A visit with A. J. Sylvester
8.00pm. Back home at Springfields. We arrived at about five past six. I have just done the washing up and have been looking at some of the books we got today.
We left Summerlands at 9.16am, went to the Avon Bookshop at Bath, where we met Jane Chapman and collected a book she had for me, and then bought four Elizabeth Goudge books for £1 at the flea market down the road.
From Bath we drove to Rudloe, where we spent 40 minutes with Mr Sylvester, then we had lunch at a café in Corsham before driving on to Lacock, where we visited the Fox Talbot museum and the National Trust shop.
From Lacock our next stop was at Sue and Jim Thompson’s at Cirencester, where we bought four books; and finally, at 4.45pm, we stopped at David Potten’s at Moreton-in-Marsh and bought Elizabeth Goudge’s The Rosemary Tree for 40p.
We have had quite a lot of rain during the day but didn’t put our raincoats on and didn’t get wet.
Bath was packed with traffic. We did not know where the Avon Bookshop was, or Peter Goodden’s, both having [moved], but in London Street I drove across the road to slide into a parking space, and we found the Avon Bookshop only a few yards away.
They had quoted me, in response to my first Bookdealer ad, for William of Malmesbury’s The Antiquities of Glastonbury, and the Everyman edition of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. I bought the first for £2, but not the second, as it was not the book Pauline was wanting.
Freda asked Jane if she could direct us to Peter Goodden’s, who had A.J. Sylvester’s Life with Lloyd George. Jane said his books were there in the shop as they shared the premises together. At that moment I was picking the book off the shelves (it hadn’t been put on one side), but I decided against buying it as it had been inscribed to someone else, and at £6 it was too expensive.
Jane said that Mr Sylvester used to be her landlord in London years ago, and an hour later, when we told A.J. about our having met a former tenant of his, he remembered he and his wife having let half their house to an Ernest Chapman; Jane must have been his daughter. Jane told us that Maureen’s children were very small at the time, so it was a good many years ago.
From the Avon Bookshop we walked down the road in search of more bookshops, but came across an open-air market where there were books on several of the stalls. At the very first stall we looked at we found four Elizabeth Goudges, three of them, The Heart of the Family, Gentian Hill and Island Magic in dust-wrappers. The stall-holder, a Mr Maguire, said “30p each, or 4 for £1”, so I also bought a copy of The Herb of Grace. I gave Mr Maguire one of my cards, and he said he sometimes had the sort of books I was looking for, and had recently had some Blavatskys. He would let me know if he got anything I was interested in.
As it was beginning to rain we left the market a little earlier than we need have done, and had just got into the car when it started to pour.
It was only a few minutes before we arrived at Mr Sylvester’s. I hadn’t told him we might call, so our visit was a surprise to him, and he greeted us with evident pleasure. I think he especially enjoys our visits because although he has lots of kind friends calling on him, few if any have any interest in hearing about the past.
Today, for the first time in many months, we found Mr Sylvester in his study, sitting amongst his papers. He had the gas fire on, so the room was warm, and he was reading a newspaper. “I take the press,” he said, and went on to say that often the papers went unread, but there was something that interested him very much just now. He didn’t say what it was, but in view of the publicity surrounding Cecil Parkinson and his mistress [Sarah Keayes], I wondered whether one of the papers had done an article about L.G. and Frances [Lloyd George and Frances Stephenson].
A.J. told us once again of the correspondence he has been having with the professor from Nova Scotia, and described him as a “Wee Free”. The professor thought that Mr Sylvester must have been aggrieved by the recent TV series. “On the contrary,” said A.J., “the last episode vindicated me.” He referred, no doubt, to Frances’s affair with Tweed, and it occurred to me afterwards that possibly no one outside the circle of L.G.’s family and workers would ever have known about it had not A.J. himself revealed it with the publication of his second book. Indeed. A.J.P. Taylor discounted the story until discovering it was true.
What is it about Frances’s affair with Col. Tweed that “bugs” Mr Sylvester so much? Is it the way she treated him after L.G. died, and the things she said about him in her book; or is it that she was so disloyal to L.G., when Sylvester was the very epitome of loyalty. Perhaps he doesn’t even know himself.
A.J. evidently remembered our having told him about Arabella [Arabella Churchill, whom we know], for he asked about her, what she did and whether she was married. Then he launched into the subject of the emancipation of women. Turning to Freda he said, “You women have come so far.” In his younger days it was almost undreamed of that women would have the vote, but now we had a lady Prime Minister, and Ceylon and India did too. And yet women in Parliament had not really accomplished very much. He spoke of Lady Astor, “little Ellen Wilkinson” and Mrs Rathbone, but none of them had instituted any great reform.
A.J. told us again how that many times L.G. had talked to him about the children of the farmers not being able to make anything of themselves. He didn’t go into detail, as we had to take our leave of him, but on previous visits he has spoken of the strained relationship between L.G. and his son Richard. “I liked Dick,” we have heard him say.
Mr Sylvester’s sister has died since we saw him 3 weeks ago. She had become blind and incapacitated, but used to phone him every Sunday, so he is missing her. His foot is improving slowly and the nurse now comes only every other day. But he feels very weak, he said, and once he has done his chores he has little energy for anything.
Mr Sylvester twice asked us to have a cup of coffee, but we declined as it was nearly lunch time.