Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 20, 2021

Me and Algy

Back in ’99 — 1899, that is — Algy and I used to cover wide swaths of London, back in those years in which he’d retired with Watts-Dunton to The Pines, down in Putney, not at all a particularly prestigious part of the city.

It was an odd time to be in London.

Rosetti, Burne-Jones, and William Morris had died within the past few years, and the town felt empty.

My acquaintance, Sherlock Holmes, had just invited our mutual friend, John Watson (Holmes being rather pressed for funds) to share his digs on Baker Street. I knew John from our student days, and I’m sorry Holmes and and Algernon never met, because who knows what might’ve come from that encounter. Algernon never expressed any interest in meeting the consulting detective, despite my best effort to make it happen.

We did occasionally cross Putney Bridge to drop in to see Lord Tennyson. He always detested that I addressed him as “Al,” preferring the “Lord” title Victoria had bestowed on him, despite the fact that he was simply another middle-class kid from Lincolnshire.

“Hey, Al” I’d say. “Been out to Windsor lately?” and Lord Tennyson would level a fierce look at me, then turn to Algy.

“What about you?” he’d ask. “Written anything shorter than 10,000 lines lately, or are you still suffering from logorrhea? Someone has to be Poet Laureate once I’m gone, and all fingers point to you.”

I have to admit, Lord Tennyson did serve an admirable cup of tea, but our visits there tended to be brief. The guy was insufferably proud of his Poet Laureate status, and never failed to rub it in with ol’ Algy, and there was always a certain edge to those conversations.

Only once, I managed to lure Swinburne out of London. Watts-Dunton collaborated with me, arguing with Algy that if we didn’t do it then, we’d miss our chance. I met them at Paddington Station, Ed and I (although he hated being called that, and insisted on “Theodore”) got Algy hauled into a carriage and we were on our way to the Lake District.

John Ruskin’s estate, Brantwood, on Coniston Water (not far from where my own grandfather was born) was as idyllic a place as one could dream of. Once we were seated, in front of me were two of the masters of the English language (not to mention Greek and Latin), Swinburne and Ruskin.

And I waited.

Mr. Ruskin, I’m sorry to report, was near the end of things, and I’m not certain he knew Mr. Swinburne had been pointed to (although not appointed) as the likely future Laureate.

Algy, after all those hours in the train, looked as if he needed a pint, or perhaps several of them. Having personal experience of what a pint or two elicited from the potential Laureate, I said nothing, and the day drew down to anticlimax.

A dozen years later— with both Algy and Ruskin gone — Marcel got my name from John Watson (by then dissociated from Mr. Holmes) and made contact with me via the then still novel invention of the telephone. 

He was then translating Ruskin’s “Amiens Bible,” and asked me if I had any personal recollections, since he knew I’d met Mr. Ruskin. He was particularly interested to learn about what he understood to’ve been a meeting between Mr. Ruskin and the English poet, Algernon Swinburne.

“Ah, je regrette, Marcel. It was not very notable. There was one odd moment, though, which you might find interesting.”

“Eh, ca c’etoit quoi?

“It seems odd to relate after all these years, Marcel, but Algy told this story about dipping a madeleine into a cup of tea. It seemed to’ve made a significant impression on him. He said it was the one thing he always thought of, attempting to recapture some lost time. Does that even make sense?”

“Eh, peut-etre. I will think about that. Thank you for talking to me.”

That was the last time I heard from Marcel. I don’t know whatever became of him.

Copyright Brad Nixon 2021. And, no, I never spoke with Marcel Proust, nor walked around London with Algernon Swinburne, however much I’d’ve liked to, and this is a work of fiction.


  1. ‘Tis an imaginative self-insertion of one old-timer into yesteryear in search of others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just got a bit carried away, thinking about people who were contemporary with one another. Thanks for reading.


  2. Well, this was quite a departure from your usual. What inspired it? One of The Counselor’s delightful orange madeleines?


    • Regrettably, not. Just an idea that percolated up. Thanks for reading


  3. What most intrigued me was how immediately I thought of Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit “Baker Street.” while reading your piece. A century later, the arc of your story shows up (somehow, someway) in the lyrics of a Scottish songwriter’s work. Even the endings of both your tale and the song feel similar. It really gave me a bit of a chill to go back and forth between the two. See what you think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know the song well! An interesting observation. Thank you.


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