Celebrating Violet Paget’s Birthday Today- Anniversaire de la naissance de Violet Paget (14 october 1856 – 13 February 1935)

Dear readers, 

Chers lecteurs et lectrices,

159 years ago today, Violet (or Violette, as she sometimes signed) Paget was born in France, Château-Saint Léonard, Boulogne-sur-mer, Pas-de-Calais, from Matilda Adams and Henry Ferguson Paget. 

Il y a 159 ans aujourd’hui, Violet (ou Violette, ainsi signait elle parfois, dans son enfance) Paget naissait en France, à Château-Saint-Léonard, Boulogne-sur-mer (Pas-de-Calais), de Matilda Adams et Henry Ferguson Paget.

As a present to our readers, we are happy to post the unpublished text below, from A Vernon Lee Notebook: Vernon Lee’s message to her “passionate Readers of Future Ages”, for which we are grateful to Patricia Burdick and the Colby Library Special Collections.

Nous offrons à nos chers lecteurs, en guise de cadeau d’anniversaire de sa part, le texte inédit ci-dessous, tiré de A Vernon lee Notebook, qui est un peu le message de Vernon Lee à ses “lecteurs passionnés des temps à venir”. Remerciements à Patricia Burdick et à la Colby Library Special Collections. 

Boulogne-sur-mer and Literary Immortality

“I have never been at Boulogne before”, I replied, probably to myself, since no-one had asked –“I have never been at Boulogne before.”

Now, as a fact, I was born there, or within so few miles thereof, and from my window at the hotel, I could watch a constant to-and-fro of motor buses “Boulogne-Pont de Briques” proclaiming as it were, the imposture of my alibi. Also suggesting that I might spend an hour, or a quarter of one, pilgrimaging to the precise spot where I was born.

Had I not, until trees or houses obstructed its view, (before the war) seen from the train, recognising by one of my Father’s many sepias, the very house “Château St. Léonard”, with its Louis Philippe terrace, in which I actually emerged into the world, A.D. 1856; came into the world with the legend that the doctor said “Madame, je n’ai rien à vous reprocher, words repeated to me many times during my childhood, as a reason for filial gratitude and sometimes of reproach, little suspecting that Dr. Perrichod (that was his name) doubtless said the same words to all the ladies he thus assisted, and irrespective of the subsequent glory of their offspring.

And, by the way, how small is the world and how telescoped is time, that sixty years later I should have been the guest (at a place less attractive than its name, “Cavalière du Lavandon”) of an old becraped and somewhat moustached widow lady who was the daughter of that doctor who had introduced me to the world and particularly to Pont de Briques, Boulogne sur Mer, Pas de Calais, and, as I have mistakenly taken for granted, also to eventual immortality.

Now, if Boulogne had not been simmering under a kind of mid-night sun (for no daylight was ever so hot and so dim) making its quays like some faded Vernet print of a “Harbour of France”, I might have taken heart of grace, and, after wandering round its donjons  and douves  and leafy remparts of the Upper Town (how the open windows reveal Louis Philippe buffets  and miroirs à glace  and Balzacien retired officials!) –I might have taken likewise one of those motor buses and pilgrimaged to that place of my Birth.

And the queer thought arises that had I been somebody else (which I might so easily have been) who in some future times had read my works, the probability is I should thus have spent my afternoon; the place of my Birth being one of the few objects of interest to travellers at, or near, Boulogne sur Mer. For have I not pilgrimaged to similar Birth (or, for that matter, Death) places of other writers.

Which thought led to the further one that this would have happened only if Dr. P. had assisted and congratulated (“Madame, je n’ai rien à vous reprocher”) somewhat earlier in the History of Literature. Since it was easier in earlier days to attain such immortality as is starred to guidebooks simply because, given that somebody had to be immortal, there weren’t so many people to do it.

So that, after comparison of the prose and poetry in Golden Treasuries, etc. indeed, that of most departed writers, with my own and the consequent recognition that the latter, to wit, mine, is better worth remembering, yet, I may assert with equal confidence that it will not  be remembered, or the Birth Place of V.L. be recorded (elsewhere than on obsolete passports, as Pont de Briques, Pas de Calais, near Boulogne sur Mer), and pilgrimaged-to by my passionate Readers of Future Ages.

For one of the few certainties which life has brought me is that the competition for immortality much exceeds nowadays the immortality available for distribution; and that literature is ceasing to be aere perennius  and assuming its true status as journalism and perishable. About which fact, though at moments disappointing to my secret hopes, I cannot fairly complain, and am bound to apply to Fate Dr. P.’s remark at my birth: “Madame, je n’ai rien à vous reprocher.


But apart from this matter of “oblivion versus  immortality”, there would be more for me to say about Boulogne sur Mer because, as a fact, I really had  been there before, though only at the age of five, the year of the wedding of the afterwards King Edward VII, whose effigy alongside of his bride in the Illustrated London News, is one of the few images I retain (perhaps because I coloured it by hand!) from those months at N° […], Grande Rue, Boulogne sur Mer.

Also that of Major Bergonzi’s garden at Pont de Briques, cruelly branded on memory by one of those mishaps disgracing parents after accepting the hospitality of old friends for their offspring. Much later in life I learned, connecting him with a wholesomely austere plum-pudding, that Major Bergonzi had fought in the Crimean War, had a wife who was a Swedenborgian and had been born in Italy, as was proved by his playing the guitar after meals.

Vernon Lee

Oxford: June 20th, 1930.

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