Friday, August 22, 2008

Red Lion Mary

(Part 4 of "Boys Will Be Boys")

"Red Lion Mary" was the maid at Red Lion Square, where Topsy and Ned lived in an idyllic bachelor pad of creativity. It was at Red Lion Square that Topsy, Ned, and Rossetti created their famous painted chairs, and Topsy hired out to have numerous gorgeous large-scale pieces of medieval furniture made.

Anyway, I digress.

There are numerous amusing anecdotes about Red Lion Mary. She seems to have been the perfect maid for these rambunctious youths...maintaining a sense of humor, and willing to help find sleeping locations for all the guests at their last-minute parties.

One of the tales told of Red Lion Mary shows her imperturbable good nature. Rossetti one day, on her entering the room, strode up to her, and in deep resonant tones, with fearful meaning in his voice, declaimed the lines:

'Shall the hide of a fierce lion
Be stretched on a couch of wood
For a daughter's foot to lie on,
Stained with a father's blood?'

Whereupon the girl, quite unawed by the horrible proposition, replied with baffling complacency, 'It shall be if you like, sir!'

--From Highways and Byways in London
Thus it was one of Madox Brown's most pleasing William Morris came out on the landing in the house of the "Firm" in Red Lion Square and roared downstairs:

'Mary, those six eggs were bad. I've eated them, but don't let it occur again.'

Morris, also, was in the habit of lunching daily off roast beef and plum pudding, no matter what season of the year, and he liked his puddings large. So that, similarly, upon the landing one day he shouted:

'Mary, do you call that a pudding?'

He was holding upon the end of a fork a plum pudding about the size of an ordinary breakfast cup, and having added some appropriate objurgations, he hurled the edible down-stairs onto Red Lion Mary's forehead. This anecdote should not be taken to evidence settled brutality on the part of the poet-craftsman. Red-Lion Mary was one of the loyalest supporters of the "Firm" to the end of her days. No, it was just in the full-blooded note of the circle. They liked to swear, and what is more, they liked to hear each other swear. Thus another of Madox Brown's anecdotes went to show how he kept Morris sitting monumentally still, under the pretence that he was drawing his portrait, while Mr. Arthur Hughes tied his long hair into knots for the purpose of enjoying the explosion that was sure to come when the released Topsy...ran his hands through his hair. This anecdote always seemed to me to make considerable calls upon one's faith. Nevertheless, it was one that Madox Brown used most frequently to relate, so that no doubt something of the sort must have occurred.

From Memories and Impressions by Ford Madox Ford

Dear me....the memoirs of the Pre-Raphaelites are just chock FULL of hilarious anecdotes like the above.

Red Lion Mary may not be as "flashy" or as "eye-catching" as the more famous Pre-Raphaelite women like Jane and Lizzie, but she clearly had a wonderful sense of humor, and a devotion to her boisterous boys at Red Lion Square that lasted a lifetime.


Margaret said...

I think these stories are further proof that while the members of the PRB are great fun to read about, they would have made terrible employers/lovers.

Amanda Flynn said...

HAHA! Quite funny! :)

And I think that picture is just lovely...

Grace said...

Margaret, you're probably right :) Though it still amuses me to picture Topsy standing at the top of the stairs yelling down. :)

Amanda, Red Lion Mary was described as "plain", but Rossetti had a knack for finding the beauty in any woman :)