The Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, though I am very drawn to him, was never an idol of mine. His feet of clay were always too visible, his prose style too pedestrian and he lacked courage, but he did have a huge amount of self-conscious glamour and, to an incomparable degree, rollicking, zestful pomposity.

I just came across this piece of Curzoniana which I had forgotten. It's a squib written by diplomat Sir Ian Malcolm in 1919 when Curzon deputised for A.J. Balfour, who was away at the Versailles Conference. It is quoted in ' Superior Person ' (1969), the unrivalled raconteur Kenneth Rose's biography of Curzon. He must have seemed very attractive by the time Rose wrote (and George Brown was Foreign Secretary) but extravagant spending on offices did not die out with Curzon. In fact Curzon seems to have anticipated Lord Chancellor 'Derry' Irvine's grandiosity, in the days when his former pupil Mr. Blair was Prime Minister.

" I am acting M.F.A. [ Minister of Foreign Affairs]
Please remember what I say
Or you'll live to rue the day.
C. of K.
I must have a spacious room,
Not this loathsome living tomb
Filled with ghosts who've met their doom
How they loom.
Bring me chairs and sofas new,
They should be of Royal Blue
Such as I'm accustomed to,
Entre nous.
Buy me Persian carpets meet
For Imperial Downing Street,
Where on Wednesdays I greet
The Elite.
Golden pen nibs I demand
Jewelled pencils at my hand;
Lacquer fire-screens; not japanned,
These are banned.
I regret I cannot pass
Inkstands made of brass and glass:
Get me one of Chrysophraz
From Shiraz.
And this paper ! Well, I'm blest:
Neither monogram nor crest:
In my family interest
I protest.
For remember, if you can,
That, although a warming-pan,
I am still a Christian

Malcolm was a Scot and warming-pan is a Scotch slang word that can mean a wench who keeps a bed warm or a fart. 

Time for me to retell a favourite story which I came across in Viscount D' Abernon's memoirs. The British Ambassador in Athens wrote to Curzon, during the Greco-Turkish War in the early 1920s, saying 

'Order has broken down to such an extent that even the monks of Mount Athos are violating their vows.'

So, at least, he dictated, but the typist typed 'cows' instead of 'vows'. Curzon wrote in the margin: 
'Better send a papal bull'.
Despite this capital pun, I don't think he was a very funny man or could laugh at himself, which is the test. Curzon's sense of humour could be very laboured. He was famously lampooned in the 'Balliol Rhyme' about him written when he was an undergraduate:

My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim twice a week

In reply, he wrote a very laboured riposte that starts:

Charms and a man I sing, to wit - a most superior person

Myself, who bears the fitting name of George Nathaniel Curzon.

From which 'tis clear that even when in swaddling bands I lay low,

There floated round my head a sort of apostolic halo. 

and continues in similar vein for seven unfunny stanzas.

Curzon was a man who inspired doggerel. His affair with the novelist Mrs. Glyn led her to write her bestselling novel Three Weeks and a torrid scene which took place on a tiger skin rug, which in turn inspired this.

Would you like to sin

With Elinor Glyn

On a tiger skin?

Or would you prefer

To err

With her

On some other fur?

Post a Comment