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Preface

Jessie Bond as Phoebe in
The Yeomen of the Guard

IT is now about three years since first I said to myself, “I will write a book.” I was even then an old woman of seventy-four, so you will agree with me that the project was fairly courageous. All through life I have loved adventure and tried my audacious hand at many things, and the writing of stories and articles has been one of them. I have had always a certain facility with my pen, my reputation as an actress ensured an editorial welcome for my efforts, and in their small way they were successful with the public. So in my pride and vainglory I said to myself, “I will write a book, the true story of my life.”

But, alas, though the spirit was as willing as ever, years and sorrows had sadly weakened the flesh. My husband’s death and the up-rooting from my home of twenty-five happy years had deeply disturbed me; I was a wanderer, unhappy, unsettled. I found that I could not write, my ideas would not crystallize, my memories were too fugitive and my pen refused to flow; the physical labour of writing was the worst impediment of all. I found a refuge here in Worthing and tried again, but age and frailty are insurmountable.

But still in my mind was the idea firmly fixed, that I must tell the story of my life. Surely, I felt, it would interest a public that still loves the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas, and even outside that public the human story of a girl’s ambitions and aspirations, of her struggle with adverse circumstances and the gradual attainment of her desires, must have value if told simply and sincerely. That I determined to do, to show myself as I am and tell the whole truth; concealing nothing – why not, when there is nothing I need wish to conceal? I am one of the last of my generation. I have outlived prejudices and animosities, and can look back on my own life as on an interesting story. That I have tried to make it. An absolutely true story of struggle and gradual attainment may perhaps encourage some weary young aspirant, and to do that would alone make it well worth while.

So again I sat down to write my life, and again I found it impossible. Years are inexorable, but with spirit still undaunted I looked about me for help in my task. It was slow in coming; and more than once my hopes were raised only to be dashed down again. An old woman in a quiet seaside town, far from the centres of literary life, and too slow and feeble to work continuously with busy writers, cannot hope to command their services.

Repeated disappointments daunted even me, pertinacious little Jessie Bond, still full of ambitious schemes, but unable to carry them through. I tried to be contented in my little home, and to resign myself to fade out of life, leaving no lasting record. I worked in my garden and petted my beloved pussy, and every now and then enlivened myself by a visit to London.

“Are you not writing your life?” my friends asked, but I sadly acknowledged myself beaten: I had even resolved to sell the letters and other records which it now seemed useless to hoard up.

Then one day last summer I returned from London, after one of those periodical visits which are my delight. An empty flat, a cold hearth, only my faithful Billie to rub her silky sides against my ankles. That – and a letter on the floor.

“Some one who wants to come and be my secretary, to help me write my book. But no, the time has gone by, and I have put it all out of my mind. The book will never be written now.”

So I decided, but fate had decided otherwise. I have found in life that what I urgently desire, but have perhaps given up hope of attaining, comes to me in the most miraculous way, as if dropped from the clouds. Almost literally things have sometimes done so. I will not enter into particulars, lest you should think me a credulous old woman in her dotage. But I have had experiences which bordered on the psychic, and the advent of Ethel Macgeorge, so mysteriously impelled to desert her sunny hill-side in France and link up her life with mine in this enterprise, has been one of them.

She had heard of my desire to write a book and my need of help to do so, had come from London to see me and found me flown to London, but nothing daunted she had written announcing her intention of coming again. While I was still reading her letter, with Billie purring on my knee, there she was at the door, gently determined, full of hope and inspiration, reviving in me the desire to carry out a plan I had given up as hopeless of attainment.

Long we argued and contended; she, that the book must be written; I, that I was too old, that the time for it had gone by, and the effort now too great for me, but in the end she won.

I was glad to be convinced, the old enthusiasms inspired me once more, faded memories revived and forgotten events were as fresh in my mind as things of yesterday. We settled down to work together, I fought my battles all over again, lived and enjoyed my life once more in describing it to a sympathetic listener, and now I offer the history of it to you, in a last appearance before my kind and much-loved British Public.

Jessie Bond
Worthing, November 8, 1929.

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