Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Einstein and the Little Lord

For Enbrethiliel and Brandon and anyone who's been following the discussion on Darwin's post But That's A Girl's Book!, I present: Einstein and the Little Lord, by Robertson Davies. I assure you it will forever warp your view of Little Lord Fauntelroy, and Einstein, and Dvorak's Humoresque.

He wanted a rest, and I knew what sort of rest he had in mind. Underneath his arm was a violin. He jerked his head toward the sound of music from the dance, and in a friendly fashion he said, “Come on; we can do better than that.”
Quite how I followed him I do not remember but in no time I was in the large room in the basement of my house, where the piano lives. I say it lives there, because I dare not say I keep it there. I am somewhat in awe of it. You see, I have played the piano all my life, without ever having gained any proficiency whatever. Untold gold was spent on my musical education, but I remain a hopeless fumbler; I am perhaps the only man in musical history to play the piano with a stammer. Nevertheless, I play. Almost every day I approach the piano in my basement and endure its Teutonic sneers as I tinkle out the kind of music I like, which I confess is chiefly piano arrangements of music meant for other instruments, and even for the human voice.
Einstein gestured me toward the piano, and began to tune his violin. It was obvious that his pitch was perfect. I was horrified.
“Do you mean you want me to accompany you?” I said, weak with fear.
“No, no, we play together,” he said, and tucked the fiddle under his chin.
My blood ran cold. In all the vast repertoire of music in which the violin and piano can mingle there is only one piece that I would dare attempt. It is a Humoresque by Dvorak—the Number 7 in G flat. You know it. Popular musical taste has accorded words to it, words selected from a well-known railway notice:


Passengers will please refrain
From flushing toilets when the train
Is standing in the station:
I love you.

... The speaker was the most beautiful boy I have ever seen in my life. His graceful childish figure was dressed in a black velvet suit and close-fitting knee-breeches from which emerged legs, clothed in black silk stockings, that Marlene Dietrich might have envied. The velvet suit had a white collar of exquisite lace, and about the handsome, manly little face clustered lovelocks of long fair hair falling in a profusion of curls.
You know who it was, of course. And I, from recollections of my childhood reading of the novel of which he was the hero, was able to greet him with a cry which surely fell in familiar and welcome cadence on his ears.
“God bless your lordship! God bless your pretty face! Good luck and happiness to your lordship! Welcome to you!”
The child bowed in response to my greeting.
It was Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Modern children do not seem to know his name, or the book by Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett in which his story is told. But surely this is a temporary lapse of fame; his romance is undying, a superb realization of what Dr. Jung of Zurich has named the Archetype of the Miraculous Child.
Most of you are familiar with him, though there may be one or two among you, under thirty, to whom he is a stranger. But millions of readers, old and young, have thrilled to the tale of little Cedric Errol, born in New York of an American mother—whom he never addressed or referred to except as ‘Dearest’, because that is what his English father, who had died so young, had always called her. Cedric considered himself to be an American, and indeed he exhibited all the American characteristics, total candour, boundless self-confidence, naturally fine manners, and a democratic spirit almost too zealous to be wholly believable. But certainly in Cedric there was nothing affected about this democracy; his dearest friends were Mr. Hobbs, the groceryman, Dick the shoeshine boy, and the poor old woman who sold apples at the street-corner; he did good to many others, among the poor and needy, for whom his tender little heart was always grieved. Judge then of the reader’s astonishment when he discovers that this typical little American is, because of the death of a number of relatives on his father’s side, the heir of the great Earl of Dorincourt, and that his true name is Lord Fauntleroy.
How Cedric softens the hard heart of his grandfather, the Earl (a typical English nobleman, proud, domineering, with blood so blue you could use it for ink, but nonetheless a splendid creature and exceedingly rich) and how Cedric makes all his grandfather’s tenants happy, and how Cedric persuades his haughty grandfather to accept Dearest, who, though an American, is nevertheless a lady, and how Cedric gets Mr. Hobbs the groceryman and Dick the shoeshine boy to England, and settles them close to Dorincourt Castle, so that he can go on being democratic at them—all of this is familiar to you. Familiar also are the drawings done for the book by Reginald B. Birch, which made the appearance of all the characters, but especially the ringleted, velvet-suited little lord, familiar to millions of infatuated readers from 1886 at least until 1925.


Oh, do read it all.

7 comments:

BurgoFitzgerald said...

Oh, from a Canadian and an Ontarioan (the province Mr. Davies was born and died in)thank you so very much for spreading the word on Robertson Davies! I was fortunate enough to see, listen to, and meet him multiple times in my life. Great selection!

Darwin said...

Burgo,

Davies is one of my favorite authors (and I was thus responsible for introducing MrsDarwin to his books). I've read all his novels at least once -- a few of the late ones are dark enough I probably will not be re-reading them (I must confess I found The Cunning Man somewhat repulsive) but several of the novels out of the Salterton, Deptford and Cornish trilogies rank among my favorite books.

Lucky you to have met him. I heard him interviewed on TV once and it struck me that he had an incredible voice -- I wish I could have heart him read aloud some of the stories from High Spirits.

Gail F said...

I have actually read Little Lord F! I must try this.

MrsDarwin said...

BurgoFitz, the first Robertson Davies novel I read was Tempest Tost, and I thought, "Here's a man who knows theater." I recently read Anthony Trollope's The Warden for the first time, and I could see many parellels between Trollope and Davies, in the way they both dissected a character's motivations so incisively. I think those men wrote with scapels in lieu of pens.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

But I can't read it until I crack open Little Lord Faunterloy! =P

(Poor Cedric. Waiting all these years . . .)

MrsDarwin said...

E, you can read Davies first. I did, and I still enjoyed LLF fairly well. I thought Davies was a bit unfair, though I still did laugh at parts of the book for remembering his slaps.

BurgoFitzgerald said...

Darwin:

I am glad to hear that Davies is one of your favourite authors. I am also going to put you down for a plaque, a corsage, and a side of Canadian bacon as a reward for spreading the goodness to Mrs. Darwin! In Canada, we start reading Davies in highschool, so many of us are quite familiar with him. I once taught a group of American college students, and they had never heard of him, which actually made me sad. The first time I met him was in highschool. An English teacher arranged for a class to go hear him speak. It was thrilling. Yes, even as a teenager I knew I was in the presence of someone who could do something amazing.

Mrs. Darwin:
You are very correct when you say, "Here is a man who knows theatre." He lectured on his love for it here in Toronto. I was delighted when you mentioned Trollope (my cyber name is taken from a character from "Can You Forgive Her?")and Davies because I actually wrote a paper on the very subject when I was an undergraduate.

And let us not forget to mention that he has a beard that will go into the Hall of Fame for Facial Hair! Woo-hoo!

Last thing: you might want to find a song called "My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors" by a Toronto band (now defunct) named Moxy Fruvous. Davies is one of the authors mentioned (and his beard!)