ended in a bout at fisticuffs, in which the lady was greatly superior to the philosopher.

‘Let’s go for a spin,’ Mr Robinson said.
Benjamin reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys. ‘Can you work a foreign gearshift?’ he said, holding them out.
‘Do you know how to operate a foreign gearshift?’
‘Well sure,’ Mr Robinson said. ‘But I thought you’d take me for a spin yourself.’

‘You ask that,’ groaned Robinson, ‘and yet you can see what I look like. Just think of it, they’ve very likely made me a cripple for life. I have frightful pains from here right to here’ – and he pointed first to his head and then to his toes – ‘I only wish you had seen how much my nose bled. My waistcoat is completely ruined, and I had to leave it behind me too; my trousers are in tatters, I’m in my drawers’.

He had determined to remain calm, so that, on turning round at the quick advent of the little woman of the house, who had hurried up, white, scared, staring, at the sound of the crashing door, he was able to say, very quietly and gravely, ‘Mr Robinson has shot himself through the heart. He must have done it while you were fetching the milk.’


Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows (1908) – in which Toad is bailed out from various scrapes by kindly others who have a soft spot for this feckless, conceited toff – while working at the Bank of England. Several of Grahame’s colleagues kept dogs in the basement and organised dog-fights in the lavatories. In 1903 he was shot at by an intruder named Robinson, whom the press referred to as a ‘Socialist Lunatic’.

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