The three obituaries that were found easily, in the Guardian, the Telegraph and the New York Times , all said more or less the same. They praised the novels, their charm, their beautiful style and occasional acerbity; all spoke of "Miss Read's" understanding of the countryside and somewhat rosy view of the people who inhabit it. Much the same is to be found in this article that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first "Miss Read" novel.
The two British obituaries mention the fact that she was disregarded and somewhat despised by the literary establishment but the consistent refusal to pay attention or to take her work seriously did not prevent it becoming very popular with a following of readership that most literary authors would give their eye-teeth for.
Several of the books were recorded by June Whitfield, another highly popular lady that is not so highly regarded by the artistic establishment but adored by several generations of her public.
Gentle and acerbic, well-written and slightly unreal - these are the words of praise and criticism. But how nostalgic and unreal are those stories? There isn't a great deal there about new housing estates and developments and the social structure of the village remains more or less unchanged. But in at least one book A Year at Thrush Green there is a fairly brash but immensely likeable American character who loves the place but finds it hard to understand why the people cannot solve some of the smaller problems they face. His solution is immediate, practical and completely matter of fact, which the inhabitants of Thrush Green accept after being taken aback by his attitude. That is reality for many places and people.
What about the accusation that people never seem to talk about big events. Such things as the Cuban crisis or the nuclear threat pass them largely by. Well, really. How much time do people spend talking about "big" things as compared to the small change of life, so ably described by "Miss Read": children, schooling, pets, weather, neighbours and their various affairs, and the weather? Highly realistic, TH would suggest. Incidentally, there is a single mother in at least one of the Thrush Green novels and recurring characters of highly unsatisfactory neighbours.
There is, however, one thing missing from those novels or, at least, from the ones TH has come across. Nobody ever seems to watch television or discuss the previous evening's programmes. Now that is completely unrealistic.
In case you happen to be in or around London, you might like to attend the talk by Dr Caroline Shenton in the House of Lords about the day Parliament burned down. Here are the details.
Tory Historian has now been sent the full obituary of Professor John Frederic Main published by the Institute of Civil Engineering , the hero of the previous posting. He was fully as remarkable as his wife, Elizabeth and her first husband, Frederick Burnaby.
JOHN FREDERIC MAIN.
Obituary published by the Institute of Civil Engineers, Volume 110, Issue 1892, 01 January 1892 , pages 394 –396,
JOHN FREDERIC MAIN, son of the late Mr. David Main, Civil Engineer, was born at Greencastle, in the island of Jamaica, on the 7th of July, 1854. Taken as a child to England, he received his early education at the Southern Division Grammar School, at Southsea.
In October, 1872, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, where he won a mathematical scholarship, and in the Tripos of 1876 was ranked Tenth Wrangler. He was President of the Cambridge Union Society in the Easter term of that year. In January, 1872, he had matriculated seventh in honours at the University of London, where he subsequently passed the first and second examinations for the degree of Bachelor of Science, and in June, 1877, obtained that of Doctor of Science, the special subjects taken being Light, Heat and Acoustics treated mathematically, he being then barely twenty-three years of age.
In the following October he was appointed Lecturer in Mathematics and Applied Mechanics at University College, Bristol. With characteristic energy, he sought additional qualifications for this post by obtaining practical experience during three summer vacations, which he spent respectively in carrying on experimental work at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, in practical work at Professor Stuart’s workshops, in the same place, and in the drawing office in New York, of Mr Thomas Main, who subsequently became Manager of the works of Messrs. John Roach and Sons, at Chester, Pennsylvania.
Dr Main’s connection with University College, Bristol, lasted for four years, and proved one of importance in the history of that Institution. In the first year, his gifts as a lecturer and teacher were so signally demonstrated, that the Council of the College entrusted to him the arduous task of founding and organizing the School of Engineering, which he had induced them to try to establish, and appointed him Professor of Mathematics, Applied Mechanics and Engineering-an office he held for the following three years. Chiefly owing to his exertions, the newly-founded school gathered strength, and soon grew into one of the most promising departments of the College. The system adopted was that suggested some years before by the late Professor Rankine, and subsequently formulated by Dr. Main’s predecessor at Bristol, Mr. W. R. Bonsfield, viz., a combined practical and theoretical training, to consist of the pursuit of theoretical studies at the College during the winter months, and of practical work in engineering shops during the summer months. The course of Mechanical Engineering was arranged to extend over three years, and various manufacturing engineers in the neighbourhood consented to receive students of the College into their workshops and offices as articled pupils.
To carry out this plan successfully required no ordinary energy and work; those who owe their training to him could have had little knowledge of the difficulties of the task Dr. Main had undertaken; yet, with all the labour this imposed, he could find time to give several “ Gilchrist ” lectures in Bristol and the surrounding neighbourhood, and for the study of astronomy. But hard work began, after a time, to tell on a constitution which had never been robust, and in 1881 he decided to apply for the post of Assistant Professor of Applied Mechanics at the Normal School of Science (now the Royal College of Science), South Kensington, the duties of which were lighter than those of his Bristol professorship.
Unhappily, Dr. Main’s tenure of this post proved but brief. Before he had been a year at South Kensington his health gave way, and although he struggled manfully against a severe pulmonary attack, it made such inroads on his strength as to force him to leave England in the spring of 1883, and to make his home for a time at Davos, in Switzerland. He benefited so much by his stay in the High Alps that there was for a time great hope of his complete recovery, and his post at South Kensington was kept open for more than a year.
It was a delusive prospect, however; his health, though greatly improved, was never, during his residence in Switzerland, so far re-established as to allow him to revisit England for longer than a few weeks; and even in Switzerland he was at least once brought very near death by acute illness. It was his fate to remain in that country until late in 1887. In the last months of his residence, he contemplated, and actually made some progress towards, setting up at St Moritz a telescope of considerable power, which Sir Howard Grubb was making for him. He also made some observations and experiments in the Engadine on the viscosity of ice, an account of which was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.
In October, 1887, his health having to a certain extent improved, Dr Main determined to go to Colorado, in the hope of regaining a still larger measure of strength. After a short stay in England, he settled in Denver at the beginning of the following year. There his expectations seemed more than realized, something of his former vigour, and a considerable amount of his old energy, were restored.
Again his life became busy; he gave lectures, edited and wrote for a local newspaper, and frequently travelled great distances.
In partnership with an Englishman, Mr. Thomas J Pulling, he entered into business in connection with investments and mortgages of town property in Denver. So successful were they, that towards the end of 1890 they decided to start a limited company under the style of the Denver Banking and Investment Corporation, of which he and Mr. Pulling became managers. More than half of the capital was secured in England, and when, in the spring of 1891, Dr. Main visited this country, he was apparently in excellent health.
In the following December, however, symptoms of paralysis began to manifest themselves, and though for a time these appeared to have yielded to treatment, and even to have been entirely subdued, they were revived in a more malignant form by an attack of scarlet fever. After a brief rally, he died on the 10th of May, 1892, at Denver, at the early age of thirty-seven.
Of the personal character of Dr. Mann, it is impossible to speak too highly, without using words which would sound like exaggeration. Possessed of intellectual powers of a high order -- a fact which was strikingly supported by his personal appearance -- he at the same time had only a frail constitution, and hence never attained that position in the world which his friends anticipated for him, and which in their opinion he was so well fitted to occupy.
Dr. Main was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 6th of December, 1881.
The obituary does not mention his marriage but we can presume that he and Elizabet Burnaby met when he was at St Moritz and married there or, possibly, during that short trip back to England. Why he then decided to go to Colorado is slightly mysterious though it is true that the climate there would have been of great benefit to him. Nor do we find out much about the other people on the tombstone who appear to be relatives. Could they have been family members who had settled there earlier?
A while ago Tory Historian blogged on the awesomeness of some Victorians, specifically, Captain Frederick Burnaby and his wife, then widow, Elizabeth Burnaby (subsequently Elizabeth Main and Elizabeth Le Blond, with an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography under the last name).
For various reasons TH looked up Mrs Le Blond again and found out some interesting things about her second husband, John Frederic Main (1854 - 1892). He was according to the DNB professor of engineering at the University College, Bristol, which eventually became the University of Bristol and at the Royal College of Science, which eventually merged into Imperial College London.
According to this excerpt from the obituary published by ICE (Institution of Civil Engineering) Professor Main had been born in Jamaica where his father was a civil engineer but was brought to England as a young child and went to a grammar school in Southsea, going to study Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge where he seems to have done well.
A further obituary tells us:
Dr. Main’s connection with University College, Bristol, lasted for four years, and proved one of importance in the history of that Institution. In the first year, his gifts as a lecturer and teacher were so signally demonstrated, that the Council of the College entrusted to him the arduous task of founding and organizing the School of Engineering, which he had induced them to try to establish, and appointed him Professor of Mathematics, Applied Mechanics and Engineering-an office he held for the following three yearsIn 1886 he married Elizabeth Burnaby, née Hawkins-Whitshed and in the following year abandoned his academic career to move to Denver, Colorado in order to become an investment banker, which adds an element of unpredictability to his biography, yet the death in 1892 is firmly fixed in Denver.
However, researching further TH found a picture, which is barely decipherable of Professor Main's tombstone with other names on it of people clearly related to him. Could other members of his family have gone to Colorado from Jamaica?
Somehow birthdays get forgotten and Tory Historian feels very bad about it. There were several important ones this year (and it ain't over yet). Given TH's love of maps, it is a crime and a shame not to remember that March 5 (the anniversary of Stalin's death, as it happens, which also makes it a good day) was the 500th birthday of Gerard Mercatus, the great cartographer who
created (in 1569) a world map upon which navigators, for the first time, could draw a straight line and actually travel along it without the curvature of the earth messing up their co-ordinates.
Anyway, on to literary insults, which are, TH is happy to say, alive and well though not, perhaps, as interesting as those of the past.
Reading about the literary magazine of the early twentieth century, The New Age and its extraordinary editor, A. R. Orage as well as the highly talented contributors in a period that can, with some justification, be called journalism's greatest, TH came across the name of Beatrice Hastings.
In 1936 her literary career and reputation appeared to be on the wane and she attributed it to the Machiavellian machinations of Orage (by then dead) and the lack of gratitude displayed by various literary luminaries who had preferred to be on the right side of a man whom she compares to various dictators and who, in her opinion, had no creative or editorial talent at all. She poured out her venom in a pamphlet published by the Blue Moon Press of Red Lion Street and entitled The Old "New Age": Orage - and Others.
Her description of Orage's talent or "pen" on page 6 of her pamphlet comes high on the list of serious literary insults:
... and what a flat, ponderous, stilted, maundering, when not coy, conceited and facetious, when not plagiaristic or outright thievish "literary" pen he had ...TH is quite envious of that list of insulting epithets. How long did it take to put them together, one wonders.
Not content with annihilating Orage, Beatrice Hastings (to give her the right pen name) went on to do the same to Richard Aldington, best known as an imagist poet but also a novelist and literary critic. In 1933 he published a novel, entitled All Men Are Enemies: A Romance. Beatrice Hastings maintained that he had appropriated and used a title she had given in 1909 to a polemical publication: Woman's Worst Enemy - Woman.
In a note on page 9 of her pamphlet she writes:
Addington exploits this title [Woman's Worst Enemy - Woman] in one of his books, without naming me. That this silk-fingered, scratch-nailed, sob-stuffing, eaten-brained curate of the feminine soul is accepted by women as a champion shows what enemies to themselves they still are.Ouch!
Finally, Katherine Mansfield, a close friend and lover of Beatrice Hastings's:
I never knew until this month of Jan. 1936, that Katherine Mansfield came back on the paper [The New Age]. The sketches published in 1917 look like the incredibly vulgar stuff I rejected. .... That she must have fancied she was triumphing over me, although I never knew that she was offered to the readers in place of "Alice Morning" [another of Beatrice Hastings's pen-names] is not completely amusing; and it rather gladdens me to reflect that when Francis Carco's terrible study, Les Innocents, showed her that she was detected and classified, she had to reflect that poor Sophie Brzeska .... had been Fate's innocent instrument of revenge. After that book, Katherine began to play saint, prate about God and, as Olive Moore says, "twittered" her way out of a world she had fouled wherever she went.Ah those literary and artistic rows of yesteryear!
Beatrice Hastings's end was tragic but, somehow, appropriately flamboyant. She drank too much, had squandered her inheritance, saw herself as betrayed and spurned by the literary establishment, against which she railed. At the end of October,1943 she
burned her correspondence, stuffed a towel under the door, cradled her little white mouse in her hand and turned the gas on.She had left her possessions to her "devoted friend" Doris Lillian Green and her Literary Estate to the British Museum "or the first public library that puts in a claim". Oh but those letters! What joy it would be to read them. Surely, a woman who can write such elegant literary insults deserves renewed interest.
The next Conservative History Group event will take place on October 30 at 6.30 pm in Committee Room 2 in the House of Lords. That means having to go through St Stephen's Entrance so it may be as well to be prepared for a long queue.
Dr Caroline Shenton, Director of the Parliamentary Archives, will be talking about her book The Day Parliament Burned Down an account of the great fire of the building in October 1834, so memorably recorded by J. M. W. Turner, who set up his easel across the river and sketched furiously while firemen fought the blaze. This is the first book to give a full account of the event.
If you want to reserve a place at the event, click here and if you want to pre-order a copy of the book, in order to ask Dr Shenton to sign it on the night (Parliamentary rules say that they cannot be sold during the event) you can do so either through Amazon here or by e-mailing Dr Shenton directly on cshenton_AT_hotmail.co.uk.