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Laurence Housman.

Mary Neal dawned on my horizon at the Christmas party of which she tells in her chapter on the revival of Folk Dance and Song. If I ever met her before, I have forgotten it. The light of that occasion out-shone any earlier encounter, though if it did take place I am sure it was a pleasant one. Readers have only to look at the frontispiece to know that a meeting with Mary Neal must be a pleasure to those who in any way deserve it.
When that display of Dance and Folk-song was over, (it was my first taste of it) I said to her, “You ought to be buried in Westminster Abbey”. She replied, “not yet, please!” That she had still too much to do, for burial, however honorific, to be anything but a tragedy of unfulfilment, this “Tale That Is Told” if all that went to the makings of a full life, then and for many years after, abundantly shows. I will only say now, when we are both so much older, and so much nearer saying: “I have finished”, that is there is any truth in her generous statement that my approval and encouragement helped that joyous discovery of the Girls’ Esperance Club to become a national movement, then my best wish for myself when I am a thing of the past, is that I may be laid alongside
Mary Neal – not in Westminster Abbey, or in any tomb made by hands – but in the kind remembrances of all who love that beauty of sound and movement, robust, health-giving and vigorous, which the revival of folk-song and dance has brought back to the land of its origins; so nearly lost for ever, but now, if anything may be called safe in our present darkly troubled world, certainly as safe as the Bank of England, and possibly a good deal safer.
We met most often during the days of the fight for Woman Suffrage, and I shall always remember with pleasure the way she kept her sense of humour and of proportion when others lost it, and still helped the United Suffragettes to keep the flag flying during the years after the War, when the most militant members of the disbanded W.S.P.U. had become mere cogs in the war-machine.
I remember especially how, at one meeting, she extinguished in laughter the interruptions of those who had previously been her comrades, and had been sent to disturb the harmony of the meeting. Her retort which brought down the house was so irreverent toward one who had become sacred in the eyes of the militants, that I forbear to quote it even now; but I still think it was the best joke I ever heard made on the Suffrage platform. I congratulated her on it afterwards. “It was naughty of me”, she replied, “but I couldn’t help saying it.”
Nor can I help recalling it now, as I read this record of those courageous years, so well filled with strenuous activity in aid of suffering humanity, and always with an accompaniment of that delightful humour which shows in the portrait which stands here as a welcome and truthful reminder of what she was, and is still.


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