Monday, July 14, 2014

I once met... Anna Pavlova (and Adolf Hitler)

Found in Words Etc.,: A Miscellany (Wordspress, Haslemere 1973) this piece by author, art teacher, botanist and curator Wilfrid Jasper Walter Blunt (1901 - 1987). His meeting with Hitler is admittedly fleeting, his meeting with Pavlova slightly  more substantial, but he tells both anecdotes well..

My Friendships with the Famous

Name-dropping is a pleasant and a fairly innocuous pastime, indulged in even by Shakespeare's Hipolyta: "I was with Hercules and Cadmus once…". At a party, when conversation is flagging, I sometimes like to electrify the company by saying, quite casually, "The first time I met Hitler was…". Then, before I can be subjected to an embarrassing interrogation, I change the subject.

No publisher has ever shown the slightest eagerness to publish a full-length book on my relationship with the Führer; yet I feel that the world ought no longer to be deprived of some account of my first (and alas! last) unforgettable meeting with him. I cannot, unfortunately, remember the exact date but it was some time in the year 1929. I had gone with a German friend to the Café Hecht, in the Hofgarten in Munich; Hecht means "pike", but little did I guess how big a fish I was about to land. At the table next to ours six people were sitting - three men and three women - and on that table was a funny little flag with a swastika on it; I assumed that they were adherents of some esoteric oriental religious cult. The men were dressed in brown (like our Capuchins), and one of them sported a ridiculous little moustache.

"Who on earth are those types?" I asked my friend - in impeccable German, of course.
"That one with the moustache", she replied, "is a man called Adolf Hitler. He has some kind of a political party here in Munich."
"Oh really?" I had never even heard the name that I was soon to hear only too often.
At that moment one of the women wanted to light a cigarette but had no match; nor, apparently, had any of the others. So the Moustache turned round to me
and said - and I can still exactly remember every word he spoke: "Darf ich um Feuer bitten?" - "Might I beg a light?" "Ja, freilich" - "Yes, willingly" - I replied; and once more I can remember the very words I used.

We were destined never to meet again, but I feel that this might have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

And of course I knew Pavlova, and I can never forget the beautiful, simple words she addressed to me. The year was 1922, the place the Print Room of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Pavlova was seated at the same table as myself, looking at Bakst drawings of Russian ballet costumes. As she replaced one of the sheets in the box her pencil shot across the table and fell into my lap. Though longing to retain it as a souvenir of the great ballerina, I knew that there was only one honourable course open to me: I returned it to her.

"Thank you", she said. Those were , I remember, her precise words, and I have treasured them in my heart ever since.

Do these encounters seem very trivial to you? If so, turn to almost any volume of society memoirs, and I shall be surprised if you do not find in its pages one or to anecdotes almost as fatuous as these, and very probably less authentic.

Wilfrid Blunt
The Watts Gallery, Compton


  1. Hitler war fairly tolerant of tobacco then, if Blunt is telling the truth. In his later years no-one was allowed to smoke in Hitler's presence or anywhere he was likely to be.

  2. Interesting. Perhaps he became intolerant, or perhaps he merely became powerful enough to be able to indulge his intolerance.