Two activities have brought me pleasure throughout my life. The first is fell walking, as it is called in Lancashire. The second is the systematic visiting of churches. The first I have long renounced. No more scrambles across Kinder Scout pursued by gamekeepers. No more struggles through the mist on Coniston Old Man. Worst of all, no more doing the round of Fairfield Horse Shoe. I doubt whether I could even get to the top of Latter-barrow. One day I must try.
Churches keep their appeal longer. It is possible to explore them even if one is reduced to a wheelchair. The written authorities on the two pleasures are of equal merit, but there is more in Pevsner than in Wainwright, and a wider range. I delivered an address to Pevsner shortly before he died. What is more, I now owe him a new debt of gratitude. The first volume of a series on the cathedrals of England has recently appeared.This volume covers all the diocesan cathedrals, Anglican and Roman Catholic, south of a line between the river mouths of the Severn and the Blackwater. To my surprise, there are more cathedrals to the north of this line than to the south of it. The book derives from the volumes on the buildings of England which Pevsner had virtually finished when he died. Priscilla Metcalf has enriched Pevsner’s text and added a great deal.
This wonderful work has set aflame my zest for visiting churches and cathedrals. There is one great obstacle. Until recently I was without a driving licence. This was all my own fault, and a high-minded fault at that. This is how it happened. I had previously renewed my licence without difficulty whenever the time came. On the last occasion for renewal I noticed a warning that I should state anything which I thought might disqualify me from driving. I loyally revealed that I was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, which at least raised a doubt. No answer followed, except that my licence was not renewed. Time passed. After a year or so I was summoned to a medical examination at the Ministry of Transport. After two or three hours I was told that everything about me was satisfactory except my sight, and, after an examination in Wigmore Street, that was pronounced satisfactory also. What is more, I was told that I could go ahead and drive as soon as I liked even though my licence had not yet been returned to me. But now I have encountered a fresh obstacle. It is more than three years since I drove a car even across the road. I have looked at my car. I have sometimes started up the engine and convinced myself that I could handle it easily. But I could not bring myself to do so. To judge by my present behaviour, I shall never drive again. Maybe I shall find a quiet road one day and start off again without apprehension. But this time seems long a-coming. Meanwhile I content myself with an occasional stretch of my legs up Parliament Hill and find even that hard going. My car engine would, I am sure, run excellently if I let it. My physical engine seems to be grinding to a halt.
Catherine Karolyi, who has just died at the age of 93, was a treasured friend of mine. She started long ago as Catherine Andrassy, a member of the high Hungarian aristocracy. In 1909 she married Michael Karolyi, also a high aristocrat but with left-wing views. In 1919 the Habsburg dynasty was overthrown and Michael became the first President of the Hungarian Republic. Michael and Catherine did not last. They were soon replaced by Admiral Horthy, and with him there began a White Terror which characterised Hungary on and off until the Second World War. Michael and Catherine lived mostly in Paris for the next twenty years. Michael gave most of his landed estates to their tenants, a gesture greatly disapproved of by the Hungarian regime. Catherine became a Communist, Michael a free-minded radical: their greatest enterprise was to organise against the Reichstag Fire Trial of 1933.
With the outbreak of the war they moved from Paris to London and then to Oxford, where I came to know them. Catherine drove a motor ambulance until her lungs troubled her. Michael founded a society of radical and Communist Hungarians in London, not very successfully. His activities met with much disapproval at the Foreign Office, a body which preferred Admiral Horthy. In 1943 I was asked by the Political Warfare Executive to write a handbook on Hungarian history. Almost the entire book was banned on the orders of Professor Macartney, the so-called expert at the Foreign Office, a favourer of Horthy. This gave Michael much amusement.
Michael could probably have resumed his position as President of the Hungarian Republic, but he was convinced that he would not be able to work with the then Communists. For some years he was Hungarian Minister in Paris until he quarrelled with the Communist leader of the day and moved to the South of France, where he died a few years later. He was accorded a state funeral in 1962, an honour in which only two Hungarians had preceded him – Rakoczi in the 18th century, Kossuth in the 19th. His two predecessors have enormous statues outside the parliament building. Michael has a more modest one on the bank of the Danube. He looks puzzled at what has happened to him.
Catherine took part in many activities of the Hungarian Government. She established the Vence foundation, financed by her rich friends of earlier years. This provided artists of all types, from writers of fiction to painters or musicians, with free cottages in Vence. Catherine spent the summer in Vence and the winter in Budapest, where a part of the Karolyi Palace was transformed into a flat for her. In June she died at Vence. I wonder whether she too will be given a state funeral.
I am not much concerned nowadays to add to my literary production or indeed to productions of any kind. But there is one production to which I can claim to have made some remote contribution. And this is a new grandson. There he is: Carl Taylor, as flourishing as can be. I have other grandsons, a whole host of them. But none of them is called after one of the statesmen of modern times. I must confess that I have got nearly to overlooking Karl Marx as worthy of admiration. But of course he is. In my opinion, most of his most famous book is nearly unreadable, though patches of The Communist Manifesto have their merits and The Civil War in France is without faults. Now I have a grandson who shares his name. The news cheers me in my declining years.