Ernest Bramah: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ernest Bramah (20 March 1868 - 27 June 1942), whose real name was Ernest Bramah Smith, was an English author.[1] In total Bramah published 21 books and numerous short stories and features. His humorous works were ranked with Jerome K Jerome, and W.W. Jacobs; his detective stories with Conan Doyle; his politico-science fiction with H.G. Wells and his supernatural stories with Algernon Blackwood. George Orwell acknowledged that Bramah’s book What Might Have Been influenced his Nineteen Eighty-Four. He created the characters Kai Lung and Max Carrados.

Bramah was a recluse who refused to allow his public even the slightest glimpse of his private life – secrecy perhaps only matched by E.W. Hornung, the creator of Raffles, and today, J.D. Salinger.


Early career

Bramah dropped out of the Manchester Grammar School at the age of 16, having been consistently close to the bottom of each class and in each subject. Despite this, he died at the age of 74 a successful and admired author with a wide and deep knowledge of chemistry, physics, law, philosophy, the classics, literature, the occult and ordnance, and was a recognised world expert in a branch of numismatics.

After leaving the Manchester Grammar School, he went into farming, first as a farm pupil and then in his own right. He was supported by his father who had risen in a very short time from a factory hand to a wealthy man. The farming enterprise cost his father over £100,000 in today’s money. It was while he was farming that he began to contribute local vignettes to the Birmingham News, which gave him his first taste for journalism and writing. Later he wrote a tongue-in-cheek book about his adventure in farming which, unsurprisingly, found few buyers and was eventually remaindered and pulped.

After the farming debacle, his father agreed to support him while he made his way in Grub Street. He was fortunate enough to obtain a position as secretary to Jerome K. Jerome and rose to edit one of Jerome's magazines. After leaving Jerome he edited other journals for a publishing firm which went into bankruptcy.


Following these unpromising beginnings, Bramah attained commercial and critical success with his creation of Kai Lung, the itinerant story-teller. He first appears in The Wallet of Kai Lung which was rejected by eight publishers before Grant Richards, who published it in 1900. It was still in print a hundred years later.

With Kai Lung, Bramah invented a form of Mandarin English illustrated by the following passages:

Kai Lung rose guardedly to his feet, with many gestures of polite assurance and having bowed several times to indicate his pacific nature, he stood in an attitude of deferential admiration. At this display the elder and less attractive of the maidens fled, uttering loud and continuous cries of apprehension in order to conceal the direction of her flight.


In particular, there is among this august crowd of Mandarins one Wang Yu, who has departed on three previous occasions without bestowing the reward of a single cash. If the feeble and covetous Wang Yu will place in his very ordinary bowl the price of one of his exceedingly ill-made pipes, this unworthy person will proceed.


After secretly observing the unstudied grace of her movements, the most celebrated picture-maker of the province burned the implements of his craft, and began life anew as a trainer of performing elephants.

The Kai Lung stories are studded with proverbs and aphorisms, such as the following

  • “He who lacks a single tael sees many bargains.”
  • “It is a mark of insincerity of purpose to spend one’s time in looking for the sacred Emperor in low-class teashops.”
  • “It has been said there are few situations in life that cannot be honourably settled, and without loss of time, either by suicide, a bag of gold or by thrusting a despised antagonist over the edge of a precipice on a dark night.”

Bramah also wrote politico-science fiction . His book What might Have Been, published in 1907, was acknowledged by George Orwell it as one of the formative sources for Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell credited a little-known Bramah dystopian novel, "The Secret of the League" (1907) with having given a considerably accurate prediction of the rise of Fascism.[2] In this book, a Socialist government heavily taxes the middle classes, greatly expands a civil service, and engenders a pension crisis, before being overthrown by a capital strike.

At a time when the English Channel had yet to be crossed by an aeroplane, Bramah foresaw aerial express trains travelling at 10,000 feet, a nationwide wireless-telegraphy network (e-mail?), a proto-fax machine and a cipher typewriter similar to the German Enigma machine.

In 1914 Bramah created Max Carrados, the blind detective. Given the somewhat outlandish idea that a blind man could be a detective, in the introduction to the second Carrados book The Eyes of Max Carrados Bramah compared his hero’s achievements to those of real life blind people such as Nicholas Saunderson, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, Blind Jack of Knaresborough the road builder, John Fielding the Bow Street Magistrate of whom it was said he could identify 3,000 thieves by their voices, and Helen Keller. Bramah’s sympathy for and understanding of the blind was both sincere and practical.

The Max Carrados stories appeared alongside Sherlock Holmes in the Strand Magazine, indeed they had top billing and frequently outsold his eminent contemporary even if they never achieved the longevity of Holmes.

Interesting times

Bramah has been credited with the invention of the saying, widely quoted as an ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times", along with "May you come to the attention of those in authority" and "May you find what you are looking for".[3] However, these sayings do not appear in the Kai Lung stories.



Kai Lung books

Max Carrados books

  • Max Carrados (1914)
  • Eyes of Max Carrados (1923)
  • Max Carrados Mysteries (1927)
  • The Bravo of London (1934)
  • Best Max Carrados Detective Stories (1972)

Other fiction

  • The Mirror of Kong Ho (1905)
  • The Secret of the League (1907)
  • The Specimen Case (1924), which includes both a Kai Lung story and Max Carrados story[4]
  • Short Stories of To-day and Yesterday (1929)
  • A Little Flutter (1930)


  • English Farming and Why I Turned It Up (1894)
  • A Guide to the Varieties and Rarity of English Regal Copper Coins, Charles II-Victoria, 1671-1860 (1929)


  1. ^ The most recent biographical source is: Aubrey Wilson, The Search for Ernest Bramah (Creighton and Read 2007). See external links.
  2. ^ George Orwell, "Predictions of Fascism", originally published in "Tribune" on July 12, 1940, appearing in "The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell", Volume 2, p. 47-48).
  3. ^ "Ernest Bramah News".  
  4. ^ Hubin, Allen J. Crime Fiction: 1749-1980: A Comprehensive Bibliography. New York and London: Garland Publishing (1984). ISBN 0824092198

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Ernest Brammah Smith (1868-03-201942-06-23) was the author of a series of stories about Kai Lung, a Chinese storyteller, and was also the creator of the blind detective Max Carrados. He wrote under the pseudonym Ernest Bramah.



The Wallet of Kai Lung (1900)

  • It is a mark of insincerity of purpose to spend one's time in looking for the sacred Emperor in the low-class tea-shops.
    • "The Transmutation of Ling"
  • When struck by a thunderbolt it is unnecessary to consult the Book of Dates as to the precise meaning of the omen.
    • "The Transmutation of Ling"
  • Although there exist many thousand subjects for elegant conversation, there are persons who cannot meet a cripple without talking about feet.
    • "The Transmutation of Ling"
  • When Ling was communicating to any person the signs by which messengers might find him, he was compelled to add, "the neighbourhood in which this contemptible person resides is that officially known as 'the mean quarter favoured by the lower class of those who murder by treachery'," and for this reason he was not always treated with the regard to which his attainments entitled him, or which he would have unquestionably received had he been able to describe himself as of "the partly-drained and uninfected area reserved to Mandarins and their friends."
    • "The Transmutation of Ling"
  • Before hastening to secure a possible reward of five taels by dragging an unobservant person away from a falling building, examine well his features lest you find, when too late, that it is one to whom you are indebted for double that amount.
    • "The Confession of Kai Lung"
  • In his countenance this person read an expression of no-encouragement towards his venture.
    • "The Confession of Kai Lung"
  • Should a person on returning from the city discover his house to be in flames, let him examine well the change which he has received from the chair-carrier before it is too late; for evil never travels alone.
    • "The Career of the Charitable Quen-Ki-Tong"
  • At the mention of the name and offence of this degraded being a great sound went up from the entire multitude – a universal cry of execration, not greatly dissimilar from that which may be frequently heard in the crowded Temple of Impartiality when the one whose duty it is to take up, at a venture, the folded papers, announces that the sublime Emperor, or some mandarin of exalted rank, has been so fortunate as to hold the winning number in the Annual State Lottery.
    • "The Vision of Yin, the Son of Yat Huang"
  • Alas! It is well written, "The road to eminence lies through the cheap and exceedingly uninviting eating-houses."
    • "The Ill-Regulated Destiny of Kin Yen, the Picture-Maker"

Kai Lung's Golden Hours (1922)

  • At this display the elder and less attractive of the maidens fled, uttering loud and continuous cries of apprehension in order to conceal the direction of her flight.
    • "The Encountering of Six within a Wood"
  • "It is well said: 'He who lacks a single tael sees many bargains,'" replied Sun Wei, a refined bitterness weighing the import of his words. "Truly this person's friends in the Upper Air are a never-failing lantern behind his back."
    • "The Story of Ning, the Captive God, and the Dreams that Mark his Race"
  • Do not adjust your sandals while passing through a melon-field, nor yet arrange your hat beneath an orange-tree.
    • "The Story of Lao Ting and the Luminous Insect"
  • After secretly observing the unstudied grace of her movements, the most celebrated picture-maker of the province burned the implements of his craft, and began life anew as a trainer of performing elephants.
    • "The Story of Chang Tao, Melodious Vision and the Dragon"
  • The one-legged never stumble.
    • "The Story of Hien and the Chief Examiner"
  • There are few situations in life that cannot be honourably settled, and without loss of time, either by suicide, a bag of gold, or by thrusting a despised antagonist over the edge of a precipice upon a dark night.
    • "The Story of Hien and the Chief Examiner"

Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat (1928)

  • One learns to itch where one can scratch.
    • "The Story of Wong Choi and the Merchant Teen King's Thumb"
  • However deep you dig a well it affords no refuge in the time of flood.
    • "The Story of Tong So, the Averter of Calamities"
  • "Excellence," besought Kai Lung, not without misgivings,"how many warriors, each having some actual existence, are there in your never-failing band?"
    "For all purposes save those of attack and defence there are fifteen score of the best and bravest, as their pay-sheets well attest," was the confident response. "In a strictly literal sense, however, there are no more than can be seen on a mist-enshrouded day with a resolutely closed eye."
    • "The Meeting by the Way with the Warrior of Chi-u and What Emerged Therefrom"
  • He who has failed three times sets up as an instructor.
    • "The Story of Lin Ho and the Treasure of Fang-Tso"
  • He is capable of any crime, from reviling the Classics to diverting water courses.
    • "The Story of Lin Ho and the Treasure of Fang-Tso"
  • Eat in the dark the bargain that you purchased in the dusk.
    • "The Story of Kin Wen and the Miraculous Tusk"
  • One may ride upon a tiger's back but it is fatal to dismount.
    • "The Story of Kin Wen and the Miraculous Tusk"

Kai Lung Beneath the Mulberry Tree (1940)

  • Better a dish of husks to the accompaniment of a muted lute than to be satiated with stewed shark's fin and rich spiced wine of which the cost is frequently mentioned by the provider.
    • "The Story of the Poet Lao Ping, Chun Shin's Daughter Fa, and the Fighting Crickets"
  • "When an alluring woman comes in at the door," warningly traced the austere Kien-fi on the margin of his well-known essay, "discretion may be found up the chimney". It is incredible that beneath this ever-timely reminder an obscure disciple should have added the words: "The wiser the sage, the more profound the folly."
    • "The Story of the Poet Lao Ping, Chun Shin's Daughter Fa, and the Fighting Crickets"


  • Ernest Bramah's China, then, is the fantastic bogus China of convention, not the real historical thing at all. He wrote of it in a prose so perfectly conceived that it becomes a miracle of style. As Hilaire Belloc once observed, the sly humor and philosophy of Bramah's stories is a trick he achieves by pretending to adapt the flavor of Chinese literary conventions into the English. But the thing I love most about the tales is their irony and the brilliance of their wit.
  • Bramah's books fall into two very unequal categories. Some, fortunately the smaller part, record the adventures of the blind detective, Max Carrados. These are competent, mediocre books. The rest are parodic in nature: they pass themselves off as translations from the Chinese, and their boundless perfection achieved the unconditional praise of Hilaire Belloc in 1922. Their names: The Wallet of Kai Lung (1900), Kai Lung's Golden Hours (1922), Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat (1928), The Mirror of Kong Ho (1931), The Moon of Much Gladness (1936).

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