Having recently come across old books once belonging to elderly family members, I was moved to find this book  of Prayers, Written at Vailima by Robert Louis Stevenson, with an introduction by Mrs Stevenson.

It was given to Great Aunt Toby - as the family members nick-named Miss Rachel Dorothea Fox -who trained as a family doctor but who never went on to marry. 

Toby was a lesbian who received this book as a gift for the Christmas of 1916. It was from her brother, Francis. The two of them were very close.

I was lucky enough to meet Toby somewhat later in her life, when she lived with her companion, Gwen. They remained together for many years, only parted in the end by death. Before that, we went to visit them and my daughter, Letty, very young at the time, managed to break a precious fossil from a collection that they had in two. They were very understanding!

Below are some images from that book, and then the full poem from which Francis took his dedication ...

OLD SONG ~ Edward Fitzgerald

TIS a dull sight
To see the year dying,
When winter winds
Set the yellow wood sighing:
Sighing, O sighing!

When such a time cometh 
I do retire
Into an old room 
Beside a bright fire:
O, pile a bright fire!

And there I sit 
Reading old things,
Of knights and lorn damsels, 
While the wind sings—
O, drearily sings!

I never look out
Nor attend to the blast;
For all to be seen
Is the leaves falling fast:
Falling, falling!

But close at the hearth, 
Like a cricket, sit I,
Reading of summer 
And chivalry—
Gallant chivalry!

Then with an old friend 
I talk of our youth—
How 'twas gladsome, 
but often Foolish, forsooth:
But gladsome, gladsome!

Or, to get merry,
We sing some old rhyme
That made the wood ring again 
In summer time—
Sweet summer time!

Then go we smoking, 
Silent and snug:
Naught passes between us, 
Save a brown jug—

And sometimes a tear 
Will rise in each eye,
Seeing the two old friends 
So merrily—
So merrily!

And ere to bed 
Go we, go we,
Down on the ashes
We kneel on the knee,
Praying together!

Thus, then, live I
Till, 'mid all the gloom,
By Heaven! the bold sun 
Is with me in the room
Shining, shining!

Then the clouds part, 
Swallows soaring between;
The spring is alive,
And the meadows are green!

I jump up like mad,
Break the old pipe in twain,
And away to the meadows, 
The meadows again!


thewhitespike said...

What a lovely little piece of family history. I loved the poem too Essie, made me feel warm!

Essie Fox said...

Thanks, George.