Temple and I were both born under our different stars just before the turn of the century, he on June 10, 1895, and I on January 23, 1898, at Number I Kings Bench Walk in the Temple, London. It was exceptional, if not unique, for married couples, much less children, to be permitted to live in those renowned legal chambers and take the air in the beautiful, ancient gardens above the river Thames.
My father, studying for the bar while earning his living as a journalist, had somehow persuaded the authorities to let him continue living in the Temple after his marriage. Although later my parents were to live very comfortably in large houses and luxurious Continental hotels, they remembered those years in cramped quarters, lacking most of the facilities of modern living, as perhaps the best of their lives.
Son of a Yorkshire blacksmith, my father, Willie Herbert Utley. had obtained his education on scholarships from technical secondary school to Owen’s College (subsequently renamed Manchester University) where he became an undergraduate at the early age of sixteen. With a voracious appetite for knowledge in every sphere of human questioning and endeavor, my father alternatively or simultaneously studied science and mathematics, languages and the humanities, and thus never obtained an academic degree. But his versatility and wide-ranging knowledge were subsequently to prove of greater advantage to him than any handle to his name when he got to London and started on a successful career in journalism. Thanks to the catholicity of his interests and his literary talent, he was able to write on scientific and economic subjects, as well as on literature, politics, art, drama and music. For instance, when Marconi first demonstrated wireless, he was assigned to Ireland to report this new scientific marvel for a number of newspapers which had no other adequately equipped reporter. Thus, my mother, in London, was one of the first people in the world to receive a radiogram.
My father had secured his first journalistic assignment when he presented himself at the office of the Morning Leader, the leading Liberal newspaper of the time, and was told to sit down and write an editorial on some political topic of the day. Having done this with ease, he was accepted as an editorial writer.
When the Morning Leader subsequently merged with the Evening Star, be became assistant editor and music critic of the Star and Morning Leader. George Bernard Shaw was its drama critic but, according to my mother’s recollection, their friendship began while my father was financial editor of Frank Harris’ Saturday Review, a journal that helped make Shaw famous as one of its contributors.
Many years after his death, while doing research for my M.A. thesis at the British Museum, I was asked by the oldest of its librarians whether I was the daughter of Willie Herbert Utley. When 1 said I was he told me that my father had at one time translated old English medieval manuscripts in the basement of the British Museum in order to earn money, not only for himself but also to help Bernard Shaw and other impecunious friends of his when they were especially hard up.
G.B.S. and my father were both contributors to Annie Besant‘s publication. Our Corner, and were friends of Charles Bradlaugh the famous free-thinking M.P. who directed the Hall of Science school on Fleet Street. Here, when he first came to London at the age of l9, Willie Utley lectured on physiography, according to an old prospectus for the session 1886-7 preserved by my mother and still in my possession.
In his teens he had spoken from the same platform as Friedrich Engels in Manchester, as I learned long after his death from documents I saw at the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow. Subsequently, in London, he had taken part in the labor struggles of the late eighties and was arrested with John Burns in Trafalgar Square at a demonstration of the unemployed, although spared from imprisonment on account of his youth. For some months he was acting secretary of the Fabian Society founded by Beatrice and Sidney Webb and, had it not been for my arrival, he would have stood for Parliament in the Socialist interest. But M.P.’s were not paid in those days, and with two children to support he perforce abandoned a political career. Even so, in order to earn enough money for all of us, he was on the staff of both a morning and evening newspaper at the same time, besides contributing to weeklies and engaging in unpaid political activities. Fie worked so hard, slept so little and expended himself so generously that it was not surprising that when I was nine years old, he contracted the tubercular lung infection to which he finally succumbed ten years later.
During my infancy and early childhood my parents had gone through some bad times, as for instance when my father started his own liberal weekly magazine only to have it fold on account of the Boer War: and later, when, after having written the first “Motoring Handbook” published in England. he was compelled before publication to sell the valuable copyright of this future best seller in order to meet a note at the bank he had guaranteed for T.W.H. Crossland, a friend who. like some other well known literary figures, lacked the bourgeois virtue of paying their debts.
Following, or in consequence of these setbacks or disasters, my father turned his talents to financial journalism and business investment advice and started making so much money that my earliest recollections are of life in a big house in Hampstead with servants and governesses, first at 67 Finchley Road and later at 33 St. Johns Wood Park. (Queer that now in my 70’s I can still remember the addresses of the houses in which we lived when I was less than ten years old! It is a curious fact that as the shades of the coming night of one’s life deepen one retains a better memory of details of the distant past than of more recent events.)
The Utley’s would have become really rich had my father’s partner, a man called Hannny. been ready to go all out to back my father’s conviction that a rubber boom was coming thanks to the invention of the motor car. It was Hannay who supplied the capital for their joint venture in publishing a financial newsletter and investing other peoples money in what is today called a mutual fund but was then frowned on as a “bucket shop.”
Notwithstanding the ease with which my father seems to have made money once he set his mind to it, and the affluence which surrounded my childhood as I remember it. I was reared in the socialist beliefs which were to shape my life. A life which was also to be powerfully influenced by the impression made upon me in youth by the tender, passionate and enduring love of my father and mother for one another. Despite the Bohemian world in which I was to take my place in my 20’s, I sought to find the same rare and true love which is
. . . a durable fire,
In the mind ever burning,
Never sick, never dead, never cold.
From itself never turning . . . Anonymous 16th Century poem included in the “Oxford Book of English Verse.”
My parents had first met and fallen in love when they were 17 and my father was brought visiting to my grandfather’s house by Edward Aveling, Karl Marx’s son-in-law and translator. In old age my mother was to recall with pride that Dr. Aveling had introduced my father that first evening as “the most brilliant boy and coming man he knew.”
The course of my parents true and life-long love had not run smooth, and they were not married until many years later, mainly because of my grandfather’s opposition but also, I surmise, on account of my father’s roving, adventurous temperament which led him to spend several years wandering abroad.
My mother’s father. Joseph F. Williamson, a prosperous Lancashire manufacturer, was a free-thinker and a republican who was proud to tell that his wife’s mother had hidden the famous Chartist leader, Fergus O’Connor, under her bed while pretending to be sick when the police were searching for him. He liked to entertain the prominent or promising radical political “intelligentsia” of his time, but he was far from inclined to believe in the equality of the sexes and was also opposed to any of his daughters (he had seven) marrying an impecunious young man. He had refused to let my mother continue her education to become a doctor, as she passionately desired, and had instead set her to boiling jam in his factory to put such nonsensical ideas out of her head.
After my father came courting following their first meeting, my grandfather ordered my gentle, obedient Williamson grandmother never to leave them alone. They surmounted the obstacle of her presence by my father giving her Ouida’s romantic novels to read. These so absorbed her that she paid no attention as they sat together in the parlor of my grandfather’s mansion, The Grange, in the Manchester suburb of Stretford, whose gloomy interior I came to know well when I was in my teens.
I narrowly escaped being named “Cigarette” by my mother after the heroine of Ouida’s famous book Under Two Flags (Stein & Day. N.Y., 1966.) about the French Foreign Legion in North Africa, this being one of the novels which so absorbed my grandmother as to leave my teenage future parents free from her chaperonage. Maybe also because my mother was an inveterate smoker, as I, alas, was also to become after I went to live in Russia. She had first acquired a taste for smoking in her teens when promised a complete set of Shakespeare’s works by her older brother Len, if she could smoke four cigarettes in succession—a feat she accomplished although it made her sick.
Among my precious possessions today is a three volume edition of The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley published in 1881, given to my mother by my father “on her 18th birthday, October 1883.”below the inscription “To Emily Williamson by W.H.U.” penned in beautiful script in India ink, my father wrote:
A vous mes pensees
Pensées aussi a moi.
This three volume set was published by John Slark, London, 1881. “The Text Carefully Revised, with Notes and A Memoir by William Michael Rossetti. Dedicated to Edward John Trelawny, Who loved Shelley, Traced out his corpse, and Snatched from the fire the heart of hearts, This Edition of the imperishable poems is by permission most respectfully dedicated.”
Determined to pursue her vocation if only in the secondary role of a nurse, mother eventually ran away to London to become a probationer at St. Thomas Hospital. Meanwhile, my father, despite his love for her. had gone off to Greece to be tutor to the son of a wealthy family on the Island of Andros. Here, as he told me in my childhood, he walked down marble steps to swim in the warm Aegean Sea, and had on one occasion almost been drowned because of his short-sightedness, having lost sight of land one evening when he swam too far out.
Subsequently he had wandered all over the Balkans, learning to speak Turkish as well as Greek and earning his living in diverse ways, mainly as a free lance journalist. His adventures in Eastern Europe were no doubt the equivalent of my brother’s voyages in the South Seas many years later. But he had eventually been pulled back to England by his love for my mother.
My mother was exceptionally attractive-indeed. quite beautiful to judge from her photographs and she had many suitors. But she waited for my father in the confident belief that he would eventually come back to her from his roaming abroad. All of which sounds like a 19th century romance but is true. They loved each other passionately and cherished one another all their lives, in poverty as in prosperity, in sickness and in health, until parted by death. During my father’s last long illness prior to his death in 1918, she nursed him devotedly in conditions of extreme poverty in a two-room cottage in Cornwall which was so primitive that she had to fetch water with a bucket from a well and cook on a wood stove. But she never let drudgery or poverty get her down. She was still lovely in middle age, slim and supple all her life, and managed somehow to look elegant whatever her circumstances. She was loyal and loving and never reproached my father for their fall from affluence to penury during the last years of his life although, as I came to realize when I grew up, she had little fundamental understanding or sympathy for the ideas which I inherited from him.
She was all woman-more concerned with human relations than with ideas; passionate and charming, unselfish but demanding, jealously possessive in her love for both my father and my brother, but also ready to make any sacrifice for them without complaint.
We could not have been more different. Not only was I never beautiful, I scorned to be feminine. I wished I were a boy and have always felt most flattered when told I have a man’s mind. Nevertheless, it was no doubt mainly due to my mother’s influence that I was to reject second best substitutes for love. I waited long to find my own true love because I dreamed of the perfect union which my mother and father enjoyed. I could not accept any substitute for the rare love of my parents which had illumined my childhood. Puritan or romantic, or a combination of both. I was to reject the easy fly-by-night liaisons of my contemporaries in the Bohemian world in which I took my place in London in the 20’s.
My father’s love for my mother was as constant as her’s for him. They were lovers in every sense of the word in middle age as in youth. I possess none of the letters she wrote him, but have several which he wrote to her both in their years of prosperity before the 1914 war and during the disastrous years which followed before he died, destitute in Cornwall, in January 1918. Writing, on October 27, 1911 from our home at Ken Court, Tatstield to mother visiting my sick grandmother in Manchester, he tells her how “dreary” life was without her and that “In my loneliness last night. I thought I would play the claviole but we could not find the piano key anywhere. My dearie I love you alone and utterly and life is not life when you are away. Goodnight sweetheart. Ever your true lover, Willie.”
Other passages in my father’s letters recall the dimly remembered days of my childhood and early teens when, incredible as it now seems, we lived in such comfort that two servants did not suffice. “I am putting an advertisement in the Globe for a man and wife,” he writes, “because, Florence does not want to be a parlor maid and the girl who wrote wants only a housemaid’s place.”
Florence, whose kind, ugly face and tall angular figure I still remember, was our loyal “retainer,” more friend than servant. When bad times came she wanted to continue working for us without wages and offered her own savings to my parents to help out. Back in 1912, she was busy bottling plums and pickling cauliflowers and cucumbers and enjoying herself generally. Recalling the distant days of our prosperity before the 1914 war. Temple was to write on June 3, 1934 from Suva, after the birth of my son in Moscow:
My Dear Mother and Grandmother.
Queer to think of you as the hitter, for I see you more as the Mother I remember, carousing with Lockoff and Madame von Kloekner at Arosa. or drinking Chartreuse- French, pre-expulsion of the monks- at Ken Court. Christmas, 1912. Those days when we were young and rich. when property was so secure that people laid down wine cellars and the ‘lower orders knew their places’. Little did you think that twenty-two years later you would be grandmother to a little revolutionary in Moscow. It is a pity Dada cannot see the joke, it would have stirred his sense of irony. Well, dear, you have had a life; but really, on the whole, it must have been good. I don’t think that at the age of sixty-nine I will be having a little revolutionary grandchild, in what capital shall I suggest? – say. Chicago.
Even in her old age in America Mother was to remain charming and attractive. In 1941 when she was in her seventies George Calverton shortly before his death wrote to her from the offices of The Modern Quarterly in the Village;
Just a little note to say I hope you are feeling well and spreading your radiant personality over Westport.
I’ve missed you, those minxish eyes of yours, that fine clear English speech, and your infectious laugh, lovely as the song of wind in gentle spring.
Other friends in America, still alive, recall Emmie Utley’s beautiful voice and the exquisite diction of her speech which was the more remarkable since her father had denied her the education he could easily have afforded to give her.
In my late teens I came to know my Williamson grandfather as a tall, handsome patriarch who bullied the two of his daughters who had not married but had devoted their lives to looking after their parents. He had cut off my mother without even the proverbial shilling when she married my father. But years afterwards when my father was prosperous and we lived at Ken Court my grandfather had been glad to let my mother nurse grandmother in our home for six months during her fatal illness. When she died, my grandfather did not even offer to pay the medical and funeral expenses. A decade later when my father was dying of tuberculosis in poverty, my grandfather grudgingly allowed my parents ten shillings a week-no doubt well content that he had proved so right in having opposed my mother’s marriage to a man who ended his life as he began, in poverty.
Following my father’s death in January 1918, my grandfather was to cut off even the pittance he had allowed my mother during the last year of my father’s illness, leaving me to support her while my brother was fighting in Mesopotamia.
I remember my mother’s mother as a small, shrunken old lady with scanty white hair covered by a lace cap, clear blue eyes, a delicately tinted complexion and a tremulous smile, her hands folded in her lap as she sat in our garden at Ken Court with a rug over her knees. She was a sweet and gentle person who let her husband dominate her to such an extent that she had never dared to stand up to him even in order to help their daughters.
My Utley grandmother, whom I knew only from her portrait, must have been a forceful and ambitious woman. She had done everything possible to help my father surmount the handicap of poverty to secure an education. She had succeeded in spurring my Utley grandfather into raising himself from the status of contented blacksmith in Yorkshire into the ranks of die lower middle class by securing for him the management of a small hotel in Manchester.
She had failed to make him a successful inn-keeper and had died comparatively young. leaving her husband to become my father’s pensioner: but she must have had the satisfaction of knowing that her talented and energetic son would fulfill her ambitions. I imagine that it is from her that I inherited the drive, as also other unfeminine qualities and defects that have both helped and hurt me during the course of my life.
My father’s father, although poor and improvident, was a most happy man, loved by his wife and son. He may have been a financial burden and a failure but he contributed to their lives, love and gaiety and enjoyment of music and art.
He remains in my childhood memories as a hale and hearty, rosy cheeked and white haired, cheerful old man. His main interest in life had always been playing the violin and painting pictures of no artistic value, which no doubt afforded him the pleasure of satisfying his creative impulses.
He was so robust and healthy that he had never taken to his bed in illness until he died in his 80’s in full possession of his faculties. No doubt, I have owed to him and our Yorkshire yeomen ancestors the vigor, energy and good health I have enjoyed for most of my life. My brother, who like my father, developed tuberculosis and died young, may have derived from our Utley grandfather the sanguine temperament which, as Temple used to say, contrasted with his pessimistic philosophy.
My Utley grandfather gave me a violin when I was a child and insisted that I should learn to play it and he also endeavored to teach me to draw and paint. Although I was never really musical I tried hard and was most happy when chosen in my teens to play in the school orchestra at my English boarding school.
I also tried my hand at painting and wrote romantic plays which my brother and our friends acted, rigged out in homemade costumes. These plays of mine usually had tragic endings, as did the one we performed while staying at the Hotel Grison at Arosa in Switzerland, in which all the main characters ended up dead on the stage. I was furious when Temple made comedy out of my tragedy by getting up before the curtain fell to sound the hearts of the other “corpses” with a stethoscope.
As I write, memories revive of days when my imagination and interests were unconfined by experience or too great preoccupation with politics. When, although I already had a “social conscience” awakened by my father’s teachings. I could indulge my romantic imagination and enjoy all the wonder of the world.
Somewhere along the line of my ancestry or environment, I acquired a Puritan streak which made me take life all too seriously, in contrast to my brother who enjoyed all the pleasures and joys life offered, but who could also laugh in the face of danger or adversity. Temple never experienced the brief religious phase I went through, perhaps induced by one of my governesses at the age of seven or eight, when I prayed every night on my knees beside my bed without, as I imagined, anyone knowing. But my reason, or the logical thought developed by my upbringing soon reasserted itself, bringing my very short “age of faith” to an end. I remember going to discuss it all with my father, telling him that I realized that a just God would not punish man for doing the evil which his Creator must foresee he would do if He were omniscient as well as omnipotent. And if God were not just, he was not God; i.e., did not exist.
As I dimly remember, my father explained his agnostic philosophy in simple terms by saying that if told there was a tiger on the roof he would go up and find out. But no one could verify the existence of a God in heaven.
I wrote stories or fairy tales from an early age and can recollect the main outline of one whose hero was called Cass. Maybe I derived his name from the French verb casser — to break – for my story started by telling how his mother and father, realizing that their children, if they lived, would surely sin and go to hell, killed them all in infancy. But ‘ baby Cass, having willfully knocked over and smashed his cup of milk, thus already committing a sin, was permitted to live. This is all I remember of Cass’s story. A psychologist could no doubt find all sorts of interesting explanations for my remembering even this much.
It was perhaps because he wanted to save me from premature preoccupation with sin and death and religion that my father gave me Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam to read. I was so enthralled by the lyrical beauty of Fitzgerald’s rendering of the Persian poet’s verses that, when eleven years old, I learnt them by heart- nor have I ever forgotten them entirely. Like the poems of Shelley and Swinburne which enchanted me later. I can still recite verse upon verse of the Rubaiyat from memory.
Recently I became acquainted with Omar Abou Riche, a famous modern Arab poet who was Syria’s Ambassador to Washington in 1962. When I asked him whether any of his poems had been translated into English or French, he replied, “yes,” but went on to remark that very few translations of poems are worth reading, the great exception being Fitzgerald’s rendering of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat which, he said, is not properly speaking a translation, but a free rendering of the spirit and meaning of the original.
As I learnt only then from Omar Abou Riche, it was Swinburne, my favorite poet, who acquainted Fitzgerald with the works of the great Omar and induced him to give the Western world knowledge of the Rubaiyat in verses as immortal as the original Persian text.
Perhaps it is no accident but kismet the Arab word for fate-which, by bringing me recently in contact with new friends from the ancient but reborn Middle Fast, has helped to revive memories of my childhood and youth when the Greco-Roman heritage we share with the Arabs colored and inspired my imagination.
Since he died before my twentieth birthday and long before I learned the facts of political life through experience, I do not know whether it was disillusionment or his love for my mother and desire to give her and their children a good life, which caused my father to devote his talents to making money soon after I was born. But it is clear to me from my memories of him and from the fragmented record of his life, which is all I possess, that like William Morris he was in revolt as much against the sordid ugliness of industrial civilization as against the iniquities of the “Capitalist System” of his time.
He loved music and poetry and beautiful things; was a connoisseur of wines; spoke several foreign languages fluently; loved to swim and sail, and enjoyed driving fast cars although this made my mother very nervous. In general, he had a great zest for living, and reveled in the athletic, as well as the intellectual pleasures of life. My earliest recollection of him is of a slim, trim man of medium height with broad shoulders, fine soft golden hair brushed back from a high wide forehead: clear blue eyes behind gold-rimmed pince-nez glasses perched on an aquiline nose above a reddish drooping moustache partially concealing a full lipped smiling mouth with prominent front teeth. And my happiest memories are of summer holidays in Sussex or Devonshire when Temple and I swam with him and he taught us to row and sail small boats.
I cannot remember ever having not known how to swim and read, but can recall being forbidden by my mother to read in bed, lest I “ruin my eyes” an injunction which I cannot have paid much attention to because I have a distinct memory of lying in bed. early in the morning, reading a “Told To The Children” illustrated version of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare.
Among the illustrations I can still dimly see Rosalind and Touchstone in the Forest of Arden. Perhaps because Rosalind, disguised as a boy and behaving like one, in contrast to the womanly Ceilia who aroused my contempt, appealed to me who during my childhood longed to have been born a boy.
Apart from shortsightedness my eyes have never troubled me. Mother used to insist that I take off my glasses in company in order to look pretty. She also insisted on putting my straight hair in curl papers at night. I remember an evening when she reproached me for having caused a quarrel between her and my father- a most unusual occurrence—because I had appealed to him to stop her forcing me to endure this discomfort. Also my father telling me in an endeavor to use his influence to support my mother’ “Il faut souffrir pour etre belle,” and myself in tears in a tantrum yelling “I don’t want to be beautiful.” which of course was not true. But my reaction to my mother’s emphasis on my handicaps: shortsightedness and straight hair, as against her perfect sight and lovely naturally curly hair was, of course, to pretend that I was not interested in my appearance. At that early time perhaps I really did not care, being far more concerned in keeping up with my brother in sports and studies in spite of being a girl and younger.
Temple, two and a half years older than I, received a letter on his 18th birthday which conveys some idea of our father’s personality and philosophy.
From our home at Ken Court, Tatsfield Surrey to Temple at Trinity Hall, Cambridge on June 9, 1913. he wrote:
My dear Boy.
May this, your eighteenth birthday, be a happy one. not because of anything material that may come to you upon it, but because you feel that you are making progress toward the responsibilities of manhood, because you feel your own powers developing within you, because your inward vision is embracing a wider view of the two worlds, the one which is inside and the one which is outside yourself. You are practically a man already, though for me always my dear boy, and I am happy to see you developing your own personality and being yourself. Whatever may come to you in the future, whether it be of good or ill, this is the greatest of all, to be yourself and no copy of anyone else at all times under all conditions. But for one’s own satisfaction it is necessary that the self you are shall be such a self as you can be proud of yourself to yourself, not to other people. “Il faut cultiver son jardin” is the French phrase. The garden to be proud of is the garden that produces beautiful flowers, abundance of fruit, a sufficiency of humble necessary vegetables (without which you won’t be able to cultivate your garden) and the fewest possible weeds. Alas! there is no garden quite free from weeds. The mistake is to take them for beautiful flowers and it is a mistake quite easy to make both for young and old. It is also a good exercise in philosophy, ethic and aesthetic, to examine what is a weed, what a beautiful flower and what a choice fruit.
I have every confidence in you, dear boy, and in your future. I won’t say to you: “think high thoughts,” but rather: “Think deep and wide thoughts and do clean deeds.” Cleanliness is far above Godliness.
So long, old man. I shall be glad to see you at home again. It seems a very long time since you went away.
Editors Note – We continue next week with Chapter Three: CONTINENTAL INTERLUDE!