Reading through Solo Wargaming, my second favourite Featherstone title, (War Games 1962 first, Airborne Wargaming third, before you ask), I spotted another of Richard Tennant’s beautiful wargames terrain pieces.
Richard (Dick) Tennant sadly passed away in March 2021, aged 77.
It looks like one of these Spanish farms by Holmes of Deltorama or Peter Gilder has been photographed for Donald Featherstone’s lovely book, one of only two colour pictures including the cover picture of Airfix Arabs.
Richard Tennant was an early opponent of Donald Featherstone in Southampton in the 1960s and a lifelong friend of his. They both shared an interest in the Napoleonic and Peninsular Wars.
As well as Richard Tennant’s collections being together in the USA in good hands, it is good to know that many of Featherstone’s figures are together in the collection of Daniel Borris in the USA.
E. Nesbit: “They were very fine soldiers with turbans and swords and eyes that gleamed in quite a lifelike way, riding on horses of a violently active appearance: they came to my little son when he was getting well after measles or some such sorrow, and he wanted a fort built for them.” (Chapter IV: The Magic City, Wings and the Child )
Edith Nesbit in Wings and the Child or the Building of Magic Cities, 1913 wrote about her childhood in France and England. The family moved around for the sake of her older sister’s ailing health.
Chapter IV The Magic City in Wings and the Child, 1913
During her childhood, E. Nesbit ended up living in France with her family:
“In the courtyard of our house in France there was an out-house with a sloping roof and a flat parapet about four feet high. We used to build little clay huts along this, and roof them with slates, leaving a hole for a chimney. The huts had holes for windows and doors, and we used to collect bits of candle and put them in our huts after dark and enjoy the lovely spectacle of our illuminated buildings till some one remembered us and caught us, and sent us to bed.
That was the curse of our hut-building—the very splendour of the result attracted the attention one most wished to avoid. But clay was our only building material, and after the big bricks were lost I never had any more bricks till I had children of my own who had bricks of their own. And then I played with them and theirs.
And even then I never thought of building magic cities till the Indian soldiers came.”
Britain’s appear to have introduced their Indian troops and Cavalry from 1895/6 onwards, according to James Opie.
E. Nesbit and H. G. Wells and their respective sons would no doubt be delighted that such shiny toy soldiers are still available, painted or unpainted metal, or more recently plastic.
Looking at these beautifully painted shiny Indian Army figures, old and new, you can see why Edith’s son was so taken with these “very fine soldiers”:
E. Nesbit: “They were very fine soldiers with turbans and swords and eyes that gleamed in quite a lifelike way, riding on horses of a violently active appearance: they came to my little son when he was getting well after measles or some such sorrow, and he wanted a fort built for them.” (Chapter IV: The Magic City)
“So we rattled all the bricks out of their boxes on to the long cutting-out table in the work-room and began to build.
But do what we would our fort would not look like a fort—at any rate not like an Eastern fort. We pulled it down and tried again, and then again, but no: regardless of our patient energy our fort quietly but persistently refused to look like anything but a factory—a building wholly unworthy of those military heroes with the prancing steeds and the coloured turbans, and the eyes with so much white in them.” (Chapter IV The Magic City, in Wings and the Child)
Edith Nesbit’s 1913 book Wings and the Child with its concern for wooden blocks and creative toys proves an interesting comparison with H.G. Wells’ Floor Games (1911) and Little Wars (1913).
E. Nesbit: “So then I wondered what was needed to give a hint of the gorgeous East to the fort, and I perceived that what was wanted was a dome — domes.
So I fetched some brass finger-bowls and lustre basins off the dresser in the dining-room and inverted one on the chief tower of our fort, and behold! the East began to sparkle and beckon. Domes called for minarets, and chessmen on pillars supplied the need.
One thing led to another, and before the day was over the Indian horsemen were in full charge across a sanded plain where palm trees grew—a sanded plain bounded only by the edges of the table, along three sides of which were buildings that never rose beside the banks of Thames, but seemed quite suitable piles to reflect their fair proportions in the Ganges or the Sutlej, especially when viewed by eyes which had not had the privilege of gazing on those fair and distant streams.” (Chapter IV: The Magic City, in Wings and the Child)
E. Nesbit: “I learned a great deal in that my first day of what I may term romantic building, but what I learned was the merest shadow-sketch of the possibilities of my discovery. My little son, for his part, learned that a bowl one way up is a bowl, a thing for a little boy to eat bread and milk out of; the other way up it is a dome for a king’s palace …”
E. Nesbit: “You will be amazed at the results you can achieve with quite dull-looking materials, and still more will you be surprised at the increasing interest and skill of the grown-ups.
When it is time to dress for dinner you will feel a pang of positive despair at the thought that your beautiful city, the child of your dreams and skill, must be taken down. It is like the end of the magic of Cinderella when her coach became a pumpkin, her horses mice and her coachman a fat rat.
Now your domes are once more mere basins, your fountain basins are ash-trays, your fountains are but silver pen-cases and their gleaming waters only strips of the tin-foil that comes off chocolate or cigarettes.
The walls of your palaces go back into the book-cases, and their façades return to the dull obscurity of the brick-boxes. The door and the animals who stood on guard at the door-ways and terraces, on plinths or pillars, share in the dark rattling seclusion where many a wooden tail has been broken, many a painted ear lost for ever, but the tidying up has to be done: unless your hostess is one of those rare and delightful people who see what their guests like and lets them do it.
In that case she may say “Oh! what a pity to disturb the pretty thing! Why not let your city stay for a day or two, so that the children can build some more to it to-morrow. No, of course it won’t be in the way—and wouldn’t it be pretty if we lighted it up with fairy lights after dark?” (Chapter IV: The Magic City, Wings and The Child)
Here are some of the beautiful exotic palaces and houses that E. Nesbit made, pictured in “Wings and The Child”
You can see E.Nesbit with part of her Magic City in this webpage photograph:
Who was this young son delighted by the arrival of the Indian cavalry?
Many of Nesbit’s books were dedicated to her and husband Hubert Bland’s children. By the time Wings and the Child or The Building of Magic Cities was published in 1913, which has no such dedication, her children and those of her husband were mostly grown up teenagers or twenty somethings. She is harking back to time spent with them years before and most recently with John her youngest adopted son building Magic Cities.
Edith Nesbit’s children by her husband Hubert Bland were
At present I cannot work out if she built Magic Cities with all of her three sons or who was the son entranced by the Indian Cavalry.
As we mentioned in our blog post about The City in The Library short story about toy soldiers, the two characters are called Rosamund and Fabian in this story from Nesbit’s 1901 book Nine Unlikely Tales. Sadly Nesbit’s son Fabian died in 1900 aged 15 after a tonsil operation; Nesbit dedicated several books to him such as The Story of the Treasure Seekers and its sequels as well as many others.
Like Chesterton and Wells, for those interested in her life and works, there is an Edith Nesbit Society
“And one of the greatest helps to a small, inexperienced traveller in this sometimes dusty way is the likeness of things to each other. Your piece of thick bread and butter is a little stale, perhaps, and bores you; but, when you see that your first three bites have shaped it to the likeness of a bear or a beaver, dull teatime becomes interesting at once. A cloud that is like a face, a tree that is like an old man, a hill that is like an elephant’s back, if you have things like these to look at, and look out for, how short the long walk becomes.” E. Nesbit, Wings and The Child, 1913.
Was Tolkein influenced by the work of E. Nesbit and her “Accidental Magic” stories?
“There are no words to express half what I feel about the teachers in our Council Schools, their enthusiasm, their patience, their energy, their devotion. When we think of what the lives of poor children are …” E. Nesbit
It has been a tough time for many children and teachers during Lockdown, with schools mostly shut, rapidly adapting to home schooling and being taught online, the inequalities of the nation shown up by concerns over free school meal vouchers and lack of data or laptops.
I started reading Wings and The Child or the Building of Magic Cities (1913) by E. Nesbit (of Railway Children fame) with some scepticism about this middle class pastime of borrowed silver candlesticks and marbled bound volumes set up by servants in the library or the nursery.
The first half of the book is about her thoughts on childhood, education and the state of England, the second half is how she makes her Magic Cities with the help of her children.
Reading this book, I get echoes of Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys and E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, a concern for the rapidly urbanising State of the Nation, shown up in BP’s case by the poor standard of recruits for the Boer War.
What I didn’t realise is that Edith Nesbit, in response to many letters from children about her children’s book The Magic City (1910), exhibited and manned her Magic City at during the Child Welfare ExhibitionOlympia of late 1912 and early 1913, the year her book was published.
Here at the Exhibition, she had a wide range of visitors from foreign royalty to teachers. Fellow exhibitors included the suffragette or suffrage societies.
Regular blog readers will have read my recent posts on H.G. Wells’ Floor Games (1911) and Little Wars (1913).
Edith Nesbit (or Mrs Hubert Bland) and her husband Hubert would have known Wells and his Little Wars friends like Mr W. (Graham Wallas) through the socialist Fabian Society. Arguably Wells’ science fiction books have their own criticisms of the state of the Nation or colonialism and Empire such as The War of the Worlds or The Time Machine.
Reproaching my initial modern prejudice about this book and her Edwardian Middle Class background, Nesbit shows that she is aware or able to adapt her thoughts to the situation of children in rural or urban board schools (primary schools) established in the 1870s.
The Poor Child’s City – CHAPTER VII, Wings and the Child, E. Nesbit, 1913
“When my city was built at Olympia a great many school-teachers who came to see it told me that they would like to help the children in their schools to build such cities, but that it would not be possible because the children came from poor homes, where there were none of the pretty things—candlesticks, brass bowls, silver ash-trays, chessmen, draughts, well-bound books, and all the rest of it—which I had used to build my city.
So then I said I would build a city out of the sort of things that poor children could collect and bring to school. And I did. My friends Mr. Annis and Mr. Taylor, who were helping me to explain the city and show it to visitors, helped me with the building. We did it in a day, and it was very pretty—so pretty that the school-teachers who came to see it asked me to write a book to say how that was done. And so I did.
There are no words to express half what feel about the teachers in our Council Schools, their enthusiasm, their patience, their energy, their devotion.
When we think of what the lives of poor children are, of the little they have of the good things of this world, the little chance they have of growing up to any better fate than that of their fathers and mothers, who do the hardest work of all and get the least pay of all those who work for money—when we think how rich people have money to throw away, how their dogs have velvet coats and silver collars, and eat chicken off china, while the little children of the poor live on bread and tea, and wear what they can get—often enough, too little—when we think of all these things, if we can bear to think of them at all, there is not one of us, I suppose, who would not willingly die if by our death we could secure for these children a fairer share of the wealth of England, the richest country in the world.
For wealth, by which I mean money, can buy all those things which children ought to have, and which these children do not have—good food, warm clothes, fresh country air, playthings and books, and pictures.
Remembering that by far the greater number of children of England have none of these things, you would, I know, gladly die if dying would help. To die for a cause is easy—you leap into the gulf like Curtius, or fall on the spears like Winkelried, or go down with your ship for the honour of your country.
To lead a forlorn hope, to try to save one child from fire or water, and die in the attempt—that is easy and glorious. The hard thing to do is to live for your country—to live for its children.
And it is this that the teachers in the Council Schools do, year in and year out, with the most unselfish nobility and perseverance.
And nobody applauds or makes as much fuss as is made over a boy who saves a drowning kitten. In the face of enormous difficulties and obstacles, exposed to the constant pin-pricks of little worries, kept short of space, short of materials and short of money, yet these teachers go on bravely, not just doing what they are paid to do, but a thousand times more, devoting heart, mind, and soul to their splendid ambition and counting themselves well paid if they can make the world a better and a brighter place for the children they serve.
If these children when they grow up shall prove better citizens, kinder fathers, and better, wiser, and nobler than their fathers were, we shall owe all the change and progress to the teachers who are spending their lives to this end.
And this I had to say before I could begin to write about how cities may be built of such materials as poor children can collect and bring to school …” (E. Nesbit, Wings and The Child, 1913)
You can read the rest of this section and the whole of Wings and the Child here:
Wings and The Child – A very interesting book , along with Little Wars and Floor Games that captures the spirit of our childhood games and our modern gamers’ scrap modelling.
Many of her other comments in Wings and The Child on the ‘institution’ of Education from the content of curriculums, class sizes and the lack of time for concern for the individual personality of children might be heard in school staff rooms and home education groups today.
The communal or collective efforts (collective in many senses of the word) to make these Magic Cities in urban or rural Board Schools must have been splendid sights to see, the shiny tin can city version of the glories of the Victorian and Edwardian “Nature Table” in primary schools and Sunday Schools.
Thanks to Rahway’s comments about the Scholarly Editing text edition of Little Wars, the two editors have suggestions on who two more of the unattributed names are: Mr W and a dear friend who died, suggested as Graham Wallas and George Gissing.
George Robert Gissing (22 November 1857 – 28 December 1903) was an English novelist, who published 23 novels between 1880 and 1903. His best-known novels, which have reappeared in modern editions, include The Nether World (1889), New Grub Street (1891) and The Odd Women (1893).
The dates of Gissing’s death fits Wells’ pen portrait of his dear ailing friend, who died six or seven years ago if Little Wars was published in 1913 but probably written in stages over several years including the two published Windsor Magazine articles 1912 and Floor Games in 1911.
Gissing died aged 46 on 28 December 1903 having caught a chill on an ill-advised winter walk. He is buried in the English cemetery at Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Veranilda was published incomplete in 1904.
H. G. Wells, after a Christmas Eve telegram, came to Gissing at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in his final days and helped to nurse him. Wells characterized him as a “flimsy inordinate stir of grey matter”, adding: “He was a pessimistic writer. He spent his big fine brain depreciating life, because he would not and perhaps could not look life squarely in the eyes — neither his circumstances nor the conventions about him nor the adverse things about him nor the limitations of his personal character. But whether it was nature or education that made this tragedy I cannot tell.” Will Warburton was published in 1905, as was his final volume, the short-story collection The House of Cobwebs.. (Wikipedia source George Gissing)
Thanks Wikipedia – and happy 20th Birthday!
New Grub Street is a version of Fleet Street, the newspaper and journalists’ haunt of old, close to Red Lion Court (Bloomsbury?) where Wells’ publisher Frank Palmer worked.
I have ordered a second hand copy of Gissing’s letters to H G Wells, as I enjoy Gissing’s books.
I discovered that E.Nesbit, in parallel to Wells writing Floor Games (1911), wrote her own book on how to make miniature worlds and magical cities, published in 1913, the year Little Wars was published.
Wings and the Child can be read here in text form with illustrations:
The book reminds me of Edwardian “gardening with children” manuals. The relatively new idea of “Childhood” for some, especially middle class Edwardian childhood, suddenly needed its Parenting manuals. Arguably these are an improvement on the stereotypical Victorian parenting of “Children should be seen and not heard” – especially in Sunday’s – and preferably not seen either.
“Now send them off to the Nursery with the Nurse or Governess or Boarding School …”