Wednesday, February 24, 2021

500. The Two Husbands of Edith Catherine or 'Ryllis' Broadbent

This blog about the adventurous but partly secretive life of one of Charles Shannon's models is written by Armand Robichaud and Paul Delaney. Robichaud, trained in geography and urbanism in Moncton and Montréal, has written two books on the Robichaud family genealogy. Delaney has written about the history of the Acadians, and is the author of Charles Ricketts's biography. Both are distant relatives of William Robichaud, the second husband of Edith Broadbent (later Hacon, later Robichaud). I would like to express my sincere thanks to the authors for this special contribution.

The Two Husbands of Edith Catherine or 'Ryllis' Broadbent, William Llewellyn Hacon and William Joseph Robichaud

The life of Edith Catherine or 'Ryllis Broadbent has intrigued historians of the 1890s, since she was involved in both the literary and the artistic world of the time. Yet, she is an elusive character. Consistently, in her two marriage records, she claimed that she was the daughter of John Broadbent and Margaret Rayment, but no such couple occurs in the civil marriage records or in the censuses of 1871, 1881 or 1891. According to the age she gave in various records, she was born about 1874/5, but there is no civil birth record for her and no mention of her in the censuses. She should certainly be somewhere in the census of 1881. In the record of her first marriage, she claims that her father was a gentleman. In that of her second marriage, she says he was an artist painter. All the above unanswered questions lead us to doubt these assertions. 

William Rothenstein, 'Portrait of a Lady'
[from: The Yellow Book, Volume 1 (April 1894)]

She is sometimes said to have been born in London. However, she told her niece by marriage, Cecily Hacon, that she had come down to London with a friend and became an artist's model (note 1). In this role, she called herself Muriel or Mu Broadbent. In 1894, she inscribed a photo of herself with 'All my love Yours Mukins' (note 2). She had an opulent beauty and golden auburn hair, reminiscent of the women painted by Titian and Rossetti. In a memoir of Herbert Horne, Arthur Symons recalled her thus: 'She was frightfully nice and kind to me; one of those women who are sensual and excitable though not passionate. There was something bright and attractive about her, apart from her erotic nature...' (note 3). 

Though the origins and early life of Edith Broadbent, or Ryllis Hacon, have proved unfathomable, her days as a beautiful muse and model are better documented (note 4). 'Edith' being too prosaic a name for such a beauty, she was dubbed Amaryllis, or 'Ryllis. She occurs in the memoirs and the biographies of several artists and writers of the 1890s. Herbert Horne set her up in a flat in London. He was succeeded by Arthur Symons, who wrote a poem to her and a fictionalized account based on her life in three stories, the first two of which published in The Savoy (note 5). She posed for the 'Portrait of a Lady' by William Rothenstein, published in the first volume of the Yellow Book in April 1894 (p. 150). To him in 1899, she inscribed a photo of herself.

'Ryllis Hacon, photo portrait
with handwritten dedication to William Rothenstein, 1899
[Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas:
Carl Woodring collection on Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. Series IV, Box 2, Folder 15.]

or Charles Shannon, she posed for 'In the House of Delia', which he did in several versions, in oil, pastel and lithography, and for his lovely 'Lady with a Chinese Fan' (note 6).

Charles Shannon, 'Mrs. Hacon (Lady with a Chinese Fan)' (1900)
[Dublin City Gallery: 'The Lady with the Green Fan']

According to her niece, Cecily Hacon, she also posed for a 'portrait of a mermaid (Ryllis) out of a boat with lots of men' (note 7). This must be an early version of 'The Mermaid' (1909), depicting a man leaning out of a boat to embrace a mermaid in the water. In this painting, there is only one man. This too was done both as an oil and a lithograph (1918).

Charles Shannon, 'The Mermaid' (lithograph, 1918)

The hair colour of the girl in the painting would be consistent with Edith being the model. Charles Ricketts did a portrait of her sculpted in gold in a jewel commissioned by her first husband in 1900. She bequeathed it to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Before her marriage in 1895, Ricketts and Shannon gave her a copy of George Meredith's Jump to Glory Jane, one of a special issue of a hundred copies, inscribed to 'Ryllis Broadbent fro: C.R.& C.H.S.' in Shannon's hand (note 8).

It was through a pastel drawing of her by Rothenstein that she came to the attention of William Llewellyn Hacon. Rothenstein had met her at the Vale, and the pastel he did of her was exhibited at a joint show with Shannon in May 1894. Hacon bought the drawing He was a barrister by education, but, having private means, he never took a brief. A widower, he had lost his first wife in childbirth. Through Rothenstein, Hacon was able to meet the original sitter for his drawing, when they were both invited for a day’s yachting at the Isle of Wight.

Charles Shannon, 'Llewellyn Hacon' (lihograph, 1896)
[British Museum, London: 1899,0321.14]
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license.]

Rothenstein also introduced Hacon to Ricketts, and Hacon invested in the printing venture that Ricketts was hoping to set up. Thus was founded the firm of Hacon and Ricketts, the Vale Press. Hacon, a sleeping partner, got a good return on his investment when the press was wound up in 1904, but the final financial settlement gave little return to Ricketts, on whose hard work and talent the entire success of the venture had depended. This led to awkwardness between them. On 11 November 1904, Ricketts wrote in his diary: 'Hacon to dinner, we found it difficult at times to avoid forbidden subjects' (note 9). It was perhaps for this reason that Hacon left Ricketts 100 pounds in his will, one of only three bequests apart from that to his wife.


After her marriage to William Llewellyn Hacon at the fashionable St Margaret's Church, Westminster, London, on 18 February 1895, she still moved in artistic circles. Hacon was very sociable and good company. Ricketts and Shannon had moved to Beaufort Street in late 1894, and the newlyweds took over the lease of their house at the Vale where they entertained Ricketts and Shannon, Max Beerbohm, Charles Conder, Laurence Binyon, Rothenstein and others. The Hacons also received Conder and Toulouse Lautrec at their flat on Aguado Street in Dieppe. At Oversteps, their Scottish retreat at Dornoch in the north of Scotland, Conder came for a long stay in the summer of 1896. There he painted Edith twice. She was the model in ‘The Shore at Dornoch’, which the artist inscribed 'To Mrs Ryllis of Dornoch' and presented to her (note 10). This lovely work is often reproduced, and she appears also to have posed for the lesser known painting, 'The Ord of Caithness'.

Charles Conder, 'The Ord of Caithness' (oil on canvas, 1896)
Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums]

However, the Hacon's marriage soon came under strain. Edith had gained weight and Hacon was drinking too much. On 25 June 1904, Ricketts wrote in his diary: 'Hacon made a confession of failure, the failure of affection, lust, companionship, daily habits. I believe I said things I did not quite believe as consolation, though I have felt also at an age when one puts one's house in order. Hacon again made reference to his undue share in firm. I felt embarrassed' (note 11). On 7 December 1904, Ricketts made the following enigmatic entry: 'tragic grub with Hacon and his wife'. On the same date, Shannon wrote in his diary: 'Dine with Hacon at Monaco Grill Room [...] Had most uncomfortable dinner with Hacon who arrived apparently drunk & spent the evening in insulting his wife. He afterwards ran away & we ... met him later at his rooms.' (note 12).


The Hacons are listed at Oversteps, Dornoch, in the 1901 census, along with a cook and a maid. They had moved to Scotland because they found life in London too expensive and because Hacon loved golf and yachting. Dornoch was (and still is) the home of a famous golf club, The Royal Dornoch Golf Club. founded in 1616. Hacon was elected to the town council, which pleased him very much. In about 1906, the Hacons had planned to return to London, and had packed up, but their plans were changed when a friend Margaret—known as 'Daisy'—Davidson, was looking for a place to stay. They took her in, and she never left. A school teacher, she acted as a buffer and helper in the house. When Hacon wanted to drink, Edith could never refuse him the key to the cellar, so she gave the key to Daisy who could say no (note 13). Daisy is listed as a ‘boarder’ in the 1911 census, but there were also three visitors listed as living in the house. Edith took in guests, among them, Herbert Asquith (1852–1928), Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916, who stayed at Oversteps every year.


Upon Hacon's early death on 23 July 1910 at only forty-nine years old, Edith was the principal beneficiary of his estate. She continued to live at Oversteps, a large house with twelve rooms that had one or more windows. Now she was well off; the 1911 census noted that she had 'private means'. With her racy and glamorous life behind her, Edith devoted herself to philanthropic works, to the suffragette movement, to the Liberal party and to the Girl Guides. She contributed to setting up 'The White Rest', a rest home for Irish Catholic girls working in the herring fishery in Scotland. In 1911, she offered a solid brass tabernacle and flowers to the new Catholic church at Lerwick in the Shetlands. For her work with Girl Guides, she received the Special Services Medal from Lady Baden-Powell.


Little has been published about her second marriage. On 30 October 1918, she married a French-Canadian, William Robichaud (born 25 April 1886), lumberman, at St Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Cathedral in Aberdeen. At some point earlier, she had converted to Catholicism. Her new husband was the son of the late Olivier Robichaud, a teacher and Justice of the Peace, and the late Marie-Claire Légère of Tracadie Beach, in northern New Brunswick, Canada. Nine years younger than she was, he was five feet five inches tall, had black hair and grey eyes. He was an Acadian, a descendant of early French settlers in Canada's Maritime provinces who are distinct from the better known French population in Québec.

William Robichaud in his late teens or early twenties
[Private collection]

The ninth of eleven children, William lost his father when he was only fourteen. At the age of twenty-nine, he enlisted in the 55th Canadian Infantry on 20 April 1915 as a gasoline engineer. He sailed for England from Montréal on the SS Corsican (Allan Lines) on 30 October 1915, arriving on 9 November. In the army, he had a chequered career, being promoted three times, only to be demoted each time. After being first stationed at Westenhanger in Kent in southern England, he arrived in France on 15 April 1916. Shortly afterwards, on 3 June, he was wounded at the battle of Mount Sorrel, near Ypres in Belgium, having suffered a gunshot wound in the chest and a punctured lung. He was admitted to the Camiers Military Hospital in Pas-de-Calais, France, on 4 June. Then, on the 16th, he was transferred to England, to the Folkestone Canadian Air Base, and afterwards was at the North General Hospital in Newcastle-upon Tyne until 15 July. Finally, he completed his treatments at the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bear Wood, in Wokingham, Berkshire, where he spent over a month, and was discharged on 24 August 1916.


It is often stated that William met Edith in a military hospital in France. Indeed, this is what Miss Cecily Hacon believed (note 14). Edith did work in a hospital there operated entirely by women volunteers from Scotland. Called The Scottish Women's Hospital at Royaumont, it was located in a huge, ancient Cistercian monastery in Asnières-sur-Oise, France. Her good friend, Margaret Davidson was also there. There, Edith worked as a nurse orderly and as superintendent of the kitchen, known as 'Mother Hacon' or 'Head of Char'. She was responsible for overseeing the kitchen staff, for supervising the work of the seamstresses, who made and repaired uniforms, and for organizing teas and field hockey matches to keep up morale of the soldiers. 

Abbey de Royaumont (photo: Clicsouris, 2010)
[Creative Commons license]

She was there from 1 February 1915 to 1 February 1917, and for her service she was awarded the 'Médaille des épidemies' (silver) by the French government and the British War Medal and the British Victory Medal by the British Government. As we have seen, William was in France from 15 April to 16 June 1916, but he is not known ever to have been at or even near Royaumont. Ypres, where he was wounded, is about 150 km, and the hospital at Camiers, where he was first treated, is over 200 km, from Royaumont. Nor has any record been found of her working elsewhere in France. It is therefore not known how they could have met in a military hospital in France.


What is more certain is what enabled them to carry out their courtship. After his release from hospital, William was transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps, and his last posting was with Company 129 in District 51 in the north of Scotland. The company operated two sawmills in Dornoch. Company 129 operated Sawmill no 2 there after 22 November 1917, so William must have been in Dornoch at that time. About a year later, a few days before the Armistice, William and Edith were married.


Five months after their marriage, William, aged thirty-three, and Edith, aged forty-two, left for Canada on the SS Lapland from Liverpool to St John, New Brunswick, on 2 June 1919, arriving on the ninth. The day after his arrival, William was demobilized. He had promised to build Edith a 'chateau' in Canada. First, he built a sawmill, so that he could cut the wood, and then, using the most modern materials and techniques, he constructed the house at 37 rue de la Pointe des Robichaud, in Tracadie Beach With its large projecting central dormer, its three gables and its hardwood panelling in the dormer, it was certainly more elaborate than most houses in the village. It had two sitting rooms and four bedrooms. For her part, Edith generously financed his business ventures. She is listed with William at Tracadie Beach in the 1921 Canadian census along with 'une fille adoptive', Lydia Robichaud, William's niece.


However, life in a remote, small French-speaking fishing and lumbering community with long, snowy, harsh winters did not agree with Edith (note 15). She returned without her husband to live in Scotland. Cecily Hacon said that Edith had gone to Canada twice, the second time with her two adopted sons (note 16). So she must have gone back to Scotland, and then returned to Canada before 18 September 1927, when she made a final departure from Canada for Scotland on the ship Athenia, with her sons Antony aged eight and Raymond aged seven. She also took back with her Lydia Robichaud, aged fifteen or sixteen, who was never legally adopted but who remained with her and married in Scotland. However, this was not a final break between William and Edith. Ties between him and her and their sons were maintained. Ten years later, on 19 June 1937, Antony left Greenoch on the Antonia to visit his father in Tracadie, and on 31 July 1938 William and his son Raymond set sail for England on the Aurania to visit their family in Scotland. Edith kept using the name Robichaud.

Oversteps, Dornoch (1910)
[History Links Archive, photographer unknown]

Edith Robichaud died at Glasgow on 29 August 1952, aged seventy-seven. In her will dated 7 March 1951, she made many bequests, to her children, her nieces, her friends, her doctor, her parish priest, her domestic help, the Mother Superior of a Convent in Aberdeen, and she even left 100 pounds to William's sister Marguerite Gautreau in Tracadie, but to William himself she bequeathed nothing. However, in a second codicil dated 24 March of that year, she explained, 'Considering what sums I have already expended and sunk in his business enterprises I hereby leave to my husband William Joseph Robichaud a legacy of Two Hundred and fifty Pounds Sterling and I hope that he will find it of some assistance' (note 17). No member of her own family attended her funeral or was mentioned in her will. She was buried alongside her first husband in the cemetery of the Free Church in Dornoch.


When Edith's lawyers made a search for William Robichaud so as to send on Edith's bequest to him, they found that he was in jail. On his release from prison, William carried on with his business, manufacturing windows, doors and furniture. In 1954, he moved to Saint-Camille-de-Lellis special care home in Bathurst, New Brunswick, where he lived for eight years, receiving room and board in return for his services as a cabinet-maker. He died aged seventy-six on 26 August 1962 and was buried in Bathurst.


                                                                Paul Delaney and Armand Robichaud

1. Interview with Paul Delaney, 22 January 1977. Miss Cecily Hacon knew Edith well, and her information has proved to be reliable. She was one of the beneficiaries of Edith's will.
2. Information from the late Prof Ian Fletcher of Reading University.
3. The manuscript is at Princeton University. Information from the late Prof Ian Fletcher. 
4. There is an article on her as 'Edith Hacon' in Wikipedia, which has furnished some details for this article.
5. These are 'Pages from the Life of Lucy Newcome', in The Savoy, no 2 (April 1896), pp. 147-160; 'The Childhood of Lucy Newcome',  in The Savoy, no 8 (December 1896), pp. 51-61; and 'The Life and Adventures of Lucy Newcome'. The third story was published posthumously by Alan Johnson in English Literature in Transition 1880-1920, vol 28, no 4 (1985) pp. 332-335.
6. Now in the Dublin City Gallery, Ireland.
7. Interview with Paul Delaney, 22 January 1977.
8. Formerly collection of John Russell Taylor, cf. Catalogue of Illustrated and Private Press Books. The Property of John Russell Taylor. London, Bloomsbury Book Auctions, 20 November 1996, no. 9.
9. British Library, MS 58102.
10. Now in the collection of the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum.
11. British Library, Ma 58102.
12. British Library, Ms 58116.
13. Most of this paragraph is form the interview with Miss Cecily Hacon, 22 January 1977.
14. Interview with Paul Delaney, 22 January 1977.
15. Though Dornoch is much further north than Tracadie, the winters are not so long, so snowy or so harsh as they are in Canada.
16. Interview with Paul Delaney, 22 January 1977.
17. Sheriff Court of Caithness, Sunderland, Orkney and Zetland, Dornoch.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

499. Gleeson White's Designs Online

This blog has frequently mentioned the name of J.W. Gleeson White in the past and it is a pleasure to point out a new publication on the work of this critic, magazine editor and designer of bookbindings, monograms, bookplates, and much more. Recently the new issue of The Private Library arrived with an article by Simon Cooke: '"A Designer of No Ordinary Gifts": Gleeson White and Trade Bindings'. The issue is dated 'Spring 2019' — the magazine is usually published with a delay of a year or two, and much of the material in this article had been available on The Victorian Web for a year or so.

Gleeson White (editor), Practical Designing (1893)
Cover designed by Gleeson White

In his essay, Cooke wonders why the work of Gleeson White has remained so underexposed in comparison, for example, with the work of Ricketts or Laurence Housman; after all, his oeuvre is significantly larger (if we only count the bookbindings):

Working between 1887 and 1898 , Gleeson White produced around fifty original trade covers on cloth and paper. Employed by the publisher George Bell as his art editor (1893-8) and tasked with producing attractive volumes, he was Bell's primary designer of casings for art books and poetry, as well as undertaking a series for miscellaneous handbooks on growing fruit, the military skills required by the navy, vegetarianism, biographies, and histories.
(p. 6)

Cooke provides a checklist of these designs and, like the quoted paragraph, it does shed light on his status of relative obscurity. Ricketts and Housman served a more exclusive audience that embraced modernism in poetry and art (Art Nouveau), while White mainly designed books that did not end up in their collectors' cabinets. At the same time, one might note that his reach among readers was much more widespread, but these were precisely readers who cared less for good contemporary design. His designs are less revolutionary, but they are solid, often brilliantly splendid, and (not unimportantly) not too expensive to produce. 

Cooke examines the extent to which White's designs meet his own criteria (he wrote or edited several articles on design, including Practical Designing in 1893). Cooke is right to say that too few papers have been published on White's binding designs, and it is a pity that he missed an early article by Edward F. Strange: 'The Decorative Work of Gleeson White', published only a year after Gleeson White's death — it appeared in The Library (December 1899). He could have quoted Strange on page 19 where Cook discusses White's lettering:

In strict accordance to criterion 2 [the size and style of lettering], he stresses the principles of clarity by employing large and unambiguous titling, characteristically enclosed in a frame or outlined in black. [...] Quite unlike the cramped titles by Ricketts and Housman, which are often placed into a corner, these prominent panels are an important part of the bindings' visual impact.
(p. 19)

They were less fashionable and spoke more directly to the general public. Strange, who knew Gleeson White well, wrote a first-hand account of the design of these title panels:

He never counted as lost the time spent on the mere adjustment of his label even when the book-cover had no ornament; and the choice of the type, the spacing, and general setting out of it were, I know, often considered by him the first and chief matter in the whole design. Many of his covers would, for this reason alone be worthy of the attention of the student of book-making; while a series of the title-pages that, at one time or another, he put together, might be most reasonably collected for the same purpose.
(Strange, p. 17). 

Strange also points out a subject that Cooke does not bring up:

Gleeson White was a great lover of the end-paper; and it is rather extraordinary that he did so few.
(Strange, p. 16).

I would not be surprised if Cooke's article gives a new and strong impetus to the collecting of Gleeson White's bookbindings. An additional merit of Cooke's article is that he points to a previously unused source of research: a collection of 290 sketches, mock-ups, preparatory drawings that is preserved in the Hougton Library, Harvard University. Images of all these are online at Harvard Library Viewer. And to this we owe the knowledge of the existence of a sketch of Gleeson White's dust jacket for The Pageant, of which no traces had been found before. The wrapper itself forms part of this collection (described as a proof, it is in fact the folded wrapper).

The Pageant (1897): folded dust wrapper designed by Gleeson White
Drawings, circa 1870-1898. MS Typ 571
Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

The Pageant (1897): sketch by for the wrapper, designed by Gleeson White
Drawings, circa 1870-1898. MS Typ 571
Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

The design sketch consists only of the lower segment of the front cover, with a series of flowers (later they became tulips), the publisher's name, the year of publication (in roman numerals: 1896, later corrected to 1897, although the book was published at the end of 1896) and the beginning of the address 93 St [93 St Martin's Lane] (omitted). Later, the price was stated at the bottom right.

For The Pageant, see also blogs:

77. A Paper Wrapper for A Pageant466. The "Outer Wrapper" of "The Pageant" for 1897

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

498. The Complete Correspondence of Gordon Bottomley and Thomas Sturge Moore (4)

The correspondence of poets Gordon Bottomley and Thomas Sturge Moore provides a glimpse into what both of them, both families in fact, were reading in terms of modern literature. They lent each other many books and so did others. 

Sybil Pye, binding for Thomas Sturge Moore,
The Little School (1905, executed 1916)
[British Library, London, shelfmark: Davis241]

Bottomley, for example, received a deluxe copy on vellum of Moore's The Little School, printed by the Eragny Press in 1905. Sybil Pye had designed and executed a special binding for the author's vellum copy, and additionally, she sent the Bottomleys another series of her bindings that they kept in a safe before returning them to Moore and Pye.

Modern literature on loan

Moore and Bottomley discussed modern literary works by James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, and others, and in these cases it was Moore who pointed out to Bottomley the qualities of the work and Bottomley who was not always entirely convinced of the author's genius, as some scenes shocked him and others left him cold.

Moore argued, among other things, for a performance of Exiles, on two occasions, without success; this occurred before the book was published in 1918. On 19 May 1917 Moore asked Bottomley: 

Have you read The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by Jame's [sic] Joyce. I can lend it you if you have not it is a remarkable but a sad book a depressing book but the work of a real & creative mind.

(Letter 230, 19 May 1917).

Bottomley was somewhat disappointed because of the three sermons, which he saw as documents rather than inspired passages.

I have a fear that Joyce may intend to become a bore of genius like Huysmans; and such delicious things as the likening of the wading girl to a big sea-bird make one feel he is too good for that.

(Letter 234, 15 June 1917).

P. Wyndham Lewis, Tarr (1918)
[Copy in dustwrapper, offered for sale by
Peter Harrington, London]

After the publication of Wyndham Lewis's Tarr about pre-war artistic life in Paris, Moore wrote:

Have you read Wyndham Lewis’s "Tarr" it is very much alive and well worth reading.

(Letter 292, 11 September 1918).

I should very much like to read W. Lewis's "Tarr"; for he has imagination and a good hard texture, and if he is provoking, he is also provocative. But I shall have to wait until he comes into Mudies second-hand-list next year.

(Letter 295, 2 October 1918).

But Bottomley didn't have to wait for Mudie's new list of withdrawn stock.

We will lend you our Tarr when Marie has read it, it is at present lent to the Pyes.

(letter 297, 8 October 1918).


Thank you for saying we may have your "Tarr". We shall be delighted and will read it as quickly as we can whenever you can spare it.

(Letter 298, 11 October 1918).

We shall send "Tarr" very shortly but Marie wants to reread certain passages. It was not at all to Bessie's taste. Lewis has drown[ed] the original story about Kreisler in Tar[r] [Otto Kreisler was a character in the book], and stories will not stand being dipped in that gluey substance. However it contains great energy and in parts invention in dazzling profusion, besides reflections etc of an original mind.

(Letter 302, c. 19 November 1918).


I want to get this line to you to tell you that W. Lewis's book has arrived safely […].

(Letter 306, 15 December 1918).

We return "Tarr" too, with many thanks; we did want to see it and might not have managed to do so for a long time yet but for you.

I feel that "Tarr" is something of a feather in Wyndham Lewis's cap. It put us off often, we had repulsions and revulsions, but at the end we agreed on its being rather an achievement. I remember liking things of his in the very early numbers of the English Review; then I disliked just as much a "conceited" story in Blast No. 1.; so I entered upon "Tarr", on the whole, with a prejudice against it. Much of the early part confirmed that; both vision and expression seemed to me affected, and I thought the dispositions of proportions not good. Later I began to feel that he wrote of women as if he had never seen one and was describing them from a third-hand report; and I still feel that in writing of Paris student life he hampers himself as much as Gibson does in his poems of the working-class by depicting everything as having a lowered state of vitality and an unconsciousness of humour. BUT as the story went on the writing grew more sincere and natural; and always I liked very much his ideas and flashes of perception: Tarr's conversation on art with Anastasia in the café is properly animated, full of jolly things, and we both relished it considerably. Humour makes a belated and welcome appearance toward the close and produces a far better balance: and at the end of all I found my only complaint was that the finish was huddled up anyhow, so that I longed for the expanded beginning and telescoped end of the story to change places.

(Letter 311, 28 January 1919).

On 2 February, Moore confirmed that he had his copy back, and two days later he wrote:

313 • TSM to GB, 4 February 1919:

I think the Duel is the really best part of "Tarr." Tarr and Anastasia too even when most diverting don't convince me as Kreisler does[;] every turn and the spychollogy [sic] of every person at the duel is masterly. As you say the great defect is the length of the beginning but I did not want any more end no not an inch.

(Letter 313, 4 February 1919).

A few days later, Bottomley agreed.

Costume drawings on loan

Ricketts also sent original costume designs before they were to be executed in the theatre company's studio. He sent them by post from London to Silverdale in Lancashire where the Bottomleys lived. But they did not have them on loan for long, as the date of the opening night was approaching.

Charles Ricketts, costume design for 'The Doge' in The Merchant of Venice

Ricketts has let me see some of his designs to Merchant of Venice for Lena Ashwell: they excited me with intense delight. Shylock was terrifically grand with insane pride and a feeling of power.

(Letter 298, 11 October 1918)

In a note to this letter, editor John Aplin explains: 'Since the early months of the War, the actress and theatre manager Lena Ashwell (1872-1957) had been involved as a member of the Women’s Emergency Corps in organising entertainment for the troops, and in November 1914, under the auspices of the YMCA, a ‘Concert at the Front’ programme was instigated for men serving in France, as well as for medical support staff. Even after the end of hostilities, shows continued to be put on for men hospitalised or awaiting demobilization. During this period Lena Ashwell presented three Shakespeare plays in Paris and Le Havre – The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice.' (See also blog 89. A Costume Correspondence.) 

Aplin also quoted two letters from Ricketts to Bottomley:

I am working hand over hand at dresses for YMCA Hut performances at the Front for Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen, Merchant of Venice. Portia has a gold dress covered with Mermaids and blue roses. Sir Andrew a doublet embroidered with squirrels, butterflies & grapes. Shylock is stupendous & other figures have dresses that recall Giorgione, Carpaccio & Rossetti. Some of the men have arabesques all over their tights[;] there are enchanting hats with gold wings. I think the designs the best I have done. The Illyrians, Elizabethans and Venetians have each their character and Romance. I am enjoying the work immensely.

(CR to GB, 25 September 1918, BL Add MS 88957/1/76 f 20).

I posted the bulk of the Merchant of Venice drawings, some three of them or more are the first rough scrawls, some others are absent like the entire series for Twelfth Night. It will be well if they reach me by Monday next, as the dress-maker still has more than she can do, and I am backward with stencilling. 

(CR to GB, 2 October 1918, BL Add MS 88957/1/76 f 21).

Bottomley wrote to Moore about these designs:

Ricketts’ parcel was mainly the Merch: of Venice designs – some roughs, but the principal men and Jessica were large, finished drawings. Alas and alas I mightn’t keep them – in fact they came in an interlude of stencilling and the dress-maker had to have them again in four days. Of course I wanted to keep them badly – I never let go of anything of Ricketts’ with acquiescence or even resignation; one feels one would like to hoard all Ricketts’ deciduous leaves, as they will be so sure to turn into gold (the opposite of those in the Arabian Nights), and make oneself a gathering ground for the Brit. Museum and the nation.

(Letter 301, 17 November 1918).

Ricketts knew he could trust Bottomley with these designs, as he had sent him drawings on loan before the Great War. In 1912 he had written to Bottomley:

[...] during the last fortnight I have turned to a work which has given me a perfectly fantastic sense of pleasure, namely designing the dresses and setting for the first performance of King Lear for the New Theatre at Tokio. I was approached by the son of the translator of Hamlet into Japanese to know if photographs existed of my Haymarket production. Enquiries at the photographers elicited the information that the plates had been destroyed (owing to the play being a failure,) so I started redesigning it on simpler lines, and if you can promise me to return the drawings rapidly, I will forward them to you registered to look at, before they go to Japan.

(CR to GB, 4 February 1912, BL Add MS 88957/1/75 ff 33-4).

In 1919, Bottomley was sent sketches of Salomé ('I have seen the gorgeous, the marvellous, the superb, the incomparable Salome designs'), which were destined for a Japanese production. Thomas Sturge Moore wrote:

You are a miracle to be able to attract Ricketts drawings 240 miles northward when (they were meant for the Far East. Alas!) That is only a little index of what you have been and done lying on your back, while I with legs and lungs that work have not been able to do it. And there are lots of other things that you do and be which I only wish I could and was.
(Letter 341, 16 September 1919).

The Vale Shakespeare

Bottomley did not have to borrow everything he wanted to read, he owned an expanding library and art collection. His collection of Vale Press books was not yet complete; every now and then he could afford a new book. In August 1916, he was able to acquire a copy of De Cupidinis et Psyches Amoribus (1902) at 'half the usual price'. He was the proud owner of the 39-volume Vale Shakespeare series: 'the Vale edition which is one of my most cherished treasures'. (Letter 295, 2 October 1918).

The Vale Shakespaere: volumes 1-3

The series had been edited by Thomas Sturge Moore, who, earlier that year, confessed:

I only gradually came to understand how the thing should be done towards the end of the Vale edition. I was never more than a play ahead of the demand for copy & had no time. Hamlet the most interesting & capital play was the one I began with and the Vale version does not illustrate my convictions more than those of the man in the moon.

(Letter 282, 23 July 1918).

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: 'Ahenobarbé 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:

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).