Sir George Trevelyan
A Tribute from his Nephew
This piece was originally offered as a tribute by Michael Dower at Sir George's funeral in 1996. At the end of the tribute are two paragraphs pertinent to the funeral only, which we have reduced to small type.
The many members of George Trevelyan's family have varied memories of him... the private person, encouraging and adventurous and stimulating and yet reserved, variable, puzzling and sometimes infuriating; and the public figure, charismatic and inspirational. He explained that difference by reference to his birthsign, Scorpio with the Moon in Leo: Scorpio, reserved and secretive, Leo open and smiling, the actor and public speaker.
As a youth and younger man, he was much loved, active, athletic, adventurous, offering (from Geoffrey's notes as younger brother) "the image of adventurous youth", the leader of the pack. As a man in middle age, he was a teacher and leader at Gordonstoun and in the army and then as Principal of Attingham, the Adult College in Shropshire; the Head of his Family; and Master of the Hunt. In later years, he was a remarkable figure, white haired, noble browed, the charismatic contributor to the New Age Movement, standing erect despite his crabbed hands and legs crippled from arthritis.
I offer four memories of my own as glimpses of the man.
When I was 17, he took me with him to the Isle of Arran to visit the Gill Brothers, furniture maker, jeweller and potter. We had to catch the bus at the New Line near Wallington and go over Carter Bar. George knew that the bus paused for 15 minutes in Jedburgh. As we approached the town he said, "Prepare!". When the bus stopped, we dashed across the square and into the café: "Two hot teas in ten minutes, please", says George. Then we nimbled down the street to the Abbey and stood calmly for a moment admiring the living architecture of the great nave and the glassless window; and then ran back down the street, had the tea and got on the bus as it left the square.
My second memory. three years later, on the Trevelyan Hunt: George was a hare. I remember in the mid afternoon coming down off Gable, and there was George in the gulley below me. He set off down, and I after him. He disappeared, and then I heard the clink of rock on rock to my left. I nipped up over the rock ridge and there was George going up the other gulley! So I followed him and he clambered up, then paused between two great rocks, took out his camera, calmly took a picture of my rising face, turned and jumped, and disappeared completely. The Master of the terrain!
When we were in Bakewell many years later, George came at the age of 80 to give a New Age talk in Sheffield to a great gathering. I went to listen, and there in front of 300 people was George, erect and bright and eloquent for over an hour without notes, talking about The New Age. In the course of this, he conjured the image of a miniature model of the globe, a few feet high, floating and spinning and beautiful in front of him and the audience. Much of its surface, .he said, was dark, because of human greed and human ignorance of God, except for pinpricks of Light where people realised that they were, in his phrase, "droplets of Divinity" and were striving towards the New Age. He had us visualise this globe spinning, so that over the horizon came the wastes of Siberia, the great plains and cities of Central Europe, the forests and mountains of western Europe with lights beginning to shine and then the Channel and England and Lights showing. Then he said "Ah! A New Light, SHEFFIELD! And he allowed it to spin right round and there was the Light getting brighter in Sheffield, joining the great concourse of Humanity which realised its Divine Mission in this New Age.
He told us of the nine Orders of Angels, and Humankind as a tenth hierarchy sent here as a Training Ground for the Divine Mission. Afterwards I talked to him and said, "George, are you sure about the nine Orders of Angels?", and he said, "No! but it's awful fun, isn't it?"
My fourth memory is from about the same time. George came to stay with us, in Bakewell, and we took him to see Jack Longland, his climbing partner from Cambridge onwards, with whom he had done great climbs in the Alps, including that remarkable episode when Geoffrey Winthrop Young with his peg-leg, went up supported by the two of them and the great guide Joseph Knult. The two veterans, with two lifetimes of education behind them, conversed. and then Peggy Longland gave us lunch. We had told her that George needed a vegetarian diet. He was presented with a vegetarian entrée. He looked across at our smoked salmon and he said "That looks good! and we said, "George, do have some, but what about your diet?" and he said, "Well, I am moderate in everything, but I am moderate in my moderation!".
George did not think of himself as a mystic or a seer, much less a theologian or a philosopher. He was an explorer, one who sought and found, and who encouraged others to seek and find. That character shows up right through his remarkable life.
When he was a boy at Sidcot, he was gripped by the caves and gorges of the Mendips and became a passionate pot-holer and climber. He took that with him to Cambridge, and joined the Mountaineering Club. That started half a lifetime in the mountains, but also illicit roof-climbing with others: George became co-author of a book about the pioneer pitches among the towers and roofs of Cambridge. I remember him describing how, 25 years after he had gone down, he was invited back to Cambridge to meet his contemporaries and found himself in the evening locked out of College. So naturally he went round the backs and climbed in - and he climbed into the Dean's Sitting Room. The Dean said, "Welcome, George! have a sherry!" Three weeks later George got a letter from the Dean saying, "Dear Trevelyan, I notice that you have not yet taken your M.A.! £25 deposit, please!"
While at Cambridge, George also pursued Morris dancing under Rolf Gardiner; and fencing, which he became very good at but through which he realised he wasn't holding himself well, because he was straining his body. That led him to Mathias Alexander and the Alexander Technique, about which more in a moment.
When he left College, he didn't know what his career would be. He went to Germany and met Gropius and others at the Bauhaus, and he thought of being an architect. Then someone suggested to him, "What about Crafts?" and he realised that this was it! Very soon, he found for himself an apprenticeship at Chalford, in the workshop of Peter Waals who was continuing the great tradition of Cotswold Furniture started by Gimson and the Barnsley brothers. George describes the bliss of creativity of his two years' apprenticeship, during which he made the great bureau which is now in the Cheltenham museum, and the bed on which he slept for much of his life and on which he died, the armchair and other features.
He spent a decade designing for the Workshop after he left, but he realised that there wasn't a career in that for him. So he went back to the Alexander Technique and took three years' training as a teacher in that technique, believing that it offered him a vision of holism and a control of self which mattered to him. But when he started teaching, he found that he was socially isolated and that this also would not work as a career.
Then came to him one of several great figures in his life... Kurt Hahn, who invited him to go to Gordonstoun as a teacher in four things which one thinks of when remembering George: history, which he studied at Cambridge, literature, which came to mean so much to him, woodwork, and outdoor pursuits. He stayed at Gordonstoun through the period before the War, and just into the War; and he met his wife Helen there. During that period, however, he became increasingly interested in Adult Education, and began to dream of an Adult Education College, possibly in a great country house. He travelled to Denmark and Sweden to see the Folk High Schools; and, during the War, as a trainer in the Home Guard (one can't quite see George in Dad's Army!) he learned some of those skills.
After the War, he decided not to go back to Gordonstoun, but stayed for two years at the Army College, teaching all subjects to all people as they prepared for civilian life. It was that training, plus infectious enthusiasm and zest for life (his key characteristic), that to his astonishment brought him the job against stiff competition for the new Adult Education College at Attingham. He was there for 24 years. He was the heart of the team that ran Attingham, conceiving the courses, attracting the teachers, lecturers and artists, welcoming the students, taking part himself in very many of the courses because he said, "I know I can enthuse people in anything I am interested in", and always seeking the integrating elements in the courses, the integrating ideas.
During that time he and Helen, as we in his family know to our own pleasure and remembering, created a lovely home full of light, full of the furniture that he had made or designed, full of flowers, and full of the wonderful paintings that Helen had started to create. Vivid still in the memory of his family is the great Gathering we had at Attingham in 1971.
An element that grew during this time at Attingham - and I come to the last part of this story - was Adult Education for Spiritual Knowledge. In 1942, George had had a formative experience listening to a talk by Dr Walter Stein about Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. After 36 years of agnosticism, George was suddenly struck by what he conceived as the Truth of Steiner's Message - the Universal Spirit, pre-existence, the world as training ground for souls, reincarnation, and the interconnectedness of everything. From then on he read Steiner avidly, became a member of the Anthroposophical Society and met many people in that field. So, when he came to Attingham, despite the reservations of Shropshire County Council, he started introducing courses in Spiritual Knowledge, and he was struck by the response to courses in 'The Adventure of Death and Becoming' and other titles. The response grew over the years he was there and in the process he came to know people not only throughout these islands but in other countries who were involved in the Spiritual Search, so that Attingham became a centre of a network of people who were committed to that Search.
Thus when George left Attingham in 1971, he had not only the rounded Vision that had been growing on him, but the network to set up a new body to pursue that mission more directly. He set up the Wrekin Trust; and there followed a period of 15 years during which he travelled ceaselessly and extensively, speaking and energising, writing and recording, about The New Aquarian Age. Towards the end, the physical boundaries of his and Helen's lives shrank, his forgetfulness increased, but his spirit was undimmed. He could easily be prompted to read, or to recite from his prodigious memory, the great poems of Wordsworth and Shelley, Keats, Manley Hopkins and many others in his lovely controlled voice. And he would lovingly look at and stroke the beautiful furniture he had made or designed.
From Michael Dower's address given at Sir George's funeral:
So, as he passes and is released, and we mourn our loss, we offer our sympathy to Catriona, Richard and Jack and to each other. We thank Catriona and Richard, Anna, and many nurses and other willing friends who made it possible for George and Helen to continue to live among Helen's pictures and George's books and furniture.
At his funeral in Hawkesbury, when George passed into another Act in what he called the Cosmic Drama - perhaps, though we can't know it, into another incarnation ("In my end is my beginning") - and as he crossed The River, we said to him in the phrase that Horatio used to Hamlet, "Goodnight, Sweet Prince, May flights of Angels sing Thee to Thy rest!"