On the 28th February 1920, my Grandfather began composing a draft letter which proved so difficult to write, that he was still grappling with it on the 15th March. The letter was one of condolence to a sister-in-law living in Australia following the death of her husband, his brother. But this was a considerable time after the unhappy event, and it is John Taylor Smith’s tortuous attempt to justify his delay in writing, which gives the draft it’s fascination.
Grandfather was to die less than two years later at the age of thirty nine, but my own Father somehow stumbled across the draft and kept it for me to find following his own death. The papers are badly torn, have multiple alterations and the writing is sometimes hard to decipher, but I have attempted a faithful reproduction in what follows:-
I hope you will forgive me for may apparent neglect in not writing earlier to offer you my deepest sympathy – in which my dear wife joins – in your sad bereavement. It is such a great sorrow and loss to us all. Believe me, I have tried on many, many occasions to pen these lines to you but each time have felt quite unequal to the task. It is such a heavy blow to me to know that George has gone, for, although we had not corresponded for years we were real brothers. On hearing of his success in Management through Mr J P Ling – mimic* – an artiste I know well – I said ” Oh George will be coming over here one of these days and he will quickly locate me” which I know he would have done by making enquiries in Theatrical circles over here. A letter to address c/o the journals ‘The Stage’ or ‘The Performer’ would always have found me. When I mention I have been in the profession since I was 20 years of age you will realise that I am fairly well known in Theatrical, Music Hall and Kinematograph circles over here.
Of course, I confess I was wrong in not writing. I regret it so much now. Unfortunately, there was a little estrangement between my sister Mary, brother Robert and myself – it was a mere nothing – misunderstanding – which is all understood now during my early struggles. I used to feel I had no one to write to over here. It is a coincidence that I should enter the Kinematograph business the same as George which I did in 1912. I first took up the film renting side handled amongst others the whole of Cherry Kearton’s** famous animation films playing most of the principal theatres with the big film “Nature’s Zoo”. Probably you have had this one in Melbourne? I had an enormously successful tour. Then in 1915, I took over as General Manager of The Grosvenor Picture House – Manchester which had just opened its doors. It is one of the chief Houses in the City, I have done extraordinary business there. We have just purchased 3 other theatres.
Pardon me writing so much about myself but in doing so I feel somehow it will interest you. A rather extraordinary coincidence is that my dear wife has proved such a great help to me during my years of management. We are the proud possessors of two loving children Mary (4 years) and the son who was born August 10th last. We christened him George – he is a great boy. And now dear sister in closing my dear wife joins me in sending all good wishes to you.
Love from us and the bairns
* Mr J P Ling was a well known comedian and mimic who had toured Australia.
** Cherry Kearton was a pioneering photographer who became famous for daring, close-up shots of wild animals.
This reproduction, bereft of deletions and alterations, does not properly convey the pain and awkwardness which I believe grandfather felt in composing these words, but I do hope that some of the poignancy still comes across. There is a pencilled note at the top of the draft which says ‘ Get good writing pad Monday’. But was the writing pad ever ‘got’, was the final letter ever sent, and if it was, would the letter have been successful in restoring a relationship?