The Rebel Angels. The Cornish Trilogy #1 by Robertson Davies

I hate that kind of music.

Really? Too bad.

I’ll turn off my ears while he’s playing.

What do you hate about it?

Everything. The spirit of it, the stress of emotion, the un­chaste ornamentation.

The very things I like.

It’s a change for you; I have it all the time.

Theotoky; a Greek name, isn’t it?

My Father’s; but on my Mother’s side I am a Gypsy, and being a Gypsy in the modern world — especially the University world — simply doesn’t do.

You don’t like it in yourself?

I’d have to believe in heredity more than I do to admit there is much of it in myself. I’m a Canadian woman, setting out on a university career, and I don’t want any part of the Gypsy world.

Now what on earth made me say that? I was surprised to hear myself. It sounded so aggressive, so much like the know-it-all girls I liked least at the University. I didn’t want to go on with that theme; I had not meant to tell Arthur Cornish that I had Gypsy blood, because it sounded as if I were trying to make myself interesting in a cheap way. Let’s drop that.

Did you never tell your uncle you were interested in his musical manuscripts?

He knew I was.

Isn’t it odd that he didn’t leave you even one of them?

Not odd at all. It’s fatal to let a collector know you’re interested in his things; he’s quite likely to suspect you of coveting them. He begins to think you are waiting for them. I’ll show him, says the collector, and bequeaths them to somebody else.

What odd people collectors must be.

Some of the oddest.

How odd are you? But I suppose working with figures keeps you sane.

Do I work with figures?

What else is working with money?

Oh — quite different. Money’s something you shove around, like electricity.

Like electricity?

Like large power-grids, and transformers, and that sort of thing. The diffusion of electricity is an extremely important kind of engineering. You decide where to put the energy, and how to get it there, according to the result you expect. Money is a form of power.

A kind of power most people think they don’t have enough of.

That’s quite different. The personal money people are always making such a fuss about depends heavily on where the big power-money is put — what bonds and industries get the heavy support, and when. People who aren’t in the money trade talk about making money; they are able to do that because of the decisions people like me make about the power-money. The money people want for their personal use is all part of the big scheme, just as the electricity they turn on at a switch in their houses is a tiny part of what happens through the big grid. Brightens things up for them but it isn’t much in the large scheme. What anybody can do with money for mere personal satisfaction is extremely limited. It’s the power-money that’s fascinating.

It doesn’t fascinate me.

Not the power?

It’s not my world.

The University world is a power world, I suppose.

Oh no, you don’t understand universities. They’re not just honeycombs of classrooms, where students are labelled this, that, and the other, so they can get better jobs than their parents. It’s the world of research; the selfless pursuit of knowledge and sometimes of truth.



Of course I was thinking of Hollier, and how much I wanted to follow him.

I can’t judge, of course. I never went to a university.

You didn’t!

I’m a heavily disguised illiterate. I deceive lots of people. No B.A. — not to speak of an M.A. — yet I usually escape undetected. You won’t turn me in, will you?

But — how have you –?

Where did I achieve my deceptive polish and ease in high-class conversation? In the University of Hard Knocks.

Tell me about the U. of H.K.

Not so very long ago there was a positive prejudice against university-trained people in the banking world, especially if they were expected to go to the top. What could a university give me that would be of any practical use? A degree in economics? You can learn economics better and quicker by reading a few books. A training in business administration? I was born to business administration. The rich gloss of cultivation? My guardians thought I could get that just as well by travelling and meeting a few Rothschilds and their like. So that’s what I did.

Guardians? Why guardians?

Oh, I had a Grandfather, and a fine old crusted money type he was. You’d have loathed him; he thought professors were fellows with holes in their pants who didn’t notice the bad food they were eating because they were reading Greek at the same time. He’s the one Uncle Frank escaped from. But my Father, who was a very good banker indeed, and not quite such a savage as Grandfather, married rather late, and having begot me was killed in a motor accident in which my young, beautiful Mother was killed too. So I had Grandfather, and guardians who were members of his banking entourage, and was to all intents and purposes an orphan. What’s more, that despair of psychiatrists, a very rich orphan. I had no parents to humble me in the great Canadian upper-bourgeois tradition, to warn me against being myself, to urge me to be like them. So far as a civilized upbring­ing permits, I was free. And being free I found that I had no special urge towards rebellion, but rather, a pull towards ortho­doxy. Now perhaps that’s odd, if you are looking for oddity. I had a wonderfully happy childhood, suckled at the twin breasts of Trust and Equity. Then I travelled, and it was while travelling that I developed my great idea.

What was it?

Should I tell you? Why should I tell you?

The best of reasons: I’m dying to know. I mean, there has to be more to you than banking.

Maria, that’s patronizing and silly. You know damn-all about banking, and you scorn it because it seems to have nothing to do with university life. How do you think a university keeps its doors open? Money, that’s how. The unionized professors and the unionized support staff and the meccano the scientists and doctors demand, all cost megatons of money, and how does the Alma Mater get it? Partly from her alumni, I admit; a university must truly be a Bounteous Mother if she can charm so much dough out of the pockets of her children who have long left her. But who manages the money? Who turns it into power? People like me, and don’t you forget it.

All right, all right, all right; I apologize on my knees; I grovel under the table. I just meant, there is something about you that is interesting, and banking doesn’t interest me. So perhaps it’s your great idea. Please, Arthur, tell me.

All right, though you don’t deserve it.

I’ll be quiet and respectful.

I’ve had this notion since my school days, and travel abroad strengthened it because I met some people who had made it work. I am going to be a patron.

Like your Uncle Frank?

No. Wholly unlike my Uncle Frank. He was a patron in a way, but it was part of his being a miser in a much bigger way. He was an accumulator; he acquired works of art and then hated to think of getting rid of them; the result is the mess I’m cleaning up now, with Hollier and McVarish and Darcourt helping me. That’s not what I call being a patron. Of course Uncle Frank put some money in the hands of living artists, and spotted some winners and encouraged them and gave them what they want most — which is sympathetic understanding — but he wasn’t a patron on the grand scale. Whatever he did was basically for the satisfaction of Francis Cornish.

What’s a patron on the grand scale?

A great animateur; somebody who breathes life into things. I suppose you might call it a great encourager, but also a begetter, a director who keeps artists on the tracks, and provides the power — which isn’t all money, by any means — that makes them go. It’s a kind of person — a very rare kind — that has to work in opera, or ballet, or the theatre; he’s the central point for a group of artists of various kinds, and he has to be the autocrat. That’s what calls for tact and firmness, but most of all for exceptional taste. It has to be the authoritative taste artists recognize and want to please.

I suppose I looked astonished and incredulous.

You’re taken aback because I lay claim to exceptional taste. It’s queer what people are allowed to boast about; if I told you I was an unusually good money-man and had a flair for it, you wouldn’t be surprised in the least. Why shouldn’t I say I have exceptional taste?

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Categories: Davies, Robertson