Colin Wilson: two early reviews of The Outsider

Jot 101 The Outsider picFound among the papers of the academic Patrick O’Donoghue, two clippings of reviews—by Philip Toynbee and Cyril Connolly—of The Outsider (1956), the astonishing debut of the twenty-four year old, largely self-taught, Colin Wilson that branded him a fully paid up member of the Angry Young Men brigade and ‘ Britain’s first, and so far last, home-grown existentialist star’.

An ‘Angry Young Man’ because, rather fortunately for Wilson, The Outsider appeared from the leftish publisher Gollancz in the same month ( May) that John Osborne’s  ‘Look Back in Anger ‘ opened at the Royal Court in London. We don’t know whether the two very different reviewers—Toynbee, a Bohemian critic in his forties and a communist, who had been expelled from Rugby School,  and Connolly, very much of the Auden Generation, had seen the play before they wrote their reviews, but had they done so, judging from the enthusiasm with which they wrote about the book , it is possible that they identified both book and play as evidence of a ne Continue reading

Writers born a hundred years ago: No 3: Donald Davie

Jot 101 Donald Davie portNever likely to become a ‘ national treasure ‘, like his fellow centenarian Philip Larkin, Donald Davie has become, in stark contrast, a rather forgotten figure. An academic, like Kingsley Amis and D. J. Enright, but from a very different background ( Yorkshire Baptist )  he was a fellow ‘ Movement’ poet, but not being a novelist like Amis, he became better known as a critic, rather than a poet, though his poetry perhaps deserves to be better known by the ‘ man in the street ‘.

His earliest poetry, such A Winter Talent 1955 was a direct response to the Apocalyptic school that flourished during the Second World War and spilled over into the late forties. The collections that followed, notably Events and Wisdoms(1964) showed a residue  of the influences of the Imagism of Ezra Pound, twentieth century Russian, Chinese poetry of all eras, and American poetry. By the sixties he had become a significant figure in English letters as a critic, and it is as such that he wrote for the New Statesman. Two of his reviews here appear among the archive of the academic Patrick O’Donoghue.

In the first, a review of Eliot’s Collected Poems, 1909 – 1962 (11 October 1963), Davie’s perceptive appraisal is a sort of fan letter to the American. As a poet he is seen as a master of self-control, unlike so many poets, preserving only those poems that he feels deserve to live. Continue reading

Philip Larkin’s centenary: ‘ Down Cemetery Road ‘, a review of The Whitsun Weddings by D. J. Enright.

Jot 101 Philip Larkin The Whitsun Weddings coverBy the time The Whitsun Weddings had appeared in 1964 Larkin had become a major voice in contemporary poetry. As such he deserved a decent reviewer and he got one in D. J. Enright, a poet and critic two years older, who had reviewed XX Poems. The irony ( if that is the right word) is that the review of The Whitsun Weddings appeared in the New Statesman. Fast forward to the furore that accompanied the biography by Andrew Motion and the published letters edited by Anthony Thwaite, when left-wing readers of the  ‘Staggers’ were among those  who denounced the racist and xenophobic attitude of Larkin that he must have held at the time when The Whitsun Weddings came out. Of course Larkin, being Larkin, had kept his politics and racism out of this second collection.

Enright remarks that the poet who ‘ wrote like an angel ‘was not averse to swearing in print, but felt that  his  ‘cock and balls’ (from ‘Sunny Prestatyn’)  and ‘get stewed ‘ ( from ‘ A Study of Reading Habits’ ) just didn’t ‘read well.’ We feel differently now, of course, but back then established poets didn’t swear on paper. Enright isn’t put off by the bad language, but does feel that Larkin has a ‘valetudinarian attitude towards life ‘, although he couldn’t be called a debunker. He occasionally patronises his characters ( like Arnold in ‘ Self’s the Man’), but he doesn’t sneer at them.

‘If anyone takes a beating in this book, it’s the author himself. If Mr Larkin’s cheek doesn’t sport a ready tear, nonetheless compassion for others is never too far away; and there are even rare intimations of a sort of muted glory. He writes of failure, or insufficiency rather, or rather of velleities and second thoughts, of dubious buses not too bitterly missed, of doubts about doubts, and there is a gentleness., even a dry sweetness, to his tone of voice.’

Continue reading

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

A lost poem about The Titanic

IMG_0468Found – a short poem on the sinking of the Titanic by  James Rhoades_ (1841 – 1923) anAnglo- Irish minor poet. He was admired in his day and one of his poems is in The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. There are spiritual undertones in this poem too. The poem was published in a collection of his verse from 1915 Words by the Wayside. He made a speciality of commemorative verse or vers d’occasion. The book was a signed presentation from the author with a short verse added (ssee below).

The Titanic had sunk 1n April 1912 with the loss of more than 1500 lives and the poem shows what a huge event this was in its day, on a par with 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. James Rhoades had also written about the disaster  in 1912 in the Westminster Gazette emphasising the self sacrifice of the crew



No frantic scream; no frenzied strife;

Unflinching gave their sacrifice;

Unflinching stood that noble host,

Each man at his appointed post..


This later poem with its enticing pantheist theme, although touching on heroism, is less about the stiff upper lip etc.,

A lesson from the Titanic

See in great moments how we cast aside

The fear-spun cloak of hatred, foe to foe –

Poor outworn rags of rivalry and pride!

A soul-fraught vessel to destruction hurled

Sets free the mighty heart -stream of the world

Unlocks it’s frozen flow.
Continue reading

The Whitest Man I Know

Jot 101 whitest man larkin 001Larkin’s ‘Sympathy in White Major ‘ ( High Windows 1974) is one of his best known poems. It begins with a lip-smacking description of a gin and tonic being poured and ends with the poet drinking the health of ‘Here’s to the whitest man I know, though white is not my favourite colour.’

The poem is essentially about the doubtful virtues of unselfishness. Larkin lists all the virtues of his ‘white ‘altruistic protagonist: he ‘devoted his life to others ‘, ‘and was ‘a real good sort ‘, implying that these are qualities that are generally admired. However, as Larkin suggests in another poem, ‘Self’s the man ‘, someone who marries and has children is making a selfish choice rather devoting ‘himself to others’. Larkin looks at his own life as a non-white bachelor who has rejected this ‘ family man ‘ lifestyle, and contends that by being a poet and a novelist he has contributed more to society in general than has the ‘ white ‘ family man with responsibilities to others.

But placing its possible interpretation aside, where did Larkin get the phrase ‘the whitest man I knew‘? We know that he was an enthusiast for ‘ trad’ jazz. He owned a large collection of mainly traditional jazz records and some of his writings on jazz were collected in All What Jazz. But was he also knowledgeable in the field of Music Hall recitations and the music that often accompanied them? Was he familiar with the poem ‘The Whitest Man I Know’, which was written in 1913 in the era of Dixieland by the English actor and poet  J.Milton Hayes, who also performed it to the music of R. Fenton Gower.  Continue reading

Hackneyed clichés of the 1940s

Kaleiposcope cover 001

Like any decent journalist Harold Murray tried to avoid using clichés and well worn catch phrases in his work. It’s a pity that more radio journalists today ( particularly on Radio Five Live) aren’t as scrupulous. In his very entertaining Kaleidoscope (1946) Murray expresses his irritation at some of the worst examples of hackneyed speech in common use back then.

I remember the editor of the Nottingham Journal talking about misused words and hackneyed clichés which “makes us feel murderous when we hear them “. A. P. Herbert has devoted much thought to the subject. We are all more or less guilty. Why do we say, “I’ve got to catch a train, “ I’ve got to go.”? Why that superfluous “got”?  Why at the end of a letter do we have to put “yours sincerely “, or, for that matter, “ yours “ anything? If ever I see girls talking now they seem to be crying ,” Ectually!”, Honestly!,” “ Definitely!”. There has been much talk about basic English. There is more silly slang from America, particularly from Hollywood, than ever before. I wonder how many popular catch phrases you can recall ( I mean before the radio) . The first I remember were, “Get your hair cut, “ Ask a policeman,” “ Now we shan’t be long,” “ Fancy meeting you, “ What ho! She bumps, “Make room for your uncle,” “Does your mother know you’re out,” “ Bob’s your uncle. “ Pop goes the weasel,“ liked nearly all catch phrases from a song was before my time, and you will know the weasel was a flat iron, pawned weekly. In these days catch phrases come mostly from “Itma” and the like.

We at Jot HQ would like to know whatever happened to “What ho! She bumps and “ Make room for your uncle “. Are there any in the Jottosphere who might have heard them being used ? We’d like to know. As for Honestly, Definitely and Ectually, we have our own Absolutely today. And we also have the recently introduced So that prefaces almost every explanation given by apparently intelligent spokesmen in radio interviews. The redundant’ Like’, liberally sprinkled in sentences delivered in estuarial accents by adolescents of all classes has been around for many decades and doesn’t look as if it will ever become unfashionable, unlike, ‘ grotty ‘ ‘way out ‘ and ‘psychedelic’.

I wonder what A. P. Herbert and Murray would have made of the frequent misuse by radio journalists with degrees in English of ‘ reticence’ for reluctance and ‘ enormity ‘ for a memorable event.


 Cotswold lawyer and poet revisited


W. H. Davies

A few weeks ago we were puzzling over a fragment discovered in the archive of Jot HQ. This was a draft in pencil of one page of a letter written in reply to literary journalist Ivor Brown around 1943. The hand was very hard to read at times, but persistence paid off and eventually I produced a decent stab at the letter. From its contents I deduced that the writer was probably an elderly lawyer from the Cotswold region of the UK who had been friendly with tramp poet W. H. Davies, enjoyed the poems of John Betjeman, Clare and Blunden and had published a slim volume of verse himself, as had his son, a former army officer.

Further research revealed that this apparently obscure amateur poet was the rather famous ‘ friend to  the poets ‘ John Wilton Haines, from Hucclecote, near Gloucester, who over nearly five decades befriended , not only Davies, but a number of  twentieth century literary figures, including Edmund Blunden, John Masefield, W. H. Hudson, J. C. Squire, Seigfried Sassoon,  Eleanor Farjeon, J. Gould Fletcher, Sir Edward Marsh, Walter de la Mare, C. Day Lewis, Lascelles Ambercrombie, Gordon Bottomley, Ivor Gurney, Robert Frost, Wilfred Gibson, James Elroy Flecker and Edward Thomas. He also communicated with some eminent musicians and composers, notably Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi and Herbert Howells.

Born in 1875 to a lady from India and a Gloucester solicitor whose family had practised law for generations, Haines trained as a solicitor after leaving school and then joined the family firm. Always passionate about classical and modern literature, and a dedicated book collector, Haines made it his business to seek out local authors and  poets, notably those ‘ Georgian ‘ poets who had settled in and around Dymock, on the edge of the Forest of Dean. He made friends with them and offered them financial help and legal advice. In return many sent him their latest work for his opinion. In 1921 Haines himself had a collection of his own poetry privately printed. On his death in 1960, Haines’ son Robin ( b 1913), whose own slim volume, Somewhere, Somehowhad come out in 1942, inherited his father’s literary archive, which eventually passed to his widow. It was she who donated the papers to the Gloucestershire Archives, where they can be examined today.  [RMH]


Rowling’s Professor Binns on Saki

Stubbs letter to Haining fantasy 001
Found among the Haining Archive at Jot HQ is this typewritten letter dated 6thJune 1984 from the Classical historian H(ugh). W. Stubbs (1917 – 2012) of Exeter University, who was the model for J. K. Rowling’s Professor Binns in the Harry Potter novels. While at Exeter University in the early eighties reading French, Rowling had chosen Ancient History and Culture as a supplementary subject and had attended some of Stubbs’s soporific lectures. Though not a charismatic speaker, Stubbs was far from boring as a person. In the letter he dilates on the joys of Saki, among other topics.


Most of the letter is taken up with Haining’s 1983 edition of stories by Saki and with the editor’s Preface in particular, but Stubbs is also good value on supernatural literature in general, as well as philology and folklore. There are also a few acerbic asides on Chips Channon ( ‘ that horrible man ‘ ) on the horror anthologies ( ‘ a singular repulsive series ‘)  edited by Christine Campbell and on the American academic Langguth  ( ‘ abysmally ignorant ‘ ). Stubbs himself seems to have taken a keen academic interest in the supernatural genre. He tells Haining that in the 1950’s he corresponded with Peter Penzoldt, author of a  pioneering study, The Supernatural in English Fiction(1952).


On Saki Stubbs answers various points made by Haining. Firstly, he tackles the famous Saki story ‘Sredny Vashtar’. Continue reading

Charles Morgan to Arthur Bryant

IMG_0562Found –an interesting signed presentation from Charles Morgan to the historian, Arthur Bryant. It reads – “Arthur Bryant, more about the froggies from his old friend & admirer, Charles Morgan 7.7.49.” It was in a copy of his 1949 book The River Line.

Morgan had been awarded the French Legion of Honour in 1936 and was elected a member of the Institut de France in 1949. In his time Morgan enjoyed an ‘immense’ (Wikipedia) reputation during his lifetime, particularly in France.

The River Line became a play but was originally written as a novel in 1949 and concerned the activities of escaped British prisoners of war in France during World War II.

The inscription is interesting given Morgan’s high standing in France and his professed love for the French. He is still admired there but has become a  slow seller in Britain. The inscription possibly panders to Bryant’s tastes and views, notably to the right.  Bryant had written a book in 1940 which he had to rapidly repress (see Bookride) due to its failure to condemn Hitler.

Meyerstein on Lascelles Abercrombie

162953-004-EBB79E7BFound in a book on British  poets of the 1920s, a page torn from a magazine, possibly a poetry periodical and likely to be from late 1938, when Lascelles Abercrombie died. The poem. in Abercrombie’s honour,  is by E.H.W. Meyerstein. Both were minor poets of their time and are now somewhat forgotten. Of the two Meyerstein is probably better remembered, more for his novels which have crime and thriller elements (some bibliomyisteries.)  The verse is very much of its time, almost like a parody of the style…there is some pathos in the line ’Sure is his fame..’ The final line is rather fine.


An intellect acerb, a heart of truth
A faith in Beauty’s life-ensanguined rose,
The courage of a climber above snows,
For stricken womanhood a childlike ruth,
Fancy alert for images uncouth
Whereby to humanize immortal woes
And seize the small shy gentian word that blows
On precipices unobserved by youth:

Unto how few is fate supremely just!
This man, whose visions were poured forth like wine,
Before his death was ranged among his peers.
Sure is his fame, sure as the intrepid gust
That gave us back the grand Marlovian line,
Reincarnating loves of mythic years.



Bookseller versus George Barker

George Barker letter from bookseller 001The bohemian poet George Barker could be quite vehement in his anger, especially when drunk, as he often was. In a letter written in June 1956 that we found in our archive here at Jot HQ he wrote angrily to the Cheltenham bookseller Alan Hancox complaining that some slim volumes of his poetry had been sold from his catalogue ‘ without his approval ‘. According to the unnamed ‘impecunious poet’ who had sold the books to Hancox, Barker had given them to him as an act of kindness to ‘ raise funds’ and had had  no objection to  their sale. This, it would seem, had been a fabrication and Hancox was then obliged to apologise for selling the books.

Knowing the egocentricity of Barker, the gift was probably made as a way of impressing the impecunious poet, who may have been unfamiliar with his work. If this is true, one can perhaps understand his hurt feelings. Throughout the ages older writers  have sought to impress or influence their younger brethren by gifting them copies of their work. By so doing the donor hoped that in time this act of kindness would oblige this rising young talent him to repay the gesture by defending the reputation of the older writer. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. In the case of Geoffrey Grigson and Wyndham Lewis, the mentorship (and possible gifts of books) lavished on the younger poet and journalist by Lewis in the ‘thirties reaped rich rewards for the artist and satirist twenty years later, when he had become totally out of fashion while Grigson was regarded as one of the most powerful influences in English letters. Although we don’t know who this impecunious poet was or when the gift of books was made, it is possible that at a time when Barker recognised that his reputation was beginning to nose-dive, he saw the poet as someone who could help him. Alternatively, the impecunious poet may have been one of Barker’s contemporaries , the alleged poet Paul Potts. Continue reading

Walking with G.M. Trevelyan (1910s)

Found– Walking by G.M. (George Macaulay) Trevelyan* (Mitchell, Hartford, Dry_stone_wall_20Connecticut 1928)  – a special American edition. The great historian ‘s paean to the joys of walking (” I have two doctors, my left leg and my right..’) was published first as an essay in 1913 in Clio, a muse, and other essays literary and pedestrian and the American introduction  by J. Brooks Atkinson notes that the walking world has changed much since then: “..the motor car has completely separated the walkers from the riders. It lays a new responsibility upon the walkers to conduct themselves nobly in God’s light.. they cannot be road walkers now, like Stevenson, since roads have  become arteries -hardened arteries- of traffic. They are pushed willy-nilly into the hills, meadows and woods beyond the clatter and the evil fumes of the highway..” (he then launches an attack on the new walking clubs- ‘their walking is a bastard form of motoring.’) Trevelyan’s essay recalls a  world now largely lost, although our great modern walkers (Iain Sinclair, Robert Macfarlane, Will Self) still find great places to ramble. GMT writes:

The secret beauties of Nature are un-veiled only to the cross-country walker. Pan would not have appeared to Pheidippides on a road. On the road we never meet the “moving accidents by flood and field ” : the sudden glory of a woodland glade ; the open back-door of the old farmhouse sequestered deep in rural solitude ; the cow routed up from meditation behind the stone wall as we scale it suddenly ; the deep, slow, south-country stream that we must jump, or wander along to find the bridge ; the northern torrent of molten peat-hag that we must ford up to the waist, to scramble, glowing warm-cold, up the farther foxglove bank ; the autumnal dew on the bracken and the blue straight smoke of the cottage in the still glen at dawn ; the rush down the mountain side, hair flying, stones and grouse rising at our feet ; and at the bottom the plunge in the pool below the waterfall, in a place so fair that kings should come from far to bathe therein yet is it left, year in year out, unvisited save by us and “troops of stars.”
Continue reading

Attack on Auden, Spender etc., 1934

Found– a poem in the autumn 1934 issue of the literary and political periodical Cambridge Left. It was titled  ‘Theodolite’ and  was by one Minton Courtauld (probably a scion of the wealthy family and about 22 at the time. Minton was a family name.)  The poem is aimed at W H Auden, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis and Rex Warner– all anti-fascist and sympathizers with the Soviet Union and Communism, although some of them became disillusioned. This is not quite MacSpaunday (Macneice, Spender, Auden, Day-Lewis) as Macneice was intellectually opposed to Communism. The periodical has a manifesto against war and fascism and Courtauld’s beef with Spaudwarnerday (if I may) is likely to have been   their taunting warlike stance. The ‘L’ referred to is a mystery…


Wystan, Rex, Stephen, Cecil, all of you::
It is now time to discontinue abuse.
The spent bullets from your machine guns are quickly
Building a rampart to protect the enemy.

You are awaiting orders to make an advance movement.
Heavy guns should have found the approximate range.
Those attacking the cathedral will wear gas masks.
So far there have been no casualties.

A concerted attack pushed home at every point.
No mercy now: they will have none if they beat you.
Remember how they tortured L. till they killed him:
That’s what they’ll do to you, if they get you alone.

You must stop sniping now from the gasometer,
It gives away the position and does us no good.
Are you prepared to fight for days without sleeping?
For years without going home to visit your girl?

Are you quite sure that you understand the position?
Visibility poor. Have you a windscreen-wiper?
Are you sure that you know the road now the signposts are gone?
Wystan, Rex, Stephen, Cecil, all of you?

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. 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

Freyya and Other Poems (1908)

IMG_5181This book was among thousands of books, all publisher’s file copies, bought from the publisher Orion, who in time had taken over Gollancz, Witherby and Dent. Dent was the publisher of this slimmish volume of poems Freyya and other Poems by E.C.N. (London 1908, 105 pp.) There is no knowing who E.C.N. was, possibly a man as there are several poems addressed to women (although that is by no means  a clincher) and a gifted blank versifier fond of epic and portentous themes and alliteration ( ‘Blessing and blest, to the high heroes home..’) He, or she,  owed something to Swinburne, possibly Milton and some of the poets of the time who were fond of grand sweeping historical themes (Newbolt, Watson, Stephen Phillips.)

Worldcat, Copac and Google give no hint as to the identity of E.C.N. The book itself is quite rare (as often  with file copies.) Somewhere in the haul were very large publisher’s ledgers which can often reveal an author’s true name – as the publisher might have to send money at some point.

In the long title poem Freyya the poet makes much use of Norse mythology with mention of Asgard, Odur, Odin, Frigga and Vana – exploring fantastic realms that later inspired Marvel comics and Hollywood. There is also a poem on the Battle of Marathon – ‘the greatest deed the world has ever known..’ The opening lines of Freyya will give a flavour of ENC’s talents— if around today he could be working on a Python epic or Game of Thrones

Fair as the dawn, fair as the opening rose,

Fair as the flash of sunlight after rain,

Fairest of all that earth of fairest holds

Was Freyya, daughter of the dancing Wind,

Continue reading

Hugo Manning

Hugo manning picFound among some papers at Jot HQ, three photocopied pages of a panegyric by poet William Oxley to his better known poet and friend Hugo Manning (1913 – 77). Entitled ‘ The Scapegoat and the Muse ‘ it lavishes praise on a man who appears to have been a larger than life character in the mould perhaps of his friend Dylan Thomas, who was his junior by a few months and from whose work he drew inspiration. But Manning, in Oxley’s eyes, seems to have been an amalgam of so many attributes:

Hugo Manning restless traveller of the world and of the imagination’s ‘realms of gold’; Hugo Manning journalist-clerk and Reuter’s hack, Hugo Manning massively simple man sick with an old-fashioned integrity; Hugo Manning homo sapiens with burnt up-soul sacrificed on what unknown altars of pleasure; Hugo Manning late—ah-all too late –poetic developer…Hugo Manning last of the true troubadours…Hugo Manning mind, soul and things flesh caught at the cross roads and in what crosswinds of Judean-Christian-Hellenic cultures…’
Continue reading

Banned books

Lummox coverBanned books: No 12: Lummox by Fannie Hurst

Found in the Summer 1924 issue of Now & Then (Jonathan Cape) is this brief announcement:

‘LUMMOX finds new admirers every day. Miss Hurst is expected in England shortly, and many admirers are hoping to meet her. She is a prominent figure in New York literary and dramatic circles and has a number of friends in Europe also. The ‘ ban ‘ of the circulating library still remains, but the book is on sale at the bookshops. The current impression is the third.’

This ‘ban’ is a bit of a puzzle. The journalist for Now & Then places the word in quotation marks, which suggests that although Mrs Hurst’s book was in the shops, it was not available for borrowing in certain circulating libraries, though these libraries are not specified. Nor is it clear whether these libraries are in the U.S. or the U.K. A thorough online trawl has revealed nothing on this issue.

At the time Fannie ( or Frances ) Hurst, as the report suggests, was an immensely popular, best-selling American author of rather sentimental and melodramatic novels, many of which had been adapted for the cinema. It has been claimed that she accepted $1m for the film rights of one particular novel. As for the problematical Lummox there seems little in this tale of a young female immigrant who is exploited and abused by her rich employers that could possibly offend even the most delicate sensibilities of an average circulating library subscriber. However, Hurst’s proto-feminism and support for the oppressed in society might have touched a few nerves among members of the wealthy middle class in post-war Britain. [RR]


John Osborne and Billy Bennett

John Osborne picFound, a letter dated 6th December 1990 from someone called Rudi to the playwright John Osborne, whom he addresses as ‘ Colonel’, presumably a reference to Colonel Redl, the protagonist of Osborne’s controversial play A Patriot For Me (1965).

The letter accompanies a copy of Billy Bennett’s Third Budget of Burlesque Monologues (c1940), which Rudi had sent Osborne as a sixty-first birthday present. The Music Hall star Bennett ( 1887 – 1942), a unique comic presence on the stage and on radio from 1919, was a great favourite of Osborne’s, as indeed he was of Tommy Cooper, Ken Dodd and Eric Morecambe. Bennett’s billing as ‘ almost a gentleman ‘ was used by the playwright as the title of his second volume of memoirs. Here is the letter in full: Continue reading