Ghoulies, ghosties and long-leggety beasties..

At a postcard fair in Broadclyst last summer I picked up three postcards with the title ‘A Cornish Litany.’ All three are the work of Stanley T Chaplin, and belong to a set of twelve postcards, but the background to their production turned out to be murkier than expected. First of all, what is this ‘Cornish Litany’?

Litanies are sets of prayers arranged in the form of a list of petitions, usually sung or chanted by cantors, to which others provide responses. These vary according to the nature of the petition: the name of saint invites the response Ora pro nobis (Pray for us), a general prayer has the reponse Te rogamus, audi nos (We ask you to hear us), while reference to some evil or misfortune – such as ghosts and ghoulies – requires the response Libera nos, Domine (Deliver us, Lord.) In the traditional litany of saints, these calamities include omni malo (all evil), omni peccato (all sin), insídiis diaboli.(the devil’s wiles), fulgure et tempestate (lightning and storm), a flagello terrae motus (earthquake), a peste (plague), fame et bello (famine and war)…etc. There’s nothing here resembling the contents of the Cornish litany. One explanation for this is that it was a local and perhaps unauthorised ritual, one that was used orally and was never recorded in a liturgical book. Some have claimed that it dates back to the 14th or 15th centuries, but such prayers would then have been in Latin, and the absence of any textual record for several hundred years – linking Pre-Reformation usage to a vernacular translation – is hard to comprehend. Tracing the origins of this phrase has proved far harder than one might have imagined. ‘Long-leggety beastie’ sounds like a distinctively Scottish pronunciation, and indeed in the anthology A Beggar’s Wallet (Edinburgh & London, 1905), edited by Archibald Stodart Walker, there is a contribution by Hugh Munro Warrand which is prefaced with a ‘Scots’ version:

Frae ghosties and ghoulies, long-leggetie beasties,
And things that go bump in the night,
Good lord deliver us.
– From a quaint old Litany

However, the fact that only the first word is distinctively Scots suggests to me that this ‘quaint old Litany’ was merely an attempt to ‘Scotticize’ a phrase which had been acquired from some other source. A few years later James Withers Gill, a former colonial administrator who helped catalogue the African collections in Exeter’s RAMM, published a scholarly article on ‘Hausa Speech, Its Wit and Wisdom’ in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1918), p.46, in which he remarks casually of the inhabitants of Hausaland in the Sudan: ‘To a people nourished on mystery who, in spite of their fatalistic creed, believe in genii, ghosts, goblins, and those terrific things that “go bump in the night”, protective charms are eagerly sought for.’ Again, the phrase is cited without any explanation, as if the author regarded it as commonplace.

Then, eight years later, Francis T. Nettleinghame published his Polperro Proverbs & Others (Polperro Press for the Cornish Arts Association, 1926) in which he describes the thriving pokerwork industry in Polperro. Pokerwork, or pyrography (“fire-writing”) involves using heated tools to burn designs into wooden objects and craftworkers in Polperro were doing particularly well selling products that featured ‘the Cornish or West country litany.’ The artwork for these wares was undertaken by Arthur Wragg, rather than Chaplin.

That’s really the limit of my knowledge, but an American collector named Debra Meister has done a great deal of research and self-published a book, A Litany…Cornish and Otherwise, which is now in its third edition. I haven’t seen the book yet, but may try and pick up a copy soon. Other sources of information include:

Donald T. Matter, ‘The Cornish Litany, a Prayer for All Times’, The McLintock Letter: the quarterly newsletter of the South Jersey Postcard Club. Vol. 11, No.5 (October 2011), pp.1-2
Susan Hack-Lane, ‘A New Look at the Old Cornish Litany’ in Postcard World Magazine (November-December 2011), pp.7-9.

Camille Clifford (1885-1971), Gibson Girl – A Trio of Postcards

Postcard #1

I’m always drawn to postcards showing old cameras or photography, and it was the image above that got me collecting postcards of Belgian-born theatre star Camille Clifford. Her acting career was brief – barely four years (1902-6) – and it was her association with the popular ‘Gibson Girl’ image that made her famous.

In the 1890s, sketches of young women by Charles Dana Gibson began appearing in periodicals such as Harper’s Weekly, Life and Scribner’s, creating an instantly-recognizable image that was replicated in advertising, postcards, modelling illustrations and other merchandise. The ‘Gibson Girl’ look combined bouffant hair, a curvaceous figure, delicate facial features and fashionable clothes, as well as a streak of independence and confidence that resonated well with the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ and the Suffrage movement. The look was said to have been inspired partly by Evelyn Nesbit (below) and Gibson’s wife Irene Langhorne.


Evelyn Nesbit, photographed in 1903 by Gertrude Kasebier


Sketch by Charles Dana Gibson, showing the characteristic ‘bouffant’ hairstyle. As well as being elegant and voluptuous, the ‘Gibson Girls’ suggested intelligence, spirited independence and a degree of emancipation – an idealised (and non-threatening) version of the New Woman
In 1905 Camille won a modelling competition held to find the perfect embodiment of the Gibson Girl, and images of her quickly began to be published in fashion and society magazines. Many of these photographs were taken by Lizzie Caswall Smith (1870-1958.) The pictures below show off her hourglass figure, which boasted an 18″ wasp waist.

Postcard #2


Despite the British-sounding surname, Camille was born in Belgium in 1885 to Reynold Clifford and Matilda Ottersen. After the death of her parents she was raised by relatives in Scandinavia before moving to America where she lived in Boston. She made her stage debut in 1902 and travelled to England two years later with Col. Henry Savage’s theatre company, performing a minor role in their musical comedy The Prince of Pilsen. When the rest of the cast returned to America, she remained behind, obtaining the part of Sylvia Gibson in Seymour Hicks’ play The Catch of the Season.


Postcard #3

This postcard shows Camille with her fiance, Captain the Hon. Henry Lyndhurst Bruce, eldest son of the 2nd Baron Aberdare. Their engagement was announced at the end of August 1906 and they were married at Hanover Square Registry Office in London on 11 October 1906. The above photograph, therefore, was probably taken in September 1906. It was a busy time for Camille, who was now playing the Duchess of Dunmow in the musical comedy The Belle of Mayfair at London’s Vaudeville Theatre. Everyone knew that she was cast for her beauty rather than her musical talent, and her voice – even thinner than her waist – was barely adequate for her number ‘I’m a Duchess’, even after receiving singing lessons from Ivor Novello’s mother, Madame Clara Novello Davies. As one theatre critic put it, ‘The voice of Camille Clifford is not strong, but she wears such beautifully cut clothes and moves so elegantly up and down the stage that her turns is sure to be popular.’ [The Times, 12 April 1906, p.6.] And it was: audiences flocked to see her in the show nonetheless, including many wealthy male admirers such as Lord Aberdare’s son. After their engagement, Camille was going to resign from the show, but the producers enticed her to remain by offering her greater publicity and another musical number – a song entitled ‘Why do they Call Me a Gibson Girl?’


I walked one day
Along Broadway
When I was in New York.
And friend of mine
Said “My, you’re fine!
You have got the Gibson walk!
You have the pose
And Gibson nose
And quite the Gibson leer.
You’ve surely heard of the man called Gibson.”
(He meant the fellow called Dana Gibson.)
What he meant was not quite clear
Until I landed over here.

But why do they call me a Gibson Girl? (Gibson Girl?) Gibson Girl!
What is the matter with Mister Ibsen? (Mister Ibsen?) Why Dana Gibson?
Wear a black expression and a monumental curl,
And walk with a bend in your back,
Then they call you a Gibson Girl.

Just walk round town,
Look up and down:
The girls affect a style
As they pass by,
With dreamy eye,
Or a bored and languid smile.
They look as if
They had a tiff
With Hicks or Beerbohm Tree;
They do their best, for they’ve seen the pictures.
(They’ve missed the point of the Dana pictures.)
They’re intended, don’t you see,
For all a perfect type to be.

But why do they call me a Gibson Girl? (Gibson Girl?) Gibson Girl!
What is the matter with Mister Ibsen? (Mister Ibsen?) Why Dana Gibson?
Wear a black expression and a monumental curl,
And walk with a bend in your back,
Then they call you a Gibson Girl.

The Hon. Henry Lyndhurst Bruce served as a Captain in the Royal Scots Regiment. They had one child, Margaret, who was born in August 1909 but only lived a few days. Captain Bruce was killed in action at Ypres in December 1914. She married her second husband, Captain (later Brigadier) John Meredyth Jones Evans in 1917 and retired from acting after the war. She took up golf and competed in the game at a high level, but by the late 1920s was better known for running a successful stable of racehorses. Their names became familiar at racing events over the next three decades – Alliteration, Claudine, County Guy, Exemplary, Grass Court, Holyrood, Longstone (winner of the Newbury Cup in June 1955), Misty Cloud, Puissant, Rackstraw and Sidi Gaba, to name a few. She devoted considerable sums of money on building up a strong stable: sometimes she was able to pick up a promising horse for a few hundred guineas, but in 1938 she paid 6,500 guineas for Royal Mail, who had won the previous year’s Grand National. Alas, the horse proved unable to repeat his success at Aintree, although he did go on to win a few cups at Cheltenham in the 1940s. Camille caused a further stir in 1949 by paying 17,000 guineas for two year old Hedgerow. Her husband died in 1957, fourteen years before Camille, who passed away on 28 June 1971.