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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.


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Sunday, 19 November 2017

A sick-room visit

Thursday, November 19th., Comarques, Thorpe-le-Soken.

On Wednesday afternoon I went to Burslem to see my mother who is reported to be past hope. I saw her at 8 p.m. and remained alone with her for about half an hour. She looked very small, especially her head in the hollow of the pillows. The outlines of her face very sharp; hectic cheeks; breathed with her mouth open, and much rumour of breath in her body; her nose seemed more hooked. Had, in fact, become hooked. Scanty hair. She had a very weak self-pitying voice, but with sudden birsts of strong voice, imperative and flinging out of arms. She still had a great deal of strength. She forgot most times in the middle of a sentence, and it took her a long time to recall.

She was very glad to see me and held my hand all the time under the bedclothes. She spoke of the most trifling things as if tremendously important. She was seldom fully conscious and often dozed and then woke up with a start. She had no pain but often muttered in anguish: "What am I to do? What am I to do?". Amid tossed bedclothes you could see numbers on corners of blankets. On medicine table siphon, saucer, spoon, large soap-dish, brass flower bowl (empty). The gas (very bad burner) screened by a contraption of Family Bible, some wooden thing, and a newspaper. It wasn't level. She had it altered. Said it annoyed her terribly. Gas stove burning. Temperature barely 60. Damp chill penetrating my legs. The clock had a very light, delicate, striking sound. Trams and buses did not disturb her though sometimes they made talking difficult.

Round-topped panels of wardrobe. She wanted to be satisfied that her purse was on a particular tray of the wardrobe. Apparently she has arterial sclerosis and patchy congestion of the lungs. Her condition was very distressing (though less so than my father's when he lay dying), and it seemed strange to me that this should necessarily be the end of life, that a life couldn't always end more easily. Well of course it could if a sane approach to these things was adopted, but we remain at the mercy of the religious powers who argue that life is a 'gift' and to take it ourselves is a 'sin'. What poppycock! I know what a proud woman my mother was and how she would have hated to find herself in this pitiful state. If I had more courage I might have smothered her with a pillow. I thought of doing so, but held back. I had a sort of waking dream or fantasy of being in a courtroom defending my actions in the most eloquent way and becoming thereby a sort of popular hero. Embarrassing to think of it.

I went in again at 11.45 p.m. She was asleep, breathing noisily. Nurse, in black, installed for the night. Sometimes a bright smile appeared on my mother's face but it went in an instant. She asked for her false teeth, and she wanted her ears syringed again so that she could hear better.  She was easier in the morning after a good night, but certainly weaker. Mouth closed and eyes shut tight. Lifting of chin right up to get head in line with body for breathing. A bad sign.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Old times

Friday, November 19th., Villa des Nefliers.

Yesterday I finished making a list of all social, political and artistic events which I thought possibly useful for my novel between 1872 and 1882. Tedious bore for a trifling ultimate result in the book. But necessary. Not so much the facts that are important, but getting into the period. I feel it is important to write as if I am there. In fact it is the only way I can write with authenticity. The period just overlaps my own school days of course and I sense that there will be a lot of me in the book. Whilst walking in the forest today I practically arranged most of the construction of the first part of the novel. Still lacking a title for it. If I thought an ironic title would do, I would call it "A Thoughtful Young Man". But the public is so damned slow on the uptake.

Image result for wedgwood institute burslem
Wedgwood Institute containing Burslem Endowed School
Talking of schooldays I have had a card from a Mr R.W. Wright asking about my 'career' at the Middle School. I had no career! No idea why he wants to know. I can't quite get clear in my head whether I left either late in 1883 or early in 1884. I think I was there 3 or 4 years. I came from the Burslem Endowed School. I went into the Lower Sixth and rose to the Upper Sixth soon afterwards, and in due course I was Head Boy. I passed no outside examinations while at the school. I played left wing forward in the football team, but no match cricket. I must have been less than mediocre at sports. Mr. Hurley, who is a linguist of international reputation, coached me afterwards in German for the London Matric, which I passed almost immediately. My mother will know the school dates and I shall be seeing her soon in the Potteries.

I am getting to the end of my year's work. In a week I shall have nothing to do except the collection, on the spot, of more information for the novel. Perhaps I will come upon a title.

Today I finished, and mounted, another water colour, of Arbonne - one of my least rotten.

Friday, 17 November 2017

In good form

Friday, November 17th., Eltham, Torquay.

Presently staying with the Phillpotts's for a few days. I have a large bedroom with a prime view over Torbay. Always relaxing here but I am working as well. I feel in great form for work. In fact I feel pretty well in general at the moment. The new bachelor lifestyle suits me well. Yesterday I took Mrs. P. out shopping and we became a little flirtatious, being about the same age. Nothing serious of course but it does the spirit good to be able to make a sort of proto-sexual connection; I thought I had lost the knack of it! And of course there is Adelaide, the daughter, late 20s I should think. Quite pretty and I think she has a preference for older men. Interesting that this sort of thing is going around in my head nowadays.

Dorothy has a small part at the Kingsway Theatre, but she couldn't really have come here with me anyway. Some proprieties must be observed. For some reason we got onto talking about Ruskin last evening and Eden rehearsed the old story about his unconsummated marriage with Effie Gray. Allegedly he was completely unmanned at the sight of her naked body, or more specifically her pubic hair. I must say that I think it apocryphal. More likely in my view that he was a suppressed homosexual, married for reasons of convention an undeveloped young woman, and just couldn't do the necessary when it came to it. One wonders how these stories arise and are propagated. If I have time and opportunity I will try to find out some facts.

Dorothy was trying to advise me about treatment for my stammer the other evening. Nice of her to make the effort but, as I said to her, I think I have considered or indeed tried all possible therapies. Any treatment will do you a certain amount of good for a time, because the affection is extremely responsive to hetero-suggestion. But none that I have ever heard of will act when it is really needed. I used to discuss this matter with the late W.H.R. Rivers, one of the greatest specialists in nervous affections. He could never suggest anything better than to forget the trouble and leave it alone. As he stammered himself he would be likely to know all there was to be known. Also he was a very intimate friend of mine and a really great man. The affection is due to a defect of the brain, which gives contradictory orders simultaneously when disturbed in a certain way. I have even tried hypnotism. Why the subject is not more readily studied than it is by experts I have never understood for the affection is very widespread (among males - it is very rare among females). The nervous strain of it is of course continuous and severe - very severe. The said strain is too much for many sufferers and they retire to the completest privacy that they can arrange for. It is always a marvel to me that I, with my aciute general sensitiveness, have risen above this enormous handicap and am even, inspite of it, recognised as a great 'persuader' of people.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

A few ideas

Monday, November 15th., Cadogan Square, London.

Duff Tayler and I lunched together yesterday and discussed his sick leg, and the future of the Lyric, Hammersmith. Duff (Alistair) is a short agreeable Scotsman of means, devoted to the theatre. He has relied on my support in his battles with Playfair. He has an idea for burlesquely producing one of the old melodramas, such as "Sweeny Todd". So we walked at once to French's and bought six old melodramas, of which we each took three. I drove home, slept, and read "Sweeny Todd" and "Black-eyed Susan". I decided "Sweeny" would do but "B.E.Susan" would not. Eliozabeth L. came ot dinner and we took her to the first night of "The Would-be Gentleman" at the Lyric. This was rather less awful than I had feared: but it was pretty amateurish, and the recommendations of Duff and myself had not been carried out with any thoroughness. Anstey appeared and looked charming, and aged, and naif. He looked far younger at rehearsals. Dorothy did not care for the production, nor did Tertia. Elizabeth did, but Elizabeth is not discriminating.

Today I finished an interesting book called "The Man in the High Castle". The author's name is P. Dick, an American. There were four things I liked about it. Firstly, it is an 'alternative history', which I always find interesting. Not only that but there is an alternative history (a book) within the alternative history - clever idea and well executed. Secondly the characters are well-drawn and all are conflicted in their lives. Authentic. Thirdly, the plot is gripping, and I was keen to keep reading to find out what would happen. Always a good sign. Finally, running through the novel is a sort of philosophical strand relating to the Chinese I Ching. Clearly this is something of real importance for Dick. The whole novel was imbued with a sort of dark fatalism. The ending was strange and a bit disappointing, but it has left me thinking. It may do well if properly promoted.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A day in Paris

Monday, November 14th., 4, Rue de Calais, Paris.

Artist Eugene Paul Ullman - FindArtinfoI spent the whole of yesterday en ville. I went to Ullman's Sunday morning reception at his studio, and found some magnificent pictures, and much praise of my books. I particularly enjoyed a watercolour, in muted tones, of a river scene; just the sort of thing I would like to produce myself, but far in advance of my ability. Ullman is an American but lives more or less permanently in Paris. Ten years younger than me but already gaining a significant reputation. He is a very versatile artist - portraits, landscapes, figurative and impressionist. I expect he is not really appreciated in America.

Image result for la scala parisAt 6 o'clock I left. I went to the Cafe D'Orsay, and had a vermouth-cassis, and then I walked all the way by the Seine to Schwob's. He was alone and the chinese servant had been ill and looked sickly. Moreno was away on tour. We were intensely glad to see each other and shook hands with both left and right hands. He was much better and his interest in books had revived. Books were all over the place and he had got a lot of new ones. Ting watched over us while we dined, and Schwob gave me the history of his transactions as to plays with David Belasco. Then he asked if I cared to go out as the carriage was at his disposal. The carriage proved to be a magnificent De Dion cab, and I suppose it belongs to Moreno. We whirled off to La Scala. It was hot and crowded.



Image result for schwob moreno parisSchwob said that he enjoyed music halls and frequented them, and he certainly enjoyed this. Some of the items were very good. He has the habit, which one finds in all sorts of people, of mildly but constantly insisting that a thing is good, as if to convince himself. If I began by saying that a thing was not good, he at once agreed. His taste, though extremely fine, is capricious; it is at the mercy of his feelings.

He whirled me home in about two minutes. I tremendously enjoyed the evening. He was absolutely charming, and his English is so good and sure, and he looked so plaintive and in need of moral support, with his small figure and his pale face, and his loose clothes, and his hat that is always too large for him. Yet I don't know anyone who could be more independent and pugnacious, morally, than Schwob. I have never seen him so, but I know that he would be so if occasion arose.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Going out

Saturday, November 13th., Cadogan Square, London.

Gale, rainy windy showers early.

Image result for tate gallery historyI drove in driving rain to the Tate Gallery, in order to think over my novel, and saw some good English pictures. There are indeed some fine ones. The elder of the two Tate lecturers was  very good on both Blake and Rossetti. He pointed out the humour in Rossetti's watercolours, and he very well explained their origin. Then I wrote some more notes for my novel - to be called, pro tem., "Accident". Also I found names for two of the characters. Interesting that I use the word 'found', because that is what it feels like. As if the names have been lying around, just waiting for me to come across them. I suppose they have in a way, somewhere in my head.
Image result for lyceum london history


We drove, still in the rain - or had the rain just stopped? - to the Lyceum for the first night of the Russian ballet. The whole high-brow and snob world was there, with a good sprinkling of decent people. The spectacle was good. I liked "Petrouschka" as much as ever, and "The House Party" more than ever. I begin now to understand the latter. It is all Sodom and Gomorrah. "The Swan Lake" had much applause: a fine old-fashioned example of Petipa's work. Orchestra better than usual.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Currents of imagination

Friday, November 12th., Villa des Nefliers.

Image result for Taine BalzacTaine's long essay (over 100 pp.) on Balzac, is really very good reading, especially when he comes to describe the big characters, such as Joseph Bridau, Grandet, and the Baron Hulot. Lying awake last night, after a fearful crash caused by the faience suspension falling out of the ceiling in the hall, I had the desire to do likewise for one or two English novelists. It is Taine's method that appeals to me, and the intoxicating effectf a vast number of short sentences or clauses hurled down one after the other. Funny how ideas come to one in the night and make one feel excited, and a whole edifice of imagination is built up. Then, back to sleep, and in the cold light of morning the realisation that it was all so much poppycock. What profit would there be for me, a professional writer in literary biographies? Who would buy them? I can imagine writing a newspaper column about books and writers, but nothing more 'academic' - too busy making a living.


Night thoughts are strange phenomena though and I probably have more than most as I rarely sleep through a night. A few days ago I went to bed very tired having walked 9 or 10 miles during the day and slept from 11 pm to 6 am. I was amazed. That must be the longest continual period of sleep I have experienced for years. Sometimes, after waking, I rise, do what is necessary, and then go more or less straight back to sleep. But more often I am awake for a while, or rather in that sort of intermediate stage between wakefulness and sleep. That is when the odd night thoughts occur. Often worrying about something, or rehearsing an impending meeting, or turning over a problem. Occasionally erotic, but not often. I have learned from experience not to fight it. If I try to make myself sleep I invariably fail. Best just to drift away on the currents of imagination.