Of the Crowley and the Mongoose Cases (Christopher Josiffe)

From a Spectator book review (New Bats in Old Belfries by Maurice Bowra. Robert Dugdale, 2005):

Mr Justice Rigby Swift:

Collinson, Harry; The Honourable Mr Justice Rigby Swift, MP for St Helens (1910-1918); St Helens Council Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-honourable-mr-justice-rigby-swift-mp-for-st-helens-19101918-65425
The Honourable Mr Justice Rigby Swift. Photo credit: St Helens Council Collection

“In 1920, at 46, Swift became the youngest High Court judge. In most respects he was liberal and jovial. […] He made passable jokes and had particular fun summing up the ‘Mongoose Case’ in 1937. That was an action for slander: Sir Cecil Levita, a former chairman of the London County Council, had suggested to a friend at the Carlton Club that Richard Lambert, editor of the Listener, was unfit for that post. Levita alleged that Lambert had been bamboozled by a Manx farmer who claimed to be in touch with a ghostly mongoose which was 86 years old, could say nursery rhymes and had a working knowledge of Russian, Manx, Hebrew, Welsh, Hindustani and Arabic. (Lambert received £7,500 damages and kept his job.)”


Mr Justice Darling:

“Swift was not as irrepressibly jokey as Mr Justice Darling, whom Max Beerbohm caricatured donning a black cap hung with bells. He had deep religious convictions. In 1934 the black-magician Aleister Crowley appeared before him, suing the painter Nina Hamnett and her publisher, Constable, for what she had said about him in her book Laughing Torso. Hamnett had claimed that in Crowley’s ‘temple’ on Sicily a baby had mysteriously disappeared […]”

Aleister Crowley, by Augustus John. Photo credit: Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop

Aleister Crowley is also directly linked to mongooses by virtue of his well-known joke (also claimed as a perfect allegorical illustration of his theory of Magick):

“There is the story of the American in the train who saw another American carrying a basket of unusual shape. His curiosity mastered him, and he leant across and said: “Say, stranger, what you got in that bag?” The other, lantern-jawed and taciturn, replied: “Mongoose … “

To read the rest, go to Three American Jokes / II / The Mongoose Basket