Edward Heron-Allen

Edward Heron-Allen (1861-1943)Edward Heron-Allen (1861-1943) was a lawyer and a scholar, with wide-ranging interests. He wrote two works of fantasy early in his life: The Princess Daphne (1885) and A Fatal Fiddle (1890) (a collection of short stories). Thereafter he published no more fiction until after the War (unless it was under so far unrecognised pseudonyms), and from that point onwards his fiction was published as by Christopher Blayre rather than under his own name. His weird and sf stories were published in The Purple Sapphire and Other Posthumous Papers Selected from the Unofficial Records of the University of Cosmopoli (1921); and, with four stories added, as The Strange Papers of Dr Blayre (1932). The story The Cheetah Girl (1923) was excluded from the 1921 collection, presumably because of its contents (it discusses, and demonstrates, lesbianism, bestiality and (since the cheetah girl is only 13), under-age sex), and only twenty copies were subsequently printed. (It is paginated from pp. 211  to 308, as if a sequel to the stories in The Purple Sapphire.) The Collected Strange Papers of Christopher Blayre was published in 1998. “The Mirror That Remembered”, in The Strange Papers of Dr Blayre, features an early instance of slow glass, later named and made famous by Bob Shaw.

Edward Heron-Allen was the son of George Allen, a solicitor in Soho, and Catherine Herring or Heron. He started working in his father’s firm after an education at Harrow, in 1879. The office was near the workshop of Georges Chanot, a French violin-maker, and Heron-Allen not only learned that craft, but in 1884 produced a book called Violin-Making as It Was and Is, which remained a standard work on the topic for long afterwards. While studying violins, he was also studying the hand, both in anatomical and palm-reading aspects. He published Chiromancy, or the Science of Palmistry (1883), and his Manual of Cheirosophy (1885) and The Science of the Hand (1886) became almost as widely reprinted as his violin-making book. He was a recognised expert on both, and he wrote about the violin in Groves’ Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and about violin-makers and astrologers for the Dictionary of National Biography. In the 1890s he devoted a lot of time to the learning of classical Persian, and in the first decade of the twentieth century he published translations from two different dialects of this language.

In 1911 his father died, and Heron-Allen retired to live in Large Acres, his house at Selsey Bill in Sussex (although up to 1917 the family and servants wintered in Hamilton Terrace, in St John’s Wood, London). He built up a large library in Selsey, and embarked on the study of foraminifera (microscopic marine organisms), and was consequently elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1919. Between 1916 and 1918 he was President of the Microscopical Society. In 1928 he published Barnacles in Nature and Myth.

For his war service, see in War Experiences.

In November 1914 Ford Madox Ford published a story called “The Scaremonger”, satirising his old friend and Selsey neighbour Heron-Allen’s paranoia about submarine invasions. Ford’s partner Violet Hunt said ‘Allen did go frightening girls about a German invasion’. Heron-Allen was furious with Ford; their relationship was complicated by the fact that Heron-Allen seems to have fancied Violet Hunt. (The story is in vol. 1 of Max Saunders’ biography of Ford, p. 473.)

Heron-Allen married in 1903, and had two daughters. One of them died young in a car  Edward heron-allen plaquecrash, which Heron-Allen claimed to have foretold by a study of her palm. He died at Large Acres in 1943, shortly before the death of his wife. His polymathic activities are rather wonderfully summed up by the memorial plaque placed by West Sussex County Council.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, listed under Allen, Edward Heron-, is by Brian W. Harvey.


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