An ongoing project of mine involves close-reading anonymous autobiographies to uncover authors' identities using search macros within digital archives. Systematically inputting details - dates and places - into databases can triangulate identities in ways scarcely imaginable to those anonymous writers of old. Sometimes however, progress is scuppered by brick walls: authors may deliberately fabricate biographical details, or, more problematically, the resources that may contain the necessary data might not even be digitised yet.
|Roundabout Gossip (1862)|
A more sensible person would give up at this point, but the book roused curiosity, so I continued digging around. One possible way of shedding light upon the author of 'Roundabout Gossip' might be through investigating its curious publisher, John Frederick Eyles of 77 North Street, Brighton. J. F. Eyles was a printer who also published The Brighton Examiner newspaper. It appears to be the only newspaper in the world to have mentioned 'Roundabout Gossip', appraising it as "a most amusing and agreeable contribution to the light literature of the day". In business since 1844, J. F. Eyles was suddenly declared bankrupt in July 1860. 'Roundabout Gossip' appeared in the summer of 1862, and though it's unlikely that Eyles wrote the book himself, it's plausible that one of his creditors devised it as a vanity project in lieu of payment (particularly as it was reported that Eyles had secured an amicable arrangement with his creditors in September 1860).
|Cheap-paper Literature... (1861)|
No libraries hold 'Roundabout Gossip'. The British Library is the only institution holding both 'Cheap-paper Literature at the Hammer' and copies of The Brighton Examiner (which began circulation in 1853). For the past year, I've been pestering the library and the British Newspaper Archive to digitise the 1860s issues of The Brighton Examiner. A special request to view the physical volumes was generously granted by the library a few months ago. I had hoped that by looking at them, familiar Gossipy phrases might leap out the page, or recurring names might provide a lead, but the mystery of 'Roundabout Gossip' was not solved.
Physically searching newspapers reveals unexpected things. With modernity in mind, and by way of stressing the interestingness of The Brighton Examiner, I present this highly unusual column that caught the eye: the first issue of 1860 contains a text described tongue-in-cheekly as a tipsy New Year's Eve reveller's "wild bit of writing" found on the pavement "in a wet and dirty condition" on the morning of New Years Day. It is actually a string of garbled adverts and news items from previous issues - it prefigures the 'cheap paper literature' cut-ups of the next century.
|Journalistic Jumbles (1884)|
A STRANGE COMPOSITION
The following wild bit of writing is said to have formed part of the contents of a bundle of papers picked up on the pave, on Tuesday last, in a wet and dirty condition, by an early matutinal stroller. The writer, whoever he may be, had rather evidently been "dining out," which, as Monday was a holiday, may to a certain extent be excusable, and hence apparently the general obscurity as to meaning or intention which pervades the composition. The intelligent reader is invited to make what he can out of it, and so no more of preface.
- Good dinner - Nice wine - read Brighton Examiner - write to the Editor - second bottle - on Monday the powder mills at Hounslow blew up - being St. Patrick's day - Lord Palmerston enquired - if you really want pure gin - aged 76, married to a young girl of 18 - Holloway's pills - gratis to sufferers - Benson's watches - pains in the back - deposit and discount bank - a quantity of new sovereigns were issued at - five shillings a bushel to the poor - selling off at cost price - a railway truck accident - was convicted for keeping a disorderly house - mayor and principal resident gentry took - Kaye's Worsdell's pills - Thorley's food for cattle - committed for trial - Abraham's 16s 6d trousers - a saving of 7d to 1s per pound - to the great joy of the noble family - extra Christmas Holiday - now lying at the London Docks, copper-bottomed - Soup for the Poor - the Borough Improvement Bill - last seen in company with - Mary, alias Moll Hacket, alias Black Moll - Mr Nye Chart played the part to perfection, in fact - Reuben Cherriman, the Dentist - J. F. Eyles, General Printer - Allano, the Clown - Canterbury Hall - Absalom Dell - Maynard's Cough Lozenges - will keep good for 10 years, even in the Indies - try a box of - Garlick's best Wall's End - Can produce a good character from his last place - Dr. King's Liver Pills - Rents! Rents!! Rents!!! - Mr L. Christian - An Act of Deep Gratitude, given away, 2,000 - no use to any one but the owner - The Brighton Sauce - N.B. be careful to have the right sort - Brighton Rifle Corps - Sudden Death - Lewes Cattle Show - Two Grand Concerts - taken up for defrauding a Countryman at hussel-cap - A. Bigge - the Mayor - J. Allfree - Assault and Robbery - Drunken Attempt at Suicide - Parish of Brighton - removed to Bath for the benefit of the air - afterwards tossed and gored several persons - A Bull in a China Shop - made a Freemason at the Grand Lodge - Mr Saunders (Blacksmith's Alms), Mr R. Cherriman - Mr Burn, jun., Mr Measor - Mr Willard - and several other highly respectable inhabitants - Remember the Poor at Christmas - A fine turtle, weighing the - creditors of Mary Jones - to be sold to the highest bidder - warranted sound wind and limb - Mr Nye Chart's Christmas Pantomime - An agreeable Young Lady with a fortune of £10,000 - fell down in St. Gile's - a total wreck, but her crew saved - The Pope's Bull - Mr Dewar - Mr R. Marston - Mr Wilson - Mr English - Mr Wheeler - universally respected - roast goose - pork chops - potatoes and greens - mild ale - gin and cloves - Dublin stout - rum and milk - cod liver oil, - Tamplin's mild - Catt's old - Parsons' good chap - out and out Cavendish - none are genuine but such as have - Brighton Examiner - evening concluded with the utmost festivity - jolly companions - won't go home till morning - now number 999 - move on - George Wight - all right - not tight - not a bit - no - no - - report - you - in - the - morn - ing - - bed quite wet - candle top of the gas light - I - sa - y - - - -.