Item 64 - Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

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PETH/7/64

Title

Letter from Emmeline Pethick to F. W. Lawrence

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  • 29 July–3 Aug. 1900 (Creation)

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4 sheets (2 of them folded), 1 envelope

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20 Somerset Terrace, Duke’s Road, W.C.—Is glad to be back in London. Expresses her sense of wonder at the progress of their relationship, and discusses the idea of his standing for Parliament in St Pancras. Sends some books.

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Transcript

20 Somerset Terrace, Duke’s Rd, W.C.
July 29, 1900

It is Sunday evening, and I am Home Again! I have the Western sky and the delicious evening breath, and the blue kitchen all to myself, and I feel like Diogenes in his tub, the world is so far away. Today you are at Madeira, and next Saturday I shall—shall I not? —have a letter to tell me how you have fared so far.

I had a sweet home-coming on Friday. The great weight of responsibility and all forboding gone, the children so happy and well; my Daddy at the station, tea and my dear old comrade waiting for me here, then one hour or two later a merry little dinner at the Kings X Restaurant—Daddy and Sister Mary and Mr McIlwaine and I—and a happy evening. No matter how lovely a holiday is I always come back with a great sigh of relief and joy, and the conviction that there is no place like the blue kitchen!

It is a most wonderful summer. I don’t think I ever saw things so beautiful. Last night we sat till late on the flat roof of the Buildings, the sweetest breath of a living earth about me like a presence, under the night sky and the stars. It was like being in a great ship. I thought of you and wondered, wondered.

Yes, I am filled with wonder. What a strange thing Fate is! Only three months ago another came {1}, and then I felt it was impossible, unthinkable. I said then, “This thing is not for me, ever. Freedom is more than life.” It is so curious how when this came, everything in me was hushed except a voice outside myself which said, “Let destiny decide”. So strange this great calm and acquiescence. I am half lost in wonder: Everything seems to me a dream sometimes.

But I wonder amongst what circumstances, what experiences, what thoughts this will reach you, and what plans for the future will be taking shape in your mind. I cannot help plans shaping themselves in my mind. I seem to see so much—so much possibility, so many definite threads that could be gathered up at once. I cannot get it out of my mind that you must stand for St Pancras. The former Liberal candidate {2} is rather curiously bound up with us. I must tell you about him some day and get you to meet him. He is {3} (on 2nd thoughts I efface name, in case of accident to this letter, which God forbid!), cousin of Lord Rosebery’s, quite young—less than thirty, I should suppose—and one of the sweetest nature (it is [a] queer word to use but it suits, this time). He is too delicate for the struggle and has retired to Colchester {4}, but longs to come back and work with us in some way. He came last Sunday morning for a long talk with Sister Mary. Sister Mary says that if you were to stand for this division he would come back to London and support you and work for you. (Of course nothing has been suggested, but he is so pathetically eager to come back and find his work here.) This is just one of the threads, though everything is of course too much in the air to even speak of these things. Yet doors seem to stand open, and plans organize themselves in the mind. You must not misunderstand any over-haste. Somehow one is always seeing lines converging, and new things developing; it always has been so. That is how all our work has grown and come. I am thinking of Mr Cope {5} too. He has never had his chance yet, or wide enough scope for his mind and energies; you would give him a platform; he just wants what you could supply, the executive and organizing power; he is a first-rate speaker, and very popular—has the gift of popularity, but no Anglo-Saxon capacity for clearing his way. He belongs to the woman-race, is pure Celt. He can’t work for himself, but for another he can work—and how well! You would find him invaluable.

This is what gives me such joy! That you came into all our lives, making all the old bonds and ties stronger & more established. Sister Mary feels this. She is more than absolutely content. There is not one of us who will lose, but all be so much richer for your life. And you will be richer too. I don’t think any man or woman ever found such comrades as I have found, such true, loyal and great-hearted men and women. Such beauty I have found in them—you have yet to learn how good they are. I ought to know, look at the years and years I have known them in daily intercourse. Well! it is the thinking time, the waiting time now. By & bye will come the time of doing, and deciding. Dear, I commend you with all my heart and soul to the great Maker and Re-Maker. How often has it been my own prayer for myself:

“Maker! re-make! complete!
I trust what Thou shalt do.” {6}

May the love that keeps us all in being keep you from every evil & bring you safe home to me.

Ever yours,
E.

Aug. 1st. That was a Sunday letter! Now it is Wednesday, and last evening came your most welcome letter, long before I expected it. You were at Madeira sooner than I thought. And now it is 12/9x7 {7}. Yes, it was the best thing (to go) {8}, and everything you have done for the last five weeks—that is, since I have known you—has been infallibly right and has strengthened my confidence in your judgement and my—Well! Yes, and everything you have said in your letters I have understood and there has not been a word that has not suited me perfectly. I should have the same qualms and afterthoughts about my letters if I did not trust you so completely. The relationship has been so strange; we have seemed to come so close to each other in spirit, while still standing on the outside line of acquaintance, and the remembrance of things thought and said in one mood would make me uneasy when I am at the other point of outlook if it were not that I could smile and say, “It doesn’t matter. It is all right!” I know that you honour me in every thought, as I honour you in every thought, and think you worthy of nothing less than the simple truth, though it may be just a mood of the heart, the breath that bloweth where it listeth, and we cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth. Dear, I bless you with all my heart and soul.

Yesterday I got these books to send you. I cut the pages of the “Treasure of the Humble” {9} and read the two last chapters, said “No, it’s a shame! He shan’t be bothered! I am not going to send it!” Then I remembered that I had promised, and thought, “Suppose after all he wanted it and went for it, and it wasn’t there!” So I am sending it. And then there is a little book of wayside song, little bird-songs, which made one or two railway journeys last summer very sweet to me. And then there is a little story, worth all the philosophy and all the poetry in the world, “A Humble Romance” {10}, which I know will suit you. It is simply perfect, I think. I read it to the workhouse folk at Hadley Wood {11} on the Wednesday after the Tuesday {12}—you know—when already, strange to say, a new love and a new tenderness for everything living had come into my heart. I do hope you will get them. And so I shall not be able to write to you again until you are homeward bound? I suppose I can wait for you at Madeira with a welcome. I may ask for a line from Mr Bovill next week as to whether another letter could reach you at Cape Town. But anyhow, letters would be safe with the directions given on the outside in case of non-delivery. I shall not risk it next week unless I have reasonable hope, of course. Over the miles of sea, my thoughts arrive to you every day.

Aug. 3rd. Of course I should not have said anything about elections, only that I know you can take no action for the present. There will need an immense amount of thinking and talking things over. You first understand, don’t you, how I talk to you like this as though you were in the opposite chair; there is nothing documentary! Sister Mary says that I am to send her love and tell you that this hot weather she has got herself put on to a special local committee for attending to the Register, and a sub-committee of that, and that she is at present coquetting with the local fanatic! Meantime she has mentally set all the parts: the ex candidate is to be your agent; she will run the Office; Mr Cope will stampede; MacIlwaine will do the papers (he will); dear Brother Jack (Mr Greenhalgh) will give a “tone” to the platform {13}; I am to superintend your recreations! There are a good many minor parts!

Now, about the photographs. This is not my doing at all. I rarely keep photographs myself, preferring to carry the vision of my few in my inmost imagination and heart. But Daddy undertook the whole thing, and said I was to tell you that he took the whole responsibility for sending what I said you had not asked for. He arranged with the photographers and called for me and told me what I was to wear. If it were for myself I would have you in your most everyday clothes, but I must dress ’e up a bit for his aristocratic friends! And he made the man send home finished proofs in time for the mail (I never thought they would do it). Whatever I thought myself, I would never disappoint him or thwart him in his little plans.

(The above effaced will keep till I see you.) {14} I enclose a cutting from the Manchester Guardian yesterday. I liked that bit about “The fool hath said in his heart”. I am also sending a little dream-story of mine, because although you are only the 3rd person! to know it, you will see that I wrote it for that dearest and most sacred relationship of my life {15}, which I want you to understand. I have much yet to say to you about that, so that you may never fail me just here. So that together we may make the last part of his life the sweetest and happiest, and I may use the opportunity I have been waiting for {16} to acknowledge in deed and in life my great debt. This is more to me than what you call my “career”!

I shall not write next week, nor send anything important, just a magazine or book or something that matters not. I shall wait now till I see you. All is well.

E.

[Direction on envelope:] To F. W. Lawrence Esqe | c/o The Standard Bank of S. Africa | Cape Town [In the bottom left-hand corner:] S. Africa [On the back:] If not delivered please forward to. W. Bovill Esqe, Mansfield House, Canning Town, London E.

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This letter was apparently sent with a parcel of books, and possibly some photographs. The envelope is postmarked ‘LONDON W.C. | 1.15.PM | AU 3 | 00 | 34’ and (on the back ) ‘CAPE TOWN | 3.10 AM | AU 21 | 00’. Also marked on the envelope in pencil are the words ‘P. A [Nibtero?] | 3 & 4 Fenchurch St’. (4 Fenchurch Street was the address of the Union-Castle Line, the owners of the ship on which Lawrence travelled to South Africa.) Some changes have been made to the punctuation.

{1} This appears to be a reference to a previous suitor, perhaps a marriage proposal.

{2} George Montagu Harris, a second cousin of Lord Rosebery, his father, George Collyer Harris, a clergyman, having married a granddaughter of the 3rd Earl. He stood for the Radicals in a by-election in St Pancras (South) on 28 January 1896, but was defeated by H. M. Jessel, the Unionist candidate. He was later distinguished in the field of public administration. See The Times, 6 Oct. 1951, p. 8.

{3} Followed by two words (probably ‘Montague Harris’) struck through. The words in brackets are interlined.

{4} Written over another word, evidently ‘Winchester’, where Harris lived. The alteration was presumably made to conceal Harris’s true destination.

{5} ‘Mr Cope’ has been scribbled over heavily in pencil, but is still legible.

{6} A quotation from Browning’s poem ‘Rabbi Ben Ezra’.

{7} This presumably means that twelve days of Lawrence’s expected nine-week absence had passed.

{9} ‘(to go)’ interlined by way of explanation.

{10} Alfred Sutro’s English translation of Le Trésor des humbles, a collection of mystical essays by Maeterlinck. The first French edition appeared in 1896, Sutro’s translation the following year. The ‘two last chapters’ are ‘La Vie profonde’ (‘The Deeper Life’) and ‘La Beauté intérieure’ (‘Inner Beauty’).

{10} A story by the American writer Mary E. Wilkins (Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman). It first appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in June 1884, but the reference here is probably to the collection A Humble Romance and Other Stories, first published in 1887.

{11} In north Middlesex (now in Greater London), about a mile and a half north-east of Barnet.

{12} Tuesday, 26 June, the date of Fred’s proposal.

{13} For the ‘tone’ attributed to Greenhalgh see My Part in a Changing World, p. 113.

{14} This paragraph is preceded by three lines struck through, the latter half of which appears to read ‘it is how we can best avoid the appalling gossip of C. Town’.

{15} Mark Guy Pearse.

{16} ‘(his coming old age)’ interlined, then struck through in pencil.

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