In not many years shall we not all be clay-cold and safe below ground, you with your loud-mouthed integrity, I with my fastidious briskness

This refers to some dispute which had arisen between Henley and the editor W.H. Pollock concerning the refusal of an article on the great Italian actor Tommaso Salvini, who was appearing in plays in London.

“Fastidious Brisk” was a name coined by Henley for RLS – very inappropriately as Colvin always thought – and taken from a character of Ben Jonson’s ‘Every Man out of His Humour’.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 4, 1240.]

To W.E. Henley [Colvin 1912, pp. 184-185]

La Solitude, Hyères, [? 17 March 1884]

My dear lad,

You know your own business best; but I wish your honesty were not so warfaring. These conflicts pain Lucretian sitters on the shore; and one wonders — one wonders — wonders and whimpers. I do not say my attitude is noble; but is yours conciliatory? I revere Salvini, but I shall never see him — nor anybody — play again.

tommaso_salvini_50086

Tommaso Salvini (1829-1915), the Italian actor who played as hamlet and Othello, at Drury Lane and Covent Garden in 1875 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

tommaso_salvini_otello

Tommaso Salvini as Othello [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

 

That is all a matter of history, heroic history, to me. Were I in London, I should be the liker Tantalus — no more.

126960-004-d1b89cf6

Tantalus was a Greek mythological figure, most famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink [http://media.web.britannica.com]

But as for these quarrels: in not many years shall we not all be clay-cold and safe below ground, you with your loud-mouthed integrity, I with my fastidious briskness, [Pollock] and — with all their faults and merits, swallowed in silence.

3770_112218721273

RLS’s grave, Samoa, 1894 [http://image2.findagrave.com]

18631495_117491987661

Henley’s grave, 1903, St John the Baptist Churchyard, Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire [http://image2.findagrave.com]

walter_herries_pollock

Walter Herries Pollock (1850-1926), editor of The Saturday Review, 1892 [https://upload.wikimedia.org]

 

It seems to me, in ignorance of cause, that when the dustman has gone by, these quarrellings will prick the conscience.

SC28129

Dustmen, from Thomson’s ‘Street Life in London’, 1877-78 [www.myartprints.co.uk]

Am I wrong? I am a great sinner; so, my brave friend, are you; the others also. Let us a little imitate the divine patience and the divine sense of humour, and smilingly tolerate those faults and virtues that have so brief a period and so intertwined a being.

I fear I was born a parson; but I live very near upon the margin (though, by your leave, I may outlive you all!), and too much rigour in these daily things sounds to me like clatter on the kitchen dishes. If it might be — could it not be smoothed? This very day my father writes me he has gone to see, upon his deathbed, an old friend to whom for years he has not spoken or written. On his deathbed; no picking up of the lost stitches; merely to say: my little fury, my spotted uprightness, after having split our lives, have not a word of quarrel to say more.

thomasstevenson_01a

Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887). Thomas Stevenson’s brother-in-law, Mackintosh Balfour (1840?-1884), was dying in Edinburgh. Thomas had been estranged from him following his 2nd marriage to his brother Lewis’s widow [http://pharology.eu]

And the same post brings me the news of another — War! Things in this troubled medium are not so clear, dear Henley; there are faults upon all hands; and the end comes, and Ferrier’s grave gapes for us all.

The Prosy Preacher

(But written in deep dejection, my dear man). Suppose they are wrong? Well, am I not tolerated, are you not tolerated ? — we and our faults?

 

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One Response to In not many years shall we not all be clay-cold and safe below ground, you with your loud-mouthed integrity, I with my fastidious briskness

  1. rdury says:

    ‘I revere Salvini, but I shall never see him — nor anybody — play again’ reminds me of Mr Utterson at the beginning of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: ”and though he revered the theatre, he had not crossed the doors of one for twenty years’. (Salvini, by the way, revolutionized acting technique and was an important influence on Stanislavsky.)

    Liked by 1 person

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