Tag Archives: Geoffrey Grigson

Christmas 1930 edition of The Bookman: ‘Lapses of the Early Laureates’ by Geoffrey Grigson.

Bookman Christmas 1930 cover 001

One thing that could be said of the special Christmas 1930 edition of the literary review The Bookman is that it was sumptuous, and due to its inclusion of art paper, very physically if not intellectually, heavy. Always unashamedly middlebrow in character, a fact borne out by the lack a proper appreciation of D. H. Lawrence, who had died a few months earlier.In fact, the only critique of him focused almost solely on his character, where he is dismissed as a ‘puritan’, rather than the originality of his writings. While other more serious literary journals had given Lawrence the respect he deserved, and the Times had trashed him, the  Bookman, devoted more room to reviews of adventure stories for children ,  modern novels of manners, travelogues and popular histories than it did for serious fiction and poetry. In many ways it was the sort of magazine read by those who took the Yorkshire Post, the Morning Post and the Daily Telegraph. It comes as no surprise that the last two newspapers took full page adverts puffing their book pages. It is indicative of the conservatism of the Yorkshire Post that Geoffrey Grigson, then a junior staffer there, had to exert great pressure on  its London Editor to insert a brief notice on Lawrence, a writer of whom, Grigson remarks, his boss had probably never heard.

By December 1930, the recently married Grigson, then aged 25, was keen to supplement his exigent pay as a junior, and so in the year in which John Masefield had been appointed the successor to Robert Bridges as Poet Laureate, he chose The Bookman for an assessment of past Poet Laureates ( his Editor doesn’t seem to have minded this moonlighting). Perhaps another indication that he was keen to make his debut as a serious writer, rather than a hack, was the fact that around this time he placed an advert in the TLS asking if anyone who had material relating to the eighteenth century satirist ‘ Peter Pindar’  ( aka  John Wolcot, to get in touch with him, as he was writing a biography. He had managed to obtain a Reader’s Card for the British Museum, perhaps to gain access to books by Wolcot. 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

Read and Spender—unlikely double act

Whatever—or whoever—could have brought publicly together ‘pylon’ poet Stephen Spender (1909 – 95) and Herbert Read (1893–1968), art critic,  professional writer of introductionsto other people’s books and self-styled anarchist? This press photograph gives few clues, although the most evident seems to be the large posters advertising The Sunday Times, in front of which the two men are standing. The photo was one of many in a small archive of similar material that turned up in an auction a few years ago.

The photo appears to date from around the mid thirties, which may suggest that both men were snapped at the London International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936, which was covered by al the major London papers, including the Sunday Times. However, there is no real reason why the two very different writers should have been grouped together. Spender admitted that Read had become a friend ever since the older man’s sympathetic review of his Poems (1933), but Read’s name is missing entirely from the published Journals, 1939 – 82, of Spender, who never showed much interest in Surrealism. It does not follow, of course, that there should be any connection between the two figures, who may have been snapped by a Sunday Times photographer while they visited the Exhibition.

An alternative circumstance for this pairing may have been the Spanish Civil War, which was dividing intellectuals in the mid thirties. Both Read and Spender would have supported the Communists, and indeed Spender reported to Read at this time that he had become a communist.

While Spender’s reputation has been enhanced since his death. John Sutherland’s biography and the Stephen Spender Trust has seen to that, Read’s profile, despite a biography  (The Last Romantic) has faded somewhat. The view of his contemporary and fellow critic, Geoffrey Grigson is fair, I think, and echoes my own views of Read, who was once such a ubiquitous presence in the literary world.

‘He was no genius, he had no very acute perception… of the arts of painting, sculpture or writing. I would even say there was something to Wyndham Lewis’s charge that he had never looked a picture in the face, although he knew the kind of picture to look in the face…Not much of a poet, to tell the truth not much of a writer, he was an art apostle who stuck to his preaching…’ [R.M.Healey]