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Brooke spent a few weeks in Italy at the beginning of 1905, but it is clear from his letters that he was homesick and unimpressed. He wrote to Geoffrey Keynes from Rapallo: 'Half the night perhaps I lie awake thinking [...] all the time I am profoundly bored. At intervals they drag me up to Genoa and round a picture gallery; which is wasted on me. I say "How Beautiful!" at every fourth picture, and yawn' (LRB 15).
In the summer of 1905 Brooke made the first of several consecutive summer visits to the Russell-Smith home in Brockenhurst. In October he became Head of his House at School Field, Rugby. And in December he sat, along with Geoffrey Keynes and Hugh Russell-Smith, for University scholarships at Cambridge. Brooke received a classical scholarship from King's College, while his friends were accepted at Pembroke and St John's respectively. It was at Cambridge that Brooke was reunited with James Strachey.
After leaving Hillbrow, Strachey had attended St Paul's School and then made his plans for Trinity College, Cambridge. Once Strachey heard that Brooke was bound for Cambridge, too, and once he relayed the information to his brother Lytton, Brooke became an 'embryo' -- a possible candidate for election to the secret Cambridge Conversazione Society, more commonly known as the 'Society' or the 'Apostles', to which Lytton belonged and to which James would be elected once he himself got to Cambridge. Meanwhile, Geoffrey Keynes's constant words of praise for Brooke while at Rugby had drawn the attention of another Apostle -- Geoffrey's elder brother Maynard. James, writing in 1906, probably to his cousin Duncan Grant, explains the events:
To begin at the beginning. Lytton, as you know, went to spend a week-end at Cambridge in the end of July. He stayed with Mister Keynes who said 'I've just been down to Rugby to see my young brother who's at school there in Brooke's house.' Wall [sic], Lytton just says if he's heard of Rupert. 'Of pretty well nothing else.' So between them they guessed he'd better go to Cambridge.
In order to evaluate the new embryo, Lytton asked James to prepare a 'catechism' for Brooke to answer. James obliged, but Brooke did not take it seriously, providing frivolous answers. Lytton then suggested that Brooke be asked to visit so that he could be examined in person; thus Brooke came to be a guest at the Strachey residence in September. James's letter, quoted above, continues:
There was, then, great excitement when he was to arrive. For Giles [Lytton] had arranged to become intimate with him &, if necessary, start a correspondence.
When he came he was merely, as it seemed to me, uninteresting. The visit went off with a smoothness that was, for an epistolary description, fatal.
For his part, Brooke wrote to Geoffrey Keynes after the visit: 'Lytton Strachey I found most amusing, especially his voice.'
Brooke was unhappy during his first term at Cambridge. He longed for Rugby and spent his time mostly with his former Rugby friends, Keynes and Russell-Smith. Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, in his study of the British public schools, noticed this phenomenon among many of the boys leaving the schools, and leaving the boy they loved (see Old School Tie 179). But Brooke did make one important new friend during his first term: Edward Hugh John Neale 'Daddy' Dalton (1887-1962), who would go on to become a prominent figure in the Labour Party. Hugh Dalton had attended Eton and was now studying economics at King's. Dalton and Brooke formed a bond due to their mutual love of Swinburne and of Housman's A Shropshire Lad, which they often read to each other (Dalton 39). Before the term ended they had founded a club known as the Carbonari, a name taken from an early-nineteenth-century revolutionary society in Italy. The Carbonari (or the 'charcoal-burners') met once a week to discuss poetry and read papers to each other. Other members of the group included Gerald Shove, Francis Birrell, Arthur Schloss and Steuart Wilson; all were students of King's College.
Brooke and Dalton were together invited to join another society during their first year: G. Lowes Dickinson's discussion group of a half-dozen undergraduates and a half-dozen dons, which met in his rooms and was known simply as Dickinson's Society.
Throughout the term (indeed, throughout the next year and a half), Brooke continued to be privately evaluated by the Apostles. When Strachey wrote to Duncan Grant on 18 October 1906, inviting him to a series of parties for possible embryos, he noted in parenthesis: 'The most important guest at the parties is Rupert Brooke.' Among those questioning Brooke at the party was Harry Norton, who sent off a report on 'the Rajah' to Lytton in London: 'He also thought one shouldn't commit sodomy "since in physical things one should obey the dictates of Nature".' Maynard and Lytton had begun the practice of calling Brooke alternatively 'Rajah' and 'Sarawak', after hearing erroneous rumours that Sir Charles Johnson Brooke, the second Rajah of Sarawak, was a distant relative of Brooke. When Brooke heard of his nickname, he began calling his mother -- though not to her face -- 'the Ranee' (after the Rajah's wife, Margaret de Windt), a practice he maintained until his death.
James, meanwhile, was involved in brief liaisons with Waiter Lamb and Duncan Grant (who was also being courted by Lytton). James mentions ending his affair with Lamb in a letter to Grant in late January 1906. He wrote to Grant the following autumn, on 3 October:
I really believe I was speaking the truth when I said I wasn't in love with you. But at the same time when you're not here its simply awful. [...] The truth is simply that I thought you and Lytton (even in my most passionate moments) worthy of one another: I was not angry nor jealous. [...] But I still went on thinking I was in love with you till you came back -- with a moustache. [...] I suppose the explanation is that I have a great affection for you and a lust for you and yet I'm not in love with you.
Strachey wrote to Grant again on 8 November 1906, from Cambridge: 'This is a dreary hole; where one divides one's time between buggering the senior dean's sons and hearing Donald Tovey massacre The Appasionata [sic]. [...] I suppose you'll be coming to see the Rajah in his tights and spangles.'
As Strachey's letters suggest, Brooke by this time had grown into the handsome young man whose looks became the stuff of legend. He was just under six feet tall, had small ears, a long neck, a mix of auburn, blond and golden-brown hair (which was very thick, worn quite long, and which he frequently had to toss back off his forehead), deep-set eyes and an attractive mouth. W. B. Yeats's appraisal of Brooke as the 'handsomest man in England' and Frances Cornford's poem calling him 'A young Apollo, golden haired' have been too often quoted. But they had considerable company in commenting on Brooke's beauty. Indeed, it sometimes seems that every person who ever met Brooke, and certainly every person who ever wrote about him, felt compelled to write down their impressions of his appearance. A complete compilation of these descriptions would probably make a book, and doubtless a cloying one. Still, it seems worth while to look at just a small selection of the comments here in order better to understand Strachey's adulation of Brooke, and to show the extent to which even otherwise dispassionate males fell under the spell of his physical presence.
Leonard Woolf, on the first time he saw Brooke: 'That is exactly what Adonis must have looked like in the eyes of Aphrodite. [...] It was the sexual dream face not only for every goddess, but for every sea-girl wreathed with seaweed red and brown.'
Cambridge under-librarian Charles Sayle, who became a friend of Brooke, writing in his diary: 'Standing in my hall in the dark, thinking of other things, I looked towards my dining-room, and there, seated in my chair, in a strong light, he sat, with his head turned towards me, radiant. It was another unforgettable moment. A dramatic touch. A Rembrandt picture. Life' (quoted. in Lehmann, Strange 28-9).
The photographer Eugene Hutchinson, on taking Brooke's photo:
I had found myself confronted by an unbelievably beautiful young man. There was nothing effeminate about that beauty. He was man-size and masculine, from his rough tweeds to his thick-soled English boots. He gave me the impression of being water-loving and well-washed. Perhaps this was due to the freshness of his sun-tanned face and the odd smoothness of his skin, a smoothness you see more in women than in men. [...] He submitted to my manipulations without protest, though he broke into a laugh when with my own hands I removed his neck-tie and opened up the throat of his soft-collared shirt. (Stringer 203).
George Dangerfield, in his epilogue to The Strange Death of Liberal England:
All his life he stood out from his surroundings.... that beautiful head, the wild blond hair threaded with metallic gold, the incredibly clean features, the wide eyes. Brooke's was a face which could, with perfect plausibility, be compared to a young god's: it was at once pure and sensual and sensitive. (427)
Maurice Browne, describing Brooke walking through Chicago after returning from the South Pacific: 'Every woman who passes -- and every other man -- stops, turns round, to look at that lithe and radiant figure' (16-17).
The British general Sir Ian Hamilton writing in his diary after offering Brooke a staff position that was refused: 'He looked extraordinarily handsome, quite a knightly presence, stretched out there on the sand with the only world that counts at his feet' (quoted. in RBB 496).
Atlantic Monthly's Ellery Sedgwick, on first meeting Brooke: 'A young man more beautiful than he I had never seen. [...] His complexion was as ruddy as a young David's. [...] Man's beauty is much more rare than woman's. I went home under the spell of it and at the foot of the stairs cried aloud to my wife, "I have seen Shelley plain!'" (328-9).
In Memories and Friends, A. C. Benson provides what may be the least emotional and most complete physical description of Brooke -- the type of description that one cannot glean from black-and-white photographs:
It was the colouring of face and hair which gave a special character to his look. The hair rose very thickly from his forehead, and fell in rather stiff arched locks on either side -- he grew it full and over-long; it was of a beautiful dark auburn tint inclining to red, but with an underlying golden gleam in it. His complexion was richly coloured, as though the blood were plentiful and near the surface; his face much tanned, with the tinge of a sun-ripened fruit. [...] his voice was far from beautiful, monotonous in tone, husk and somewhat hampered in his throat. (327)
Brooke's mother did not approve of people openly admiring his appearance. It greatly distressed her when she first learned that he was being called 'the handsomest mall in England, (she wrote to one of his friends, 'He wasn't, was he?'), and the would-be biographer Richard Halliburton, for one, found that 'any reference to Rupert's physical attractiveness invariably awakened her anger' (Stringer 17).
All of the emphasis on Brooke as a physical entity is important to remember when discussing the friendship between Strachey and Brooke, for Strachey admitted that his Cambridge friendship with Brooke developed out of carnal attraction. As early as 30 November 1906, James was letting Rupert know he was in love with him. And in a letter to Duncan Grant written on 25 February 1907 Strachey tells of the agony of waiting for Brooke to return to Cambridge (unknown to Strachey, Brooke had been delayed by the death of his elder brother Richard). James looked more than once each day for a light in Brooke's window. After finally meeting up with him, Strachey then waited in his room every evening for six weeks in case Brooke should stop by. After the third week he approached Brooke and asked, 'Are you ever coming to see me?' Brooke replied, 'Perhaps I may, some day.' Strachey continued to wait, meanwhile writing to Grant: 'Will he ever come? [...] But the worst of all is that every one else can see him as much as they like [...] everyone but me: -- and I love him. [...] By the way, the whole thing's public now.' Not long afterwards, Strachey was writing to Grant again, admitting that his feelings for Brooke were creating problems:
I have spoken to Rupert again. Nowadays three sentences in the street seem incredibly heavenlike. [...] The whole of my behaviour must have seemed to indicate that I wanted to bugger him. [...] I merely said I was in love with him. [...] But naturally he doesn't want to go and have a tete-a-tete with a person who may at any moment try to rape him. [...] Do believe in him. (11 March 1907)
Grant was trying to believe in Brooke, but confessed to Lytton in an early March letter: 'I cannot understand Rupert; the absolute vagueness of his behaviour to James is so inexplicable.' But it was James's behaviour that was bothering his brother. Lytton wrote to Grant:
I am dreadfully shattered about James. [...] he takes no interest whatever in anything but the few people whom he happens to admire or be in love with -- which of course is simple Death. The poor thing seems to be unable to think or to read or to work at all. He spends his time dreaming of Rupert over a solitary fire [...] I now think that Rupert is certainly the best person going about; but I don't see how to renew acquaintance, for I don't feel at all inclined to be snubbed. (6 March 1907)
A 9 April letter to Grant finds James making detailed calculations as to when Brooke will answer his last letter, even delaying plans to join Lytton on holiday in case Brooke's letter should arrive.
During May Term 1907, Brooke teamed up with a new friend, Justin Brooke, to found the Marlowe Dramatic Society, which performed Marlowe's Faustus in November with Brooke cast as the Chorus.
Brooke spent part of the summer with Hugh Russell-Smith at Lulworth Cove and Brockenhurst. He wrote to St John Lucas-Lucas from the Russell-Smiths on 4 August: 'Now I am staying with this foolish family again till about next Saturday. They are delightful, and exactly as they were last year.'
By August rumours were spreading that Brooke was having an affair with Arthur Hobhouse, an Apostle who had been elected primarily because of his good looks. Virginia Woolf was aware of the rumour, and recorded it:
'Norton tells me', Vanessa [Bell] would say, 'that James is in utter despair. Rupert has been twice to bed with Hobhouse' and I would cap her stories with some equally thrilling piece of gossip; about a divine undergraduate with a head like a Greek God -- but alas his teeth were bad -- called George Mallory. (Moments of Being 174)
The Hobhouse rumours did indeed have Strachey in despair, but by the end of term he was reassured. He told Grant that when he and Brooke shook hands upon parting, 'the only thing that mattered was the love [...] he meant me to understand from it that in some wonderful way he sympathised, he really cared. And so I too became different and miraculously expressed to him how much I loved him' (December 1907).
At Christmas, Brooke joined a skiing party in Switzerland.
Do you remember my name? I deserve that you should have forgotten it, considering that it's entirely my fault if you have. I shall always admire your courageously spasmodic attempts at a correspondence -- which have long since (alas!) been crushed by my stolid silence. But Conscience and Hope for better things have finally defeated Idleness; and I hereby vow that I will write you a letter once a week, on condition that you (but I'm afraid you'll refuse to have any dealings with me) will do the same. I haven't the faintest notion what there will be to write -- but all the same I'll do my best.
And eventually perhaps you may be able to accept what is at present a perfectly indefinite invitation to stay with me in the summer (somewhere?) as you did at Ardeley Bury in the year -- but it would be too horrible to write down the date in cold ink.
I hope you won't think me rude or mad; but I want to try once more to be
James B. Strachey.
RB, July 7th , Rugby Station
to JS, 69 Lancaster Gate, London
I refuse to vow anything. I know myself too well. My resolves are continually being shattered (in 1905 as in 1895 -- or whatever that prehistoric Hill-brovian date may be) especially in the matter of letters. However, I promise to do my best, and if at any time my resolution lapses, pen me a few fierce vitriolic words and you shall receive by the next post a lachrymose & abject apology in my most emotional hand writing. Of you I have had fairly recent information. It is a long story for my diffuse pen to explain how I came by it; but I will strive to be concise. 'Twas thus: -- Last winter holidays -- Dec. 24th to be exact -- I fell ill, -- a habit of mine. So for a fortnight I dwelt in realms of drugs & thermometers & convalescence, until one day my credulous mother & my maniac doctor persuaded themselves that I was 'pulled-down' and 'done-up' and other such things, & so needed rest. In time they ordered me to absent myself from Rugby School for a term & 'recover' in Italy. At this I was very wroth, for I knew that I was really quite well & I did not desire exile. However, the Fates & the hare-brained doctor were too stubborn, and at length they packed me off, sadeyed & solitary to the South. There I abode for about the space of two months, during which I spent a week at Florence. At Florence on Carnival night I quite remarkably met Duncan Grant, who gave me the latest information about you. He contradicted himself every three minutes, so the information was probably wrong; but it was very interesting, and I have entirely forgotten it all. The one thing I can remember is that you are destined for Cambridge, which is unsatisfactory, as I am for Oxford. Pray explain all these things and tell me who you have become since I knew you last. For myself I am as ever, -- dividing my time between playing cricket badly, and dreaming.
Why at the end of your epistle do you express a hope that I shall think you "neither rude nor mad"? Obviously I should not think you rude. Anyhow I very rarely think anyone rude. And equally obviously I think you mad. You always were; and I hope you are still. I always endeavour to be as mad as possible in this sane grey world; and I shall not insult you by calling you sane.
Please ignore this vast [ink] blot. It is very ugly and I can't imagine how it got there. RCB
JS, July 12 , 69 Lancaster Gate, London
I suppose this letter must be mainly biographical. I have been at St. Paul's for six years, during which many things have happened which at the time seemed cosmic, but which are now at the best amusing. For instance, for the first three years I was a 'weekly boarder'; for certain definite reasons, I am now a 'day boy'. And so on, quite irrelevantly. I made the acquaintance of many people -- Jews and Gentiles -- all more or less wanting in intelligence and (what, I suppose -- for I agree with you -- is the same thing) in insanity. I wrote Latin Prose moderately, and played cricket not at all; I went to the Gaiety, and was considered vulgar by the cultured; I read poetry, and was thought a fool by the athletic. (I hope all this sounds dark -- it's meant to: perhaps it'ld sound darker if recited in a monotone.) But it was all very soothing, and of late quite amusing.
My infamous cousin deluded me with false hopes, and told me with circumstantial details that you too were going to Cambridge. I go to Trinity in October. I'm then supposed to go into the Home Civil Service; but it's horribly dull. He also told me (but I've no more faith in him) that you were going to be a journalist. I suppose that's merely a step towards becoming Prime Minister. I am bound thither myself (or to the Vatican).
I think letters are disgusting -- because I find it impossible to write what I mean, to give any delicate shades, or even the atmosphere; -- it's difficult enough in conversation: perhaps if one were supreme one might?
And I think this letter is the most disgusting of all. So I cease.
RB, [postcard, postmarked 9.30 p.m., 14 July 1905] Barby Road [Rugby] to JBS, Great Oakley Hall, Kettering, Northamptonshire
I have just received your letter. I am in work till 1.p.m. and for the honour of my house have to play at 3.p.m. Can you come to lunch to this address at 1.30? I shall be waiting for you any time after 1. Or if you are going to Hillbrow for lunch, drop in on the way & leave a message, & then come round after lunch at two. You know our house I suppose. R.C.B
RB, July 30 , School Field, Rugby
[The writing paper and envelope bear a watermark reading
'Orando Laborando 1567'] to JBS, Great Oakley Hall, Kettering
Many apologies & thanks. The certificate exams are extremely worrying just now. But they will soon -- thank heaven! -- be over. I have consulted -- various authorities -- the greater Intelligences who understand such things---and find that my next holidays are fairly full. I come back here about the 10th (Aug.) recover from Camp life for about 5 days & then go to some vague unwholesome place called the Sea, for the rest of August. About 5 days after that a Tutor appears on the scene for a fortnight or so--in prospect of a hypothethical [sic] scholarship next December. Then for the remaining week of the holidays I slowly recover from the effect of Tutor life. Such, as the Gods be willing, are the plans. I fear I haven't a whole week any where, but, if you are still at Kettering then, I should be very delighted to snatch three days at the beginning of September. Would that be possible? 1st to the 4th perhaps, or thereabouts.
In two days the Summer Term will be over, & already people are going about bidding sad farewells. All of which is highly mournful, & may account for the pessimistic tone of this letter.
My time is at present divided between playing cricket with gigantic vigour, reading Swinburne on a grassy bank, and toying with mildly foolish examination papers. The first duty of an examinee is to irritate the examiner. Last year in the Certificate Exams I failed to get a History Certif. entirely on one question. It was about Roman chronicles; & I defined them as being as dull, useless, untrue, & far from Literature as the average Roman History. I afterward discovered that the examiner was a wretch who had written four Roman Histories, & two 'Skeleton Outlines", & held an entirely new & original view as to which eye Hannibal was blinded in.
Hinc illae lacrimae. [?]
I have just discovered I am supposed to go to Chapel in about nine minutes, which must be done though it is against my conscience. I am a Wesleyan, an Anabaptist, & several other things. They would not let me become a Roman Catholic, so I did the next best thing & joined the Salvation Army.
JS, August 2 , Great Oakley Hall, Kettering
The dates you mention are quite convenient.
Are you allowed to read letters in Camp? At least, certainly not, I suppose, to write them?
The disadvantages of this Fine Old Elizabethan Mansion grow on one. Why should innumerable ugly plates be hung on the walls? Why should Chelsea candlesticks crowd the tables? The result is, of course, that there is no copy of Shakespeare in the house. But perhaps the worst feature is that the church is on the croquet-lawn. My only mild amusement is therefore banned between the hours of eleven and one on Sundays.
I notice that the clergy behave in the same way towards the saved and the damned: The Revd. Mr. Clarke had observed no one in the family pew. He came to luncheon afterwards, and found eighteen people grouped around the table. He didn't even cross himself on entering the room... But perhaps as a member of the Wesleyan Army, you are insulted -- or rather (for you say you can't be) pained.
I am going to sleep now; or rather to finish reading Swinburne's novel: as far as I've got it's merely amusing. Have you read it?
You'ld hate me to mention the Bastille: but may I ask if the Pyramids are obtainable? If they are I must have a copy, even if only lent. Yours,
RB, Thursday [10 August 1905, Rugby station]
to JS, Great Oakley Hall, Kettering
My lateness in response this time was somewhat inevitable. As you surmised to write letters from Camp is very impossible. A hasty & smudged post-card is occasionally feasible; that is all. I cannot fix the dates with perfect accuracy yet; but you know to within a day or two, & I hope that will suffice. If not I will try to discover the exact date.
It is very strenuous of you to attack the "Pyramids" after trudging through the Bastille. I have a Pyramid or two left somewhere and I vow to dig it up & send it along in a day or two, if you have not yet repented of your rash request.
Only yesterday I returned, weary, very healthy, with sore feet & a sun-blistered nose from a week of the Strenuous -- exceedingly Strenuous -- Life. It is a quaint & comforting return from Camp's alternation of eating & walking enormously, to moderation in food & no exercise at all. For of that are my Summer holidays constituted. I hope you have finished A[lgernon].C[harles].S[winburne]'[s] novel. I have not attempted it yet, being fearful that it might be as verbose as his usual prose, which overwhelms & stuns me. I imagine that by now you have been galled to desperation; that you have quite smoothly one day recently run amok through your Old Mansion with a poker, smashing the ugly plates hung on the walls, annihilating the crowding Chelsea candlesticks & with a keg of dynamite relieving for ever your beloved croquet lawn from its ecclesiastical encumbrance. In fact I trust to find Great Oakley Hall a reformed and enlightened place when I arrive. Your account of the Revd. Mr. Clarke greatly shocked me. But you will doubtless receive a Bull of Excommunication ere the month is out; or perhaps he was only too thankful that you did not insist on playing croquet in spite of the services.
It is 8.5 3, and the post is at 9. Farewell.
JS, August 18 , Great Oakley Hall, Kettering
Pyramids to hand with many thanks.
I find that these letters are becoming distinctly painful in the writing. To fill these four clean pages is a desperate future. I think the only plan will be to institute some argument on the lines of the "Daily Mail" correspondence columns. (You read that dear journal?)
But some people might proceed with descriptions of scenery, vapid but voluminous. [The history of the last sentence is: I wrote the first five words (on the other page) with one end in view, but then changed my mind -- with the above inconsequent result.] I append some questions. You may either (1) answer them in the form of a catechism -- or (2) select one or more as the basis of an elaborate discussion.
Do you approve of the Royal Academy?
What are your views on Wagner, Mr. Chamberlain, and Christ?
Are you in favour of War at any Price?
Why are you going to Oxford?
Does Jackson play such a good all round game as Fry?
I think these questions embrace all the Important in this life, and I warn you that you will be judged by your answers to them. I shall be most happy to answer in my turn any similar 'quaere's.
And now ... by the help of spacings and gas I have reached the last page and harbour is in sight.
You might perhaps mention the day of your visit eventually?
Lor -- the (Last) Post
RB,  August , Southsea (but write to Rugby)
This is an exceeding low place, where we are staying for a fortnight, -- not because we like the town, but because we wish to see something of my brother, who is working down here. Southsea is a loathsome place, full of ugly houses, and trippers, and noises. I solemnly curse it.
After a studious examination of calendar of various data referring to tutors and other immovable arrangements, I should suggest Monday Sept. 4th (I think the number is right) for two or three days -- till Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning. On the Thursday I find that I am supposed to begin work.
With regard to the Catechism: -- The Royal Academy -- Yes: I approve of all forms of charitable institutions. Also my religious soul commends their case in keeping the 2nd Commandment. 'Thou shalt not make any image of anything that is in heaven... or earth... or the sea.....'
In RE Oxford. Because they tell me to, -- that is, if I am going. At present it is undecided which University I shall grace: some of my masters advise one, some the other; and my father is torn asunder. Anyhow I don't much mind which.
Certainly I approve of War at any Price. It kills off the unnecessary.
As for Mr. Chamberlain -- I detest him. He is a modern politician, and I hate modern politicians; he comes from Birmingham, and I abhor Birmingham; he makes a noise, and I loathe noises; he is utterly materialistic, and .........!
About Wagner I have no views. I am very sorry, but I can't help it. I have tried very hard for years, but I cannot appreciate music. I recognize that it is a fault in me, and am duly ashamed. In Literature, and a little even in Painting, I humbly believe I can feel the Beautiful, but I am born deaf.
This is a Tragedy.
For Christ -- I am so obsessed by [Wilde's] De Profundis that I have no other views on this subject than those expressed therein. The Perfect Artistic Temperament. -- !
You demanded a return catechism. Here it is. As yours "embraced all the Important in Life"; so mine, I hope, embraces all the Unimportant in Life -- a much more essential thing.
1. What are the two greatest tragedies in Life?
2. Shew the comic side of both.
3. What is the most beautiful adjective in English?
4. When did you give up reading Tennyson?
5. What is the World coming to?
RB, Sunday Sept 24 , School Field, Rugby to JS, Great Oakley Hall, Kettering
I am utterly evil not to have kept up my end of this correspondence for three weeks, especially when I should have written to thank you for sheltering my weary soul from all classics, tutors, & labours for three placid days. I might allege several excuses; -- that I was so humiliated & crushed by my overwhelming defeat at billiards (& after my conceit had offered you 30 in a hundred!) that I could not raise by [sic] bowed head to address you; or that the wonderful & beautiful novel by Marie Corelli, which I read in those three days, reduced me too [sic] such a pulpy stupefaction that I am only now beginning to recover. As a matter of unimportant fact directly I returned from you I plunged headlong into a wild confusion of Demosthenes, Horace & such; and that lasted two weeks; wherein my brain was full of nothing but grammar & horrible matters, and I could not have written a letter for the life of me. After Purgatory was over I snatched a few hurried hours in London (seeing among other things 'John Bull's Other Island', a perfectly delightful play.), & now in my first calm moments for weeks I write. Such is my obviously inadequate excuse; beyond which there is nothing, -- almost nothing, -- to write about. One piece of personal news there is. The Fates have issued a decree, which I take to be final, that, after all, I am to go to King's Cambridge a year hence, D.V. So we shall meet there some day. I hope you are, or are about to, or have enjoyed the society of the elder Keynes, of whose visit to you I hear from other sources. (The grammar of the last sentence will not bear investigation.) If he is staying with you at Great Oakley Hall, pray do not allow him to read the 'Sorrows of Satan', it may affect him as it affected me.
I hear from an authority that almost all the rooms in that mansion are haunted. Please let me know if the room I occupied was; I trust it was. I hope Lady Strachey is better.
RB, [30 December 1905], Rugby
to JS, 69 Lancaster Gate, London
Many thanks for your telegram. I fear I am somewhat late in acknowledging it. I hope you passed that exam in 'English Literature" as exemplified by Walter Scott (or was it Dickens?). On the Friday afternoon I came round to have tea with you, but found your door inexorably barred, and therefore came away after three-quarters-of-an-hour's banging.
I suppose you know a play called Peter Pan? I saw it last year & fell so much in love with it that I am going up to see its revival again in a few days. I found it enchanting, adorable, and entirely beautiful. In reality, no doubt, it is very ridiculous. I am very aged & this mania for children's plays is a token of advanced senility. At Keynes' rooms one night while I was up, I met a delightful man named Norton (I think) who said he knew you & your kitten (apropos, how is the kitten?), and talked incessantly & brilliantly for six hours.
I am at present reading the Elizabethan dramatists at the rate of four a week.
JS, (After the Eumenides) Friday Evening [30 November 1906],
Trinity College, Cambridge
In the excitement of the moment, I must just write to tell you (a truism) that you were very beautiful tonight. How sorry I shall be tomorrow morning that I sent you this! How angry you will be when you read it! Vogue la galere.
Yours in admiration,
JS, April 2nd, 1907 69 Lancaster Gate, London
I can't let everything go without a struggle: and I believe that things cannot be worse for me than they are now. But there is really only one thing that I want you to tell me. Why mayn't I go on knowing you? Why did you never come to see me last term? I don't suppose that if I stopped at this you'ld answer me at all; so may I tell you what I believe is the answer?
First, however, let me say that, if you are what I know you are, and if you understood my state of mind, you would have come to see me. Therefore as you did not come to see me, either you are not what I know you are, or you do not understand my state of mind. But you are what I know you are; and so, by an irrefutable logical train, I reach my first conclusion: that you do not understand my state of mind.
Being, then, what you are, what must you think of me in order to treat me as you have? You told me you were quite indifferent about me; if that were so, you would not have changed, but would have continued as before, willing, at least, to speak to me sometimes. And I do not think your feeling towards me can be one of mere dislike. Do you remember when we met face to face outside the Union gate; I mean when you walked down the passage from the street to the doors just two yards in front of me? You wouldn't have done that even to Cunningham major. (Do you still hate Cunningham major as much as I do?) I believe then that you must regard me with a violent hatred; and that the hatred began on the ninth of December, though no doubt you despised me before then. In what way then did you misconstrue my feelings so as to develop a sudden hatred for them? I'm frightened of this part of the letter, and everything depends on it. Be kind.
What did you think I meant when I said that I loved you? You had, it seems to me, three main grounds for your belief. First, you had talked to Norton, and had found -- it was rather horrid -- that he seemed to think the physical side of love less ugly than you did. Next, you had had an interview with Lytton. Finally, a few days before, I myself had sent what now suddenly seemed to you an insulting letter. Obviously you could only think either the worst, or that I did have some, dark, infinitely degraded feelings, which deserved -- what you gave. Am I right? Is this what you thought?
And if I am right, I am still lost, for I can never tell you what my feelings really are. I failed completely when I spoke; I can't even make an attempt in writing. Why should you believe me when I say that there is nothing of what you hate in them, that they are good feelings, that they are perhaps not altogether unworthy even of you. I have tried to be as simple as possible; but perhaps to you it will seem theatrical and affected and disingenuous. Please believe.
And if you do believe, you will be kind. You will let me know you as Mr. Dalton knows you. Promise that it shall not be less, and I will promise that it shall not be more. I will never, never, never, mention this to you again.
RB, Sunday [7 April 1907], (Pension White, Piazza Cavallegieri
[Cavallagieri], Florence.) (for a day or two) to JS, 69 Latter Gate
[forwarded to Court Barton, North Molton, Devon]
My dear James
Your letter reached me on the eve of my starting for furrin parts, and since then I have been mostly in the trains. I admire your clarity and courage.
You are rather too logical for a sentimentalist like myself. All the reasons you advance for my conduct sound plausible; but I do not remember considering them at the time. For a little -- a few days -- I was rather selfishly irritated and felt a certain dislike for you. But, really, that was not great, and did not last.
Why did I not see you last term? You unbosomed yourself a little; let me do so, too. Last December seems to me very long ago. A thousand ills have happened since then. I came back last term feeling hopeless about everything: I do still. Four days before I returned my brother, of whom I was fond, died; and my father became, suddenly, an old man. All the term bad news and sad letters were coming from home. My mother was quite ill once; my father twice, and is now. Also, things happened that hurt me more than all this.
From all this I was depressed most of last term. I dwelt, if you like, in a rather useless and petty self-pity. Anyhow I felt, and was, generally unsociable. There are two Cambridge people who were my contemporaries at Rugby, in the same house, and my constant companions for years. These, (Geoffrey Keynes and another) I saw often. I practically never saw anyone else, except by their invitation. I really did not 'drop' or 'cut' you uniquely. On Norton for instance I called once, -- to explain why I had accepted his invitations to tea, and not turned up. Sheppard, though he lives so close & is elderly, I went to see twice (outside business) in the whole term. You speak of Dalton. I necessarily see him once a week at a foolish talking society. Beyond that he invited me once to tea, so I had him once to breakfast That is all. He is merely a type. I hated other people's society so much, that I took refuge in my own; and found it quite as detestable.
All this explains my not coming to see you. No doubt it was very selfish. But as my friends will tell you, I am wholly selfish. I never think of others' feelings. I am entirely taken up with pitying myself. Indeed, if you are still foolish enough to want it, you can know me 'as Mr Dalton knows' me, -- or more closely, if ever you want to see any thing of me. When I come up (rather late) I will write and you shall come to tea, if you want to; -- unless I suddenly vanish before next term; which is the sincere hope of
RB, Friday [19 April 1907], King's College, Cambridge
to JS, Trinity College
If you got my last letter, and are in Cambridge, will you come to tea? On Saturday? at 4.30?
RB, [Saturday, 20 April 1907]
to JS, Trinity College
My dear James,
I suddenly remember that from 4.30 -- I have a Review Committee meeting. I'll be back by 5.30 perhaps. In case I can't meet you. R.B.
I have it. -- in the bottom right hand drawer of my desk: and the most phenomenal & short paper in the world.
I think you misjudge them; -- Mr D. a ghost?! no! no! R
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