Hall Caine (1853-1931)
From Literary Anecdotes About 19th Century Authors Born After 1829

HALL Caine met me at the quay with his car; although I could not help finding him a little ridiculous, I could not help liking him more and more as we drove to Greeba Castle. The Castle, which I supposed would have some signs of Gothic grandeur, turned out to be a medium-sized red brick villa. In the small dining-room, which opened on a small conservatory full of brown and yellow calceolarias, was an engraving of The Blessed Damozel in the frame of which was stuck a card, `From D. G. Rosetti to Hall Caine 1881', a souvenir of the days when Hall Caine had attended the poet during his last days at Birchington-on-Sea.

The garden at the back ran up in a fairly steep slope to level ground on which Hall Caine had built himself a granite study, furnished inside with massive and severe furniture which included a bare table as large as a four-post bed.

`It's all so simple,' Hall Caine commented, in a dreamy, slightly sepulchral voice. `So simple, so utterly in keeping with the simple life of this little island, and if I may say so with the books I write here in complete seclusion.'

Remembering the music-halls and dancing places of Douglas, I did not fancy that life was quite so simple in the Isle of Man as Hall Caine suggested, but I felt I ought to play up to his mood.

`Yes, indeed,' I said. `One can imagine Æschylus writing his plays in surroundings like this.'
`Thank you,' Hall Caine almost intoned, `thank you, Mr. Compton, that is one of the nicest things ever said to me.' (I had dropped `Mackenzie' for the family stage name.) `I shall cherish that observation of yours. Yes, that is one of the nicest things ever said to me. And so true!'

When Hall Caine came down to breakfast next morning he inquired how I had slept.

`Splendidly. I hope you had as good a night as I had, Mr. Caine.'
`I hardly ever sleep,' he replied in his most sepulchral voice. `Go on with your breakfast, Mr. Compton. Pay no attention to me. I hardly ever eat breakfast.' . . .

Later that morning Hall Caine took me in his car to see the Tynwald.

`In one sense we shall be profaning that sacred spot by arriving in a motor-car,' he assured me solemnly, `and I must confess there are moments when I reprove myself for having surrendered to such a blatant method of transport. But . . .'

He opened his arms and shrugged his shoulders in a gesture intended to convey the corroding advance of progress against which not even he could hold out.

When we arrived at the Tynwald, which was a green glen between grey hills, Hall Caine took off his hat and, as the gentle breeze of early summer played through the hair above that domed forehead, he delivered a kind of elegy upon the `rude forefathers' of Mona, who in that glen had made the first laws of the island.

`And yet,' said Hall Caine when his elegy was finished, `there are some people incapable of responding to the poetic and spiritual influence of this sacred spot. When his late Majesty King Edward visited the Island I was privileged to show him the original site of the Tynwald Court. He seemed completely unimpressed. Indeed, his only concern after I had tried to tell him about the Tynwald was to know what time lunch was.'

Hall Caine put on his hat with a sigh for King Edward's lack of imaginative response.

`And yet,' he went on, `he was not incapable of responding to romance. His wife—Her Majesty Queen Alexandra—told me that what must have been the last book he read before his fatal illness was my novel The Eternal City . . . and graciously assured me that King Edward had much enjoyed it'

From Sir Compton Mackenzie, My Life and Times, Octave Four, 1907-1915 (1965), pp. 95-96.

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