‘The radar-like sensitivity of Conrad’
If tape recordings had been as easy then as they are now, I would have tried to persuade [Hugh Walpole] to record some of the stories he had to tell. They were sometimes scandalous, but none the duller for that; and he told them with a lively humour and a kind of worldly scepticism that are not, I think, conspicuous in his books. I remember particularly an extraordinary account of a visit paid to Conrad by Robert Hichens,1 accompanied by an intimate friend who was male, large in body, a cook by vocation, and Russian by nationality. The radar-like sensitivity of Conrad to the intrusion into his domestic sphere of a Russian became even more agitated by what seemed to him the social solecism of causing it and by his instantaneous suspicion of what seemed to him an equivocal relationship; and the combustion set up in the great man by the duties of a host, the prejudices of a Pole, and the antipathy of a heterosexual almost caused him to explode. Mrs Conrad, a faithful pourer of oil upon waters more often troubled than not, found on this occasion that all her years of practice were of very little help. It is sad to think what golden harvests of scandal are lost because the reapers do not, for various reasons, record them. And it is pleasant to think that Hugh Walpole was once kissed in public by Conrad,2 who recorded in writing his feeling that thanks were due to a ‘Higher Power’3 for the friendship of which that was a token. The man who won that tribute is not to be written off as a nonentity or an ass.