Thursday, 19 June 2014

Our Family Affairs 1867-1896

The Benson family, circa 1866*
Non-fiction ~ memoirs
First published October 1920
Approx. 98,000 words
(First read 19/06/2014)

[written 03/10/14] I'm afraid I completely forgot to review this at the time of reading.  Like EFB's other books of memoirs (Mother and Final Edition), this first instalment is beautifully written and consistently interesting.  It's also extremely gossipy.
Anyway, it's available online here.  Oh and it has a nice handy index too. 

*See that twinkle in Edward White Benson's eye? ~ that's Fred.  The photo, by the way, is from Arthur's reminiscences of his father, published as The Trefoil (1924).

Our Family Affairs is ram-full of quotables ~ here are just a few things I noted down:

EFB's childhood infatuation with a chorister in Lincoln Cathedral:
That emotion […] touched such religion as I had ecstasy, and I added to my prayers the following petition, which I said night and morning.
O God, let me enter into Lincoln Cathedral choir, and abide there in happiness evermore with Thee!”
Who 'Thee' was I cannot determine: I believe it to have been a mixture of God and the chorister, and, I think, chiefly the chorister.
EFB on EWB [his dad]:
I do not mean to convey the idea that my father was continually pulling us up, for nothing is further from the truth. Continually we played to him, and he danced the most fascinating measure; continually he played to us, and our dancing strove to keep time with his enchanting airs. He could render us speechless with laughter at his inimitable mirth, or breathless with suspense at his stories. But all the time there was this sense that at any moment the mirth might cease, and that a formidable rebuke might be visited on an offence that we had no idea we had committed.

EFB on music:
[…] all my life music has been to me as a celestial light, shining in dark places for the mitigation of their blackness, and flooding the serene and sunlit with its especial gold, but [as regards my own budding ~ and thwarted ~ musical talent] from that soil there withered a little herb that once grew there, a nest with incubated eggs was despoiled, and the bird came not back.
A touching father/son moment. Young EFB has been dreading another paternal chastisement for some bizarrely trivial misdemeanour:
[…] I went stiff and resigned, not knowing whether there was not to be some renewal of his anger …. Instead, he put me in an arm-chair close by the fire and wrapped a rug round my knees, and asked if I was quite comfortable, and shared with me the tea that had been brought in for him, since he was too busy to come into the nursery as usual and have it with the rest of us. And then he somehow gave me a glimpse, sitting tucked up by the fire, of the love that was at the base of his severity. How, precisely, he conveyed that I cannot tell, but there was no more doubt about it than there was about the heaviness of his displeasure.
O. Browning (1837-1923)
EFB on Oscar Browning, whom he also portrayed in The Babe, B.A. (I think) and David of King's (I think):
[…] he wandered from room to room, bald and stout and short yet imperial with his huge Neronian head, and his endless capacity for adolescent enjoyment. Age could not wither him any more than Cleopatra; he was a great joyous ridiculous Pagan, with a genius for geniality, remarkable generosity and kindliness, a good-humoured contempt for his enemies, of whom he had cohorts, a first-rate intellect and memory, and about as much stability of purpose as a starling. His extraordinary vitality, his serene imperviousness to hostility, his abandoned youthfulness were the ingredients which made him perennially explosive. Everyone laughed at him, many disapproved of him, but for years he serenely remained the most outstanding and prominent personality in Cambridge. Had he had a little more wisdom to leaven the dough of his colossal cleverness, a little more principled belief to give ballast to his friskiness, he would have been as essentially great as he was superficially grotesque.
After sending Henry James (a family acquaintance/friend) his manuscript ~ handwritten, no less! ~ of Dodo, EFB received a reply couched in typically Henry-James-ian terms:
In case the reader has given a glance to Dodo, can he imagine a more wiself expressed opinion, that opinion, in fact, being no opinion at all? Never by any possibility could that MS. have seemed to him worth the paper it was written on, or two minutes of his own time. With what a sigh of relief he must have bundled it into its wrapper again!

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