Friday, 8 April 2016

Maude Egerton King - A Portrait in Miniature - Part 5

Greville MacDonald continues in his memories of Maude Egerton King:

"She began writing long before she was eight years old.  I have before me, pencilled when seven in childhood on odd scraps of paper, a ballad in almost perfection.  The Knight of the Golden Shield:

"What news, what news from the war?" she cried,
"What news from the battlefield?
What news, what news of my own true knight
The knight of the golden shield?

Well might she ask what news from the war,
What news from the battlefield,
Of the handsome knight who loved her best,
That knight of the golden shield.

There's woe! there's woe in the battlefield!
The knight whom she loved best
Lies cold and dead beneath the moon,
An arrow in his breast."

from Arbor Vitae, Godfrey Blount, 1910

Thence till she was eleven, she rote many things which were unquestionably more than imitative - a claim that rarely if ever holds good in the early effusions of even greater poets.  These poems already reveal her tender imagery, her keen sense of humour, her delight in the ludicrous, her profound pitifulness.  But then came a few years in which perhaps something of sentimentalism obscured her young-eyed genius.  In my own copy of a volume comprising this early verse and printed by her father for private circulation (One of these poems, "Jo", appeared in Good Words in 1884), she has pencilled some uncharitable condemnation of what she wrote in her adolescence - a period, I take it, that has in very few writers given earnest of their nascent genius.  But barely was she eighteen when her gifts began unmistakably to declare themselves.  Wedded to Joseph King in 1887, he secured the publication in 1893 of the little volume My Books of Songs and Sonnets.  In one poem, "Looking Back" (Unpublished volume, 1885, p.31), written when sixteen, she thus spoke of her childhood's wondering outlook upon the world:

"Lo! a field first-daisy dotted
In the freshness of the spring
And a child a-laughing, singing
All the joy of everything.

Then to me, was ever rainbow
Arching up the dome above,
Half a mystic ring of beauty
Wedding Earth to God's great love."

And Wordsworth in his maturity kept fast hold upon the truth therein suggested:
"Our childhood sits,
Our simple childhood, sits upon a throne
That hath more power than all the elements." ("The Prelude", bk v.1, 507)

from Arbor Vitae, Godfrey Blount, 1910
Indeed throughout all Maude King's subsequent work her childhood's pure outlook upon the world and its people, human or four-footed, winged or rooted in the Mother Earth, remains, though always widening and deepening, quite unspoiled.  A pitifulness driving to instant action; a longing for close fellowship with everything she loved; the pathetic devotion to her home; a conscious hoy in her humour and imagery; a rare curiousness in observation and its accurate, facile retention; a satirical mockery of her dolls, as if refusing to be fooled by their sentimental appeal to her dormant sense of motherhood; even the gift to see

"among least things
An under-sense of greatest;" (Ibid, bk vii 1, 735)

there are outstanding points in her childhood.  And they remained, I repeated, dominant throughout her life.  They accounted no less for the ardent support of her husband in his political work than for her unswerving belief that the restoration of the hand to its crafts and arts especially when used for home-service - and in home service alone did the peasant-arts originate and excel - offers more hope of social and personal salvation than any betterment of the standards of living and education as they are understood by our Parliaments.  As her dolls were never believed in, neither were the extravagant claims of politics.  Though she gave herself up to them with something more than an assumed happiness, they should not mislead her innermost convictions, her transcendent hopes.  On the other hand, the spiritual worth of spinning and weaving, the fashioning and carving of vessels or crucifixes for the home, was absolute: her perception that such things of service of naturally and unselfconsciously take lovely form, was but the outcome of there childhood's trust in beauty.  And as

"the flowers
Out wearied with the glare and heat of day
Put up their petals prayer-wise, for the cool
And hush of night..." ("Eternal Stride", a poem in the unpublished volume p.54)

so the humblest home was to her more sacred than any church or shrine or altar, deeply though she accepted these as outward signs in beauty of an inward and spiritual grace.  All she did in her home was creative ; whether feeding with her own hands a peevish sufferer, weaving at her loom, helping her maids at their spindles or spinning-wheels, or setting a child from country cottage or city slum to dance and sing; whether singing herself with pure and peculiarly childlike voice, or playing her pain with a touch freely found in the more highly trained.  Indeed herself was the home.  Hardly ;less was it so even when she was travelling abroad, in Switzerland, Germany, France or Italy; for she would delight, recreate all her party with her irresistible fund of sparkling gaiety, her ludicrous mimicry, always kind even when absurdly true, or by rapidly jotting down vivacious thumb-nail sketches of travellers gormandizing at the tables-d'hote.

from Arbor Vitae, Godfrey Blount, 1910

But nowhere was her artistry more astonishing than in her Christmas Nativity Tableaux, whose beauty could never be forgotten.  Like a conjuror she would transform the most heterogeneous of gay-coloured derelicts, remnants, and strays into royal robe, shawl or turban, and the village-folk into Madonna, Shepherds, Kings and Angels.  A certain painter of renown and intimate with stage-craft, vowed that no London manager, with all his command of money, could produce such spectacular effect; while another man of the world and its wealth must weep for the sheer loveliness of these devotional tableaux.  To myself, one among many, the news she brought of the Kingdom was just revelation: it came in her personal grace, in every article or story or poem she wrote for The Vineyard, and in an unremitting giving away of her self and her energies - vicarious suffering indeed, which, I think, and with some technical understanding of the facts, was largely responsible for her crucifixion at the last."

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