February - March
Of course this is a typical Honor thing to do. I meant to write my Focus last week end because I knew that my daughter Thalia (or my son) was due at the beginning of this week.
And here I am — on the morning of Wednesday, March 27th — caught with the first very slight pains and no Focus done and a determination to do something about it even though everything I write will inevitably be tinged with pre-Thalia excitement.
I am reminded of the day when I was married, three and a half years ago. About an hour before I went to the church I. sat down and wrote an ‘article called THIS IS MY WEDDING DAY By A Bride. And everyone thought it was wonderful of me to write anything at all on a day like that. It was a very conventional sort of business, half a party and half an amateur musical comedy. Thank goodness I was just young enough- then not to be ashamed now that I ever thought of sealing my relationship with Gordon_ in satin and red roses.
Curiously enough I came across an old diary of mine last night and in it a sort of peroration to “my future children”. It rather shows that my main idea is to create another “myself” in order to understand that self and make it happy. I feel a little guilty about this discovery, but it is too late to feel guilty now!
These last March days have been very warm and dream-like, making the daffodils in London
squares look out of season — pretty but old-fashioned like poke bonnets. It is having the child that will make them into a real memory, otherwise they might seem, in their extreme oddness, never to have existed.
This is rather a messy Focus. I do apologize to everyone, especially to Laura who will probably have to do a lot of correcting. [Nothing corrected. L.]
Focal writing seems to be a very good thing for writers: it is non-competitive and written with the object which should . be the object of all writing, namely an and unaffected conveying of things which one in some way, either by living them or thinking them, feels sure enough about to put into. It is not a matter of saying things more cleverly, or beautifully, or wittily than other focal writers, but purely a matter of doing one’s natural stent of self-accounting. This helps to keep one aware of the essential function of words — whereas in the literary world one is being constantly tempted to do “experimental” things with words. It’s very good discipline to set oneself the simple object of saying specific things about oneself.
I have been very interested by the reception of Focus and the responses of various people to
whom I have shown it. Some have said, “How dull,” as though it were adventures which they expected on private life revealings of a sordid kind. Others have said, “So nice, so simple,” as though they were learning of royalty and its domestic simplicities. Nearly all
have said, “I like So-and-So’s bit very much,’ but I don’t think a lot of So-and-So’s — I could have written it myself.” This shows that being focal is a very particular thing.
Generally speaking, in fact, non-focals have no understanding of Focus.
The third novel of a contract I had with a certain publisher has been rejected by him. This is a jolt to self-satisfaction, since one is inclined to think that success with two novels is a process automatically resulting in success with the third, but it hasn’t turned out that way. You feel, I think, sillier than you feel being rejected having had no success of any kind — whatever success may he. In this case it is, actually, no more than enough money to live on. I feel as if this setback were a sort of punishment for an early frame of mind in which I tied up the object of making a living with a kind of intellectual complacence, a kind of “writing is a more astute financial activity than stockbroking.”
Honor and I, therefore, are now rather poorer than we were before. Being rather poor in London now is like what being rich used to be, an elevated state from which to look down upon the definitely rich and poor. For rich people now make a pose of poverty just as poor people would pretend to be rich a few years ago. Honor and I have struck a kind of compromise which I can’t quite fit in. We live like poor people, and look like rich ones.
This is somewhat because we seem to be the kind of people to whom people are good, and from time to time (especially now, with Thalia coming) we are made presents of elegant luxuries.
Thus, our well-to-do aspect is imposed from outside as a tribute from the really well-to-do who admire our poverty plus as some sort of romantic gift and wish to put the stamp of their economic authority on it. We are very ‘grateful for these possessions, expensive perambulators, cots and linens, but it would be nice to have sold this and that novel of ours and be relieved of expressing gratitude as ambiguously richpoor young people.
It is so very much better now that Honor is using her own name though I took a long time to be convinced about what at first seemed a waste of time and needless complication. It now makes me very angry when she is spoken of, not as herself, but as “your wife”, of if we are introduced, as the minus quantity in “Mr. and Mrs. Glover. “Come”, some people say, “and bring your wife”, as they might say “It is you we want, but of course bring your domestic appurtenance. This sort of thing is being said less and less: it is good to enter a room as two distinct people, not a kind of sticky partnership. For instance, the other evening we went to a small party and Honor left before I did. When she had gone somebody said to me, “Who was that person?” It made me feel very good. A year ago it would probably have been, “What, letting your little wife go home alone? People react, and understandably, to the name “wife” as they react to the sight of a pregnant woman — their minds (as Laura said of the latter experience in a certain connection) register exclusively, and diffusely, Fact-Of-Nature.
Thalia is to be born within the next day or two. Our maid’s daughter had a child the other day, three weeks earlier than expected. She contrived this convenient hastening through falling over a dog. To-day Honor and I have a wistful feeling about some nice dog to fall over.
Focal Post-Script: Thalius, weight seven pounds and three quarters, arrived at midnight March 27th. I have just seen him. Naturally I don’t yet mean anything in his life, but he is greatly attached to Honor who is very, very well and thinks a great deal of him, There will be more about him when Honor is about again and can write focally.
I enclose a poor little Focus thing which I hope will do — it is really rather a strain thinking of anything as I am now, so I hope you’ll forgive me. I’ve been very tired, had bad colds and appalling headaches for a fortnight. This is my fifth day in bed. I’m dread-fully bored but I haven’t the energy to do anything interesting. I loathe being in bed — especially as Spring has really been beginning to come these last few days. I hope my discomforts are an explanation of why I haven’t written. Maisie hasn’t written, I imagine, because the B.B.C. keeps her appallingly busy: everyday until 7.30, she says, and very often it’s seeing semi-B.B.C. people again for or after dinner.
I think you’re very wrong about Robert’s “as though”, but I haven’t the energy to quarrel about it now. [In his January Focus report Robert used the phrase “as though” instead of “as if” and James queried it. The O.E.D. says: “as though: as if; as would or might be the case if; so as to suggest the supposition that, M.E.” Also: “A drowsy numbness pains my sense, As though of hemlock I had drunk” (Keats) — “I’faith Ile eat nothing: I thank you as much as though I did” (Shakespeare). But beyond this it’s between James and Robert.] Thank you very much for the Second Leaf’s and the Focuses; both of which I’ve enjoyed as much as my state of mind would let me. John Cullen said that not knowing everybody in Focus he found it difficult to decide which were people and which were cats. But I think it’s nice — nice to have — I really enjoyed it.
Funny you should have sent my book to Faber’s. I know Eliot slightly: he’s a true Anglo-Catholic, so naturally won’t publish any-thing but Communistic poetry just now. The thing I have to record this time, of most undoubted and melancholy private importance, is that I am in bed being visited periodically by a doctor. Nothing very definite seems to be the matter with me. I have a bottle of medicine, opaque and pink but surprisingly to taste, to remind me of the doctor when he is not here: he also is opaque and pink. He is young, dark-haired and has a Greek-outline — what I imagine Ulysses to have been like. He refers to my urinary system as “the waterworks”: I do not see how one is to have confidence in such a euphemist. However, I suppose everything will turn out all right. I have written almost nothing since finishing the long poem which Laura is to have for Epilogue or which is to go at the end of my book. I have started two shortish poems: it is always bad for me to be writing more than one poem at one time. Both of them are
This year I have been fluttering round after a new job in a rather half-hearted way. This produced the only adventure I have had recently, when 1’ went to have a voice-test in connection with a broadcast to elementary schools which Maisie suggested I might possibly do. I went along and rehearsed my little talk about ‘poetry and was told to “speak more slowly” or to “be lighter” and so on, until finally they took a gramophone-record of me which they let me hear afterwards.
Hearing a gramophone-record of yourself ought to be part of everybody’s education. Nothing, in my case, could have been more humiliating: my voice was pompous, asthmatic and forbidding — opaque and surprisingly unpleasant, in fact. It is true that I was not well at the time. Even so, I do not think I shall be made a poetry-uncle or anything like that.
Julie and I went to Jamaica for two weeks, just after Christmas. The three boys all had whooping cough, but they had had it for some time, and the doctor said it was important for Julie to get away. We were gone about a month — it takes five days on the boat, each way — and it would have been a very nice holiday if we had been feeling better. Unless you fly, which is still very expensive, the best way to get’’ to Jamaica from .New York is by the
United Fruit Line — they carry passengers and bananas, and the bananas are better quality. We thought it was going to be exciting to see San Salvador, the little island that is supposed to have been Columbus’s first landfall, but it wasn’t really, the island was too flat and normal looking; but the flying fish and the coast of Cuba and Haiti off in the distance were more like it. And it was exciting coming in to Kingston harbor before dawn, with pelicans clustered on a buoy and the tropical mountains turning black against the sunrise.
A few hours after we landed we got on a little train to go to Montego Bay, at the other end of the island: it took almost seven hours to do the 113 miles. On the way to the station we went through a street where they were having a sidewalk market. There were lots of little
carts, and the owners had their trade names painted on the side — one of them was “Hero Boys”, and another was “Hawk of the Hills”. On the train we had the first class all to ourselves — it was the back end of the last rickety wooden car, with morris chairs in it; nothing like as grand as the railway from Palma to Soller. When the conductor, a fine-looking old negro, came to punch our tickets, I asked him what time we were due at Montego Bay, and if the train was usually on time. He said, “Sometimes we never get there at all, you may not live to see Montego Bay.” When his assistant came running back to turn on the
electric lights in the first class it meant that twenty minutes later we would go through a tunnel, usually about a hundred yards long.
At Montego Bay we stayed at a little hotel (the Ethelhart) where everything is just so. We were much the youngest people there, and by contrast felt even younger. And we were considered adventurous because occasionally we broke the daily routine by taking a rowboat out to the reef or going down to the high-life hotel to dance after dinner, The bathing was wonderful — a small coral-sandy beach that sloped quickly down into perfectly clear water,
protected from sharks by the reef. The water was always 79 or 80, but it seemed cool because the sun was so hot. It was too hot to do anything much in the afternoons except nap, under mosquito nets. Twice we played tennis at the club, on deceptively inviting turf
courts—they were as hard of the day, or just sat and tried not to be oppressed by the tropical climate.
The mornings were lovely. The hotel is on a hill above the town, and the dining-room, which is open on three sides, looks out over the little bay and the hilly coast-line: That view reminded me a little of the headlands along the coast at Deyâ, though the Deyâ mountains are much higher and more interesting. We had wonderful things to eat, especially the fruit at breakfast — papaws and fresh pineapple and very juicy sweet oranges, peeled and impaled on a fork.
In the evenings, when we could keep from being involved in porch conversation, we read Sense and Sensibility aloud. I had never read any of Jane Austen before, except Emma, which I remembered with hatred from schooldays, and it was a very pleasant surprise. We both enjoyed it, and decided it was a very encouraging book. We also agreed that I was a good deal like Mr. Palmer. Julie did quite a lot of work on the trip — she knit three suits for Paul; the only thing I did, besides reading, was to think of one line for a poem, and that may not be right, because I’m not sure how you pronounce “Aldeboran”.
We were both glad to be going again; the voyage back seemed very long. And we were delayed about eighteen hours by a gale and blizzard that held us up just New York bay. We were anchored in the ship lane, whistling for the pilot for hours before he found us, and now and then we could hear other ships near us. When the pilot boat finally came the seas were too high for him to come alongside, so he put off in a little two-oared cockleshell — it looked like a dramatically foolhardy business. But he managed it in a most professionally undramatic way, and clambered neatly aboard in a countrified manner and wearing a fur cap.The three boys were still whooping when we got back, but not seeming to mind. Paul had learned to walk; he had quite forgotten us.
Thank you for all the things, first the little household square which I’ll use on the table by my bed, then the beautiful buttons. The Focus idea sounds good and I will try to send one along with this.
Tom wrote you about my not being well — I don’t know just what’s wrong with me, it took the form of my being continually tired and hardly able to do anything. I feel much better now. Our trip to Jamaica started me feeling right again, so it was a good idea though we’d have had a better time if we’d both been feeling better. Tom’s stomach gave us another scare and I think it was the native vegetables and the cooking, which is good but very hot, because he feels all right again now.
About our going to Deyá it seems far away now. You see I’d loped we would go this Spring but the Jamaica trip had to be instead unfortunately. But I think we all think, even Tommy, about going to Deyá some time, so much, that it will happen before very long I’m sure. Tom has a plan about his work now that he seems to be very relieved to have decided about, so I think it’s .a good one. He will write you about it.
The whooping cough is almost over. The children look thin and pale because of all the food they lost, but they are back at school and beginning to look themselves. Paul can walk and feed himself and he attaches a great deal of meaning to the gibberish he talks, Johnny’s front teeth are very loose now and he is very much pleased about it. Tommy is making a stamp collection and it is thriving because Tom’s mother and father are on a long trip, to the Holy Land, and they write often.
Tom has to have drops In his eyes soon and won’t be able to work for several days, so a very nice friend is going to sculp his head. Janet Spaeth, she is the daughter of Mary Spaeth the woman who painted Tommy and Johnny. We had to send our big fat black cook Minerva Jones away, she was so dirty, and we now have a person in reduced circumstances condescending to cook for us. It is very uncomfortable and can’t last.
If the head of Tom comes out well I’ll take a picture of it and send it to you.
There has actually been a peculiar item developing about us here, in the form of political activity: a worthy but very boring chap in the village, called Thompson (we used to call him Harry because of a literary bloke in Hampstead who helps his wife keep a restaurant by talking to the customers about Baron Corvo — what’s his other name? — and other celebrities, but now we can him Gus Thompson, I don’t know why), was keen on starting a local branch of the Labour Party: he got us into the house to entertain his wife, who’s crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, and in vain we repeated that politics weren’t our line. Somehow we became the nucleus and were in danger of being somehow absorbed into activities with which we felt we had nothing to do, but which we had no ready arguments against. Charlotte helped at first by having a proper experience of such, and by now we’ve been able to take a firm stand for ourselves (on such subjects as pushing leaflets under doors) and thus make it easier not to be merely menaced by the whole thing. There’s been a bit of enjoyment out of it: as at a meeting to which came the prospective candidate from Cambridge and others. We limited our support to having a poster in a commanding position outside the house, and entertaining the candidate, Mrs. Rackham, a very decent woman luckily, with some soup before the meeting. I mean if she hadn’t been so decent we should have regretted everything: as it was we quite enjoyed it. Most of the more decent people in the village are vaguely in favour, and there are some horrible ones whom it is an easy way of antagonizing — and of course there’s a very small sleek rodent from South Wales, who believes in God. (Yes I believe in God. And birth-control. Yes, though I have a family myself, I believe in birth-control. And peace, yes, as one who had experience of the last war, I tell you, the last war will be as nothing to the next: you will go out into the street, and there before you you will see the doctor and the nurse, yes, the priest and the schoolmaster stretched out before you, killed by the poisonous gases. This was at the meeting, at which he was chairman: he had warned us “When I speak I’m fiery?”
Lucie says I’ve made Gus Thompson sound worse than he is. It’s difficult because he’s one of those who sound worse at every word you say in their favour. He obviously is all right in a way, or none of this would have happened, Because, though I’ve also made it sound like some fantastic judgement brought on ourselves, it’s not so bad as that either.
There’ve been continual interruptions with this: they’re not interesting, but to do with going to Cambridge for dentist work and Lucie’s family all down with influ. Lucie’s staying there till Tuesday looking after them all, prior girl, taking turns with one sister, Rittie, who’s lovely, but can’t spare time easily as her husband’s a doctor (g. p) in a suburban village. On Tuesday we’re meeting (L. and I) in London, going to have dinner with Honor and Gordon, and to be put up for the night by Maisie. H. and G. have been down here twice for the afternoon, but that’s all the times we’ve seen them. The baby is due on about Wednesday, so we hope to help bring it on quick, as a few weeks ago with Charlotte’s: she got so tired of waiting that she asked us for a rousing game of racing demon, which was so successful that her labour started an hour or two after we left, and the thing appeared next afternoon. It’s a girl, did I say before? and all is well. Edward of course wanted it to be a “son”. It’s called Joanna, I think, but we asked Edward why he didn’t make up by insisting on
having it called Edwardia.
The Focuses and Second Leaves have come: very nice to get it all. The Focus get-up is very nice: and it’s a pleasure to have all those letters to read in exchange for writing only one. Honor’s and Gordon’s are very intimate, quite embarrassing. In London the other day I went to see Cedric, who has a flat — one room really, at the top of dark stairs in Soho. He wasn’t there, and when I knocked the second time the other door on the top floor opened and there was Dan the Dog. He explained when he thought Cedric was likely to be in and asked me in. So I had to stand in his room for a few. minutes and wonder what there was to be said. He said he’d been to Ibiza last year; “very nice”, he said — “primitive, people not so spoilt as the Mallorquins.” His legs were swinging about, and there were all these pale green and grey paintings hanging, swinging about on the walls: there wasn’t anything more to be said, so I went away, and came back later, and knocked very softly. Luckily Cedric was there and heard. I asked him if he knew who his was, and he. said, “That’s Friggy Willie.”
We both thought Hester was lovely. The Glyn we couldn’t manage very well: it seemed to need a change of scene or something. There ought to be books by Mrs. Oliphant about. I’ll try to find some.
Harold Edwards – who bas a bookshop in the Charing Cross Road world – has sent a stalwart note for Focus and also a nice long letter for me. In his letter he says: I’ll send you something for Focus, which I enjoyed. My own life is nothing but work however, which makes very dull reading.
I should like to be in Toledo to see Ortega, I think I should like bull-fighting, having got over the initial unpleasantness. As you know, I don’t like the horse business. I know this sounds rather “New Statesman” ly, but it’s true. I hope to go away with Olive in May. Where, I cannot decide. I have thought about Yugoslavia if I can afford it. If not, Portugal or Spain. However, she’s going to have a baby, and I rather think it would be nicer to go to Spain and perhaps to Deyá when it’s all over, and we could both enjoy it more. Concerning Epilogue, publishers seem nowadays worse than ever. Anything good stands very little chance of seeing daylight here. I wish I had the money to be a publisher — still, I should only lose it.
If you do come to England — and I hope I shall be in London when you are here — remember that May is the Jubilee month and likely to be particularly bloody. I’ve never seen John or Lucie since they were in London. I think we gave them too much of a shoçk. Business is quite good for me. We all work very hard, but I like it. Only trouble is we cannot get enough books. If you have any of the two “leaves” you sent me, I should be pleased to buy some if not too dear. I like to give them away to my customers, many of whom are very intelligent people who appreciate the work you are doing. From now on I’ll jot down you as things happen so there will be something for Focus, but I do nothing but work and eat and sleep and make love and read history or try some philosophy or go to a concert.
Working every day until eight ornine at night does not give me much time to experience or have a focal view-point, especially when one’s work is that of being a shop-keeper. Physically I have moved with all my possessions and have only just begun living again after being uprooted.
Mentally at 35 I am endeavouring to adjust myself to becoming a father. This is not so easy and I can well understand the custom of couvade which existed even in Europe among the Basques and the Corsicans, perhaps also the Mallorquins?
Also I have been reading Laura. This is a difficult job and one that needs time. I have only been reading the poems. The prose will come later, I hope. I began some time ago and found it and left it. The fact that I did not understand it, however, has been somehow compelling, also the fact that so few other people could. I like, what is rare, the hardness of thought and the bare quality of the words. I may understand less than I think I do, but I feel about it like that. Especially have I enjoyed the Second Leaf.
Et aliud cecidit in terram bonam: et ortum fecit fructum centu-plum. Haec dicens clamabat: Quis l:abet cures audiendi, audiat: (And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Spring begins in February at Deyá and we had some demasiado-bueno weather after the heavy snow melted. Some days it was too hot even to sit full in the sun for more than a few minutes. The snow was good in killing the olive-tree insects but it also froze part of the lemon-crop. Sebastian the gardener (who is now seventy) had been busy with the olive harvest helped by a band of women from Santa Maria — they did both the Moli and Canellun olives under Gelat’s direction. This meant that Gelat had little time for the Canellun garden, but now he has been urging on the mattocking and the planting of things and the tying up of wind-blown bushes and so on. Canellun earth was very raw and full of stones when it was brought here in carts three years ago (from places in the village where houses were being built) but has been cleared by constant mattocking and improved by burning slow bonfires of olive trimmings covered with the clayey lumps and is quite good now. The narcissus was out on the first of the month, blue wild anemones on the seventh, freezias on the fourteenth, wild grape-hyacinth on the twenty-first, asphodel on the twenty-eighth. In dismantling the old mill-house (the Medora’s birth-place) where he is going to put the turbines for the electric light, Gelat removed the millstones and they are going to be stone tables in the gardens et Canellun, Can Torrent and the Posada. Two are real granite, three are composition. The garden will be quite a different thing when we get the new water-supply for it: hitherto we have been restricted in the number of flowers and bushes we could put in it. So we went to Palma and bought two mimosas, two oleanders, a tamarisk, a camelia and so on. We will soon have to remove one or two of the garden olives because the ground is get-ting too rich for them and their roots will kill the young fruit-trees. Sebastian has grafted sweet-almonds on two wild-almond trees, nectarines on three others, and peaches on two others, Apparently one can’t graft apricot on almond: nobody knows why. Now that the olive harvest is over Paloni the donkey will be available for travel. She is a strong donkey and the cart has springs. When the road to the sea is mended in April or May we hope to go often.
Most of February’s satisfactions have been of this out-of-door sort, but there are also Canellun’s acquisition of the Posada, the making of the year’s 30 lbs. of marmalade (Laura says next year it must be done by Isabel and Josefa because I go rabid over it), and the incident of Ward Swain and the olives. He said to us in the garden, “So that’s an olive-tree, is it?” Yes. “What time of year is the harvest?” Just over. “Oil, isn’t it?” Yes, olive oil. “They extract it from the leaves, don’t they?” No, from the olives. When we asked how he came to think that it was from the leaves, he replied a little nervously, “Oh, somebody on the Ship told me so.” The point of this story is, he is Professor of Ancient History (specializing in the relations between olive-oily Republican Rome and the equally olive-oily near-East) at a large American University.
But the Posada is a lovely old house — probably seventeenth-century and in quite good condition. We first noticed it in 1931 when we made its square doorway a model for Canellun’s and would have copied the moulded window-ledges too but they were expensive to reproduce. Its chief other beauties are the old under-painted tiles on the roof, the stone well-head, the old-fashioned snibs on the doors, the patterned stone-floor of the entrada, the castle-like staircase, the beautiful kitchen fire-place, the secluded garden with three big almond trees and a view of the sea.
Half of March has been spoilt by influenza of a mild but most weakening sort, but there have been compensations. On the eighteenth arrived our beautiful dog Salamo and also Isabel’s younger sister Josefa who will make it possible for the washing to be done at home. Salamo is a cross between a Mallorquin bull-mastiff of the sort used within living memory for fighting bulls at Soller and Inca, and an English mastiff-bitch of the sort used in the bull-pits in Elizabethan times. He is black with brown markings on the jowl and legs and a white star on his chest. Various domestic acquisitions this month include four old glazed terracotta bowls (a cock-bowl, a hawk-bowl, a flower-bowl and one with black furry markings), a present from Miguel the Carpenter’s wife; also two olive-wood framed mirrors, one oblong in oval designed by Laura for me, one faintly waisted full-length one designed by me for Laura.
I couldn’t escape the button-insanity this month either. I went to Palma one day with distinct orders to buy, for Honor’s new dress, a set of nice quiet grey nacre buttons with rounded faces and the holes concealed. I tried seven mercerias: none had them. But oh, the horrible modern curiosities I was shown instead — the shapes so awkward, the designs on them so restless, the materials so synthetic and the colours so ugh! I ran madly to the Jaime II Ghetto and there, after a lot of searching and rejecting and bargaining, assembled for not very many pesetas an appropriate matched set of old silver buttons fit even for the Tudor bosom which they were intended to star. And since there were still forty minutes to go before the ‘bus started back, I then ran madly down to Margarita Mateu’s Antiguedades and forced her to sell me a really splendid hoard of old buttons for a mere four pesetas. Not jewelled buttons or buttons of precious metal, but a double-handful of homely exhibits which I thought of taking round to the seven mercerias, saying, Look, these are what I call buttons”: but the bus couldn’t wait.
During my influenza I read some influenza books. One was William Le Queux’s Rasputin, the Rascal Monk. It was all adjectives — “incredible, nameless, filthy, sinister, verminous, hypnotic, bestial, depraved, unwashed, unspeakable” — but one nice new substantive: “she eyed him with askance”. Meaning, “with an inquiring looks. Also a life of Hannah More, an early nineteenth-century Sunday School pioneer. I puzzled quite a long time over the sentence: “Out of one hundred and eight children in another parish, no one knew who made them.” The printer’s failure to capitalize the “w” of “who” made it ambiguous.
Laura told me a dream the other day when I brought her break-fast in bed, but forgot it afterwards, so here it is. She was in a lecture hall and an Amercanish professor of psychology was trying out some intelligence-test on the members of the audience. He picked on Laura for the question: “What is the function of a bird?” Laura answered: “This a question which should be addressed, if at all, to the bird itself. You can of course expect no answer from the bird, but that does not justify your shifting the responsibility of self-consciousness, which the bird lacks, to a conscious being whose responsibility is only to define her own function. A question to such a conscious being about such a non-conscious being can only properly refer to the phenomenal behaviour of the latter. You have no right to ask one anything more than “What does a bird do?” And I have than no more to answer than “Flies.” About what Gordon says about how nice to lay carpets really well. I had the same craftsmanly thought about painting the new wooden grape-arbour with creosote. I carried it out, too. Result, I painted the grape-arbour as well as a proper workman at six pesetas a day would have done but ruined a good blue shirt and a fairly good straw hat and an already ruined pair of trousers and got some drippings of the creosote into my eyes which inflamed them so that I couldn’t sleep that night or work the next day. Carpet-laying. isn’t such a dangerous occupation but I imagine that it plays hell with one’s knees and thumbs and things.
As for James, he won’t have my “as though” for “as if”, so what about the use of “yourself” for “himself” in his last sentence but three?
As for work since last Focus, I have written eight poems and destroyed three. Two of the survivors passed Laura’s scrutiny with but a singly query. This is a record. I end by reporting the first flowering of a wild peony plant which John the First and I brought down from the Teix this time five years ago. It is now in the grotto.
Focus gave me a sleepless night this tune. I didn’t mind the sleepless night, it was but one between many. After my return to Deyá I discovered with astonishment and awe about my never before noticed sensibility, that I’m moonstruck — at least in a way. As long as the moon is growing, I find it impossible for me to sleep save a few hours in the morning. In the first days of February I made a trip over the mountains with the McCormack’s. Our destination was Buñola. Robert accompanied us at the top of the Teix, then left us to our fate and we had to find the way by ourselves. It was a lovely walk during several hours and, at last, being down in the valley, we expected every moment to see our goal. But then a strange thing happened. We saw some houses and a church, all peculiarly familiar to our eyes. It suddenly struck me that it might be Valldemosa. We were quite upset, but after assuring each other that it couldn’t possibly be, we recomforted ourselves. And when we met a priest there, busy with his breviary, we decided to ask him how long it would take us to reach Buñola. He looked amazed and said slowly: “Buñola, oh, I guess two or three hours, that village there is Valldemosa!” Tableau!
The very last day of February I went to Palma. In the main to get Focus but also to get some buttons for Honor’s dress. And all looked very well and I wouldn’t have believed anybody who would have told me I had a black day. But, alas, it was so! Focus was, for the third or fourth time, not ready. And, leaving the printer’s shop and seeing above his door his firm name: “Essperanza” (hope), I thought a good thing to add some more words to his slogan, so that it sounded: “Lasciate ogni speranza”. I felt it was just the same, entering Dante’s Inferno, or this absolutely hopeless shop. It was a beautiful day and also children’s carnival in Palma. Sweet, to see all these lovely girls in Mallorquin costume. It was very windy, I sat in the Rambla and watched the beautiful coloured stream of female bypassers. And, by the by, I earned 3000 thanks for saving three women’s hats from the gruesome fate of being run over by the careless pedestrians. That is to say, everytime I did so I got “mil gracias” — a thousand thanks from each.
Back in Deyá, the tough luck began. I had lost poor Honor’s buttons — the last ones in Palma of the right sort. Then came the four loveliest girls of the village for a visit, in costume. Needless to say that I don’t call that tough luck. But I had to photograph them. I did but I wasn’t at least surprised, as I heard later, that after the development the film was black, absolutely black, as that day. In the evening we had coffee with the McCormack’s in Canellun and that was all very well, except the storm, which grew faster with every hour of the night. And it was the sixth or seventh day since it blew like that. Everyone felt nervous and tired about it. And tired was I. So I left for home with my basket and a letter from Mrs. McCormack to someone which I was supposed to post. Rightly “supposed”, because the wind did it for me, carrying away basket, letter and so on. I think, I looked pretty peevish when I came back to announce my new exploit.
Later in March we. all had the grippe. And it wasn’t very nice. One day, everybody in Canellun had to stay in bed, except me, and I too felt pretty sick. But I cured myself, drinking slightly more than half a bottle of gin, sleeping after that seventeen hours. The flu was gone; but since that day I don’t like any more gin. And so Marguerite shall bring me in my early grave with that moody water which she calls boastfully but not at all convincingly “coffee.”
Don Bernardo’s drain that is at the corner where Laura and Maisie met the clattering ghost — well, Don Bernardo’s drain smells. And as I complained about it, Laura, who always tries to like every-thing which comes from Deya, tried also to comfort me, saying: “You should remind yourself that it a very rich smell of very rich olive oil mixed with just a little —” (and she said the word), Whereupon I sadly answered: “I can’t cheat my nose.” And also my nose is the fault which made me darken my stainless relationship with my cat Lily. We disagreed about the suitableness of a kitchen floor for her businesses. And as we couldn’t agree with each other, had to take the consequences and sleep out of doors for a week. Which she obviously didn’t mind, she had a lot of fun with the neighbour’s cats last night.
After Robert had his first bath in the Cala, I couldn’t resist and went the day after his. It was an extraordinary lovely day, with lots of sun and colours. The water was still rather cold, but I didn’t mind and neither did the water and so we separated after a little time – the sea still cold and I with a neat gooseflesh all over my body. So I lay down in the sun reading a pretty dreadful detective-story by Henry Holt, munching rolls, sobrasada, chocolate and oranges and when the last man was killed and almost nobody was left over, I hopped home, rather weak in the knees, and with an awful sunburn. And that gave me another sleepless night.
I want first to explain about Thalia-Thalius. I once wrote a story (which I later destroyed) about someone called Thalia Heaven. Thalia has always been to me an unmaterialized name, with great potential materiality nevertheless. And the meaning-content seemed appropriate for a child of Honor’s and Gordon’s. Thalia was one of the Muses (Comedy), also one of the Graces—the patroness of festive meetings. But as male children result from the slightest worldly-leaning stress, and festive meetings can be excellently rich in worldly leanings, Thalia had an even chance of being Thalius. And as for female children and worldly leanings, there’s many a birth which as a female child is a worldly illusion. Anyway, Gordon writes that Honor is delighted with the male result, that Thalius is triumphantly Thalian — “Pity about Thalia, though, we feel we have created her and destroyed her.” But better a definite male result than an illusion. The Mallorquin Calendar says: “Mars is the planet governing the world this year. His month is March. Male children born in this year are usually irascible, very fond of feuds and frays and much attached to tourneys and festive meetings where valour and spirit are tried. Their constitution is robust, they are well-formed and thickset and brown in colour.” If it had been Thalia, she would have been “a handsome home-hater, panting for admirers”, whom she would first intoxicate and then leave in the air. A male child born toward the end of March will be “faithful to his word, industrious, sober, honourable, ardent, jealous, but a good husband.” So I am really glad that it is Thalius, and glad that Honor has had her child. Having children, for women, represents just so much surrender to Time — the leaving to Fate what in the “Last Analysis” is not Fate but an explicit conscious settlement between the human-world things that men represent, on the one hand, and the what-more-there-is-besides-this that women represent, on the other. Just so much surrender to Time there has been, and now here we all are. And having children now reiterates the undeniable fact of past surrender, but it doesn’t mean more surrender. Many women like to make it mean, drowsily, more surrender, but these are thereby drowsily alive in the past, not now. Honor, as we know, is alive now — with a certain sting-y ardent Tuder accent of reiterativeness.
Before going any further I want to be frank about Solomon. I have always been anti-dog and pro-cat, but not in the sense of one hobby another or not liking dogs. As with nature: one does not not-like nature. Cats are on the inside of the Secret; dogs, like nature, on the outside. One only dislikes, really, doggy people who share cosy non-secrets with dogs rather as strangers in public lavatories exchange silent promises not to tell. Robert was at first against the idea because of a fear (in my words) of having his grip on the Secret shaken, but I think I knew what was best for all, and he gradually got a best-for-all feeling about it — especially after seeing Solomon. Very best for Alice, who needed the social discipline only Solomon could give her — she was behaving disgracefully to little Nicholas, sauntering off to the McCormacks, behaving all too much like a dog with them and all too much like a cat with Canellun. Now the McCormack’s are gone Solomon is here and she is having to find some decent orientation as cat. It’s all very well to be in the Secret, but one shouldn’t grow morbid about it. Solomon is useful for switching off. He is hugely loving and diffuse and he and I take several little walks round the garden every day which seem like world-tours by a giant. Alice was shocked at first, and even now she sits for hours studying him, but the look is growing less insane. Nicholas frisks about saying “You’re a dog,” and Solomon wags his tail, seeing no harm in that. Solomon has one joke he runs away, pretending he is going far, makes a quick turn and comes back. His name was inspired, besides by the fact that he understands the language of beasts, by a Mallorquin rhyme the Medora taught me:
Solomon who is so wise
Said that the time would come
When the women would close in on the men -
And it has come.
“A lot of good things in your letter you sent. I must send this answer direct to save time but I can’t spell Canelleun so Deyá will do as the answer. You’ll wonder what the hell has happened to it. Nowadays all the time is the line on doing this London racket on my own hook and won’t let up till it goes. I know I won’t be much use to Focus on writings because of the racket. The persistence needed is amazing; but me blood keeps good and thick. Say some more soon, you not me I mean by soon.” Then I ought to make it clear about Dan the Dog. He was in Deyá three years ago, with two chaps whom we called Impinging Planes and Baby Mucous. Then he quarrelled with them and was seen waving about prominently alone like dog’s legs, a thin one from under tables and chairs. We had him a few times at Canellun, but he didn’t get under anything, turned nasty on us instead with a far-off shrewd look in his eyes. There was also a remark about my looking like an Augustus John equivalent to getting on to my lap with his front legs and licking my face as Solomon does, only Solomon uses his own honest tongue not a grimsy master-brush. Dan the Dog comes into a story of mine called “Reality as Port Huntlady” which is in Progress of Stories now being printed in London to be published soon as a Seizin book.
Just one more Solomon reference. The Medora took Francisquito her three-years-old grandson to last Sunday’s sermon, in the course of which reference was made to Solomon. “Ooh! The Canellun dog!” Francisquito cried out. And I’m sure he wasn’t the only one in the congregation who had that reaction. Then about Hester, John mentions, It was noted in a second-hand book-catalogue and I sent for it, never having read anything of Mrs. Oliphant’s, and it was lovely. Honor was here then, and she and Robert and I took turns in reading aloud (as we had done with Right Ho Jeeves). It is one of the major novels — with a really world-in-itself fullness and intensity. You come inside of it: no dumping of the box of tricks out on the table and fitting them into the box again with magician’s self-satisfaction, like nearly every well- known novel. No self-satisfaction. As for Glyn, that’s Elinor. I like her sentences and flow of words. For a serene, athletic sense of Ianguage running on it does not matter whither there is no one like Elinor Glyn.
I am writing this late Sunday night, March 31, intermittently going over the other Focus sendings, which Robert takes into the little room called “Francisca’s room”, where Karl types them as they come. Robert is doing some of the copying by hand. The point is that tomorrow we go to Palma and if we don’t take Focus to the printer’s then ourselves it means delays and complications. Karl says that if he and Robert had green shades over their eyes it would look like a frontier newspaper office in the early ‘seventies – shirt-sleeves and a kerosene oil-lamp. Karl says many rubrics these days. (“Rubric” because Karl thought it was a word to use for “pointed remarks about” — it began with “that rubric about Hitler”.) The only reading matter in the Daily Mail now is the letters. (We have stuck to the Daily Mail for a long time because one wants the worst newspaper for the worst information: Now it isn’t even worst — it seen to have forgotten something and unable to remember what. So we are changing to the Daily. Telegraph, which is a sort of Solomon move. But I meant not to mention Solomon again.) There was a letter tonight from a clergyman about the absence of yellow in street decoration and gardens — for effective decoration there must be yellow. Karl said, “If he wants yellow he ought to put a Chinaman in his garden.” Early in February Epilogue went off to a publisher who hasn’t yet come to a decision, so tomorrow I am cabling with the idea that if it’s one of those “while we appreciate the distinction” answers I’ll get the first issue out immediately myself. About the same time there was also a partridge from the Medora, with long discussions with the McCormack’s about how long it ought to hang. The McCormack’s are very sensitive about meat-points — they had special Sollerdays for appointed cuts. Harold when he was here was also always smelling the joint for the right on-the-turn moment. But to me the pleasure of eating is having-eaten not will-eat, and so with Epilogue. Just as in restaurants I never order the things with “twenty minutes” written after. Robert has mentioned the Posada. Now there is an intrigue about it because the Cura, who had used it for storing his pasteboard fiesta devils, of which he is very proud, won’t get out. There are two parties in the Village about it, we have all the non-mass-goers on our side. The Cura keeps teasing Isabel about going to mass. But she says, “One mass a year, just as one kills one pig a year.” Isabel is growing so handsome.
The boys have been stealing wood and oranges and things. The Secretario said: “The young no longer respect the old, nor do the grown-up people respect one another so much as they used to.” This was speaking as a philosophical anti-Socialist; and having just read a life of Isabel II by a Socialist I too felt like a philosophical anti–Socialist. She once wanted to reward somebody for something, but he high-mindedly refused any remuneration. So she had herself painted without any jewels at all on, to give him the plainest kind of present. Socialists shouldn’t be allowed to politicize people who do things like this. The Ward Swain person mentioned by was someone I knew in America. He kept on saying how delighted he was to see me, but all the time his eyes and mind were merely cruising.
I have been writing some poems, and a story, and a Letter to Myself, and a strange big-money emprise, and learning a lot more Deyá lore from Gelat. John Cullen, who teaches in some lugubrious boys’ school, has felt able to send no more this time than “A Portrait.” We finished Focus work at 3. A. M.
Let me select such a photograph as he would like to appear in the foreign press or over his obituary notice. An old one will do very well to give you an idea.
There is one I found recently with its face to the wall in the bookroom. Not that he is shy of allowing his portrait to appear on the walls of the school, for of course with his rather traditional taste in interior decoration he can’t avoid seeing his face wherever he looks.
The picture I found with its face to the wall had been knocked down by the wind and no one had bothered to, put it back in its place. It interested me because it was taken in the war years when his personality was a new discovery to him and not so fly-blown as it is now.
He is sitting benignly among the chests and victorious grins of the School First XI, with his arms folded and his legs crossed. His smile is constrained, ever so slightly conscious of the camera, and proud of the big strong boys, but it is there all right, and so artificial that if one could get a hold on it it would peel right off.
However terrifying its later manifestations, in 1917 it can’t have done anyone any real harm. A wisp of hair does its poor best to cover his baldness, but leaves a big space clear for the eyes to do their stuff in. They seem to open wider than other people’s eyes, why they should want to I don’t know, because they are neither bright nor beautifully coloured. His mouth is completely occupied with smiling, as are his teeth, but the rest of his face is not.
If I could be certain that I would escape detection I should put these words into a loop and make them float from his mouth: I am sitting here from a sense of Corporate Unity.