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- Haunts of Black Masseur — University of Minnesota Press
In Byron’s wake
He became an itinerant art dealer, specialising in Victoriana. On visits to the Channel Island of Jersey, his car loaded with oil paintings, he stayed at the Prince of Wales hotel in Greve de Lecq: it was on the beach and he could swim before breakfast.
Along with books, swimming was at the heart of his life. The London Magazine commissioned him to write a piece on literary swimmers in ; the article was vivid and crammed with learning. Afterwards Mr Sprawson worked the piece into what may be the finest book about swimming ever written.
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He tells of the time he heroically swam the Hellespont, and of the less heroic time he was picked up by the naval police while attempting to cross the Tagus estuary in Lisbon. He describes childhood dives amid the sunken Greek ruins of Cyrene in Libya:.
On Christmas Day we made a ritual of bathing in a natural rock pool, long and rectangular, its sides encrusted with molluscs and anemones, where once Cleopatra and the Romans reputedly swam. The waves broke against one end, and beyond them, beneath the surface, lay most of the remains of the classical city…When we dipped our masked faces into the water there emerged on the corrugated sand mysterious traces of the outline of ancient streets and colonnades, their sanctity disturbed by the regular intrusion of giant rays that flapped their wings somnolently among the broken columns as they drifted in from out of the shadowy gloom of deeper water.
Mr Sprawson recognised something important that animated both his literary heirs and the current vogue for wild swimming: that immersion in water offers a particularly sublime form of escape, out of the material world and into nature. That he was once such a bold swimmer and an exquisite writer makes his later trajectory all the more poignant. He contributed to the Spectator and the Observer and was commissioned to write a second book, this time about extreme swimmers. He flew to Slovenia to interview an athlete who had swum the Amazon.
But he never completed it. His ensuing decline is, at a simple level, a familiar tale of the trials of age. At the end of he picked up an infection that led to hallucinations. He has been marooned in hospital since.
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This idea—that leaving behind only a single book, if a beautiful one, is not enough—poses interesting questions about literary posterity. Salinger suggest a lone classic is indeed sufficient to secure a reputation. But it also points to the difficulty of distilling the essence of a life. Others saw him the same way, but only for a while.
Tagged: Haunts of the Black Masseur
Since last year Mr Sprawson has been moved to another ward. His room is underground and looks onto a sunken courtyard. Some of the other patients are able to talk. Mr Sprawson himself, though, has grown worse. He is still visited by his daughters and by Margaret Vyner, his lover for the past 15 years.
But he has stopped reading. He spends much of his time wandering the corridors looking for a swimming pool, opening broom cupboards in the hope that one will reveal the dapple of shimmering water.
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He remains desperate to go home, to return to the manuscript of his second book, which is half-finished and sits submerged in a drawer in his flat. Join them. Subscribe to The Economist today. Media Audio edition Economist Films Podcasts. View cookies policy. Zoom Zoom. Availability In Stock.
Haunts of Black Masseur — University of Minnesota Press
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Share. Description A new re-issue of the cult swimming classic, a beautiful read filled with detailed description and powerful prose. Bursting with anecdotes, Charles Sprawson leads us into a watery world populated by lithe demi-gods - a world that has obsessed humans from the ancient Greeks and Romans, to Yeats, Woolf, Fitzgerald and Hockney. Original, enticing and dripping with references to literature, film, art and Olympic history, this cult swimming classic pays sparkling tribute to water and the cultural meanings we attach to it.
About the Author Charles Sprawson is an obsessional swimmer and diver who has swum the Hellespont. Free Returns We hope you are delighted with everything you buy from us.