‘And a little to the left twinkled ‘The Green Man’— no friendly public-house, but a danger-signal from behind the Goodwin Sands, likewise visible but by miracle.
And as we marvelled at these jewels of the night, that shamed the absentee stars, the brake stood still with a jolt and a shock that threw our gay company into momentary alarm. But it was nothing. Only a horse fallen down dead! One of our overworked wheelers had suddenly sunk upon the earth, a carcase. Dust to dust! Who shall tell of the daylong agony of the dumb beast as he plodded pertinaciously through the heat, ministering to the pleasures of his masters?’
‘Without Prejudice’, 1893
The Jewish author Israel Zangwill’s first recorded encounter with Kent dates to a holiday in Thanet in 1881 when he was sixteen. The future author of Children of the Ghetto ‘was wandering about the Ramsgate sands’[^ref1] when he spotted a writing competition, advertised in an abandoned issue of Society magazine. Years later he was delighted to be told by the judge that a number of well-known authors had entered against his winning story ‘Professor Grimmer’.[^ref2]
As an adult Zangwill was less enraptured with the town; in ‘Without Prejudice’, his regular column for the Pall Mall Magazine, he jocosely repeated a story going round the clubs in 1893 that an ill-starred Henry James had gone there to find some ‘peace’.[^ref3] He was still less impressed by neighbouring Margate:
‘Stand on Margate Parade and look seaward, and the main impression is Beecham’s Pills. Sail towards Margate Pier and look landward, and the main impression is Jeyes’ Disinfectant Powder.’[^ref4]
Zangwill memorably observed that ‘in Margate and Deal the machines are of either sex, and the gentlemen are clad in coloured pocket-handkerchiefs’. He was however taken with Broadstairs, ‘where Dickens might still look from Bleak House on as dainty a scene as in the days when he lounged on the dear old, black, weather-beaten pier.’[^ref5] Zangwill was there in July 1893 when a mysterious delivery of dynamite to a summer visitor, one Mr Richards, caused the death of the man and injured the builder constructing his new house.[^ref6] In true Dickensian style, Zangwill’s account of this incident positions the writer as honorary local (completely ignoring the fate of the hapless Mr Richards), ‘We were very proud of the Mystery, we of Broadstairs, and of the space we filled in the papers.’[^ref7] In Folkestone, which had proved too ‘genteel’ for Jerome K. Jerome when he visited with Robert Barr,‘the machine-people are dreadfully set against ladies and gentlemen using the same water, promiscuous bathing flourishes more nakedly than anywhere on the Continent; and the gentlemen have neither tents nor costumes.’[^ref8]
Zangwill stayed in Dover (with no dynamite incidents) in July 1904, working on his play Jinny the Carrier.[^ref9] It was also from here that he wrote in November 1905 to thank the Labour Leader for an article expressing ‘sympathy with me and my people’, which he had ‘received with sad pleasure’.[^ref10] It is indeed not always easy to remember that, in Zangwill’s own words, ‘a serious man may be humorous, still less that a humorous man is always serious.’[^ref11]
Jerome, Jerome K. ‘Letter to J. W. Arrowsmith’. 15 August 1893. Bristol Record Office. 40145/P/12 a.
Oulton, C. Below the Fairy City: a Life of Jerome K. Jerome.
Oulton, Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton. Down from London: Seaside Reading in the Railway Age. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2022. Rochelson, Meri-Jane. A Jew in the Public Arena: The Career of Israel Zangwill. Wayne State University Press, 2010.
‘Supposed Dynamite Outrage at Broadstairs’. Birmingham Daily Post 24 July 1893. Gale Document Number: GALE|BB3201366841
Zangwill, Israel. The Celibates’ Club. Being the United Stories of The Bachelors’ Club and The Old Maids’ Club. London: William Heinemann 1898.