By George Bassett.
‘Nothing if not bizarre.’ – New York Times.
FROM ITS FIRST number, the Fortnightly featured fiction published in serial fashion, beginning with The Belton Estate, by Anthony Trollope, and continuing here, with George Bassett’s rather unusual Golden-beak.
“Golden Beak,” wrote a disappointed (and apparently inattentive) critic in the New York Times, “tells of a feather-headed American woman, Mrs. Yosinde [sic] Potwin, who has a Japanese boy as man-of-all-work. Temechici [sic] falls in love with this mistress. He is the last of the Shoguns, a Prince in disguise. Temechici has, with other heroic traits, a talent for the improvising of sandwiches. But he is of a jealous disposition. One night he enters Mrs. Potwin’s room…”
It’s not the first time we’ve disagreed with a New York newspaper, but “Golden-beak” (as it’s properly titled) has been chosen the summer serial for 2011 because of its self-effacing wit, its disregard for the proprieties, its observations of British condescension toward Americans, its wry commentary on social conventions of the time, and, as patient readers will discover, its worth-waiting-for payoff. The author, writing under a pseudonym, was Henry Haxton, a colorful San Francisco journalist, a friend of Ambrose Bierce and James McNeill Whistler (“Fancy Jim,” he called him), and a mad writer of advertisements for the The Times (London), now mostly remembered, if at all, for being the father of Somerset Maugham’s notorious “secretary,” Gerald Haxton. Henry Haxton died around 1923, an inmate of the King’s Point asylum in New York.
‘In the course of a week we had become very friendly, little Mrs. Potwin and I.’
‘I have a big doll down in my steamer-trunk now. I never go anywhere without it.’
‘…and there in the middle of the room, right near the corner of my bed, stood Temehichi, dressed in a magnificent Japanese costume, embroidered all over with dragons and snakes.’
“If he is not altogether out of his mind, he has been trying to impose on you; but I incline to believe that he is a lunatic. It all sounds to me like a wild dream.”
It was not, she said, a regular engagement: it was the species of engagement called in America an “understanding” — a modified form of betrothal which she considered exceedingly convenient.
“Ah, if it were only that she is eccentric!” said Lady Scarlett. “One doesn’t mind that in the least. People may be quite mad, for that matter…”
He had marched off, as Mrs. Potwin said, because he wanted to be alone. I was thoroughly uncomfortable.
[Chapters added in weekly installments every weekend from July 17 until the end of August.]
The Fortnightly‘s Summer Serial
is addressed by the author to
Vailima in Samoa
Give this, my dear Osbourne, to your mother for me.
As the old saw has it: “Gratefulness is the poor man’s payment.”
For a list of ‘serials’ published through 1895 in the Fortnightly Review, please consult this page of At the Circulating Library: A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901, by Dr. Troy J. Bassett, at Patrick Leary’s Victoria Research Web.