Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tell me a story

A sketch from the childhood of Kingsley Martin, future editor of the New Statesman. Basil Martin is his father, a socialistically inclined Congregational minister:

Kingsley's illnesses as a boy were frequent, facilitating much reading in bed but also involving - in a way typical of the family and the period - his mother and his elder sister in long sessions of reading to him: Henry Seton Merriman, Stanley Weyman, Dickens, Rider Haggard, Baroness Orczy - and Ivanhoe (in a mercifully abridged edition) many times over. The whole family were great readers aloud; which in those days was common among literate families with little or no money to spend on places of entertainment. Visitors to the house were assured of a welcome by the children if they would read a story. Speakers down from London for Basil Martin's Sunday afternoon "conferences" (which, truth to tell, were usually Socialist seminars) would often stay at his house - and read to his children. Among these was Mrs Despard, the suffragette leader, who read them Alice in Wonderland and was canonised from that day.

[From Kinglsey: The Life, Letters and Diaries of Kingsley Martin, by C.H. Rolph, Gollancz, 1973. For a pious life-and-letters, published five years after its subject's death, this is remarkably entertaining: Martin was both a great gossip and a great cause of gossip. It's a sort of compliment to Rolph that I found myself yearning for someone to do his job over again, because he is frank enough to show you when he's being discreet, marshalling whole crowds of anonymous and pseudonymous lovers and deploying euphemisms whose effect may have become more or less severe with time. Perhaps the New Statesman's centenary will have landed someone there the relevant book deal. I can hope...]

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