Father’s mother was Emma, sister of Sir John Evans, and she was one of the most
handsome, charming and gifted of all her brilliant generation. Her grandmother
was Frances de Brissac who was born in 1760, and belonged to the Huguenot branch
of the ancient French house of de Cossé-Brissac. There is a legend that
our branch of the family is actually the senior, but that, being Protestants,
they were obliged to leave the family château and estates on the Loire, and flee
to England after the Revocation
of the Edict Of Nantes in 1685.
For many years one of my greatest treasures was an engraving, dated 1595, of an ancestor who rejoiced in the gorgeous name of Jean-Paul Timoléon de Cossé, Conte de Brissac, with a string of titles to follow. He was a high nosed arrogant aristocrat of the old school, who never in his life needed to do a hand’s turn of work for himself. The story goes that at last his conscience smote him on this score, and he decided that, by way of self-immolation, he would dispense with the services of his valet to the extent at least of shaving. He would learn to shave himself. This was indeed a penance, and to encourage himself in his noble he was wont to address his reflection each morning thus:
“Timoléon, by the Grace of God thou art a man; by the care of thy parents thou
art a gentleman; by the favour of thy King thou art a nobleman - therefore,
Timoléon, shave thyself”.
His portrait was left to me, at my earnest request, by my grandmother’s cousin, Jane de Brissac Frederica Phelps, known to all the family as Aunt Janey, who was a magnificent old lady who I came to know intimately and love dearly, towards the end of her long life, and about whom I shall have much to say later on. The loss of that portrait was one of the saddest I had to endure by enemy action in 1944.
The exact connection between our family and the present French holders of the title is now impossible to trace, owing to the ill advised activities of a certain member of the family whose name is lost in merciful oblivion. One rainy afternoon this lady betook herself to the attics to indulge in that feminine pastime known as “having a good turn out”. Much was the rubbish and many were the old papers that she burnt, and eventually she rejoined the bosom of her family at the tea table, exhausted with her labours and redolent of conscious virtue. However a few searching questions revealed the enormity which she had unwittingly perpetrated, and the cry, “You’ve burnt the Family Tree”, has echoed down the generations ever since.
It is known however that the father of Frances de Brissac was named Peter Abraham de Brissac, and that his mother’s name was Judith. Judging by these names it is presumed that they may have introduced a Jewish strain Into the family, and certainly a strikingly handsome type of Semitic features, coupled with a quite remarkable gift for making money, has appeared again and again in various members of the family. The French branch of the family still live at the Château, and recently I quite unexpectedly heard news of them through a friend. Father’s brother, Uncle George, paid them a visit many years ago, and. met with a most friendly reception. He had an old print of the Chateau, and it is one of my still unfulfilled hopes that I may sometime pay a visit there myself, and renew the acquaintance in this generation.
Frances de Brissac married Captain John Dickinson R.N. and among the many family relics which devolved on me, were several pairs of white silk naval stockings, and a number of gold buttons which had belonged to him. I am thankful to say that I presented these, together with a box full of exquisite old de Brissac lace, to the museum to which I presented the old dolls which I have already mentioned, and they thus escaped the destruction of all our other treasures.
The eldest son of Thomas Dickinson and Frances de Brissac was John Dickinson, founder of the world-famous paper works, and from their second son, Major General Thomas Dickinson, descended Willoughby The First Lord Dickinson, and his grandson Richard, second Lord Dickinson. There were four daughters, Harriet, who became Mrs. Grover, Anne who became Mrs.Arthur Benoni Evans, and ultimately my great-grandmother, Elizabeth, who became Mrs. Phelps and mother of Aunt Janey, and Frances, who never married. There is a story that Frances was one of twins, the only case of twins on record throughout the whole pedigree, and that the twin brother was killed by being dropped by the nurse on the way to the christening. Frances, or Aunt Fanny as she was always known, remained “queer” to the end of her days, and was always very different from her three handsome, merry sisters.
Harriet, known as Aunt Grover, was the subject of one of the many stories told to me by Aunt Janey. Her husband, the Rev. Septimus Grover, was at one time incumbent of Farnham Royal, near Slough. At that time stag hunting was a very popular form of sport among the wealthy of the neighbourhood. One day a stag, close pressed by hounds and huntsmen, rushed in through the open front door and into the room where Aunt Grover was sitting. The old lady took this phenomenon in her stride, shut the stag in, and proceeded to the front door, where hounds and huntsmen were pouring up the drive. Taking her stance squarely in the doorway she defied the whole mob, replying to the furious demands for admission to drive out the stag by saying that it had sought sanctuary under her roof, and they would only get at it over her dead body. She added that the hounds and horses were ruining her garden and drive, and. she desired that they be removed immediately. She won the day, though history does not record how she ultimately dealt with a large and terrified stag in her drawing room. There is no doubt, however, but that she coped with the situation with complete competence.
Elizabeth married Joseph Phelps, a very wealthy wine merchant who owned large estates in Madeira. They had a large family, of whom Aunt Janey was the youngest. I hope to have more to say about them when I come to tell of my experiences while living with Aunt Janey. Anne, who married the Revs Arthur Benoni Evans, was the mother of Sir John Evans, my grandmother Emma, and Dr. Sebastian Evans. The full story of the family has been told by my cousin Joan Evans, in her book “Time and Chance”, the story of Sir Arthur Evans and his forebears. Arthur Evans was the son of Sir John Evans and therefore my Father’s first cousin. They both had the same Christian names of Arthur John, and though Arthur Evans was about five years older than Father, there was a strong family likeness between them, and they had travelled widely on the continent together as young men, particularly in the Balkans during the Russo-Turkish war of the 1870’s.
Sir John Evans was one of the most brilliant men of his era. He became owner of the Dickinson paper works on the death of his uncle, and devoted all his spare time to scientific study of all sorts. His books on early flint implements are still standard works, and his private collections of flint artefacts and early coins were world famous. He was President of the Numismatic Society, Secretary and President of the Geological Society, Vice-President of the Society of Antiquaries, and of the Royal Society, in fact I have been told that he was at one time either President or Vice-President of every one of the great learned Societies in the Kingdom.
The following story has been told to me of great uncle John, which does not appear in Joan’s book.. An extremely important meeting of the Numismatic Society was being held at Burlington House, and the speaker was a world famous authority on ancient coins, some of which, of great rarity and value, he had brought as the subject of his lecture. Great uncle John, as President, was in the Chair. One of the exhibits was the subject of special interest; it was heavy gold coin, and the speaker emphasised the fact that it was the only known specimen of its kind in existence. The coins were passed round the distinguished audience for inspection, and duly returned to to the lecturer. On checking over the coins after his speech, he found to his unutterable dismay, that the one unique specimen was missing. It was of untold value, and. the speaker and audience were shocked and stunned at its disappearance. Everyone searched frantically in every possible corner, but to no avail. Eventually, and with great embarrassment, it was announced that the doors would be locked and no-one allowed to leave until they had submitted to being searched. It is difficult for us, in this more happy-go-lucky generation, to realize the sensation that was caused in that dignified and distinguished assembly by such a procedure. Everyone submitted to being searched with a good grace, however, for they were all as anxious to find the missing coin as was the owner himself; everyone, that is, with the exception of the President, Sir John Evans. Politely, but unflinchingly, he, the most distinguished of that brilliant gathering, refused to submit to the search. He was well known as owning one of the most famous private collections of coins in the world, and he was equally well known for his rigid probity and high principles, but the embarrassment became acute throughout the assembly as at last he alone was left unexamined, and still the coin had not been found. The eyes of even his staunchest friends and supporters turned questioningly upon him, but still he faced them, calm and undaunted. At last, when the tension had become almost unbearable, someone happened to lift a book from the lecturer’s desk, and out fell the missing coin! A wave of relief and relaxation swept over the gathering, and when the hubbub of excitement had died down there was a unanimous demand addressed to the President for an explanation of his attitude. Relieved and smiling now, Sir John felt in his waistcoat pocket, and produced an exact twin of the coin whose great value had been so emphasised by the lecturer, on account of its believed uniqueness. He had brought it with him from his own collection, intending to show it round, but unaware that the lecturer was planning to make his specimen the high light of his lecture, neither man knowing that any specimen other than his own existed. When the lecturer’s coin disappeared Sir John found himself in an acute dilemma. Despite the high regard in which he was held, it would have been difficult for him, to say the least of it, to prove that another specimen existed if it were found in his pocket, so his only hope had been to sit tight and refuse to be searched, and trust to Providence that the lost coin should be found.
Great uncle John married three times. His first wife was his cousin Harriet
Dickinson by whom he had five children. The eldest was Arthur, who later became
equally famous with his distinguished father, as the discoverer of the Minoan
civilization in Crete. Harriet died after the birth of their youngest child,
another Harriet, who later married Charles Longman, the head of the publishing
firm. Thus left with five small children under seven years of age, great uncle
John proceeded to marry another cousin, Frances Phelps, an older sister of Aunt
Janey, who, though she had no children of her own, became a beloved and devoted
step-mother to the children, and remained so to the end of her life. After her
death in 1890 great uncle John, then aged sixty seven, married a third time. On
this occasion his niece, Father’s sister Frances, wrote to him to congratulate
him on “having at last broken yourself of your habit of marrying your cousins”.
The third wife became the mother of Joan Evans, who was born when her father was
seventy years of age. Joan is thus in a most unusual and unique position in the
family. Though only a few years older than myself, she is actually of Father’s
generation, and more than forty years younger than her eldest half brother, Sir
Father told me that at one of the gatherings of distinguished men at Sir John’s house, Arthur, then approaching the zenith of his career, broke off a conversation with a group of kindred spirits remarking, “I must go and see what my sister is up to”. When he returned a few moments later, carrying a tiny child on his shoulder and introduced her as his sister, there was much amusement in the party.
The family prowess reached its peak in the generation of Sir John and my grandmother; the standard was nobly borne aloft by Arthur and his generation, but since then it seems that much of the family fire and brilliance has burnt itself out, and Joan is now the only one who carries on the tradition in the grand style. The brains are still to be found in the younger generations, but the strange atmosphere of drama and romance with which the older generations so unconsciously surrounded themselves, has now disappeared. It was some quality in the personality of the individuals which created this atmosphere, some elusive hereditary characteristic which is quite indefinable, but none the less most emphatically existent. Joan traces this elusive quality to an ancestress of the name of Anne Norman, who, in 1776 married into the Evans family. In “Time and Chance” Joan writes of her thus:
“She could claim kinship with half the gentle families of South Wales... She remains the unknown quantity in the family inheritance... It seems as if it may have been from her ancestry that an unconscious taste for romantic symbolism and verbal conceits came into the family. Nearly all her descendants might be trusted to make a jeu de mots, to compose a motto or write an epitaph, or to carry a high flown metaphor to a successful conclusion. Some of them have been versifiers, though none of them strong or abundant poets; few have been without a sense of poetry and a capacity for occasional unexpected verbal felicities. That better heritage could she bring from her family traditions of the Royalist coterie of South Wales, which included her kinsmen George Herbert and Henry Vaughan?”
The last years of my grandmother’s life were spent at Kew, and though I was only five when she died, I well remember being taken over to see her when we lived at Ealing. I was always rather in awe of the beautiful old lady but, young as I was, I fell completely under the spell of the family charm of personality with which she was so richly endowed. She was a wonderful artist, and I have never seen any water colour sketches or pencil drawings to equal hers. The walls of our house were lined with her water colours, and many years later a whole gallery in one of the houses in Kew Gardens was given over to a collection of sketches she made there. She was a great friend of W.H. Hudson, and was largely instrumental in obtaining for him the Civil list pension. She also did the pencil sketches for some of his books. Like all her family she was a friend and admirer of Professor T. H. Huxley, and of all the scientific “nobs” as great uncle John described them. Her brilliant mind could not bow to the narrow and restricted Church doctrines in which her generation had been brought up, and this was the basis of much of the thinly veiled disapproval with which Mother regarded them. With the exception of Father almost all his family were “atheists”, a word which for many years struck a note of hushed horror to my young heart. I grew up with the feeling that there was something slightly “wicked” about Father’s people, which I regret to confess, merely had the effect of making them even more intoxicating and desirable than ever. Father’s people have always exercised a fascination over me; as a child I longed to know more of them, and the moment the opportunity offered I threw in my lot with them, despite all Mother’s disapproval. I found every member that I was privileged to know, fully as fascinating and inspiring as I had always expected them to be. They all, with scarcely an exception, had that strange stimulating glamour, and somehow unearthly quality which set them apart from the common herd.
My grandmother was born at Market Bosworth soon after her father, the Rev. Arthur Benoni Evans, had been appointed to the Head Mastership of the Grammar school there. Some twenty five years later a new young doctor came to take over the practice in the district, and. the following story has been told to me.
The first Christmas that the new doctor [JOHN WADDINGTON HUBBARD] was in the village, my great-grandparents felt it would be a pretty gesture to invite him to dinner. He then, for the first time, met Emma, an exceptionally beautiful and talented girl, for whom her parents had very high aspirations in the matrimonial direction. At dinner the two young people pulled the merry-thought according to tradition. The authentic superstition in connection with this ceremony is that if pulled by two unmarried persons, the one who gets the knob at the end of the bone will be the first to be married. On this occasion the incredible happened. The knob at the end split neatly up the centre, leaving an equal piece on the end of each of the two prongs. This is an extremely rare occurrence, and according to the superstition obviously means that the two people pulling the merry-thought are destined to be married simultaneously. As, in this case, the two people concerned were of opposite sex, what more natural than that the oracle should portend their marrying each other? However, this was their first meeting, and Emma’s parents had far higher ambitions for her than a village doctor, however delightful and well-bred, so the family placed no importance on a mere merry-thought. But, superstition or no superstition, that merry-thought had told the truth, for eventually, and despite strong family opposition, Emma married the doctor, and their married life, though tragically brief, was one of ideal happiness.
While on the subject of the merry-thought I would like to digress for a moment
and record another occasion in the family when precisely the same thing
occurred. Emma’s grand-daughter met the brother of a college friend in 1920, and
after one or two brief meetings, during which they took a violent dislike to
each other, they entirely lost touch for nearly ten years, with no regrets on
either side. She had kept in touch with her college friend, who was by
that time married and living abroad, and the friend wrote and asked her to
invite her brother to her home for Christmas, as he was then living alone in
digs. This she rather ungraciously agreed to do, though she was at that time
engaged to someone else, and not at all keen to renew her acquaintance with
“that great rough bear”. At dinner she and the “bear” pulled the merry-thought,
and it split straight up the centre! The girl immediately thought of the story
she had been told about her grandmother, but dismissed it at once, as she had
not the slightest wish or intention of marrying anyone other than her then
fiancé, and certainly not that “bear”, neither had he the smallest wish to marry
that “tow-headed chatterer”. But the merry-thought fore told the truth to her as
unerringly as it had to her grandmother, seventy five years before. Her
engagement went the way of other evanescent attachments, and despite another
three years of angry resistance to the fate announced by the merry-thought, the
oracle proved true.
The “tow-headed chatterer” married the “great rough bear”, and never for one moment have my husband and I regretted the fulfilment of the portent so strangely revealed to us. I am not superstitious, though the subject of superstitions and their origins is one which I have studied very closely, but the repetition of so unusual an occurrence on two authenticated occasions in the same family, and in each case under the most inauspicious circumstances, is strange to say the least of it.
It was at my grandmother’s house that I once met her brother Dr. Sebastian Evans. He was as handsome and brilliant as she was, though with the erratic temperament which keeps recurring unmistakeably throughout the generations. His life story is told by Joan in “Time and Chance”, and I can only add my sole recollection of my great—uncle Bassy. I was so small that I remember having to pull myself up on tip toe with my fingers on the edge of the table, while the kind old gentleman, then approaching eighty, spun a number of tee-to-turns all over the polished surface for the entertainment of his tiny relative. Father had all Uncle Bassy’s writings, and. it was at a very early age that I discovered and fell under the spell of his poems. The two books, ”Brother Fabian’s Manuscript” and “In the Studio” have never received the attention they merit, and are hardly known outside the family. One of the poems, “Judas Iscariot’s Paradise” was, however, set to music by (I believe) Honnegar, and performed as a choral work at the Queen's Hall in the 1920’s, though unfortunately I did not hear it.
Many of the family have had a strange propensity for vivid dreams, which usually take the form of clear cut stories, or even poems. In 1916 Father published a small collection of his dreams, which also included one of my own, and in the preface he gives so interesting an account this family gift that I make no apology for here reproducing his preface verbatim. It must be explained that “Peter Blobbs” was one of the nicknames by which Father was known among his family and friends. It arose during his medical studentship at St. Thomas’ Hospital. At that time there was a popular slogan, “ ‘Oo done it? Peter Blobbs, ‘e done it,” and as Father was always the originator of any mischief in his vicinity, the name attached itself to him, and stuck for the rest of his life. The preface is quoted exactly as he wrote it, and I have merely added the real names in brackets.
AUTHENTIC DREAMS OP PETER BLOBBS. M.D.
“The man who tells his dreams in private is generally an insufferable bore. The man who has the temerity to offer them to the public is, obviously, one who ought to be killed and buried securely. The gentle reader will kindly note that the present writers have therefore preferred to remain pseudonymous. Peter Blobbs M.D. does not exist; neither does Mrs. Blobbs.
Still, it may be as well to explain that the real name of the Chief Dreamer can easily be found in the official Medical Register; that he is an elderly doctor who, after many laborious years, has now retired from practice. It should be added that he is a teetotaller, and that his dreams are not the result of any drug habit. He is quite sane, and his family history is free from the taint of insanity.
The most mysterious of dreams is the so called ‘Proleptic’ dream. In this, the dreamer creates a difficulty for himself that only subsequently, perhaps during sleep, perhaps while awake, receives its solution.
The mystery is usually accounted for by the statement that various centres in the brain ‘are not acting in harmony’. Dr. Blobbs is told that the proleptic element in his dreams can be explained by the supposition that, when they arise, one part of his brain is ‘asleep’ while another is ‘awake.’ Unfortunately, Dr. Blobbs finds that it is easier to repeat this statement by rote than it is to accept its implications, or even to attach any intelligible meaning to it. He Is inclined to think that the solution of the problem of the proleptic dream, when it comes, will be found to carry with it the solution of some of the most profound problems of philosophy and psychology.
Meanwhile, although the explanation that is usually given appears to him to be totally insufficient to account for the phenomenon, he has no substitute to offer.
Dr. Blobbs comes from a family of dreamers. Dreamers especially of proleptic dreams. His mother, for instance, once dreamed that she picked up a book - a rough unbound paper book, bearing the title -
This was too bewildering to her, and she turned to examine the book more closely. Upon doing so, she observed that the book had. received much hard usage, the paper was frayed and completely worn away at the beginning of the word ‘Astrology.’ She then realised that the letter ‘G’ had been destroyed, and that the word originally had been ‘Gastrology.’ In this case, the explanation came during sleep. The word ‘Gastrology’ is much treasured in the Blobbs family.
While speaking of his mother, Dr. Blobbs cannot refrain from placing on record a proverb that came to her in one of her dreams; a proverb that he commends to the attention of those who may feel tempted by the flamboyant prospectuses of certain proposed Companies:
‘No grass too green for Ass—land!'
Another instance of prolepsis in dreaming may be given from the experience of Dr. Blobbs himself.
In a dream, he had been reading a book on Astronomy. The book was profoundly interesting, and the various parts of the midnight sky had each a separate chapter assigned to them. On turning the leaves, and commencing a new chapter, these words met his astonished gaze:
‘The section of the sky that we are about to describe is distinguished by the number of Binary Systems and Fascinities that it contains.’
Dr. Blobbs was completely puzzled by the word ‘Fascinities.’ Binary Systems he knew, Algol and his Dark Companion were familiar subjects of study, but what were ‘Fascinities’? The context showed that the word indicated not Binary Systems, but systems of three or more stars usually known as ‘Multiple Systems’, whose members are engaged in the figures of a dance, the mazes whereof are incalculable to the mathematician. But why allude to a Multiple System as a ‘Fascinity’? The mystery was revealed to the dreamer on waking, after he had recalled the Latin word ‘fascis’, a bundle.
More or less akin to these proleptic dreams, is one that occurred to Dr. Blobbs’s brother, Mr. Tiberius Blobbs, F.S.A., Past Vice-President of the R.I.B.A. ( My uncle, George Hubbard. F.S.A.,F.R.I.B.A.) Mr. Tiberius Blobbs was walking hurriedly along the pavement in the City, when he encountered himself hurrying in the opposite direction. The two stopped for a moment, gazing upon one another. ‘You yellow faced Devil!' said he, and they both hastened on, each in his own direction.
‘It is sad to relate,’ adds Tiberius, ‘but on yet another occasion one of my other selves died, and I attended his funeral.’
Further on in these pages will be found a longer dream by Mr. Tiberius Blobbs, and also one by Dr. Blobbs’s daughter, Miss Belinda Blobbs. (Myself) Dr. Blobbs’s sister, now Mrs. Vinea Vietor ( my aunt, Frances, Mrs. Wynnard Hooper,) when she was a very tiny person, used to narrate her dreams to her mother, always beginning with the introduction: ‘When I went into the pretty things last night. . .‘ Mrs. Vinea Vietor writes (1916): ‘Mother of pearl boats with white sails, on blue water, and all sorts of birds and flowers and clouds made a rapturous combination.’
Perhaps the most remarkable dreaming feat, whose accomplishment is known, was performed by one of Dr. Blobbs's maternal uncles, (Dr. Sebastian Evans) when, at the age of nineteen, he composed the following sonnet. Dr. Blobbs possesses a copy, on a half sheet of notepaper, in his uncle’s handwriting. Some notes have been added by the same hand, and Dr. Blobbs transcribes the whole:
Feeding my flocks by seven silvery streams,
I lay beneath an elm-tree on the ground;
And the warm turf was dappled all around
With leaf cast shadows:
opposite the beams of the high sun a marble mansion gleams,
In the far distance; and the humming sound
Of busy insects from yon thymy mounds
Like the soft voice of flower born music seems.
‘Peace! ‘ murmured low the streams. ‘Strife! ‘ cried my heart.
‘Ease! rustled forth the elm, ‘Not so! Disquiet!’
‘Home! ‘ spoke the mansion. ‘All are strangers there!’
‘Music!’ hummed forth the bees. ‘No! Discords Riot!’
I was at war with all things for they were
Too calm and still for me to be a part!' ‘
(Signed here) April 2. 1849.
On the top right hand corner of the half sheet of notepaper are the words ‘Turn over,’ and, on doing so, one finds the following note on the back: ‘The first part of this sonnet I remembered entire, and the last part is very little if at all different to a dream that I had this morning. I got up and wrote at as soon as I woke, about half past seven.
(Signed again) April 2, 1849.
‘Lines 1, 2, 3, 4, — 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, — 14 verbatim. The rest as nearly so as I could remember.
Dr. Blobbs also possesses a manuscript copy of a song by the author of this sonnet. He dreamed, in old age, that he heard it sung by a lady well known to him. The dreamer was fortunately able to remember it on waking, and immediately wrote it down, In the estimation of Dr. Blobbs, this is one of the three or four most beautiful songs in the English language. It has never been published, and is not given here. The lines that are quoted above suffice to demonstrate the possibilities and power possessed by the dreaming mind, Those who are acquainted with the complex difficulties that attend the successful composition of a sonnet, will admit that, compared with the achievement of his uncle, Dr. Blobbs’s disentanglement of the involutions of his dream, £100,000 for a Revolver’ was but a very little thing.
The dreams here narrated have occurred at various times, and Dr. Blobbs has originally recalled them to full up vacant days spent in a Nursing Home, while disabled by a refractory eye.
In writing them down he has had the assistance of his wife, not only as an amanuensis, but also as the one individual who, having heard them in the early mornings of long-ago, is now able to assist him in bringing them to mind again.
Dr. and Mrs. Blobbs make no scientific claim in connection with this little book. Their hope is that it may serve to while away an hour for someone else who may be placed in circumstances similar to those under which it is written, and their ambition is that it may assist, in however small a degree, in relieving the results of the War, or in furthering the attainment of its objects.
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