This is an autograph book which was given to my great-aunt, Minnie Davies, by her mother, on January 13th 1911. Or possibly not: the date below looks like 13th January1912; it's so close to the corner of the paper that it's hard to tell: but quite a lot of the autographs inside the book are dated 1911. Which is baffling - unless Minnie's mother gave her the book in 1911, but didn't get around to signing it herself for months? These things do happen.
"May she to whom this book belongs/Few troubles have if any/Her hours of grief may they be few/her sunny moments many.
Be a good girl/Lead a good life,/Choose a good husband/Make a good wife."
Pretty soon, though, the entries become more elaborate, and humour makes a welcome appearance with this oil painting - yes, oils! - of a joke: The Burning Question. A couple hidden behind a parasol...
... and a little boy who interrupts the idyll with the burning question: 'Have you any cigarette cards?'
People clearly went to great lengths to shine in autograph books. There isn't a single example, in the entire book, of 'merely' a signature. Everyone wrote a verse or drew a picture. Did people have a fund of little verses or jokes at the ready, for the next time someone whipped out an album? I suspect they did. In 1913 Jock Jowitt of 'Kirkee', somewhere in India (?) must have been happy to have found this simple no-fuss solution:
Romance creeps in. No importunate little boys in this pen and ink picture signed 'Love LL Gordon, 1914'.
And there's a poem from G H C in March 1913:
'You can't stop the sun from beaming/You can't stop the birds' refrain./You can't stop yourself from dreaming,/You can't stop the drops of rain./You can't stop the stars from gleaming/Up in the heaven above,/And you can't stop your heart from beating/For the boy you love.' It could almost be a Cole Porter lyric.
And the war actually enters the autograph book on these pages here: two carefully executed illustrations by P.V. Bastin, 4th Devon Regt, dated 14.1.15. The left hand page is a watercolour painting of a ketch entitled 'Running Into Harbour'. The right hand page, in pen and ink, is labelled in meticulous, tiny handwriting:
'Whitby Abbey (Bombarded by the Germans, Dec. 1914). What was he thinking of when he drew these?
The last entry in the book, although not the last chronologically, is a set of jingoistic dialect verses entitled - ominously, I think -
'The 'Great War 1914 - 15 - '
Aw! I've listed, mai dear, for a sawjer
Ess, I've tooked the ole shillin' for sure
They've give me a kit and they've give me a gun,
And I'm gwain away to the War.
... An' I'll bet ee a pound to a vardun [farthing] cake
The when us comes marchin' back,
The maidens'll all turn their smiles to me
And give 'Molly Coddlins' the sack.
So blaw up the boogle and sound the Volleen ['the Fall In']
My how they bagginets shine,
'Tion! Move to the right in four. 'Form fours'.
Right. Forward, into the line.
Dalhousie July - 1915 - Geo. E Hart.
I just hope he really did come marching back...
Photos: copyright Katherine Langrish 2012