Gleaned from the archive of the publishers Joan and Eric Stevens are two letters to Eric from the novelist and biographer Oliver Stonor, aka Morchard Bishop (1903 – 1987), from his home in Morebath, on the Devon-Somerset border. The first letter, dated November 1979, mostly concerns the worth of the diarist Emily Shore, who Eric doesn’t consider a ‘ writer ‘, but who is stoutly defended by Stonor as being ‘ a very good writer indeed ‘. Stonor, however, does share Eric’s opinion that ‘people in University English departments ‘would be unlikely to know about her. Stonor also feels that the academic study of English is ‘an activity which can happily be carried out without the intervention of pastors and masters ‘. Stonor, it should be noted, did not attend University.
The second letter dates from September 1986 and is far more revealing about the author’s early literary activities. On mentioning to Eric his enjoyment of Wilfred Partington’s biography of the notorious bibliographer and forger Thomas J. Wise, he recalls his early friendship with the novelist and ghost-story writer Violet Hunt, who hosted literary salons to which Ezra Pound, Joseph Conrad, Wyndham Lewis, D. H. Lawrence and Henry James were invited. Hunt was the daughter of the Victorian artist Alfred William Hunt, who had Pre-Raphaelite friends. On one visit she declared to Stonor that “Tommy Wise, that old scoundrel, has just been here and carried off a lot of old rubbish with him!” Hunt supplied no further details, but as a committed modernist she would have viewed anything relating to Victorian art—especially Pre-Raphaelitism—as ‘rubbish’. Wise, on the other hand, had a scholarly interest in Robert Browning, John Ruskin and their correspondents, many of whom were artists. Wise was a dealer too. ‘She always had to haggle with him’, Stonor notes. Continue reading