Journal of Katherine Mansfield
Recollections of College
Recollections of College.
J.'s application is a perpetual reminder to me. Why am I not writing too? Why, feeling so rich, with the greater part of this to be written before I go back to England, do I not begin? If only I have the courage to press against the stiff swollen gate all that lies within is mine; why do I linger for a moment? Because I am idle, out of the habit of work and spendthrift beyond belief. Really it is idleness, a kind of immense idleness—hateful and disgraceful.
1 Queen's College, Harley Street, London.
But what coherent account could I give of the page 54 history of English Literature? And what of English History? None. When I think in dates and times the wrong people come in—the right people are missing.1 When I read a play of Shakespeare I want to be able to place it in relation to what came before and what comes after. I want to realize what England was like then, at least a little, and what the people looked like (but even as I write I feel I can do this, at least the latter thing), but when a man is mentioned, even though the man is real, I don't want to set him on the right hand of Sam Johnson when he ought to be living under Shakespeare's shadow. And this I often do.
1 On the opposite page is a long list of the chief figures in the history of English Literature, working backwards from the eighteenth century. Evidently, Katherine Mansfield had been trying to test her knowledge. In the final result, the list, though it is much corrected, is singularly accurate.
As he lectured I used to sit, building his house, peopling it—filling it with Americans, ebony and heavy furniture—cupboards like tiny domes and tables with elephants' legs presented to him by grateful missionary friends…. I never came into contact with him but once, when he asked any young lady in the room to hold up her hand if she had been chased by a wild bull, and as nobody else did I held up mine (though of course I hadn't). “Ah,” he said, “I am afraid you do not count. You are a little savage from New Zealand”—which was a trifle exacting, for it must be the rarest thing to be chased by a wild bull up and down Harley Street, Wimpole Street, Welbeck Street, Queen Anne, round and round Cavendish Square….
And why didn't I learn French with M. Huguenot? What an opportunity missed! What page 56 has it not cost me! He lectured in a big narrow room that was painted all over—the walls, door, and window-frames, a grey shade of mignonette green. The ceiling was white, and just below it there was a frieze of long looped chains of white flowers. On either side of the marble mantelpiece a naked small boy staggered under a big platter of grapes that he held above his head. Below the windows, far below there was a stable court paved in cobble stones, and one could hear the faint clatter of carriages coming out or in, the noise of water gushing out of a pump into a big pail—some youth, clumping about and whistling. The room was never very light, and in summer M.H. liked the blinds to be drawn half-way down the window…. He was a little fat man.
The old man could not get over the fact that he was still strong enough to lift such a lump of a boy. He wanted to do it again and again, and even when the little boy was awfully tired of the game the old man kept putting out his arms and smiling foolishly and trying to lift him still higher. He even tried with one arm….