30 October 2011

My tenuous Tennyson link

What's the simplest way to put it? My great aunt was the Baroness Tennyson. Yeah, that Tennyson, but a couple of generations down from the poet, and only for a little while. And to call her my great aunt might be a stretch. Before she was the Baroness, she was the widow of my grandmother's step-brother. 

Nonetheless, this tenuous link got me curious about the autobiography of her husband the Baron. It is called From Verse To Worse, which I found to be an auspiciously clever, humorous, and self-deprecating title. The Wikipedia page about him proved tantalizing, particularly in its claim that the autobiography was reminiscent of P. G. Wodehouse. So, I called in another ILL (Inter-Library Loan) favor from my long-suffering wife and got it.

And so far, it does not disappoint. Though I must admit that, for an American, I have a bit of a bias towards all things British, probably from watching too much BBC via PBS as an impressionable child and adolescent. It may also be explained by nature or nurture since my grandfather had a similar bias towards all things British. And here I'm talking about my grandfather on the Jewish side of my family, in which, to my knowledge, nobody ever entered the peerage. My mom says he used to ask her why she couldn't act less Italian and more British. In my defense, at least I have none of that fascination with the Royal Family that so many Americans seem to suffer from.

Some choice quotes from what I've read so far:
At Farringford I started to ride on a Shetland pony called "Dumps." He was about twenty years old then, and the most infernal little brute, and got me off just as he liked. (p. 21)
Previous to this he had been pensioned off in a cottage on the Farringford Estate, where he lived on hard boiled eggs cooked fifty at a time, and on dried goat's flesh. (p. 23)
There are two other memories of mine connected with Suez and Port Said, and these are of passing the Spanish Transports full of troops going out to fight in the Philippines, and of riding in a donkey-race with some of the other passengers, which I won. My mount was called Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay. (p. 28)
Amidst these glorious scenes of nature, we had a strange contrast in observing one of the most cruel practices of mankind. In the midst of the grilling heat of the Red Sea, we passed close to two ships taking cargoes of slaves from the interior of Africa to the opposite shore. They were all manacled together and looked a piteous spectacle. (p. 28).
What countries still had slavery at this time (1899)?

I will end there on this sobering note, hopefully with more updates to come, if again some night I cannot sleep. Unfortunately I think I can't scan and post the book since according to my cursory research on UK copyright, it won't be in the public domain until 70 years after the author's death, which will be 2021. I suppose I could try to get the publisher, if they still exist in some form, to release the rights ....

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