In memory of Elizabeth Langford (1929-2009)

 

For Tuesday, 18th August.

All of you gathered today, and all of us, like Enci and me, who cannot be with you, will have their particular memories of Betty Langford. I suspect, if they were all put together, that we would have the most astonishing variety of recollections, for Betty was so many things. 

Beyond all that could be said in an official biography of Betty’s achievements and qualities – and that is immense – and beyond all the wisdom enshrined in her books, lies the Betty we knew in countless bigger and smaller moments: devoted to nature, to her dogs, to music, to literature and poetry –  she could quote entire poems – this woman of the acute Cartesian mind, formidable in  discussion, who was nevertheless delicately and profoundly sensitive to the spiritual (witness the chapter and quotes on ‘Breath and Spirit’ in Mind and Muscle). A musician who, apart from her commitment to the violin, delighted in singing. Arriving at her cottage in Lasne, one might well hear her clear soprano wafting out of her living room, singing Duparc’s L’Invitation au Voyage; a woman who, in the middle of a serious lesson, could be reduced to unrestrained giggles by a funny thought, or a quote from her beloved P.G. Wodehouse; who would scold herself if she wasn’t satisfied with her work “Now, come on Betty!”; who would put twice as much butter and cream on her Somerset scones as any normal person; who executed a little dance of sheer joy on visiting and discovering Venice. A woman whose life was often full of adversity yet who remained filled with a pure child’s sense of the wonderment of life, who would marvel at a bird, or the touch of silk… 

All our memories will remain, to nourish us as much as the hands and the teaching that guided us; and they will weave for each of us the living cloth of Betty’s nature – fragments of that energy, that humanity, that warmth which she expressed so constantly, so bravely. We are all infinitely richer for her presence in our lives.

 

Betty’s love of Shakespeare, like that of Alexander himself, gave her much inspiration. It is perhaps fitting, therefore, to let Shakespeare speak for us:

 
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Fear no more the frown o' the great;
Thou art past the tyrant's stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.
Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.
 No exorciser harm thee!
 Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
 Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
 Nothing ill come near thee!
 Quiet consummation have;
 And renownéd be thy grave!                     (Cymbeline, Act IV, Scene 2.)

Malcolm King and Enci Noro

Read by Jenny Blackstaff

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