From the papers of Janet Ashbee wife of C.R. Ashbee
(Arts & Crafts Movement). This is Fry before Bloomsbury...
74 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea,
Roger Fry came up from Dorking to see me today, and I felt rather like my small self at 6 years when a strange child was asked to tea, and we were told to "make friends". I had seen him but for a moment at our play, and had remarked only his gaunt face and air erect as of one who sees a ghost and is afraid.
We plunged at once, and talked of civilization, the town and the country, and the real sane life. He says he finds the Carpenterian "Simplification of Life" leads to endless complexity, and he has given it up -- it was a clean waste of energy.
"I like civilization", he said, "not the cumbrous artificial kind of course, but a civilization so perfect that it tends to complete simplicity."
But the servant question is harassing him much, the Dorking menage being at present without the Great Indispensables. He railed at the independence of latterday servants--
"They dont enjoy it", he said, "look at these half-educated maids, do you think they're any the happier for their sense of reverence having disappeared? not a bit. The old folks may have commanded their servants like dogs, but the servants looked up to them, and stuck to them. There was something to admire and something stable and human that they could become attached to. And see how they run!" he concluded, "and what misery it is without them!"
He was delighted with out little Umbrian Madonna, and I saw he was burning to restore it.
"Yes, it's a lovely thing," he said, "I COULD make those little angels and their gold frocks come out if I tried!"
He lives now, I understand, by lecturing on Art and by restoring old pictures. As a creative artist he seems to have been so susceptable to everyone else's style that his own clever painting went to the wall. The only possible trade became the submersion of his own style in that of each painter whose work he restored. He is said to be an adept at it, and his judgements are received in artistic circles I hear with entire submission.
He complains that the criticism of modern pictures is deadening; entirely destructive and negative.
He was much more sympathetic than I had imagined-- I had heard much of him, of the emancipation from his Quaker family, of his strange marriage with Helen Coomb, of her mysterious illness, their exile in Italy, their reappearance and the arrival of the little son. I gather that his horizon is now quite filled with the boy. It was pretty to hear him talk of him, and the child is to be brought up without any theories whatever, except the eminently male one that the mother is to do all the educating, for the present anyway.
I was glad to have the chance of seeing what manner of man he was. He has the eyes and the smile of the idealist who at the same time is human.