An Englishman’s duty by Herr Hermann Hueffer

Ford Madox Ford started life as as Ford Hermann Hueffer, named in honour of his grandfather, Johann Hermann Hueffer. Who better to understand the qualities required to be an Englishman?

 ‘An Englishman’s duty is to secure for himself for ever, reasonable clothing, a clean shirt a day, a couple of mutton chops grilled without condiments, two floury potatoes, an apple pie with a piece of Stilton and pulled bread, a pint of Club médoc, a clean room, in the winter a good fire in the grate, a comfortable armchair, a comfortable woman to see that all these were prepared for you, and to keep you warm in bed and to brush your bowler and fold your umbrella in the morning.’

Such a well-regulated lifestyle sounds both dull and a bit fanciful at the same time. However, half a century later the Lord Lucan visited the Claremont Club every weekday for a luncheon of grilled chops. Admittedly his routine fell apart after he attempted to murder his wife, killing his nanny Sandra Rivett instead. Defenders of Ford’s analysis could point to the fact that Lord Lucan was actually a member of the Irish peerage, and therefore not a proper English gentleman.

Ford’s observations on the English upper(ish) classes are both entertaining and illuminating. Although circulating among them, he was not of them, being an outsider in so many ways (half German and completely skint most of the time).

‘English people of good class do not dress for dinner on Sundays. That is a politeness to God because theoretically you attend evening service and you do not go to church in the country in evening dress. As a matter of fact you never go to evening service — but it is complimentary to suggest by your dress that you might be visited by the impulse.’

Morals too had to be viewed in a certain light:

‘People with titles and great possessions are vastly more difficult to decry than impoverished commoners, because the scale of morality changes. Titles and great possessions expose you to great temptations — you may be excused if you succumb. It is scandalous, on the other hand, that the indigent should have any fun!’

And, as for promiscuity — well Ford’s views on that were more nuanced than one might expect:

‘A constant change of partners was a social nuisance; you could not tell whether you could or couldn’t invite a couple together to a tea-fight. And society existed for social functions. That was why promiscuity was no good. For social functions you had, to have an equal number of men and women or someone got left out of conversations and so you had to know who, officially in the social sense, went with whom. ‘

This from a man pursued by women who wanted to be known as Mrs Heuffer. Indeed Violet Hunt faced court charges for calling herself Mrs Heuffer. Ford did eventually change his surname to Ford, and many biographies tell you that it was prompted by the First World War and a desire to distance himself from his German heritage. It seems equally likely that with a new mistress (Stella Bowen) he felt like a new name. And yes, Stella soon called herself Mrs Ford.

Ford might have avoided so much name-change angst and also rows with previous lovers, if he had just married a few more of his partners. But Ford has a view on this too:

‘A man as a rule does not marry his mistress whilst he has any kick in him.’

All quotes from Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End, reinkarnation


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