Words on the West Wind

 

 

WORDS ON THE WEST WIND

 

Selected Essays from The Adelphi, 1924–1950

 

 

west wind    
First edition, HWS, 2000  

The West Wind Blows Again, by Anne Williamson

 

List of Contents

 

Extract

 

Book cover

 

 

Henry Williamson Society, 2000, paperback, x, 104pp; 500 copies

Edited by John Gregory

 

E-book edition, 2013

 

 

The Adelphi was one of the so-called 'little magazines' – small periodicals devoted to serious literary writings that flourished mainly between the two world wars. It was founded by John Middleton Murry in 1923. Henry Williamson was an early contributor, with his 'The Doom of the Peregrine Falcon' appearing in the September 1924 issue. His next contribution, however, was not until the July–September 1943 issue, when he became friendly with Murry, both then farming in the east of England. Thereafter his pieces in the magazine became more frequent. From the October–December 1948 issue HW became owner and editor of The Adelphi, but for three isues only, before passing it on to George Godwin. Anne Williamson comprehensively explores HW's involvement with the magazine in her 'Life's Work' consideration The Adelphi.

 

Copies of the magazine today are scarce, and fragile with their thin paper covers, and Words on the West Wind (so titled because this was the heading of HW's editorials) collects the more important of HW's contributions, together with a few other items that have a connection to him, including two pieces by James Farrar, a talented young writer killed late in the Second World War. HW was so impressed by Farrar's writing that he later arranged for the publication of his collected works, which he also edited: The Unreturning Spring.

 

Anne Williamson provides an afterword in 'The West Wind Blows Again', which for the e-book edition was moved to the beginning, as it provides an ideal introduction to the collection. It is reproduced below (without the footnotes that are given in the printed and e-book editions). There is also a short piece by Richard Williamson, 'That Damned Motorcar', on HW's pre-war Aston Martin sports car, which features in his editorials and gave him so much trouble.

 

The cover of Words on the West Wind deliberately echoes that of The Adelphi, and so forms an integral part of the book's design. For that reason there was no limited edition; but to keep collectors happy, a few facsimile copies were made of HW's flier that he had printed when he took over the editorship: 

 

 

west wind flier

 

 

*************************

 

 

Introduction:

 

The West Wind Blows Again

 

Anne Williamson

 

 

In this latest collection of Henry Williamson’s fugacious journalistic writings to be published by The Henry Williamson Society, John Gregory has chosen to present a selection of material from The Adelphi, the prestigious journal founded by John Middleton Murry in June 1923 which, exhausted by the struggle (particularly financial) to keep it going and in poor health, he handed over to Henry Williamson in May 1948. Henry’s association with The Adelphi and with Murry himself has been fully documented in my essay ‘Millennium Revelations’ (HWSJ 35, September 1999). We learn from Henry’s first editorial when he took over the journal in 1948 that he sought it ‘eagerly’, having earlier read Murry’s ‘The Lost Legions’ in a copy of The Athenæum in a ‘London library’ in January 1920, that first difficult winter after his demobilisation. In 1923 Henry Williamson was struggling to make his name: the first two volumes of The Flax of Dream were published, The Beautiful Years (1921) and Dandelion Days (1922), and also The Lone Swallows (1922). The Peregrine’s Saga (November 1923) was imminent.

 

To begin with The Adelphi appeared monthly, but the only early copy in HW’s archive is Volume 2, No. 4, September 1924 which contains his short contribution ‘The Doom of the Peregrine Falcon’. Its content is of course part of Henry’s thinking and writing in The Peregrine’s Saga, but the conservation aspect is here more clearly and succinctly expressed. During 1924 Henry had acted as tutor to the young Patrick Foulds and his sister. Patrick was to be the model for the boy in The Scandaroon (1972), the last book Henry wrote. ‘The Doom of the Peregrine Falcon’ is almost a synopsis for that book. Thus we have in 1924 the genesis of what was not to emerge until almost fifty years later – a book written with that same freshness and clarity as Henry’s earliest work.

 

Henry had no further personal contact with Murry until the 1940s. From that time he contributed regularly to The Adelphi. Murry’s editorials urge adherence to a ‘back to the soil’ philosophy, showing how closely he and HW thought in principle: ‘if beauty is ever to be restored to the national life it can only be by restoring the reverence for the Earth.’ In April 1945 Henry provided a lyrical piece ‘Walk in Spring’, laden with symbolism, taking his reader out along those familiar cliffs on the Devon coast:

 

The spirit of the tree endures like the spirit of men, to renew hope with the sun in the sky. Here among the black and savage thorns break the blossoms of its happy morning, the all of its endurance. Nothing so innocent as the opening buds of the blackthorn; the white petal beauty is of the air, wan-travelling starlight. Delicate and coral are the stamens within the white buds of the thorn; coral the lips of the bride, virginal, sad with all the loveliness and [sic] ancient sunlight.

 

We are then brought down to earth with familiar tales of Muggy Smith and John Kift. In the next issue Henry’s contribution was ‘Village Children of the Twenties’. One must note that at this time he was revising the Village books and thus was using material that was to hand! An advertisement for Tales of a Devon Village (and other Faber publications) appears on the back of the October 1945 issue with attendant blurb quoted from John O’London (by the critic Sir Jack Squire): “Few writers hold so surely the balance between outer and inner truth; fewer so generously share their vision with their reader.”

 

Henry chose for the early 1946 issue ‘The Sun that Shines on the Dead’, material from The Wet Flanders Plain which he obviously thought as appropriate to the end of the Second World War as he had felt it had been of the First. ‘The war had brought no purification to the world. . . . “What you seek is lost forever in ancient sunlight, which arises again as Truth”.’ April 1946 also saw Murry printing the first contribution from James Farrar, the poignant essay ‘Hayfield’ (which is included in this work), with further items in ensuing issues. In early 1947 HW contributed a strange and difficult article ‘From “A Wartime Norfolk Journal”: Easter 1944’. It ranks in its tone with his ‘soliloquy’ from the tower of Georgeham church, ‘Surview and Farewell’, found in The Labouring Life. Again, with the revision of the Village books so recent, that train of thought would have been in the forefront of his mind.

 

Charles Causley must surely be one of the most retiring and modest poets ever. Murry recognised his worth early, including four of his poems in the July 1947 issue, well before Causley’s first collections of poetry were published in 1951. His critical piece on Henry, ‘Man into Fox’ (reprinted in this work), appeared after HW had passed the journal over to George Godwin. Causley’s percipient eye takes us to the exact centre of what HW is all about.

 

Now to The Adelphi under Henry Williamson’s guiding hand. There are a few scribbles on his file copy of Murry’s last issue indicating some modifications to the cover that HW wished made, without altering the overall look of the journal (which has been recaptured in the design of this present volume). He also had a small flyer printed. As well as subscription details – ten shillings a year including postage – it stated: ‘The Adelphi is a quarterly magazine with a policy of reality in the resurgence of Western civilisation, based on the values of soil and work.’ – the central essence of HW’s philosophy.

 

The first issue under the new editor contained, apart from HW’s own contributions, the second part of an article by Herbert Read ‘Education for Peace’. ‘I believe that nothing less than a complete recasting or re-orientation of our education system can promote peace, can save mankind from annihilating wars.’ A thought very similar to HW’s own at the end of the First World War. This issue also contains a prose essay by Charles Causley of further amusing reminiscences of his naval days in Malta and three poems; Alister Kershaw, HW’s new friend, contributed three poems but also he had persuaded HW to contact Richard Aldington, who sent in a passage from his new biography of the eccentric naturalist Charles Waterton. This of course was the genesis of the friendship between these two. Other items were from various friends of HW. Maurice Renshaw, part of the Renshaw family from Instow, contributed ‘The Spate’ about fishing in a rainstorm; there is a poem by Ruth Tomalin and four poems by Edward Pine, a classics scholar and teacher and a family friend for many years.

 

In the next issue HW began ‘Words on the West Wind’ which tells us a great deal about his thoughts at this time, as does ‘Notes of a ’Prentice Hand’, particularly on Tolstoi’s War and Peace and his own work. It is of great importance that these articles are back in print, accessible to new readers and now permanently available. The West Wind blows again.

 

But Henry found himself faced with a problem. Firstly, despite the fact that Ann Thomas bore the brunt of the work on The Adelphi, to a man of HW’s temperament it could only act as an irritant, a distraction from his purpose to get to grips at last with his own story of war and peace – A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. Secondly, he had in the summer of 1948, almost immediately after setting up the new regime, met and fallen deeply in love with Christine Duffield who was shortly to become his second wife, to Ann’s devastation. The only solution was to get rid of The Adelphi. There are no details about how it was handed over to George Godwin other than that we know Murry was extremely upset about Henry’s action. ‘Words on the West Wind’ continued, in which we follow the honeymoon visit of Henry and Christine through France, briefly stopping at the battlefields again, and on down to the south coast and the home of Richard Aldington at Le Lavendou, and then later over the Simplon Pass to contact publishers in Italy. All in the temperamental Aston-Martin: as Henry himself calls it in ‘Words on the West Wind’ – “that damned motorcar”.

 

 

*************************

 

Contents:

 

(Note that the e-book edition omitted Edward Pine's short poem, and moved Anne Williamson's 'The West Wind Blows Again' to the front.)

 

The Doom of the Peregrine Falcon                         Henry Williamson
Under the News Edward Pine
Birth of the Phasian Bird                         Henry Williamson
‘The Lost Legions’ Henry Williamson
Hayfield James Farrar
Atlantic Coast James Farrar
Report on the Richard Jefferies Centenary Henry Williamson
A Note on Tarka the Otter Henry Williamson
Man into Fox Charles Causley
Notes of a ’Prentice Hand Henry Williamson
Words on the West Wind Henry Williamson
   
The West Wind Blows Again Anne Williamson
‘That Damned Motorcar’ Richard Williamson

 

 

*************************

 

 

Extract:

 

This perceptive essay by the Cornish poet Charles Causley was printed in the July–September 1949 issue of The Adelphi. It was reprinted in Words on the West Wind with the permission of David Higham Associates, managers of Causley's Literary Estate.

 

 

Man into Fox

 

Charles Causley

 

A note on Henry Williamson as a nature writer

 

 

T. E. Lawrence once said that for a mannered writer, Henry Williamson had the best manners in the world. In an age full of literary critics industriously hitting their thumbs (and causing themselves, oddly, no pain) I like to recall this nail: so well hammered in twenty-five years ago by an amateur. Hammered in what? An Ark, a trebuchet, a flying-machine, a battering-ram. Anything, in fact, but a coffin.

 

One of the troubles about Henry Williamson, of course, is that he has not been dead a hundred years. For many, his writing seems to be uncomfortably alive. Like David Copperfield at Salem House, he has a label on his back: “Take care of him. He bites.” We never hear his voice on the wireless: only the sawing tones of the B.B.C. country “experts”, so sadly like those of west-end actors hoping for a part in The Farmer’s Wife. As for Williamson’s more recent books, the reviewers seem apprehensive, nervous of something. One misses the usual, resonant assurance of the donkey-doctor. What are they afraid of? We all know that most of them seem to get their knowledge of the country from the back of cigarette-cards. Do they fear that he will leap, fox-like, from the pages and bite them? Sometimes I wish most ardently that he would.

 

The truth is that Henry Williamson (like Sean O’Casey, another adopted child of Devon) is unclassifiable. He is put neatly in a pigeon hole and the next second flies out a phoenix, drunk with the fire of the sun, burning our spats and long furry ears. One doesn’t feel “safe” reviewing him. He is a queer bird, a phasian bird, and the best one can hope for is the cosh, the shot from the back alley across the railway embankment, the coup-de-grâce behind the tin chapel. Why, one wonders, and with all this going on, does Graham Greene bother to take us, sweating, all the way to Freetown or to Mexico City? Let’s have a bit of peace, say the critics: praise the Lord and pass the New Statesman.

 

At the same time, one has the uneasy feeling that no-one, in the history of letters, has written of the English countryside: its sky, its sun, its flowers, its animals (I include the two-legged ones) like this amazing man. From inside the whale he observes, he communicates. He rides like Arion on the dolphin’s back. He is like the fleeing speck of the swallow in the sky. He lies, like old mole, in the belly of the earth. He swims deep in the sea or floats with the spring-time snow of the wild cherry blossom. The phrases are caught, as a fever, from his prose. Where others have drowned in sensation, he moves easily, saying: “Look: I show you the innocent, do not betray it.”

 

. . . . .

 

Henry Williamson’s nature writing first became real to me in the hot, Spanish summer of 1942. In the dusty troops-library in Gibraltar, among the snake-bound dictionaries and the ancient guide-books to Valencia, I came across a copy of The Lone Swallows: dedicated, you may remember, to Richard Jefferies. In Gibraltar, with its sand, jellyfish, warm Portuguese beer, its curious brooding air of violence and bitter stone, I felt I had suddenly fallen face-forwards in my native Tamar. And it was not the mere sentiment of the self-pitying exile. For one thing, I am the only man in the world who liked living on the Rock.

 

All the same, I was nervous of re-reading Williamson when I returned to my home in the westcountry. Works of art have a habit of crumbling when placed in their “natural” surroundings. But I soon re-discovered my Baedeker: and one written by a poet, a scientist, an artist to his finger tips, and one with not only five fingers but – as Max Beerbohm said of Rostand – with a brain and a heart and all sorts of good things besides. Like A. L. Rowse, another writer who survives his native soil, his own climate, how deliciously he blows the gaff about our westcountry “character”. And with what sincerity and affection it is all written.

 

As a nature writer, there is first the astonishing self-identification with the subject. We run with the hare and hunt with the hound, discovering virtues in both. All through the books, too, whether we read of “Revvy” Carter, the wild red kite, “Stroyle” George, the Lundy tiercel, runs an impulse: a flooding sense of movement.

 

Two commonplaces are often written of Henry Williamson. One is that his subjective books (The Sun in the Sands, The Dream of Fair Women) are inferior to his objective: neatly listed as Tarka, Salar and the rest. But are they? One is conscious of the agonising, the self-pity, as one is of a child crying in the next room. But it is impossible to consider the books as separate blocks of ice-cream: this one pink, that one white. Donne-like, he breaks pieces off himself and hands them to us: but we hurry by, as we hurry by the ex-service men’s band in Petticoat Lane. They are a joke; none of them can possibly be a “gentleman”. I open at random any of Henry Williamson’s books: I open Tales of a Devon Village. Is there any difference between the terrible account of the badger dig (“. . . all the tears – weak, whiskey tears – would not bring the badger back to life again.”) and the hunt by the villagers of the strangers, the two ex-soldiers, in Sam Pidler’s cottage? I see none.

 

Then, again, that occasional “badly constructed sentence” the reviewers complain of. Two marks out of ten, we hear them sigh, and try harder next term. As badly constructed, perhaps, as the work of a boy: and just as likely to contain, I feel, an observation as clear, as candid, as illuminating as a flash from the retreating lightship of our own childhood.

 

Standing in the stream panning for words, Williamson is a capitalist, an aristocrat, and he does it again and again. He has the precision of a poet, the romantic eye of the scientist. The words are light, exact, strong: the sweet sipping sound of the goldfinch, the kingfisher drawing his sapphire line to the pit where every spring we find his nest, the buzzard poised in the air, falling continually on the wind, the moon floating in the night pool with the swan.

 

. . . . .

 

Williamson is a greater writer, and more universal, than Richard Jefferies. His prose has the crystal quality, the calm, that one associates with the best of John Clare. There is none of the feverish, burning-glass observation that Reginald Pound noticed in the writing of Jefferies: symptomatic of the disease that killed him. Williamson, like Clare, sees the world not through the warm, vile jelly: but with the child’s clear eye. He reminds us, with Karel Capek, that the young are a secret society and that the old have forgotten that they once belonged to it.

 

After the first world-war, before going to Devon, Henry Williamson worked as a reporter. “You want someone to draw a milk-cart, I’m a racehorse,” he told an editor who had jeered at his “airy, zephyr stuff.” And reading the great mass of his books, what philosophy is revealed? How does this man feel about a society that, having failed to kill him, turns its scaly back? “Perhaps,” he writes in his London Papers, “there is some deep philosophy among the wild creatures, for immediately the danger of death is past they have forgotten it, and continue to live every moment in complete happiness.” And, again, in Surview and Farewell: “Now what is my finest memory, outside the elements of earth, sea, and sky? LIVING! cried old Jimmy Carter, at the verge of the grave. LIVING! shone the great landlord of the sun, burning bright over all. I would see all things as the sun sees them, without shadows.”

 

Perhaps one day some animal: that intelligent creature the badger, for instance, will amaze us by writing a book about Henry Williamson. Once again, the critics will be flummoxed. They will have no idea what to say about it. But, if they are able to get their hands on him, we all know what will happen to the author.

 

 

*************************

 

 

Book cover:

 

The front of the e-book edition is the same as that for the book:

 

 

west wind large

 

 

 

*************************

 

 

 

Back to 'A Life's Work'        Back to Posthumous collections