Monday, August 17, 2009

As treasure trove belongs to the Crown

Above you see a photo of Lamb House, Rye, Sussex, the erstwhile home of Henry James (see last post) and also of E. F. Benson. Benson is best known today for a rightly popular series of books featuring the tussle for social dominance between Mrs. Emmeline Lucas, known as Lucia, and her adversary Miss Elizabeth Mapp in Lucia's adopted realm of Tilling. After a tastefully correct widowhood in her previous place of residence, Riseholme, Mrs. Lucas had moved to Tilling and there begins one of the most acutely observed and humorous series of plots and melodramas outside of Jane Austen's books, and which were filmed for television in the 80s.

I possess bound copies of The Quiver from 1916 in which an E. F. Benson (I'm assuming the same author) published a serial story Michael about the journey of a sensitive young aristocrat from his stultifying background through the battles of the Somme, loss of friendship, loss of family, to eventual salvation in the arms of a woman, the sister of his best friend who as an enemy combatant died in his arms in the trenches. Acute observation as with Mapp and Lucia, but little of the humor one sees in the later books, and perhaps rightly so, given the moment of the situation in 1916. 

However, a quotation from Queen Lucia should give the full flavor of Benson's writing. 

"... as she turned the last hot corner of the road and came into sight of the village street that constituted her kingdom. Indeed it belonged to her, as treasure trove belongs to the Crown. for it was she who had been the first to begin the transformation of this remote Elizabethan village into a palace of culture that was now reared on the spot where ten years ago an agricultural population had led bovine and unilluminated lives in their cottages of grey stone or brick and timber. Before that, while her husband was amassing a fortune, comfortable in amount and respectable in origin, at the Bar, she had merely held up a small dim lamp of culture in Onslow Gardens. But both her ambition and his had been to bask and be busy in artistic realms of their own when the materialistic needs were provided for by sound investments, and so when there were the requisite thousands of pounds in secure securities she had easily persuaded him to buy three of these cottages that stood together in a low two-storied block. Then by judicious removal of partition walls, she had, with the aid of a sympathetic architect, transmuted them into a most comfortable dwelling, subsequently building on to them a new wing, that ran at right angles at the back, which was, if anything, a shade more inexorably Elizabethan than the stem onto which it was grafted, for here was situated the famous smoking-parlour, with rushes on the floor, and a dresser ranged with pewter tankards, and leaded lattice-windows of glass so antique that it was practically impossible to see out of them. It had a huge open fire-place framed in oak-beams with a seat on each side of the iron-backed hearth within the chimney, and a genuine spit hung over the middle of the fire. Here, though in the rest of the house she had for the sake of convenience allowed the installation of electric light, there was no such concession made, and sconces on the walls held dim iron lamps, so that only those of the most acute vision were able to read. Even though reading was difficult, for the book-stand on the table contained nothing but a few crabbed black-letter volumes dating from not later than the early seventeenth century, and you had to be in a frantically Elizabethan frame of mind to be at ease there. But Mrs Lucas often spent some of her rare leisure moments in the smoking-parlour, playing on the virginal that stood in the window, or kippering herself in the fumes of the wood-fire as with streaming eyes she deciphered an Elzevier Horace rather late for inclusion under the rule, but an undoubted bargain."


  1. I was lost in your blog for a while, and I must say that I love it!
    Good job

  2. Dear Chukker, thank you for your comment. Before I responded I checked out your blog and I must say it is beautiful and wide-ranging. Will go through it tonight after work. Again, thank you.