memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘family history’ Category

Great great-uncle shoots tiger in cave

My great grand-mother, Annie Horsley, was born on Nov. 27th 1854 at Pallamcottah in Southern India, where her father worked as civil engineer; he held the rank of Colonel in the Royal Engineers. She was the youngest child, having one older sister and five older brothers. On  their father’s retirement at the surprisingly young age of 41 – a reorganisation of the Indian Army making many officers redundant, Annie’s mother’s two brothers-in-law, Col. William Cantis and Col. Archibald Young both retiring on Pension at the same time – the family returned to England and settled in Canterbury.

Canterbury Cathedral Large Restrike Etching by Anonymous http://www.easyart.com/scripts/zoom/zoom.pl?pid=37556

Canterbury Cathedral at the time when the boys were there.

All the five boys were sent to the ancient King’s School, in the precincts of the vast candle-lit Cathedral. They were contemporaries with their cousins John and Stephen; Canon Horsley recalls how they were all identified in order, in the old manner, Horsley Primus to Horsley Septimus. Of these seven boys, all but one – Canon Horsley himself – passed their working lives abroad in the service of God and the Queen, so strong was the family tradition. Annie’s eldest brother William entered the Indian Civil Service from Cambridge and after a career as forest officer served as a judge in the state of Hyderabad.

He has left a vivid memorial of himself in a series of letters from India which he wrote to his father between 1870 and 1891. The conditions of the correspondence were ideal – an affectionate son writing to a father who had lived almost the same life, and would follow every detail with interest and knowledge. There is an old typescript of the letters on rice-paper (perhaps made up for the father) which is in my brother Gamaliel’s possession, well worth reading for themselves, not merely as family records. They provide in fresh authentic detail, the raw material that Rudyard Kippling was to work up into some of the finest of his elaborately polished short stories. According to family tradition an episode from William The Conqueror – presumably the goat feeding – was furnished by Horsley’s experiences in famine relief; and many parts of the finer story The Tomb of his Ancestors – including the local setting – seem to come straight from the text of the letters. What contact there was between the men is not clear, but contact there must have been.

William Horsley was a good talker, who in later life loved to hold his hearers with tales of forest and hill. Stories of bison-hunt and tiger kill, and of his carefree days as a bachelor forest officer, on his own in his little kingdom in the Satpura hills, an un-mapped forest 200 miles from to end; and the occasion when he, along with an Indian tracker, silently pursued a wounded marauding tiger until they cornered it in a cave whereupon he entered the cave and shot the tiger.

FOREST GLADE

There may be significance in the dates; Kippling settled in England in 1889; Horsley retired in 1892; The Day’s Work was published in 1894. (I have a 1st Edition of it).

William Horsley died in 1915.  A fine photograph brings before us the splendid old man. But even better is the poem in which his daughter evokes …

 

Tiger stories told to me at night by the fire in the library

Light, deflected from the reading lamp, falls close,

Cutting angles on the muscled hand, 

Glittering on the  glinting greying hair.

His tired eyes, wrinkled be the Indian glare,

Stare at the big guns resting on their stand …

My father´s face remains forever fixed, 

His features burnt in steel. 

His tired eyes do not see me,

They reveal steep wooded ghauts,

Ravines drenched in rain.

Smuggling book out of the Papal States

One of my favourite forebears is my great-great-great-uncle William Milner who died tragically young in 1813 of tuberculosis.
He, like both his elder brothers, was educated at the Hipperholme School, (a famous contemporary was Lawrence Sterne, author of that literary anomaly Tristram Shandy)  near Bradford and took up an interest in modern languages – German and Italian.

In his youth he travelled extensively on the Continent and spent some time in Germany where, according to his cousin Thomas Asline Ward, he lived upwards of a year in Brunswick where he entered into all the gaieties of that dissipated place, and visited at the court of the Duke.

SMALL, FAT OLD BOOK

SMALL, FAT OLD BOOK

I have a small, fat, old, calfskin-bound, 17th century Italian book of his –IL Correiro Svaligliato, publicato da Ginifaccio Spironcini. MDCXLIV (1644), obviously acquired on the same occasion, because he first signed his name (in German script), then read it and was either rather scandalized by the its contents or more likely perhaps worried that he would be detained at the frontier of one the Papal States with the book in his possession.
Be that as it may, he carefully scraped away his surname from the title page, though it can still be made out (just) two centuries later.


What was it all about? My father describes the book thus:
It is indeed a curiosity – a collection of squibs or pasquinades violently attacking the Barberini pope Urban VIII, his rapacious family and the corruptions of the papal court. They are associated with the name of Ferrante Pallavicino and one (section) vividly records his betrayal by an agent provocateur, his trial and execution by the papal forces. After three and a half centuries the binding is sound and good – a tribute to the magnificent material.

17th century calf-skin

17th CENTURY CALFSKIN-BINDING

In my mind’s eye I can see the young man, bent over the page, gently scraping away with a razor, his face absorbed in the candle-light.

In 1811 he was diagnosed with the disease that was to kill him and transferred to the Isle of Wight for a cure. We have a letter from there to his father:
… he then hoped he was recovering and he would be soon back in Town. He thinks he has benefitted from the use of a kind of tobacco, Strabonum Herb Tobacco, which he smokes in a pipe. It has done (him) more good (sic) than fresh air or any other medicine.

(Over two centuries, does one detect the whiff of cannabis?

Staying in his boarding house is a Mrs. Campbell, widow of General Campbell who died lately in Portugal in consequence of his too great fatigue and exertions in disciplining the Portuguese Levies.
William died two years after the date of this letter and was buried at Attercliffe in Yorkshire.

Mr, Eliot’s peaceful Xmas

I woke one morning last month with the memory that I was in possession of a Christmas card from T.S. Eliot, in his capacity as director of the Publishing house of Faber & Faber, to my aunt Mary G. Milner as a published Faber author.

It is a rather stylish document with the cover and back designed by Barnett Freedman, the noted lithographer, illustrator and book designer, who did a lot of work for Faber.

It was the first Christmas of peace after the war – a time of paper shortage for publishers – and I suppose that Faber had decided to splash out a little.

Let’s trace the journey of this particular copy (which by the way is still in its original brown envelope – dated 15th Dec. 1945 and a little blue George XI tuppeny-happney postage stamp ).

Firstly T.S. Eliot (the great seminal modernist poet of the 20th century) conscientiously signs it and on the envelope writes out my aunt’s name & address and adds it pile of cards for the post.

On its arrival in South Yorkshire it is redirected back to London by my grandfather where he happens to know that his daughter is spending the first Christmas of peace at my parents’ gaff in Hampstead.

(Cool address, isn’t?

We had no money in those days, my mother used to say airily.

Well, I asked her once, what did you used to eat, then?

Oh, you know, just omelettes and things …)

Now let’s go back to the card: beautiful art & craft design by Barnett Freedman – very period

And on the back too.

You open it up the A3 size and best quality Faber paper and voilà, the poet’s signature (or autograph perhaps I should say).

I handle it with reverence.

And that’s it, I say to myself as I’m about to publish this onto Word Press, a nice neat little blog, of rather narrow interest admittedly but not totally without interest … but I then pause and continue my musings … what shall I do now with this piece of literary/family memorabilia? If is merely found among his things after my death, my successors might not appreciate it so much i.e. they might know/care diddly squat about early 20th century English modernist poetry.

But it’s marketable.

I might sell it on e-bay and buy one those George-Clooney-type espresso coffee machines with the proceedings.

or there again, I might not. E-bay is rather vulgar, isn’t it?

My Delphin Virgil

Another old family book is the OPERA of P. VIRGILII MARONIS published in London 1759 (a reprint of 1722 folio edition).

It is dedicated to Serenissimi DELPHINI

My father writes The original Delphin was I think the son of Louis XIV. He never reigned of course, Louis being eventially succeeded by his great-grandson. This classical series was widely used in the 18th century.

BOOKPLATE & SIGNATURE

There is also a card in my great-grandfather Gamaliel’s careless writing:

This copy of the Delphin Edition of Virgil has my Grandfather’s name in it & and also that my uncle W P Milner. Unfortunately I took it to Westminster School & another boy there spoiled this book by cutting the binding – GM

That’s not only thing that this boy spoiled:

1ST PAGE OF THE GEORGICS

His favourite medium seems to have been ink!

RORSHASH INK BLOT TEST

Thus staining the look of this compact little volume:

And this future Magistrate or Bishop or Member of Parliament really went to town on Dido’s feast:

DIDO’S BANQUET

We can see in close-up that the future Rural Dean couldn’t resist embelleshing or making an improvement on Dido’s natural charms:

More defacement from our future Editor of  the Times includes decorating the word BUCOLICA

And drawing a couple of suggestive bubbles over Aenis’s head during the Council of Love was just too difficult for our future Rector of St. Andrew’s to resist:

COUNCIL OF LOVE

And no comment about this one from the future Director of The National Gallery:

(By the way the erudite and knowing referencing from the text to each illustration are great-granfather’s work).

So when I got to the fold-out map of Mare Nostrum I feared the worst but my fears were unfounded.

But more seriously the rest of the text is decent and readable. The text & side-commentaries & foot-notes are all in Latin and book itself is dedicated to a French prince, so when my father wrote about a wide readership he meant a trans-European one, wherever there existed that class of people, the members of which felt obliged to impose on themselves a Classical Education.

FINE LEATHER COVER

My grandfather Hugh Cantis Milner, who cared about such things, had the book rebound although if one looks carefully one sees that the spine  and red title panel (see above) is the original 18th century whilst the side-boards are early 20th century.

So six generations of my family (father-to-son) have owned this VIRGIL and soon it will be over to one my sons…

I have carried on the family book-binding tradition – I found an excellent Book Binder’s in a narrow street in the old centre of Porto and over the years I had about a dozen of my father’s old family books bound including this tiny Hyrogliphic Bible for children:

The illustrations are sweet little wood carvings:

Life is a roller-coaster

After being struck down for the first time with one of these cerebral tumors, for a while my life slipped through a series of dramatic cracks in time.

I was on a roller-coaster.

Stomach-churning plunges into the broiling abyss were followed by heart-soaring rushes, like a lark I soared into the great blue yonder. I was the pebbly sandy tide surging forward and then being dragged back at the mercy of the moon.

Hospitals and care-homes witnessed my triumphs and then my falls from grace. I was convulsed, my limbs twitching in spasms before being medicated back onto the dreary plane.

In short, I was not my usual self.

I went back to work after the first time – you’re cured, mate, the doctors said, and indeed I believed that I was. The habit of control was still strong in me and I itched to take up the reigns again. We agreed Lisbon and I, that I would not have a regular teaching schedule but that I would do the odd private student and ease myself back in gently.

No such luck, no sooner had I allocated all the intensive courses (it was September, the last the three summer-course months) than I got a call from Lisbon: could I possibly give an hour a day in-company to the three young probationers who worked in the Chambers of the Company Lawyer, which happened to be located in the Rua dos Clerigos?

So next day after lunch I went round to the office which was housed on an entire restored floor of an old 18th century stone building in the old historic part of Porto. The offices were extremely tastefully restored, laying bare the original granite where possible, white walls and gleaming polished wooden floor with minimal furniture; one waited on a low chunky sofa and leafed through glossy art catalogues from Sotheby’s and Christie’s; the collection of paintings displayed discreetly around the reception was dominated by a large sea-battle-scape featuring the blowing up of the French flag-ship L’Orient at the battle of the Nile, one of Nelson´s decisive fleet engagements leading up to Trafalgar. It was a glorious painting in a rich carved gold frame signed by an artist at the top of his game – Sir William Beechey R.A

(I could have committed murder for that painting).

So I started going there every day after lunch to increase the language skills of the three charming young lawyers. I found that, decrepit as I felt myself to be, at least I had not lost the ability to make women laugh – that particular chip in my brain had remained intact. From time to time I chatted with their boss, a tall, burly urbane gentleman, whom I already knew slightly (he was our company lawyer) and expressed my admiration for his Beechey. I mentioned diffidently that the same painter had executed a full-length portrait of a member of my family, an earlier and much simpler work painted in 1794 at the beginning of Beechey’s career before he got his knighthood and became a member of the Royal Academy.

MAJOR GAMALIEL MILNER of BURTON GRANGE attr William Beechey

As for the language course, it turned out one might say satisfactory and my life settled back onto an even keel.

My Father Learns Chinese

My father was a man of many interests and enthusiasms (and indeed obsessions) one of which was a study of the Chinese language.

He laboriously and lovingly painted each of the 214 Chinese cardinals on square white cards. He used a special broad-nib pen and black ink such as calligraphists use. Imagine the creative pleasure he must have felt in forming such beautiful and ancient symbols. Here are six of them:

(Notice how elaborate, to our eyes, YES seems to be).

6 of his cards

He would dot the cards, dozens at a time, around the various rooms of our house in France so that his eyes might fall on them and his mind might absorb their meaning.

On his death we were amazed to discover (among the myriad writings, translations, architectural drawings, pen-and-ink sketches of his beloved French village churches, water-colour washed landscapes, extensive and deep genealogical researches into his ancestry) a large loose-bound journal on the first page of which he had written:

4. 4. 56 

I seem to have a great desire to return to my earlier practice of keeping a general journal or commonplace book, for all purposes. So let this be it. Notes of all kinds, reflections, sketches, embroidery designs, rough copies of translations, let all come here.

Naturally there was competition among us for this pearl, so the sister to whom it was assigned promised the rest of us that she would have copies bound for us.

I won’t attempt to describe this rather remarkable journal further; instead I shall illustrate (with a few woefully inadequate photos) his interest in:

ANCIENT GREEK

IN GERMAN, LATIN AND CHINESE

CHINESE AND FROGS

TRANSLATION OF DANTE OUT OF ITALIAN

MORE LATIN

He was delighted to acquire a Portuguese daughter-in-law and paid her the ultimate compliment of setting about learning Portuguese, not for oral/phonetic use but in order to enjoy the rich literature of that nation. One Christmas we sent him a copy of As Lusiadas, the epic poem celebrating Portugal’s nationhood by Luis de Camões. In January he wrote to thank us for the present:

…. I started to read it on Christmas Day after lunch … by New Year’s Day I was rounding the Cape of Storms.

In the introduction to another work of his (a genealogical study of all the ancestry, both in the male and female line going back to the end of the 16th century, of his great grand-father John Crosland Milner of Thurlstone) he wrote:

The reverence for ancestors (and filial piety to elders) is one of the most endearing qualities of the Chinese tradition. They call it hsiao and for them it is one of the cardinal virtues.

HSIAO - FILIAL PIETY  by THOMAS MILNER

HSIAO - FILIAL PIETY by THOMAS MILNER

Smuggling book out of the Papal States

One of my favourite forebears is my great-great-great-uncle William Milner who died tragically young in 1813 of tuberculosis.
He, like both his elder brothers, was educated at the Hipperholme School, (a famous contemporary was Lawrence Sterne, author of that literary anomaly Tristram Shandy)  near Bradford and took up an interest in modern languages – German and Italian. In his youth he travelled extensively on the Continent, and spent some time in Germany where, according to his cousin Thomas Asline Ward, he lived upwards of a year in Brunswick where he entered into all the gaieties of that dissipated place, and visited at the court of the Duke.

I have a small, fat, old, calfskin-bound, 17th century Italian book of his –IL Correiro Svaligliato, publicato da Ginifaccio Spironcini. MDCXLIV (1644), obviously acquired on the same occasion, because he first signed his name (in German script), then read it and was either rather scandalized by the its contents or more likely perhaps worried that he would be detained at the frontier of one the Papal States with the book in his possession.
Be that as it may, he carefully scraped away his surname from the title page, though it can still be made out (just) two centuries later.


What was it all about? My father describes the book thus:
It is indeed a curiosity – a collection of squibs or pasquinades violently attacking the Barberini pope Urban VIII, his rapacious family and the corruptions of the papal court. They are associated with the name of Ferrante Pallavicino and one (section) vividly records his betrayal by an agent provocateur, his trial and execution by the papal forces. After three and a half centuries the binding is sound and good – a tribute to the magnificent material.

I can see the young man, bent over the page, gently scraping away with a razor, his face absorbed in the candle-light.

In 1811 he was diagnosed with the disease that was to kill him and transferred to the Isle of Wight for a cure. We have a letter from there to his father:
… he then hoped he was recovering and he would be soon back in Town. He thinks he has benefitted from the use of a kind of tobacco, Strabonum Herb Tobacco, which he smokes in a pipe. It has done (him) more good (sic) than fresh air or any other medicine.

(Over two centuries, does one detect the whiff of cannabis?)
Staying in his boarding house is a Mrs. Campbell, widow of General Campbell who died lately in Portugal in consequence of his too great fatigue and exertions in disciplining the Portuguese Levies.
William died two years after the date of this letter and was buried at Attercliffe in Yorkshire.

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