If a compilation of eulogies is not a mirror, giving glimpses of subjects and authors as it does, I'm not sure what is. One such, Anne Cox Chambers' Remembering Rory, has proved to be a source of much pleasure – odd word, I know, pleasure, when used in relation to eulogies, but what else can said when each page is a source of connection, learning and reading? Also, when reading them, how can one not be conscious that all reputations will be subject to revision by a following generation.
In her eulogy of Roderick Cameron, Rosamond Berniers speaks, as do many in the book, of his aesthetic, quoting other people as she does so:
"Rory Cameron in his own houses worked for a quality of repose. Bustle and confusion and untidiness were not for him. Having shopped with him in former years, I know that his eye for size, shape, and predestined location were unerring. Planning for his house in Ireland he selected piece after piece almost without bothering to measure them, only to find on arrival in Donegal that every one of them fitted snugly into the space that he had in mind for them.
"Mark Hampton remembers, amongst much else, the range of color that Rory allowed himself – 'coarse linen the color of Caen stone, yellow in warm shades running from heavy cream to deep maize, celadon greens, and every possible shade of white.' He liked large, calm, yet grand pieces of furniture – perhaps they echoed his own large, calm presence – but he never allowed them to dominate. Other, smaller pieces of miscellaneous provenance were encouraged to come forward and sing their songs, and sometimes he dressed the room down where everyone else would have dressed it up.
"Unlike scholars who 'know everything' but cannot conjugate their knowledge with the business of living, Rory Cameron had an infallible sense of what to do with a house. To mix and mate one object with another was both this genius and his greatest pleasure. Better than almost anyone around, he knew how to release the conviviality of objects. People never forgot their first introduction to one of his houses. Thirty years after the fact, Kenneth Jay Lane remembers the moment in Paris when luncheon was wheeled in on a lacquer table by Jansen. The silver was English, eighteenth-century, there were black lacquer bowls from Japan, and very grand but rustic French dishes come on heavy silver plates, with glasses hand-blown and full of bubbles from Biot, in the south of France. There was a set of grass mats woven by the Queen of Tonga and given to Rory."
A lacquer table by Jansen, English eighteenth-century silver, Japanese black lacquer bowls, hand-blown bebubbled glasses from the south of France, grand but rustic dishes on heavy silver plates."
So, the other path I mentioned in the first paragraph is one I'm not yet walking and wonder if I should. There is not much more that, however many eulogies I might quote, can be written about of Roderick Cameron's aesthetic and the influence he had. Since I began writing about him, I've not been too exercised about this much-loved man's private life but, inevitably, there have been glimpses of that in a lot of what I've written and quoted. What has always interested me the most are connections. so when I read, for example, of his acquaintance with Unity and Diana Mitford, the Moseleys, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (actually friends of Cameron's mother), Greta Garbo, Grahame Sutherland, David Hicks, Peter Quennell, Freya Stark, Somerset Maugham, Alvide Lees-Milne, Elizabeth de Chavchavadze, Louise de Vilmorin... the actual list is much longer... I wonder about his politics.
I wonder too about prurience (not Cameron's, ours) – though why I would in a society where every celebrity's doings are fair game for the press – when I read this about one of the heroines of many a style blogger's fantasies.
"Mummy had known Windsor for many years and, although I do not think he had been one of her lovers, she liked him very much. It was not long after this that they came to Fiorentina with Jimmy [Jimmy Donahue]. After lunch, everyone was sitting on the terrace talking when the duchess said, 'I just want to take Jimmy and show him the marvellous view from your point.' The duke sat around reminiscing, saying, 'When I was monarch ...' while everyone knew the duchess was having it off with Jimmy in one of the upstairs guest rooms. Mummy told me that the duchess was famous for her expertise in fellatio: rumour had it that she had had lessons in China on this particular art. She was a very masculine woman; there was nothing soft or feminine about her, and I personally did not think she was at all good-looking. She had a presence. I suppose that was the best one could say about her."
If I were to write a biography of Roderick Cameron, I would have to overcome my distaste of knowing too much about someone's sexual habits. Perhaps I'm a prude.
Beyond all that, what is clear at this point is that Roderick Cameron, his circle of friends and those whose aesthetic he influenced, is that they sit at an ever-increasing distance (Cameron died twenty-eight years ago, Billy Baldwin forty years ago, David Hicks fifteen years ago, Van Day Truex thirty-three years ago), hidden in the pages of books, and the focus has blurred and in some cases been obliterated. Their work, when compared to what is published today, has a quality of being edited, of having things taken out rather than added to. Those rooms were photographed on their best behavior, reserved but not standoffish, awaiting patiently for the music of voices, for the clink of ice, the scents of flowers and warm pulse points, and time's passing.
Quotations from Remembering Rory, Anne Cox Chambers, and A Lion in the Bedroom by Patricia Cavendish O'Neill. Photographs from A Lion in the Bedroom.