Friday, 8 April 2016

Maude Egerton King - A Portrait in Miniature - Part 5

Greville MacDonald continues in his memories of Maude Egerton King:

"She began writing long before she was eight years old.  I have before me, pencilled when seven in childhood on odd scraps of paper, a ballad in almost perfection.  The Knight of the Golden Shield:

"What news, what news from the war?" she cried,
"What news from the battlefield?
What news, what news of my own true knight
The knight of the golden shield?

Well might she ask what news from the war,
What news from the battlefield,
Of the handsome knight who loved her best,
That knight of the golden shield.

There's woe! there's woe in the battlefield!
The knight whom she loved best
Lies cold and dead beneath the moon,
An arrow in his breast."

from Arbor Vitae, Godfrey Blount, 1910

Thence till she was eleven, she rote many things which were unquestionably more than imitative - a claim that rarely if ever holds good in the early effusions of even greater poets.  These poems already reveal her tender imagery, her keen sense of humour, her delight in the ludicrous, her profound pitifulness.  But then came a few years in which perhaps something of sentimentalism obscured her young-eyed genius.  In my own copy of a volume comprising this early verse and printed by her father for private circulation (One of these poems, "Jo", appeared in Good Words in 1884), she has pencilled some uncharitable condemnation of what she wrote in her adolescence - a period, I take it, that has in very few writers given earnest of their nascent genius.  But barely was she eighteen when her gifts began unmistakably to declare themselves.  Wedded to Joseph King in 1887, he secured the publication in 1893 of the little volume My Books of Songs and Sonnets.  In one poem, "Looking Back" (Unpublished volume, 1885, p.31), written when sixteen, she thus spoke of her childhood's wondering outlook upon the world:

"Lo! a field first-daisy dotted
In the freshness of the spring
And a child a-laughing, singing
All the joy of everything.

Then to me, was ever rainbow
Arching up the dome above,
Half a mystic ring of beauty
Wedding Earth to God's great love."

And Wordsworth in his maturity kept fast hold upon the truth therein suggested:
"Our childhood sits,
Our simple childhood, sits upon a throne
That hath more power than all the elements." ("The Prelude", bk v.1, 507)

from Arbor Vitae, Godfrey Blount, 1910
Indeed throughout all Maude King's subsequent work her childhood's pure outlook upon the world and its people, human or four-footed, winged or rooted in the Mother Earth, remains, though always widening and deepening, quite unspoiled.  A pitifulness driving to instant action; a longing for close fellowship with everything she loved; the pathetic devotion to her home; a conscious hoy in her humour and imagery; a rare curiousness in observation and its accurate, facile retention; a satirical mockery of her dolls, as if refusing to be fooled by their sentimental appeal to her dormant sense of motherhood; even the gift to see

"among least things
An under-sense of greatest;" (Ibid, bk vii 1, 735)

there are outstanding points in her childhood.  And they remained, I repeated, dominant throughout her life.  They accounted no less for the ardent support of her husband in his political work than for her unswerving belief that the restoration of the hand to its crafts and arts especially when used for home-service - and in home service alone did the peasant-arts originate and excel - offers more hope of social and personal salvation than any betterment of the standards of living and education as they are understood by our Parliaments.  As her dolls were never believed in, neither were the extravagant claims of politics.  Though she gave herself up to them with something more than an assumed happiness, they should not mislead her innermost convictions, her transcendent hopes.  On the other hand, the spiritual worth of spinning and weaving, the fashioning and carving of vessels or crucifixes for the home, was absolute: her perception that such things of service of naturally and unselfconsciously take lovely form, was but the outcome of there childhood's trust in beauty.  And as

"the flowers
Out wearied with the glare and heat of day
Put up their petals prayer-wise, for the cool
And hush of night..." ("Eternal Stride", a poem in the unpublished volume p.54)

so the humblest home was to her more sacred than any church or shrine or altar, deeply though she accepted these as outward signs in beauty of an inward and spiritual grace.  All she did in her home was creative ; whether feeding with her own hands a peevish sufferer, weaving at her loom, helping her maids at their spindles or spinning-wheels, or setting a child from country cottage or city slum to dance and sing; whether singing herself with pure and peculiarly childlike voice, or playing her pain with a touch freely found in the more highly trained.  Indeed herself was the home.  Hardly ;less was it so even when she was travelling abroad, in Switzerland, Germany, France or Italy; for she would delight, recreate all her party with her irresistible fund of sparkling gaiety, her ludicrous mimicry, always kind even when absurdly true, or by rapidly jotting down vivacious thumb-nail sketches of travellers gormandizing at the tables-d'hote.

from Arbor Vitae, Godfrey Blount, 1910

But nowhere was her artistry more astonishing than in her Christmas Nativity Tableaux, whose beauty could never be forgotten.  Like a conjuror she would transform the most heterogeneous of gay-coloured derelicts, remnants, and strays into royal robe, shawl or turban, and the village-folk into Madonna, Shepherds, Kings and Angels.  A certain painter of renown and intimate with stage-craft, vowed that no London manager, with all his command of money, could produce such spectacular effect; while another man of the world and its wealth must weep for the sheer loveliness of these devotional tableaux.  To myself, one among many, the news she brought of the Kingdom was just revelation: it came in her personal grace, in every article or story or poem she wrote for The Vineyard, and in an unremitting giving away of her self and her energies - vicarious suffering indeed, which, I think, and with some technical understanding of the facts, was largely responsible for her crucifixion at the last."

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Idealism & Labour, A Visit to Haslemere 1902

The London Daily News 11 April 1902 had an article titled "Idealism and Labour, Hand-Weavers at Work – A Visit to Haslemere"

“The Haslemere district is remarkable for many things.  Tennyson lived there.  So did Professor Tyndall and Mr. Grant Allen.  Many well-known people reside there now.  It was the scene of a murder which Dickens mentioned in “Nicholas Nickleby”, and which provided the plot of Mr. Baring-Gould’s “Broomsquire”.

Inside the Weaving House, Kings Road, Haslemere
from The Craftsmen, January 1902

"Haslemere has another title to fame.  It is the scene of an interesting industrial experiment.  Yesterday (writes a representative of “The Daily News”) I travelled nearly ninety miles to see seven persons working fro wages varying from 3s. 6d. to 13s. per week.  It is easier to commend the work than to defend the wages.  These seven women are hand-weavers of beautiful linen and cotton fabrics.  They have been established in their picturesque and comfortable little workhouse as a “protest and a prophecy” – to quote the words of the wife of  the founder.  The spirit of Ruskin, Carlyle, and Tolstoy is behind the wages.  To tell the truth, the memory of that maximum of 13s. per week continues to recur, as an obstacle to my train of thought, at every fresh effort to explain and commend the experiment. 

"Before me lies an account by Mrs Joseph King (the lady previously referred to) of the Haslemere Hand-Weaving Industry.  This article is divided into parts, severally entitled “Its faith” and “Its facts and figures,” the former awakening sympathy by its denunciation of the tyranny of machinery over human souls and bodies; and we read: “The idealist claims that the power-machine should never be allowed to attempt such work as fills the heart of the hand-worker with sense of creation, and depends for its beauty upon the intimate touch of his hand; but only such work as iot can more fitly and healthily do than the hand-worker.  If it could be proved, he asks, that the machine could paint our pictures, write our poems, grow our floors, do our love-making, or rear our children, must we therefore allow it do so, and slavishly submit to our souls’ and bodies’ irreparable loss of these divine difficulties and lovely labours?  Can we delegate the purpose of God in man’s free spirit to steam or electricity?”  Then, in Part 2, we read: “The wages of our weavers range from 3s. 6d. to 13s. per week.  If a girl is quick, she can begin to learn within a week or so, and by the end of a year can make 10s. per week.  As the working week for weavers is only forty hours, this is good pay as women’s work – barring domestic service, which is far the most remunerative – goes at present.”

"This modest little Haslemere enterprise is, I am sure, inspired by the most worthy motives – yet must I plead guilty to losing my mental balance in the attempt to reconcile those two paragraphs.  “Can anybody regard 13s. a week as a living wage?” was an inquiry I addressed to the manageress.  “Well,” she replied thoughtfully.  “one of our girls has to keep herself, but certainly she increases her income by doing extra work.”  “Does the establishment pay its way?” “Yes, and there was a profit of £106 last year.  That was on the comparison of expenses and sales, but more than that amount had to be out into the business by way of additional capital.”

"The seven workers were manifestly healthy and happy.  Hand-weaving is an enjoyably occupation.  It is exhilarating to work the treadle, throw the shuttle, and see the soft surface swiftly grow.  The tiny factory has its own designers – an admirable one – and the colours are chosen with rare taste.  Before me stood a spinning wheel  with its airy tangle of flax ; but for the most part the Haslemere weavers use thread that comes from Ireland, Scotland, and a firm at Cockermouth recommended by the late William Morris.  A man, and no authority on coverlets and pinafores, yet even I could see how far superior, in texture and beauty, were the Haslemere goods to those made by machinery.  Also was it easy to perceive that if in one sense they are dearer, in another sense they are cheaper.  They cost more money, but, besides being more beautiful, they last much longer.  In linen goods, I was greatly pleased by portieres, towels, sideboard cloths, table centres, dressing table covers, sofa backs, tea-table cloths, curtains, and summer carriage rugs.  Among admirable things in cotton, were coverlets, aprons, curtains and pinafores.  Dress materials and stouter fabrics for upholstery were also to be seen in delightful tints.

"Ladies wishing to buy goods made by the hand-weavers of Haslemere can do so at the London depot and agency, Peasant Arts Society, 8 Queens’ Road, Bayswater, W." 

Maude Egerton King - A Portrait in Miniature Part 4

The Portrait in Miniature of Maude Egerton King's life continues:

"In her verse quite as much as in her fiction-portraiture - and much of her best poetry was written before and just after her twentieth year - her power is realized.  Thus "Forgiven Sin" (My Books of Songs and Sonnets, p.20) has all the vigour, even in its strange imagery, of William Blake, though it is quite free of his obscurity.  I am assured by more than one of her sisters and contemporary friends that many years elapsed before she knew anything of that sublime rebel but his "Songs of Innocence"; otherwise a tendency to imitation, of which her art was quite incapable, might be suspected.  The poem is too long to quote, but, remembering that a botanical diagram may tempt a student to search for its flower, I may be pardoned if I epitomise it and venture an interpretation:  A good man once sinned, yet, forgiven by God, became happy again and died in honour, unaware that the tears of spirits watching around that sin's grave were so moistening its seed that it sprang up into a tree, from whose deadly wood they fashioned a cradle for his first-born.

My Book of Songs and Sonnets, Maude Egerton King, 1893

Then they watched the blameless young life as the poison infected it, till in manhood it burst into

                                "Fiercest flame,
And drove him for its fuel through shame to shame."

Next this damaged man left a child who became "mere ashes of his father's fire," but was still follows by the spirits, who made him a coffin from the "branches dire" of that same tree.  At last -

"Alone of all that race, one little child
Played in the meadows, glad and undefiled
Fresh as their flowers..."

Yet the pursuing spirits said-
                             "the tale is told,"
And stirred the hearts of men, and made them wild
For his young blood: "His sires", they said, "of old
Planted this tree now grown hundred-fold;
It shades our land, it shuts out heaven's light,
We weary of the race, and of the blight,
Therefore he dies!" They found him in his glee,
And wreaked on him long ages of despite
Who least deserved it, all too brutally,
And crucified his body on the tree."

"Had this been written some years later, it might be conjectured that she had in mind the doom of Piers Ploughman (which doom is the leading note in her only love, The Archdeacon's Family, 1909) or had read Maurice Hewlett's "Song of the Plow".  Yet, however one may interpret "Forgiven Sin", even if we take it only as symbolic of the pharisaism in all religions, one point can hardly be disputed, namely her belief in the elemental purity of life, however marred by things alien to itself, and however scorned and hated by a worldly law which claims from it the uttermost farthing to the third and fourth generation.  Indeed in everything she wrote, or spoke, or wove on her loom (were it possible, pictorial quotations of her own lovely weavings and textile designs ought to be given along with specimens of her writing), this passionate belief in the purity and beauty of life is manifest - as over against money, machinery and the coarsening which comes from unprotesting acceptance of their service ; it remains the source of all her inspiration.

"One reason why she published comparatively little, even though constantly approached by editors, was her conscientious devotion to an inexorable Muse.  Some who were privileged to see her stories in their first script could not but regret the merciless pruning and re-writings of much that was beautiful - a habit intensified, if it did not date from, a passing intimacy with a well-known novelist.  While obeying her Muse, she failed to realise that she herself was hardly other than that Muse.  In this distrust of her own pen - contrasting notably with the gentle if keen criticism and generous help which she gave so freely to inexperienced writers (one of her near followers and lovers says: "She made us all feel that we ourselves as well as our work - 'all we could never be '- were somehow required in the divine scheme.") - one sees how impersonal to her was ordinary success.  She must serve her Art and its high intent in entire humility : the while she lavished domestic tending and pity upon, well, simply anyone needing her.  Her recognition by the world was of no more account to her than her typewriter, or than, say, were his pigments and brushes to her father, that consummate interpreter of the South Downs' magic, Henry George Hine, V.P.R.I.  Just as he, so I am told by another of his daughters, refused highly remunerative transactions with picture-dealers lest they should endanger his powers, so she was never tempted to supply the market with what might prove second-rate work.  Perhaps some of her writing might appeal less instantly to uncritical readers because of this meticulous doubting of her powers; yet whether because of or in spite of this ruthlessness one consequence was very notable and again akin with her father's work: though much was never finished, nothing was poor, trivial or unvital.  And there are few great writers or painters of whom as much as can be said."

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