Rackham in 1939

December 27 2012

Have only just noticed this letter, dated August 18 1939, by Arthur Rackham to George Clausen, my great-grandfather. It might have been the last Rackham ever wrote.

Rackham was at his house, Stilegate, at Limpsfield, Surrey, Clausen at 61 Carlton Hill in St John’s Wood.

“The times are tragic. […] I feel overwhelmingly for our young people, who can see nothing in front of them. We thought, we late Victorians, that we had got past all such criminal folly & expected that those after us would have finer & wiser lives than we had had. And now! … If by any good fortune we did tide over without a hideous conflagration there is one thing that seems more and more ‘in the air’ – the realisation that the supremacy of the machine, which is rapidly making robots of humanity, must be faced. And the machine must be put in its place as a servant to do the servile work only, freeing humanity to exercise its birthright of imaginative creative work. One hardly takes up a thoughtful journal without seeing that the danger is at last recognised. That, I think, is the main charge to be laid against the wonderful Victorian days – when the world was so elated at ‘conquest of nature &c’ that it was not seen [sic] [my bracket] what the penalty must inevitably be of this eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

“Art may indeed be under a cloud. But if it is not the spirit of the Creator working in us I do not know what it is. And it cannot be eternally killed.”

Quoted in James Hamilton, Arthur Rackham, A Life with Illustration, Pavilion Books, 1990. The book is beautifully produced, but calls Clausen President of the Royal Academy: he was never that and can hardly have been at the age of eighty-seven.

Rackham died less than three weeks later, three days after the declaration of war.

See comments after these posts:


Before 1914

Rackham, Götterdämmerung

Brünnhilde throws herself on the flames in Rackham, Siegfried and The Twilight of the Gods by Richard Wagner (1911)

This volume followed The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner (1910).

2 Responses to “Rackham in 1939”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Delius and his wife are buried in Limpsfield. Why? you might well ask.

    Apparently we have a postcard from Rackham to Clausen.

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