"OLD ELGAR always handed round the snuff-box before commencing the Mass, `damned' the blower and began ... went out at the sermon for a drink at the Hop Market." Such is said of William Henry Elgar, pianotuner to Queen Adelaide, and non-Catholic organist of St George's (Jesuit) church, Worcester, who became the father of the great Sir Edward Elgar, Bart., just one hundred years ago on June 2, 1857.
Some years later, a young boy was to be found sitting on the banks of the river Severn, trying to write down what the reeds were singing.
But Edward Elgar is not to be regarded as just another child prodigy. His boyhood was comparatively normal, enlivened by such pranks as advertising in the local paper, at the age of 14, "for a wife of cheerful temperament". ('I he notice appeared in print as "a wife of cheerful temperature" with some doubt as to who was responsible for the error!)
A love for music was stimulated by the variety of instruments that lay round his father's music shop. and Edward had soon tried each one in turn. Before long he had mastered all of them, so that by the age of 15 the boy was beginning to replace his father at the organ of St George's.
Elgar's mother had become a Catholic largely as a result of accompanying her husband to church, and thus the composer not only inherited a certain musical genius from his father, but had the abundant blessings of the true Faith to support him from the beginning of his career.
Throughout his life Elgar maintained that he was selftaught, and there is certainly little evidence to the contrary. The family was large nine in all and means were limited. The much longed for study at Leipzig had to be sacrificed for earning a living. Even when he did escape to London, in 1887, to receive violin lessons from Pollizer, leader of the new Philharmonic Orchestra, he was obliged to sustain himself for a matter of months on a diet of two bags of nuts a day.