Babbitt, children, new books, ponderations, present, sad bits, writing

Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth

For various reasons, I have been thinking on the nature of Hollie and Lije Babbitt’s wary relationship…. on abusive childhoods, and on how abused children grow into damaged adults.

The brief background to Hollie’s, is that he was brought up by his strict godly father, after the death of his mother. And as he grew up, being Hollie, he rebelled against everything his father taught him, and tried his damnedest to do the opposite. While Lije, fearing for his boy’s immortal soul if he carried on in his wilful disobedience, tried to beat him back to the path of righteousness with a strap.

Thirty years later, and they’re still locked in the same pattern.

Hollie wanting his father to finally acknowledge that his son is not a vile sinner, wanting Lije to say that actually, Hollie hasn’t turned out so badly, has made something worthwhile of himself after all. That the mother he never knew might be proud of him. That Lije was wrong.

That he was sorry.

And Lije is still wanting to correct, to make his son better – only now he’s trying to make Hollie a better father, and a better husband, as well as a better Christian. But he can’t leave well alone. It’s his way or no way: he can’t relinquish that control, and let Hollie make his own mistakes.

And, you know, it’s an odd thing. The child of an over-zealous evangelist. Or the child of an addict. Or of a girl with too much on her shoulders too young, forced into responsibility for a child that’s stolen her youth and her freedom. They grow up, for the most part, wondering what they did wrong. How they failed, because the person who was supposed to love them did not, and that must be a failing in them, surely, they must have deserved to be hurt, have done something bad.

(Hollie at seventeen, with his shirt over his head, explaining to the woman he was going to marry that he must have done something to merit the scars his father put on his back with a belt.)

That the person who should love them is really a good person, and they make that person angry and sad, and so it’s their own fault. That they cannot mend the person who hurts them, and ask they spend their days trying to be things they are not. Tiptoeing, saying the “right” things, in fear.

(Thankful Russell, at six, promising to be a good boy if his sister would only love him, and not hurt him any more.)

And then they grow up with a dreadful sense of responsibility, wanting everyone to be pleased with them, all the time. Afraid of conflict, because if you make people angry they might hurt you. Trying to manage situations so that everybody’s always friends, like some kind of bright game show where the prize is normality.

You can’t, of course. Taking responsibility for someone else’s behaviour is a fool’s errand: you can’t cure it, and you can’t control it. So you withdraw, because you have to, and you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t because other people only see the shiny side.

Love is not enough, is never enough: you can give everything, like pouring water into a hole in the sand, and it will drain away leaving exactly the same emptiness as before. And there’s a point at which you stop with the water. And then you feel bad because maybe this last bucket will be enough – maybe just this one last few drops that you were going to use to water the flowers but the hole is more important, and so you have to try again…

Until you don’t. You water your flowers. People don’t like your taste in flowers, bugger ‘em.

Walk away. Leave the goddamn hole to empty.

Which is exactly what me and Hollie are going to do.

 

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children, Cornwall, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, new books, South West campaign

William Dobson: the Cavalier Chronicler


Tide, time and weather have not yet permitted me to go over to St Michael’s Mount to look at the mysterious miniature, so I have been a little remiss in this latest blog post. 

But in the meantime – this Dobson chap. 

William Dobson was described by the diarist John Aubrey as “the most excellent painter that England hath yet bred”. 
He was born in 1611, the son of another decorative artist called William Dobson, and died in poverty after what is tactfully described as “an irregular life” at the age of 35, buried on 28thOctober 1646 in St Martin in the Fields. He married twice: once to Elizabeth, who was buried at St Martin-in-the-Fields on  26thSeptember 1634 (bearing in mind that at the time of her death Dobson would have been twenty-three years old. That’s no age to be a widower -) and then to Judith Sander, of whom he painted a rather lovely portrait, in December 1637. She survived him, to re-marry: there is a record in the church of St Bartholomew the Great, London, of a little girl, Katherine, daughter of a William and Judith Dobson, christened 16 April 1639. 

Apprenticed to the younger William Peake, and thought to have then joined the studio of the German-born painter and tapestry designer Francis Cleyn, it’s interesting that unlike his mentors Dobson seems to have been exclusively working in paint. 
Cleyn was described in his heyday as “a second Titian” and as “il famossisimo pittore, miracolo del secole” – most of his employment was in decorating the mansions of the gentry, including Somerset House, Carew House, and the Gilt Room at Holland House in London. With the civil war his patrons were forced to cut back in their spending, though, and most of Cleyn’s prosperity came from engraved book illustrations and etchings 
William Peake was credited with making a gilded staff for the effigy of the young Prince of Wales in 1612, and although no copies of his paintings still exist, there are various engravings either by him or published by him in the National Portrait Gallery – mostly of eminent courtiers like Lord Darnley and the Earl of Worcester. 

Master Dobson, though, painted: and so far as we know, nothing else. There are no surviving engravings, sketches, sculptures – nothing but a substantial body of some sixty pieces of art, which, given that Dobson died at the age of thirty-five, and assuming that the majority of his work displays an adult maturity, must have represented aphenomenaloutput. We know nothing of any apprentices, and his death in reduced circumstances would suggest that he had not been in a position to train a younger artist for some time previous to this: I am surmising, therefore, that all his work was done by himself, not – as was often the case with many of the fashionable artists of the Stuart era – merely the face and hands, and the background filled in by a journeyman. 

During the 1630s he made a modest living – presumably as a portrait painter – and but when Charles I’s court painter Anthony van Dyck died in 1641, Dobson became serjeant painter to the King and groom of the privy chamber. (There is a story that Van Dyck himself introduced Dobson to the King when he saw one of the young artist’s paintings in a shop window.) 
When civil war broke out, he followed the King to Oxford 

He was, in effect, the King’s chronicler, and so it was no surprise that towards the latter end of the war when the Royalist star was waning, that poor Dobson’s popularity – and commissions -declined with it. 

Now I have to say, from a personal point of view, I love his paintings: they’re not formal, posed artworks, but real flesh and blood people – not all of whom I would like to be in a small space with, to be fair: Endymion Porter looks like a beery old toper and there is a twinkle in his pouchy eye best described as lewd.Carry On Cavalier, in his full glory. 

copyright Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection


My own personal favourite is the portrait of a family, probably that of Richard Streatfeild, c. 1645. 
Mum looks as if she wants to laugh, and is stroking the curls of a very impish young miss in a pink frock, who appears to be playing peep-bo with the artist. 
Dad is looking sternly into the middle distance, whilst being poked in the belly by his youngest with a handful of coral. 
It is a very real, and very tender, family portrait, with real – and not very beautiful – people in it. 
(If it is the Streatfeild family, and if you’re curious, the children would be Alice, who would have been about 18 months old, William, who would have been a few months old, and six-year-old Henry. William and Henry lived into the first quarter of the 18thcentury, and Alice went on to marry William Woodgate, the Sherriff of Kent, in 1664. Richard and Anne Streatfeild had another three children after these three, and amazingly, every single one survived to adulthood. Don’t you love happy endings?) 

So. William Dobson. Fantastic painter, not as well known as he should be, a short but tragic life. 
Dead at 35, dying in debt in 1646 back in London. 

How did he manage to paint a miniature of King Charles for Sir Bevil Grenville, when he wasn’t a miniature painter –so far as we know?

The mysterious miniature of St Michael’s Mount plays a part in my new book The Serpent’s Root, available for pre-order at mybook.to/TheSerpentsRoot

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children, Colchester, Gray, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Lucey, ponderations, writing

Luce’s love life

Wilbrecht is five today.

It’s an odd thing, being in a room full of happy, healthy, lively, noisy, well-nourished children. On the one hand, it’s something like being dropped into a pan of boiling water, when you first walk through the door. Hot and well-nigh unbearable, for about thirty seconds, and then you start to become numb.
And then on the other hand, you think how very fortunate they are, and how lucky we are to have them, and what a privilege it is that the vexatious little buggers are happy and healthy.  (And that five years ago there was no Wilbrecht, and six years ago I did not imagine there ever might be.)

And, you know, I wonder what it might be like, if you were on your own – that you loved someone, maybe, but that maybe they didn’t know, or that it just wasn’t the right time or place to tell them – if maybe, it might choke in your throat, to see a room full of happy, healthy, bright children, and to think – I could do that. One of those screaming, laughing little whelps could have been mine. If she hadn’t died. If she had known.
That everyone you knew, even the unlikely, even the plain and the unpromising, belonged. And there you were, at twenty-ish, single, a widower, someone who had known what it was to be a part of a little commonwealth, and who had lost it. Thinking, perhaps, that life was unfair, and wondering what your own children might have looked like, if you had been blessed.
If she hadn’t died.

How you might have loved your never-children. Dried their tears, kissed bumps and grazes, told stories. Wiped noses. And it would have all been a kind myth, because you would have been just as cross and impatient as any other of these harrassed parents at times, but not in your never-world.

They loved their children, even in 1645.

Reckon we need to get Luce married off?

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