FROM THE ARCHIVES: A Galsworthy Saga

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A Closer Look at John Galsworthy

In 1911, Margaret Morris met the man who would eventually become PEN International’s co-founder, John Galsworthy. At the time Morris was a 19-year-old dancer/choreographer who staged successful ballets. Her friendship with Galsworthy was also a successful partnership; together they produced plays such as The Little Dream and The Pigeon. Galsworthy’s encouragement also led Morris to start her own dance school, which would eventually become the Margaret Morris Movement. In 1967 Morris’s memoir “My Galsworthy Story”  recounted  her almost-intimate relationship with Galsworthy, which ended abruptly in 1913.  The following excerpts  draw on the dozens of letters that they exchanged during their brief but intense friendship. Morris writes that “in some respects I got to know him better than anyone else did, with the exception of his wife [Ada], to whom I must emphasize he was always devoted … John was the first great love of my life, the second and last being Fergus—(J.D. Fergusson, the painter), who eventually became my husband.”

My Galsworthy Story

March 18, 1912
Hotel Touraine
Boston

John Galsworthy

The spirit of form of perfection for the sake of perfection seems the only ideal possible in an age that is rapidly shedding all its superstitions

Dear Child,

Since we are starting for Chicago tomorrow I write now to catch this week’s mail. Today is the Iphigenia, and this very minute 3 p.m (except that it’s not 3 p.m. in England) you are trembling in your shoes lest your chorus disgrace you. But they won’t, and you will gain I fervently believe.

Have just come from a luncheon of literary and other folk (to me given) and from trembling in my shoes and having to speak. A ghastly, stupid, almost hoggish custom this feeding cum speechifying. I enclose you what I said, not because it’s really in concise form what I feel to be the only possible religion of our day—the only thing that will save our stupid hand-to-mouth civilization from utter shipwreck. The spirit of form of perfection for the sake of perfection and without hope and desire of material gain (except in so far as we must to keep ourselves alive, and in full strength of mind and body) seems to me the only ideal possible to an age that is rapidly shedding all its superstitions. The cut and dried Gods are reckoned forms of expressing this ideal of Perfection, which in its turn is but another way of expressing man’s belief in his own self-respect and courage. I do not see why it should take the place of God—become God—that is, the hoped-for, the mysterious and unattainable. Is not this your religion, or what is it that you feel?

The spring is on us the last two days and I have spring hunger rather badly.  You remember the tiny sketch I showed you. Has any more come along?  I hope the Denhof dancing was more of a joy than you expected. My dear, Boston is full of plain people that it makes me ache. They are of a different type to the New Yorkers, and their feet are better set on it; but they talk at the top of their voices! I’ve never in my life heard such a noise as twelve people made last night at dinner… There is one wonderful place here, a ‘Palace,’ Venetian style completely built and designed by a certain Mrs. Jack Gardner to hold a really wonderful collection of pictures and other articles of virtue. I hate collectors as a rule—I hate the spirit of collecting—but I must say that this is a great work; for the perfection of form and colour, everywhere, and the things themselves is—are—wonderful. She is to be forgiven, for though she only opens to the unfavoured public about ten days in the year (to save her bacon) she is going to leave it to the state, I am told. There is a real Giorgione—a Christ’s head and shoulders bearing a cross—again; and a little Raphael in the style of, and only equaled by, the tiny Apollo and Marsyas in the Louvre. I forget if you have seen the Louvre, you must go if it’s only to see that little golden picture, where all the joy of life is caught and prisoned in serenity.

That is what I wish for you, my child, and so goodbye for today.

J.G.

 ……………..

Margaret Morris

‘The Little Dream’ Again

Now that John and Ada had returned to England, the sense of their nearness gave me at once a joy and fear. Would John ever consent to meet me? Would he ever agree to my seeing Ada? He went on writing to me, but that letter was the last in which he called me ‘My dear Child’ From which this point onwards reverted to ‘My dear Margaret’ which I felt was significant, indicating a hardening of his resolution, on reaching England, to put me back where I was when he wrote the first formal letters. The endings were also more formal, and I feared he was gradually but determinedly shutting me out of his life.

In this first letter from Devonshire John refers to my dancing at a Cabaret theatre. I think this was the first to be opened in London, what would now be called a night-club, ‘The Golden Calf’ in Heddon Street, a small street off Regent Street, on the left going up from Piccadilly.

 ……………..

Wingstone
Manaton
Devon
May 31, 1912
My dear Margaret,

It was jolly to hear all about it. I’m so glad the dancing went off with real success. I see you are to give a show at the Cabaret Theatre, and I suppose will be busy again with the Iphigenia performances at His Majesty’s and at Bradfield. I will try to put in a word with Barker for a performance before a play. Alfred Butt, alas I don’t know. I hope your mother has found a piano.

I daresay you could write if you had time and energy to spare it but I wouldn’t advise it; for it must be done with all of you, or not at all

I was rash enough to rush into the Daily Mail discussion of the labour unrest and fired off some of my pet theories—so that a good many people belonging to the Public School and Clinical sides of life want my blood. The articles appeared Monday and Tuesday last week. I had to say the things but it’s disastrous to quiet concentration on a love story. The swallows are so wonderful here this summer—their flight is simply an endless joy. It ought to be an inspiration to you in thinking about dances.

We have a woman staying who sings ‘Songs of the Hebrides’ splendidly. They are most wonderful things—very old and pure and strong—extraordinary. I think Scotland has the finest folk music on earth not even excepting Hungary. I liked your sayings about the Park—they weren’t platitudes at all. I daresay you could write if you had time and energy to spare it but I wouldn’t advise it; for it must be done with all of you, or not at all.

I do hope you had a good sweet restful time on the river. That river is jolly—I know it so well from old times. It’s wonderful in its peace, when you get away from the Cockney places. You ought to go out of London every week-end. For Love of Beasts come before long I hope—the savage Daily Mailers will be made more savage. God bless ’em.

All good and fortune to you,

J.G.

 …………………

I remember having chicken pox—what an indignity! I don’t remember ever having another illness, but this one evidently depressed me sufficiently to make me write John some kind of emotional outburst, telling him that my feelings for him would never change, and begging him to give me something—however small—to live by.

…………………

I wrote John some kind of emotional outburst, telling him that my feelings for him would never change, and begging him to give me something to live by

Wongstone
Manaton
Devon
June 17, 1912

My dear Margaret,

I’ve been sad over your letter. It was very pathetic and very brave. I’m not going to say anything ‘stern’ or definite; but I am going to tell you that when I was a youngster and in first love I found by long and hard experience that to see the object of my affections and to look forward to seeing it was just what kept me unhappy and restless—I mean considering the hopelessness of things. You know I have always believed in my heart that the most merciful thing for you was (at whatever cost at the moment) to let me sink quite away by sheer blankness, by sheer starvation of your feeling. What are you going to get out of life if you let the thought of me hold on to your heart indefinitely?

Still, I don’t say anything definite? I don’t even say that it will be quite impossible to come and see the children; but I do hope and believe that all the time you will want less and less to see me. Peace is not in my own control, nor in yours. Still we shall see.

I have a letter from Von Bartels rather kicking at the double piano as against orchestra. I am thinking now of telling him the exact plan, and suggesting that we use a single piano and only for the dance music; and regard the whole thing as a sort of trial trip for London. An orchestra’s out of the question I take it. I won’t write to Barker, unless you tell me it’s necessary to do so.

Adios.

J.G.

……………………

John was quite right, that spring of 1913 in Paris was a wonderful time for me. In spite of still missing him dreadfully, there were spells of absorbing interest and discovery, and the beauty of Paris enchanted meI settled down to work at my painting with Fergusson, who introduced me to the artist-colony of the Left bank cafés, and took me with him to the Paris museums and all the exhibitions he approved of. He took me often to the Trocadéro and its Indian and Cambodian sculpture sections, where I made drawings of the wonderful dancing figures. I composed a dance inspired by them, choosing the music of Vincent d’Indy, and Anne Estelle Rice, a young American painter to whom I was introduced, designed a costume for me.

After a time I wrote once more to John, telling him that I was beginning to feel that life was worthwhile again, in the hope that it would make him less afraid of meeting me in the future. I must have told him about Ferguson and his kindness in taking me about teaching me to paint. Although J.D. Fergusson eventually became my husband, I had no such feelings about him at that time, but admired him as a painter, and for his obvious integrity and singleness of purpose. By this time, with reports of Ada’s recurrent ill-health and of John’s having to take her abroad again, I had come to realize that I must accept the hard fact that he would never become my lover: but I would still see no reason why, once I had made a life of my own apart from him, we could not be friends and co-operate in the theatre. In telling him of my life in Paris, I must have expressed a hope that he would talk to Ada about it, and that she might agree. Here is the reply:

 ……………………..

 

As these letters show, we had gone over the ground again and again, and I still clung to the hope that at long last some happy solution would be reached: but he could not envisage this

Montana
Switzerland
August 18, 1913

Very glad indeed to hear the news—all good luck! It does not however alter the position at all for her, and will not. I send a cheque for the studio rent; don’t bother to acknowledge it.

J.G.

 ………………………

 This note was the final blow. It was so unlike John—so curt and hard—that I hate putting it in. But it was the last he send me and his instructions not even to acknowledge his cheque I had to take as final. As these letters show, we had gone over the ground again and again, and I still clung to the hope that at long last some happy solution would be reached: but he could not envisage this.

It is obvious to me now that he felt he had to write in such an un-John-like and brutal way that I should be forced to accept it, which is what of course happened, and when I returned to England I made no further attempt to get in touch with him.

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