Shrink a library #1 (My parents’)

I am downsizing the collection of books I have inherited from my parents or bought for myself. Easiest to get rid of guiltlessly are those volumes (mostly per-1930) which can be found full-text or facsimile online (mostly at Hathi Trust, Internet Archive or the Gutenberg Project).

This post is a rough survey of my parents’ library. I tend to list the hard copy volumes and note whether they are available online. If they are, I will let the hardcopies go to Oxfam, etc. My point is that their books represent a particular family background but more generally, the tastes of their time. Either way, they are a snapshot of a civilisation.

EARLY DRAFT at 15/05/22 with much work still to be done. But I am 76 and would rather get this information “out there” sooner rather than later, and as I have it.

My parents’ library wasn’t especially large, arcane, or at all valuable. It had two qualities which may make it interesting. One is that my father’s family were closely connected with various literary figures, well-known in their day though much less so now and my father (and then I) felt the works should be valued. The other is that my father in particular represented a quite common 20th Century sensibility which is worth cataloguing as being mainstream, middlebrow and cultured. Very few people now are educated as he was. Caring about this ensemble does not require one to keep it physically intact. My mother’s tastes were perhaps narrower, but her eye and mind were sharp.

Clifford Bax was a literary dilettante (affluent, self-indulgent) but also a Man of Letters of a kind we don’t make now. He was the third husband of my grandmother, Vera (familiarly, “Minka”). Eric |Waugh thought that she rejuvenated him (attested to in private letters), but I am not there is much evidence that they really liked each other. He was prolific in admiration for the Tudors and Stuarts; he fancied himself a mystic (as a slightly sceptical fan of Alistair Crowley; he sponsored a cricket team of acquaintances; he was a generous friend to Edward Thomas. He did know and was liked by a wide range of substantial literary figures.

Because I want to get rid of physical copies of books, I have been taking an interest in the online full-text or facsimile versions of books by Clifford Bax (and several other authors. Thus we find the three main online resources doing well by Bax, as enumerated below. What Hathi Trust, Internet Archive and the Gutenberg Project offer him is mirrored in the case of many authors, especially but by no means exclusively, of pre-1940s publications..

Hathi Trust
Pretty Witty Nell 1933
Initiation and its results by Rudolph Steiner 1916
Shakespeare: A play in five acts, 1891

Internet Archive
The Life of the White Devil
A House of Words, published by Basil Blackwell, 1920, a collection of poems dedicated to Phyllis Reid and including “The Flirt” (a poem noted as being about “VR”, his new wife’s maiden name initials).

Not archived online (copy kept by RDN)

Many a Green Isle, Heineman, 1927, dedicated to H  Balfour Gardiner (1877-1950, a successful composer of independent means, interested in afforestation and pig-farming (says Wiki) . No inscriptions (bought by RDN from Abebooks). It’s a Decameron style collection of short stories in self-contained chapters and number ll (Two) is “A Night of Splendour (Vivien Grey)” and seems to very closely match the SKN/VMN (nee Vera May Rawnsley) romance , marriage and souring. Number V has an aesthetic, generous whimsical Abbe who might have been modelled in Abbe (Clos etc)

Pageant or Masquerade, by Cliford Bax and Geoffrey Dearmer (which probably needs scanning by RDN).

Ends Clifford Bax books section

We now turn to Filson Young. An author my generation, Silvester Mazarrella, and a family member of FY’s, in the 1970s and 1980s wrote a fine biography of this peppery, talented journalist, novelist, biographer, military historian, and media pioneer. He was my grandmother’s second husband (see Clifford Bax entry above).

Filson Young’s books online
[Relief of Mafeking?]
Internet archive
Happy Motorist
Ireland at the Crossroads
With Beatty in the North Sea
Christopher Columbus
Lovers Hours

Famous Trials series:
Crippen
Bywater
The Seddons
Armstrong

When the Tide Turns
Volunteer Brigade
Hathi Trust (and not in IA)
Titanic
New Leaves
Sands of pleasure
When the Tide Turns
Letters from Solitude
Memory Harbour
Mastersingers
The Wagner Stories
, 1907
More Mastersingers
New Leaves
The Wagner Stories

The Complete Motorist, 1905
With the Battle Cruisers (Edited and intro by Goldrick, 1980s USNI edition)
A Psychic Vigil
, 1901
Happy Motorist, 1906
Relief of Mafeking, 1900
Complete Motorist, 1905 (As “A B Filson Young”
Happy Motorist
Joy of the Road, 1907
Gutenberg
Columbus
The Relief of Mafeking
Titanic

FY not archived anywhere online (I think, and kept on RDN shelves)
Growing Wings
Shall I Listen
?

Some RDN notes on works inherited from FY, via my father
With the Battle Cruisers, 1921
RDN notes on FY’s With the Battle Cruisers, Cassell, 1921
1 In the USA this is With Beatty in the North Sea
2 the UK edition was reissued by Goldrick for the USNI in the 1980s and has an excellent editor’s Introduction. There is possible confusion arising from the handling of footnotes: in the 1980s edition, all the footnotes are by Goldrick except those annotated as “(Author’s note)”.
3 At least some of the photographs (identical) in both the original and the Goldrick, and presumably all the lively and in-action shots, were taken by FY, experimenting with a telephoto lens and using a personal camera, an item forbidden on board. (I can’t remember where I read this information.
4 A colour plate (“Rolling Home. From a sketch in oils by the Author”) appears as the frontispiece of the UK edition of With the Battle Cruisers, but it is not in the Goldrick. The Goldrick has the UK edition’s two foldout maps, but without the colour red marking some ships’ movements.
5 Goldrick explains several of the controversies surrounding the battles of Dogger Bank and, later, Jutland. Harper’s and Bacon’s books (1927 and 1923) are both important and were reissued as a duo in 2015 as The Jutland Scandal (and discuss FY). The official Narrative of the Battle of Jutland (HMSO, 1924) is of interest. Roskill’s Beatty: The last naval hero (1980) looks like being fascinating.

Frank Harris books with an FY connection on PAN shelves

Frank Harris, Joan La Romee, A drama. Seems to be printed by Imp. Nice, published by Lincoln Torrey, 90-91 High Holborn, WC1. Inscribed “To Filson Young, from Frank Harris, this Eastertide, 192(?) ,’To see a world in a grain of sand/and heaven in a wild flower/To hold infinity in the palm of yr hand/and Eternity in an hour’, c/o American Express, Nice (???), and “Vera Young 1928” and “Vera Bax 1942”

Another copy was for sale in the US for £246 in March 2021 and has this:

“Nice [as in quality]: Privately printed, 1926. Printed wrappers. Minor soiling to wrappers, light wear, but a nice copy in later glassine wrapper. First edition, preceding the Fortune Press edition. Inscribed on the front free endsheet: “To Henri Davray from Frank Harris. Easterweek 1926. c/o American Express Co. Nice (a.m.) ‘To see the world in a grain of sand [/] And Heaven in a wild flower [/] To hold Eternity in the palm of yr hand [/] And infinity in an hour.” This copy bears another inscription by Harris, evidently made in error on the rear endsheet (hence upside down): “To Esar Levine in all love and gratitude for help that made this book possible, from Frank Harris Nice 1926. In prison I was with him -.” NCBEL IV:1054.

Frank Harris, Oscar Wilde: His life and confessions Volume I, “Printed and published by the author, 29 Waverley Place, New York City, MCMXVIII”, 1918. Inscribed in Harris’s handwriting): “To Filson Young from the author in admiration of  his artistry, Frank Harris, March 1918.” And : “The nobler the man is, the more objects of compassion he hath, Bacon, 1618. And in her handwriting: “Vera Bax”.
Frank Harris, Oscar Wilde: His life and confessions Volume II
In one of the above I found a photocopy of pages from H Montgomery Hyde’s  biography, Lord Alfred Douglas (1985) citing a letter from Douglas to his wife saying that she was wrong to  claim as cruelty his having intervened to stop her letting herself down with men including Jock Sterling and Filson Young (the latter apparently having invited her to stay with him in a hotel in western Ireland).

Ends PAN’s Frank Harris books

More general books from PAN’s library

Albatross Book of Verse (RDN’s prize copy)
Palgrave’s Golden Treasury
Quiller-Couch on Writing, and on Reading
“Q” on Cornwall, Oxford, etc
Children’s books kept for RDN family
Pilgrim’s Progress (big and small editions)
Kipling’s Animal Stories
Struelpeter (two titles)
Paul Gallico and Peter Scott, The  Snow Goose
The Third Book of the Poet’s Club, Christmas 1913. Privately printed. Thirty-nine poets, including Vera North (as SKN’s wife PAN’s mother then was). Her poem “Solace” is conventional but full of wit and feeling. It perhaps speaks of the end of her love for SKN since they parted around that time.
According to the April 1914 rules and membership leaflet found in the 1913 book, the Poet’s Club had around 100 members, including (amongst most who never became famous) Ezra Pound, who is not represented in this volume. E (Edith) Nesbit (already famous for poems and novels including The Railway Children) is one member whose poetry is represented in this volume, with the harrowing Mary of Magdala. Nesbit’s husband was Bland, and there is an R Henderson Bland amongst the club’s members. He had just become notable as an actor playing Jesus of Nazareth in a 1912 film of that name. His poem “The Abandoned Monastery” is in the book. Sir Herbert [presumably Beerbohm] Tree is listed as a member.

PAN spoke fluent French and, I think, some Spanish. His shelves included French prize books from prep school days, study books from his business school period as a young adult in Switzerland, and brochures from the Alpes Maritimes ski resort (Isola 2000) whose construction he worked on in his 60s as the administrator (based first in Brussels and then in Nice) of the overseas division of Richard Axtell’s quantity surveying firm). He had French friends in his teenage years and some turned out to be war heroes and otherwise distinguished as well as lifelong correspondents with PAN. As a young man he harboured thoughts of running a eucalyptus plantation in southern Spain (perhaps for or alongside Lord Bute) but his family couldn’t find the capital and he  went into the paint industry, at first exploring overseas opportunities and then settling for a career mostly spent in the UK (for Robert Ingham Clark, Pinchin Johnson, and Gaymel as they merged).

FY books on PAN’s shelves

Notable British Trials series:
The Trial of W H Crippen, William Hodge & Co, edited by FY 1933, (first edition 1920) pencil inscribed Vera Bax
The Trial of the Seddons, edited by FY, William Hodge & Co, 1914, Inscribed in ink: “R Filson Young” (FY’s younger son)
The Trial of HR Armstrong, edited by FY, William Hodge & Co, Pencil inscribed Vera Bax

Growing Wings, written by FY, Michael Joseph, 1936, dedicated to “Billy and Richard”, his sons by his wife Vera Young (nee Rawnsley, formerly Mrs Stanley North and afterward Mrs Clifford Bax). Billy and Richard were KIA in WW2 and memorialised in published poems by their mother. Inscribed in ink in WDLF’s hand, to “Sir Percy Loraine, from his godson, W D L [Loraine] Filson Young, November 1936.
Letters From Solitude, written by FY (essays), Chapman and Hall, 1912, Inscribed in ink in the author’s hand: “Janie, with love from Filson, 26th December 1912” and in pencil “Vera Bax, 1938”. (Racist comment in at least one essay drew an interesting comment from V S Naipaul, as noted by his leading biographer.) Author’s signature embossed in gold in front cover.
Memory Harbour, written by Filson Young (essays) Grant Richards, 1909, and in pencil “Vera Bax”, Author’s signature embossed in gold in front cover.
More Mastersingers, written by Filson Young, Grant Richard, 1911, inscribed in pencil “Vera Young” and “Vera Bax”
The Wagner Stories, written by FY, Grant Richards, 1911 edition (with pencilled corrections to the book’s publishing history from 1907). Inscribed in pencil, “Vera Bax, 1938”.
When the Tide Turns, written by Filson Young, Grant Richards, 1908, dedicated to Eric R D Maclagan (art historian and latterly director of the V&A), Inscribed in pencil “Vera Young” and “Vera Bax”. Author’s signature embossed in gold on cover.
The Sands of Pleasure, written by Filson Young, Grant Richards, 1905, inscribed in ink “R. Filson Young” (the author’s son) Author’s signature embossed in gold on cover.
Vera Rawnsley (later Mrs North, Mrs Young, Mrs Bax) owned: D G Rossetti’s Poetical Works (aka The Poetical Works of Gabriel Dante Rossetti, aka D G Rossetti’s Poems) 1907, edited and (splendid) preface by the poet’s brother William M Rossetti, published Ellis, 1907, inscribed in pencil, “Vera Rawnsley – R.C.A – 1907 – S. Kensington” and with various small pencil sketches on an inside-back page. [That is: the Royal College of Art, often just called “South Kensington”, where she was an art student]. Available on Internet Archive (from Library of India)
Vera also had (and kept and seems to have treasured)  Algernon Charles Swinburne’s y First Series, A new impression,  Chatto & Windus, 1909, with its: “To My Friend, Edward Burne-Jones these poems are affectionately and admiringly dedicated”.  It is inscribed in pencil “Vera North, 1913” and “Vera Bax” and “Vera Bax, 72 Addison Road.” Vera’s edition of these 1860s poems was published  in the year of the poet’s death. Swinburne is, I perhaps wrongly think, condescendingly regarded as merely the poet of rebellious counter-Victorian  swooners and swooning. DGR had perhaps an even greater – and darker – hold on the imaginations of the early 20th Century, including Vera, and Clifford Bax (who wrote a deeply admiring poem about him). I haven’t done the reading which would help me know quite why but it would be surprising if Rossetti’s impact were not a compound of his being creative in words and paint; a Bohemian and a devoted husband; a representive of Italian earthiness and medieval romance; a Ruskinite realist and romantic. In short he was a protean mix of dynamism and feeling. William M Rossetti’s Preface to his brother’s poems seems to suggest that Browning was the poet’s pre-eminent influence (along with a normal appreciation of the canons of English and Italian literature). Browning seems even now to be the great poet of the past two centuries. Never out of sight for many later poets, it was Browning (and of course Shakespeare) my mother would quote lightly and freely, well into the twenty-first century and her 80s and 90s. I am pretty sure I should follow her in reading the Brownings, the  Rossettis and Swinburne and keep going with it until I see their strengths properly, as my elders and betters did.

Books by relatives of my grandmother Vera Rawnsley (later North, [Filson]Young and Bax) and by brothers or cousins of her own father, Colonel Claude Rawnsley, including Canon Hardwick[e?] HD Rawnsley (co-founder National Trust):
Months at the Lakes,  by the Rev HD Rawnsley, James MacLehose & Sons, 1906
Life and Nature at the English Lakes, H D Rawnsley, MacLehose & Sons, 1902
Ruskin and the English Lakes, HD Rawnsley, MacLehose & Sons, 1901
Canon Rawnsley: An account of his life, by Eleanor F Rawnsley [nee Eleanor Foster Simpson, daughter of Frederick Simpson and HDR’s second wife], published by MacLehose, Jackson & Co, 1923
Willingham Rawnsley, Lincolnshire
Mrs Willingham Rawnsley, The New Forest

Ends Rawnsleys

More on PAN’s library books
The Rise of Christianity, by WHC Frend, Fortess Press, Philadelphia, 1984, inscribed to PAN  by RDN & AFN, Christmas 1985
Background: PAN was a freemason at least in the post WW2 period and not so far as I know a Christian believer. He was always at my RC mother’s disposal when it came to her being taken to church and so on. He was well aware of course of her acquaintance with the increasingly devout Leonard Cheshire VC, dating from Leonard and Margaret North’s TB treatment at King Edward VIII hospital at Midhurst. (She disapproved of LC’s practical joking.) My parents also visited Stanbrook and other convents and usually bought VHS or cassettes of the life or worship there. They often went to stay at the Venerabile (English RC seminary summer villa) at Compostella, near the Pope’s summer retreat. PAN liked early Christian history and its classical dimensions, especially the period when Christianity sought Hellenic respectibilty.

William Frend (WHCF, 1916-2005) was (a little coincidentally) four years younger than my father and had the same life span. WHCF was interested in all the difficulties in understanding the “problems” presented by the historicity of the Old and New Testament; the often violent theological rows in Alexandrian circles and schisms; and the institutional growth of the church. This all lightly concerned me when I was writing about Christian monasticism in the early 1980s, and more recently when I read Penelope Fitzgerald and others on Ronald Knox and St Paul.

My father’s copy of The Rise of Christianity had inserted in its pages an Observer Review-front full page article by Paul Johnson (“The Jewish Legacy”, 15 March 1987) on the contribution of the Jews to “human history” (judged by him to be very great); Anthony Burgess (in the Observer, undated) reviewing Pagans and Christians by Robin Lane Fox; and a J Enoch Powell review (perhaps in the Independent, hand dated by PAN, 13/11/86) of Pagans and Christians.

The book also had a card, bought possibly in Paris (but maybe Rome or Malta), of a paimting, “Vaisseau de l’Ordre de Malte sous grand pavois [dressed overall] (fin XVIIIe s., Palais de L’Ordre Souverain de Malte, Rome”, sold “au profit des Oevres Hospitaliere Francaise de l’Ordre de Malte, Paris.”

James Agate’s Ego 8, has Agate describing FY as having given the young theatre critic a break in the Saturday Review (p199) after WW1. And at Page 260, the entry for December 18, 1945, it has Agate delivering a speech at the Gaumont-British Annual Press Luncheon, J Arthur Rank in the chair. He wants to be a bit serious and says he has,

..a longer professional interest in film criticism than anybody in this room. The article on Charlie Chaplin entitled, ‘Hey, but he’s doleful!’, published in the Saturday Review in 1921 with the sanction and encouragement of Filson Young [the paper’s editor] being one of my earliest contributions to that paper, was the first criticism of the film as a serious art and the film actor as a serious artist to appear in the Press of country. That fact establishes my bona fides today.”

Then he goes on to say that JAR can’t make a good big picture out of Shaw’s St Joan but might make a decent small one.

James Agate in Ego 3 (1938) mourns FY as, “something of the eagle” ( See Mazarrella’s bio)

RLS Men & Books, 1912
RLS Virginibus Puerisque, 1897
RLS, Lay Morals, 1911, owned by Margaret North, my mother, when at our Woodcliffe, Sutherland Crescent, Helensbugh address. Inscribed in pencil, “Mrs Paul North, etc.”

Various

Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means, 1937, inscribed Paul A North, 1937
Robert Graves, Good-bye to All That, 1931 (first edition 1929) Inscribed W D L Filson Young, March 1934
Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, inscribed Paul North, 1939
G K Chesterton, The Flying Inn, Methuen, 1914 (inscribed Vera Bax 1969, with a letter from “John” written from 15 Cleaver Square, SE 11, 10.x.69, saying he found this “considerable rarity” in a GKC specialist bookshop to replace the copy she had carelessly lent someone.)
GK Chesterton, All Things Considered, Methuen, 1928 (first edition 1908) inscribed Paul A North
Maurice Baring, Have you anything to declare?, Heineman, 1936 inscribed Paul North,  1940
Osbert Sitwell, Laughter In the Next Room, (Fourth volume of Left Hand, Right Hand!), autobiography, MacMillan, 1949. Inscribed, “Vera Bax, 1949”
Douglas G Browne and E V Tullett, Bernard Spilsbury: His life and cases, Harrap, 1951.This might have been bought second hand by  my parents because my mother loved crime literature. Also: the famous pathologist seems also to have marked (sometimes approvingly, sometimes not) various passages in FY’s Notable Trials books where they touched on cases in which Spilsbury was involved.


Like many of their generation, my parents were members of the Reprint Society covering a wide spectrum of good and popular authors such as Arthur Bryant, Gerald Durrell and so on. They also often bought  Everyman and other pocket editions. Amongst these I still have:
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Tolstoy, What I believe
Lord Macaulay’s History of England, volume l, 1934 (first issued in this edition 1906),  inscribed “Ex Liberis: W D L Filson Young” and “W D L Filson Young, 1935”
Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes
Selections from Coleridge, Methuen’s English Classics, 1931 (my copy, from the school library)
Rousseau’s Social Contract, translated GDH Cole, 1927 (first issue in this edition, 1913)
Joseph Addison, Essays of Addison, ed and intro John Richard Green, Golden Treasury Series, Macmillan, 1934, inscribed “Paul North”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays (first and second series), (first published 1841 and 1844), The World’s Classic, Oxford University Press, editions 1901-1927
Elzabeth Gaskell, Cranford, Mellifont Press, undated pocket edition. inscribed “To Billy from Mum” in ink in a childish or untutored copperplate style. The one-page Preface says this is a less barbed sort of entertainment from “simpler days” which “ripples along in a sunny stream that has seemed to wash away care from generations of readers” without the “witty malice” of Jane Austen.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, Thomas Nelson pocket edition, undated. The author’s brief Preface speaks of his own strong desire to write this story (which came to him whilst acting in Wilkie Collins’s play The Frozen Deep with his friends and children). He wanted to “embody it in my own person… It has had complete possession of me”.
Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, The Modern Library pocket edition, Preface by Donald Douglas, New York, 1928. From the Preface: “Rabelais is as modern as life and as ancient as the inexplicable riddle of a universe monstrous and nocturnal in a vasty proliferation of spawning forms; and to all this confusion he brings his most precious gift of a spacious mind echoing with an inextinguishable mirth.” And, earlier, “In actual life men have lost little of the ribaldry of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; and yet stories held natural and appropriate to smoking rooms and modern dinner parties somehow become ‘indecent’ once they get printed in a book… the earth bears filth that she may bear flowers”.
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, Everyman’s Library No 925 [the entire series] edited by Ernest Rhys. Introduction by R B Cunninghame Graham. Inscribed “Paul North, 1940”.

Normal format books

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1905, “Sole authorised edition”, Charles Carrington, publisher and bookseller, Paris, 13 Faubourg Montmartre, 13. Inscribed probably in its first owner’s hand in pencil, “Daphne Bishop, 15a Brook Green, W.”  And, inscribed by my father, I think: “(Undine Bax’s mother)” That is: the book belonged to jeweller and actress Gwendoline Daphne Bishop before she married  Clifford Bax in 1910 as his first wife and  they had their daughter  Undine (born 1911), who was a family friend of my parents, Paul and Margaret North. (Some details from Wiki.) From the author’s Preface : “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it immensely. All art is useless.”  See Wiki for earlier and later editions.
W Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, 1938, Heineman, inscribed, “Margaret North” but has pencilled comments by MN’s mother-in-law, Vera Bax, who knew Cyrie Maugham well at some point. VB questions WSM’s aesthetic reasoning. In particular, I think, where he writes, “For art, if it is to be reckoned as one of the great values of life, must teach men humility, tolerance, wisdom and magnanimity. The value of art is not beauty, but right action”. To which VB comments, “Pish”. Inside this book, I found a scrap of paper printed with “Gaymel”, the name of one of the incarnations of Pinchin Johnson, my father’s paint-making employer. It might be worth photographing all the VB pencil marks.
Clifford Bax, Pretty, Witty Nell, Chapman and Hall, 1932
Arthur Quiller-Couch, On the Art of Writing, Lectures delivered in the University of Cambridge, 1913-14, Cambridge University Press. Ex Libris printed label: “Beauty Is Truth, Clifford Bax”. This is not so much an account of how to write English as a discussion of the problem of discussing English literature. He is interested not least in whether English could become, as Greek and Latin are, a suitable subject for academic analysis and discussion.
Filson Young, Joy of Motoring, Methuen, a slim volume essay based on a chapter in the author’s Complete Motorist, 1904. At Internet Archive one can read Complete Motorist and see within it a prefatory letter from Rudyard Kipling. The older man josses the book’s author (whom he elsewhere called, “Young’un” – see letters to/from FY). Kipling’s joke seems to be that he himself had invested effort and anxiety in motoring from at least 1899 and gives us the impression that FY had mocked the new fad when they met in the Royal Mail Ship Kinfauns Castle, the ship which took Kipling (and presumably FY) to South Africa and the Boer War in 1900. FY’s The Relief of Mafeking (Manchester Guardian reports and a book) mark FY’s transition to a thoroughly mixed career, not abandoning the arts but crucially embracing an almost bewildering range of material and approaches.
Oscar Wilde, Salome, first published in Paris, 1893. This edition from John Lane, 1912. Inscribed in ink, “VMR, 1910”. That would be Vera May Rawnsley, as she was before her 1911 marriage to Stanley North. But the date can’t be right if the publisher’s given printed date is right.
Common Prayer & English Hymnal, OUP, undated. This was a fully-loaded “Common Prayer”, pocket-sized but fat, beginning with the Act for Uniform ity if Elizabeth I. Inscribed in FY’s hand in ink: ” William David Loraine Filson Young, from his father, 10 June 1932.

My mother, Margaret “Peggy” North’s bookshelves:
Betty MacDonald, The Plague and I, The Book Club edition, 1949. I  am not sure who bought this book. My father might have, to understand more of my mother’s illness, suffering and courage as she was treated for TB. The book is a no-holds barred account of the author’s life with TB. It looks like a marvellously spry book. I will read it, I hope, and report back.
My mother adored reading about the Russian royal family and aristocracy. She devoured pre- and post-WW2 crime fiction, reading many thrillers again and again. She abhorred Daphne Bouquet (“Bucke”), and indeed the matiness of her long-standing and wholly impervious daily woman, Mrs Davies (who is alive and lively as she knits for Rumania’s orphans and Ukraine’s army). As in my case too, my mother’s only prize presentation book was given for early teen-age elocution (it was a pocket Pilgrim’s Progress). My prize was the Albatross Book of Verse (handed over by the tin-leg fighter plane ace, Douglas Bader). My mother’s award was probably for the perfect abandonment of her native lower middle class Scarborough accent; mine, for a certain ability to read poetry aloud, which fell well short of acting skills. My mother nearly made it to RADA, but the family (often only tenuously hanging on to respectability) couldn’t afford. She was a clever woman, but didn’t seem able to focus for long. She had no obvious interest in Current Affairs. My father admired Mrs Thatcher, as I learned to. Because their daughter Pauline loathed Mrs Thatcher, so did Peggy. When Pauline died in her 50s, my mother was visibly stricken and I don’t suppose she ever ceased grieving. But she was resilient, tough even. I think my mother in her 90s was lucky barely to register the death in her 40s of Pauline’s daughter Catherine, of whom she was fond. By then, nothing in the outside world really counted, not even her motherless grandchildren.

My mother was very bendy, even in old age and (like Edith Sitwell) very fond of living in bed; she could fold herself  improbably. One of her prized books was avery battered and palimpsested Yoga for Health by Richard Hittlemam. After my father’s death in 2001, my wife Valerie and I looked after her for about 14 years, initially in tandem with my son Matthew who kept her safe and fed for a year or two in his 20s as he studied at Chichester College, preparing for Sandhurst. At first we just shopped for her (she never got up or went out except under protest and then only with me for a scanty pub lunch).  Our visits had to become more frequent and eventually we lived with her, in spite of her occasional jealous outbursts against Valerie. She was easy to look after: she liked a regular routine of small meals on trays. She had always liked gin and Roman Catholicism, but grew bored with alcohol and lost touch, I think, with religion. I have her Catholic Missals and various catechistic works. Her response to questions of anything like a dread of death were met with her, “Oh, Darling, I have my religion so I’m alrightt”. I am almost sure it was her bookshelves which introduced me to Ivan Illich. As a boy and teenager, I knew her to like Sunday morning drinks parties at home (and often went to those of my parents’ friends). We had smart 1950s coasters in pastel shades with  cocktail recipes printed on them, and olive prongs. These were after-Church events, I imagine, but not notably attended by her few, but close, Catholic friends. There was, back then, a hostess trolley in any middle class household, but in ours no bar of course (my father would have eschewed such vulgarity). In her final years, her Sunday Missal (Collins, 197, inscribed in capitals in pencil, “Margaret North, Charton Rise, Rousdon” and in upper and lower case,  “From Cecily [an RC friend], 1977) went unopened, after years in which she took it to church, driven by my father, who waited for her faithfully and faithlessly outside. They very often went to Rome or stayed in Venerabile’s summer place, and these and their visits to convents pleased my father as much as my mother. In my time with her, she enjoyed A Touch of Frost and latterly The Jeremy Kyle Show. She was unshockable. She liked being strip-washed and was wholly unabashed by her physical failings, such as they were. She quoted smatterings of Browning to very near her end. When she died (quickly and only very briefly gaga) aged 95, we were able to send seemingly miles of Agatha Christie titles to the charity shop and plenty of Patricia Highsmith and Dorothy L. Saters too. I didn’t and don’t mourn her as I did and do my father. But she is vivid to me, as he is, but quite differently. She was unconsciously funny and I know she inhabits my being just as much as he did and does. There was no situation so sensitive that she did not say the most inappropriate thing.

When my father died in 2001, and I fairly quickly arrived from a trip abroad to offer help, I found her cheerfully ensconced in bed and relishing the freedom to read and watch TV whenever she liked. Did she miss Daddy, I asked? “Oh, not really, Darling. He was very controlling, you know”. This of a man who seemed to me to have been her slave since WW2, and to have forgiven her every sharp remark and her many sudden cancellations of his plans for her entertainment.

But she was fond of him and even expressive. His copy of The Heritage of Poetry, English Poems from Chaucer to the present day, edited by Philip Wayne, Longmans, 1943 (first edition 1940) is inscribed in pencil: “Dearest, wishing you a very happy  Xmas, Peggy.” The “present day” of that day were represented by Hardy through W H Auden, with A E Housman, and some notable and now-forgotten figures. The editor says Oliver Elton’s English Poetry is the go-to gloss for English Poetry.

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Publication date

11 May 2022