Friday, 22 January 2016

Maude Egerton King 1867 - 1927

The Haslemere Educational Museum hold a copy of Greville MacDonald’s Maude Egerton King 1867 – 1927 – A Portrait in Minature.  This short book was “Printed privately for friends” for Christmas 1927.  The museum’s copy is inscribed “With Dr MacDonald’s Christmas Greetings”.   

I think that there is no better way to understand Maude's impact on her family and peers than to read this book.  It is interesting to observe that in the year of Maude's death, Greville MacDonald also lost his wife, and yet I have found no record of another publication being produced for Christmas in her memory.

The book begins with a poem which I believe Greville wrote specifically about Maude:

“In my long life there be just three or four
Of women who, now shrined as saints, do wait
To ope for me their minster’s cloister-gate –
And One, perchance, its sunny western door.
So weary now, her dear help I implore,
Lest, faithless to my spade and hoe, I bate
My golden dream that, very soon or late,
I’ll doff the cowl and cross the immortal floor.

“Those peerless saints!  Of whom that One doth glow
Still with her ruby heart of flame, her eyes
Of speedwell blue.  Angelic her emprise
To make red roses e’en in my garden grow!
Herald of Beauty here, she trod God’s ways,

And now has left to Him all Death’s dismays."

And then the book formally begins:

“Portrait painters should be poets, for although, say, a rose’s outward visible form may be glowingly portrayed in a drawing, its inward spiritual beauty will for some find surer expression in a song.  Similarly while the writings of Maude Egerton King, and her devotion to Peasant Arts with the Guild of that name, do give close understanding of herself; yet and although the skill of poet and painter be lacking, it seems right to venture this record of her peerless nature, especially as it expresses the convictions of those most intimate with her person and her life (footnote 1– I have been helped much by the sanction and criticisms of her husband, sisters and some oldest friends).  If, to quote William Blake, “the fool sees not the same tree that the wise man sees”, it is no less true that two angels may behold the same tree’s beauty quite differently, the perception of beauty being always subjective.  So, while the impossibility of doing justice to the present theme will be realized in its very endeavour, the general accuracy of it will not be questioned.

Perhaps some day her whole story may be told, for the simplest details of a noble life often prove entrancing literature (footnote 2 – This fact is nowhere better shown than in her first prose-work, Round About a Brighton Coach Office, 1896).  At present it can only be affirmed from the words of sisters and earliest friends, how Heaven lay about her in her infancy, and how it has been given to them, and to others of us, to recognize that influence in all her writings, as well as in the social world she fashioned and ruled so sweetly with unseen sceptre.  Many say they won a renewal in education, even inspiration, from her very person and atmosphere; a revelation, indeed an unveiling of the Kingdom.  “The spirit of man is a candle of the Lord searching out the innermost parts”, wrote Solomon.  Hers was a candle with neither smoke nor flicker in its flame.  Not to many is it given thus to hold the torch through the terrestrial way, even for their intimates.  Yet some illuminate worlds themselves perhaps had not yet fully seen ; and in such wise that their torches still flame, perhaps with increasing brightness, even after they have left us weeping.  Thus indeed, as with all great musicians, painters and poets,

“The future brightens on our sight,
For on the past hath fallen a light
That tempts us to adore (Wordsworth, Elegiac Stanzas)”

To be continued!

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