Wednesday, July 27, 2022

573. A Summer Anthology (2): Purgatorial London

The summer of 1911 was hot. Edith Cooper and her aunt and lover Katharine Bradley - their nom de plume was Michael Field - had fled London and were staying in a cottage near Armitage near Hawkesyard Priory, before spending three weeks in Malvern. They enjoyed the attention not only of the prior, but also of the Dominican novices, especially Brother Bruno and Brother Bertrand. In their diary they noted the constant heat, while 'the cedars are loaded with aroma'. Brother Bertrand swam the lake to bring them 'a glorious armful of yellow waterlilies' (see 'The Diaries of Michael Field', August, 1911, at the online edition at Dartmouth College). In one of his letters, Ricketts responds to the company of young men surrounding Michael Field.

Charles Shannon, portrait of Edith Cooper, 1900-1910,
black and red chalk drawing, touched with white on brown paper
[Birmingham Museums: 1914P246]

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 14 August 1911

[British Library Add MS 58089, ff 172-3]

My Dear Poet
I wish for your sake the hot wind would cease, even I who am half Salamander have found London almost purgatorial. I hope among the hills it is cooler. I hope the visit of your new young friends was a success, and that the number was the same on their return. I suppose labels were fastened to their necks like the children in school treats to save counting. Shannon grew troublesome and rebel[l]ious the other day with a large desire for a tame Squirrel; the fault was partly mine, as I had been enraptured by a cage of them in the Brompton Road, and my description was the cause of his desire. He left me in the street purchased a squirrel and a lordly cage and became enamoured with a Mongoose. The squirrel (name Carrots) is now in the house, it is so tame, affectionate and so passionately attached to humanity that it has to be covered with a cloth to quiet the nerves. It is very young and greedy, with huge claws, it tests every thing with its mouth, which is its intellect[;] for the first day it found it difficult not to eat our fingers and ears, the face he recognizes as a personality, our bodies are mere landscape stuff, the human hand is merged in its conception of things with nuts, pieces of apple and eatables generally the fingers are viewed as stalks, not quite eatable after all. It accompanies its exercises in its treadmill and about our clothes with little suffering cries of pleasure and is removed with difficulty from our coats and trousers. When you return you must be introduced to Carrots who probably by then will be a married person and settle down in a larger cage. [...] The proposal is on foot to turn Shannon[']s balcony into a menagerie. [...]

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.