Sunday, 13 March 2016

Maude Egerton King- A Portrait in Miniature Part 3

The booklet commemorating Maude Egerton King's life (Greville MacDonald, 1927) continues:
"Nevertheless hair-shirts and infelicitous duty may monopolise all opportunity for creative work.  Fortunately, after devoting herself with Joseph King, her husband, for many months to slum work, even taking into their home a hopelessly abandoned girl for reformation, she realised the danger to her art - as sacred to her as any other divine gift.  She put this question to their life-long friend, Dr. Robert F. Horton: whether Wordsworth could have done his work for humanity, if he had devoted his genius to the cleansing of its sewers.

"And her chief's answer was to set her free of the worst duties he had assigned her.  It cannot be right to cage a lark though he might still sing of the sun even in a dark cellar.  Other restraints she gladly accepted, transforming them into new opportunity.  None who knew how happy she could in self-denial, can doubt this.  Her devotion for several long periods to her husband's altruistic political labours, though politics in the,selves were always distasteful to her, provided of utmost help[ to him, and so presumably her country.  Later came her editing for eight years to that felicitous yet commercially failing magazine, The Vineyard, the organ of the Peasant Art Guild - a publication she was spiritually and technically responsible for.  Whoever wrote for it - and among its contributors were Selma Lagerlof, Peter Rosegger, G. K. Chesteron, R. L. Gales, Maurice Hewlett, Ernest Rhys, Katharine Tynan, Anatole France, Lord Dunsany - it always stood for these her convictions: that the redemption of man is inseparable from the purification of his work; that the salvation of the land will never come without devotion and sacrifice; and that machinery, with its loveless labour and unearned dividends, making politics necessary to counter its blight upon the people's souls and bodies, gives no sign of any divine sanction.  This newest of demon powers, even though many while hating it submit perforce to its iniquity, must be forever unhesitatingly disbelieved in and fought: Apollyon must be met in the open and closed with, even if he cannot be slain.  Such was the creed that supported Maude King's ingrain sense of obligation towards the Kingdon, and had large share in fortifying her will and its sweetness, her humour and her literary charm.

"Here let me give a prose specimen - a poetic wayside flower - to instance her knowledge of life, nd the intuitive religion - intense and cloistral yet all-embracing - that kept her mind incapable of the plea. so dangerous as apology, that Powers greater than our own may bring good out of evil.  The people she describes in the story are a cook and a cow-man:

"Tis wonderful night with its many minsters ...the stately, starry, sapphire night was holding her passionate heart in its quiet hands, divinely meddling, divinely moulding, there.  Much poor stuff if found and revealed - petty cruelties, tyrannies, vulgarities, grossnesses, mingled with something whiter, shaming her sadly while kindling a bright hope too. ..Surely there as no waste here.  Surely it was entirely blessed and practical that the infinite beauty and solemn appeal of the night should pass into the simple soul, translated into its mother-tongue, pointing to homely duty and inspiring its drudgery - a whole universe conspiring to bing about better relations between a cook and her underlings...(The Country Heart and other Stories 1911, p.33.  This particular story appeared in The Century Magazine and again in The Vineyard, January 1911.)

"The last sentence might well recall the trenchant appeal of a certain poet preacher, "when shall a man dare to say that God has done all He can!" (George MacDonald, Maude King's uncle by marriage) - one to whose fairy tales, along with Hans Christian Anderson's her childhood owed much of its at-homess in the Kingdom.  The story of The Country Heart, from which the quotation is taken, is minute in understanding of the gross flesh that hems in the vulgar cook, its nastiness in kitchen and servants' hall; while it is absolutely tender over there poor flickering womanhood, and the uneducated cowman with hs labour's sweetening influences.  The characters are drawn from life: yet only eyes like their painter's could see into the depths once of their degradations and their clouds of glory.  Just as Beethoven's spiritual hearing carries him into realms of mystery and translates their wonder into language intelligible in some measure to almost everyone, o our poet's candle penetrates conditions of life into which she certainly never had entry either direct or through other's eyes.  Many of her writings reveal this power - for instance the short stories, Salvation (The Country Heart and other Stories, p.142), The Junction (The Vineyard, October 1910, and The Country Heart and other Stories, p.78) and perhaps more remarkably, some terribly true and precise sketches she would never publish, yet which, because she had as it were clairvoyantly witnessed them, somehow had to be set down, if only to be instantly destroyed.  But in everything she proclaimed this truth, that human nature is perfectly human only when breathing and depending upon its spiritual atmosphere.  Thus alone can it fearlessly penetrate the clouds, get vision and power for creative work and utterance: courage too to face yet again the horrors below."

1 comment:

  1. You have put so much into these posts-much appreciated and well done for finding the time AND dedication


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