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).