Laura and Robert:
Majorcan Letter, 1935
This year we are all back again in time -
For a year: excellent: in our zeal
We had abandoned, like new converts,
Certain practices which serve good sense
Under all cosmic flags. The later mind,
For instance, has a need of News as constant
As the earlier; strangers inhabit
Every liveable condition, and we cannot
Regulate our own affairs without at least
Such distancing (if not entire annulment)
Of theirs as with the reading of our papers
We had learnt to exert on foreign conduct.
A talent not to let lapse: the years
Increased the alien volume, few matters
Remained domestic. The need of privacy
Is as strong as ever, nor to be satisfied
Without a public universe to wall
The central reservations. Excellent then,
Those habits of concern with wars, politics,
Impromptu heroes, successes, tragedies,
All weather-mystic to the personal heart,
Substance of outer flush and evanescence;
Scientific rediscoveries of truths
Long known by natural names and numbers;
Theories of God, Finance, Verse and Diet
Called ‘modern’ because indeed many but now
First reflect on these primitive subjects,
As if wisdom had ceased to descend
And life were the amazed infant again.
It is well to look out from our discreet windows
With a still curious eye. It is well
To look upon the stale wonders and tumults
And, knowing the recent for ancient,
Remember how we are surrounded ever
As yesterday and once by the remote
Great populations of infinity;
And to keep advised how small-immediate
The space of final conference remains.
Communism is a mighty plan
For turning bread into a doctrine.
And each shall have as much doctrine
As bread: what could be simpler?
Religion was never so accurate.
But haven’t they forgotten the wine?
Perhaps, after all, as they say,
Drinking is a lost art.
One still sees interesting recipes
For soups, but on the whole
The world is a drier place.
Ships do not merely no longer splash:
The very ocean has become
An abstraction whereon hotels
Convey the traveler to hotels
In the true spirit of competition,
Whose devices are more humane
Than Nature’s, which after all
Is too literal-minded
For the comfortable accommodation
Of man’s ubiquitous imagination.
In fact, water is an extinct element
Save for the quaint trickle in the taps
Wherewith they lay the ghosts
Of former hygienes, puny
To the present genii
Of vapours, creams and lotions.
Drinking is a lost art,
Baptism a lost rite,
Water a lost element.
Seaside balsam soothes away
The wetness sustained
In the exorcizing of wetness,
With the assistance of the sun.
And, the waves having by argument
Of logical progress from wet to dry
Undergone vigorous evaporation,
The world-at-large takes to the air-at-large,
In more generous fulfillment
Of the historic farewell
Governing the scattering of peoples
And senses: with a goodbye
More absolute than the mariner’s
Salt tear and world-ho.
We are perfectly informed, you see,
In the character and manner
Of life as it is now lived
Around us and around us
And now and now and now
Along the ever-widening
Periphery of this modest
Memorial to coherence
Wherein ourselves have domicile.
(The three elements involved
In questions of this kind,
Our lawyer tells us,
Are Nationality, Residence
And Domicile. By Nationality
Is meant the political relationship
Existing between ourselves
And the sovereign states to which we owe—
But we, and our respective states,
Consider these formalities
Sacred to unpleasant incidents
Abroad, where our Consuls maintain us
In the liberty of feeling at home
Wherever the birth-days guaranteed
Mortal by our respective states
Find us in our post-national age.
Residence merely implies
The place we happen to dwell in
At a particular moment:
A word for the body absent
On the body’s errands -
‘A purely physical fact’
Our lawyer explicitly avows.
Each sleeps in many beds
During a lifetime of acquiring
Command over the limbs,
Till we are able, without regret,
To exact that permanence
Which our lawyer calls ‘Domicil’ -
He spells it without ‘e’, please note,
Terribly, insisting the spirit
Of the law before the letter.
‘Domicil is a combination
Of facts and intention.’
We intend to remain thus
Resident in definite us
‘For an indefinite time’ -
Time, after the legal years
Have been passed, the numbers crossed out,
And no new counting can be done,
Becomes ‘an indefinite time’,
Which is to say we may safely
At any time go back, to consult
Our newspapers, lawyers or doctors,
Without being reported missing
From ourselves. Such is the credit
Of the extreme word ‘Domicil’.)
And Anthony Eden is, we know,
A clever young man who, without
Other resources than tact and
A virile English education
And a flattering way of
Being at ease among the great
(So that the great exert themselves
To be greater, so that Anthony
May be still more at ease among them),
Has established the superior
Virtue of that which is charming.
In other times this would have caused
A complete paralysis of
Activity, not to mention wars,
All joining in the exaltation
Of the personal attractiveness
Of Anthony Eden.... Perhaps,
If he had been a woman....
But the world has grown suspicious of
Solutions, everyone is anxious
For simple ways out of
And simple ways back again:
Lest the trick of history-making
Be lost and life become the burden
Of those alive rather than, always,
The intact inheritance of
The unborn generation.
We know, you see, what is going on.
It is not as if we were living
On a desert island. When it is,
A question of distance in time
Rather than in geography
It is easy to keep well-informed.
And there are no distances now
But in time, and time is a matter
Of print, we read neither by maps
Nor by dates; the works of T. S. Eliot
Are in no greater hurry to be read
Than the works of Homer -
It is this waiting-power, this
Going to sleep of the author
In the work, to be wakened after
An indefinite time, which makes
Literature the darling of
Leisure. ‘Domicil’ combines
The facts, intention, and leisure,
Homer is the God of leisure,
And T. S. Eliot its Christ.
One does not hesitate to mention
Homer heartily, he delights
In dozing off and hearing his name
Thunder, like a small boy letting
Sleep roll up the voice of breakfast.
But one is inclined to call softly on
T. S. Eliot, one is inclined, that is,
Not to wake him, to give him sleep
Of much soft calling; one feels
He would make breakfast a further
Occasion for martyrdom.
He is, you see, the Christ not risen
Of literature, leisure or domicil,
Whose glory is not to get up
Ever - thus the small boy becomes
The poet. We realize, you see,
The necessity of being
Back in time, at least for a year,
During which, of course, much may grow
Permanently unfit for interest;
Nevertheless, we mean not to lose
Interest. It is important
To cease looking, when one does,
Not merely because one is tired,
But because memory has succeeded
Observation by the ultimate
Yielding of contemporary
Life to the economic
Crisis: the expense of maintaining
A news-producing universe
For our benefit is gigantic,
Beyond the imagination
Of financiers, whose good-will depends
On the reasonable fantasticness
Of the investment. We do not,
Truly, require this lavish
Apparatus for impressing
On our minds what in any case
Our minds flash topically upon
The ever-paling screen of time:
It is a nice question whether
The whole dispatch of journalism
Is not, as far as we are concerned,
A work of supererogation.
Our regards to various people
Who may happen to read this verse,
(We dare not make it much better
For fear it may read much worse),
To the rich man in his castle
And the poor man at the Spike,
And the patriot Lady Houston
Whom personally we like,
And the new blue gentleman-bobby
With his microscopes and such,
A radio-set in his helmet,
And fluent in Czech and Dutch,
And fearless Admiral Philips -
When the traffic light went red
He clapped his glass to his sightless eye
And ‘I can’t see it,’ he said,
And Number One Trunk-murderer
And likewise Number Two,
And the fellow who left his legs behind
In the train at Waterloo,
And the sixteen-year-old girl student
Who wrote, with never a blot:
‘The land of my birth is the best on Earth’ -
Which wasn’t saying a lot,
And the hostesses of Mayfair
Who do nothing out of season,
And the miners of the Rhondda
Who are rebels within reason,
And men who fly to business,
And women who fly to the Cape,
(But not that Viscount Castlerosse:
We disapprove of his shape),
And the ex-ex-Rector of Stiffkey
Who crouched in a barrel cozily,
And the ex-wild-life of Whipsnade
And ex-Sir Oswald Mosley,
And almost-our-favourite author
Who moderates loves and crimes
For Shorter Notices: Fiction
In the supplement of the Times,
And W. H. Day-Spender,
Who tries, and tries, and tries,
And the poet without initials -
The Man with the Staring Eyes.
And the riveters of the Clyde
And the coracle-men of Dee,
And the nightingale in the shady vale
Who sings for the B.B.C. -
Now kindest regards to these
And our love to all the-rest,
And our homage to Mr. Baldwin
(A Tory retort’s the best),
And a warning frown to each little bird
In somebody else’s nest.
This is, apparently, to be a special number of Focus, very large and with several ‘new features’, so I feel like beginning in the grand manner - something like this:
Little did I think, dear reader, when I wrote my last Focus, that I should be writing my next in Deyá. But so it is. Let me tell you how I got here, even when it seemed most unlikely that I should.
When last I wrote, I was not feeling very good. I had just been told that I must definitely leave the school where I was teaching at the end of the term. I began looking for other jobs. I had interviews with headmasters in Bristol, Derby, Lancaster, Cirencester and a number of other educationally backward places, in all of which I was regretfully turned down. It was a desperate business. I seemed unable to persuade people -what a good chance they were missing. I tried being the studious takes-his-job-very-seriously chap, the hearty lick‘em-into-shape chap, the chap of unrecognised merit, the quietly efficient chap, the chap with no idea of ‘keeping order’ but a good influence to have about the school. I tried the grey worsted suit with a monochrome tie and a blue shirt, the navy pin-stripe with an old school tie and a white shirt, the flannel suit, flannel shirt, flannel tie. I tried carrying The Times and a black hat, an educational manual and a brown hat, the Daily Herald and no hat. I tried the modest voice, the blustering voice, the B.B.C. announcer’s voice, the disciplinarian’s voice, the familiar, the respectful, the inconsequential. But all, dear reader, to no avail. The result of every interview was the same - the raspberry. (In Deyá we have P.G. Wodehouse after meals and it is difficult not to fall into the Master’s vocabulary when de-scribing such an essentially Wodehouse situation as an interview with a headmaster.
Term came to an end and I still had no job. I spent the summer holidays having more interviews and applying for more vacancies. I went to Bridlington, then to Derby again. Laura wrote and said wouldn’t I like to throw over interviewing for a bit and come to Majorca till I could face it again. But it seemed better to keep on with it until I’d been turned down, say, once in every county: I would feel happier coming to Majorca with the job-problem settled.
Then in October I got a job for next January at a school in Chi-chester. There is no medical worry, so I shan’t be thrown out because of eye-sight. It seems a nice place, a day-school with no teaching on Saturdays and reasonable holidays. I have always been in favour of places ending in -chester. (Lancaster and Cirencester are of course only corruptions of this.) I rather like -bury’s, though I am suspicious of -.borough’s; and of course -by’s and -ton’s are out of the question.
Well, with Chichester for January and two months to go before Christmas the chance of going to Deyá seemed perfect, so I wrote to Laura and she wired and I wired and she wired again and I started off on November 1st. It was a good journey except for the channel crossing, officially described as ‘rather rough’, but in reality frightful; a French railwayman who woke me up in the middle of the night to talk politics; and the shoe-black episode in Barcelona, which was not at all unpleasant but only rather wasteful. One has about seven hours to spend in Barcelona and I spent mine resisting shoe-blacks and men who sold fancy ties. After my evening meal, which I had at a restaurant where they speak French, I succumbed to one of the shoe-blacks because I still had to waste another hour before going on the boat. It was by now dark except for the light from the café and the street-lamps, so I could not see clearly what the shoe-black was doing. I only hoped the light was good enough for him to see that my shoes were brown and not black. He polished very energetically for a few minutes, then he seized my right foot and keeping it firmly in his lap began hammering at the heel of my shoe. I thought he was just knocking in a loose nail or something, so I did not protest: indeed I could not protest, not knowing a word of Spanish (except Hasta la vista which, I understand, nobody ever uses and which in any case would have been rather an indirect form of protest). The knocking got still more vigorous, but still I had no idea what was happening. At last he released my foot triumphantly and I was allowed to make the awful discovery that my shoe had been fitted with a thick rubber heel. This was such a new form of salesmanship to me that even if I had been able to make myself understood I should still have been speechless. I was very angry, but quite helpless. I could not tell him to take it off. I could not go away with one rubber heel on. There was nothing to do but sit there and let him put the other one on. Afterwards I was not angry: it seemed very funny. I had been ‘had’ like a thoroughly green tourist. I paid the man four pesetas and hobbled towards the boat. Next morning Laura and Gelat were waiting for me on the quay at Palma. They had been waiting for me a long time because nobody had woken me up and I slept soundly on the boat.
I have been rather long in getting to Majorca in this narrative but here I am writing my Focus in Ca’n Torrent with the olive-wood burning in the stove and Spanish tobacco burning in my pipe. I prefer the olive smoke, but everything is very nice. I need not do landscape-notes or character-studies because I believe I am the last of us to come to Deyá. I can only say that November here is like a mixture of the nicest English April and the nicest English September - a little chilly at night, sometimes windy, but very warm and sunny during the day. Climbing up from the Cala at noon is really hot.
We are busy chiefly with Seizin things. It is fine that Epilogue is really published. The other things, it seems, are being put off till after Christmas. I would like to have been here when my poems are published but there has been such long work with the printers that they have been held over too. I don’t suppose anybody’s first poems have caused such a sweat before: even now there is no word of the sheets having been received in England. Perhaps they are at the bottom of the Mediterranean, entertaining the mermaids, or being searched for sedition by customs officials in France. But it is nice to think of them coming out soon - a real book, with a preface-poem by Laura, all me. I feel very spoilt.
What else? Excursions to Palma - the Alhambra, more buttons, lunch at a new sophisticated café where the food is good but the people stare; to Soller, which is not so nice; to the Cala, the Posada, to the Fabrica for visits and to hear the English news on the wireless; Herr Schwarz and Fraülein Strenge to tell us stories in German; passport inspection at the Casa Consistorial; saving Solomon from getting run over; saving me from eating too many nice things; listening to new records, reading a good deal, writing Christmas poems for Focus; learning the days of the week from Gelat; and so on. I am hoping that all these things will be referred to by Laura or Robert or Karl more coherently, for I cannot help feeling that my impressions will seem scattered. I can only apologise by saying that it is so nice to be here amidst everything that it is impossible to sort everything out and make a story of it.
Yesterday Karl read out the title of a new book from the Sunday Times: it was Stings and Wings by Humbert Wolfe, but the way Karl read it it sounded like “Humbert Wolfe stinks and winks.” We all laughed a lot. Karl is very good about his English— so good that he doesn’t mind us laughing now and again when anything in it is not so good. He says “bottles” in a very nice way. But I expect he has his private laughs when we talk German to Herr Schwarz or Fraülein Strenge.
I forgot to mention that we went to a wedding ‘breakfast’. We shook hands with everybody and then examined the presents and the bridal chamber. Then we sat round a table and had champagne and cakes and cigars and those very hard, sweet little sweets that always go with weddings here, it seems. We were given packets of cakes and sweets to take away. It was strange, drinking champagne in the middle of the afternoon, and going home we found the fresh air rather hilarious. There seemed to be a lot of champagne about at that time. We entertained Gelat’s daughter and her husband who were going back to France. There was champagne then, and dinner at the Hotel. Then we played Seven-and-a-Half and after Robert having the bank nearly all the evening and Gelat being on the point of bankruptcy, of course Gelat suddenly became prosperous at the end and car-ried home the prize. Laura was living in open bankruptcy almost from the start and ended, I believe, with a huge overdraft. This struck me as more exciting than ending as I ended, with exactly nothing.
I seem to have missed out a great many things, perhaps the most important ones, but as I say, I am hoping the others will fill in some of the gaps. I’m sure I haven’t conveyed half the fun and excitement of being here for the first time, but perhaps that is because it already seems so natural that it is difficult to realise it. Perhaps it will be easier to realise it when I am back home in a damp December seeing the Evening Standard and the shops full of suitable presents and acceptable Xmas gifts.
Meanwhile, here is a special Focus article.
The History of Stonehenge
The pleasing thing about Stonehenge is that as time goes on less and less is known about it. I do not mean that we merely find out nothing more about it; I mean that we are actually finding out that everything that was known about it before is wrong.
First there was Myth, which gave a very complete account of it: Stonehenge was dropped there by the Devil “in a mysterious way so as to puzzle posterity and divert their attention from holier things”; and so on. Then there was History, which discovered that Myth was wrong: Stonehenge was a Druid temple containing an altar on which humans were sacrificed. Then there was Anthropology, which discovered that History was wrong, since Stonehenge had nothing to do with the Druids and was really an elaborate sun-dial and sun-temple combined. It appeared that the stone circle happened to be orientated about a particular compass-bearing, so it was very cleverly argued that it must have been placed like that on purpose. Hence the sun theory; hence also, and from other astrological data, it was possible to deduce the approximate age of Stonehenge (which, incidentally, placed it a good deal earlier than the Druids). Finally there was Archaeology, which discovered that Anthropology and everything else was wrong but did not discover that anything else was right. The only thing that Archaeology allows us to believe about Stonehenge is that it is pretty old; but even that is an archaeological assumption and would, I suppose, be disputed by other kinds of scientists. (Such as geologists and astronomers, who make a good thing out of writing articles proving that everything we think old is really ludicrously new.)
At the present time, popular belief about Stonehenge is emerging from the Druid stage into the sun-temple stage: large crowds go and watch the sun rising on June 21st behind the stone it rises behind on that day, in the belief that they are assisting at the repetition of an ancient ritual. Soon, however, archaeological agnosticism will get the better of ‘popular belief and people will go and look at Stonehenge for what it is; or better still, they will not go and look at it at all, because of what it isn’t. Already the more knowing ones are not watching the sun rise behind that particular stone, in the comforting assurance that they are not assisting at the repetition of a rite that was never performed.
It is, therefore, pleasing to hope that soon nothing whatever will be known about Stonehenge. This will be entirely in the interests of Stonehenge, for when all this is forgotten we shall stop worrying Stonehenge into being something that it isn’t and let it be what it is. I can’t tell you what it is but I can take you to see it and I can show you pictures of it; and the official guide, who is a sensible man and deals with realities, will tell you the weights of the various stones and how many there are, because you will expect him to tell you something. We shall stop attaching to it our bogus theories of the past, by which we make it the scapegoat for our sense of guilt in not being able to deal with the present. Having failed to fix Stonehenge satisfactorily in the past we shall be pleased to have it with us in the present, where it unmistakably is and where everything else is. If we would only admit that, it would be such a weight off our minds. Stonehenge is Stonehenge and we are we; but the history of Stonehenge is only the history of us. It is a way history has. The archaeologists will no doubt go on picking up the stones which they think have fallen and standing them up where they think they stood, because that is an archaeologist’s way of expressing himself; they will merely be making more history, somewhat at the expense of Stonehenge, which, however, will remain in the present, where it belongs. If we really look at the present we find all sorts of pleasing things besides ourselves; if we look at the past it usually turns out that we see not only less of other things but less of ourselves - which is the nature of the past.
The most outstanding incident in my recent life happened a week or two ago when I witnessed the most conventional kind of a fire with all the conventional kind of rescues, screamings and tense crowds. I was having dinner in a Soho restaurant with a friend when, hearing a scream in the street, we looked out of the window and saw that the house immediately opposite was on fire. The curious thing is was that there appeared to have been no sort of preliminary. At one moment it was just a house, and at the next there was smoke belching out of windows, curtains blazing and a woman about to throw a baby down two stories into the street. It was her screaming that we heard. Then she threw the baby, which was caught, and in a moment or two jumped down herself, breaking her fall on the awning of the ground floor shop. Thereafter all the usual things happened. Witnessing it was rather like witnessing your first bullfight. It did not carry the conviction of being real, of actually happening. It was a newspaper story inverted, and you saw what the reporters meant when they wrote things like: “Braving death forty feet above a London street, John Smith, a Soho kitchen boy, last night climbed across the front of a blazing house to rescue three children who were imprisoned in an upper room.” But seeing John Smith actually doing it was, curiously, no more real than the newspaper account of it. There were one or two moments - as when the front door burst open and you could feel the heat of the flames inside - of dreadful reality. But the hardest thing was to realise that only thirty feet away there were some children who were probably going to be burned to death within ten minutes. I went to the telephone and called up the night editor of the Daily Mail. He said, “What’s the story? What’s it worth?” I found myself repeating in a sort of gramophone voice - as though it was a record - “Flames climbing the stairs, reaching the third story, women and children trapped.” “Women and children?” cried the editor, “How many?” “Two women, and about three children,” I said. “Fine,” said the editor, “Jumping for their lives, are they? Right, I’ll send a man down right away.” I got half a guinea for that.
Generally speaking, my life lately has been chiefly a matter of working for the B.B.C. and driving round the country looking at cottages. Honor is anxious to have a country cottage and the right one has been hard to find. I think it is found, though, and if financial arrangements go through satisfactorily it will be hers by the time Focus is in print. It is a very old cottage and has a thatch, casement windows and oak beams. Most of the oak beams are covered up with wallpaper, and quite an interesting thing emerged about these beams.
We told the owner that it would be necessary for him to uncover the beams and uprights all through the house before we bought it. He said, “You don’t want to see them studs, do you?”
Honor said, “Yes, of course.”
“Why?” he asked. “What for?”
There didn’t seem to be an adequate reply to the question, and he went on, “They’re just studs, aren’t they? Just old wood what the house is built of, aren’t they? What you want to see them things for?”
There seemed to be less and less reason for wanting to see the old oak as he went on talking about it. It wasn’t really beautiful, and it wasn’t really mellow: the beams and uprights were, the man meant, rather inelegantly functional - it was unreasonable to make a conceit of them. I found myself thinking that he was quite right and we were quite wrong; that, if one hankered after seeing wooden house supports, it was just as logical to hanker after seeing the metal framework behind the walls of one’s modern flat. Yet the fact remains —the wooden supports are to be laid bare.
About the B.B.C. I have a part time job there trying to get news-paper publicity for School Broadcasting, of which Maisie is in charge. The work is tolerably engaging, but I have not much faith in the journalistically “human interest” value of the subject matter and I rather doubt my ability to produce the results which are experimentally hoped for. There is a great deal to laugh at in the B.B.C., the main thing being that the B.B.C. doesn’t realise it. It is very solemn and self-conscious - like the building where it lives.
I wish I felt more constructively focal than I do, but I excuse. myself on the ground that part-time jobs give you a sort of part-time mind. My mind staggers uncertainly from German Talks to Schools to the writing of novels, the reading of poems and the contriving of more and yet more sensational newspaper articles and paragraphs. There is a great deal of good focal material which has somehow lumped itself into a job lot of stuff which I feel only able to deliver, as though Focus were a jumble sale.
There was the old woman who was living in a cottage I went to see for Honor. She looked like a witch and had yellow eyes. Her feet were tied up in old purple mules and she wore a cotton dress with food stains down the front. She kept scratching her head and saying in a horribly refined voice, “Ay wouldn’t bay the cuttage if ay were yew - it’s demp and it’s durtay, not what ay’ve been accustomed to bay any means.” She lived in one room. There were two camp beds in it, one of which was piled three foot high with newspapers. She said that she had “work in Westminstah.” She had a dog chained outside. It was so weak that it couldn’t stand up or bark properly, and it was hairless and covered with large sores. She said, “Pooah beast - it’s the hawss flays which bayte her.” A most curious interlude. And there was the man who, being asked by Honor to help her carry the pram up the steps of Paulton’s House, did so smilingly, and then, with a solemn and conscientious air, exposed himself. And I mustn’t forget “Poor Pussy”. “Poor Pussy” is a penny-in-the-slot machine which stands just by one of the arrival platforms at Liverpool Street station. There are six cats sitting on a wall inside a glass case. You shoot six balls at them. If you knock them all down you get your penny back. That’s really all.
The Christmas of this year is now,
While yet the name glitters with unfetched holly.
But once the church-bells ring it has gone by:
The snows of January will bury it
Deep in the woods where grow, untended,
The fir-trees of a future Christmas-time
So distant that when, hand in hand plodding
Between the frozen ruts, the lovers look
And “Look, the Christmas trees!” cry out together,
Their talk is soon of love in green old age,
Of grandchildren in troops about their knees
And coloured Christmas candles guttering down -
Meaning, they once were these same grandchildren
And so might be again, were Christmas now…..
It was a picture wet with nursery kisses,
An all too poignant Merry Christmas thought -
The wide-legged robin with his breast aglow
In the spade-handle scornful of the snow.
Our news this time is mostly in the future, and I don’t know whether it’s good news or bad. Julie and I had a long talk about our-selves, and one of the upshots was that I decided to give up my job on Time, on the first of May. If we can’t pay our bills after six months I’ll probably try to get it back again, but I intend to quit for good. It’s not so much that I’m fed up with book-reviewing - it’s really a soft job, and I’ve been overpaid from the start - but that I keep feeling more and more ashamed and uneasy in it, instead of less so. And I’m not going to “write a book”, but just get rid of a lot of things that have been bothering me. If I can make a decent book out of what I write, I’ll be pleased, but I’m not counting on it. The only practical drawback to the plan is money. I’d been saving up an Escape Fund, which will now have to go for groceries instead of passage money. But we both feel happier about the future than we have for some time, and maybe what the future needed was some such cavalier treatment.
Julie is much better, and looks very well, though she is worried about her hair. She is trying it now in a kind of bang in front, which takes a lot of frizzing. Paul now runs staggeringly about the house. Every morning he comes plunging through the curtain that shuts off my room from the dining room, and makes straight for the bookshelf where the Deyá books are, takes out Robert’s Lars Porsena, or The Future of Swearing & Improper Language, runs solemnly through the house with it, and then puts it back where it came from. This happens at least once a day. Johnny has lost both his top front teeth; one came out of itself, while one of his uncles was shaking him, and I pulled the other by the door and thread method. With no teeth, and his spectacles, he looks very old-man. Julie thinks Tommy is quite musical, which he is not, but he is trying to learn to play the piano. And he can play bugle calls on a toy horn. When he plays a certain call, Johnny has to run up and downstairs as hard as he can pelt. But he never does it fast enough to please Tommy, and has to try it again.
Just before we came to Deyá Julie had Tommy and Johnny’s picture painted by a woman who lives here, who used to paint pictures of her babies while she was nursing them. People either like or dislike our picture very much. We like it. Now Julie has had my head done in plaster by the woman’s daughter, Janet. It is life-size or a little over, and as there is no place to put it except on top of the piano I don’t expect it will last long. It stands on a beautiful block of lignum vitae, and that ought to last a long time.
Julie and the children and I spent the summer with my family, as usual, and as usual it has been a very nice summer, with a few minor catastrophes. Our nurse - not Aagot, the Norwegian girl who was with us in Deyá, but a Scotch girl named Marie - fell down the back stairs just as we were all starting to the beach one morning, and Paul with her. Luckily for Paul, he fell on top of her and wasn’t hurt at all, though of course he bellowed almost as loudly as Johnny, who saw them fall and thought they had both been killed. Marie’s arm was badly dislocated and a nerve torn so that her arm is still almost nerveless. She had to go to Boston for two weeks to get electrical treatments; it’s getting better slowly, and we hope an operation won’t be necessary. But yesterday she discovered that she had impetigo contagioso under her sound arm, so she is feeling rather fed up. Impetigo is the ancient Roman leprosy, an apparently harmless but very annoying skin disease. It seems to be getting quite common, especially among children, and is supposed to be a filth disease, originating in the slums, but I think it must have something to do with beaches, because there was almost an epidemic of it here two years ago, when all of us had it except Julie, who had the unpleasant job of swabbing and bandaging us. Except for Marie, I am the only one who has had it this summer; I am just recovering from a patch of it under my right arm, which got so bad that I had to carry it in a sling.
Tommy has become a very good swimmer and diver, and is quite fearless about the water. Johnny can just swim, but he still paddles, mostly. Paul has no fear of the water at all because he doesn’t understand it, he hasn’t been properly ducked by a wave yet. All three of them are quite brown and well. We had seven children in the house for a while, when my sister and her family were here, and it was pretty bedlamish on rainy days, but they have gone now and we have had lovely weather lately.
I am slowly unwinding the accursed chain of tennis, partly thanks to the fact that there are not many people here who play, and partly thanks to my impetigo. It is not a good place to work, because there are too many holiday things to do, but I’ve made a fair beginning on my novel, which now looks like turning into a series of long short stories. Outside of that I’ve written one poem (it keeps getting into different shapes, I’ll send it when it stops) and a parody of William Faulkner called “Eagles Over Mobile” - do you remember the song, “Oh, the eagles they fly high in Mobile, in Mobile”? And plans for a lot of things. It is a great relief not to be reviewing books and dashing down to New York all the time. It’s wonderful to have the time to read slowly: I’ve been taking a long time over slow books like Cruttwell’s “History of the Great War” and Freeman’s “Life of Robert E. Lee” and “The Magic Mountain.”
My substitute on Time, Robert Cantwell, had rather a hard time getting settled down at first - for one thing, ‘the managing editor cut his copy drastically because he was afraid of Cantwell’s radical politics - but he seems to be getting along all right now. In his last letter he said he was afraid he was beginning to like the job: “Is this the first fatal glass of wine which started Henry Beidel Canby on his way to the ill house of fame?” So I hope our scheme is going to work out all right.
We go back to Princeton about the middle of September, and my leave from Time is up the end of November. We have taken another year’s lease on the same house we were in last winter, which is cheap if chilly. And perhaps -- I don’t dare say more than perhaps, but I mean probably - by this time next year you will see us in Deyá. It
will probably have to be a short visit, and we’ll have to leave the children at home, but I don’t see now why we can’t make it. At any rate, we’re going to plan according.
Julie and I went for a week’s motor trip down through the She-nandoah Valley to the mountains in western North Carolina. The country you pass through that way is mostly lovely: going down the Shenandoah you are between two lines of mountains all the way —the Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge. It’s also historic, in an un-history-book way: full of landmarks of the Revolution and the Civil War. Some historical society has put markers along the roads, wherever anything notable happened, and specially if you are interested in the Civil War they make exciting reading. “Here, on May 16, 1862, Stonewall Jackson lay, screening Lee’s left” - that kind of thing.
Coming out of the Valley we drove along the crest of the Blue Ridge, about 4,000 feet up, a beautiful road though very curvy. I was glad we were in a Ford and not that terrible rebuilt car we had for a while in Deyá, that Gelat chuckled over buying, and that finally cast a wheel on the Valldemossa road one day, when I was taking Lucie in to Palma.
All through the mountains there had been a drought for six or seven weeks, so the autumn colours were not as bright as they might have been, and we saw several forest fires in the distance. The afternoon we got down to my father’s place, a fire started on the mountain above his house. It was far up, and didn’t look like much, but it burned for two and a half days (it was finally put out by an all-night rain) and the fire-wardens couldn’t seem to get it under control. It was impossible to get much water up to it, so their system was to rake a broad path all around the fire and set backfires in the leaves and underbrush. But the fire kept breaking through as the wind changed, and one night it got within fifty yards of some houses down in the valley. It was a wonderful sight, like Christmas trees and fireworks combined. You could get quite close to the fire without any danger, as there was no wind then and it wasn’t moving fast; we walked into the woods past the backfires to watch a big dead tree burning. When the fire was all over it had done surprisingly little apparent damage, mostly underbrush and dead trees - from a distance you couldn’t even tell where it had been.
Another adventure we had was nearly stepping on a couple making love in the woods at half past eleven in the morning! Kelton (the mountaineer who looks after my father’s place) and Julie and I were plodding up the trail to the Bat Caves when we practically stumbled over them, they were right in the path. And we weren’t stealing along like Indians, either. Everyone pretended not to see anybody else, though it was a little difficult under the circumstances. Kelton didn’t say anything but he was very much shocked. And our last adventure was when, just as we were starting north again, we came on the scene of a bad motor smash. A car just ahead of us, going fast around a curve, had gone right off the road into a rocky river-bed twenty feet below. I was sure the man in the car had been killed, and was beginning to feel sick at the thought of what he would look like. We could see the car, with the top and front hopelessly smashed in - it must have turned completely over. But just as I started to climb down the bank we saw that another man had got there ahead of us and was guiding the victim to shore. The victim was unscathed, grinning from ear to ear, and drunk as a lord. This was at half past nine in the morning!
I have been asked to report two dreams that I had In Deyá and they certainly come in nicely on behalf of my theory that dreams can often be complete as against James’ theory that they can never be complete. The first is based on John’s remark to Laura about the ‘oddness - perhaps wedding presents’ of some of the things in my flat. It made a discussion between us about taste, the nature of it and so on. So I dreamed that John and I and some woman (it wasn’t clear who) were ‘staying’ at Canellun. Staying is in quotes because this was a social visit—a sort of house party. Laura was making daily programmes for us. Then we were all having dinner together and I was eating something which gave me a good deal of pleasure. Suddenly John rose from the table (with an impatient gesture) and took Laura aside. “I can’t eat in the same room,” I heard him whisper, and they both looked at me—Laura with compassionate, John with outraged horror. Laura beckoned me into the hall. “I do feel sad about this,” she assured me, “you know how fond I am of you, but you see I have known John so much longer than I’ve known you, and I must consider him first. Would you mind terribly eating in the kitchen?” So I did. And Robert - the perfect host - carried in my plate and fork.
The other dream came after Mary, Gordon and I had been amusing ourselves by inventing a song beginning “who’d be a fly on a fly paper? Oh what a sticky end!” It appeared that I had opened a general store in the village. Alpargatas, sardines, butter, hats, soap and de todo. My first customer was a fly. He was very small, and somehow I knew the moment he entered that he had absolutely no idea that he was a fly. And I sold him a fly-paper. I could hardly wait to get to Canellun. I was so amused. “You see,” I explained, “He didn’t know he was a fly, but I did, and I sold him a flypaper. That’s salesmanship.” And we all laughed merrily.
But I had an odd dream experience here in London only a few nights ago. I dreamt that I was in Oberammergau during the Passion Play and that during one performance the theatre caught on fire. Burning props began to fall down on the players and there was a lot of screaming. And in the middle of it all came Gordon looking for a telephone. When I begged him to get out of the way he said, “It can’t hurt me. It would be all right if I could find a telephone.”
The next morning I found that headline news included a big fire in Soho. Gordon told me that he had been having dinner in a restaurant opposite - “it was so near it was like looking at a play.” “And what did you do?” I asked. “I went straight to the telephone and rang up the news editor.”
So I think that was rather an uncanny dream. I have never had one in the least like it before. Actually, of course, I had it several hours after the fire had been put out.
Since my return from Deyá my life has been rather enclosed and not unpleasant. Julian and I are beginning to take a really respectful interest in each other. I am weaning him now, and the more independent of me he becomes, the pleasanter. An important addition to the family circle is the dog Sam. Bam, who has already lost one ear, is a present from the nurse Joan; he is very dirty, and no wonder, since it is absolutely necessary for him to be on the edge of the pram all day and on the edge of the cot all night.
Julian’s speeches are getting frequent and slightly intelligent. There seems to be an American film interest, though. His favourite remark is “Hotchah”.
I have taken up knitting. It happened because of being invited to have coffee with some really boring •people who talked for two hours about very important things in an arrogant and unimportant way. I went home feeling rather angry and wondering whether it was possible to safeguard oneself against that sort of thing. Of course, in most cases it is possible just not to know the people, but in this case it was not possible. The only thing seemed to be knitting. I have often noticed that the activity of knitting seems to give one an air of polite dignity which everyone accepts. The knitter need not necessarily be ‘there’. It is quite enough for her to look up every now and then with a smile. So Joan taught me, and a white cardigan is now on the way. Knitting is a funny business. I am starting off by being good at it, but I know I am going to be bad at any moment. It is so disappointing to find that there are actually only two stitches. I thought there were millions. Bo long as these stitches remain a little difficult I shall get on well, but the moment they come easily I shall get bored and find myself incapable of concentrating on the directions. But it is better to have a new sleeve at the end of a dull evening than to feel angry.
I am having some excitement over a lovely cottage in Essex. Village •people live in it now; it will need two new windows and a bathroom, and with those things it would be the house that I was always sure existed. A garden, with three sapling firs and a lawn. A shed for Julian’s playroom. A wash-house. It is on the edge of a green and the thatch is in excellent repair. It now only remains to be seen whether a building society will advance the money for buying. The negotiating is taking some time and making plans about my return to Deyá uncertain. In any case this flat is let from next January, so that does set a limit to the far-offness of Deyá.
The hastening years fall slow
And we too pause -
Anxious the years, because
An end makes dead,
But calmer we, we know
That all the private years remain unsped.
Die with the public years,
0 monster joy!
That by the Christian toy
And deathless tree
Hath chased thy human tears
Like drops of chance and too repeatedly.
Be pale, thou annual ghost!
Whose Christmas heir
We are in hiding care
From death’s prompt eye.
Ours is a humbler boast -
We frolic less, not fearing soon to die.
Against the Mass of Christ -
When bleats the world
In manger-family curled -
This more coherent tryst,
Not altogether heedless of the date.
Fenwick Ho is beyond monosyllables: Basil is staying here and has heard a lot of imitations of her. There was a meeting at the Town Hall we went to, where a chap was giving an account of a bicycle tour through Nazi Germany. Fenwick Ho as usual sent a note on pale magenta paper with a phoenix crest and the address printed in silver asking if she might sit with us at the meeting. As always she got up to ask a question, and quite soon Basil broke down and said “Why didn’t you warn me? Why didn’t you warn me that she was exactly like the imitations?” That is one of her charms. She also has feminine charm, very strong for one in the sunset of life, which she exploited on Jack, a very vivacious not-woman-disposed Cambridge boy, who does sporadic scenario writing and fills in with acting (mostly touring companies of course) for a living. Fenwick Ho seized on him as if he was the most influential person connected with the stage she had ever met. She asked him to be her agent first for a murder mystery play: there was a lot about “Now don’t misunderstand me: I don’t say it’s a work of art (though José Collins said the dialogue was very terse): but I do think it would be a financial success, and I wouldn’t say that if it was only my opinion, but several very prominent people of the stage in London and New York etc., etc.” Anyhow she gave Jack the M. B. and we had it aloud, and it was a sort of `Young England’ version of a murder mystery. She had said that the first time she read it to an audience several of them guessed the murderer, “so I rewrote it, putting in a new murderer: next time, two people guessed, so I made a new murderer: next time no one guessed at all, so you see he’s very well hidden.” When we read it, it was nice to find that there was absolutely no motive for any of the several murders, insufficient evidence to show that any of them were murders at all (as none of the corpses showed any trace of the cause of death; but every character behaved in a way suspicious enough to warrant arrest even if no one had known that any murder was sup-posed to have been committed.) The whole story of Fenwick Ho is too long: Jack said how much he liked the play, and she started telling
him about a musical comedy written for José Collins (or someone younger •preferably), with a heroine called Lady May Blossom, with a passionate Gipsy Foil (José Collins), a hero, the young inventor of the bicycle. (The action takes place almost entirely at dawn during May 1837 in pink light, and you get the contrast with between the pink of the light and the May blossom and the violent touch of RED supplied by the rose between the Gipsy’s teeth.) Disraeli comes in, and sings a song to the portrait of the newly crowned queen: this during a May day Ball in some grand house. Jack immediately suggested George Arliss for Disraeli, and there was an hysterical discussion on whether George Arliss could sing, and whether Disraeli wouldn’t be too young for G.A. at that time. Jack kept covering his face with his hands, and making bursting sounds trying to control himself. The very next day, Jack and Lucie going for a walk met Fenwick. Ho who was brimful of an idea that had come to her in the night, of a panorama of the History of the World (Film of course) from prehistoric times - beast against beast - man against beast —through history man against man - the last war, the threat of the next war, and the appearance of a Blonde Leader (The Prince of Wales thinly disguised as the ‘Prince of the Western Isles’) who is acknowledged by the world as a kind of communist King. Now that Jack’s back in London we can’t enjoy Fenwick Ho so much: she is friendly but doesn’t get the same inspiration, luckily really. It’s nearly worn me out, writing about her.
I hope Exhibition will be next March. Lucie is half against having one so soon. It’s quite true what she says that unless I have a complete collection of things of some sort, such as would need to be shown all together, the exhibition thing is a kind of mania. I only realized after she talked about it what it means when quite ‘uninterested people say “When are you going to have a one man show?” It’s just that to be given a ‘one man show’ is a kind of achievement which gives you some prestige, and reflects on those who know you. But there is the fact that some pictures (a lot of mine) are much better seen as part of my (for instance) production, than as odd pieces among other odd pieces: and this must be especially so if my line is not well enough known for them to be recognized as part of it.
We began Hester Stanhope, but are sandwiching in a very enjoyable folly called Bella Donna, by Robert Hitchens. Have you ever read any? They are very long books about rather funny people who begin in English society and usually end up in Morocco. In this case it’s Egypt: a noble young man marries a middle-aged belle who has spent a very wicked life and has been spurned by society. I must quote the end of a chapter, soon after he has taken her to Egypt (where his life work is, symbolically, reclaiming desert land) and she has already found an attractive Greco-Egyptian: “The purpose of God, was it not very plain before him? He thought now that it was. What he had to do was to restore this woman’s confidence in the goodness that exists, by having a firm faith in the goodness existing in her, by not letting that faith be shaken as he had let it be shaken that day. He hated himself for having wounded her, and as he hated himself his strong arms closed more firmly round her, trying to communicate physically to her the resolution he was forming.
And the Nubian sailors went on singing.
To him that night they sang of God.
To her they sang of Mahmoud Baroudi.”
Reading through previous Focuses, I find two or three places where hopes have been too confidently expressed. For instance, Paloni the donkey has not once so far taken us in the cart to the sea, though the road was duly mended. Laura has been too busy and I prefer going on foot. And though the collapsible boat, brought out by Honor and Gordon, was all one could wish a boat to be, I was not able to use it. Because it needed a boat-house to keep the sun from rotting the fabric, and all the boat-houses at the Cala were occupied by fishing boats; and though we got permission from the local landlord to put a roof on a convenient disused shed a few yards from the beach, the matter had apparently to be referred to the War Ministry at Madrid, which meant that by the time permission had been granted (there being a sudden war-and-spy scare on) there would (to quote the concluding lines in the Bible) be no more Bea, but the Throne of God and the Lamb etc. Bo the boat had to be sold, at a loss of course. But I had had plenty of fun thinking about what fun it would be. And then, again, the hope that we would have plenty of water for the garden this year has been temporarily disappointed. Why, is so long and complicated a story that until it ends, as it may shortly, in a crushing victory for Gelat it is best to leave it untold.
Still, it has been a good summer and set-backs have been few. The Posada turned out better even than we expected by the time we had put in a sort of bath-room and eight or nine new windows complete with shutters, and walled off a little kitchen and tiled a few necessary places, and mended the roof and replastered all the rooms, and put the garden to rights and found suitable furniture and pictures. Solomon has turned out an unbelievably good dog in every way, and because of him nobody has dared to rob our melons. But extremely conservative: one hot day I started back home from the Cala in my bathing-dress with my clothes in a basket, and he refused to come with me until I had dressed. The grafts of the fruit-trees all took, except one pear-tree. The other day some vines were also grafted - in a rather odd way. The vine-expert cut a sort of little bud from the side of the vine-shoot he had brought with him, put it in his mouth, cut a notch in the vine close to the roots, removing the earth, took the bud out of his mouth and slipped it into the notch, tied it up with bass, heaped the earth over.
Then we have had an ice-chest with ice every day. And Gelat has bought a really comfortable car and the roads are being tarred between Deyá and Palma (the Deyá-Sóller stretch was done last year). And then there has been the Sala but I think Laura is telling about that.
Because of the Sala I decided that I really must learn to dance; and Laura, who had said that I would never learn because my tendency to hop in a Morris-dancing way was unconquerable, now says that there is hope. My apprenticeship to dancing was inaugurated with an evening dance on the deposito, with pine-apple ice cream, cakes and sandwiches and other party refreshments and japanese lanterns among the trees. There was what Laura called a twinkling mixture of old and young people. At the feast of San Juan I won a wrist-watch in a raffle - the first time I have ever won any sort of lottery in my life. It was number 333 and I knew at once that it was the right one, because it was one of the few dates that stick in my head - the battle of Issus: if it had been the date of the South Bea Bubble I should have had the same feeling about it. I lost it, of course, in a few weeks. Instead Laura bought me a real gold watch and chain and I have felt a perfect gentleman ever since. It is a gold watch of the old school, thin, quiet, and opening with a spring. Ban Juan was also memorable for a nice drunken youth who at twelve o’clock out-side Margarita’s café complained that the foreigners had nuts, and all the nut-shops in the village were shut. Margarita said sharply: “Those aren’t foreigners, they’re English.” Then he said to Karl, who had some nuts, “I’m from the Continent: I come from Garros’ in the Province of Murcia.” (As a matter of fact he was a Sóller boy.) Karl said, “What does that matter to me?” And he replied cheerfully: “Or to me either, because I’m not there.”
The Medora gave me an old Mallorquin yellow-linen waistcoat with 19 pewter buttons, and Gelat and Laura together a cherrywood and cowskin armchair. Presents of a solid sort like that are nice, you feel immediately you’ve had them a long time.
Books I have been reading include Apuleius’s Discourse on Magic and the sequel to Old Soldiers Never Die which Frank Richards has sent me in manuscript but hasn’t yet a title, about pre-War barrack-room life in England and India and Burmah. Each book contains a favourite quotation. Apuleius: “I have now stated why, in my opinion, there is nothing in common between magicians and fishes.” Richards: “What would shock a soldier would cause a packman to drop his pack.”
A great deal of jams and jellies. Damson jam, yellow plum jam, blackberry jelly. There are no red currants here, but we found that a splendid substitute for red currant jelly, for mutton, is blackberry jelly made of unripe blackberries. It has that sharpness. As for pickles - our green tomato pickle this season contained at least the following ingredients: apples, green pimiento, mint, marjoram, lemon-verbena, rosemary, lemon-rind, samphire, sultanas, chutney-powder, pepper, mace, cinnamon, garlic, brown •sugar, white sugar, salt, ginger, garlic, mustard, onions, wine-vinegar and the green tomatoes themselves.
I had a very vivid dream on the twenty-first anniversary of the World War (not that the War had anything to do with it): I was in the gas-lit hall of a respectable-disreputable house in l900-ish Lon-don studying a faded print over the front door which was called “In the Gay Old Days”. The legend underneath was: “The D—e of W—r celebrates his Coming of Age in the Company of 10,000 Ladies of the Town.” The D—e of W—r was a long-faced fair-haired young man in old-fashioned evening dress, staring greedily forward with an ecstatic grin at something on an (invisible) stage. His elbows were planted on his knees and around him and above him were vast numbers of 1860-ish girls with doll-faces and wasp-waists also staring down at the stage. Does anyone know the house or the picture? You reach it through a lot of long, rainy, tortuous streets full of ranks of hansom-cabs and four-wheelers, and it is at the back of the theatrical district—so someone, I think George Robey, told me. But then George Robey was under the impression that I was George Graves.
Conversation (not dreamed) at the Alhambra between three Englishmen, who mistook me for a Spaniard, I think.
1st. E. “We heard Miss Kelly making some pretty severe remarks about you this morning.”
2nd. E. “What, me?”
3rd. E. “Yes, she said you tried to rape, her last night.”
2nd. E. “O much exaggerated, and anyhow she made it quite clear weeks ago that there was nothing doing.”
1st. E. (pacifically). “Yes, of course. The worst of it is, you can never tell with a nursing-sister how far you can go.”
Historical note. Deyá for a great many years had exactly 999 in-habitants: which was not odd because whereas one more birth would have put the village up into a higher category for taxation, local pride would have been hurt if the population had sunk below that of rival villages most of which were also stationary at 999.
I had an urgent telegram from an Italian publisher who is publishing a translation of I, Claudius: “Unable publish Claudio translations unless we are autorized to remove abuses against the Empress Livia.” Apparently an ancestress of Mussolini’s.
After the bull-fight in which Belmonte got tossed we saw another with Jaime Noain, Pepe Gallardo and Fernando Dominguez. There was a preliminary procession of Misses in cars around the arena and three bands; but bad bulls. Noain’s first one was so weak that the President forgave it the banderillos. Gallardo’s first was cowardly, would not face the picadors and took about forty minutes to kill. (Pitos and gritos.) The remainder were better, but, though the matadors were hard-working and went through all the motions, there was no sort of animation until Dominguez’s second bull, in the half-dark, earned applause for a capable picador (rare) and then got Dominguez down and stuck a horn clean through the fleshy part of his calf. Dominguez lay like dead on his face until they got the bull away, but then jumped up and limped angrily after the bull. His cuadrilla tried to dissuade him but he would have his revenge. He killed at the first lunge. They hurried him off to the hospital, and brought him the ears there later as a consolation.
When the really hot weather came I stopped writing poems and concentrated on routine-jobs, like helping Richards to get his book in order and doing my share of the translation of neighbour Schwarz’s Memoirs which we hope to publish in our Spring list. There is a rough English translation which we had made by a Swiss woman in Palma to keeps us on the rails. From it the following nature note is culled:
The owl with the silky rustling wings
Cannot ogle sharply in the twilight.
The tobacco Monopolia have just turned out a tasty cigarette of their own called Americanos. American model, cellophaned, mild and probably purer than the contraband they are intended to discourage. The price is two pesetas for the 20-packet. And there is also a still cheaper American-model kind now, very smokable, besides some new quite good Spanish varieties.
I went to Sóller the other day wearing my green baize waist-coat with the old English silver buttons. A natty young English man and woman were discussing the bringing up of children. “They can’t begin to specialise too early. I would immediately begin teaching my daughter to dance or sing - like Shirley Temple, you know.” They saw me. “Typical German,” they said at my waistcoat.
I had never in my life bought a modern oil-painting. Fortified by Laura’s example in buying a picture of Hobby-horses at the Pollensa Festival from Joan Junyer, I bought his Devil-dancers of Mon-tuiri. Both are lovely and worthy. He is stone deaf, a very nice person and is giving an Exhibition at Tooth’s next year.
At Christmas people now rejoice
No more at God’s but at their own command.
Feasting, they honour feasting
With dishes good and choice.
Giving, they celebrate the generous hand:
And if they hear the church-bells ring
Somewhat more often than befits their sense
Of personal occasion,
And carol-singers sing,
They think it old and quaint but no offence.
Shall you and I be festive too,
Fire the accustomed log to spite the weather,
And then draw up our chairs
And, as the neighbours do,
Enjoy our separate Christmases together?
Or shall we find in common fewness
Something to celebrate with better reason
Than manifold division,
And see by this mind’s newness
General rejoicing once again in season?
A long time ago I had an idea about a book to be called “Likes” or “Of Others”: that we, a given ‘we’, should write about various people we liked (in history or literature or anywhere) from what we knew of them. Not necessarily famous people, but not necessarily unfamous - I wrote an introduction to explain the kind of people and the kind of liking. Gradually quite a lot of “Likes” accumulated, and we have all thought that the most spontaneously genuine of them would fit nicely into a special Christmas number: because there will after all be no such book—it was after all ‘difficult to find both the irresistible subject and the simple enough emotion. The given ‘we’ who were to make the book were assumed to be in general agreement about general things. But, I said, “No matter how perfect the community of thought, there is bound to be only a vague community of feeling. If we try to have a methodic community of feeling as well as of thought we grow pious.” In order to avoid growing pious we must allow ourselves and one another a generous margin of emotional carelessness. “Put clown, without critical justification, the people you like, and what you like them for rather than why you like them.” Not to mind about being ‘wrong’. Such carelessness “is the condition of the mind before it begins to think, and also after it has stopped thinking. And if, when one thinks, one succeeds in being specifically right, one is bound to be, when one is not thinking, vaguely right. One speaks differently when the mind is relaxed, and perhaps foolishly; but it is worth the risk of seeming foolish, or even of being foolish, to be able to trust oneself without imposing on oneself all the mental safeguards by which one does not merely trust, but is sure of, one’s decisions...
“I like a gracious bearing. It is curious that there must be some swagger if it is to be a gracious bearing; but so it is.” And so I encouraged them to swagger their likes. “It is much the same as with clothes. You choose the clothes you like and wearing what you feel to be nice clothes, it is inevitable that you should swagger a little. If your nakedness is good it is your prerogative to cover it with nice clothes and circulate in the world with a confident, self-respecting bearing - such is graciousness. If your mind is good it is your prerogative to cover it with pleasant emotions and, in your conversational promenades, to like freely this one and that one without resorting to the naked labour of the mind.”
And again: “And so we like, and not with the mind but with our-selves. We exercise our persons, behave like social beings. We are social anti-social beings - in that we do not like everybody. We are social beings because, although we belong to a community of thought which is not society, we also exist outside that community: we are not exiles. We exist in society because we exist where we please, by the right of our having discretion. And society is divided, for us, into society—the world which has not enough logic to be a community, the too large world - and those whom we like in this world: people who nearly achieved logic, people whom we do not quite pass by in the streets of the world, but meet and seem to know. In the true, logical community everyone knows everyone else. We belong to this community, at least by the wish to belong. Surely there are, there have been, others who at least wished? People at any rate who were not satisfied merely to pass and be passed? People who, at least, walking down the streets of the world, have a familiar lock and a free bearing, of whom we say, after they have passed, ‘There goes someone who might have been a friend.’
Then something about the danger of making friends too impulsively, Then: “And who is there to be liked - to be liked merely? Is it not more difficult to find people to like than people who can be more than liked?... I suppose it would have been the same if it had been a question of going somewhere for a holiday: where, after all, can we go - wouldn’t the idea disintegrate into distasteful anticipations of clammy hotel bedrooms and milk-and-water beauties of nature?”
Then about my difficulties in persuading the various contributors to take the liking risk. And then: “The problem of liking is really part of the problem of reading. Reading can’t be all thoughtful reading; some of it must be merely intelligent reading. There’s what you can think about - true reading; and there’s what you can’t quite think about but read all the same—what you like; and there’s what’s utterly unthinkable - the unreadable. Where you leave off thinking the intelligent latitudes may begin. It is as necessary to have latitudes as it is to have principles - if only to emphasize for yourself the difference between sympathy and community. It is important to occupy yourself with what is not quite the best —if only to prove to yourself that you are not the bigot of your principles but a free agent.” And finally I came to discuss the nature of a ‘like’: “First, there will be something about the person that justifies us in not having taken him into our minds, and then there will be something that justifies us in taking him into our feelings. First of all he will be, irrevocably, a stranger. Then there will be something else about him, a crazy sort of purity that makes him, in his own setting, something of an outsider: not really too good, perhaps, for his setting, but at any rate so like what you might have been (you think) had you had to be he that you feel grateful to the fellow for doing your job so well.
“Going over the names, we make a start by agreeing that there can be no question of liking Napoleon. It could not possibly have happened to any of us to have had to be Napoleon - not only not to us, but to anyone at all: no one ever really had to be Napoleon. We pause over Jean-Jacques Rousseau. No, he doesn’t bear liking: If you pause over him you at once begin thinking about him and when you begin thinking about him you at once do not like him. You know you don’t like him because it’s humiliating to think of him. He is, in fact, one of the most dislikable fellows who was ever tossed up by the ironic necessity which decrees that, if there must be people, there must be all kinds of people. You don’t mind the natural man. There are certain physical functions the sum of which makes the natural man, and if people like to think of themselves synthetico-physically they are welcome to themselves. But when they prove the sum man to be the same as the sum animal and by the force of the analogy consider themselves entitled to commit nuisances, and then go on to prove that the privilege to commit nuisances is a sacred human right because man is not an animal – why, then you fall into the state of mind that produces (if it is not shaken off quickly enough) Conservatives, Upper Classes, Elder Generations, Ladies and Gentlemen, Luxury Liners with merely adequate (not boringly beautiful), third-class accommodations, and, in fact, all those institutions which, however justifiable, it is better to leave to people less sensitive than ourselves to maintain. For perhaps we should fulfil our roles badly, in our fury and humiliation that the cheap excitability of some people necessitated the expensive dullness of others...
“You like, for the most part, people who worked hard and went only as far as they could without becoming fools. You don’t like fools, or behaviour which was merely fantastic. You like behaviour which seems fantastic only if you can see a reason for it which comes from inside the person - behaviour which is not socially provoked, not vulgarly insane. You like people who were really absorbed in what they did, so absorbed that it was from their point of view perfectly natural. It all probably amounts to this: that you like honesty. Honesty is, of course, a futile virtue - the lowest of the virtues. But it’s somewhere to begin. To say that someone is honest always means that there’s a great deal missing. Honesty is the self-protective admission that he is only what he is. We like people who are only what they are, as we more than like people who do more than articulate - however honestly - their limitations.
“I, personally, like dozens of people. For example, I like King George V, because he’s just what a modern king ought to be. I like him better, really, than the Prince of Wales, because the Prince of Wales is not so British, far less the model private gentleman than you expect a representative member of the British Royal House to be, far too much of a good fellow. King George is friendly, as modest as a king can be, and never a good fellow. King Edward was a good fellow not in his grandson’s aesthetical way but in a hard, calculating, self-indulgent way that necessarily implies a love of French institutions I realize that much of King George’s monarchical excellence he owes to the advice Queen Mary gives him; but this is the custom of praise, to give credit to the conduct rather than to the advice from which it derives - especially when the advice is a woman’s. I can’t bring myself to talk about Queen Victoria as a monarch: she was something more than a monarch - a principle. One does not like a principle; one accepts it. I accept her profoundly, as one does a grand-mother, and not a mother or a father. She does, indeed, strongly resemble my maternal grandmother. ‘She died just six days after I was born.
“Then, I like Elinor Glyn.’ I like her for discovering ‘It’, and that cats have it. My cat Alice has it. Male cats do not have it; this is something that Elinor Glyn did not discover. Then, also, I think Elinor Glyn writes very nicely. I am absolutely sincere in this. Open a book of hers, and you get a pleasant shock: every sentence is quite a good sentence. And it’s all so restrained, considering the emotions with which she deals; everything is nearly at boiling-point, but instead of letting it reach boiling-point she makes it cool down. She makes really cool books. And, best of all, none of her characters have ‘It’: as if it were blasphemous to try to create it. As she herself says, you either have ‘It’ or you haven’t. It may be that after she has finished with her characters they will discover it in themselves, but that is something we shall never know. Even if they discover that they have `It’ before the end of the book, she does not permit them the vulgarity of displaying ‘It’. For besides being a cool writer, Elinor Glyn is one of those rare people who really have the courage to write books which are not at any point, or in any respect, vulgar. Indeed, I can’t think of another writer with equal courage.”
And then a few more examples; but it wasn’t my object to list my own likes. What I wanted was to tempt the others to a diversion which would seem to be as easy as talking, but which actually proved, for some, more difficult than writing. Here are a few of the happier results.
William Tecumseh Sherman
Of all the Civil War soldiers, Sherman is the only one I really like. All the others – except Grant – have some kind of heroics about them; Lee and Btonew0J1 Jackson and even Jeb Stuart were the praying type of soldier, and I have never liked that kind. And there is something horrifying about Grant’s quiet whisky-drinking mediocrity hoisted up into command over a war-machine so enormous that it didn’t matter how many lives he threw away, since he was
bound to wear Lee down in the end.
Sherman had a strong sense of responsibility and a dread of being put in an independently responsible position. He reminds me of the man with one talent in the parable - I have always had great sympathy with that man. Sherman never wanted to go to war in the first place; he thought the whole thing was a great mistake, and he was contemptuous of the smoke-screen of heroics that covered the real action. I like his considering battles a showy waste of time. He was very much annoyed when he had to fight, because he knew that the important thing in his job was marching and digging and keeping up his communications and constantly putting the enemy in one untenable position after another. He was a modern soldier, as opposed to an officer and a gentleman’: he was completely unsentimental about war. His business-like devastations offended the South more than the bloodiest victories of other Northern generals.
I don’t know whether he lived to see the gilded statue of himself in New York’s Plaza, with its Angel of Victory waving a palm in front of him. If he did, I dare say he quite liked it - it probably fitted in with all the post-war chicken dinners he got fond of speaking at.
G. A. Henty
Almost the first books I was really entranced by were G. A.
Henty’s. They seemed quite long and rather old-fashioned, but their length and the fact that they were ‘supposedly historical romances gave me the snobbish feeling that I was reading grown-up history. Henty’s heroes were always exactly the same person, so that you always knew where you were: it was like going safely but excitingly around the world with a trusted companion. And at the same time there was something a little unsettling about Henty: in the books about the American Revolution or the Civil War the hero was always on the wrong side. .I believed in them so completely while I was reading them that it was only afterwards I considered this difficulty and felt uncomfortable about it. It didn’t occur to me for years that the reason Henty took the wrong side was that he was an English-man. And by this time the seed of doubt had begun to grow: I was no longer quite so sure which was the wrong side.
Somehow, there was always a new Henty to be had. The apparently inexhaustible number of Hentys made me think of books as being without end. I don’t know anything about Henty himself, but I always thought of him as having a beard and looking something like Homer in steel-rimmed spectacles.
In the time of Charles II John Kelsey, a Puritan preacher, went to Constantinople ‘upon no less a design than that of converting the Grand Signor.’ He preached at the corner of one of the streets there with great vehemence, but as he spoke in English the crowds merely stared at him and had not the faintest idea what he was talking about. After a time they decided that he must be mad and carried him off to an asylum where he remained for six months. One of the asylum keepers happened to hear him use the word ‘English’, and presently Lord Winchelsea, who was Ambassador to the Porte, was informed. He sent for John Kelsey, who appeared before him in a very torn and dirty broad-brimmed Puritan hat which he could not by any means be persuaded to take off; not could he be persuaded to speak. Lord Winchelsea had him bastinadoed on the soles of his feet. Kelsey then consented to speak, but would not say much. Lord Winchelsea had his pockets searched and found a letter addressed to the Grand Signor, in English, to the effect that John Kelsey was a scourge in the hand of God to chastise the wicked, and that God had sent him to Constantinople not only to denounce unbelief but to exact vengeance. Lord Winchelsea put Kelsey on a ship bound for England, but he managed to escape in the course of the voyage and return to Constantinople, where he resumed his preaching. Lord Winchelsea put him on board another ship, in chains this time, and succeeded in getting him to England. What happened to him there I don’t know, but I have no doubt that he tried to get back to Constantinople again.
Mary Tofts of Godalming
She was only a poor country girl but she made fools of the entire British medical profession. Her story was that as she was walking through a meadow by the banks of the Wey she met a buck rabbit and had a sudden desire for him. A few months later she gave birth to a litter of rabbits. She went on, for some time after, giving birth to rabbits with, as I have said, the interest and approval of the most learned doctors of her day. The men of Godalming are not proud of Mary Tofts. In fact, the greatest insult you can give a Godalming man is to call him a rabbit. I disliked Godalming people almost without exception when I was living there and so I have always felt particularly friendly to Mary Tofts.
He was one of the young artists whom Lorenzo de Medici pa-tronized at Florence. Among the others was Michael Angelo. Michael Angelo was always bantering and tormenting his fellow students. Torrigiano couldn’t stand it. One day he gave Michael Angelo so violent a punch on the nose that “I felt the bones and cartilage crunch under my hand as if they had been thin biscuit; and thus bearing my mark will Michael Angelo remain all the days of his life.” Michael Angelo must have been an extremely irritating young man and I like Torrigiano for having punched his nose hard. Lorenzo was so shocked at this affront to his most hard-working and promising student that Torrigiano had to leave Florence. He became a soldier and fought as an ensign in the Papal army. He won great distinction at the battle of Garigliano. When he found that he was not going to be given the rank of captain, which he had hoped for and deserved, he left the army and returned to sculpture. He went to England; he was in favour at the Court of Henry VIII. The noble bronze monument to Henry VII in Westminster Abbey is by him and so is that of the Countess of Richmond. Torrigiano asked Benvenuto Cellini to go with him to England, but Cellini refused on the extraordinary ground that he would not go to England with the man who had smashed Michael Angelo’s nose, he having such a worship for Michael Angelo’s work. A poor excuse: obviously Cellini was afraid of Torrigiano. He describes him as having “a magnificent figure and a most audacious deportment; he had the look of a huge trooper rather than that of a sculptor, more especially when one saw his violent gestures and heard his resounding voice; he had a way of knitting his brow in a way to frighten whoever beheld him and was forever discoursing of his deeds of bravery.” Cellini was also always discoursing of his own deeds of bravery. I think the truth must have been that Torrigiano put Cellini in his place. Torrigiano does not seem to have broken any noses in England, though he afterwards talked of having “ruffled it among those beasts of Englishmen.” I like to think of him at the Court of Henry VIII in the company of Hans Holbein, John Skelton and the King. It is very seldom that four people one can really like are found together. There was also young Sir Thomas Wyatt; and, perhaps Cornysch was another good one. But at least there were four. Torrigiano in 1518 signed another contract, to make a monument for Henry VIII like the one he had made for Henry VII, but he apparently grew tired of England and went to Spain, working at Seville. There he was engaged by the Duke of Arcos to execute a Madonna and Child. The Duke made him so many fine promises that Torrigiano believed himself about to be enriched for ever. When the work was finished the Duke played a shabby trick. He sent two men to Torrigiano’s house with large sacks full of money; which quite delighted Torrigiano until he showed one of the coins to a Florentine friend and asked him its value in Italian money. His friend said that these coins called maravedis were practically worthless and that the whole lot was not worth thirty Florentine ducats. Torrigiano went straight to the statue and broke it to pieces. The Duke put him in prison on a charge of sacrilege and had him daily examined by the Inquisitors. Torrigiano starved himself to death.
General James Wolfe
I like General Wolfe because I have always remembered a reproduction in a history-book of an eighteenth-century portrait of him in which he appears as a superior, elegant and sensible man; there are signs, if I remember rightly, that a considerable engagement is being fought in the background, which Wolfe has the air of having produced, but forgotten. He wrote to his mother: “I reckon it a very great misfortune to this country that I, your son, who have, I know, but a very moderate capacity and some degree of diligence above the ordinary run, should be thought, as I generally am, one of the best officers of my rank in the service.” This is probably the only true thing that a famous man ever said to his mother.
W. A. Mozart
I like Mozart because he wrote tunes. Most of his tunes are the same tune in the sense that each says all he had to say; so there is no chronological ‘development’, although people tell us there is because they think that a good composer ought to develop in order to flatter their notions of progress. He said the same with the flute at the age of twenty as he said with the orchestra at the age of thirty - namely, Tunes. Beethoven also wrote tunes but he did not say Tunes, he said Thoughts. Beethoven says: “You ought to be thinking when you are listening.” ‘Mozart says: “You can think but keep it for another time.”
I like Hals because he painted people - nice people in nice surroundings; but pre-eminently people. Rembrandt painted models: his paintings are educational, hazy with chiaroscuro and the dignity of old age. His models have a wondering look. Rembrandt translates their wondering into an expression of suffering humanity; really they are wondering how much they are going to be paid for the sitting. Vermeer was an artist; he also painted models - models of dullness, glazed Memorials to the artist’s refinement and technique. His models have a tired look; they are tired of standing. They blow their noses when the artist is not looking; if they smile, that is also when the artist is not looking. He painted from a mirror for reasons of technique and because he did not like looking at people. Hals was not an artist and he did not paint models. His people smile from a sense of humour, drink from a sense of well-being, wear good clothes from a sense of prosperity. Hals has no desire to paint fine feelings into his sitters and no art to freeze out of them all the feelings they have; he is pleased to accept and record their feelings as he sees them.
Henri Rousseau is of a class of people distinguished by being specially available for conversation. Being mentionable is a social virtue which has nothing to do with more considerable and less precarious virtues. Shakespeare possesses it graciously, like an Arctic explorer doing match-tricks for the children at home. Picasso possesses it in much the same way, only with more condescension, as if not indifferent to its effect. Without it, Manley Hopkins and Proust and Stravinsky would be easier to criticize; John Clare and Sir Thomas Browne less easy to overestimate; Poe more quickly forgotten. Henri Rousseau, like Clare, owes his reputation to being easy to talk about; but unlike Clare’s, Rousseau’s reputation is not Rousseau. Rousseau has an attractiveness outside his reputation. He painted because painting seemed to him a sort of civilized vice, as Red Indians and black Africans learn to drink whisky and feel pleased with themselves for being able to achieve the conqueror’s depravity. The people in Rousseau’s pictures are all hideous and mostly imbecile. He is a Tarzan of modern painting; had he succeeded in learning a sophistic-ated technique he would have become the sort of dull pathetic creature that Tarzan became when he taught himself to read and write and put on European clothes. As it is he exercises a subtle, comic, self-absorbed fascination, like a village shopkeeper teasing wickedly at a window-display, hoping to make it irresistible in its vileness.
Handel enjoyed all the forms of large-scale, public emotion and was not above doing so. His music is an authorized version of the established sentiments. When he felt noble he said so, with) all the stops out; when he felt melancholy, he said melancholy, with the full eloquence of the minor. He was always serious, because he had a real sense of glory - real because the world was secure, He was a very convinced composer: the security of the world emerged, as it were, from Handel’s conviction. He believed in God in so far as God was an established sentiment; he believed in Nature in the same way. But he also knew that God and Nature believed in him, in so far as they had made him an excellent composer. He knew publicly that he was an excellent composer. Handel was convinced, but never complacent. The nineteenth-century church composers with whom the musical practice of the Church of England popularly associated Handel achieved only the complacency which Handel missed and which comes from an illusion of security. They doubted God and Nature because they knew privately that they were not excellent composers. They had no liking for public emotion, being gentlemen and pusillanimous, but they simulated a liking for it out of respect for Handel’s reputation and because they hoped that in some way the public could make them what God and Nature had not made them.
“The Vicar of Wakefield” was the first book for grown-ups that I read. I have always liked reading stories of misfortune, and, as Dr. Primrose’s misfortunes were told in the first person, I believed them to be true. I also believed that Oliver Goldsmith was Dr. Primrose, a belief which I know now to be fairly near the truth.
Goldsmith was a thoroughly successful idler. He very soon learned that it was no use trying to handle life; so he allowed life to handle him. I like him for his lack of discipline, his belief that the present worthless moment is more important than the next or the last and for being just as bad a liar as he was a good spendthrift. For instance, when Goldsmith wanted his mother to give him some money with which she was reluctant to part, he told her that he had just booked a passage to America, sent his valuable belongings on board, missed the ship and forgotten its name. I like Goldsmith for being so defeat-conscious that even his lies were doomed - by himself - to wretchedness.
Vagabonds have been greatly over-written, and glorified out of all proportion to their merits. Yet Goldsmith is to me not the literary vagabond. He had none of the romantic dimness of a story-book vagrant; and plenty of vivid, specific charm. He was in turn patron and patronised. He lied and cheated badly, and was generous with the careless indifference of a man who has little knowledge of, or interest in, the value of money. He worked as little as he could, loafed as much as he could, and spent as much as he had. In everything but the writing of one novel, two plays and one poem, he was completely incompetent; and he was quite unworried about his incompetence.
I like him for being so uncertain a person. Each year hundreds of people go to look at the grave in the Temple which has his name upon it. It is rather nice that nobody is certain that Oliver Goldsmith lies underneath it.
(As she appears on the stage or screen.) Her entry into any scene is a kind of interruption whatever the dramatic situation is - her own trivial private affairs become more important. It is as though somebody who was not meant to be in the play had got on to the stage by mistake, looking for something they had forgotten. The same effect is produced in real life by the type of person she portrays. Whenever such a person appears anywhere among other people she is so engrossed with some detail of her own personal affairs that her attitude to the world is that of somebody in an enquiry office in which all other human beings form the staff. Her penetrating voice almost makes people think this is so, for every one looks round when she speaks. This is what I feel is really her function in spite of any parts she has been or may be cast for. Muriel, Aked plays this part so well on the stage that she makes the rest of the cast appear just stage, and herself a real character. This makes her a disruptive influence, like the Marx brothers, rather spoiling the illusion of the play.
Lived with us as a tweeny maid for about ten years, now she comes to work when there is extra charring wanted at my Cambridge home. She always brings a present in a large bag, generally something she has had to buy, such as a bunch of tulips, and there is always something missing after she has gone, such as a pot of marmalade.
She is the only writer I know of stories about animals which have the same feelings as I have about them. By dressing them up as humans and giving them semi-human activities and motives she emphasizes their authentic animal characters, making cat more cat, fox more fox, duck more duck. She has a sensuous, not sentimental appreciation of such things as cat’s paws, and her drawings have just the same attitude as the stories.
Sir John Mandeville, Knight
I like Sir John Mandeville, Knight, first for the things I do not know about him. I do not know -whether he wrote his “Voiage and Travaile” with the intention of making people believe that he had taken such journeys or because he wanted to make an interesting book. Probably a few people do, by this time, know a lot about him. But I do not and I do not want to, for the pleasure of reading him is an absolutely simple one and thinking about a ‘writer’ always makes mysteries.
I like Sir John Mandeville, Knight, secondly because there was no such person, and this gives me the impression that his book comes out of nowhere. There was quite possibly, in Liege at the end of the fourteenth century, a physician named “Messire Jean de Mandeville, Chevalier Comte de Montfort Perouse”. But even he could not have been Sir John Mandeville, Knight.
I like Sir John thirdly because, though little of his book was true, he had a very good idea of what a travel book should be. He did not try to teach his readers but merely told stories about the customs, life and appearance of people who differed in their customs, life and appearance from the people for whom he was writing. The important thing was to give the feeling of difference, by no matter what means. He was far from being illiterate: he was a scholar and knew about all sorts of things. And, if he fooled people, he did it in a way which improved the quality of foolishness. And it was all right because they wanted to be fooled.
Fanny Burney’s father was a fashionable music master and in the evening his drawing-room was full of celebrities. Fanny’s role on these occasions should have been one of complete modesty and humility. And so, to outward appearances, it was. But inwardly she was making up her mind all the time about the people she met. At first her critical faculties were used almost too much for mockery. In her early book “Evelina” one sees how merciless hypocrisy could make her. In “Cecilia”, a better and nicer book, though not so easy to read, she was less wilfully shrewd about her characters, more understanding. Fanny Burney was not a great writer but she was a determined and compelling woman.
In 1782 Fanny Burney was made Junior Keeper of the Robes. A few years later she married a French refugee, General d’Arblay. At this time her writing began to grow a trifle conceited. When I say that I like Fanny Burney I do not include Madame d’Arblay.
I shall begin with James, who is a very nice person. In the olden times I should perhaps have said that he’s much much nicer than I am; but I’m supposed to think better of myself now than I used to. Well, James is good. Of course, one doesn’t talk at breakfast. He sleeps in the spare bedroom of Ca’n Torrent and I think we are getting on very nicely together. I think everybody who would have the pleasure to see us at breakfast would be fully convinced about that. At nine o’clock, when our nice Maria has laid the table with an uncountable number of clean plates, destined by her to some mysterious purpose, knocking about the table, I rap at James’ door. Persistently, until a feeble and husky voice assures me that its owner is awake. With grim perseverance I have to repeat this process after a quarter of an hour until finally Phoenix appears, rubbing with unsteady hands the ash out of his eyes. After scowling gently at each other we continue our silence until the steaming tea slowly, slowly awakens our yawning spirits. Of course one doesn’t talk at breakfast, and now I’m nicely messed up. How the dickens am I to get from the Ca’n Torrent breakfast table to the sandy shores of Ibiza? Because there I went, shortly after the appearance of Focus No. III; and I should have begun with it, certainly, but as I said, James is so much nicer an event—a fact in which everybody who knows both, Ibiza and James, will agree with me. I have only dim memories left about German emigrants, forbidden homemade gin of 47%, heart-burning stuff, and about little boys who were obviously forbidden to use the lavatories, as far as these latter existed. Because in the old fortifications there was no cozy corner unoccupied by said young representatives of homo sapiens: squatted among the blowing capers with the expression of grim determination on their sweating brows. I was very glad when, after a stay of some ten days, I was able to leave all this for what it was good, which wasn’t much, because the few nice things I saw there I carried with me. A pair of old gold ear-rings, a white oldish fan, and an old Ibicencan linen blouse, with blousy sleeves and charming bits of embroidery on collar, shoulders and cuffs. Things that I had bought for Laura; trembling, of fear she mightn’t like them at all. But as often, also this time I had more luck than intellect, so to speak, and all turned out to be really very nice.
There were lots of work to do, all the time, since in June Honor and Gordon and Mary left. And the work flows uninterruptedly on to my writing-table in form of MSS to be changed by me in due time into nice, clean typescripts. Seizin Press is going strong: my Underwood can witness. In spite of all the nice warm weather we had during this blessed summer: after the chaps left I didn’t go much to bathe.
Talking about typewriter: there was a funny letter I wrote to the manufacturers of Camel cigarettes. One evening I told Laura and Robert that I had found a very good slogan for these people: See the world through the smoke of a Camel. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Bo I thought I might just as well write to them, what I accordingly did. As nice and American as I could imagine. It was a funny letter. Only just now I got their answer, saying: “Get a lift with a Camel, and we thank you ever so much, and we had that same idea a long, time ago, and we didn’t consider it worthy enough, and, take a Camel, they don’t take your wind.” Bad. I had hoped for a nice little cheque in American dollars...
Also there were lots of going into Palma to our printer. I had to go there again and again and again and again and we didn’t make each other very happy. He tried to make an ally out of me to ridicule Laura’s severeness about her orders, which I didn’t like at all and told her; Laura told him, well, and since then we look at each other with mutual suspicion. I still remember his look when I discovered that he had got the wrong paper; and printed half of James’ poems on it. Nobody could maintain that this was a look of love - au controleur, as somebody I used to know used to say.
There was a raving disease in Canellun. Called ‘Sixty-six’, which is a German card game introduced by me to Laura and Robert. We all got very much infected by it and poor Robert was seized by it with particular force. There passed no evening without our paying tributes to the changeable goddess of fortune. This practice ceased when James came.
And there were lots of German things, as disturbing letters, nice white stockings, knitted by an old aunt of mine, an elaborate raincoat with a complicated system of ventilation in the most unexpected spots of the garment. And some more things German, as at the evening when we went to Herr Schwarz for supper and Strenge came out with turkey and German brezels, German cheese and German rollmops. Patriotism also goes through the stomach. I oughtn’t to forget all the sauerkraut a la maison, that I had every time we went to Palma and had lunch at Lena’s bar.
And then lots of Mallorquin things: the sala. The Tagesgespraech of Deyá. That is the new café at Gelat’s, with a painted stage by me. With flower garlands, fruit baskets, the coats-of-arms of Deyá and Spain and the colours of the Republica and Catalunya. It was quite a success and everybody liked it, and so did I. And when we’re sitting there in the evenings, and I see the pictures Gelat gave to the sala, which an Austrian painter had pawned to him because he wasn’t able to pay his rent, then I can’t help to throw from time to time a loving look at my work of art, and then I must think: ‘Yes, we artists?
Not to forget the things English: there are the difficulties with this language of ‘languages. James made me terrible bottle and th conscious with the effect that by now I can’t say either of them without blushing and tying knots into my poor, poor tongue.
And then there were some nice festive evenings. For instance the supper Laura gave for Gelat’s daughter and son-in-law who went back to their home in France. There we drunk champagne already before the guests came and we climbed in rather elevated spirits into the bus that brought us to the Hotel Costa d’Or. There, chicken, waiters, and everything vanished into a sort of laughing, rosy haze; suddenly finding ourselves back at Canellun, playing siete-y-medio.
And then there is that poor story of mine Which Robert once advised me to use when the need came. The need is here. .I was only a few weeks in Mallorca; coming back from Sóller I got a lift in a mule cart. I sat next to the driver, a taciturn shrivelled old man who kept staring discontentedly at the buttocks of his tiny black mule. Until suddenly he took an enormous pair of scissors out of his pocket, seized the miserable mule’s miserable tail and cut it off, just where the fleshy part begins. Then he threw the poor remainders on the road, put his scissors away and kept staring, now smiling contentedly, at the black mule’s behinds. That’s all.
I feel that the year must have ended about September 17. That date represents the last entry in my diary; but I hope no one will misunderstand my feeling about the date when the year ended as a crude subjectivism. Even, I may be subjective at times in my methods; but only where something must be done quickly and I am able to use myself, for the occasion, as typical in the required respect. Subjective, then, I may be at times, but surely not crude. Only once in my life have I been accused of being crude: by a Frenchwoman here who was shocked by the way I held some oranges in my lap —cleft skirtlap, knees spread, giving the oranges a fundamental centrality in the skirty entourage of me. I caught her look and said, in the to-me broad confidence of the moment, “I had an aunt who used to sit ‘like that sometimes - she has since gone mad. She was very romantic about herself, too. A powerful woman - a powerful way to sit, isn’t it?” That is, I went on saying things like that with nervous appealingness, feeling helplessly mad and powerful myself be-cause the position had by now grown hypnotically unchangeable; while the Frenchwoman stared at me as if I were a picture at an exhibition. Finally she said, in the thinly honest tone in which people say things at exhibitions - exhibitions bring out an unnatural, calculated honesty in people, more dishonest than the most calculated dishonesty - “I think it an extremely vulgar position.”
Think it over for yourselves: the year ended about September 17. Did we not then begin drawing up round our several sober fires, so that everything that has happened since has been, somehow, familiar reading-matter? We know so well about it all - not only about the war in Abyssinia, and the Elections, but about one another, and ourselves. I don’t mean that we have reached, merely, a boringly mature habit of knowledge. On the contrary: it is reaching the first age of liberation from time. Having tumbled on so long with only an occasional smoothing out of skirt or mind to show that we know which is right side up, we are for a spell enjoying sitting tight and awfully quiet - permanently right side up. In the new year we shall continue to be permanently right side up but we shall move about more. That’s something to look forward to: being on, the move and right side up. I hope this doesn’t sound too wilful-optimistic: I’m not gloating, only working out, by the fatalistic method of elimination, the inevitable next universal mood. It’s nice, I think, to know roughly what we’re slipping into. We’ll none of us ever be anything but rather awkwardly what we are - no danger of our becoming so glibly self-analytical as to turn into the unreal correct answer to our over-expert conjectures. There’s any amount of still startling - and embarrassing —self left to defeat our eternally rudimentary knowledge of ourselves.
And so, my dears, or at any rate, my nears, it was rather difficult for me to strike the old focal note and pile on the progressive localistic detail. I’ve just torn up the strange result (there was rather a lot of it): very confronting and methodically devoted remarks about each of you. Good, in a pure, footloose way, but pathetically focal-nudist (probably) as practical intimacies. James was sweet about it when he read it, and said a gentle nothing, but I felt the room squirm subtly around me. I had, you see, discussed his eyes in terms of rabbits; and mentioned his neck as to ticklishness (which I learned about when I tried one evening to massage his headache away), blurring over the merry physical picture with gloomy literature about the Meaning of Ticklishness. Then there was a sort of Epilogue passage about the general shame of having the label ‘poet’ attached to one because of all the rancid Shelleyan contexts, and what a pity: a word we ought to be able to use irreproachably among ourselves at least —about James, for instance, meaning a pure-gold tinkle to the metal of the man. You can tell by this sorry jocularity what sticky stuff it was.
Poor Robert was poignantly disappointed when I tore it up because of the complimentary remarks on himself: an appreciation of the way he had resisted the temptation to sentimentalize Deyá and buckled himself to live in it literally. A temptation all the more difficult to resist because of the absoluteness with which I construe Deyá: for a relative-minded chap like Robert someone else’s absoluteness, at close quarters, exerts unfair solicitation to romantic equivalents. What I mean is that Robert has found decent rational equivalents. That’s why I don’t object when he makes comparisons with Wales - I do generally object to geographical sisterhoods. Speaking of geography makes me think of two lines from Blake’s America —we have begun going through The Poets here in search of poems. I can’t quote them exactly, but the idea is that if the Atlantic had overwhelmed that alien continent earth would have lost another portion of the infinite. I like the suggestion that America is not a portion proper of earth but a portion of the infinite.
The piece about Karl was somewhat less sticky, describing how I came to the conclusion that Karl is the makings of a professional humourist. Reading Wodehouse aloud to one another effected this illumination, and having, immediately after, Karl’s Focus contribution. Wodehouse is wonderful, and very post-humorous; but perhaps Karl is poster. Ineptitude in Wodehouse becomes an acquired grace; but I think Karl could make it something more fundamental than grace. Wodehouse’s characters have real troubles but are not articulately worried - hence the ineptitude; James agrees that Karl’s characters must have no real troubles but be nevertheless articulately worried - hence the more fundamental ineptitude. The important thing is a break down the Aristophanic tradition of vigorous ineptitude - to carry Wodehouse’s good work to an intellectual conclusion. Aristophanes was intellectual, Wodehouse is emotional, and Karl will be intellectual: Aristophanes outlawed the ridiculous in defining it, Wodehouse was the first really to domesticate it again, Karl will now solemnize the repatriated ridiculous. And so on. You can see from this gruesome synopsis the sort of essay on humour you have been spared. Anyway, the living result is the thing to keep in mind: that Karl seriously means to write a funny book. We all had a talk to-night about the grist of it: the setting is Palma, and some of you may recognize some of the characters. And the whole thing somehow means that Karl will never leave us. I couldn’t bear for Karl to leave us: there’s no one quite like Karl for me when the ‘heaven is a lonely place’ feeling comes over me. For then I seek out Karl and mention it, and he gives me the sour-angel look and says ‘Yes, isn’t it!’ Which draws the desired curtain over the unofficial moment.
And then I went on to Honor, and John, and Lucie, and Gordon, and Julie, and Tom. I don’t think anyone would have minded in the unconventional abstract - because it was all very complimentary reading. But in the conventional actuality of December 1935 you would all probably have thought, ever so kindly, that the ways of Laura were obscure. It is, in fact, more for my own sake than for yours that I have suppressed it: this legendary tendency about me keeps cropping up, and it saddens - when it doesn’t anger. James said about the suppressed document that what was perhaps wrong with it was that there was nothing about me in it to make me blush along with the others. The trouble with hearing nice things about yourself is not, really, that your modesty is caused to squirm, but that there are very few remarks that can be made about you at any distance that don’t have a shabby ring when they reach you. Certainly most of the remarks about myself that reach me make me squirm for the reason of the dismal distance, and the shabbiness; a lot of them fall into the ‘legendary’ category - what could be shabbier? On the whole people keep a pretty dismal distance from me - but, as one says when one is ill and has cheerfully externalized the illness - I’m fine in myself: I keep up my spirit by telling myself the sort of thing about myself that does not make me squirm. And perhaps that’s what each of us does, and perhaps we had better continue to keep the close remark thus quaintly reserved not only to our own ears but to our own mouths. The only pity is that we are in this way perpetually dying intestate - because among the close remarks there must surely be some bequeathable ones about other people; and there is also the pity of perpetually leaving ourselves out of our wills.
All of which has got stickier than I meant - but the question of liking (or loving - I don’t think there’s any need to make this distinction unless one is dealing in large numbers, which one doesn’t, practically) is, really, not so unfocal as all that. Some day we ought to do something about it, within Focus bounds, and not suppress it. It would probably be even better discipline for me than for any one else - I mean if the fond remarks to be faced were not dismally distant - because more and more I make the blanket assumption with every person I have to do with that he or she does not really like me. This assumption doesn’t affect my liking people - in fact it gives me greater independence in my affections than otherwise; and naturally by not liking I mean something negative rather than positive. But it would probably do me a lot of good one day to face the fact of being precisely liked - as perhaps, indeed, I am here and there: a forced rest from the up-to-now more or less vacationless job of liking others.
The Christmas poems: it started from some neat and ugly folders James got with photographs in them. They looked postal, and we thought of Christmas uses. But it’s very difficult to write a poem that is only a Christmas use, so we here print rather than personally prof-fer as was originally intended.
Majorcan letter: turned down as too long by the Kilham Roberts-Lehmann anthology for which, last year, we made an exception to• our rule against anthologies - they wanted us to cut but we refused.
Cats: the jungle is now thinning but up to a few days ago there were seven, and they seemed to multiply at meal-times. The effect has been: Canellun as a clearing amidst space-harassed cats - cut spot-light on the blinking pile. Solomon: he gets more story-book, as dogs should - more picture-of-a-dog than dog-immediate. This picturehood of him makes it reasonable that he should sometimes lie abed with me at breakfast hour, taking turns with Alice; but with Alice it’s diagram not picture - less lavishly reasonable.
Norman (who is Norman Cameron) and I are writing to each other again: Norman was of Deyá until three years ago, and then he went away, and there was a silence, but always all that time there was a warm lurch in me whenever his name happened to come up. Norman, you see, is the private reference in my Flowering Urn poem, in the lines:
Must fill the empty matrix of
The never-begotten perfect son
Who never could be born.
And he may be doing some work for Epilogue: by way of filling the empty matrix.
From a letter from James, some time before he came here: “We went to Boston in Lincolnshire, where the old mayor climbed the Belfry tower in Jean Ingelow’s poem. They charged me 6d. for doing the same thing; but I must say it brought the sense of crisis in the poem home to me. It was obviously the sort of thing which even a hardy old man would do only in an emergency; it has one of those interminable circular staircases where you think of literature hard so as not to think about the stairs. There is some lovely flat country round the Wash. We came to a bridge over the South Holland Drain where there were some yokels looking very amused at a party of toilers in a near-by field; the yokels told my mother that the toilers were gold-diggers from Broadway; they thought this was tremendously funny and my mother asked what they were digging for. They said they were ‘digging up the Romans’ but they didn’t reckon they’d find much there except hard work. The yokels seemed to be rather opposed to archaeology but at the same time rather superior about having the Romans buried all round them.”
From a letter from John, about how the chap who ‘did the Life of the Dead engravings met a representative of an American book-deluxe society - the representative “was doing the American film business of pulling cigars out of his breast pocket for everyone: he met one person too many and out came his fountain pen.”
And: “We’re having a dreary time with the owner of the farm next door. It’s full of pigs, which means fleas if great cafe isn’t taken, and we’ve been getting the fleas for a long time. I was driven to writ-ing to the sanitary inspector, who came and inspected and wrote Mr. Gee a letter. Mr. Gee immediately went cold and hard and we haven’t heard the end of it yet: if he has to clean the yard I’ll bet he’ll find some legal trick for giving us some trouble.”
From a summer letter from Lucie: “It is such a lovely after-noon, so I am sitting on what I call my paradise in long grass and a strong wind is blowing those silver lights on trees and grass. Things are coming into bloom in the garden now and some very exciting and decent things appearing. There is a lovely very sweet smelling rose, old-fashioned and to the arterial road minded eye I dare say ugly, but for us it is just the rose to grow near the house, it has that nice formation of a rosette and a green centre (my pen is too thick to draw) and a smell that takes you right back to some nice childhood thing.
“Trippet is great with kittens again, and I reckon at this rate she will have five families a year. She has not grown into a nice cat, there is •only a fortnight out of every two-and-a-half months when she is nice, but somehow she manages to be very claiming all the time she is being horrible.”
From a letter from Honor: “I found this in an old notebook:
The bug and the purple-headed flea
Were walking hand in hand.
The bug had got his breeches on,
His countenance was bland.
They walked through fields of barley-oats,
O’er hills and over cats,
On railways bridges and on moats,
And shot at running bats.
Alas, a great big firefly came -
And to the bug he crept along
And quickly set his coat aflame
And oh! the fire was hot and strong. The poor exasperated flea
Soon got a cabbage leaf to see
If she could quench the flame - no use.
And nor was spit or orange juice.
So when the bug was dead by fire T
The flea she bought a grave on hire.
Upon this grave a stone was raised
So that all who passed could see.
And on it purple letters blazed
Here lies a bug who loved a flea.
Enquiries dragged from my father the coy admission that the notebook had belonged to him during his first term at his prep. school.”
In the same letter Honor called to mind the long-standing school rhyme:
The bug and the flea
Went out to sea
To fight the Spanish Armada.
The flea was drowned
And the bug was found
Eating a raw banana.
An older version of this has a somewhat richer last line:
In the pants of a dirty old sailor.
James sent a nice schoolboy poem some time ago, given him by a Headmaster - to whom the copyright on behalf of the boy belongs. The poem was written by a boy of nine - evidently rather precocious because he was three of four years younger than the rest of the class. They had been reading Drayton’s Agincourt poem and the boy came up afterwards and asked whether a poem might not also be written about Crecy; the teacher said he didn’t see why it shouldn’t; and next morning the boy produced the poem.
Right gory and messy
Was that battle of Crecy
Where Edward the Black
Made the foeman go back,
Made, with hack, cut, and slash,
Of false Frenchmen a hash.
So, Frenchmen, take warning,
No part of it scorning,
For there were slain Frenchmen,
Varlets and henchmen, Marquises, Dukes,
Johns, Marks, and Lukes.
So gory and messy
Was that battle of Crecy!
James also sent a poem by a boy in one of his classes:
I SAW THEM ALL
I saw them all,
I saw Byron, Lord Byron
Calm, as he wrote with his feather-like pen
The man of the nation - the nation of men.
I saw them all,
I saw Nelson, Lord Nelson,
Still as he sat, with his hand on his knee
Calmly regarding his birthright the sea.
I saw them all;
I saw Dickens, Charles Dickens,
His Oliver Twist and Micawber were there
He slowly came forward and offered a chair.
I saw them all,
I saw Gladstone and Gordon,
Gordon the soldier - Gladstone for state
Destined for England by fortune and fate.
One is naturally struck by the absence of women from this doughty All. There are two possibilities: completing the poem with some female tags, or treating the absence-of as significant. I’m afraid I chose this latter poor bitter course: you may as well have it:
I saw them all,
I saw writers and fighters
And men whose strong wills or high notions or rank
For all our loyal boasts we have proudly to thank.
I saw them all,
I saw women, and women,
All standing by with mysterious grace,
Each with a mad, female look on her face.
I saw them all,
The men, and the women,
The men all so English, the women so queer -
A woman’s no Englishman, why is she here?
Len wrote quite a long time ago: “I’m sleepy and well and may not say now anything crisp. After many nights of working late painting film it’s finished and pleased and loafing. Its spiteful gusty weather and the town is clamping down on Whitsun and as Lawrence might say I’m mentally barefeet about the weather of it all.
“Apart from this thing I’ve just done is the only thing I’ve ever had the result that it faintly pleases me, this new film. It was made in 5 days is a simple toy to me is simply controlled time pattern far more than I had hoped it would be. I’m afraid only that it caused me no trouble and is slight not exacting throe, correct but happy go lucky alive stuff for the mind to see simple colour outline of about seven different flowers translated into music and pattern time. All who have seen corrobate it’s something to mention anyway definite film notch. Simply means I can get near what I want without camera and expense. 1 could tell you about it anyway if I thought about it but I can see I’m tired of it already to talk about and would rather make a better something or other. Think how nice an apple must clean teeth judging how my mouth feels now after cigs all day. Anyway it was mentioned this was going to be a letter of mooching. How is dirty if not clean Robert with blue things. I think coffee would be the thing if Jane was home to make it, no I Yes was just thinking how nice it is to satisfy your mind with a piece of work. First time I’ve ever done it. It’s all right for you there do so often. Me it’s always had to be thoughts mainly instinctive never anything tangible for myself got near it at last by stinking christmas I’m pleased now I come to think of it jesus wept yes. Anyway I’m sleepy, only had a gin and lime yesterday very good drink plenty of lime plenty of soda water, must utilise another soon.
“Good idea in the distance in the anytime is a piece of Deyá. I know how awkward it is writing about movement stuff for me, so as to more I’m never sure and won’t promise I only do things for pleasure or even if not pleasure and hard work don’t do it unless it has not got to be done. This is perhaps sounding awkward so stop before you have the analysis of words. All the treats.”
And then later during the summer: “How are you then. Dogs and cats only mean cutting up meat to me. Sea horses are the only chance. Horses are good to look at for the sculptor’s eye so pets horses in fish bowls and fish in paddocks so for practicability dogs and cats: are best then. It was good to see you in the image was that peter that Gellat had at his knee. We’re at the wharf here for six weeks: its riverfront with hot water in each tap and goodness gracious a hot bath on one hand and a river flotsam swim on the other. A canoe in which you sit in water up to the buttocks until completely paralysed with a chill on the liver and then hot baths are definitely the thing for summer. This old wharf place has been altered by the new dwellers. It’s so different from barge time but sentimentally it smacks the same really. The girl made pots, so they said. I made wooden trees painting over the grain here for dolls once just before they took it dormant and painted it and it was Bernstein who paid for the hire of the camera in those day.”
And about work: “I’ll never attempt my own stuff my personal stuff my pure stuff for any commercial market. Just enough for me occasional splashes of musical pleasure in films treated smarter than the smart technicians treat them now until that gets me a complete camera and lights outfit to forget it for my own stuff. These colour pleasures I’m doing now are simply a forcing of doing a film without a camera and they appeal fortunately to commercial people.”
Further things: two new servants, more Canellunian than any yet: Catalina and Margarita. They are both Mallorquin; Catalina is the cook - tall and broad and thin, and nervous in the right way, varying a lot around a good-heart nucleus. Margarita is younger and has been to France - she is one for flowers and cushions. There were several changes before these stabilized. The funniest was a cook from Málaga - who brought me her favourite Spanish poems, would I like to translate them into English. Also, she yearned to help me undress at night. I got her through Mr. Short: he had told her that we were Saints. But it was she who was the saintly one.
Yes, the Sala is a nice thing, very big and like a bit of old Granada fitted up for clean modern use. I was afraid at first that it would not have a taste, like the other two Deyá cafés, but the taste came soon - a sort of suave mixture of all the tastes café-lingering has, good wide-awake sleepiness. As to Robert’s dancing: h’m’m. The trouble is that he braces up to it as if it were a situation; and dancing must be quite situationless. As a situation it can involve so little that when you force it to involve something the result stumbles with inadequacies - meaning, all the pathetic emotions get involved.
And Gelat. It’s been wearing to see his face oldening itself through these centuries of water-troubles: all the accurate reflecting folds turning into accidents of experience. Now it’s better again, but the feeling of relived centuries was pretty solemn all that time. But a great lesson in how to behave when you are treated badly - not to take it angrily or cheerfully but just gravely.
Then, I did some good things about the garden not so long ago, with a careful book from Barcelona. Robert executed the new seedbed and the bed for the tulips John sent; and soon we’ll be putting in a lot of alfalfa bushes; and any day now the mill wheel tables will be placed. Gelat is taking care of the fruit-trees part of it. This garden business is always a trouble, not for the work of it but for getting the right sensible tone. The tone about garden-doings is always surprising sensible - but so self-conscious sensible that it never seems to match the garden fact. The difficulty is, I think: what age are you when you deal with gardens? For there is certainly a definite age-flavour about garden interest. And the age is probably that state of mind of sensible triviality which might be called earth-old babyhood: earth remains a baby, no matter how old we get, but the baby grows sensible along with us - remaining, nevertheless, baby. Let’s leave this subject.
The only dream I can remember for reporting is my last one. I bought some land. The agreement was, I was to have the flowers, but the original proprietor all the tree things. The theme-song idea was: “You take the flowers, and I’ll keep the trees.” But it worked out painfully, for every time I went to pick flowers the refrain kept running through my head and made me so sad about it all that I never did any picking... We had a period of popular songs. Here’s one of mine:
You don’t have to say what you mean.
I know very well what you mean.
For you mean that you love me!
And what else could you mean?
By varying the third line - what you mean - you can get all sorts of serviceable effects.
A few nights ago I wore my queen dress - to Strenge’s and Schwarz’s, for hot punch. When you put on a queen dress without being, historically speaking, a queen, the result is that you feel like a historical wanton. And so it turned out that there was a not-sewn up place in front, and naturally I couldn’t resist showing what it led under to, which was two quite pretty thighs. And everybody looked, including me: it made a surprise for us all... Herr Schwarz brought me a handsome ring from Madrid - 18th century silver-gilt setting for emerald matrix, queenly for the finger that points.
Maisie hasn’t written for a long time. John Cullen hasn’t written for a still longer time. The photographs that Ward Hutchinson took of me and Robert haven’t yet come. (Dorothy and Ward Hutchinson came to be met at Deyá. He is very knowing about photographs and may turn out to be knowing about poems; and both very fresh and friendly.) Ortega got a nasty horning in the thigh, down into the knee, and for a time it looked like the end of the book. But Ortega is an ‘is’ not a `was’; and that reassurance makes one feel a glow of permanency about a lot of other things. It doesn’t matter now so much when he leaves off: the point is, for all the permanent ones to clinch the permanency with a simultaneous clinch and for each to stop clinching when it’s clinched not history-horned.