The Rowley Letters

Dear Andrew, Mervyn is laid up following a fall. He is OK. He was in the archive, the small one below the clocktower when the floor gave way. There is another much earlier archive beneath! You had better come over. There is something you must see. It seems that when our distant ancestors arrived here, they were still hairy.

Vera

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I have a confession. You know the robots I have been making for Vera, well they are designed to be run on a book fed into a slot and I stupidly used the only copy we have of Deadpan. Do you remember it, your first book about us? It overheated. You don’t happen to have another do you? We will pay the going rate, of course. We also seem to have mislaid our copies of Mervyn’s Theatrical Constructions as well as Circular Walks Around Rowley Hall, edited with such imagination, precision, and flair by A. Brotchie, assisted by those equally luminous luminaries C. Allen and T. Peixoto. Hope you are busy.

Walter.

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I believe Vera has told you how I have twisted my ankle. Luckily, a carpet of dead flies broke my fall! While I can hardly move, she has been plying me with some of the old manuscripts. It’s clear our forebears did not arrive in plus-fours, but on all fours. It seems hominids did not spread from the Olduvai Gorge or Alice Springs, but from Ireland. This was to escape the complex mythology. This archive stretches underground well beyond the hall. While much of the material is on vellum, some of it is scratched on slate. The early alphabets will need decoding unless we can find dictionaries, which I suspect we will, for it all looks extremely well ordered. While confined to quarters I will look for your stuff on YouTube (the film and music sites). Vera asks when will you put on some of the films of us? She wonders why you are keeping many of the best films and songs back.

Mervyn

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bird1

Since Mervyn has been confined to his bed, he has taken to casting himself in plaster. This is a cast of his hand, which he got Henry to nail to a post in the side garden… Can I use these pictures of yours to illustrate a talk I am giving to a bunch of psychoanalysts?

Trereife1.1
Speech condensing as images within a retort.

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Printers’ woodblocks of full stop and comma. ‘Silence in the Forest is broken by a falling tree cut up to make various silences.’

Vera

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I still have your divine folded-and-creased ‘lost Leonardo’ on the wall beside my bed, with its imagined catalogue description beneath as a contrast with its so-easily-drawn beauty, how this description regarding its condition and provenance heightens the sense of the span of years between its being inked, then put aside to dry by him, then given to someone dear and kept by them, turned over and over on itself to fit a pocket or a purse. Then it was handed down and so on, before reaching the auctioneer. I can hear the gavel’s tap on the table announcing its new home, like a woodpecker on a hollow oak. When I look at the square grid delineated by those affectionate folds, and my eyes comb the graceful curves of hair drawn by Leonardo, I hear the knock of the beak on that living oak, never the knock of the gavel on the dead table.

Vera

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It is Vera’s 80th soon and I wondered, do you still have the originals of either of these paintings that I might buy?

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Breaking the ice on the Hurry Skurry.

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A novel solution.

Mervyn

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You remember the piece you did about Davy and Wedgwood making the first photographs in 1801, followed by that mysterious photographic silence before Niepce? I recall your theory that the pair knew how to fix images but kept it quiet to protect painters. Well, Mervyn has turned up an envelope addressed to my great grandmother with whom it appears Davy had a liaison. This contains half a dozen small blue photographic prints. One is a portrait of Davy himself. The letter is dated 1811. One of the pictures is a contact print, a photogram. It could be that Davy made these prints on his own. Wedgwood may have developed the developing side then Davy fixed the fixing of them, but kept this to himself. Walter has framed the Davygram together with that Rayogram which you gave us after your visit to Man Ray in the 60s. They make a fine pair. Remind me to show you on your next visit. I expect the Getty lot would salivate enough liquid to develop a whole batch of contacts.

Vera.

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I put your idea about publishing extracts from the visitors’ book together with extracts from letters in the archive to the others, and they are in full agreement but think we should wait a couple of years for our every-millennium anniversary. When we were glancing through it, I noticed ‘Isambard’ and recalled how an engineer was employed to help with the underwater harbour. A short search turned up some letters and in one of these was this photograph taken here in front of the chain to the lock gate, echoing the one taken later in front of the Great Eastern Anchor Chain.

Trereife 07

Vera.

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Yesterday I came across a cupboard full of the equipment and data for those experiments on artists and writers.

Trereife 08
Equipment devised by Walter, capable of detecting the slightest movement in art. Some artists suffered the ultimate indignity when their work did not even register on the device.
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Having formed an image of iron filings, this was wired up to an electric motor and the faster the motor turned, the more modern the image became.
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A dog stimulated to envisage a painting of a bone in a desert. The result of this experiment is lost, but the dog lived to paint a picture of a chimpanzee painting a dog.

Apparently Stevens has only just started writing poetry again. So the effects of a chlorophyl drip for three days have taken 25 years to wear off. Do you recall that electrifying moment when he stopped writing and just kept turning to the light? It was lucky really that his poetry was never up to much. Apparently it is still no better.

Trereife 11
How to get rid of poetry.

It was Stevens’ perspiration which provided us with the clue to isolating integrity, in order to market it as a paste. I was delighted when we proved art is the only visually transmitted virus and the ancient Egyptians had the right idea when they buried as much of it as possible with its patron.

Trereife 12
The whole development of art, from earth pigments to bromides.

Walter.

P.S. When will you put that film we made about all this on the web? The Harlequin and the Medicine Man was it called?

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Trereife 12
Rat Trap Handbag.

Walter came across a box of your traps, the ones for architects, philosophers, psychiatrists and pickpockets, etc. Do you remember we used them for patients to choose a favourite, to help me assess their ‘cruelty factor’? They have weathered the years well. Mervyn took this snap of my favourite.

Vera.

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