Tuesday, July 31, 2012


A question lately cropped up in connection with Madame Melba as to whether fame and celebrity are not essentially the same thing. My feeling is that they are different. The Oxford English Dictionary is undecided: “famous, adj. 1a” persons are “celebrated in fame or public report; much talked about, renowned,” while persons of “celebrity, n. 4” are much extolled or talked about; famous, notorious. Nowadays I think there is a more nuanced distinction to be made. Surely today celebrities, simply because so many people aspire to that dubious condition, are not often hugely or even genuinely famous―in other words immediately recognizable to millions. And certainly not all famous people could ever be described as celebrities. That Melba, however, was both extremely famous and almost the embodiment of musical celebrity cannot be disputed. With people such as Bernhardt, Pavlova, and Mrs. Langtry, I would argue, Melba helped to create our modern concept of a celebrity, extending in her case far, far beyond the footlights of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. According to the Argus (Melbourne) on Saturday, November 17, 1906 (p. 6):
In the last Issue of the World to hand is a very interesting sketch of Madame Melba―one of the series of “Celebrities at Home.” The following are extracts:―

It was when she was 13 that she first expressed a wish to become a public singer. Although her parents were very musical―and to this day her father has an excellent singing voice―the family rose up in opposition, and the very mention of the stage or platform was avoided in her presence. Still, her dreams of a public career were not disturbed, and at every possible opportunity she got audiences together, and into her schoolgirl efforts “put all the enthusiasm of a prima donna,” to use her own happy phrase. Once during the holidays she was staying in a seaside resort in Victoria, a picturesque little place named Sorrento. There she ruffled the family calm by proposing to organize a concert for a new fence to the local cemetery. The cause appealed to the sympathies of her father, and she obtained from him a certain amount of money for preliminary expenses. Hints not few or far between from friends that this course was sure to result in her ending as a professional singer caused the strings of the paternal purse to be drawn at a critical moment. The bills had been printed, but there was no money for posting them, and all applications for an advance for the purpose were met with a blunt refusal. There was only one way out of the dilemma. The future prima donna went to the kitchen of the hotel in which she was staying, made friends with a maid, who mixed a bucket of paste, and that night, with a pail and brush in one hand and a bundle of bills in the other, she went out and “billed” Sorrento, not forgetting the fence of the cemetery in whose honor the entertainment was eventually held, with splendid results both financial and artistic.

That Mme. Melba is the most brilliant, as she was the favorite, pupil of Mme. [Mathilde] Marchesi everyone knows. When she resolved to come to Europe to study, the wife of the Austrian Consul in Melbourne offered her a letter to the great teacher, and it was gratefully accepted. Before going to Paris, however the diva came to London. She was introduced to Sir Arthur Sullivan, and sang the great air from Traviata to him. He nodded approval. “You have a very good voice,” he said. “If you will study for a year you may be able to sing in my Mikado.

Then Mme Melba went to Signor [Alberto] Randegger, who was unable to find a place for her, a fact on which, with the musician’s real generosity, he has always prided himself, for he declares it was far better for the young singer to go abroad, as nobody could then have done for her what Mme. Marchesi did. When the then Mrs. Armstrong―for the name of Melba had not been thought of―first had her voice tried, Mme. Marchesi was in ecstasies. “Salvatore, Salvatore!” she cried to her husband in the next room, “viens, viens: enfin une étoile!” Then came the question of lessons. Mme. Marchesi got out her book and looked down her lists. “I have no room for you, Mrs. Armstrong, in this class.” She turned over the page. “No room in this class.” She turned over the page again. “No room in this class.” “Oh, but Madame, you must take me,” cried the would-be pupil. “Well, my dear,” said Mme. Marchesi, “you must come into the opera class.” And in the opera class Mme. Melba immediately began her studies with Rigoletto. It was a case of working every day and all day, and the result of nine months’ work was that the prima donna had a repertoire of 10 operas. She was not only the most brilliant but the quickest pupil Mme. Marchesi ever had.

It is a striking characteristic of Mme. Melba’s that for the last 19 years she has never signed a contract with any operatic management. She gets a letter asking if she will sing a certain number of times. If she replies in the affirmative the matter is considered settled, and no further steps are taken on either side to make the contract binding. Except to go to sing her parts she troubles herself in no way with the arrangements, yet such is the irony of fate that she gets the credit for doing everything at Covent Garden. If a prima donna does not come up to expectations and is not re-engaged, the champions of the lady invariably declare that it is “because Melba won’t have her there.” If someone succeeds, her detractors declare she ought not to be there, for she is not fit for the position, and “she would not hold it if it were not for Melba.” The amusing thing is that the same is said with regard to the basses and the baritones, in whose coming or going the prima donna could have no possible interest whatever. These insinuations might affect a less large-hearted woman. They only amuse Mme. Melba, who shrugs her shoulders and remarks: “I don’t care what people say, so long as I sing well and I am happy.”

Monday, July 30, 2012

His cards

These days there is no limit to the amount of information we cram onto our business cards, as they are known—visiting cards as people used to call them—and an infinite array of design possibilities, front and back, vertical and horizontal. However, for most of his professional life as a city solicitor in Melbourne, and sometime senior partner of the old firm of Mallesons, my father used this one—a symphony of plainness, the ne plus ultra of minimalism, entirely bereft of supplementary information. In fact the version to which he adhered with his customary scrupulousness was in scale and quality of embossing largely the form in which the gentleman’s visiting card existed at the end of the nineteenth century. (Ladies’ were significantly larger.) Perhaps the persistence of the old-style card in Australia was no more than a persistence of imperial usage until the end of the 1960s, a process of gentle drift. In fact present arrangements are, in a way, a reversion to more inventive, and certainly more decorative, eighteenth-century progenitors. This is made clear by the anonymous author of a leading article in Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art (fifth series, Vol. 13, No. 664, Saturday, September 19, 1896, pp. 593–94):
The visiting-card as we know it is barely a century old. Like most other every-day articles of use and ornament, it is the result of a gradual process of evolution; and the form which the card now universally takes is by no means so attractive as those which it took in some of the earlier stages of its history. Of late years, indeed, there have been whispers of a new departure in cards. A revolt from the prevailing monotony in “paste-boards” has more than once been threatened; and the great army of those who suffer from collector-mania have been tantalized with the prospect of new worlds to conquer, in the shape of visiting-cards ornamented with elaborately engraved devices. The idea of those who mooted the change was to give the visiting-card a touch of individuality, so that each card, like a book-plate, should be a witness to its owner’s individual taste and inclinations, and not a mere machine-made reproduction of a universal pattern. But nothing came of the proposal, and the present-day visiting-card still wears its uniform of plain black and white. Had the proposed change been carried out, however, it would simply have been a revival of a fashion that prevailed more than a hundred years ago.

Visiting cards were a development from the old style of message and invitation cards. Throughout the greater part of the last century it was customary to write messages and invitations on the backs of used playing-cards. The particular card used was often chosen at random; but occasionally it was picked out with an eye to the delicate suggestiveness of some one suit. This sometimes gave the recipient an opportunity for airing his or her wit…

From the use of such cards simply for invitations and other messages it was an easy transition to their use for visiting purposes. At first the person who so used them simply wrote his name across the back of a card. Dr. Doran, in one of his pleasant books of gossip, declares that it was in Paris, about the year 1770, that the custom was introduced of visiting en blanc, as it was called, that is by leaving a card. Old-fashioned folks, he says, who loved to visit in state and display their costumes, called this fashion fantastic, and strongly opposed it. But, of course, opposition of this kind was bound to fail. The ceremonial leaving of a card as equivalent to a visit may have begun in 1770, but the writing of a name on a card and leaving it when the person called upon was not at home was certainly practiced somewhat earlier…

Writing the name on the back of a card was soon found to be too simple a matter, and it became the practice to write the name either on the backs of playing-cards, or on the face of cards adorned with engraved devices. Classical ruins and the like designs were highly fashionable. Cards so engraved appear to have been sold in packs, with assorted views; for two or more cards have been found bearing the same name written across them, but with quite different pictures as backgrounds. The practice of writing the name seems to have been soon superseded by engraving the name as well as the background. Much artistic ability and ingenuity was devoted to these cards…

Visiting-cards seem to have been known by various names. Madame d’Arblay in her Diary uses the term “name-card.” They were often spoken of as “tickets.”…

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The postcards

Hardly a week goes by when I do not receive at least one picture postcard from my beloved elder brother Hamish, sometimes several. This has been the case for at least 37 years, probably longer. Through all but approximately fifteen of those years we have been separated by long distances—north and south, east and west. Since Hamish went off to Cambridge in 1974, shortly before my tenth birthday, I have kept them all, hundreds and hundreds of them—all written in his unique, self-disciplined longhand. Today they live in acid-free archival boxes, and I have plenty of empties in reserve. The more recent ones often contain news of his two wonderful boys (my fourth and fifth nephews Mungo and Roy), but more often by this essentially shorthand route Hamish brings to my mailbox apothegms, witty remarks, riddles, and shrewd observations, in other words much food for thought. And this is not even to mention his many amazing scrapbooks. It is a vast and accumulating act of brotherly love. I am ashamed that at times I may have been inclined to take it for granted, so consistent and reliable and rhythmical is the pattern of the correspondence, wherever I happen to be. If it were ever necessary to reconstruct the long sequence of my home addresses on three continents I need only consult the boxes. Hamish’s choice of postcard is never conventional, indeed there is ample head-scratching in store for future historians and anthropologists who will no doubt wonder, based on my collection, what form of collective psychosis produced through the second half of the twentieth century such limitlessly baffling fodder for the printing press or the postcard rack. It is also notable that in carrying out his unending task of written communication Hamish has without doubt bolstered the income stream of Australia Post. Last night, whilst sitting up in bed and browsing through my treasure, I wondered if, prior to the introduction of postal processing by machineswhich can be a little rough on postcards, there were any postal and telecommunications workers toiling away in the sorting rooms of the G.P.O. in Melbourne who came to recognize the steady flow of postcards from such a clearly discernible hand, and looked upon them with fondness—or even started to worry if, at length, a fortnight went by without one or two flowing in from Korumburra or Fitzroy. There have rarely been any such lacunae. And this may well be a source of continuing fascination at the G.P.O. because, since the advent of artificial intelligence, I rather doubt whether the post office computers, no matter how advanced, are sufficiently versatile to adapt themselves to Hamish’s hand-writing. His usually minute but clearly legible letters have for as long as I can remember been adorned with looping descenders of flamboyant scale and proportion.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The manicule again

Sifting through more old papers early this morning I found this postcard, which according to a note I made to myself on the back, I picked up at the Vatican Library in November 1984, nearly 28 years ago. I cannot now recall what on earth I was doing in the Library on that occasion, but that is neither here nor there. As the caption now makes clear to me, this black-and-white detail was taken from the lower left corner of the verso of folio 47 of a tenth-century Greek manuscript account (dated 964) of the life of St. Pancrazio of Taormina, in a very neat minuscule hand (Vat. gr. 1591). What caught my eye, however, was that manicule or drawing of a disembodied hand and wrist, which I had occasion to mention in my book The Finger: A Handbook. These were usually deployed for emphasis, often by readers all the way up to the seventeenth century, and even beyond. This one is unlike any I have ever seen. It sprouts from a capital letter, and was clearly therefore drawn by the copyist. It was also designed to mimic one of the variant gestures of blessing or benediction used by priests and bishops in the eastern Orthodox tradition, that is, with the ring finger touching the thumb-tip, and the remaining three fingers extended, one for each of the members of the Trinity. Amusingly, this artist-illuminator correctly enumerated the five enormously elongated fingers at their tips, but got muddled with his proximal phalanges, which, if you look carefully, imply the existence of six knuckles, and not five. Never mind.


I loved the little film that was made by the BBC and slotted into the beginning of last evening’s opening ceremony for the Games of London, celebrating the thirtieth Olympiad of the modern era. The conceit is simple enough, and therein, I suppose, lies its charm—two British icons, one fictitious and the other real, brought together in a flight of whimsy, yet at the same time with a measure of inherent logic. Of course, in an ideal world, Ian Fleming’s unassailable Bond, James Bond, would be entrusted with the task of escorting The Queen from Her Majesty’s Private Audience Room at Buckingham Palace to a waiting helicopter, and delivering the sovereign safely to that massive event, she who for longer than any other person has received and read weekly reports prepared for successive governments in Whitehall by the once secret British intelligence services. The exquisite note is one of slight tension, even a hint of urgency, on the part of Bond, as the clock strikes half past eight, and a corresponding determination on the part of Her Majesty not to be hurried (but, equally, not to delay). “Good evening, Mr. Bond,” says The Queen, with a suggestion of sprightliness, and, incidentally, effortless authority—and not the sort to which clever actors resort. “Good evening...Your Majesty,” replies Bond, who then follows The Queen out of the room, past Thomas Gainsborough’s magnificent 1777 full-length portrait of Anne, Duchess of Cumberland. Surely it must have been a glitch in the editing suite, but am I the only person who noticed the unfortunate exclusion of that moment in which Commander Bond surely bowed—correctly, and immediately upon entering the room: a clean, crisp motion of the head and neck only, and not the flamboyant deep waist-and/or-shoulders version that one occasionally observes among ill-briefed ambassadors, middle-European royalty, and on stage for curtain calls?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Peter Steele

One of the most troublesome aspects of living on the other side of the world is that occasionally the news of certain deaths takes a while to catch up with you. Such has been the case with Professor Emeritus the Reverend Peter Steele, S.J., who died at 6.10 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27 last, at Caritas Christi Hospice, Kew, aged 72 years—far, far too young, and surely with much wisdom, poetry, and exquisite prose still left to flow.

It was one of the greatest strokes of good fortune that my undergraduate career at the University of Melbourne took me along to Peter’s wonderful lectures on Swift in my first year, 1982, and that he later became a good friend to my brother Simon’s family. Morag Fraser’s tribute in Eureka Street is a moving and a fitting one, as is Father Gerald O’Collins’s in The Age, but my fondest memory of Peter is as the celebrant at the wedding in Newman College Chapel of my niece Sophie and her husband Paul Liondas, just a few years ago. Peter’s homilies were at times as abstract and even as challenging as his verses, but always hugely stimulating. For example, I have never stopped wondering what Peter meant when he once recalled someone saying that poetry has “and-and-and” meanings—there have even been occasions when I have tossed and turned at night experimenting with alternatives, such as “and-or-but” or “and-yet-not” meanings, in an effort to grasp his point. Therein, I suppose, lies Peter’s rare distinction as a teacher. So often one remembered the things he said, and even more the wonderful things he was inspired to write, and the elegant way in which he wrote them.

I saw Peter again when he was visiting professor of English literature at Fordham University, not so far away, and most recently over an extremely pleasant and convivial lunch with Patrick McCaughey and Claude Rawson (I think) at Zinc, here in New Haven, Connecticut. Peter once wrote a most generous review of A Brief History of the Smile, and a gentle but well-deserved rebuke near the end of that piece affected me deeply at the time, and, as I hope he knows by now, produced the necessary results. I have no idea what he really thought about the Church of England—but I trust he had as soft a spot for it as he had for Dean Swift, or at least as soft as his beloved Society of Jesus permitted:
Woven through the whole, too, is a philosopher’s attention to whatever is come across. Trumble’s last chapter begins with the words, “One of the greatest and enduring achievements of the Enlightenment in Europe was to uphold the right to what the historian Roy Porter calls ‘the pursuit of temporal happiness as the summon bonum.’ How fortunate we are to have inherited this noble idea; how few of us recognize its value and take advantage of it when in so many other places it is denied to so many.” Even those disposed to take issue with that version of the greatest good may be sobered, and moved, by Trumble’s reflection.
Thank you, Peter. Not so long ago, with perfect candor, Peter said that he was not particularly looking forward to death, but that since he certainly believed in the existence of Heaven he was certain that what began with bad news would end with good. This would be my fervent prayer for Peter, along with an expression of hearty thanks that I should ever have been lucky enough to cross paths, however briefly or intermittently, with that towering intellect: that good and holy priest.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Old Girls' Day

In 1970 Aunt Anne took a creative writing course in Geelong, and her working notebook contains much of interest (marked simply “A. Hall”). Among the longest essays is the following account of Old Girls’ Day at the Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (The Hermitage) in Geelong, long since subsumed into the octopus of Geelong Grammar School. The account is surprisingly unguarded, and before posting it I really wondered whether I should make a better effort to protect the identity of the dramatis personae. Actually, I think Aunt Anne substituted made up names; she certainly did elsewhere. However, upon much reflection I realized that by now Aunt Anne would have been nearly ninety years old, and the headmistress she says she hated, the rotund clergyman, and the outgoing President with the tombstone teeth must surely now be dead and buried. In America the practice of going to school reunions is firmly entrenched, but Aunt Anne here reinforces my own conviction that it is far wiser never to go back:
There we all stand in the sunshine, in our best clothes, looking warily round, thinking how our contemporaries have aged. We all get light-headed and a bit giggly on two small glasses of medium-dry sherry. My friend June and I are looking for the treasurer. She has gone in through the front door. At the doorstep we both hesitate. Girls are not permitted to use the front door, and the prohibition is still alive in our minds after thirty years. With a sense of bravado we step boldly in. Here in the hall, how often have I stood, seething with fear and a sense of injustice, waiting to “be seen” by the headmistress. The injustice still rankles. Children are very fair, and will take any punishment they deem just. How I hated that woman—partly because she could reduce me to tears of rage within five minutes, after which she would graciously forgive me, and I would be unable to defend myself, or reject the forgiveness. On now to the dining room, and a fairly meagre lunch of chicken pieces hidden in limp lettuce. We drink the health of The Queen, and cigarettes suddenly send clouds of blue smoke up to the high dark ceiling. Next we rise for “The School,” and the thick, sweet fruit cup is hastily passed round to the improvident who emptied their glasses for The Queen. The Chaplain responds for the school. A rotund, kindly little man, making coy little jokes. He refers to a past headmistress. “A headmistress,” he says, “from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.”
      “How does he know?” asks June, under the polite murmur of accord.
      “The mind boggles,” I reply, and we sit there sniggering like fifth formers, watched with gentle indulgence by the real sixth formers at our table—the newest old girls. Age has not wearied our enjoyment of our wit—nor improved it. Now the move to the Assembly Room for the Meeting. We snatch the opportunity to visit our old sleeping quarters. They have wire grills on the windows now—to keep the girls in, or the boys out? we wonder. We obviously didn’t have the same appeal. There was no need to protect us—or the boys. There is that plain, pasty-faced little girl with the red hair, grown into a plain, pasty-faced middle-aged woman with the red hair, and a hard green hat—Pat something. And there’s Judy. Put two long plaits over her ears, and thirty years have hardly altered her. Our mothers are in a group of their own contemporaries. One or two with sticks, but by and large a surprisingly alert and active lot. One senses the same reaction, towards oneself, of last year’s students, back to flaunt their trendy clothes and engagement rings in front of their friends, still imprisoned in their hideous uniforms.
      A list of the Old Girls who have died during the year is read out, for the most part from the older group, and one felt sorrow but no resentment. But one name recalled a darling little round-faced child from the “Prep.” I remember her telling me she always gave the tram conductor a penny and kept the halfpenny. “He thinks I haven’t got any more,” she explained. And I looked at her guileless little face and enormous trusting brown eyes and admired her from the bottom of my un-enterprising heart.
      The headmistress reads her report. She holds herself carefully erect. Her voice carefully enunciates the dry facts. Almost, it seems, she is afraid she will drop her aitches if she relaxes. Then the President—a good old girl, and enthusiastic old girl—but not much of a recommendation for the education her parents paid heavily for her to receive. I would like, she begins, to thank the headmistress very very much for her very interesting report. I’m sure we were all very interested indeed. During the year, she continues, it was my very very great privilege to be present at a very pleasant gathering of Old Girls in Ballarat. We were very disappointed that my own very dear headmistress—she bares her tombstone teeth, first deprecatingly at the present incumbent, and then warmly into the crowd, where her spirit remains crouched at the feet of the head-before-last—was unable to honour us with her presence. I would like, she commences her peroration, to say how very very honoured I have been to be your President, and how very very much I have enjoyed working for our dear Old School. I would very much like to thank (and she lists innumerable people, all of whom have helped her very much). And I would like to extend a very very warm welcome to the incoming President; I’m sure we’re all very grateful to her for taking on the task, and I’m sure you will all give her very much enthusiasm and support. And I’d like to thank you all very very much for all the enthusiasm and support you’ve given me in the two years I’ve been so very privileged to be your representative and work for our very dear Old School. With another flash at us all of her highly polished graveyard she subsides in her chair.
      The piano crashes into our exhausted silence, waking those who have managed to nod off. Om pom-pom, Om pom, To School-fellows near us or distant…We all bellow out the rousing circular waltz with its ridiculous words—leaving the high bits to the young, remembering our singing mistress’s despairing efforts to make us sing it as though it meant something. It never did, it never will, but I expect I’ll be able to sing it right through (except the high bits) till the day I die.
 That last point was certainly true.

Bonnington Park

When he wrote this letter to his father, Alexander Hay Borthwick, my great-grandfather William Borthwick was a boarder at the Bonnington Park Academy, a school for boys established not long before in 1858 at Peebles on the River Tweed in Scotland. The hand is simply exquisite. He was at this not quite thirteen years old.
Bonnington Park
Peebles. 10th April, 1863

Dear Father,

I received the welcome letter sent to me by my mother, and was delighted to hear in it that you were all quite well. There was a remarkable discovery made in this school on Thursday week. We found in a certain boy named David Barclay an heir to the Scottish throne, but the worst of it is there is no throne in Scotland for him to inherit, so I think it might have been as well that he did not know it, for he may think of raising a rebellion, and if unsuccessful he may be hanged. We got a whole holiday last Friday as it was “Good Friday.” I enjoyed a good game at cricket, and after it was finished some of the boys went out to a walk with one of the tutors to see a small house called the “Black Dwarf’s Cottage.” It is very small, and the door is not quite three and a half feet high. A man showed them the dwarf’s portrait. He has a very large head with a kind of nightcap on it, and a long pole in his hand. His right name is David Ritchie. The first eleven got their cricket things last Friday, but we only got ours last night, and I think they are very good. Mr. Angus, our minister, who is on the continent, is coming home soon. I hope Mother, Alexander, and Janet are quite well. With kind love to all at home,

I am

     Your loving Son



Another mind-boggling discovery while sorting through old papers. When in May 1984, aged nineteen, I wrote this undergraduate essay for the late and much lamented Ian Robertson, who at that time was serving as chairman of the Department of History in the University of Melbourne, he paid what strikes me today as the astounding compliment of returning it with comments that more or less amount to another essay, in his elegant trademark penciled longhand. Who in universities these days has the time or energy to follow suit? My purpose in transcribing it here is neither to boast nor to preen, but rather to wonder at the seriousness with which Robbo engaged with each and all of his no doubt rather callow students—and surely at the expense of his own research. His book Tyranny Under the Mantle of St Peter: Pope Paul II and Bologna took him decades to finish, but fortunately he got there with just a little time to spare.
An impressively thoughtful and sensitive discussion. You do well to set Aeneas/Pius’s writings in the context of “humanist” culture, and your idea of “maturation” helps you to identify strands of consistency in Aeneas’s concerns. In this latter connection, I think you might have reinforced your points about his concern at the “chaotic dissent and contention” in the Council by more use of his correspondence from the Council before the writing of the De Gestis—the concern is continuously present from the mid-1430s. In noting his concern at the predominance of the lower clergy, you might also have noted the many direct statements which evince a “clericalist” concept of the Council. In discussing Aeneas’ “maturation,” too, you might perhaps have explored the idea that it was determined above all by developing practical awareness, to which theoretical formulation was “posterior”: the practical political dimensions of the situations in which he was involved deserve discussion. Again, you might perhaps have given more explicit attention to the question of Aeneas’ “careerism.” Finally, whilst your discussion of Aeneas/Pius is well-developed, your response to the more generally interpretative second part of the question remained rather under-developed. Nonetheless, a very satisfying essay. R
Thank you, dear Robbo. The fact that I have not one iota of a recollection of what Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, the future Pope Pius II, did or said at the Council of Basle (or in fact at any time) is slightly creepy, and actually I am having some trouble remembering when and why the council happened at all. Still, I suppose the mystery of higher education is how quickly and completely the subject matter evaporates when life carries you in completely different directions through later decades. What is also amazing is how comparatively complex and sophisticated that course for undergraduates evidently was. I do recall that in his elegantly drafted lectures Robbo dragged us into a veritable thicket of debates, many of them highly complex and theologically obscure, that swirled throughout Europe in the period following the Great Schism of the western church, but he managed to make the general councils of the church themselves fascinating and frightening and fun. For me this was the perfect follow-up to my wonderful classes with Geoff Smith towards the end of my time at Melbourne Grammar School, in which we contemplated the sex lives of the condottieri, the sinister methods of the Council of Ten, the banking practices of Florentine agents in London, Paris, and Antwerp, the power of the Arte di Calimala, among many other issues. Now those have stayed with me.


In connection with my increasingly absorbing work on gold, specifically the gold pouring out of Central Victoria and into the Royal Mint Refinery, leased in 1852 to the firm of N. M. Rothschild and Sons, New Court, St. Swithin’s Lane, yesterday I came across a copy of the relevant portion of the catalogue of the Victorian display at the Philadelphia International Exhibition of 1876. What caught my eye was the section listing a display of facsimiles of no fewer than 24 gold nuggets, some of them enormous, that were unearthed in Victoria between 1858 and 1875, a valuable reminder that discoveries of huge quantities of gold continued steadily and in many respects simply accelerated for a period of two decades after the initial rush that commenced in July and August 1851.

Of the 24 surrogates in Philadelphia, twenty stood for gold nuggets that originally weighed 30 oz. or more; eleven 100 oz. or more; and three more than a staggering 884 oz. The largest discovery was that of the amazing 2,283-ounce, 6-pennyweight and 9-grain “Welcome Stranger” nugget, measuring approximately 24 by 12 inches, which was discovered at a depth of only one and a half inches beneath the surface about nine miles away from Dunolly, on February 5, 1869, still the largest gold nugget ever found. No scales were large or strong enough to weigh the whole thing, so a local blacksmith had to break it into three separate pieces on his anvil. Alas it no longer exists, except in facsimile.

Of the 24 nuggets, eight were recovered at depths beneath the surface of 10 feet or less; fourteen deeper than 10, of which ten were found at depths of 100 feet or more. This simply reflects the development of more ambitious mining techniques than those practiced by the earliest licensed diggers. Of these ten, the deepest (307 feet) was the 77-ounce “Lothair” nugget found in 1875 at Clunes.

Five nuggets were found at Creswick between 1871 and 1875; four at the Berlin Diggings between 1870 and 1872; three at Bendigo between 1858 and 1875; three at Dunolly between 1869 and 1872; two at Ballarat in 1858; two at Maryborough (1873) and one each at Turton’s Creek (in South Gippsland, 1873), Smythesdale (not far from Ballarat, 1873), Upper Boggy Creek (modern Tinamba, 1873), and Buninyong (1875). Ten nuggets were found to contain gold of 22.2 carats or more, eight of 23 carats or more, and two of 23.3, in other words of exceptional purity and concentration.

Bear in mind that all but three of these nuggets were discovered long after 25.2 million ounces (787 tons) of gold had already been shipped from Melbourne to London in the ten years between 1851 and 1861. Official records indicate that over 1,300 nuggets weighing 20 ounces or more were found on the goldfields of Victoria. Of these, 400 weighed more than 100 ounces. An Eldorado indeed, and, together with new discoveries in South Africa towards the end of the nineteenth century, enough to anchor, indeed define the value of the pound sterling until the abandonment of the gold standard in 1933. 

It has lately been estimated that the entire quantity of gold removed from the soil of all five continents throughout the history of mining and money ought to fill a cube whose sides measure the length of a cricket pitch (22 yards), in other words a fraction more than 496 million cubic inches, considerably more than 52.8 million troy ounces, which according to my calculation adds up to a little more than $83.4 billion at today’s still comparatively inflated price of $1,580 per ounce. 90% of that has been mined since the establishment of Johannesburg. That 10% of the earlier global stock of gold bullion was through the long nineteenth century more than enough (with silver) to support most of the value of global currencies, and a good proportion of the whole economy. Interestingly, what has not changed in more than 100 years is the general global pattern of consumption of gold. Gold has always flowed in huge quantities into India (just as silver has long flowed into China), in return for everything else: gemstones, tea, coffee, spices, cotton, jute, yarns, silks, grain, etc. And India still remains the hungriest market for gold. In 2010 the total consumer demand of 963.1 tonnes (roughly 3 million troy ounces) represented a growth of 66% relative to 2009, largely driven by the cheap jewellery trade. This was worth approximately $38 billion, far more than the relative value of the corresponding bullion.


A single sheet of lined notepaper fluttered out of a folder early this morning, and must have been torn from a notebook long ago—perhaps the sign of larger plans that never came to fruition. It is inscribed on both sides in the fluid cursive of my late grandmother, Helen Borthwick, and headed “Is there anything in Heredity?”
On the 10th November /53, at the Veterinary School Grounds at Parkville, Melbourne, Ronald M. Borthwick, grazier of Sale, Victoria, demonstrated a revolutionary stock cradle, which could have considerable influence on foot rot control in Australia. Over a hundred years ago, his great-uncle J. J. M. Borthwick, who pioneered Tarong Station, Southern Queensland (the subject of several par[agraph]s Bulletin Feb /52) was one of the first men to ship wool from Queensland, as borne out by the records in the Brisbane Museum. Their family, who have played a prominent part in stock breeding in the Border country of Scotland since the seventeenth century, according to family papers, also produced some noted soldiers, the best known of whom, Major-General William Borthwick, was Wellington’s General of Artillery. Ronald Borthwick, the youngest son of the late Colonel Borthwick, who settled in Gippsland in the 80’s, was one of three brothers who served with the 8th Aus. Light Horse A.I.F. One son was killed at Gallipoli [Keith], another lost an arm in Palestine [Lex], while a fourth brother, a permanent soldier in the British Army, died at Aden in 1908 [John Malcolm]. All eligible descendants served in World War Two.
I think that stock cradle invented by Uncle Ron must have been revolutionary in the sense of rotational, rather than epoch-making, though part of me definitely hopes I am wrong about that. Foremost among the eligible descendants, my grandmother must have been thinking with pride of Uncle David and Aunt Anne, Mum’s elder siblings; she and Uncle John were too young to serve. I must track down those stray paragraphs in the Bulletin, which is evidently yet to be digitized by the excellent National Library of Australia in Canberra.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The loutrophoros

Among its many superb examples of Classical Greek funerary sculpture, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is fortunate to possess an important Attic marble loutrophoros, an object of really outstanding beauty to which I am drawn as often as is practicable. A loutrophoros (from the words loutros and phero, meaning bath and bring) is a tall vase with a high, slender neck, an egg-shaped body and a wide, flaring mouth supported by two handles. It was generally used in Attic wedding rituals and funerary rites. According to Harpokration, “it was the custom at marriage to send for a bath on the wedding day; for this purpose they sent the boy who was the nearest relative, and these boys brought the [water for the] bath [in a loutrophoros]. And it was the custom to put a loutrophoros on the tomb of those who died unwed.” From about the mid-fifth century B.C., the shape of pottery loutrophoroi and lekythoi began to be translated into marble as a more enduring kind of grave marker, the loutrophoros apparently retaining its traditional use for men and women who died unmarried. It was also represented among the objects carved in relief on larger, more elaborate stelai, as a motif clarifying the identity of the deceased. Like stelai, loutrophoroi were sometimes carved  with figures, representations of the deceased with members of his or her family. The large number of loutrophoroi surviving from the second half of the fifth and the fourth centuries B.C. indicates that the type was popular until the time of the sumptuary laws of Demetrios of Phaleron (317/16–316/15 B.C.), and that masons kept a ready supply.

The so-called Brummer loutrophoros (Pentelic marble, 30 in. high, maximum diameter 48½ in., Given in memory of her husband, Ernest Brummer, by Mrs. Ella Baché Brummer, 1975.284) probably dates from about the mid-fourth century B.C., and is one of the finest of its type to have survived from antiquity. Although it is fragmentary—the foot and the base or plinth on which the name of the deceased was probably inscribed, together with the upper section with the high neck, handles, and flaring mouth, have all been lost—the body of the loutrophoros has survived in excellent condition. Evidence of some weathering may be discerned on the front shoulder (to the right), and on the back. Towards the bottom the marble is slightly discolored, and a dark vein runs down the left flank on the front. There are a few chips and other minor losses along the central band and what remains of the handles, as well as a diagonal break at the bottom where it was separated from the foot, but compared with most other published examples the Brummer loutrophoros is very well preserved indeed.

The generous and exceptionally beautiful ovoid shape is decorated with various types of ornament carved in low relief. Three zones are articulated. The lowest of these is adorned with the type of fluting known as gadrooning. Each convex vertical strip or gadroon tapers towards the foot, separated from its neighbours by sharp ridges producing strong vertical lines of shadow which emphasize the graceful swell of the body. On the front, a horizontal band of guilloche ornament—an interlocking pattern of twisting ribbons—divides the lower zone of gadrooning from the shoulder. That gadrooning continues in the upper zone on the back, but on the front a rich field of foliate ornament fills the shoulder. This consists of upright palmettes alternating with lotos buds linked by volute-shaped tendrils from which trumpet-shaped flowers sprout at strategic intervals. The composition is ingeniously arranged so that the fronds of the central palmette align with the base of the neck. The upper part of the loutrophoros, that is, the high neck and the handles, which must originally have culminated in large scrolls supporting a wide mouth, was formed from a single flat vertical extension springing from the shoulder. The surviving portion shows that the neck was carved in relief, and that the handles flared outwards. The lost upper portion of the loutrophoros must have almost doubled the current height of the piece. The base of each handle, positioned at this median point, is decorated with scrolls and rosettes. Foliate ornaments flow out of the scrolls and curl inwards to touch the neck, skillfully rendered in relief so as also to suggest that they twist outwards towards the viewer, and into three-dimensional space.

Some marks of the sculptor’s carving technique survive on the back, which was evidently of only secondary importance. There, the horizontal guilloche pattern is accurately inscribed, but merely blocked in, and not treated with anything like the degree of finish discernible on the front. Point and claw marks are clearly visible on the flat upper section of the back, between the handles. The front shoulder and the guilloche band, by contrast, exhibit a high, indeed pristine degree of finish. The field which supports the palmette ornament is smooth and continuous, as though the stylized buds, leaves, and flowers have been daintily applied to it. The surface is worked with impressive consistency, the depth of the relief evenly maintained throughout. The precision of the carving combined with the delicacy of the organic motifs and the superb modeling of the entire shape, are qualities typical of Classical sculpture in Athens during this period, qualities which Nicholas Penny has described in another context as a “teasing combination of the glyptic and the plastic,” or “a taut, chiseled, geometric discipline in dialogue with soft, modeled, organic form.”

A number of the decorative motifs on the shoulder of the Brummer loutrophoros appear in painted form on a large Apulian loutrophoros attributed to the Metope painter from about the same date. The palmettes, the trumpet-shaped flowers, the lotos buds, curling tendrils, and rosettes—to which is added a cheerful, flying Eros holding an alabastron—are all deployed in the same position on the shoulder of the Apulian loutrophoros. Here they are executed with the fluid playfulness of the painter’s brush, lacking the sparer precision with which the Athenian sculptor handled the decoration of the Brummer loutrophoros. The comparison provides a telling glimpse of the contrasting manner in which identical decorative conventions were employed on the Greek mainland and in Greek colonies in Southern Italy. The Apulian loutrophoros is particularly interesting in the present context because a bronze loutrophoros is included among the decorative elements of the naiskos, which occupies most of the front of the main body of the vase. Standing on the floor between between the mistress and her maid, the loutrophoros is painted in that shade of yellow which was normally used to depict polished mirrors and other bronze objects. The long neck, distinctive, curling handles and gadrooned body leave no doubt that the little vase belongs to the loutrophoros family. The image serves as a useful reminder that the technical challenge of reproducing metal-work effects—most notably elaborate, twisting handles—lay behind the production of loutrophoroi in pottery and stone. 

The Brummer loutrophoros belongs to a relatively large group—known in the literature as rundplastische Ornamentlutrophoren—which were produced from about 380 to about 317 B.C. Most of them have gadrooning and two, three, or four-ribbon guilloche ornament of almost precisely the same type, although relatively few employ palmette and floral decoration on the shoulder. The most important development from early to late exempla was a gradual change in the shape of the body. The center of gravity in early examples (to about 365 B.C.) tends to be located in the upper part of the body, with a correspondingly high guilloche band. From about 365 to about 340 B.C., the period now regarded as the Classical phase of the ornamental loutrophoros type, sculptors eased towards a more comfortable, properly egg-shaped form, the center of gravity and the guilloche band gradually descending to a position slightly above the center of the body. The presence of palmette ornament on the shoulder, not usually found before about 350 B.C., and the use of a solid upright stone section to support the arms, neck, and lip—a practice which became firmly established at around the same date—suggests that the Brummer loutrophoros belongs to the middle decade of the fourth century B.C.

The Brummer loutrophoros was presented to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Mrs. Ella Baché Brummer in memory of her husband the art dealer Ernest Brummer (1891–1964). Mr. Brummer inherited the object from his brother and senior partner Joseph Brummer (1883–1947). The Brummers dealt in art and antiquities of every description, and gave a number of prominent modern European painters and sculptors important early exhibitions in the United States, including Derain, Matisse, Modigliani, Maillol, Rouault, and Brancusi. The Brummers also built up an excellent relationship with the Met. Their close association with Gisela M. A. Richter, head of the department of Greek and Roman antiquities, and James J. Rorimer, head of the Medieval department and director of the Cloisters, led to some of the museum’s most important ancient Greek, Roman, and medieval acquisitions, frequently on generous terms. Joseph Brummer, whose great passion was ancient sculture, bought the loutrophoros probably after 1926 when most of his best pieces were shown at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy. He seems to have been especially interested in loutrophoroi. After his premature death in 1947, no fewer than five of them were offered in the auction sale of his collection at Parke–Bernet, including the present piece, said to be “suitable for the terrace or patio.” But he had handled other important examples as well, most notably the Santa Barbara loutrophoros, which he acquired in 1935 from B. Galdakis, probably in Athens, and sold in 1940 to Wright S. Ludington. Yet another of Joseph Brummer’s loutrophoroi, with surviving fragments of the neck, handles, and lip, was included in the 1979 sale of the Ernest Brummer collection. The Brummer loutrophoros was not sold at the Parke–Bernet sale of 1949, but passed into the collection of Ernest Brummer and, after his death in 1964, to his widow the donor. The strong commemorative and nuptial associations of the loutrophoros type, and its very high quality, make it a fitting memorial to Mr. Brummer, both as a husband and as an old friend of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Prima Porta again

I was a hard-working undergraduate. To my essay for Ron Ridley about the Prima Porta Statue of the Emperor Augustus I appended a select list of Roman coins that bear motifs of hands, and hand gestures. These divide into four sections: 1. coins that are struck with the image of a single, disembodied right hand, usually open, palm facing out (e.g. 280–276 B.C. Anonymous quadrans. OBV: r. hand. RRC, 14.4, pl. D, p. 134); 2. coins with the image of two disembodied clasped hands (e.g. 44 B.C. quinarius [Rome]. OBV: head of Pax, to r. inscr. PAXS; REV: clasped hands, inscr. L AEMILIUS BVCA IIIIVIR. RRC, 480.24, pl. 57.16, p. 491); 3. coins with the image of disembodied hands clasped as before, but clasped around a radically scaled-down legionary standard or caduceus (as in this case, e.g. 48 B.C. denarius. OBV: Head of Pietas, to r. inscr. PIETAS; REV: hands clasped around a caduceus, inscr. ALBINUS BRVTI F. RRC, 450.2, pl. 53, p. 467), and 4. coins with the image of two full-length figures clasping hands (e.g. 41–54 A.D. Denarius (Claudius, Rome). OBV: Laureate head of Claudius, inscr. TR P III; REV: Claudius clasps the hand of a standard-bearing soldier. RIC, Vol. I, pl. 5.89, p. 125). I have absolutely no recollection of trawling through the volumes in search of all those hands, but it clearly had an impact on my subsequent thinking, and partly burrowed its way into The Finger: A Handbook. Now, of course, I see that there are powerful online tools that have superseded the old paper volumes, though not I daresay the awesome scholarship and sitzfleisch that produced those. For a long while I genuinely thought that my undergraduate career happened far too soon—I turned twenty-one only after completing my last fourth-year exams; I still had so many basic things to learn about life—but now I am not so sure. All we had then was a library card, and, if you were lucky, a typewriter. Computer labs opened to humanities students at Melbourne, I seem to recall, in about 1986. Maybe a little earlier. Even then, I had no inkling that such places had any real purpose for me. In this and almost every other respect the undergraduate life we led at Trinity feels today almost as distant as the consulship of Severus and Adventus (A.D. 218).

Prima Porta

Unpacking boxes lately, I came across an old undergraduate essay I wrote for my dear teacher Ronald T. Ridley, in his Roman historiography course in the Department of History at the University of Melbourne in about 1984 or 1985. I was amazed, upon re-reading it, to discover that in a way it anticipated by a good 25 years part of the subject matter of my last book, because in my essay (typed with a liberal snow of white-out) I discuss the famous statue of the Emperor Augustus that was excavated in 1863 at Prima Porta, a few miles north of Rome. Something of that topic must have lodged permanently at the back of my mind, though I am quite sure that while I was writing The Finger: A Handbook I had no conscious recollection of it, none whatsoever. Indeed I seem to have worked back over some of the same ground, and arrived at different conclusions.

In my essay, I wrote: “Augustus is often said to adopt the stance of adlocutio, that is, the posture in which a Roman general addressed his troops. The outstretched arm which is typical of the pose stems rather abruptly from the shoulder without the complex muscular reactions that accommodate the out-stretched limb in Greek sculpture (in the Polykleitian Diadoumenos, for example). These are in any case concealed beneath armour, but most other respects the sculpture satisfies what has been described as the Roman “appendage aesthetic.” There can be little doubt that the arm’s position was conditioned by its iconographical purpose rather than by the overall compositional conception of the sculptor(s).

In Latin the term manus is applied not only to the hand as a member of the body, but also to “the various potencies of the hand,” to express states of emotion, and to indicate all kinds of political and social relationship. The phrases which refer to political and legal “yielding,” “assistance,” and “force” all make use of the term manus where they appear in Livy, Tacitus, Sallust, and others. The manumissio or release of a slave from the manus or domination of his master is another example of the extension of the term. All kinds of obligations were made legal by the handshake, the dextrarum junctio, or by the pouring of a libation. It was possible, before entering a contract, to send dextras, right hands in effigy, to invite the other party to a renewed handclasp. Livy’s description of C. Mucius Scaevola’s act of thrusting his right hand into the flames on which Porsenna had ordered him to die (L 2.12-13, 506 B.C.), receives particular attention. Thomas Cranmer probably knew the story also. Similarly, when Ovid describes Ulysses’ entry into the house of Circe, he is careful to emphasize the hero’s handclasp with the sorceress, a pledge, at least on one level, of good faith (Met. 14.292 ff). The handclasp stemmed from a particularly ancient form of magic, and the disembodied hand image was used again and again in ancient ritual. On Greek grave stelai, for example, the handclasp stands for the continuing bond between the living and the dead. The Roman hand image also had an apotropaic function, as it appears on a metal plate once affixed to a ship. Above all, the appearance of disembodied clasping hands on coinage and their relationship with the concepts of fides and concordia  shows the full extent to which the gesture was synonymous with and even shorthand for abstract political ideas. 

Books about oratory shed further light on the powerful Roman awareness of the semantics of gesture. In his Institutio Oratoria, Quintilian wrote at length about the importance to the orator of countenance. “Gesture is productive of grace” (11.3.65); “the greatest influence is exercised by the glance” (11.3.72), and by the attitude of the eyebrows (11.3.78). Most importantly, he prescribed precise gestures for different types of speech (11.3.84; 92). Quoting from Cicero’s De Oratore (2.45.188), Quintilian covered various gestures deployed for different purposes—including those of the feet, and the fingers (11.3.124 ff; 137 ff).

The only snag is that we cannot now know for certain whether the Prima Porta Augustus was actually made to adopt the adlocutio mode, because all of the fingers of the right hand (except for the ring finger) have been found to be modern restorations. This would certainly make sense archaeologically, because it would be almost perverse for the hand to have survived intact, even only through the course of being imperfectly unearthed and brought by cart to the Vatican. It is therefore quite possible that this statue of Augustus may have originally held a spear or a wreath in the right hand, so the meaning of the statue would have been quite different from that of military commander addressing either his notional troops or a real crowd of passers-by.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mary Grant Bruce

Our relation by marriage the Australian novelist Mary Grant Bruce (1878–1958) was the second daughter and fourth child of Eyre Lewis Bruce of Miegunyah, Traralgon, and Mary (Minnie) Atkinson, the daughter in turn of William and Louisa Whittakers, Welsh pioneers of the Monaro district of New South Wales. Mr. Bruce was a surveyor who migrated to Victoria from Co. Cork in 1854; settled near Sale in East Gippsland ten years later, and surveyed Bruce Road, his only monument, which still skirts the Colquhuon State Forest, commencing at a point on the Princes’ Highway that is roughly half way between Swan Reach and Kalimna West, and leads most of the way north to the neighborhood of Tambo Upper.

The Bruces of East Gippsland were closely bound by marriage my mother’s Borthwick, Pearson, and Gooch families. Two of my great-grandmother [Emily] Sophie Pearson’s younger Gooch siblings of The Fulham near Sale each married a different one of Mary Grant Bruce’s: Frank Gooch married Emily Bruce, while Sophie and Frank’s adored youngest sister Mollie married Maxwell Bruce (Max). Much earlier, in the 1880s, Sophie Pearson’s sister Kate Gooch married William Pearson’s brother Jack, and by this neat and not particularly unusual Victorian stratagem the children of all three families were provided with many cousins, a deep devotion to each other, and a powerful attachment to the region of East Gippsland where they all grew up.

In 1914, Mary Grant Bruce married her distant Anglo-Irish cousin, Major George Evans Bruce, to whom in London she introduced the whole Pearson family.

Beyond these immediate family connections, like the Pearsons, the Bruces were lifelong friends and neighbors of the Borthwick family of Sale and nearby Bald Hills, and shortly after the end of World War I, the Pearsons’ eldest daughter Helen, my grandmother, married William Borthwick. Throughout the extended periods they spent living abroad, George and Mary Grant Bruce corresponded with great-grandmother Ada Borthwick and her daughters, my grandfather’s sisters Jean and Kathleen Borthwick. During the bleak period of crisis that followed the death in a shooting accident in Northern Ireland of the Bruces’ younger son Patrick (Pat), Mary’s affectionate correspondence with Mrs. Borthwick turned more and more toward breathing exercises, thought-power, table-rapping, and spiritualism. The letters, several of them immensely long, are interesting for many reasons, but mainly because they shed such penetrating beams of light on the tight-knit Gippsland circle from which so much of the granular detail of the Billabong novels was liberally harvested.

The original correspondence will in due course go, together with the rest of the Trumble family papers, to the National Library of Australia in Canberra. But in the meantime here are transcriptions of the six long letters from Mary Grant Bruce:

I. Mary Grant Bruce to Ada Borthwick. The sorrow piled on sorrow to which Bruce refers were the death on active duty of two of Ada and William Borthwick’s five sons, John Malcolm at Aden in 1908, and Keith in the Battle of the Nek at Gallipoli in 1915.
Co. Tyrone
N. Ireland
November 30th /29

My dear old friend,
I knew I should hear from you quickly. You have long been my standard of courage under a blow—and even at first, when we were crushed under our agony, I kept remembering you and thinking how gallantly you had always kept up your head, with sorrow piled on sorrow. Having known your courage helps me to carry on, as we must do, for Jon—and because Pat would so hate us to be unhappy. His love was so wonderful—a baby’s, even with his twelve years, and yet not like a child’s in the way he tried to care for me and shield me. He couldn’t bear me to be tired or worried. I keep remembering how he would take off my shoes and put on my slippers, and kiss each foot as he did it, my little loving son—the brain of a man in many ways, but always the loving heart of a baby. It doesn’t seem possible that he is gone.

You will have heard about it from Max or Janie. Thank God, there was no suffering for him—his dear face was quite peaceful. Just “I’m sorry”—and he knew we were doing all we could, and looked at us with such love—and then went to sleep with his cheek against mine like a tired baby. It might have been so infinitely more cruel for him. For us there are memories that can never lose their horror, but thank God, they were ours alone—and the great mercy was that Jon was away. He is so brave and steady—carrying on well at school and doing his very best for us. His housemaster wrote, “His quiet, manly courage, his complete thought for you and his mother, have won all our admiration and respect.” But it is so hard for him, for their mutual love was a beautiful thing. They were so unlike, but each thought the other the most wonderful boy in the world. Did anyone tell you how the shock was eased for Jon? We were sick with anxiety for its effect on him, knowing he must hear it from strangers—he is in his first term at Repton, in Derbyshire. But on the two nights before the accident he dreamed that Pat was dead. He said, “I kept thinking of it, and it was like a cloud over me, and when Mr. Hooton sent for me I knew what he was going to say.”

I know all is well with my darling. I never think of him “at rest”—I believe that he has gone on to work, the work for which his splendid brain and beautiful spirit were made. Do you know Kingsley’s words—“The best reward for having wrought well on earth is to have more to do; and he that has been faithful over a few things, he shall find his reward in being made ruler over many things. That is the true and heroical rest, which only is worthy of gentlemen and sons of God.” [Charles Kingsley, Westward Ho! Or, The Voyages and Adventures of Sir Amyas Leigh, Knight… (Cambridge: Macmillan, 1855), p. 213.] I believe they don’t go so very far—that they work up from plane to plane until they are worthy to stand in His Presence. And there are so many who have crossed over who would love him and guide his little feet—he won’t be lonely.

But the loneliness without him! He had been at home 2½ months, because he had had appendicitis—and his happiness, his joy of being alive, were beyond expression. I never knew anyone who played the fool so divinely—I think we laughed all the time. It was like having the spirit of sunshine in the house. And I was still shivering with thankfulness at having got him safely through the operation, and each hour was precious to me, from the moment he came dashing in to my bed in the morning until I tucked him up at night. Well, I have my memories—and I shall have my baby always in my heart.

I loved the poem you sent, and will keep it always: it must be doubly precious to you in your dear boy’s writing. I wonder if they have rest. The Spiritualists believe that the young soldiers act as Guides to help the new spirits who go over and I think it a lovely thing to feel.

My best love to you, dear old friend.

Yours ever affectionately,

M. G. Bruce

II. Mary Grant Bruce to Ada Borthwick
Dorset Road

28th Oct. /33.
Dearest Mrs. Borthwick,

It isn’t often I get the chance of answering a letter “all hot from the oven”—but your lovely letter have just come in on a cold grey evening, and it—and your flowers—brought Australia so vividly to me that I just cast everything I ought to be doing to the winds, and here goes. The flowers were wonderfully fresh. The heath, flat as flat, but perfectly coloured, looks as though it were painted on a sheet of paper. It was lovely to hear from you—every bit of the news of old Sale friends so good to hear. Give my love to them all—and when you see Winnie, tell her I’d love a letter. I am so glad she is still with the Baileys. Torchie [Gooch] was with us for 3 weeks—a fine boy—He and Jon twin-souled completely—scurried all over the country on bicycles and made Robinswood a gay place. I loved having him—and he understood my Gippsland-hunger and let himself be pumped about everyone and everything. He is now in the North, in a wee car—spent a Sunday with Jon at Repton, and means to go to see him again. He sails on Nov. 11th. I’m afraid I won’t see him again. George spent a day with him in London, showing him “sights.” My Jon is large and very strong. 5 ft. 10 in bare feet, with a mighty chest—nothing left of the delicate little lad he used to be, thank God. And the very best of loving sons. Everyone seems to like him—he has such a kind heart. We are great mates. He is to go to one of the big Agricultural Colleges next year—is now in his last year at Repton—was lately given a House Exhibition of £25, given not for scholarship but for character and good influence. He has a strong turn for science, and I hope he will develop that at the Agric.l College; where the scientific side is very strong. George and I are always well, in fact, people say we grow younger. We are hard hit financially, like most people, but it doesn’t trouble us and I never regret that Jon has to grow up knowing that money isn’t necessary for happiness. We are all very interested in the modern study of thought-power, and apply it to all our daily life, including the control of our bodies—and we have now no ailments. We used to have so many, but in the last 3½ years have had only one apiece—a slight cold. We deep breathe regularly, with thought: thinking we take in strength, hold it into our whole being, and expel weakness: it has an amazing effect in producing the sound body and the happy mind.

It’s most interesting to be alive now, and to see all these mental developments growing—everywhere people are studying psychology, healing by mental methods, using the creative power of thought in  all matters. They say the “Age of Mind” is opening, and certainly youth is thinking as it never thought before. Christian Science always had a lot of this truth, though, I think, overlaid with too much Mary Baker Eddy! I don’t hold with them that pain and illness don’t exist, but I know they can be largely avoided by thought: and the more one dwells on good, the more good comes to one. Which Paul expressed in “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are good, whatsoever things are lovely…of good report…if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, THINK ON THESE THINGS.” [Philippians 4:8.]

It was queer—if such things are queer—that I had been thinking of you a great deal lately. But that so often happens—one thinks strongly of a person, and then one meets them, or have a letter. We’re all wireless-sets. Mother and I used to exchange thought constantly—and I think—I know—we do so still. She and Father often seem so near, especially when I need a bit of extra help over anything. As for Pat—well, his nearness is often a very real thing. I don’t see any reason why it should not be. We know there are “messengers given charge concerning us, to keep us in all our ways” [Luke 4: 10.]—and why should they not be those who love us best?

A few months after Pat went I met in London a delightful elderly Scotswoman; we met at the Club, introduced by a mutual acquaintance who knew very little about me. We liked each other, she found that I was keen on old houses, and asked me to come and see hers in Chelsea. I went, and as we were sitting talking after tea, I noticed that her eyes strayed past me several times. Presently she said, “Mrs. Bruce, I hope you won’t mind if I say something—I’m like many Highlanders, I have “the sight,” and so had my mother before me—and I see someone so plainly near you that I feel I must tell you.” I said “Yes?” very bewildered. “He has been standing very near you for some minutes—a boy about 12, with such a rosy, happy face, and a sweep of golden hair across a splendid brow”—and she went on to describe Pat minutely, every detail correct. “He’s so happy that I see him, and you know—he is putting his arm round your shoulders and smiling at you in such a protective way.”

There are so many who have similar experiences. This was especially striking, as she knew nothing about me and my loss—I have never worn mourning, which we all detest, and our meeting and our talk had been quite impersonal. It gave me a comfort I cannot explain—something of “the Peace that passeth all understanding.” [Philippians 4:7.] I knew Pat was there, with a deep, inner knowing—knew he was alive and busy and working somewhere “about his Father’s business,” [Luke 2:49] but “still living, still loving, still mine”—able to be near his dearests sometimes,--perhaps as a part of that “business.” I have never lost the feeling: it grows and deepens. I know he’s not with me always—I wouldn’t want to hold him there, and keep him from his job. But sometimes I have a sudden wave of knowledge that he is beside me—as if I could almost touch him: and always there comes that great wave of happiness. We keep with him step by step in that otherwhere—we’ve just kept his 16th birthday happily. As for thinking of him as “dead,” that seems to us merely silly!

There is a tremendous drive of interest in the future life and the matter of survival. Wherever you go you hear it talked about. In this age of empty churches the one thing that will fill a church to the doors is the announcement of a sermon on the future life; and psychic investigation on scientific and religious lines is spreading by leaps and bounds. One development that is very marked is the spread of spiritual healing, due to the Spiritualist bodies—there is scarcely a little town in England that is without its “healing circle,” and in every private asylum there are Spiritualists “casting out devils,” and restoring people just as the Master did. There is, of course, a fearful lot that is cheap and fraudulent about so-called Spiritualism, but there is also a steadily growing side that claims to have received teaching from the Other Side that has made life a new thing—and these people are living a life of love and service because of it. One constantly hears sermons on the wireless about it, and in London there is a body of clergymen, over 200 strong, who are steadily investigation psychic matters. Some of the most prominent Presbyterian divines have openly declared their belief in psychic “communications.” This tremendous “drive,” which has steadily increased since the first year of the War, makes one think. I had a complete scorn for the whole thing four years ago. But now I wonder if the strength of this wave of pressure from the Other Side is not a counter-blast to another wave almost as strong—the denial of God. Look at it in Russia: look at it wherever the Communist element is strong. It isn’t only in the Communist “Sunday schools,” where children are deliberately taught to jeer at God: it is in the educated classes, led by such men as Julius Huxley [sic] and Bernard Shaw. A professor at the London University put two questions 2 years ago to a class of about 30 undergraduates: 1. “Do you believe in the existence of God?” With about 4 exceptions the answer was a flat “No.” Last year there was a series of Sunday talks on “The Future Life” by well-known men—they say never was a series more keenly listened to, more provocative of letters on both sides. There were 12 talks, and 6 of the speakers argued brilliantly against any existence after death. It is the same in the schools: Jon says many fellows at Repton, fine fellows too, have no belief in God or a future. The Churches cannot hold the young. And the young are “seeking”: the wave of riot and indiscipline that followed the War is being succeeded by a desire for something fine to hold to. They are getting together in groups, talking things out. The Oxford Group movement is a sign of the times: apart from it there are innumerable “Conferences of Youth” meeting to discuss problems of life and mind. Jon went to one in the holidays—70 or 80 young people, from 17–30, who spent a week-end discussing modern problems. A boy of 18 couldn’t have done that in my youth without being thought “queer,” but no one would apply that epithet to our large and merry Jon. It’s normal now.

Well, I’ve run along—somehow felt you’d be interested in the things that are interesting us. Life is very full—one curious result of believing as we do about mind-power and thought-control is that people are always coming to talk—many of them in trouble. It makes one happy, feeling that one is used as a channel, but one’s days disappear in a disconcerting fashion! However, it is one form of being “on service,” and I believe that’s the only thing that matters.

What a lot you’ve always given, in affection and happy outlook—and in laughter, which is one of the best forces in life. Do you know what I was thinking of the day before your letter came? Do you remember coming to see Mother when she was ill and we’d put her for coolness in father’s little room? You’d said good-bye, but you suddenly turned from the front door and ran back to her, and said “I just had to come back and pull your pigtail!” If you knew how many laughs that gave her—bless you! Other people used to look like [scowling face] and ask about her symptoms.

Write again some time—I do love to hear. My love to you and all the dear old friends. How I would love a yarn to you.

Yours ever affectionately,

M. G. Bruce

III. Mary Grant Bruce to Ada Borthwick

22nd Sept. 1935
Dearest Mrs. Borthwick,

You know without my telling you how sorry I was to hear from Jean of your illness—and if I were a free agent I’d be in London tomorrow to see you and the girls: but I’m a duck with one wing at the moment, having lately had a minor operation, about which Jean will tell you, and my stitches don’t come out until tomorrow. It’s nothing to worry about, but it will tie me here for a bit.

But being 70 miles from you is not a bar to thought, and in that way I am near you now, and will keep near. For years we have studied the power of thought, steadily held, to help in illness; and we know how real it is. The Guild of Healing to which we belong, works altogether by mental means, thought and prayer, for cases sent to it, and the cures that I could tell you about are more like miracles than anything else. We look on thought as a kind of wireless, and we know that where there is love and sympathy and faith that wireless goes straight to its object. I feel that you can believe this—anyhow just because you know I love you, will you try to remember that especially twice a day at 7.30 a.m. and 9.30 p.m. I am thinking steadily at you?—picturing you happy and peaceful, with rays of vitality and health pouring into you, building up new health and harmony in all your being—and will you relax and feel receptive?

Of course one is “nothing of oneself.” We just believe in the Master as the Great Healer, just as keen to give people health as He was when He walked in Galilee: we believe that those we have loved, who have gone ahead, are working for Him in that purpose, relaying, as it were, His wireless rays to those who suffer: and we believe that anyone on earth can join in that purpose and be channels for His healing. It doesn’t for a moment supersede the work of doctors and nurses, but it does help to make an atmosphere that aids all their work.

It isn’t for us to say precisely what “healing” is. The healing of the Master is from within, and it manifests as He directs—often in complete bodily recovery, or perhaps in the deepest healing of all—absolutely peace of soul. But the Blessing never fails if only one opens oneself to receive it. One patient said to me—“I just had the feeling that the Everlasting Arms were holding me fast.”

I haven’t the slightest doubt that all our “dearests” who have gone over are working round you now. I must tell you a little story of my operation last week. After it was over, the sister who had been present as chatting to me in the evening, and asked me “Who is Pat?” “Pat is my son,” I said. “Why?” “Well, when you were unconscious you began to wriggle—and then you said happily, ‘Pat says, “Lie still, Mother,”—Pat says “Lie quite still, Mother—it’s all right—you’re going to be quite well.”’ And you did lie still!” finished sister.

So I picture you, with all your dear ones looking after you, those you can see and those you can’t—and there are no “visiting hours” for the ones you can’t see—they’re there all the time, “messengers Given charge concerning thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” [Psalm 91: 11, cfr. Matthew 4: 6.]

My best love, and I’ll be looking out for very good reports of you.

With strongest thoughts.

Yours lovingly,

Minnie G. Bruce

IV. Mary Grant Bruce to Jean Borthwick
Dorset Road
24th Sept. ’35.
My dear Jean,

I was so glad to hear that your mother was going on well—her message was just her, wasn’t it? I was very interested to hear what the Doctor said of the blood-vessels expanding to carry the extra supply, because I’ve known other instances of what they call “compensating adjustments” developing to relieve heart trouble. My father had a weak heart all his life, and we never knew when an attack of palpitation would come. Certainly his doctor thought one would carry him off. But he lived to be 90, and in the last 10 years the heart strengthened, and was wonderfully strong in his last illness—a stroke. With what I know now I believe it was largely due to his serenity of mind: he took care—after 75!—but he declined to worry. And his last few years were wonderful, for his mind was so clear and young.

My husband’s heart was weak for years—he was not allowed to go to the Front in the War, and always had to be very careful. Five years ago, when we were both in the mud, mentally and physically, we were put on to a system of breathing with the use of thought, and though we hadn’t the least faith in it—it seemed to us so visionary, and we’re very practical people—we promised to try it for 3 months. The results fairly amazed us. We lost every ailment we had, and they were many—even in my case, frequent acute lumbago. In 5 years we’ve each had 2 slight colds—we used to have colds and ’flu all the winter. Our minds toned up with our bodies, and we came back from the depths to be happy, normal, and stronger than we had been for twenty years.

Once you get interested in this sort of thing it is a queer fact that all sorts of side-lights seem to be led to you about it. One in our case was a course of lectures on practical psychology. We learned a lot from it: the lecturer was very keen on thought used constructively. He said that all the body responded to thought, but that three organs were especially susceptible to it—the eyes, the ears, and the heart. So my husband and I treated his heart steadily, just thinking strength into it. I don’t mean that we made a ceremony of it: he made it part of his breathing exercises, and I thought at him quietly alone. It helps very much in mental treatment to make a mental picture of the person you want to help, for one’s mental pictures have real power—so real that nowadays we literally do not dare to picture anything that includes fear. When I treat a case, I “see” him, happy, strong, well, bathed in light, and that light signifies to me the supply of all his special need. One can’t, oneself, know all his need, because one is finite: but if that light can represent to you the Infinite Love, help can’t fail.

There are not always cures, as man counts cures—though there are many. But whenever one talks to people engaged in mental healing one hears of amazing cases where pain goes. I know of one, a man with very advanced cancer of throat, in ghastly pain and fear: and under mental healing every bit of pain and fear went. He lived on for 6 weeks, in perfect serenity, and his passing was a triumph.

I don’t often use the term “faith-healing,” for it puts off people who can’t feel faith. I had very little myself. But if one can get people to try—just for an experiment—so often results come; and then faith takes care of itself. One can’t whip up faith to order, but one can take a chance to help—and I don’t think God bothers about one’s beliefs or lack of them, so long as one is trying to help. And when a result comes that is beyond any earthly explaining—well, one just knows that it is God, and one realizes that God needs human channels to work with. So we just go on holding our little pictures of people bathed in light, and when we finish we give thanks—before we see any result. That’s important.

And then one mustn’t spoil it by worrying. It was very hard for me to realise this, being a born worrier: harder still to practice. Then I was taught the power of affirmative prayer—the prayer that not only asks, but takes. The 23rd Psalm is a supreme example—“The Lord is my shepherd, therefore I lack nothing,” and the power of that Psalm, especially when said aloud, is most remarkable. Any affirmation for God has power. I have my own, for any matter that tries to worry me: whenever a worry-thought comes I say “God’s looking after that—it’s all right.” It’s beyond any explaining, how it can turn aside worry—even material difficulties seem to melt. It seems to me that it is like linking-up with some reservoir of power.

We “sit under” a very fine Presbyterian minister here who said something once that is worth thinking over in this connection—“Most of us pray wrongly—we’re so busy clasping hands in prayer that we omit to open them to receive.” And we have grown to believe that the prayer that merely asks isn’t much good: we’ve got to do something ourselves, to get busy about taking. It fits in, doesn’t it, with, “Whatsoever ye ask, believing that ye have received—” [Mark 11: 24.]

It doesn’t mean living on a high plane. This is as jolly and ordinary a home as you can see, full of laughter. Only we have learned a few things about practical working, and no other religion is any good to me—I’ve got to see practical results. We are only stumblers on the way, always learning, always making mistakes. But we do get results that make the learning worthwhile: if I can pass onto you and Kathleen a few thoughts that may help you in a difficult time, then I’m paying a bit of the debt I owe for all I’ve been given in the way of help. We don’t limit our system to illness: it works over all the practical happenings of every day. It works extraordinarily over smoothing journeys: we’ve had experiences of travel being smoothed away that have made us gasp, they’re so strange. Try it when you think you’re going to miss a train, when things go wrong—“God’s looking after this—it’s all right.” And it will be.

Don’t be put off by a faith-healer who has to charge a fee. After all, he has to pay rent and food-bills, and if he doesn’t make a charge he might be quite unable to give his time. One has to look at the thing practically. I know a woman who had the power of being a channel very strongly. She declined to take any fees, believing it to be wrong. She was very poor, a widow whose two sons had been killed in the War, and she earned her living by teaching music, going here and there to pupils, taking healing cases at every moment when she could fit them in, often until midnight. Her friends begged her to drop teaching and charge healing fees, but she wouldn’t: and she was wearing herself out. Then it really seemed that God took a hand and said “my channel shall not be wasted,” for by a succession of coincidences all her pupils fell away, leaving her with none, until she was forced to charge a small fee for patients. Today she is doing wonderful work, keeping all her energy and time for the healing. She still hates taking fees, but she has learned that it isn’t sense to waste her gift.

Some people have the gift strongly through touch. I believe most people are healers, more or less: and the gift can always be developed. The laying-on of hands may be used by anyone: I have known the pain of a double-dislocation relieved by a woman who had never tried anything of the kind before, but, wrung by the sight of the girl’s agony, obeyed a sudden impulse to stroke her gently, with a desperate prayer to be made a channel. It was four hours before the doctor came, and all that time the girl was out of pain as long as the hands kept on her—if the “channel” moved away for a moment the pain returned in full force. None of us know how we may be used, until we try.

I hope all this hasn’t bored you—you needn’t answer it! I got interested in the method of our treatment in telling you about my husband’s heart, and didn’t tell you the result. The result is that there now seems nothing wrong with it! Last year we three went for a 3-weeks’ cycling tour in Devon and Cornwall, doing hundreds of miles in that hilly country, and nothing tried him. This summer he went to Wales for 3 weeks, walking 12–20 miles a day in the mountains and came home looking like a boy. He is 68. Whereas he used to cherish colds all the winter, he now seems immune to either colds or winter flu. Last winter he went about in flannels. I wore an overcoat exactly three times. I submit that if only on the score of economy this result is worth attaining! And it is entirely due to the “Healing and Strength” system we were given 5 years ago. I’ll put in a copy.

The length of this letter will show you it doesn’t hurt me to write—my wound is just west of the armpit, and my forearm is quite available for duty. I am much gayer now that the stitches are out—for a few days I must take things easily, but I’ll soon be well.

Please keep on feeling very hopeful—don’t let yourself say that you’re afraid of anything: that’s an affirmation that is too risky to use. I seem to have cast most of my burden of fears, but there’s one thing I’m afraid to say, and that is—“I’m afraid!”

Much love to you both, and my strongest thoughts.

            Yours affectionately,

                        M. G. Bruce

V. Mary Grant Bruce to Jean Borthwick
Dorset Road

24th Oct. ’35.
My dear Jean,

I was so sorry not have a glimpse of you and Kathleen yesterday, so am writing to wish you both a happy and peaceful voyage. It was lovely to see your dear little Mother, and she was so bright and happy. I hope my visit did not tire her. It seems such a good plan that you have changed cabins, if only for the possibility of keeping a port-hole open and my experience is that a ship doctor gives far more attention to a class in the 1st class.

You say I was a tow-rope. I wasn’t: I only showed you a tow-rope. It is there all the time, if you will grip it. Don’t let your minds dwell on difficulties, either present or possible—cast your burden by affirming the Power that can deal with any difficulty. Our affirmation—“God’s looking after it—it’s all right”—is the best tow-rope I know. It has pulled us out of many a bad hole. It is just an affirmative prayer, and that is the most powerful form of prayer.

It seems to me that in the mysterious form of “wireless” that prayer works we have to make an active connection that establishes the full electric circuit. I’m not scientific, but I compare it with getting light into a room. We don’t know what electricity is; we only know that it is a force man can use if he turns on a switch. If he only looks at the switch, and prays “let light come,” he has not connected up fully. But if he makes an active connection, pulling down the switch, he has affirmed faith in it—and he gets light. Our affirmative prayer—like the 23rd Psalm, which is our splendid affirmation—is the pulling down of the switch.

I know that if you practice it regularly you will feel worry drop from you and feel that strength has been given you to face any emergency. You will “lift up your hearts”: and the mental sympathy that is so strong between mother and children will enable your mother to sense that confidence and serenity in you, and it will react upon her in every way.

Will you send me a p.c. from some of the ports to say how the journey goes? I’ll be thinking of you all every day, and knowing that “God’s looking after you—you’re all right.”

Love to you both, and “bon voyage.”

Yours affectionately,

Mary Grant Bruce

VI. Mary Grant Bruce to Jean Borthwick and Kathleen Borthwick
Dorset Road

19th Nov. ’39
My dear Kathleen and Jean,

It was not until I came back to Victoria lately that I heard that your dear mother had gone to find those waiting for her on the Other Side—and what a reunion that must have been! But to you two, whose companionship made her life here beautiful to the end, there must be great loneliness. And George and I send you all our sympathy. I am sure you would not have wished her to stay, once she grew too tired, but the daily blank is hard to bear at first. I have found it only lessens when one can concentrate thought on the one who has gone ahead—picturing that new life, blessing daily the one we love in new joys and service. I am so very sure they never go beyond the reach of our love and our blessings.

I can think of very few people who so consistently gave love and received it as your mother. She is my very oldest friend: always an example of what could be, and of “gallant and high-hearted happiness.” [cfr. “Grant to us, O Lord, the royalty of inward happiness, and the serenity which comes from living close to thee. Daily renew in us the sense of joy, and let the eternal spirit of the Father dwell in our souls and bodies, filling every corner of our hearts with light and grace; so that, bearing about with us the infection of good courage, we may be diffusers of life, and may meet all ills and cross accidents with gallant and high-hearted happiness, giving thee thanks always for all things.” Robert Louis Stevenson.] I don’t suppose she ever guessed how much she helped other people—but she had only to be her dear self to do that.

With much love.

Your affectionate friend

Mary Grant Bruce