COCKERELL by Wilfrid Blunt


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Sidney Cockerell is about as well-known in this country as an air from Palestrina. Indeed even in England his name wouldn't necessarily set bells ringing. His one claim to fame was as director of Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum, which he took over at the beginning of the century, giving it a face-lifting much copied elsewhere. In his own words, ""I found it a pigsty; I turned it into a palace."" Modesty was never one of Cockerell's strong points; he was a scholar and go-getter, alternately bookish and worldly. Never sparing himself, he was impatient with others who did. He loved his wife and children, but their temperaments and tastes were a shade philistine, causing an unbridgeable distance between them. He had a growly bear charm and was at heart a romantic (of an austere sort). His life span was truly monumental: 1867-1962, and one of the charms of Wilfrid Blunt's finely-wrought, affectionate, but by no means rose-tinted (we get the man, warts and all) biography, are the glimpses afforded us of many eras and many notables. Cockerell's passion for friendship, i.e. for those he could either hero-worship or for those he thought as splendid as himself, resulted in relationships which markedly influenced his life. Of these the early ones with Ruskin and Morris make the most fascinating reading, while those with Shaw, the Hardys, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, and the Abbess of Stanbrook, Dame Laurentia (curiously enough Cockerell was an atheist) are also of interest. The style's a bit too leisurely English but entertaining enough.

Publisher: Knopf