In the kitchen, a small chest of drawers upholstered in red velvet caught my eye. On it were three objects, two of them books – Two Little Girls in Blue (2006) by Mary Higgins Clark and volume one of James Clavell’s two-volume Noble House (1981). Orphaned volumes trigger pangs of sadness, though I’ve never sampled the late Mr. Clavell’s oeuvre.
Next to the books was a statue of a seated monkey, about ten inches tall. He wore a red fez, smoking jacket and pince-nez. His legs were crossed and in his lap was a wordless open book. He resembled a hirsute Sydney Greenstreet. I was expecting a Darwin parody but the likelier object of the put-down, if one was intended by the artist, is The Reader -- abstracted, a little effete, putting on airs, but still fundamentally a monkey. Not a bad likeness, considering.
Charles Lamb was a superb essayist and, at his best, a mediocre poet, but just as simian sculpture has its charms, so do third-rate poems. Here is the final stanza of Lamb’s “The Men and Women, and the Monkeys.”
“The slights and coolness of this human nation
Should give a sensible ape no mort’fication;
’Tis thus they always serve a poor relation.”