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S.P.B.Mais meets Sir Hugh Walpole

Hugh Walpole was once one of the most popular and richest novelists in Britain. Today he is hardly read, though he still has his fans; in 2020 The Hugh Walpole Society was founded in an attempt to resurrect his reputation. Back in the early thirties, when Walpole’s star was at its highest, the journalist and broadcaster S. P. B. Mais ( see previous Jots), while rambling in the Lake District, popped in to talk to him at Brackenburn, his ‘ small stone house’ on the edge of Derwentwater, not far from Keswick. This is the impression of Walpole that Mais published in his Weekends in England(1933).

S P B Mais (1885 – 1975) with wife Doris

‘A most charming host I have seldom met. He took me all over his house, muttering , “ I hope I’m not boring you, “ as he turned out treasure after treasure for my inspection. There was a thirteenth century missal, exquisitely painted. “I got that from an old man in Carlisle, “ he said. There were the holograph manuscripts  of “ The Fortunes of Nigel “, with scarcely a correction, the proof sheets of the same novel with many corrections, not only by Scott, but also by Ballantyne, there were letters from Charlotte Bronte showing how deeply she loved her husband, letters from Thackeray showing how he disliked Dickens, especially in his relation to America, there were very rare early editions of Kipling and Bennett, and first editions  of every Victorian and Georgian novelist, some glorious pictures of C. J. Holmes, Sickert, Bone, Grant and most of the moderns.

Altogether a house of taste.

Then we were taken over the garden and shown the bee-hives and the superb view over the woods of Manesty to the lake.

But the thing that remains most in my mind beyond the lovely pictures and beautifully bound and rare books is the quality of Mr Walpole’s voice.

It was full of genuine friendliness and charm…’

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