A letter from Geoffrey Grigson to Eric Stevens

Geoffrey Grigson pictureRescued from the Eric and Joan Stevens Archive is this letter to Eric dated April 9th1981from the gifted poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson. The two knew one another, mainly, one supposes, from their mutual admiration for artists Samuel Palmer and James Smetham. In 1948 Grigson, of course, wrote that pioneering account of Palmer’s ‘ visionary years’, while Eric and Joan reprinted A. H. Palmer’s edition of his father’s letters in 1972. Grigson frequently wrote glowingly of Smetham as an artist, but probably, like his friend John Piper, admired him much more as a writer, especially as a letter writer, in which role he showed signs of real genius. Eric and Joan accepted for publication Morchard Bishop’s edition of a memoir of  Smetham, written by his son, but were prevented from publishing it through the intervention of Smetham’s heirs.

Grigson’s letter to Eric Stevens invites him to visit Broad Town to disinter some ‘ manuscripts and oddments’, but whose manuscripts and oddments Grigson does not say. Perhaps Grigson wanted to sell some of the letters he had accrued over the years, which would explain why a letter to him from the poet E.J.Scovell and another from the novelist and BBC producer Eric Newby also form part of the Stevens Archive. Grigson also mentions some books ‘which have been piling up—perhaps a boot load’ at his home. Presumably, these too were to be sold. It is certainly true that at around this time he was selling a few of his MSS. Some ended up at the Harry Ranson Research Center in Austin, Texas, but by far the most interesting MS—a poetry notebook  dating from the ‘thirties–was bought by the University of Birmingham, where it is available for study in the Heslop Room.

By this time Grigson and his family were making frequent visits to their cave home in Troo, by the Loir, which was the subject of one of Grigson’s best books, Notes from an Odd Country. In the letter Grigson asks Stevens to visit them just before they leave for France. Evidently the Grigsons spent much of late Spring and Summer in Troo, and here hangs an amusing anecdote. Not long before this letter was posted the University of Dundee decided to award Grigson an honorary doctorate for services to literature. Grigson was apprised of this decision, accepted the honour ( which was unusual considering that he was generally against the awarding of civil honours) and awaited details. The University wrote back announcing that the ceremony would take place at a certain date in Summer and that Grigson would need to accept the degree in person.Here was the rub. Grigson wrote back explaining that he was unlikely to be available to visit Dundee due to the fact that he would be in Troo at that time. There were no ways around this logistical problem. Grigson was unwilling to make the journey to Dundee and back and the rules demanded that the recipient of an award accept it in person. So it came to pass that Grigson never collected this particular honorary doctorate and became one of the very few people in the history of the world to reject such an honour. That’s how much he hated being away from Troo.

The letter concludes with Grigson saying that the items enclosed with this letter are ‘ controversial items ‘ and ‘ even a satirical poem or two ‘. Again, we are left to guess the nature of these items, but the satirical poems are doubtless his. He wrote a few in his time, not all of which are fit for publication! [R.M.Healey]

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