|Charles Shannon, 'T. Sturge Moore in a Cloak' (1896)
Your "Siegfried" engravings are [...] haunting; you have a power over the romance of primeval things which comes close to my own desires, and in this series it takes complete possession of me. I value them very truly, and I am planning to hang them side by side where I shall constantly see them.
(Letter 4, 31 July 1908).
|Charles Ricketts, 'Nimrod' (1893)
Meanwhile, one of their mutual friends is mentioned for the first time in letter 6 (16 August 1908). Bottomley discusses Charles Ricketts's drawing of Nimrod, which he mentions in connection with gestures that he himself tries to capture in words:
I long to depict in words such sudden, expressive gestures as the upthrust elbow of the awakened woman in Ingres' "Stratonice", the aversion of the woman's head in Rossetti's "Found" (the pen drawing), the filmy spasm that passes across the face of Nimrod in that tremendous early drawing by Ricketts (in the de Tabley book), or the surge of the horse in the last block of your own "Siegfried" series.
Bottomley and Sturge Moore discussed art and literature (including the works of Flaubert), but also theatre and music, such as Wagner's operas. Sturge Moore considered Hugo von Hofmannsthal 'the greatest poet now alive' (letter 11, 30 November 1908), he especially loved Elektra (at that time not yet a Strauss opera).
I think we shall see no man to come near him in our time, for he has that kind of universality in his nature which one recognises in only Shakespeare or Rembrandt.
Sturge Moore replied:
He could not work even as an artist on their scale because his perceptions are not richly varied enough are not so athletic. Such a scale is as impossible to him as their blunders, carelessness, or lapses into vulgarity would be. He comes for me nearer to Rossetti, Giorgione, He has their or Keats. He has their wonderfull [sic] and enchanting power of selecting and rehandling artistic material and is perhaps more successful and less limited than either. More successful than Rossetti less limited than Keats & Giorgione, though the chief limitation of both of these was possibly early death.
(Letter 76, 27 August 1912).
Of course Bottomley disagreed with him:
I feel that you are right in saying that my comparison of Ricketts with Rembrandt and Shakespeare will not hold good in matters of scale and taste; but, on the other hand, I am not content to class him with Keats, Rossetti and Giorgione at all points. For a chief characteristic of these men is a pungency (almost an aroma) of manner which makes their personal point of view the most prominent thing in their work – as if they looked at the world through a tinted window; while Ricketts has some thread of the impersonal individuality of the greatest men, seeing the world in a white light, as they do.
(Letter 78, 31 October 1912).
Ricketts was central to his art appreciation, and through Ricketts (and Yeats who they had met earlier), the Bottomleys became acquainted with many people, for example: Masefield, Lord Dunsany, Cippico, the Michael Fields, Pickford Waller ('in his house full of Conders and Shannons and Fantins and Rossettis').
For Bottomley, Oscar Wilde's work was also exceptionally relevant. Bottomley went through a crisis (probably both physically and mentally) around the time of Oscar Wilde's trial in 1895. (There seems to be a hint of homosexuality). In a later memoir he wrote about Wilde's work:
For he enchanted my youth: his light was the first glimmer of dawn for me: he first taught me to discern a pure and steadfast Beauty that was the greatest thing in life, and showed me how its essence could be expressed in word.
(Letter 35, 18-22 January 1910).
Bottomley also wrote a touching letter about his father and his high school days when he hated poetry and was hooked on Natural Science. Bottomley's letters are wittier than Sturge Moore's. On a photograph of his own house, Bottomley writes: 'You will see that our house is practically composed of a chimney and a vestibule' (letter 37, 4 March 1910), and about Halley's comet he remarks: 'I've crept out of bed several mornings before the birds, to look for the comet in the dusk, leaning out of the open windows to see more sky. But I have missed it so far; perhaps because the sky is always cloudy and stormy – and a nightgown isn’t the proper garment for astronomical research' (letter 38, 4 May 1910).
I have to assume that the letters are well transcribed; the annotations are trustworthy, and convincing, but there are no illustrations of the letters, so there is no way to check the texts. However, we can rely on Aplin's record as an editor!
Still, a few illustrations of the letters would not have been out of place.
The notes contain a wealth of information and also quote many other letters, for instance to Michael Field, Sydney Cockerell, or Thomas Bird Mosher and letters from Charles Shannon to Bottomley.
To be continued (although I do not know exactly when; there is a mountain of letters!)