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Old Familiar Faces   By: (1832-1914)

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[Picture: Mrs. William Morris. “She was the most lovely woman I have ever known, her beauty was incredible.”—Theodore Watts Dunton]


For some years before his death it was the intention of Theodore Watts Dunton to publish in volume form under the title of ‘Old Familiar Faces,’ the recollections of his friends that he had from time to time contributed to The Athenæum . Had his range of interests been less wide he might have found the time in which to further this and many other literary projects he had formed; but he was, unfortunately, very slow to write, and slower still to publish. His long life produced in published works a number of critical and biographical essays contributed to periodicals and encyclopædias, a romance (‘Aylwin’), a sheaf of poems (‘The Coming of Love’), two of the most stimulating critical pronouncements that his century produced (‘Poetry’ and ‘The Renascence of Wonder’), a handful of introductions to classics—and that is all.

Only those who were frequent visitors at “The Pines” can form any idea of his keen interest in life and affairs, which seemed to grow rather than to diminish with the passage of each year, even when 81 had passed him by. At his charmingly situated house at the foot of Putney Hill, he lived a life of as little seclusion as he would have lived in Fleet Street. Here he received his friends and acquaintances, and there was little happening in the world outside with which he was unacquainted.

He was a tremendous worker, and only a few months before his death he wrote of “the enormous pressure of work” that was upon him, telling his correspondent that he had “no idea, no one can have any idea, what it is. I am an early riser and breakfast at seven, and from that hour until seven in the evening, I am in full swing of my labours with the aid of two most intelligent secretaries.”

To outlive his generation is, perhaps, the worst fate that can befall a man; but this cannot truly be said of Theodore Watts Dunton, who seemed to be of no generation in particular. His interest in the life of the twentieth century, a life so different from that of his own youth and early manhood, was strangely keen and insistent. Sometimes in talking of his great contemporaries, Tennyson, Meredith, Swinburne, Rossetti, Morris, Matthew Arnold, Borrow, there would creep into his voice a note of reminiscent sadness; but it always seemed poetic rather than personal. It may be said that he never really grew up, that his spirit never tired. His laugh was as youthful as the hearty “My dear fellow,” with which he would address his friends.

His most remarkable quality was his youth. His body had aged, his voice had shrunk; but once launched into the subject of literature, Greek verse in particular (he regarded the Attic tongue as the peculiar vehicle for poetic expression), he seemed immediately to become a young man. When quoting his favourite passage from Keats, his voice would falter with emotion.

Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

These lines he regarded as the finest in English poetry.

He possessed the great gift of conversation. Every subject seemed to develope quite naturally out of that which had preceded it, and although in a single hour he would have passed from Æschylus and Sophocles to twentieth century publishers, there was never any break or suspicion of a change of topic... Continue reading book >>

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