Wednesday, February 3, 2021

497. The Complete Correspondence of Gordon Bottomley and Thomas Sturge Moore (3)

The publication of The Complete Correspondence of Gordon Bottomley and Thomas Sturge Moore by Intelex PastMasters - see blogs 495 and 496provides new facts and trivia about the correspondents and their long-time friends Ricketts and Shannon. We can be grateful to John Aplin, the editor of these hundreds of letters, for publishing the complete letters and not just the tasty or sensational parts. I myself am amused by the clash between the two characters, but especially by the small glimpses into their daily world.

Gordon Bottomley

Photographer: Howard Coster, 1939


Witticism and criticism

Of the two bearded men, Bottomley is the wittiest. He (who sometimes signed his letters as Red Beard: 'Ahenobarb√© Bottomley') had a weakness for what children could say. From his friend Lascelles Abercrombie he heard an account, which he immediately passed on to Moore:

A NEW FACT IN THE SHAKESPEARE CONTROVERSY.
Abercrombie tells me this morning that his little boys are convinced, on the evidence of my beard, that I am the person who wrote Shakespeare. 
(Letter 246, 16 November 1917)

Bottomley enjoyed his friends and was also a family man (incidentally, Emily and Gordon Bottomley's marriage remained childless), very different from Ricketts who only maintained friendships. Sturge Moore writes about this:

Ricketts declares that relations were responsible for the failure of the generality of talents, and seems sometimes to advise a German ferocity in dealing with them but as the price paid must be to become a German perhaps he is wrong.
(Letter 129, 10 May 1915).

- and that while Ricketts's sister had moved to Germany. She had kept in touch with him, but he, as Paul Delaney noted, 'kept his distance'. She had died in 1903. 

Charles Shannon, 'The Wood Engraver' (portrait of Charles Ricketts)
Lithograph, 1894
[British Museum, London, museum number: 2019,7015.629]
(Creative Commons License)

Bottomley seems to have had an even temperament and was perhaps keen to enjoy life, as his lung disease forced him to spend much of his time in bed, half-incapacitated. Sturge Moore was torn between two traits: sensitivity and irritability. An example of the former can be found in letter 142 (22 September 1915):

I never really believe that those parts of the world which I cannot see are still there, and am always surprised to find them as the train carries me onward. That there should be people whom I do not know also slightly nettles me. I rise about these impressions by force of intellect but they subsist and surprise me with emotions that I believe my contemporaries rarely feel.

Their response to criticism was very different. After Moore completely rewrote the final scene of King Lear's Wife, one of Bottomley's plays (see also John Aplin's blog 476), the latter responded with silence, and then a delayed reply:

How could you risk my friendship by such a generous and unselfish act of friendship? I couldn't be as ungrateful and opinionated as that. There are superb things in your Lear scene. I am ashamed and horrified to see that I have had it nearly a fortnight and have not thanked you before.
(Letter 173, 8 April 1916).

He could not use the rewritten scene, but thanked for the unsolicited suggestion: 'even if I do not make Mrs. Lear better, I shall, by reason of what you have done to me, make my next work better' (letter 175, 28 April 1916).

The other way round was more intense. At first, Sturge Moore said he could use strong criticism, but when it came, he reacted in a huff.

If you can suggest how the first part can be shortened please do & please do not hesitate to make any suggestion that you think good, however radical or startling it may be, I can always reject it if I disagree, but I find as a rule the more startling suggestions are the more suggestive they are, the more they free the mind to take a new angle.
(Letter 209, about 7 December 1916).

I was a wee bit disappointed in your criticisms and had hoped for something more decided and precise
(Letter 211, 23 December 1916).

William Butler Yeats' advice was also 'wrong': 'Yeats['s] last suggestions were that the whole of the beginning should be left out', and Moore added: 'I do not quite think Yeats is right'. About Bottomley, Sturge Moore wrote: 'What a terribly uncontroversial person you are!' (Letter 232,probably 25 or 26 May 1917).

Sometimes Bottomley did hit back, subtly citing the example of Ricketts:

I lived too much alone at the time I was awakening; it was a good thing in contrast to what I escaped from, but its disadvantages have followed its advantages. It would have saved me ten years of dispersed effort if I had known you and Ricketts and Shannon when I was 20; and I should still have been reaping the advantage of that now - for, as it is, Ricketts is always considerate and superbly courteous to me like the great gentleman he is [...].
(Letter 277, 31 May 1918)

And he enjoyed the correspondence:

For you allow me to say what I think (except when you oblige me to do so)
[Letter 281, 15 July 1918].

Signs of friendship


Bottomley surrounded himself, mostly postally, with friends, who sometimes gave him grand gifts. 


Such a nice thing happened to me last week. Fuller-Maitland came to play the new piano to me. He walked through a rainstorm with a large parcel under his arm, which contained a large drawing by Simeon Solomon of Ophelia Drowned which he gave to me. He was so sweet about it.

(Letter 399, 8 July 1920).


Simeon Solomon, 'Ophelia' (pastel, 1887)
Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery, Carlisle


John Alexander Fuller Maitland (1856-1936), a near neighbour at Borwick Hall, near Carnforth since  1911, was a controversial and retired music critic of The Times. As the editor informs us: 'Simeon Solomon's pastel Ophelia (1887, signed "SS") forms part of the Bottomley bequest at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle.' A similar present awaited Bottomley in 1936. After his death, Fuller Maitland bequeathed his Kelmscott Press Chaucer edition to Bottomley, 'a sumptuous gift which came as a complete surprise.'


Still, Bottomley could not always stand his contemporaries, but then his criticism applied to the masses rather than the individual. Both Bottomley and Sturge Moore suffered from the fact that their poetic plays did not really catch on; the public demanded more realism. Bottomley complained:


The average Englishman seems to dislike rhythm & patterns & emphasis, & is unwilling that things should be done keenly & pushed home; compromise is the most powerful factor in the English handling of life, so that when Englishmen come to art (where compromise is fatal) they are unwilling to accept it with the keenness & vividness with which it comes to them: it was an Englishman who invented the phrase 'unobtrusive beauty', & beauty is never unobtrusive: in the Yorkshire town where I spent my dull childhood, 'noticeable' was always a word of condemnation, & beauty is always noticeable.

(Letter 147, 9 October 1915).