Tuesday 27 February 2018

Uncle Logan Again, Eliot in his dressing gown, £10 worth of sardines and a bicycle

Some thirty years on from the last passage I quoted from Julia: A Portrait of Julia Strachey by Herself and Frances Partridge, Logan Pearsall Smith reappears, once again in a surprising, somewhat lurid light. Julia appends a postscript to a letter to Frances:

'PS Whatever do you think, Uncle Logan summoned me round the other morning and informed me that he has just left me £500 in his Will, isn't it lovely? He has done it, as he confessed to me with glee, "to annoy the rest of them. I don't like Christopher, and I don't like Barbara, and I don't like Karin and I never liked Ray [all members of his complicated family], but I do like you," says he, and adds, "Aunty Loo [Alys Russell, his sister and long-time companion] will be FURIOUS!" However perhaps his doctor will up and say that he was of unsound mind when the Will was drawn up (and certainly no voice will be raised to deny it). Anyway, the arrangement is that Logan is turning Loo out of the house on May 1st, as he can't stick her any longer. She has begged me with tears in her eyes to have her as tenant downstairs – I had to agree. So she comes on May 1st. Logan has gone mad in all literalness; it is very trying for us all.'
 Later Julia notes that 'there has been a certain tohu-bohu and brouhaha over the Will question'. ('Tohu-bohu' derives from the Biblical Hebrew phrase for the condition of chaos before God said 'Let there be light.')
 A few months earlier, Julia describes a visit to her uncle, in which he inveighs against his sister and her cosseting of their long-time cook, Mary, which he claims has thrown the household and his social life into chaos. He then moves on to 'picture dealers and what sharks they are, and connoisseurs too. "Rattlesnakes! Take Kenneth Clark, now."'
 Alas, we never learn what exactly Logan had against the future Lord Clark of Civilisation.

Another figure appears in a rather surprising light around this time too – T.S. ('Tom') Eliot, whom Julia seems to have liked, though not as much as his fellow resident of Carlyle Mansions, John Hayward (critic and editor).
 'When I was visiting him [Hayward] one night at Carlyle Mansions Eliot came in to see me. He was in his dressing-gown, having just had a bath, and seemed utterly distracted and Strindbergian, with his at-all-times remarkable manner accentuated into something quite ghostly and weird. I wondered for a moment if he were dead drunk; but I fancy not.'
 Julia is full of these vivid, tantalising glimpses. If only Strachey had been organised enough to keep a regular diary, it would have been quite a document – but she was all her life disorganised to a quite extraordinary degree, and with a crippling reluctance to bring any of her work to a finished state, still less publish it.
 Here's one more glimpse, of Raymond Mortimer (writer, critic, editor) preparing for war in March 1938, and correcting Julia's never very serious politics:
'I dined with Raymond and went to a play the other night. I enjoyed it very much, but I infuriated him by quoting Communist opinions culled from Philip [Toynbee], and he kept looking at me in horror and disgust over the creamy salmis and glowing purées on the marble dinner-table, saying, "Do pull yourself together, Julia! I thought you were quite a sensible woman!" Really I must make a resolution to keep my fingers out of politics. Raymond had just bought £10 worth of sardines and a bicycle to bicycle down the Great West Road on, in the event of war being declared, as he says all those with motor-cars will get stuck in a queue and never succeed in getting away.'

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