Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Introduction to Books I and II

LUCY CAROLINE LYTTELTON, afterwards Lady Frederick Cavendish, was born in London on September 5th, 1841. The Diary does not begin till she was on the point of being thirteen. Its first volume was lost. The earliest book that was bequeathed to me is headed " Vol. II " and its first entry is made on August 7th, 1854. But Lady Frederick's niece, the Hon. Mrs. Hugh Wyndham, possesses, and has kindly allowed me to use, a little account of her earliest years written when she was still very young. There is no date on it, but it was certainly written before August 1857, when her mother died, for it always speaks of her in the present tense. It was intended to " finish for the present with my Confirmation," which took place on June 4th of the same year. But it does not get so far, and may possibly have been written before with the intention of continuing up to that point. In any case it is certain that it cannot have been written much later, not only because of the allusions to Lady Lyttelton as still living, but because in it Lady Frederick always speaks of her fourth brother as George. His full name was George William Spencer, and he was called George as a child. But in July 1856 his great-uncle and godfather Lord Spencer gave him an estate in New Zealand and asked that he should be called Spencer ; and for the rest of his life George and William disappeared, and he was always known as Spencer Lyttelton. The account of this is one of the last entries in Vol. II of the Diary. It is therefore possible that the unfinished sketch of Lady Frederick's earlier life was written a little before this volume was ended as a substitute for the lost Vol. I. But its less childish and more mature style suggests some time in the first part of 1857 as a more likely date. In any case she was not sixteen when she wrote it.

Some people are dull on paper and dull in conversation. Others, while witty or brilliant on paper, never say anything worth hearing. Others again are delight¬ful to listen to and dull to read. Lady Frederick, with¬out any claim to be a wit, was almost as quick with her pen as she was, all her life, with her tongue. But the humorous topsy-turvydoms and incongruities which flowed so freely, even in her later years, from her tongue, and would send a roomful of intimates into a burst of laughter, were not the sort of thing that anybody writes down. And, as everybody knows, such things, when coldly recorded on paper and read apart from the occasion out of which they grew, are as unlike the original and genuine article as strawberries out of a bottle are to strawberries fresh from the bed. If I did not think her diary often amusing as well as interesting, I doubt if I should have tried to put such a book as this together. But most people, from Pepys down¬wards, no doubt, are graver in the solitude of their diaries than they are in the society of their friends. And Lady Frederick, especially in her earlier years, put more gravity into her records than I have cared to take out of them. That note is at once struck in this curious account of her childhood. Its very first words show how serious her character was, almost from her nursery days ; as later pages show with what force, ease, and abundance she could write before she was out of the schoolroom. I quote the greater part of it. Its very first pages show where she got her seriousness. Her account is one more proof of the unhealthily " sinful " atmosphere which Victorian parents, even very kind and affectionate parents like Lord and Lady Lyttelton, allowed to grow up in their nurseries.

No comments: