Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Really Practical Poet

That was the name of an article in Crosthwaite’s Register of Facts and Occurrences for January 1861 describing the career to date of James Torrington Spencer Lidstone: an author with very particular aims and goals.

He wrote an regular (usually annual) work of poetry called The Londoniad. It contained a number of verses regarding famous personalities and establishments in London. The practical aspect of his work is this: he would approach certain businesses or people with the promise of a positive write-up if they bought fifty copies. If they did not, then a more negative, spiteful entry would be included. This landed Mr Lidstone in court for libel on a number of occasions.

In 1861, Crosthwaite's Register describe Lidstone in a faintly amused manner:

“In turning over the pages of the “Londoniad,” we are struck by the originality of the subjects chosen by the “Muse.” There is no nonsense about the moon; no running after skylarks and nightingales, in the style of Shelley and Keats; and no “pottering over” water-lillies and purling brooks. The minstrel sweeps the strings to no love-sick strain, but twangs them in shops and counting-houses to the tune of trade.”

The article goes on to list some of the titles of Lidstone's work, including the “School Furniture Poem,” the “Great Cement Poem,” the “Light Carriage Poem,” and the “Vegetable Leather Poem.”

A good example of Lidstone's work is shown below, written in honour of William Morris, a maker of Wicker chairs, baskets, etc.

A few years later, in March 1865, the London City Press has a short article describing how “two or three actions have recently been brought by a person named Lidstone, against tradesmen in Shoreditch and Hoxton” for non-payment of fees incurred by him including poetry praising their businesses in the Londoniad.

The Shoreditch Observer had more details on the case, including the revelation that, in cross-examination, Lidstone admitted that he was in a similar situation with about 100 other tradesmen.

Then in 1866, Mr R.W. Winfield and Co. took Lidstone to court over a poem published in that year's Londoniad. (NB, the copy for 1867 includes R.W. Winfield in the index, but the page itself has been removed so I can't find a copy of the poem itself.) Initially, the court proceedings were stopped after James Lidstone agreed to publish an apology, which he did so in The Times.

However, a few days later, a letter was published from Lidstone declaring that the apology was a forgery and had never been written by him.

Of course, this meant that the court proceedings begun again. The Times of 3 October 1866 has a report on Lidstone appearance in court, in which he refuses to apologise or write a new apology. By the end, he insists that his signature on the document was “surreptitiously obtained.” At this point, his own lawyer advises him to stop talking. Lidstone lost the case.

Over the years, Lidstone was no stranger to the courts, either as defendant or prosecutor. In January 1871, tried to take the newspaper The Islington Gazette to court, complaining that their reporting of a recent story concerning his appearance in court. However, the grant was not given, under the reasoning that, however much ridicule the previous story had brought Lidstone, he was receive even more were he to continue with this summons.

He had agreed a contract with a Grimwade where Grimwade would buy 100 copies of The Londoniad in return for having a poem about his shop included. This was only if Grimwade was able to approve the poem in advance.

Lidstone sent Grimwade a copy of the poem and a copy of another of his books “The Bostoniad” (a similar work aimed at American businesses). Grimwade rejected the poem and called the Bostoniad “trash” and said he wanted nothing to do with the project. However, the poem was included and the 100 copies sent out so when Grimwade refused to take delivery, Lidstone took him to court. Lidstone lost this case, too, and the London City Press contains an excerpt of the poem in question.

“My heroes' Anti-corrosion Paint 'tis just the kind we need,
And is destined every other sort thro' the world to supersede.
Gentlemen, Farmers, and all engaged in the building line;
Emigrants and Colonists, the highest place assign,
And over the Atlantic we'll take a large cargo,
From the renowned manufacturers, Grimwade, Ridley and Co.”

In October 1872, he was tried in his absence at Clerkenwell County Court in an attempt at retrieving £3 2s from Mr Naden that Lidstone felt he was owed after delivering to him several copies of the Londoniad.

Then, in 1883, a new case appeared in the pages of the Birmingham Daily Mail, where Lidstone was trying to recover £6 5s from Mr W.H. Holdom for 100 copies of the Londoniad. By now he was calling himself the Honorable James Torrington Spencer Lidstone, and claimed to have been decorated by Napoleon III and the King of Italy.

Lidstone further claimed to be the sole representative of the Aboriginal Bank of Manitoba in England and that he'd been commissioned by the Government of Canada.

When Holdom found out Lidstone was a fraud, he sent the books back by messenger. Lidstone refused to take delivery and poured water over the messenger from an upstairs window. At this point the handle broke and the jug fell on the poor man's head. When Lidstone was unable to provide any proof of his connection to the government of Canada or the Aboriginal Bank of Manitoba, he found in favour of the defendant.

The last I can find of Lidstone in the English press is a note in December of the same year, when the Huddersfield Chronicle mentions that the London Gazette has listed James Torrington Spencer Lidstone, living at Goswell-terrace, Clerkenwell, Middlesex, as having gone bankrupt.

Unfortunately, there is precious little about James Lidstone the man that I can find on the internet. He was born in Canada, and lived in Toronto and Ottawa in his early life. He moved to Buffalo, NY in 1850, and must have moved to England before 1856, which is when the first edition of The Londoniad appeared. While in England, he lived in Toquay, Devon for a time. Since this is (fairly) close to where I live now, I may try and contact a few museums and libraries to see if they know anything about him. It does seem a shame that such an interesting person should vanish so completely from history.


Hollingshead, J. “A Really Practical Poet,” Crosthwaite’s Register of Facts and Occurrences, January 1861, p90
“A Quack Poet,” Shoreditch Observer, 11 March 1865, p 3
“The Londoniad,” London City Press, Saturday 18 March 1865, p 1
Lidstone, J.T.S., “Public Apology,” The Times (London, England), Thursday, Sep 13, 1866, p 1
Lidstone, J.T.S., “To the Editor of the Times,” The Times (London, England), Saturday, Sep 22, 1866, p 10
Fox, “The Apotheosis of Puffery,” The Musical Standard, vol 5, July 1 to December 31 1866, p 228
Lidstone, J.T.S., “W. Morris,” the Fourteenth Londoniad, 1867, p 83
“Law and Police Intelligence,” Islington Gazette, 3 January 1871
“The Londoniad,” London City Press, Saturday 18 February 1871, p 6
“Law and Police Interlligence,” Islington Gazette, 18 October 1872
“Poem Advertisements,” The Birmingham Daily Mail, Saturday 17 February 1883, p 3
“Poem Advertisements,” Worcestershire Chronicle, 3 March 1883, p 3
“Local Authors,” The Buffalo Courier, Tuesday 19 March 1889, p 6

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I write occasional and sometimes quirky business stories for the Toronto Star in Canada. Have some info about Lidstone that may interest you. Your info quite funny. Trying to see if I can assemble enough to put a story about him together.
Wonder if you are willing to communicate on this subject.
Angus Skene, Architect, Toronto