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Serendipity 1.1

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If serendipity were acknowledged here as often as it has happened, it would be the most frequently used word in these nearly 1500 entries. As “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way,” I ought to be the happiest of my kind, for chance has pervaded the Agincourt Project from the beginning. The choice of “Agincourt” itself as the name of our imagined community generated so many adjunct topics and tangents that I have lost count. And so another happy accident arose this morning.

Habitués of the blog will know that the hero of the story (though he himself was unaware of that status) Anson Tennant, designer of the Agincourt Public Library & Tennant Memorial Gallery, celebrated the near-completion of the project — when loose ends were being safely tied off — took a well-deserved break from his labours and set sail for Liverpool on May 1st, 1915, intent on paying homage to the founders of the Arts & Crafts movement which, in its American guise, had formed the foundation of his architectural point of view.

William Morris, the Founder of the Feast, had died nineteen years previous, but other key characters of the movement were still active, even if in the twilight of its British form. Ernest Gimson, C.F.A. Voysey, and others were still producing work, though their sun was setting. But that, I suppose, is the seductive beauty of twilight: wrapped in its mellow tones, we forget that the day will soon be at an end and may be taking us with it. But the youthful enthusiasm of someone like young Tennant hadn’t seen that prospect when he boarded the Lusitania for what would be its final voyage. For Anson, of course, the ship’s tragic sinking opened a second chapter in his life, even if it did not for the 1,198 shipmates who did not survive.

Quite beyond the experience of visiting the principal sites of the Arts & Crafts and the prospect for speaking with some of its founders and chief practitioners, the voyage itself held out possibilities which Anson may not have appreciated — until it was too late, of course. Imagine the conversations at dinner or in the lounge; making circuits of the deck, even if Edwardian sensibility separated passengers by class. For a gregarious young person like Tennant, each encounter was an experience; each new acquaintance a prospective correspondent and even a client.

I had not realized the breadth of those possibilities beyond a few of the most famous passengers. Consider an exchange over lunch with Elbert and Alice Hubbard, of East Aurora, New York, founders of “The Roycrofters” and its influential publications. Or crossing the path of Theodate Pope (later Theodate Pope Riddle), one of America’s first female architects, who survived the sinking; she had apprenticed in the office of McKim Mead & White. But I hadn’t realized that one of the characters in the William Halsey Wood narrative — which has had occasional tangencies with Agincourt — was also aboard: Rev Basil Maturin [1847–1915], Irish-born Anglican priest who was a key figure in the High Church party among Episcopalians and would have shared that perspective with Anson and other members of his Anglo-Catholic family.

Something tells me I need to inspect the Lusitania passenger list more carefully.

[#1491]

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