My Favourite Country Stories

 

 

MY FAVOURITE COUNTRY STORIES

 

Edited and with an Introduction by Henry Williamson

 

 

country 1966 front    

First edition, Lutterworth

Press, 1966

 

The background

 

The book

 

Book cover

 

 

Lutterworth Press, October 1966 (15s.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The background:

 

There is very little background information regarding this book, which was one of a series; other titles are shown both in the preliminaries and on the inside back flap of the dust wrapper. The anthology is included in ‘A Life’s Work’ because there is a small but interesting cross-over with HW's earlier Tales of Moorland and Estuary (1953).

 

The only evidence that he was working on the anthology is an entry in the Notes section at the beginning of his 1966 desk diary, in which he wrote his initial selection:

 

 

country hw diary

 

 

There is a further short note on Friday, 18 March:

 

Lutterworth Press Anthology

rejects Hardy, Hudson, Jefferies & Ewart. We'll see!

I posted Ackworth's Cuckoo & A. Uttley piece (both previously rejected) & agreed to include harvest scene from Women in Love (D. H. Lawrence).

 

In the event Long Lance, Ewart, Ackworth and Lawrence all failed to make the cut. It would be interesting to know which piece HW selected from Wilfrid Ewart's works. (Ewart was the author of Way of Revelation (1921), an early – and best-selling – novel about the Great War of which HW thought highly.) 'Ackworth' must, I think, be Bernard Acworth (1885–1963), whose The Cuckoo and Other Bird Mysteries was published in 1944.

 

At this time, 1966, HW was busy with the final preparation for A Solitary War (published in September 1966) and was working hard on Lucifer before Sunrise (October 1967). Other work also 'on the go' at that time included preparation for a new edition of Richard Jefferies' Bevis and, as President of the Francis Thompson Society, the writing of two major essays on the poet (see the entry for Francis Thompson).

 

Of major importance in 1966 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, for which HW wrote a three-part series of articles for the Daily Express: 'The Somme – Fifty Years After'. These were published in the Express on 29/30 June and 1 July. (The articles were later collected in Days of Wonder, ed. John Gregory, HWS, 1987; e-book 2013.)

 

At the time of the actual publication of this anthology, in October 1966, HW found himself urgently dealing with the circumstances of the mental breakdown of his second wife, Christine. Although she had left him at the end of 1962 for John Fursdon (who was the son of HW's platoon commander in the London Rifle Brigade at the beginning of the First World War), it was HW who dealt with all the attendant problems, which, quite apart from anything else, severely interrupted his writing progress.

 

 

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The book:

 

My Favourite Country Stories is a pleasant compendium, illustrated with drawings by Elsie Wrigley, with perhaps a slightly unusual choice of extracts, as shown by the Contents page:

 

 

country contents

 

 

HW's Introduction was a concise two pages:

 

 

country intro1

 

country intro2

 

 

There are some selections that we might expect to find with HW as compiler: extracts from W. H. Hudson’s The Purple Land and Richard Jefferies’ The Life of the Fields being particularly obvious, although not 'standard', choices. (Background to HW's involvement with these two earlier nature writers can be found in HWSJ 41, September 2005). There is also a piece from Thomas Hardy, again from a lesser known work.

 

H. M. Tomlinson (1873‒1958) was a great favourite of HW: he had a large selection of his books that included his best-known work, the anti-war novel All Our Yesterdays. In his 'Reality on War Literature' essay, HW notes this book as: 'Tomlinson's noble prose of grief'. Tomlinson had been a war correspondent for the Daily News. The Taw/Torridge estuary is an obvious common bond.

 

HW also took the opportunity to include a passage from his own son's first book, The Dawn is My Brother (1959; a new illustrated e-book edition of the book was published by the HWS in 2015). There is also an extract from Ruth Tomalin's book about the life of her family, The Garden House. Ruth Tomalin (1919‒2012) had caught HW's attention ‒ and his eye ‒ when in 1954 she published a biography of W. H. Hudson, author of the first extract here, and he met her at a West Country Writers Association Congress. They became friends, although Ruth always resisted a closer relationship. (Strangely, she had married a Leaver – a distant relation of HW.) She also protested that she was not actually Irish – merely that her father was a gardener and had worked in Ireland for a time. They then moved to the famous Stansted House estate, home of Lord Bessborough (Keats set his poem ‘St Agnes' Eve’ in the chapel there). This is probably why HW also includes an extract from the Earl of Bessborough's own work.

 

James Farrar is featured here too, in a chapter consisting of a number of short essays and two poems from The Unreturning Spring, this being the collected works of  Farrar which HW had edited – and was instrumental in getting published – in 1950. A new edition of the book was published two years later, in 1968.

 

Perhaps the story with the most interesting connection with HW is the extract 'Iron-Blue’ from Where the Bright Waters Meet by Harry Plunket Greene (1924), an autobiographical book of fishing reminiscences. For HW had used Plunket Greene's title as the title of his own short story 'Where Bright Waters Meet' in his collection for Tales of Moorland and Estuary (Macdonald, 1953), although his original title for the story, first printed in Lovat's Magazine and the Daily Express in 1935, was 'Whatever has Happened?'.

 

Harry Plunket Greene (1865‒1936) was a baritone singer by profession (he sang in the first performance of Elgar's Gerontius, and married a daughter of Hubert Parry), but a fisherman by inclination. Amusingly and coincidentally, there is a cutting dated 22 November 1959 in HW's archive of a long article about 'The Chelsea Set', which mentions his grandson, Alexander Plunket Greene, then aged 27, as being a member of that group; further on, the article makes a point of mentioning HW as NOT being a part of the group but one of the distinguished writers and actors who prefer to haunt the Queen's Elm in the Fulham Road.

 

HW's extract here is Chapter V of Plunket Greene's book; 'Iron-Blue' is the name of a dun fly used in fly fishing – one which the trout of a particular German river apparently prefer, and will take, above all others. In HW's own re-titled essay he, too, has a hatch of Iron-Blue duns on the River Bray which the trout, especially his pet fish Peter (although Peter is supposedly dead), seek out avidly. Thus there is an interesting interlocking connection. This chapter in HW's copy of Where the Bright Waters Meet was marked up by him for copy-editing for this anthology, with a note to the typist on the inside front cover.

 

 

country greene1

 

country greene2

 

country greene3

 

 

 

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Book cover:

 

Both the photograph on the front cover and that on the back are unattributed, although the latter is by Oswald Jones.

 

 

country 1966 cover

 

 

country 1966 back

 

 

 

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