Four Young Poets—!

PHILIP LARKIN. ( The Times Educational Supplement, July 13th 1956)

It’s just over a century since Philip Larkin was born. Quite rightly, since he is a major poet, radio and TV have been crowded with tributes—four programmes in one evening  a couple of  weeks ago—and reassessments on Radio 4 from the man who now holds the post that Larkin politely declined—Simon Armitage, the Poet Laureate. There have doubtless been meetings of Larkin enthusiasts around the country and in May one major symposium ( which your Jotter attended) held by The Larkin Society in Hull as part of an Alliance of the LitJot 101 Philip Larkin Less Deceived covererary Societies weekend.

So the legacy of Larkin is very much in the minds of poetry lovers at the moment and luckily for us, the literary archive left behind by the former academic Patrick O’ Donoghue , contains two clippings —one anonymous portrait in the Times Educational Supplement of the poet following the publication of his first major collection, The Less Deceived—and a full review by D .J. Enright  of his second slim volume,  The Whitsun Weddings.

This first Larkin Jot considers the TES profile. Here, the anonymous profiler describes him as ‘ one of the most successful poets of his generation’ , which seems a slight exaggeration, since following the underwhelming The North Ship of 1946 he had only published a privately printed pamphlet XX Poems in 1951, which ( like Auden with his privately printed Poems of 1928) he sent free copies of to ‘ most of the leading figures of this country’, and a thin Fantasy Press pamphlet in 1954. Both are now hard to come by.It is true that The Less Deceived had run into three editions within nine months, but can this one success make him ‘ one of the most successful poets of his generation ‘? Mind you, two possible rivals, Kingsley Amis and Donald Davie ( remember him?) who were also born in 1922, could hardly be described as ‘ successful ‘, if successful means popular and highly regarded by 1955. Charles Causley and (  ) might have been rivals, though.

Be that as it may, the profiler is surely correct in describing The Less Deceived as

 ‘ as sharp an expression of contemporary thought and experience as anything written in our time, as immediate in its appeal as the lyric poetry of an earlier day, it may well be regarded by posterity as a poetic monument that marks the triumph of clarity over the formless mystification of the last 20 years ‘.

Larkin is credited with bringing poetry back to the ‘middle-brow public’. It would be nice to know who this anonymous profiler was, for surely the immediate success of The Less Deceived was partly due to a reaction by the poetry-buying public to the mystification wrought by the Apocalypse school of Nicholas Moore, Henry Treece al and the abomination that was The White Horseman. The  Movemnet was partially a reaction to this obscurantism , but Larkin was never really part of it. He did not contribute to such a periodical as New Lines, but he was doubtless in sympathy with its aim.

What comes across strongly in the profile is Larkin’s resignation to his lot as a career librarian who writes poetry in his spare time but who is not an amateur. Continue reading

The Ionesco/Tynan controversy of 1958

Jot 101 Ionesco pic

Found among the papers of the academic and writer Joseph O’Donoghue are some press clippings covering the Ionesco/Tynan controversy of 1958. In the history of British drama the debate between the supporters of Eugene Ionesco ( above), Romanian pioneer of the ‘ Theatre of the Absurd ‘on one side, and the defenders of the ‘ realist ‘ theatre proponent , Kenneth Tynan, on the other, that took place in the Arts pages of the Observerin June and July 1958, remains  one of the more significant literary debates of the twentieth century, perhaps only rivalled by the Leavis—Snow altercation a few years later.


Essentially, Ionesco, the author of such classic ‘ absurdist’ pieces  as ‘ The Bald Prima Donna ‘ and ‘ The Chairs’, argued that theatre should have nothing to do with the social and political issues that concerned the average man in the street. Such writers as Sartre, Osborne, Miller and Brecht were representatives of a ‘ left-wing conformism ‘ and offered nothing ‘ that one does not know already through books and political speeches ‘. Theatre should in contrast promote the artist’s aesthetic and philosophical perspectives, particularly as they reflected the absurdity and futility of existence. The critic should only be concerned with how successful the artist’s methods were in conveying his ideas to the audience.


Tynan’s vision of the theatre was demonstrably opposed to that of Ionesco. To him a play was only successful as art if it effectively reflected the social and political issues of the time. A play should not be an abstract philosophical debate on the absurdity of existence, but should engage with the audience’s experience of everyday life. To Tynan, politics was part of life in which   ‘ even buying a packet of cigarettes was a political act ‘. He accused Ionesco of a sort of solipsism in which distortions of reality ( as in Cubism ) become more valid and important than ‘ the external world it is their proper function to interpret’. Continue reading

C.P.Snow’s Two Cultures & the Scientific Revolution revisited

Finding a copy of the June 1959 issue of Encounter Encounter June 1959 cover 001among a pile of papers at Jot HQ your Jotter  alighted on the first part of the Rede Lecture which novelist and government scientist C. P. Snow had delivered in Cambridge two weeks earlier. Entitled ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution’, it was to unleash the most momentous cultural debate of the early sixties when F. R. Leavis delivered his riposte in the form of the Richmond Lecture in 1962.

Snow’s thesis in 1959—that the ‘two cultures’ of science on one hand and the ‘traditional’ culture of the humanities (though Snow doesn’t actually use this term) on the other don’t engage with one another seems a reasonable theory based on demonstrable facts. Snow’s famous example of this schism —that a literary critic  would not be able to define the Second Law of Thermodynamics—is surely just as true in 2018 as it was in 1959—while his contention that  a scientist would possibly have read Shakespeare or Dickens, or know the significance of Eliot and Yeats—is surely also true today. Snow’s main point– that though a scientist would be optimistic about the future based on their knowledge of the physical world, a spokesman for the traditional culture would not share this optimism, simply because they knew nothing of science and indeed were wary or even frightened of its destructive potential must also be equally true in 2018. Snow scores well by showing that non-scientists (he cites poets) often show this ignorance by their misuse of scientific terms in their work. This cultural divide is still  more pronounced in England (Snow doesn’t use the terms Britain or UK as we tend to do nowadays), where early specialisation is encouraged in students, than in it is in the USA or Europe, where a much broader curriculum is taught.

How could any reasonable commentator deny that all of this is true? But of course we are not dealing with a reasonable person. We are talking about F. R. Leavis—a man almost totally ignorant of science and technology , whose mission was to elevate the study of English Literature, and particularly a narrow group of ‘ life-enhancing ‘ writers, above all the other established disciplines in the humanities. Was Leavis one of those ‘ intellectuals ‘ described by Snow who gave

‘…a pitying chuckle at the news of scientists who have never read a major work of English literature ….’ Continue reading

H.D. letter about Ezra Pound’s look

Found – an unpublished  typed letter from the Imagist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) to a Mr Russell, almost certainly the poet Peter Russell who was also something of a champion of Ezra Pound. She gives her address as Hotel de la Paix, Lausanne, Switzerland where she is known to have resided from 1946 to 1952. It is a good letter full of commentary on the modernists and with much on Ezra Pound – his style and manner, his appearance and his hair.


She starts by writing about the literary magazine The Egoist, which started in 1914.

‘Yes, I should say it was Ezra who pushed the Portrait (Joyce) in or into The Egoist. I arrived on the scene about 1911; I think during War 1, I was supposed to hold down the Egoist job  for Richard Aldington. I met him before The Egoist, it all came together in 1912, along with Ezra first condescending (and very kindly) to present a few of my poems, as for Poetry Chicago. I believe something of the same thing happened to T.S. Eliot, at one time. I think Eliot noted it somewhere. Ezra just took his pencil and crossed off lines and line-ends and the whole emerged like a stalactite, very beautiful after he chizzled (sic) it. I think it was Hermes of the Ways and it appeared in  the first imagist anthology… I should say unofficially E.  has everything to do with the more dynamic content of The Egoist as with Poetry Chicago, at that time. [At this point she says she could write an article about this but needs no money as she has an allowance and her health is good after an illness. She goes on to reminisce about Pound in early life] …it was a Halloween dance, if I remember,  that day after  Ezra’s birthday. Or it might have been Twelfth Night; I remember our discussing it as Ezra gave our hostess a copy of the same Temple edition which we were all collecting. Ezra wore a green brocade coat. It was, I believe brought back from a trip he had taken with his parents and an aunt  to Tangiers… anyway, he had a photograph with the group, Ezra with a fez over his exact Gozzoli curls. It sounds odd, but Ezra once said to me  at that time, that for one friend he made himself, he made 10 for his hair. It was quite exact, curls like the Hermes of Praxitiles.

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Leavis’s ‘life enhancing’ piano shop

Leavis pianos pic 001Found in the May Week 1914 issue of the Cambridge student magazine Mandragora is this full page advert for the Regent Street piano shop run by Frank Leavis’s father Harry. Pianos figured very large in the lives of the Leavis family. Harry’s brother ran a piano shop in Mill Road and their father was a piano tuner in another part of the city. According to his biographer, Dr Leavis admired his father, apparently a cultured man, very much. It is not known whether Leavis, or his simian-faced wife, Queenie, played the piano.

Leavis was in his first year studying history at Emmanuel College when the advert appeared. When war broke out a few months later he signed up, but after a year was permitted to resume his studies at Cambridge—this time in the newly formed English department. Apart from short spells teaching at York, Wales and Bristol, Leavis spent his whole academic life in Cambridge, setting up home in Bulstrode Gardens–then an enclave of ‘thirties villas off the Madingley Road on the edge of the city, but now next door to both the Cavendish Laboratory and the Institute of Astronomy. How Leavis would have loathed this juxtaposition.

Interestingly, his dad’s piano shop lay almost opposite Downing College, where Leavis was to spend much of his time brain-washing vulnerable students. It is now a ‘Pizza Hut ‘fast food restaurant. He would have hated that too.

[Sent in by a loyal jotwatcher – opinions are his, although the tide seems to have turned against the Leavises this century. Take it or Leavis..]

Gerald Brenan – Diaries and Journals 1925-1932

gerald-brenanFound amongst the papers of the late distinguished bookseller and publisher Joan Stevens this cutting from a catalogue. It appears to be dated in 1976, bookseller not named but it does not sound like Joan. Gerald Brenan was still alive and his reputation well established, but it has subsequently grown, especially through his strong Spanish connections and the price looks very reasonable indeed. It was probably bought by, or sold on to, the University of Texas who seem to have most of his papers. They are unpublished but were used by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy in his 1992 biography The Interior Castle: a Life of Gerald Brenan. As a dedicated Powysite Joan Stevens would have been interested in Brenan’s connection to Gamel Woolsey who had a passionate and painful affair with Llewellyn Powys. Gathorne-Hardy notes that, with typical Bloomsbury disdain, both Carrington and Lytton Strachey regarded her as a ‘bore.’ The part of Brenan was played by Samuel West in the 1995 movie Carrington.

307. Gerald Brenan’s Diaries and Journals, 1925-1932

Typescript, with manuscript corrections and additions. Two volumes, 239pp, 4to.

A document of both literary merit and literary significance. The majority of Brenan’s diary is devoted to the record of his long affair with the painter Dora Carrington. Although chronicled elsewhere (David Garnett’s “Carrington, Letters and Extracts from her Diary” 1970), Brenan’s own version of the frustration and anguish culminating in the inevitable ending of their relationship makes a fascinating counterpoint to the version found in Carrington’s letters to him, as edited by their mutual friend Garnett. Continue reading

Literature – The Rivals

Found among some papers of the late John Symonds  (1914-2006) novelist, biographer (Aleister Crowley), playwright and writer of grendel001children’s books – this letter. The sender’s name has been clipped off but he or she was obviously something of a power in the literary world. It displays two opposing views of the writer John Gardner. The second letter was written to propose Symonds for a literary position and talks of Gardner in glowing terms, the first letter (to Symonds) declares that he is ‘…one of the worst novelists in the world.’ This is the world of Martin Amis’s The Information, his great novel of literary rivalry.

Dear John, … You must excuse me for coupling your name with John Gardner’s in the way I do: it was but for policy and diplomacy. In my opinion John Gardner was one of the worst novelists in the world. But he was also just about the most famous American novelist of the past 20 years, in terms of the publicity he got and the huge sums of money he made and the general ballyhoo that went with his name. And the fact that I knew him gives a certain credence to my suggestion that you are another of the same. You and I needn’t tell them that we know you aren’t, praise be! I also enclose a little essay which might interest you, which isn’t to say you have to model yourself on me. But if you get the job let me know and I will give you a few hints which you can regard or disregard as you think fit. Tra la! Dear Sir, .I understand that my friend John Symonds is making an application to succeed John Gardner as resident novelist …May I say a few words in support of his application? As novelists, Gardner and Symonds had something in common: both brought a new perception to the writing of novels; they were (and Symonds still is) in the old sense, Makers. No American novelist has written novels quite in the way John Gardner did; no English novelist, in the way Symonds does. I am sure you will find this to be so when you look at his work when considering his application. Such novels as ‘Prophecy and the Parasites’, ‘The Shaven Head’, and ‘The Guardian of the Threshold’ are unique in English – and each is equally distinct when contrasted with the others. By a coincidence, I knew John Gardner well …I watched his early success as a novelist with the pleasure of a friend. And I can tell you that John Symonds is man (in his own, different way) of the same stamp. He would bring to the task of teaching the novel the same qualities as John Gardner had – a fresh viewpoint, having no truck with mere convention for its own sake, a lifetime of experience in many kinds of literary activities, wide practical experience in journalism and publishing, enthusiasm, insight, and a deep dedication to the art of writing. Indeed, I can think of no more fitting successor to John Gardner…You may already know some of John Symonds’s work – his important study of the Shakers, ‘Thomas Brown and The Angels’, for example, and his life of Madame Blavatsky. There is also his definitive biography of Aleister Crowley. Symonds began to publish novels in 1946, and has now published fourteen. You may also have seen the first two volumes of this ‘Collected Plays’, a publication still in progress. I hope these remarks may be helpful, and please call upon me if I can assist you further.  

The Literary Cranks of London – The Vagabond Club

The second of a series on 'The Literary Cranks of London' this published in  The Sketch on Aug. 29th, 1894. Written by a member George Brown Burgin (1856-1944), novelist, critic and journalist. There are various photos of him in the National Portrait Gallery collection. He was sub-editor of the humorous journal The Idler from 1895 to 1899. He wrote over 90 novels but there is no Wikipedia page for him. However there is quite a bit online on him including various quotations such as his claim that: 'It is much more comfortable to be mad and know it than be sane and have one's doubts.' The Vagabond Club was founded around the blind poète maudit Philip Bourke Marston and boasted such distinguished members as Jerome K. Jerome, Robert Barr, Conan Doyle, Barry Pain,  and Israel Zangwill. No women. It is interesting that Burgin mentions, without opprobrium, that  it contained 'misogynists'...

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The Literary Cranks of London – The Cemented Bricks

I came across this oddly named literary coterie quite recently in a catalogue by the august bookseller and writer John Saumarez Smith in a scholarly note about one of its members - the writer (anthologist) Robert Maynard Leonard (1869 - 1941) who among other things was secretary to the Anti-Bribery League, which sounds like something from a G K Chesterton short story. Members of the 'Cemented Bricks' included Richard le Gallienne, Walter Jerrold, Sir John Parsons, Lord Amulree and Joseph Knight. The web yields very little about them except this page from The Sketch of 13/2/1895 bought for the price of a mocha latte on eBay. It remains unknown to Google books and even Brewster Kahle (praise his name) has not archived it... At the same time we bought another in the series of 'Literary Cranks of London' on 'The Vagabond Club' which will follow later.

The Literary Cranks of London.

The Cemented Bricks.

The Cemented Bricks.! Who or what are they? Is it a new order of Hod-fellows, or is it a building society?

That question, or series of questions, was put to me by a lady three years ago. This article will supply the answer.

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The Air of Bloomsbury

Virginia Woolf &
Clive Bell 1909

Found in a Times Literary Supplement from 1954 this anonymous review of J.K. Johnstone's The Bloomsbury Group. Clive Bell did not agree with much of the information or opinions in this article and wrote a letter to the editor in response, which appeared a week later. Oddly he wrote later that the review "is by far the most intelligent and penetrating piece that has been written on the subject." It is obviously by someone very familiar with the group. The Bloomsbury industry did not start in earnest until 1967, the year of love, with Michael Holroyd's monumental biography of Lytton Strachey. Interesting to note that Maynard Keynes was very slightly looked down on by the set - possibly this is something Bell addresses in his letter.


Mr. Johstone's The Bloomsbury Group is a respect-worthy book. lt often shows imaginative insight, and always long and sincere thought. Sometimes we detect a faint aroma of what Mr. Forster calls pseudo-scholarship, but this might well have been far stronger and more frequent, considering that his study of the Bloomsbury Group, as he calls it, was first conceived as a Ph.D. thesis. A pseudo-scholar, Mr. Forster explain (adding endearingly that this is what most of us are) is one who moves around books and not through them. “Books have to be read," he adds, characteristically,"worse luck for it takes a long time; a few savage tribes eat them, but reading is the only method of assimilation revealed lo the west. The reader must sit down alone and  struggle with the writer. . . ." And this Mr. John- stone has done faithfully and well, almost throughout. His book is mainly a study of the three Bloomsbury writers, Lytton Strachey, the biographer, and the two novelists, Virginia Woolf and Mr. E. M. Forster... [the reader]will surely find that Mr.J increases his insight  into their art, and their unobtrusive mastery of pattern and design. Indeed Virginia Woolf, he shows, invented almost a new novel form to express her "experience of  living,"...

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