June 2, 2010

The Farjeon Children

"So terrified was he of being caught, by chance, in a false statement, that as a small boy he acquired the habit of adding 'perhaps' to everything he said."

Benjamin Leopold Farjeon, son of Jacob Farjeon and Dinah Levy, was born 12 May 1838 in London, England and raised in Whitechapel. At the age of 14, having no formal education, he entered the office of the Nonconformist, a Christian journal to learn the printing trade. In 1854, he broke away from the strict Jewish Orthodox faith of his father and immigrated to Australia. During the voyage he was moved from steerage to cabin class because he had produced many issues of a ship newspaper, the "Ocean Record".

He worked as a gold miner in Victoria, Australia, started a newspaper and then, in 1861, went to New Zealand where he settled at Dunedin, working as a journalist on the Otago Daily Times. He soon became manager and sub-editor and began writing novels and plays. He attracted the attention of Charles Dickens and, in 1868, returned to England where he lived in the Adelphi Theater. Over the next 35 years, he produced nearly 60 novels.

He married Margaret Jane "Maggie" Jefferson, daughter of the American actor Joseph Jefferson (shown left) and Margaret C. Lockyer, 6 Jun 1877 in London. She was born 3 Jul 1853 in Manhattan, NY and died 1933 in London, England. Benjamin died there on 23 Jul 1903.

Children of Benjamin and Margaret Farjeaon:

Harry Farjeon was born 6 May 1878 in England and died 29 Dec 1948 in Hampstead, England. Harry composed music throughout most of his life. His compositions are mostly for piano, but he also wrote songs, sonatas, concertos and a mass setting.

In 1942 his symphonic poem Pannychis, with words by his sister, was played at a Promenade Concert, conducted by Basil Cameron. He regarded the symphonic poem Summer Vision as his best work, but the score was sent to Germany shortly before World War I and was lost.

His eyesight had been bad since childhood, and it grew worse as he became older. His students wrote their compositions on specially printed brown paper. Steve Race has said that writing on this paper cured him of writing long rambling compositions. Farjeon taught at the Academy for forty-seven years, despite developing Parkinson's disease in later life. He was still teaching thirty students a week when, at the end of the July 1948 term, he fell and broke his hip.

Eleanor Farjeon was born 13 Feb 1881 in England and died there 5 Jun 1965. Known to the family as “Nellie”, Eleanor was a timid girl who had poor eyesight and suffered from ill health throughout her childhood. She was educated at home where her father encouraged her writing from the age of five. She describes her family and her childhood in A Nursery in the Nineties (1935). (Portrait of a Family was its American title.)

Although she lived much of her life among the literary and theatrical circles of London, much of Eleanor's inspiration came from her childhood and from family holidays. A holiday in France in 1907 was to inspire her to create a story of a troubadour, later refashioned as the wandering minstrel of her most famous book, Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard. During World War I, the family moved to Sussex where the landscape, villages and local traditions were to have a profound effect upon her later writing. It was in Sussex that the Martin Pippin stories were eventually to be located.

At eighteen Eleanor, wrote the libretto for an operetta, Floretta, to music by her brother Harry who later became a composer and music teacher. She also collaborated with her brother Herbert, a Shakespearian scholar and dramatic critic. Their productions include Kings and Queens (1932), The Two Bouquets (1938), An Elephant in Arcady (1939), and The Glass Slipper (1944). After World War I, Eleanor earned a living as a poet, journalist and broadcaster. Often published under a pseudonym, Eleanor's poems appeared in a number of periodicals. Her topical work for The Herald, Reynolds News and New Leader was the perhaps the most accomplished of any socialist poet of the 1920s and 30s.

These days, Eleanor Farjeon's most widely known work is the popular children's hymn Morning Has Broken, written in 1931 for an old Gaelic tune associated with the Scottish village Bunessan. It was later popularized by Cat Stevens. Her other hymn is the Advent carol People, Look East, usually sung to an old French melody, and a favorite with children's choirs. Morning has Broken is one of the many poems to be found in the anthology Children's Bells under its correct title A Morning Song (For the First Day of Spring), published by Oxford University Press in 1957 and bringing together poems from many sources, including the Martin Pippin books.

Eleanor never married but had a 30-year friendship with George Earle, an English teacher. After his death in 1949, she had a long friendship with actor Dennys Blacklock, who wrote of it in Eleanor, Portrait of a Farjeon (1966).

Joseph Jefferson Farjeon was born 4 Jun 1883 in England and died WHEN in England. Joseph was a novelist.

Herbert Farjeon was born 5 Mar 1886 in England and died 1945 in England. His first play to be performed, Friends, was put on at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in 1917. Subsequently he had several plays performed in London. He was better known for his reviews than for his "straight" plays which included: Spread It Abroad, The Two Bouquets, Nine Sharp, Little Revue, Diversion and Light and Shade. He is credited with discovering Joyce Grenfell, whose first stage appearance was in Light and Shade. In 1938, he joined the management of the Little Theatre in London, and his revues were performed there. His songs included I've danced with a man, who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales.

He was interested in the history of the theatre, and wrote about the Elizabethan theatre, Shakespeare and his plays, and edited a seven volume publication of the text of the First Folio. In the 1940s he helped to save the Theatre Royal, Bristol when it was put up for sale and might have ceased to be a theatre.

He also collaborated with his sister on a number of books, including Kings and Queens (1932), The Two Bouquets (1938), An Elephant in Arcady (1939) and The Glass Slipper (1944).

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