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A Mummer's Wife   By: (1852-1933)

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In the sunset of his life a man often finds himself unable to put dates even upon events in which his sympathies were, and perhaps are still, engaged; all things seem to have befallen yesterday, and yet it cannot be less than three years since we were anxious to testify to our belief in the kindness and justice with which you had fulfilled your double duties in the Morning Post towards us and the proprietors of the paper.

A committee sprang up quickly, and a letter was addressed by it to all the notable workers in the arts and to all those who were known to be interested in the arts, and very soon a considerable sum of money was collected; but when the committee met to decide what form the commemorative gift should take, a perplexity arose, many being inclined towards a piece of plate. It was pointed out that a piece of plate worth eight hundred pounds would prove a cumbersome piece of furniture a white elephant, in fact in the small house or apartment or flat in which a critic usually lives. The truth of this could not be gainsaid. Other suggestions were forthcoming for your benefit, every one obtaining a certain amount of support, but none commanding a majority of votes; and the perplexity continued till it was mooted that the disposal of the money should be left to your option, and in view of the fact that you had filled the post of art critic for many years, you decided to found a Slade scholarship. It seemed to you well that a young man on leaving the Slade School should be provided with a sum of money sufficient to furnish a studio, and some seven or eight hundred pounds were invested, the remainder being spent on a trinket for your personal wear a watch. I have not forgotten that I was one of the dissidents, scholarships not appealing to me, but lately I have begun to see that you were wise in the disposal of the money. A watch was enough for remembrance, and since I caught sight of it just now, the pleasant thoughts it has evoked console me for your departure: after bidding you good bye on the doorstep, I return to my fireside to chew the cud once again of the temperate and tolerant articles that I used to read years ago in the Morning Post .

You see, Ross, I was critic myself for some years on the Speaker , but my articles were often bitter and explosive; I was prone to polemics and lacked the finer sense that enabled you to pass over works with which you were not in sympathy, and without wounding the painter. My intention was often to wound him in the absurd hope that I might compel him to do better. My motto seems to have been 'Compel them to come in' words used by Jesus in one of his parables, and relied on by ecclesiastics as a justification of persecution, and by many amongst us whose names I will not pillory here, for I have chosen that these pages shall be about you and nothing but you. If I speak of myself in a forgotten crusade, it is to place you in your true light. We recognized your critical insight and your literary skill, but it was not for these qualities that we, the criticized, decided to present you, the critic, with a token of our gratitude; nor was it because you had praised our works (a great number of the subscribers had not received praise from you): we were moved altogether, I think, by the consciousness that you had in a difficult task proved yourself to be a kindly critic, and yet a just one, and it was for these qualities that you received an honour, that is unique, I think, in the chronicles of criticism.


Memory pulls me up, and out of some moments of doubt, the suspicion emerges that all I am writing here was read by me somewhere: but it was not in our original declaration of faith, for I never saw it, not having attended the presentation of the testimonial. Where, then? In the newspapers that quoted from the original document? Written out by whom? By Witt or by MacColl, excellent writers both? But being a writer myself, I am called upon to do my own writing... Continue reading book >>

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