Friday, June 6, 2008

"[A]n aspirate more or less"

A remarkable passage from Anne Thackeray Ritchie, quoted by Allen Shawn, prompted me to look up Chapters from Some Memoirs (1894). My university library has an 1895 edition, which I borrowed this afternoon, after waiting for twenty-five minutes or so in the "safe area" of the library basement during a thunderstorm and tornado warning. It was quite a thunderstorm, leaving trees and parts of trees scattered about, and at least one telephone pole listing badly. I saw the top of a birch tree resting upside down in a driveway, with no birch tree nearby.

But here is a passage from Anne Thackeray Ritchie. Watch as the writer's youthful judgment of others turns into mature self-judgment and, finally, into a celebration of beauty in which all judgments become irrelevant. It's as wonderful as I think it is, isn't it?

A great many of my earliest recollections seem to consist of old ladies, — regiments of old ladies, so they appear to me, as I look back through the larger end of my glasses to the time when my sister and I were two little girls living at Paris. I remember once that after a long stay in England with our father, the old ladies seemed changed somehow to our more experienced eyes. They were the same, but with more variety; not all alike as they had seemed before, not all the same age; some were younger, some were older than we had remembered them — one was actually married! Our grandmother looked older to us this time when we came back to Paris. We were used to seeing our father's gray hair, but that hers should turn white too seemed almost unnatural. The very first day we walked out with her after our return, we met the bride of whose marriage we had heard while we were away. She was a little, dumpy, good-natured woman of about forty-five, I suppose, — shall I ever forget the thrill with which we watched her approach, hanging with careless grace upon her husband's arm? She wore light, tight kid gloves upon her little fat hands, and a bonnet like a bride's-cake. Marriage had not made her proud as it does some people; she recognised us at once and introduced us to the gentleman. "Very 'appy to make your acquaintance, miss," said he. "Mrs. C. 'ave often mentioned you at our place."

Children begin by being Philistines. As we parted I said to my grandmother that I had always known people dropped their h's, but that I didn't know one ever married them. My grandmother seemed trying not to laugh, but she answered gravely that Mr. and Mrs. C. looked very happy, h's or no h's. And so they did, walking off among those illuminated Elysian fields gay with the echoes of Paris in May, while the children capered to itinerant music, and flags were flying and penny trumpets ringing, and strollers and spectators were lining the way, and the long interminable procession of carriages in the centre of the road went rolling steadily towards the Bois de Boulogne. As we walked homewards evening after evening the sun used to set splendidly in the very centre of the great triumphal arch at the far end of the avenue, and flood everything in a glorious tide of light. What, indeed, did an aspirate more or less matter at such a moment!

Anne Thackeray Ritchie, Chapters from Some Memoirs (Leipzig: Bernhard Tauchnitz, 1895), 26–28
Related posts
Anne Thackeray Ritchie in Google Book Search
Anne Thackeray Ritchie on the past
One more passage from Anne Thackeray Ritchie

comments: 3

Geo-B said...

OK OK, I wasn't going to read it, but I ordered Allen Shawn's book. You've convinced me.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Beautiful passage, Michael. Such moments of epiphany are all too rare!

T. said...

Catching up on your wonderful posts - this IS gorgeous!