Wednesday, October 21, 2020

482. A Birthday Gift from Charles Shannon & A Further Present (2)

This blog is a continuation of last week's contribution, and, again written by John Aplin.

Charles Ricketts, binding for Gordon Bottomley's
Poems of Thirty Years (1925)

A Further Present

Quite aside from generating the unexpected and much treasured birthday gift, 1924 also brought together the materials for an important retrospective collection of Bottomley’s poetry, a medium which by this time he had largely abandoned in favour of plays. It also saw a culminating moment in his relationship with both Ricketts and Shannon, for Poems of Thirty Years was the last of his books for which Ricketts designed a cover, whilst also including as a frontispiece a drawing by Shannon of the author specially undertaken in August 1924. 

Although intended for publication in 1924, the book was delayed until the beginning of 1925 because of the time taken by Emery Walker to prepare the photographic reproduction of Shannon's drawing. As Bottomley told his friends, Robert and Elisabeth Trevelyan (to whom he dedicated the volume), 'The book has been held up and has missed the Christmas market because nice old Emery Walker has been taking his dear delightful time over engraving Shannon's portrait (which was, however, worth waiting for); so the book cannot be out until the end of the Winter, and I half killed myself over the proofs for nothing' (12 December 1924, British Library Add MS 88957/1/90).

Charles Shannon, portrait of Gordon Bottomley (drawing),
frontispiece in Gordon Bottomley, Poems of Thirty Years (1925)

It is characteristic of Bottomley's close friendship with the two artists that both refused payment for their work (as Ricketts had similarly made a gift of the covers for each of the three previous volumes he had designed for him). Nonetheless, Shannon had at first been reluctant to undertake the job, simply because he had lost confidence in his portrait skills. But having finally agreed to make an attempt before he and Ricketts set out for a trip to Italy, resulting in Bottomley hurrying down for an overnight stay in London to sit for him, Shannon concluded that the experiment had paid off.

Sep. 11 1924.

My dear Bottomley,
Thanks for your kind letter. I wont hear of your paying anything for the drawing. I enjoyed doing it and it was excellent practice for me. It means that I shall take up portrait drawings again now that I have broken the Ice. The net result it that I have had an excellent model with nothing to pay. […] Excuse this hasty note written late at night & feeling very sleepy. Remember me very kindly to your wife. I hope she will like the drawing. Even if she doesn't I will forgive her.
Yrs always | Charles Shannon 
(Shannon to Bottomley, 11 September 1924. British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.)

Two days later Shannon reinforced his pleasure in having undertaken the challenge. 

The drawing is finished mounted & framed. I will send it up by the good Nicholls tomorrow to Constables. […] I think perhaps the lines I have added to the mount might be too heavy for the reproduction so I will leave it to the photographer to do the best he can. It would also mean further reduction to get properly into your page & this might be a disadvantage. I do hope it will be successful. The pink paper ought not to matter. The collotype maker will require the drawing for reference then the firm can despatch it to you. The whole affair has been a great pleasure to me & made me realize I can still do drawings from the head even after years.
(Shannon to Bottomley, 13 September 1924. British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.)

That he had seriously doubted his own competence is once again reinforced when he wrote to Emily Bottomley three months later, shortly before the book was finally about to be published. 

It was most kind of you to send me that very appreciative letter regarding your husband's portrait. I am very glad indeed that you both like it. It makes me feel quite young again for I really doubted my ability to do a decent drawing again after all these years. 
(Shannon to Emily Bottomley, 14 December 1924, British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.)

And yet, perhaps his own initial reservations were not entirely misplaced, because a number of Bottomley's friends had some reservations about Shannon's representation, and wondered whether he had quite captured the personality of the man whom they knew. One of Bottomley's more recent acquaintances, Walford Graham Robertson, admired the drawing 'as a Shannon but it isn't my you. […] That is, in a way, rather nice, because perhaps my you is my private property. Shannon's you gives me a general impression of nose. In my you the eyes have it – and the brow, & the way that the nose joins on between the eyes.' (12 January 1925, British Library Add MS 88957/1/77.) 

William Rothenstein, portrait of Gordon Bottomley,
published in William Rothenstein, Twenty-Four Portraits. Second Series (1923)

Lady Alix Egerton had similar reservations: 'Has the hand of Shannon lost its cunning, or his eye that he should so cut off the back of your head, to match his own. Can he be pleased with it himself? Are you? Is E[mily]?' (12 February 1925, British Library Add MS 88957/1/43). And J.A. Fuller-Maitland, the former music critic of The Times observed that 'I love your dear face as Shannon sees it, though the eyes are not nearly good enough' (22 February 1925, British Library Add MS 88957/1/49). However, Bottomley himself was entirely satisfied, or at least claimed that he was. 'I don’t agree with you about the portrait' (he wrote to Joan Fletcher, the wife of his oldest friend, Ben Fletcher, head of the Birmingham School of Art), 'for there seems a sensitive veracity about it to us which was probably a more fundamental thing to go for than the picturesqueness which your dear friendly innocent heart desired' (17 February 1925, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle).

It would not be the first time, nor the last, that Bottomley's overwhelming admiration for both Ricketts and Shannon occasionally distorted the objectivity and clear judgment which he usually brought to bear on new work, whether by artists or his fellow writers. But in the case of his two idols he would become hyper-sensitive to criticisms about their work – perhaps more so than he ever was to judgments about his own – a sign, no doubt, of an admiration close to hero-worship.

The last word can be left to Shannon himself, who wrote in thanks for a copy of the published book, in his own way as happy as Bottomley himself that the three friends could be united in a single work.


March 26 1925

My dear Bottomley,
I think I should have behaved better if I had not been so busy trying to finish a picture of Bacchus but now that I have put it on one side as impossible to complete in time I feel quite happy. I like your book of poems very much indeed & enjoyed reading over again old favourites. Ricketts will have written to you fully on the subject and he speaks with authority on these matters as he does on all others relating to the Arts. It makes a splendid book & I am very pleased to be associated with it indirectly. Any poet might be proud of it for a life's work but I also know that you have a lot more besides of the same quality ready to follow on. Ricketts' binding I think one of the best he has done and I believe he thinks so too. […] 
(British Library Add MS 88957/1/82.)

Extracts from correspondence are used with thanks to Scirard Lancelyn Green, literary executor for Gordon Bottomley, and to Leone Sturge-Moore and Charmian O’Neil, joint literary executors for Charles Shannon.
                                                                                                        John Aplin