The Puppet Show of Memory
Transcriber’s Note: A few obvious printer’s mistakes have been corrected (inparticular in the Index, where entries often didn’t match the spelling givenin the main text, and have been changed to do so); any remaining errors arethe author’s own.
THE PUPPET SHOW OF MEMORY
THE PUPPET SHOW
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
Printed in Great Britain
My thanks are due to Messrs. Methuen for allowingme to use in Chapters XVI.-XIX. some matterwhich has already appeared in A Year in Russiaand Russian Essays, two books published by them; toMr. Leo Maxse for allowing me to use an article onSarah Bernhardt which appeared in the National Review,and has been re-written for this book; to Father C. C.Martindale and Mr. Desmond MacCarthy for kindly correctingthe proofs.
|II.||The Nursery and the Schoolroom||14|
|VIII.||Italy, Cambridge, Germany, London||138|
|IX.||Oxford and Germany||165|
|XIV.||Russia and Manchuria||263|
|XVI.||London, Manchuria, Russia||305|
|XVII.||Russia: the Beginning of the Revolution||332|
|XIX.||Travel in Russia||367|
|XX.||South Russia, Journalism, London||386|
|XXII.||The Balkan War, 1912||406|
|XXIII.||Constantinople Once More (1912)||418|
|XXIV.||The Fascination of Russia||430|
|Portraits of Sarah Bernhardt by the Author (age 7), drawn in 1881||228|
|Sarah Bernhardt in the ’eighties||229|
PUPPET SHOW OF MEMORY
When people sit down to write their recollectionsthey exclaim with regret, “If only I had kept adiary, what a rich store of material I should nowhave at my disposal!” I remember one of the masters atEton telling me, when I was a boy, that if I wished to make afortune when I was grown up, I had only to keep a detaileddiary of every day of my life at Eton. He said the same thingto all the boys he knew, but I do not remember any boy of mygeneration taking his wise advice.
On the other hand, for the writer who wishes to recall pastmemories, the absence of diaries and notebooks has its compensations.Memory, as someone has said, is the greatest ofartists. It eliminates the unessential, and chooses with carelessskill the sights and the sounds and the episodes that are bestworth remembering and recording. The first thing I canremember is a Christmas tree which I think celebrated theChristmas of 1876. It was at Shoreham in Kent, at a housebelonging to Mr. H. B. Mildmay, who married one of my mother’ssisters. I was two years old, and I remember my Christmaspresent, a large bird with yellow and red plumage, which for along time afterwards lived at the top of the nursery wardrobe.It was neither a bird of Paradise nor a pheasant; possibly onlya somewhat flamboyant hen; but I loved it dearly, and itirradiated the nursery to me for at least two years.
The curtain then falls and rises again on the nursery of37 Charles Street, Berkeley Square, London. The nurseryepoch, which lasted till promotion to the schoolroom and lessonsbegan, seems to children as long as a lifetime, just as housesand places seem to them infinitely large. The nursery was onthe third floor of the house, and looked out on to the street.There was a small night-nursery next door to it, which hadcoloured pictures of St. Petersburg on the wall.
I can remember the peculiar roar of London in those days;the four-wheelers and hansoms rattling on the macadam pavementthrough the fog, except when there was straw down inthe street for some sick person; and the various denizens ofthe streets, the lamplighter and the muffin-man; often abarrel-organ, constantly in summer a band, and sometimes aPunch and Judy. During the war, when the streets began tobe darkened, but before the final complete darkness set in in1917, London looked at night very much as it was in my childhood.But the strange rumbling noise had gone for ever.Sometimes on one of the houses opposite there used to be anheraldic hatchment. The nursery was inhabited by my brotherHugo and myself, our nurse, Hilly, and two nurserymaids,Grace Hetherington, and Annie. Grace was annexed by me;Annie by Hugo. Hilly had been nurse to my sisters and, Ithink, to my elder brothers too. She had the slightly weather-beatenbut fresh agelessness of Nannies, and her most violentthreat was: “I’ll bring my old shoe to you,” and one of hermost frequent exclamations: “Oh, you naughty boy, you verynaughty boy!” The nursery had Landseer pictures in giltframes, and on the chest of drawers between the two windowsa mechanical toy of an entrancing description. It was a squarebox, one side of which was made of glass, and behind this glasscurtain, on a small platform, a lady sat dressed in light bluesilk at an open spinet; a dancing master, in a red silk doubletwith a powdered wig and yellow satin knee-breeches, on oneside of it, conducted, and in the foreground a little girl in shortskirts of purple gauze covered with spangles stood ready todance. When you wound up the toy, the lady played, the manconducted elegantly with an open score in one hand and abaton in the other, and the little girl pirouetted. It onlyplayed one short, melancholy, tinkling, but extremely refineddance-tune.
At one of the top windows of the house opposite, a littlegirl used to appear sometimes. Hugo and I used to exchangesignals with her, and we called her Miss Rose. Our muteacquaintance went on for a long time, but we never saw herexcept across the street and at her window. We did not wishto see more of her. Nearer acquaintance would have marredthe perfect romance of the relation.
There were two forms of light refreshment peculiar tothe nursery, and probably to all nurseries: one was Albertbiscuits, and the other toast-in-water. Children call for anAlbert biscuit as men ask for a whisky-and-soda at a club,not from hunger, but as an adjunct to conversation and abreak in monotony. At night, after we had gone to bed, weused often to ask monotonously and insistently for a drink ofwater. “Hilly, I want a drink of water”; but this meant,not that one was thirsty, but that one was frightened andwanted to see a human being. All my brothers and sisters,I found out afterwards, had done the same thing in the sameway, and for the same reason, but the tradition had beenhanded down quite unconsciously. I can’t remember how thenursery epoch came to an end; it merges in my memorywithout any line of division, into the schoolroom period; butthe first visits in the country certainly belonged to the nurseryepoch.
We used to go in the summer to Coombe Cottage, nearMalden, an ivy-covered, red-brick house, with a tower at oneend, a cool oak hall and staircase, a drawing-room full of water-colours,a room next to it full of books, with a drawing-tableand painting materials ready, and a long dining-room, of whichthe narrow end was a sitting-room, and had a verandah lookingout on to the garden. There was also a kitchen garden, lawns,a dairy, a gardener, Mr. Baker, who made nosegays, a deaf-and-dumbunder-gardener who spoke on his fingers, a farmyard,and a duck-pond into which I remember falling.
Coombe was an enchanted spot for us. My recollection ofit is that of a place where it was always summer and where thesmell of summer and the sounds of summer evening used tomake the night-nursery a fairy place; and sometimes in themorning, red-coated soldiers used to march past playing “TheGirl I left behind me,” with a band of drums and fifes. Theuniforms of the soldiers were as bright as the poppies in thefield, and that particular tune made a lasting impression on me.I never forgot it. I can remember losing my first front toothat Coombe by tying it on to a thread and slamming the door,and I can remember my sisters singing, “Where are you goingto, my pretty Maid?” one of them acting the milkmaid, witha wastepaper basket under her arm for a pail. Best of all, Iremember the garden, the roses, the fruit, trying to put salton a bird’s tail for the first time, and the wonderful games inthe hayfields.
We are probably all of us privileged at least once or twicein our lives to experience the indescribable witchery of a perfectsummer night, when time seems to stand still, the world becomesunsubstantial, and Nature is steeped in music and silver light,quivering shadows and mysterious sound, when such a pitchof beauty and glamour and mystery is achieved by the darkness,the landscape,