Among the more than a thousand letters in George and Kittie’s archive and eight international archives, there appears to be not one from or to either of them for the fortnight or so in February/March 1915 that George was at home on sick-leave. For a writer this seems remarkable — perhaps another of the ‘mysteries’ of his life. But not really. Obviously, he was above all convalescing, building up his strength after escaping the medical madness of Fort Brockhurst, and Kittie had her time cut out too.
Perhaps he sat a lot in the long low chair in a corner of the first-floor drawing-room at 42 Well Walk reading, or even knitting as he had when he came home from hospital in November 1914. There would have been a steady stream of visitors and, as he improved, some sociable evenings, presumably. It is known that he also liked the company of the mongrel Tommy and the cat Shadrach. I will look at the question of whether he did any creative writing whilst he was home, next week. But one thing we can be sure of is that he played the piano a lot.
As a student, he had had a grand piano in his room at Trinity, Oxford, and was in great demand as an accompanist. He had played weekly trios with Dr Albert Tebb (see my post of 1 August 2014) and a certain Womack for many years in Hampstead. But he most enjoyed playing for himself at the end of a long day. Kittie would then come in and lie down on a settee to listen to him.
According to Percy Lubbock,
Beethoven came first with him, then Schumann, Bach, the Russians, and the later French masters; beyond these he did not habitually range. His taste was heroic and romantic, he loved music unprofessionally and made no study of its artistry; but where he was attracted his grasp of the import of music, and his remarkable skill in expounding it, showed that he had the true intelligence, if he had cared to develop it.
It would be interesting to know whom exactly Percy meant by ‘the later French masters’. Debussy’s music featured in an interval of the 1909 Seagull premiere, as well as Glazunov and Liadov. It is known that George played Sibelius, and he would surely be powerfully attracted to Rakhmaninov’s piano music.
Convalescing, he would also probably play various forms of patience. Some of these he had devised himself, as he was always fascinated by card games and the mathematics of probability.
Next entry: Writers’ illnesses