Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Some Bloomsbury Interviews and Memories

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Some Bloomsbury Interviews and Memories

Article excerpt

In 1957-58 and in March 1965, in the course of writing a book on E. M. Forster, I met with a number of Bloomsbury, and fringe Bloomsbury, figures. These encounters, here recorded from notes and memory, will perhaps provide a few footnotes to the Bloomsbury record.


During an interview on Oct. 23, 1957, Forster reminded me that G. E. Moore was still alive and living in Cambridge and that I should try to see him. Forster himself, as I remember, arranged the meeting. I was invited for tea at 4:30 the following day.

The prospect of such a meeting was a little daunting. Though I had read Principia Ethica and some Moore criticism in Paul Arthur Schilpp's important volume, I felt quite unready to talk philosophy with the great man. I hadn't understood much of what I had read in Principia Ethica, and much that I half understood I didn't think I agreed with. And that whole chapter on "The Ideal" - which had moved Keynes to see "a new heaven on a new earth" and Strachey to exclaim "The age of reason has come" (Keynes 82; Forster, Dickinson 110) - I found somewhere between unintelligible and plain silly. But who was I to hold such views when the whole world seemed agreed that Moore was a great man, if not a saint?(1) - and when his reputation as a "philosopher's philosopher" was undisputed? I took some heart from the fact that Forster could treat Moore lightly - even make puns on his work(2) - but I hardly had his rights in the matter.

The house at 86 Chesterton Road was an old red-brick Victorian that had seen better days, one in a row paralleling the Cam at about a two-street remove. An air of postwar fatigue and shabbiness clung to the neighborhood, along with a stubborn respectability. Mrs. Moore, an energetic, rather bouncy woman of middle age, smiled a welcome and invited me in without ceremony. I was no sooner in the door, however, than she took me aside and whispered, conspiratorially, that she was to do all the talking. The doctor had forbidden Moore to talk philosophy because of his heart - he got too excited. I didn't know whether to be glad or disappointed. Mrs. Moore gave promise of being a lively and intelligent conversationalist, but she was hardly a proxy for the main exhibit.

That exhibit shone splendidly forth, like a painter's model, in the center of the next room. There sat G. E. Moore in a straight-backed chair, posed in profile like Whistler's mother, staring fixedly before him, as if mesmerized by some pure and distant thought. It was a "beautiful" face - there is no other word for it - classical features, high brow, smooth white skin, silver hair, keen blue eyes. In some pantheon of ideal callings, he might serve, sculpted and labeled, to represent the philosopher, a picture of otherworldly contemplation fit to sit next to Rodin's The Thinker. One is tempted to hyperbole because there was something comic about the whole situation, especially when Mrs. Moore, after inviting me to sit down, settled into an armchair opposite and, smiling a little mischievously, lit up a pipe.(3) Throughout the interview, she puffed away happily as our words passed to and fro over the head of G. E. Moore, silent and immobile, gazing beatifically into space. I wasn't sure he even knew I was in the room.

I remember only bits and pieces of what was said. We discussed Cambridge and Bloomsbury and my work, but Moore not at all, since Mrs. Moore declared herself unfit to talk philosophy, her husband's or any other. I remember her scolding me for not yet having read Keynes's "My Early Beliefs,"(4) which she called the best account she knew of Moore's influence on Bloomsbury (she always referred to him as "Moore," in the third person), and we gossiped a bit about Forster. I remember too the room we were sitting in, how dark and cluttered it was, and I wondered how the great "Apostle" of beauty could care so little about the aesthetics of his surroundings. The room had space and oaken comfort, but it seemed more like a warehouse filled with moveables than an area arranged after some principle of taste. …

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