Thursday, 19 April 2012

Drake window: Furlong

Drake window, Furlong - click to enlarge
In the previous post about the Exeter glasspainter, novelist and poet Maurice Drake (see Maurice Drake and WO2), I concluded with an unresolved thread about his last work, a window he designed for Mr H Wilson Holman, of Furlong, Topsham, and I wondered if it was still extant.

It is. I decided to do the simplest thing and just go round there and ask. The house owner, Mr David Martin, extremely kindly let me photograph it and lent me some related documents. I didn't see the verse about mortality mentioned in the Times letter from HW Holman (and I didn't want to presume on Mr Martin's hospitality by demanding detailed inspection). However, I did see the other poem in the top lights; those below contain decorative panels and images of ships in the old Holman fleet.

The text of the poem is reproduced more clearly in this  hand-made greetings pamphlet from "D.S. Drake" - His wife was called Alice, but I think this is his daughter, Daphne Drake.


Here ere you came, we plied Old Omar's trade
With palm and needle on the daylong seams
The sails we made the Ocean winds have frayed
And we are nought but dreams.
Lighter than filmy clouds or that faint breath
Which stirs the petal on the moon-lit grass.
Our toil is done and now we rest in death.
Tout lasse, tout passe, tout casse.

Beneath our lisping planes the shavings flew;
Sweet smelling pine, like golden pennants gay.
Under our hands the graceful tall ships grew;
Where lie their keels today?
Rocks, winds and ocean, all have taken toll,
Leaving but painted shadows on this glass:
Over our handiwork, the tall seas roll,
Tout lasse, tout passe, tout casse.

But whilst Old Omar stitched he sang a strain,
And though his tents are dust, his song lives yet
Tis from dead earth the dead rose blooms again,
What is there to regret?
We worked, we rest; our heritage is Thine:
Give us a thought and pledge us in the glass
Living your own hour with laughter and with wine.
Tout lasse, tout passe, tout casse.

Maurice Drake
Ignoring the conscious archaism, Drake wasn't at all a bad poet. This poem, alluding to Omar Khayyám being reputedly born into a family of tentmakers, is an elegy to the past sailmakers, as well as the shipbuilders and ships of the old Holman fleet, in particular reference to Furlong being a sail loft converted to residential use. It's also a general comment on impermanence: "Tout lasse, tout passe, tout casse" ("everything wears out, everything passes, everything breaks down") is an old French saying that I've tracked to the late 1700s:
Tout lasse, tout passe, tout casse.
- Recueil de proverbes français, latins, espagnols, italiens, allemands, hollandais, juifs, américains, russes, turcs, etc: à l'usage des Écoles Publiques et des Maisons d'Education, Louis de Crevant duc d' Humières, Au bureau de la correspondance des villes et des campagnes, 1790, page 60.
Drake described the work on the window in a letter to H Wilson Holman:
I'm doing it in large panes of glass after the Dutch manner of the XVII century, and on actual glass of the period. Six cinque-cento frames, contain pictures of ships from the little photo you gave me of the old Holman fleet, and behind the frames trails of rambler roses sprawl all over the window, with butterflies of every conceivable English variety flopping about on 'em or perched on the picture frame. At the bottom of the right hand light is the memorial inscription "Messor ad Aratores". (RG - I think I may have transcribed wrongly here, but it seems to mean something like " reaper(s) and ploughmen"). It's inconspicuous, but can be seen by them as likes to look for it. At the top are three verses, a copy of which I enclose. Sidney Dark, now editor of "John o' London's Weekly", being much intrigued with the them, proposes to reprint them in his paper, he says. Whether he will or not deponent knoweth not, but can certify he said so.

Monk I han't done yet. Can't get a good coloured picture of a capuchin, but am still searching for one. I think he can go into one of the tracery openings, hanging on a briar of the roses, with an inscription to the effect that he "broke his chain" on the date of his demise.

Not knowing the names of the ships in the Holman fleet, I am leaving a little blank space anigh each on which we can scratch the names with a diamond after the window is fixed. You can doubtless identify them from the photo, or get them identified.
 - Maurice Drake, from letter to HW Holman, 22 Nov 1922 (original lent by David Martin)
The window differs in some respects from Drake's description; I don't know if it has been restored, or he ended up doing it differently from the plan.

I'm inclined to agree with HW Holman's theory in his March 22nd 1922 letter to The Times (see again Maurice Drake and WO2) that Drake was anticipating his impending death. In both the above letter and a succeeding one dated 25th January 1923, Drake refers to unspecified recurring illness ("wake-ups of the old trouble"). While he makes light of it, and was in the process of having a new studio built early in 1923, the verses have an elegiac flavour, and Drake died of pneumonia only a few months after the window's installation (also before his novel The Doom Window saw book publication). It's as much a memorial to himself as to the other craftsmen it remembers.

Sincere thanks to David Martin for providing access to the window and documents, and for his permission to publish them online.

- Ray

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