Edward Balne, from an educational standpoint was certainly not self-taught. I have already hypothesized that he was in fact given more time as a young person to devote himself to reading. He, at the end of his memoir, makes reference to relaxation in old age ‘with a well-loved pipe and a favourite book.’ Balne, p73. As such, he was a reader, but unfortunately for me writing this post he does not talk about his reading overtly. He does, however, air his opinions on reading and makes references to the books he owns. His style and mode of writing I think reflects past reading. He certainly read the books he had, because while talking about corporal punishment, Balne compared his struggles with Charles Lamb’s (1775-1834) Essays of Elia, as seen in the blog post Education and Schooling.
As such he is applying what he has read to everyday situations. He refers to Lamb’s essays (I assume the copy he had was the collected essays plus more in the same style called the Eliana) as ‘short stories’ – and this makes sense, due to the fact Lamb hides his own identity by taking on the name Elia. His sister Mary becomes known to the reader as Cousin Bridget. Lamb even at one point refers to himself in the third person in one of the stories – giving himself a cameo, as it were.
Balne himself I think was likely influenced by Lamb in his own writing style. He frequently expounds his opinions on certain subjects – like education, or corporal punishment etc as in an essay. He describes his life methodically – there is not jumping around in his timeline. But there is always a warmness to his narrative. At the very end, he surmises that a modern reader would ‘not only doubt the veracity of the tale, but that most of the matter [would] depress and bore them.’ Balne, p74. The way he refers to his memoir as ‘the tale’ elevates it from a memoir to being something of literary merit, as Charles Lamb’s memoirs or essays were.
As far as his own opinions on reading go, they run as follows:
Reading was once a ‘must’! one room in my house at Norbury SW16 was almost filled with books – books that had either been bought (and these were numerous) or given to me. Virtually the whole of this fine collection had to be sold when the house was sold….
…The only books I have left today are nearly two sets of Dickens, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a Charles Lamb book of short stories and one or two other minor detective tales. But I can no longer experience the joys of reading I once did because of a vision which has deteriorated somewhat during the last ten years or more. This pleasure has therefore had to be considerably curtailed.
His thoughts on radio are also shared:
When I do settle down for the evening and night, I look forward with pleasurable anticipation to the evening radio programmes. (the joy of – crossed out) Depriving oneself of listening to the radio before six pm (is makes – crossed out) gives an added interest and excitement to the evening listening. The news is fresh, one’s favourite radio personality appears to be more interesting and entertaining…
Balne goes on to compare a night with the radio very favourably to a night at the theatre, or concert hall:
…there is no boring dressing up, no travelling to the place of entertainment, no feeding one’s face with restaurant food on a busy night, no braving the snow and cold winds and perhaps heavy rain, in the depths of winter, and no wisps of smells emanating from other human bodies in an overheated and tightly packed theatre of concert hall.
As someone who struggles to see to read, the radio offers a companionship and relaxing comfort in the place of more strenuous activity.
Balne completes his memoir with a six stanza poem. It has four lines to each stanza and is in iambic pentameter with rhyming couplets – a very Western style. Iambic pentameter especially, as our language naturally falls into that beat, has not been shaken for a very long time thanks to William Shakespeare. His popularity was very strong then and it is doubtless Balne had read Shakespeare and was most likely influenced by him.
Useful Website on this subject: http://www.classicsandclass.info/ – a look at ‘class-conscious classical encounters.’