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VACATION AT ADDINGTON
EDWARD FREDERIC Benson
Edward Frederic Benson, (1867– ) the son of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, has non distinction as a novelist. Educated at Cambridge, he spent much time in travel, engaging a archeological work both in Egypt and in Greece. The following selection is from his deightful volume, Our Family Affairs, the reminiscences of a brilliant family. In style it has he charming intimacy of Lamb, combined with a grace that is quite Benson's own.
WE WENT to Addington for a few life. But to his volcanic energy and viweeks at Easter, and the sojourn then tality, such a holiday was of the nature of was, according to my mother, of the a compulsion and a medicine rather than nature of a picnic. As a matter of fact an enjoyment. In the long run he was there was not really anything very pic- refreshed by it, but the getting out of the nicky about it; the drawing-room, it is shafts was always trying to him, and true, was not used, but we managed with usually resulted in a fit of depression, the anteroom, the Chinese room, the school such as I have described before. When room, my father's study and her own he was very hard worked, he never sufroom, by way of sitting-rooms, and per- fered from this; it was when he was haps part of the household remained at obliged to rest that these irritable glooms Lambeth.? But to her vivid sense, to descended on him, and I particularly conher delight of using all things to the ut- nect them, during these years, with the most, this constituted a very informal Easter holiday. All the time, as he once way of life, for when she was running a told me when talking of them, he would house, everything must be, in its own be struggling and agonizing to get his scale, spick-and-span and complete. You head out of those deep waters, but was might, for instance, dine on bread and unable to until the nervous reaction had cheese and a glass of beer, but the cheese spent itself, and the pendulum swung must be the best cheese, the bread of the back again. By now we children had crispest, and the beer must be brimmed begun to understand that, and though with froth. Short of completeness and this mood of his was a damper on mirth perfection, whatever your scale was, you and generally an awful bore, we no were roughing it, you were picnicking. longer feared him when he was like that She did not at all dislike picnicking, but but "carried on,” very sorry for him, and It Was picknicking, and why not say so? sincerely hoping he would be better next For herself, with her passion for people day. The person who felt it most was (like Dr. Johnson she thought that one undoubtedly my mother: he was misergreen field was like another green field, able and she knew it, and knew the pathos and would prefer a walk down Fleet of his futile strivings to get rid of it, and Street) she would sooner have stopped in her picnic was a melancholy and anxious London, but my father needed this break one till that cloud lifted. Often, howin the six months of his busy London ever, she and my father went to Florence
for Easter, where they stayed with Lady 'From Our Family Affairs by E. F. Ben
Crawford at the Villa Palmieri, and of son, copyright, 1921, George H. Doran Com- all the holiday sojournings it was that pany, publishers. Reprinted by permission. which he enjoyed most keenly. He was
Benson's father had recently been ap- absolutely indefatigable where churches pointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and the or sacred art were concerned, because of family had taken possession of Lambeth Pal
the cause which had inspired painter and ace, the seat of the archbishops of Canterbury, and Addington Park, the country resi
architect. To him the achievement for dence.
which the architect builded, the sculptor
chiselled, the musicians composed, and the and deliberate composition was founded artist painted, must be the palpable and on the model of these interpretations; the direct service of God, and just as he sentences were overloaded with meanings would gaze in genuine rapture at a sec- beyond what the language could bear; ond-rate Madonna, whereas a portrait or he packed his phrases till they creaked. even a Primavera would leave him cold, But highest of all in the beloved lanso, without any knowledge or apprecia- guage, with a great gulf fixed below it tion of music he would listen to Handel's and above the masterpieces of classical Messiah, while a Wagner opera, or a literature, came the New Testament, symphony by Beethoven, had he ever which he studied and interpreted to us as listened or heard such, would have been under a microscope. That eager revermeaningless to him. Of ecclesiastical ence was like a lover's adoration : his inarchitecture, again, its periods or its terpretations might be fanciful, and such characteristics, he had a profound knowl- as he would never have made in any edge, but whether a house was Eliza- other commentings, but here his search bethan or Georgian was a matter of much for hidden meanings in simple phrases had smaller interest to him. He did not just that quality of tender and exquisite truly care, to put it broadly, who built a scrutiny. The subject of this study was column and when and how, or painted a his life, and the smallest of its details picture and when and how, so long as must be searched out, and squeezed to those monuments of art were only di- yield a drop more of sacred essence. rected towards human and aesthetic en
On any other topic he would joyment. The natural works of God, have criticized the Hellenistic Greek, as the woods at Addington, the mountain falling far below classical standards, but, ranges of Switzerland, he admiringly as it was, he accepted it as verbally inloved as being in themselves direct divine spired, and no enquiry was too minute. expressions, but if the work of man in- Rather curiously, collations of differing sinuated itself, he liked it in proportion texts did not engage him, nor did he as it was religious in its aims.
touch on Higher Criticism. The text of One exception he made, and that was his own Greek Testament was all that in favor of Greek and Roman antiquities concerned him, there was the whole matand the language of the classics, and I am ter, and on to it he turned the full light sure he enjoyed making a translation of of his intellect and his enthusiasm, withsome English poem into Virgilian hexa- out criticism but minutely and lovingly meters or Sophoclean iambics fully as poring over it, as it actually and tradimuch as he enjoyed the original version. tionally was. Latin and Greek, especially Greek, were From Monday morning until Saturto him only a little below the Pente- day night these weeks at Addington, escostal tongues: of all human achieve-pecially at Christmas, were to us a whirl ments they were the noblest flowers. To of delightful activities from the moment him a classical education was the only that chapel service and Bible lesson were education: he rated a boy's abilities over in the morning, till evening service largely by his power to translate and to at ten o'clock at night. But Sunday was imitate classical lore, and to wander him- a day set so much apart from the rest that self in these fields was his chiefest intel- it hardly seemed to belong to Addington lectual recreation. He loved to unpack, at all. There was early communion in so to speak, some Greek word com- the chapel, unless it was celebrated after pounded with prepositions, and insist on the eleven o'clock service in church; the value of each, overloading the dis- morning service in church was sucsected members of it with meanings that ceeded by lunch, lunch by a slow never conceivably entered into the mind family walk during which my father read of its author, and his own style in weighed | George Herbert to us; the walk was suc
ceeded by a Bible reading with him, and so we were all swept, regardless of its then came tea. After tea was evening | private effect on us, into the tide. What service in church, and after Sunday sup- he did not allow for was that on other per, he read the Pilgrim's Progress aloud
temperaments, that which so aptly fuluntil we had compline in chapel. To fill filled the desires of his own produced a up intervals we might read certain Sun- totally different impression. That day, day books, the more mature successors of for us, was one of crushing boredom and Bishop Heber and The Rocky Island and unutterable fatigue. Certain humorous Agathos. No shoal of relaxation emerged gleams occasionally relieved the darkness, from the roaring devotional Alood; if at as when the devil entered into me on one meals the conversation became too secular, occasion when Lives of the Saints came to it was brought back into appropriate me by rotation, for reading aloud. There channels; there was even a set of special was the serene sunlight outside the shade graces before and after meals to be used of the cedar, positively gilding the tennis in Sunday, consisting of short versicles court, there was the croquet lawn starvand responses quite bewildering to any ing for the crack of balls, and there, too, guest staying in the house. No games of underneath the cedar was my somnolent any sort or kind were played, not even family, Hugh with swoony eyes, laden those which like lawn-tennis or golf en- with sleep, Nellie and Maggiel primly tailed no labor on the part of the servants. and decorously listening, their eyelids However fair a snow covered Fir Mount, closed, like Miss Matty's because they no toboggan that day made its perilous listened better so, and my father for descent, and though the pond might be whom and by whom this treat was arspread with delectable ice no skates pro- ranged, with head thrown back and faned its satin on the Day of Rest. The mouth nakedly open.
And then Day of Rest in fact, owing chiefly to this came Satan, or at least Puck. prohibition on reasonable relaxation, be- I read four lines of the page to which we came a day of pitiless fatigue. We had penetrated, then read a few senhopped, like "ducks and drakes," from tences out of the page that had already one religious exercise to another, relent- been read. Deftly and silently, but keeplessly propelled.
ing a prudent finger in the proper place, To my father, I make no doubt, with I turned over a hundred pages, and his intensely devotional mind, this stren- droned a paragraph about a perfectly uous Sunday was a time of refreshment. different saint. Swiftly turning back I It is perfectly true that he often went to read some few lines out of the introducsleep in church, and if on very hot Sun- tion to the whole volume, and then, senddays, the walk was abandoned, and we ing prudence to the winds, found the end read aloud in turns from some saintly of the chapter on which we were engaged. chronicle, under the big cedar on the I gave them a little more about St. lawn, not only he, but every member of Catherine of Siena, a little more from the family, except the reader (we read in the introduction, then in case anyone hapturn), went to sleep, too. But he dozed pened to be awake, read the concluding off to the chronicle of St. Francis and sentences of the chapter about St. Francis came back to it again; nothing jarred. / and stopped. Thus ordered, Sunday was a perfect day The cessation of voice caused Nellie for one of his temperament; no work was to awake, and with an astounding hypocdone on it, no week-day breeze ruffled its risy, subsequently brought home to her, devotional stillness, but his appreciation she exclaimed: of it postulated that all of us should "Oh, how interesting." share to the full in its spiritual benefits. Her voice aroused my father. There He did not believe that for himself Sunday could be spent more profitably, and Benson's sisters.
we all were sitting under the cedar, read- | quite out of the question. How she did ing about St. Francis. Hugh had awoke, it I have no idea, but surely the very test Maggie had awoke: it was a peaceful de- of tact lies in the fact that you don't know votional Sunday afternoon.
how it is done. Tact explained ceases "Wonderful!" he said. "Is that the to be tact, and degenerates into reason on end, Fred ?"
the one hand or futility on the other. "Yes, that's all," said Fred.
Certainly I never confronted my father Fred was also a passive actor in an- with this evidence, and Sunday went on other Sunday humor. My father had precisely as usual. Sometimes Hugh and noticed in me a certain restlessness at I played football in the top passage, but readings, some twitching of the limbs at you mightn't kick hard for fear of dea Bible lesson, or whatnot, and in order tected reverberations through the skylight to confirm me in the right practice of the of the central hall. day, had looked out a book in his library about Sunday, which he recommended me There is a play by some Italian dramatto read, without having sufficiently ascer- ist, which I once saw Dusé act: perhaps tained the contents of it himself. Judge it is by D'Annunzio, but I cannot idenof my rapture when I found a perfectly tify it. In the second act anyhow, the convincing chapter, showing how the sad, curtain went up on Dusé, alone on the joyless, unrelaxed English Sunday was stage. She wrote a letter, she put some purely an invention of Puritan times. My flowers in a vase without speech, and father had given me the book to convince still without speech, she opened a window me of the antique sanctity of the Ad- at the back, and leaned out of it. She dington use: the book told me that from paused long with her back to the audithe patristic times onwards, no such idea ence, and then turning round again said, of Sunday as we religiously practised had half below her breath, "Aprile.” After ever entered into the heads of Christians, that the action of the play proceeded but or had ever dawned on the world until not till, in that long pause and that one the sourness of Puritans robbed the day of word, she had given us the magic of its traditional joy. It had been a day of spring.
Not otherwise, but just festa, of relaxation from the tedious
so, were those Addington holidays, when round of business, and all the faithful I was sixteen and seventeen, in April, dressed themselves in their best clothes and thus the magic of spring in those for fun, and village sports were held, and seasons of Christmas and Easter and Sephospitality enlivened the drab week. Sure tember came to me.
Bulbs and seeds enough they went to church in the morn- buried in my ground began to spike the ing and after that abandoned themselves earth, and the soft buds and leaves to to jollity. With suppressed giggles I burst their woolly sheaths. It was the flew to my mother's room to tell her the time for the rooting up, in that springresult of this investigation, and she gardening, of certain weeds; it was the steered a course so wonderful that not time also of planting the seedlings which even then could I chart it.
should flower later, and of grafting fresh thetic amusement I knew was all mine, slips on to a stem that was forming fibre but somehow she abandoned no whit of in the place of soft sappy shoots. Above her loyalty to my father's purpose in giv- all it was the time of receiving ing me the book. I had imagined myself
indelible impres(with rather timorous glee, for which I sions, and there is scarcely anything wanted her support) pronouncing sen- which in later life I have loved or hated, tence on his Sunday upon the very evi- or striven for or avoided that is not dedence which he had given me to judge it rivable from some sprig of delight or disby, but some consummate stroke of tact taste planted during those seasons of first on my mother's part made all that to be growth. Childhood and earlier boyhood
mature and indelible
were more of a greenhouse, where early the experiences with which I fed the lusty growths were nurtured in a warmed appetites of life were at the moment, but windlessness; now they were pricked out at the metabolism they would undergo and put in the beds, where they had to when I had eaten them. But of all menlearn the robustness which would make tal habits then forming, the one for which them resist the inclemencies of a less I most bless those lovely years, was the sheltered life. Some died, scorched by habit of enjoyment, of looking for (and the sun or battered by the rain; the rest, finding) in every environment some pleasI suppose, had enough vitality to make ure and interest. That habit, no doubt, sun and rain alike serve their growth. with all our games, our collections, our Above all it was the time of learning to scribblings had long been churned at: enjoy, no longer in the absolutely unre- about now it solidified. And by far the flective manner of a child, but in a man- most active and assiduous of external ner to some extent reasoned and purposed. agencies that caused this—the dairySome kind of philosophy, some conscious maid, so to speak, who was never weary digestive process began to stir below mere of this magnificent churning-was my receptivity. I looked not only at what ' mother.
2. BIOGRAPHY Autobiography and biography are closely servers in the balloon, who from his point related. Both deal with the same sort of of vantage watches the efforts of the material in the same way; that is to say, artillerymen and notes the effects of their the subject matter and the method of fire. In a like manner he can judge the treatment of each are identical. The varied activity of the person whose life he purpose of the autobiographer and the is writing, and estimate the influence biographer is to portray faithfully a per- which this individual has exerted upon sonality in all its phases. The danger of his environment. If he is a faithful stupresenting an incomplete picture is the dent of human nature, he will also atmore insidious, because unconscious, in tempt to discover to what extent enthe case of autobiography; but it is also vironment has shaped the man. For inthe more easily forgiven. The value of a stance, Lytton Strachey is not satisfied biography, however, is likely to be meas- merely to trace the course of English ured mainly by the comprehensiveness of policy as grooved by Queen Victoria and its scope and the impartiality of its treat- her ministers; he also gives us the human ment.
side the change which the office of sovThe chief differences between the two ereign of England gradually effected in types are due to the point of view. The the girl Queen, so long shut away in the author of an autobiography is in the po- seclusion of Kensington with her mother sition of the gunner who seldom sees the and the ubiquitous Lehzen. effects of his artillery fire except for a One other factor must be considered in sudden cloud of smoke or spurt of Alame. the study of biography. The man who He is intensely concerned with all the de- starts to write an account of his own life tails that are involved in the commission immediately conditions the time of which of his duty and can, if he will, relate he will write his own age. But the numerous anecdotes of the fray as he sees biographer may choose for his subject it. On the other hand he can only guess either a figure of his own day or an outat the results of his labors, unless some standing personage of the past. If he decaptive balloon signals its observations. cides to write of a contemporary, as did
The biographer, however, . occupies a Boswell, he will be dependent largely position similar to that of one of the ob- upon personal reminiscence, testimony of