12 March 2012

with my Body I thee worship, and with all my worldly Goods I thee endow.

I never miss a chance for another book-mostly at this point I am booking it for older books-Not the shiny new ones, though they are good too. It's ALL the books I missed and should have read that I seek. Anything memoir-ish or biography-ish or auto- Perfection.

A recent Winner- LOVED ONES, PEN PORTRAITS BY DIANA MOSLEY. If you want a good portrait go to a good friend for the goods. Diana Mosley's pen sketches include her husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, Lytton Strachey and Carrington, Evelyn Waugh, Professor Derek Jackson, her sister Pamela's husband, Prince and Princess Clary, Lord Berners and Violet Hammersley.

Along with this cast, other players enter and exit with choice starring roles and bit parts.  Violet Hammersley was a sort of godmother to all the Mitford girls-being their mother's dearest friend.  Once a beauty and a wealthy one at that, Mrs. Hammersley never let that be cause for optimism!  After Cox's Bank failed Mrs. Hammersley's fortunes turned and she announced the news to the Mitford family in a note written on the back of a crumpled bill. According to Diana Mosley, her love of  the dramatic never abated- and with the lessening of her fortunes Mrs. Hammersley lived in "despair," but she continued to be a delight and the girls remained attached to her throughout their diverging lives. Some of the most charming anecdotes in the book come from this chapter.

Violet Hammersley was great friends with Somerset Maugham, Sybil Colefax and Osbert Sitwell. One of several homes included Sargent's old studio in Tite Street-where the great portraitist had painted Violet's sister in law-Mrs Hugh Hammersley in 1892.

Mrs. Ham, as she was called by the Mitford girls, was once overheard telling her dog- 'I worship your body.' The expression was carried on by Debo, the now dowager Duchess of Devonshire, applying it to anything she happened to like. Diana wrote: I once heard her say,

Oh! that Chintz! I worship its body.

Deborah Devonshire, above, in 1938, with her dog & her chintz, & below photographed by Derry Moore in 1985. in the Blue Drawing Room at Chatsworth with her dog & her chintz & her Sargent.

Sargent's painting of the Acheson Sisters-Ladies Alexandra, Mary and Theo Acheson, was likely commissioned by the grandmother of the girls, Louisa, Duchess of Devonshire, who was previously married to the Seventh Duke of Manchester (grandfather to the girls)

Louise von Alten - Duchess of Manchester, later the Eight Duchess of Devonshire-from the painting by Robert Thornburn

Dogs ! Chintz ! Portraits !  Sargents ! - & Loved Ones!
I worship your body!

there is a copy at High Valley books here


  1. A great portrait of Mrs. Hammersley, and I think that Steer was right about the color of the bows. Blue would have been too distracting, and the white is more elegant.

  2. Un très beau portrait... Grâce à Dentelline, je découvre avec plaisir ce blog que je vais à présent m'empresser de parcourir...

  3. The dowager Duchess' adoption of phrases from mocking play, like her sister Nancy's, was very astutely "heard" by Dorothy Parker, too, and enjoyed a vigorous life in the drama and cinema of the 1930s, having become popular in American families of some interest in language. I believe there is importance in this, the enrichment of our resources by invention in any particular family. Few rhetorical things are more delightful than the incongruous superlative; the double-take elevates its aborption, and yet its proprietary quality carries a distinct modesty in the assertion. More proof that a gentle wit is an exercise in good manners, but of generosity, too. This posting is fundamentally important and I am very grateful to see it.

  4. Gaye, I do so agree with your bookish opinion—old is good, bios & memoirs even better. The Moseley book is a true find. I had a similar experience a few weeks ago in the used book “shop” (actually 1 shelf in the café) at Carnegie Library. I thought I saw a familiar face on the spine of a book. Indeed it was—Diana Cooper in her yachting cap, with her son John Julius Norwich, on the cover of his memoirs, Trying to Please (for a dollar!!) This week the latest order arrived from my favorite mail order source (ER Hamilton, Bookseller in CT) which included Ann Blainey’s dual bio of Adelaide and Fanny Kemble; the memoirs of Duc de St. Simon; Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years; Peeling the Onion, Gunter Grass’s memoirs; Dancing to the Precipice: Life Lucie de la Tour du Pin by Moorehead; and Watkins, The Gesualdo Hex, about the life of the mysterious Renaissance composer. So this has been my month for dipping into other people’s lives. Does it sometimes seem that the Dead are so much more interesting?

  5. My husband Ninian Blackburn's great great step granny! His mum had lots of tales about her interesting pronouncements

    1. Kaitlin-thanks for the comment. I am fascinated by this lady-reminds me of myself a bit! I would love to here some of these pronouncements. Please touch base if you and NB are interested in sharing some of them. best, PGT



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