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

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

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

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

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…’
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Author’s rejection list

wilson-1-2This was sent by Edmund Wilson (or his secretary) to people who wrote to him. It is a measure of his fame at the time (1950s?) He is now remembered more for his association with other writers, especially Vladimir Nabokov and Scott Fitzgerald. G.B. Shaw used to send out something similar and also Evelyn Waugh. Apparently people would write to Wilson just to get a copy of the slip. The note on it reads: “I don’t [do] live readings either unless I’m offered a very large fee. EW”. These type of generic rejection/ fob-off lists have now graduated to email…any examples welcome.

Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him to:
Read manuscripts,
Write articles or books to order,
Write forwards or introductions,
Make statements for publicity purposes,
Do any kind of editorial work,
Judge literary contests, give interviews,
Take part in writers’ conferences,
Answer questionnaires,
Contribute to or take part in symposiums, or “panels” of any kind,
Contribute manuscripts for sales,
Donate copies of his books to libraries,
Autograph works for strangers,
Allow his name to be used on letterheads,
Supply personal information about himself,
Or supply opinions on literary or other subjects.

Horror in the Night by Richard Macgregor (aka MacGregor Urquhart )

A local dealer has this graphic artist's illustration for a lurid book cover. He thinks he may have bought it from someone selling a quantity of book cover illustrations on card (gouache, watercolour etc.,) by the railings on Bayswater Road about 30 years ago. Art (now mostly kitsch and worse) is still sold there every Sunday. Often these illustrations  have lettering so you can see the title, but not in this case, and no artist had signed either.

By sheer chance he found the actual book that had used the illustration - in a box of SF, fantasy and horror paperbacks.  The book was Horror in the Night, a short story collection by Richard Macgregor published by Digit in London in 1963. Not a lot is known about Macgregor, these were 5 short horror stories and he seems to have written 5 other books between 1963 and 1964 for Digit. Titles like The Deadly Sun, Creeping Plague, The Day a Village Died --- a category that came to be known as Doom Watch fiction, possibly post apocalyptic in content. A further book Taste of the Temptress came out in Sydney in the mid 1960s published by Eclipse, so he could have been Australian -this was also published by Digit so possibly not (also it seems he was from Essex - see the excellent Bear Alley.) As for the artist it could be one R.A. Osborne (1923 - 1973) art director of Digit at the time and responsible for many of their covers including Macgregor's Day a Village Died, the story of a village plagued by killer ants.

This piece first appeared at our old site Bookride and since then new information has come to light via dealer Cold Tonnage and the IMDB database. It seems that his real name was MacGregor Urquhart. IMDB's short biography says he 'was a writer and actor, known for The Powder Monkey (1951), John of the Fair (1951) and The Malory Secret (1951). He died on March 17, 1967.' His first work of fiction appeared in the early 1960s  so it seems that his writing career followed his spell in movies. Further investigation shows he was also a playwright with at least one published play Investigation. A Pay in Three Acts (Evans, London 1958.)

Ruscovitch – forger and criminal apologist

Found in a thriller from  the Donald Rudd collection of detective fiction, this preface to The Poison and the Root (Jarrolds, UK 1950) by Richard Savage. It is a sort of apologia or plea for the criminal by one G. Ruscovitch, 'professional forger'. I had thought this person was fictitious or possibly a character in the book (which is not about forgery) but in fact there was a forger of this name. He is mentioned by Havelock Ellis in The Criminal (1890) and appears to have flourished in the mid 19th Century. He may also have been a murderer but Ellis describes him thus:

'...a prince among forgers, the accomplished student of science, the perfect master of half-a-dozen languages..' He then quotes the same piece as Savage. Possibly this was spoken from the dock in mitigation:

Too often it is forgotten that criminals are members of society. These bodies, sometimes abandoned by all except the satellites charged to guard them, are not all opaque; some of them are diaphanous and transparent. The vulgar sand that you tread underfoot becomes crystal when it has passed through the furnace. The dregs may become useful if you know how to employ them; to tread them underfoot with indifference and without thought is to undermine the foundations of society and fill it with volcanoes. The man who has not visited the caverns, can he know the mountains well? The lower strata, for being situated deeper and farther from the light, are less important than the external crust? There are deformities and diseases among us to make one shudder; but since when has horror forbidden study, and the disease driven away the physician?

Case Study on Arcturus IV (MIT 1950s) for the year 2951

A rare object, just catalogued...

Case Study on Arcturus IV (Product Design 2.734)

Massachustes Institute Of Technology ( Department Of Mechanical Engineering) Circa 1952-1955 First Edition. Wraps., 1955. 4to. About 100 pages printed recto only. A curious production with the printed monogram of M.I.T. on the cover and stapled at the spine like an official report or script. It is a collection of memos, missives and communication from the years 2951 and 2952, mostly about the Massachusets Intergalactic Traders and concerning opportunities for export business with the newly discovered planet Arcturus IV (in the Methania galaxy 36 light years away). There are diagrams, an illustration of an Arcturus native ('Sub Human type') and detailed plans for a food mixer suitable for 'Methanians' (also a carriage incubator and other machinery. )

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Le Matelot (London restaurant run by a psychiatrist) 1955

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A review of the Le Matelot restaurant found in Bon Viveur's London & the British Isles (Dakers, London 1955). Bon Viveur was a pseudonym for Fanny Cradock and her husband the fly-whiskered Johnny. They later became celebrity TV chefs. The use of the word gay at the time tended to indicate merry, jolly, insouciant, zany etc., although the restaurant went on into the 1960s (possibly later) and is referenced at The Lost Gay Restaurants site. The girl in the coral jeans and exposed midriff sounds distinctly modern and the whole scene described might be something out of the 1961 Tony Hancock movie The Rebel. The owner roaming the restaurant in horns is not something you see in current London eateries.


You will either be enchanted by this small restaurant or embarrassed. It is unique. The proprietor, Dr. Hillary James, is a psychiatrist by day and a restaurateur by night.

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