Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Life of B. R. V. Mills, Part 3

I've had some exciting news involving George Mills today, but I feel like I'm on a roller-coaster right now—I just found out my boss is being promoted. Good for him, bad for us here in the classrooms. Now, for most of my career, that wouldn't have been a very large hurdle to clear. Most of the school principals I've worked for are like chewing gum on the bottom of your shoe: Just when you get rid of one bit, along comes another wad. This fellow is definitely different, truly wonderful, and I'll admit I'm more than a bit dismayed and frustrated about the situation. His last day at the school is tomorrow…

Anyway, let's get back to the rest of the life of Revd Barton R. V. Mills. We left him early in the decade of the 1920s, in his early sixties, with one son married, another at university, and two daughters presumably at home.

While recent events in this narrative associated with Barton Mills seemed to have highlighted his continued love of history, he was obviously still working in theology in a scholarly way as well despite being a dozen years removed from the Savoy. In the 25 February 1922 edition of Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, etc., he asked their readership:

LATIN PROVERB : ORIGIN SOUGHT. Can any reader tell me the origin of the Latin proverb "Nescit sanus quid sentiat aeger aut plenus quid patiatur jejunus " ? It is quoted as vulgare proverbium by St. Bernard ('De Gradibus Humilitatis,' &c., cap. iii.), but I have not been able to find it in any dictionary of quotations.


Early in my attempts at creating a time-line for the Mills family, I had made the assumption that his work translating and interpreting St. Bernard must have been done under the auspices of some institution. It appears I was wrong, unless he pursued it on behalf of armed forces chaplains. Mills must simply have been driven to understand and explain the teachings of St. Bernard, and I still have much more to learn about why. In the above request, Mills is making certain his citations are correct, indicating that his work is almost finished.

The year 1922 brought news from Barton's daughter-in-law Lady Dorothy Mills, and it must have been quite unusual as it apparently came on the heels of a press conference! First, the Straits Times reported on 4 July, 1922, in an article entitled, "TRACING A TRIBE: An Expedition to the Sahara," that: "Lady Dorothy Mills, daughter of the Earl of Orford, has announced that she will lead an expedition into the mysterious interior of the Sahara Desert."

And before the end of 1922, the journal Current History [April-September, 1922] was reporting: "Lady Dorothy Mills, daughter of the Earl of Orford and granddaughter of D. C. Corbin of New York, is on an expedition to the remote regions of the southeastern Sahara to discover the habits of mysterious white cave men [troglodytes], first reported by Captain de St. Maurice last year."

The rest of the Mills family is quiet as reports continue to surface during 1923 that Lady Dorothy Mills, traveling alone except for guides and porters, drove deep into the heart of North Africa and became the "first white woman" to reach Timbuktu, although some accounts do label her as simply the "first Englishwoman." I'm now reading her book, and she isn't quite in Timbuktu yet, but I'll mention here that she certainly met plenty of pale, perspiring French women along the way. Still, I'll reserve judgment until I finish her account.

1924 found Barton's son, Arthur, and his daughter-in-law, Lady Dorothy, both publishing books in the same year once again: Arthur's The Broadway Madonna, which received favorable reviews, and Lady Dorothy's The Road to Timbuktu [Duckworth & Co.: London, 1924], a stunning success, after which she embarked on a new path in her writing career.

George Mills soon returned to the story when he began teaching as a junior appointment at Windlesham House School, then in Portslade, beginning at Lent, 1925. Mills claimed to have earned a B.A. from Oxford, presumably in the "English or 'English subjects'" he taught at Windlesham.

George married Vera Louise Beauclerk on 23 April 1925 at the Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, with his father, Barton, as one of the presiding clergy. They also purchased a home on Benfield Way, Portslade, that year. It appeared the young couple was settling down together. George wouldn't be staying long however.

In 1925, Arthur and Lady Dorothy Mills—neither of whom attended George's wedding—each published yet another new novel, The Gold Cat [Hutchinson & Co., London, 1925; pictured left, in its German edition] and The Dark Gods [Duckworth: London, 1925], respectively. It isn't as if publishing houses were taking on extra hands to keep up with the writing of the Mills, but that was an output that even Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts might be envious of.

Lady Dorothy was also making news simply for being herself, anywhere. Among other celebrity appearances, she attended a debutante's dance, an event that turned out to be so newsworthy that coverage of it ends up in the Straits Times in Singapore on 7 July, 1925: "In a paragraph from the Morning Post of June 9… over 100 guests were present at the Langham Hotel [London] at a dance given by Hon. Mrs. Adderley and Mrs. C. Alma Baker for Miss Julitha Baker… Among those present at the dance, many of whom took parties were:- The Duke of Manchester, Lady Southampton, Lady Dorothy Mills, Lord Fermoy, M.P., Lady Muir Mackenzie, the Hon. Lady McCalmont, Lord Edward Montagu, the Hon. Charles Fitzroy, the Hon. Edward Portman, Sir Henry and Lady Fairfax-Lucy… [etc]."

After the Summer Term in 1926, George Mills was no longer on the teaching staff list at Windlesham—a position and a place he seemed to dearly love—and no one really seems to know why. In the same year, though, Barton Mills, published perhaps his finest and most renowned work, De Gradibus Humilitatis et Superbiae by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux [University Press: Cambridge, 1926], which he edited along with his friend and colleague, Rev. Watkin W. Williams. Barton was approximately 69 years of age at the time.

Lady Dorothy, however, dominated the family's literary efforts that year by publishing yet another novel in 1926, the sci-fi tale Phœnix, [Hutchinson & Co.: London, 1926], and a pair of travel books Beyond the Bosphorus [Duckworth & Co.: London, 1926], and Through Liberia [Duckworth & Co.: London, 1926; illustration, right].

What's really unclear is how close Barton Mills was with his elder son and daughter-in-law. Were they reveling in each other's successes, or had Arthur and Dorothy by then begun moving in completely different circles? And how much did the success of the rest of the family in 1926 provide a stark contrast to new husband George's departure from teaching? It must have been gratifying for George to see such success amoing loved ones, but how frustrated might he have felt about his own fledgling career?

Over the next several years, George also taught at Warren Hill School in Eastbourne, The Craig School in Windermere, and at the English Preparatory School in Glion. Although more still comes to light about Warren Hill every day, little is now known about The Craig, and virtually nothing at all about the school in Glion, Switzerland, or George's time there.

One thing we do know is that, while George was in Windermere and Glion, he was not often spending time with his aging father, Barton, who had turned 70 in 1927. George's lack of occupational stability would be just the beginning of a period of familial difficulty that couldn't have been comforting for Barton in his declining years.

While George was away, teaching at various locales in the U.K. and in Europe as well, Lady Dorothy continued her own travels. In 1929, however, a relatively short jaunt would have an enormous impact on her life. She was involved in a car accident returning from a trip to Ascot that her scarred for life. Then, as opposed to traveling, she spent her time writing a memoir, A Different Drummer: Chapters in an Autobiography [Duckworth: London], that was published in 1930.

Seemingly recovered by 1931, Lady Dorothy heard of a expedition planning to discover the source of the Venezuela's Orinoco River. She hurriedly arranged an expedition of her own to get there first and publicly announced her plans to the press. Was this ego driven, a desire to stay on top of her literary game, or was Lady Dorothy fighting the ravages of time and injury, trying to prove something to herself as much as she was to her public?

The book about her journey, The Country of the Orinoco [Hutchinson & Co.: London] was written and published in an amazingly short amount of time, before the year of 1931 had even drawn to a close. And in that same year something of great import to her had occurred halfway around the world. Lady Dorothy's father, Robert Horace Walpole, the last Earl of Orford, had died in New Zealand on 27 September and his remains were transported home to Norfolk for burial on 8 November. Lady Dorothy, then 42 years of age, attended the services with her stepmother, Emily Gladys Oakes, then the Countess of Orford, and Dorothy's twelve-year-old half-sister, Lady Anne Walpole.

The death of the Earl at last allowed Lady Dorothy access to the trust fund she'd been unable to touch since 1918. By the time the international paperwork all had been completed, and the barristers fees deducted, one can likely assume it was well into 1932 before the funds she had inherited became available to her.

Would this brighten the future of Arthur and Lady Dorothy of Ebury Street, London? To assume so would leave you right by half, but that's another tale for another day.

More immediately, Arthur's father, Barton Mills, passed away not very long after the Earl's cold November funeral. Barton died on 21 January 1932 in London. Soon after, a stained glass window bearing the image of St. Bernard was designed, applied for, funded, and installed in Chancel North of the St Michael & All Angels parish church at Bude Haven, Cornwall, in his lasting memory. The colourful window still glows there in his memory.

Barton Mills did not live to see his son, George, publish his first book, Meredith and Co., in 1933, finally tasting some of the success that others in the family had. One hopes, though, that George had talked to his father about writing it, and that, as the manuscript lengthened, Barton had many chances to share in his son's process, as well as his excitement. Barton wouldn't ever know that eventually George would follow in his father's footsteps and author a book about a religious icon, his son's choice being St. Thomas of Canterbury [right].

Barton Mills wouldn't know that Lady Dorothy would file for divorce from his elder son, Arthur, that very same year, 1932, or that his spinster daughters, Agnes and Violet, aged 36 and 29 at the time of the elder Mills' death—women who had presumably lived with Barton for virtually their entire lives—would remain unmarried.

Barton Mills wouldn't know of Vera Mills' passing in 1942. And he wouldn't know that all four of his children apparently lived the rest of their lives "without issue."

It seemed the story may have drawn to a close after a series of deaths: Arthur passed in 1955, George in 1972, and both Agnes and Violet in 1975—the final three all in Devonshire, and seemingly all distant from anyone who would or could have recorded their daily hopes, fears, sorrows, joys, or regrets during the last thirty or forty years of their lives.

But, strangely, their story didn't end. If you're reading this, it turns out that we're all here today considering the lives of this family of almost forgotten people, even though there were no daughters, sons, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, seemingly no kin at all, left to continue to try to weave together the threads of their story—or even at the very least to upload to the internet the contents of a diary, a love letter, or a wedding photograph, or even to post a series of dates recorded in the family Bible on a blog. If there was anyone left to eventually do any of that, well... where is it all?

One piece of the story had been left here, another clue there, and a memory over in the mind of someone else. Just this morning, for example, I was delighted at having been contacted by a gentleman with a memory of George Mills. The story of George Mills is still around. It's simply scattered about us, a bit here and a bit there, like an overturned jigsaw puzzle...

So if you have any of those pieces, no matter how small, to add to this tale, if you know a friend of the Mills family, a former student, or anyone else who might remember George Mills or his family, please don't hesitate to let me know.

[Read Part 1 and/or Part 2]

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