Rounded with a sleepe

Saint George’s Hall in Elm Street (1891–present) was among the first ethnic institutions in the Greater Parkdale Area (aka Toronto). It was built to celebrate and promote our English connexion. Not, be it noted, the Scottish connexion, or the Welsh, or the Irish, or the French, or any other ethnicity. The title remains, cut floridly into the stone mantle above the entrance. So too, inside the Great Hall, we find the accoutrements of English baronial domesticity: the huge hearth, the raised dais, the minstrel’s gallery, the timbered ceiling higher than the room is wide, and when required, the long oak refectory tables. For a man of the thirteenth century, such as myself, it is like coming home.

It has been in the charge of the Arts and Letters Club since early in the last century. The “Group of Seven” met and dined here — after they were evicted from the Brown Betty, and some other long defunct commercial establishments — as, too, odd abstract-expressionists from the mid-century, and a host of formidable English-Canadian names: Robertson Davies, Vincent Massey, Marshall McLuhan, Eden Smith, Wyly Grier, Ernest MacMillan, and Mavor Moore are listed in the propaganda. All the arts have been represented, and Healey Willan, among other composers, once played the house Steinway. He set the club’s constitution to plainsong, so it could be remembered after the text itself was lost by Augustus Bridle. Every estimable English institution requires an unwritten constitution.

Kitchen, buttery, and pantry lie off somewhere, and most usefully, a bar. But what is most English about the place was added after it was built, by J.E.H. MacDonald, quintessentially Canadian landscape painter and graphomane; and by the painter and portraitist, Arthur Lismer. This consisted of self-mocking heraldry and banners for the place, and caricatures of the members.

For in my view, the greatest contribution of the English to the politics and order of this world, has been a streak of aristocratic self-deprecation. They do not take themselves entirely seriously, and their magnificent fustian pomp is relieved by little jokes at their own expense, hinting at their unworthiness, the fraudulence of their claims, and the general ridiculousness of their situation. This is how a ruling class should behave. It is the opposite of the Teutonic tradition, and thus to some degree, shared with the Italians.


Now, that was a long preamble to an event last evening. We held a highly secular memorial for the late Richard Lubbock (see here), with the usual drinking, canapés, and speeches, and it was all very fine. His little brother, the English art historian Jules Lubbock, flew over the pond, together with his brilliant son Benji, and various of Richard’s surviving octogenarian contemporaries straggled in, along with many of his younger admirers, now pushing into or beyond their sixties.

For me it was a delightful opportunity to catch sight of old Idler magazine regulars, now of the upland generations, even if many are (understandably) no longer conversing with me. We could still exchange pro-forma greetings consisting of lies about “looking well.”

The Lubbocks, in their several branches, have been a remarkable Semitic tribe, settled within the Anglosphere — like our beloved Richard, brilliant even at their most dysfunctional. The penny dropped when I was speaking with Jules, that his big brother had done something perhaps unprecedented in history. On purely scientific grounds, he had convinced himself of the literal veracity of Christ’s Resurrection. But then, failed to become a Christian. I cannot help but think this an accomplishment so unique, that God must smile upon it.

Old friends, and later enemies alike, in that manorial chamber, gathered in celebration of a death. I reflected on one of Richard’s favourite phrases, his constant reference to “the crooked timber of mankind.” All these strange, irreproducible people, on the analogy of trees, some of them pollarded in the most exquisite ways. Each his own universe, within the “multiverse” Richard also adumbrated;

Our Revels now are ended: These our actors,
(As I foretold you) were all Spirits, and
Are melted into Ayre, into thin Ayre,
And like the baselesse fabricke of this vision
The Clowd-capt Towres, the gorgeous Palaces,
The solemne Temples, the great Globe it selfe,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantiall Pageant faded
Leave not a racke behinde: we are such stuffe
As dreames are made on …