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A Friend Of Fitzgerald
by [?]

[Footnote D: No lover of FitzGerald can afford not to own that exquisite tributary volume “Edward FitzGerald: An Aftermath,” by Francis Hindes Groome, which Mr. Mosher published in 1902. It tells a great deal about Woodbridge, and is annotated by John Loder. Mr. Mosher was eager to include Loder’s portrait in it, but the old man’s modesty was always as great as his generosity: he would not consent.]

When I tried, haltingly, to express my thanks for such a gift, the old man said “That’s nothing! That’s nothing! It’ll help to keep you out of mischief. Much better to give ’em away before it’s too late!” And he followed it with Canon Ainger’s two volumes of Lamb’s letters, which Ainger had given him.

Through his long life John Loder lived quietly in Woodbridge, eager and merry in his shop, a great reader, always delighted when any one came in who was qualified to discuss the literature which interested him. He and FitzGerald had long cracks together and perhaps Loder may have accompanied the Woodbridge Omar on some of those trips down the Deben on the Scandal or the Meum and Tuum (the Mum and Tum as Posh, Fitz’s sailing master, called her). He played a prominent part in the life of the town, became a Justice of the Peace, and sat regularly on the bench until he was nearly ninety. As he entered upon the years of old age, came a delightful surprise. An old friend of his in the publishing business, whom he had known long before in London, died and left him a handsome legacy by will. Thus his last years were spared from anxiety and he was able to continue his unobtrusive and quiet generosities which had always been his secret delight.

Looking over the preceding paragraphs I am ashamed to see how pale and mumbling a tribute they are to this fine spirit. Could I but put him before you as he was in those last days! I used to go up to Burkitt House to see him: in summer we would sit in the little arbour in the garden, or in winter by the fire in his dining room. He would talk and I would ask him questions; now and then he would get up to pull down a book, or to lead me into his bedroom to see some special treasure. He used to sit in his shirtsleeves, very close to the fire, with his shoe laces untied. In summer he would toddle about in his shaggy blue suit, with a tweed cap over one ear, his grizzled beard and moustache well stained by much smoking, his eyes as bright and his tongue as brisk as ever. Every warm morning would see him down on the river wall; stumping over Market Hill and down Church Street with his stout oak stick, hailing every child he met on the pavement. His pocket was generally full of peppermints, and the youngsters knew well which pocket it was. His long life was a series of original and graceful kindnesses, always to those who needed them most and had no reason to expect them. No recluse he, no fine scholar, no polished litterateur, but a hard-headed, soft-hearted human man of the sturdy old Suffolk breed. Sometimes I think he was, in his own way, just as great a man as the “Old Fitz,” whom he loved and reverenced.

He died on November 7, 1917, aged ninety-two years three months and four days. He was extraordinarily sturdy until nearly ninety–he went in bathing in the surf at Felixstowe on his eighty-sixth birthday. Perhaps the sincerest tribute I can pay him is these lines which I copy from my journal, dated July 16, 1913:

“Went up to have tea with old John Loder, and said a cunningly veiled Good-bye to him. I doubt if I shall see him again, the dear old man. I think he felt so, too, for when he came to the door with me, instead of his usual remark about ‘Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest,’ he said, ‘Farewell to thee’ in a more sober manner than his wont–and I left with an armful of books which he had given me ‘to keep me out of mischief.’ We had a good talk after tea–he told me about the adventures of his brothers, one of whom went out to New Zealand. He uses the most delightful brisk phrases in his talk, smiling away to himself and wrinkling up his forehead, which can only be distinguished from his smooth bald pate by its charming corrugation of parallel furrows. He took me into his den while he rummaged through his books to find some which would be acceptable to me–‘May as well give ’em away before it’s too late, ye know’–and then he settled back in his easy chair to puff at a pipe. I must note down one of his phrases which tickled me–he has such a knack for the proverbial and the epigrammatic. ‘He’s cut his cloth, he can wear his breeches,’ he said of a certain scapegrace. He chuckled over the Suffolk phrase ‘a chance child,’ for a bastard (alluding to one such of his acquaintance in old days). He constantly speaks of things he wants to do ‘before I tarn my toes up to the daisies.’ He told me old tales of Woodbridge in the time of the Napoleonic wars when there was a garrison of 5,000 soldiers quartered here–this was one of the regions in which an attack by Boney was greatly feared. He says that the Suffolk phrase ‘rafty weather’ (meaning mist or fog) originates from that time, as being weather suitable for the French to make a surprise attack by rafts or flat-boats.

“He chuckled over the reminiscence that he was once a great hand at writing obituary notices for the local paper. ‘Weep, weep for him who cried for us,’ was the first line of his epitaph upon a former Woodbridge town crier! I was thinking that it would be hard to do him justice when the time comes to write his. May he have a swift and painless end such as his genial spirit deserves, and not linger on into a twilight life with failing senses. When his memory and his pipe and his books begin to fail him, when those keen old eyes grow dim and he can no longer go to sniff the salt air on the river-wall–then may the quick and quiet ferryman take dear old John Loder to the shadow land.”