A friend’s published tribute

As I explained in my post of 25 June, after George’s death was officially accepted in the spring of 1919 Kittie invited his friends to write their memoirs of him, which of course included tributes, but none of these was published in its entirety. Rather, they provided grist to Percy Lubbock’s mill in writing the book about George that Kittie commissioned from him, Percy quoted from them but as requested did not usually attribute them, and Kittie published an extract from G.F. Bradby’s memoir after her Preface to Tahiti (1921).

A close literary and card-playing friend of George’s who does not appear to have written a memoir of George for Kittie was the humorist and fishing-writer William Caine (1873-1925). It may be remembered (see my post of 25 February 2015) that George and Caine collaborated on the pantomine The Brave Little Tailor, with music by Martin Shaw, which was not staged in 1914 probably because its sources in a German fairy tale would have been commercial death. However, Caine did write a tribute to George in the spring of 1919. It was published in the Manchester Guardian on 12 May, and since it is little known I think it should be reproduced here:

Sir,

The recent notice in the ‘Times’ of George Calderon’s death in battle on Gallipoli tells his friends that they may hope no longer. To us the loss is inexpressible. That which the theatre has suffered cannot, of course, be estimated, but that it is a heavy one is certain. Calderon died before his work had won the recognition it deserves. Had he lived he must soon have been among the first of our playwrights. He died at the very moment when his powers were ripe for the fulfilment of their promise. The war has robbed the world of so much beauty that upon the loss of this one splendid brain, this one warm and gallant heart, this one delicious wit, I need not dwell. It is part of the price that his generation has had to pay for the madness of its forerunners; part of the price of a world’s salvation from a very dreadful danger; part of the price, let us hope, of a saner and more noble life for the men that are to come.

We remain behind to grieve; yet we may be sure that Calderon and his like know no regret, as they knew no hesitation when their call came. His patriotism was a very pure flame; it never blinded him to the merits of other countries. He had real sympathy for all men, of whatever nation they might be, was at home with all, and indeed spoke most of their languages, for his gift of tongues was prodigious. When he went out to war in 1914 it was not against Germany, but against that for which Germany then stood. This he loathed, and when it reared its head to threaten the liberty of the mankind he loved he had but one thought — to share to the utmost in the work of destroying this menace. Though he was long past the then military age, nothing could keep him out of the army. First as an interpreter in the Royal Horse Guards and then given a combatant commission in a line regiment, he went through the earliest of the Flanders fighting, until a wound brought him back to England. The moment he was healed he applied anew to be sent on foreign service, and very soon he was on his way to Gallipoli. 

It would have been very easy for him to stay in England. I am certain the thought never so much as occurred to him. This war, for him, was a crusade; in this cause no sacrifice — not the last — could be other than a joy. It is to this spirit in Calderon — and in how many others! — that England owes her life. He is content — and they. May England, realising what she has lost, use worthily this life that they have given her. — Yours, &c.,

WILLIAM CAINE.
Hampstead, May 10

The ‘recent notice’ in The Times is Percy Lubbock’s obituary of George, published on 5 May 1919. The reason Caine sent his tribute to the Manchester Guardian was probably that he knew George was well known and liked there. Annie Horniman’s Manchester Repertory Company had staged and toured George’s most popular plays, The Fountain and The Little Stone House, and premiered his Revolt in 1912. It is particularly interesting that Caine uses the trope ‘a crusade’. Many writers about George, including Lubbock and Kittie herself, described George subsequently as a (Spanish) Crusader, but there is no documentary evidence that George saw himself that way.

(It is not known where in Hampstead Caine lived; Kittie’s address book from this period has survived, but his name is not in it.)

Next entry: 8 July 1915

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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