The Patriot's Progress: Publishing history & Critical reception



Back to The Patriot’s Progress main page







Publishing history


Critical reception



Publishing history:


Geoffrey Bles, signed limited edition, 350 copies, published 12 May 1930, 2 guineas.


Waveney Girvan (A Bibliography, 1931) states: ‘9½ x 6¼ inches; issued in red [maroon] cloth with vellum parchment spine [i.e. quarter bound], gilt lettered, top edges gilt, others uncut.’ That is correct.



pp ltd cover



pp title



Hugoe Matthews (Henry Williamson: A Bibliography, 2004) has complicated computations about the number of this edition but 350 was the actual number for sale. 50 further copies were bound for reviews etc. A letter from Bles to HW, dated 20 February 1930, states: ‘In addition to the 350 copies of the Limited Edition for sale, I am binding 50 extra copies unnumbered for review purposes, presentation to Museums, Libraries etc. [including copies for yourself (and presumably Kermode).]’


The publication date should have been 29 April 1930, but a letter from HW’s agent, A. D. Peters (who had bought out Andrew Dakers, HW’s first agent), dated 14 April 1930, states: ‘Bles has postponed P.P. until 6 May owing to the difficulty of obtaining supplies from the binders on account of the Easter holidays.’ The book was further delayed until 12 May according to a letter from Bles to HW.


Girvan further states: ‘The Certificate on p. (iv) reads – This edition on large paper is limited to three hundred and fifty signed copies. THIS IS NUMBER . . .’ with the number and signature of Henry Williamson and William Kermode. (There is no copy of this in HW’s archive – his copies were supplied out of those extra 50 copies and are unsigned.)


pp ltd cert






Geoffrey Bles trade edition, 3000 copies, (April/May) 1930, 10s 6d


Girvan: ‘Issued in red [maroon] buckram with gilt lettering on spine, top edge coloured [maroon]. Top and fore edges cut.’ Dust cover with design. (Apparently reprinted four times that same year, with slight binding differences.)



pp first trade



There is no information about the actual date of the trade edition but the publishers would not have wanted that to appear before the limited edition and so it would almost certainly also have been delayed: and HW hints at that in the note in the Girvan Bibliography.


The book is illustrated with 125 lino-cuts by William Kermode. The last page states:


pp colophon





Dutton, USA, 1930 (reviews begin in July, on the 13th and 20th, so publication in early July would seem to be suggested); as first edition, $2.50. Cover is a blue wavy patterned cloth, gold stamped, plus dust jacket.



pp us cover






Macdonald, 1968; produced to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Armistice ending the First World War. As first edition, but with additional ‘Preface’ and ‘Epigraph’ by HW; (Matthews states 2500 copies). 21/-. The Preface contains text of 1930 review by Arnold Bennett, and ‘critique’ letter from T. E. Lawrence: the ‘Epigraph’ – normally ‘Epilogue’, but that was already in situ – also contains an obituary of Kermode, who had died at the beginning of February 1959; it ends with the following words:


That battlefield . . . seen at night from aircraft (including Zeppelins) as a great livid wound stretching from the North Sea, or German Ocean, to the Alps, during four and a quarter years: a wound never ceasing to weep from wan dusk to gangrenous dawn, from sunrise to sunset of Europe in division . . .


This is a quotation from the opening paragraph of his own work, A Test to Destruction (Macdonald, 1960), but that is derivative from Le Feu (Under Fire) by Henri Barbusse (1917), a book which had a huge influence on HW. (Aged 73 in December 1968, HW had published Vol. 14, Lucifer Before Sunrise, of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight the previous year, and was preparing the final fifteenth volume published the following year.)



pp 1968 cover



pp 1968 preface ms






Macdonald and Jane’s, October 1976; as 1968 edition. £3.50.


(Note: 1 July 1976 was the sixtieth anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.)



pp 1976 reprint






Sphere Books Ltd (Macdonald imprint), paperback (text as 1968), 1978, 85p.



pp 1978 front           pp 1978 back


Sphere later reprinted the book, giving it a new, stark, and effective cover; no date is given, but the price of £1.10 means that it predates the Cardinal edition below:



pp sphere            pp sphere back






Cardinal (Sphere Books imprint!), paperback (text as 1968), 1991, £4.99



pp 1991 cover






Sutton Publishing, paperback (as 1968 but omits the ‘Epigraph’), 1999, £6.99


With new Introduction by K. W. Mitchison, First World War historian, author of Gentlemen and Officers (IWM, 1995; the story of the London Rifle Brigade – HW’s own brigade at the beginning of the war – but in which he unfortunately omits HW’s name from the list of soldiers who embarked on the SS Chyebassa for the Channel crossing to France on the night of 4 November 1914); and a brief biographical note by Anne Williamson.



pp 1999 cover






Critical reception:


Evening Standard (Arnold Bennett, in his regular column ‘Books and Persons’), 8 May 1930 (12” x 4” column): also appeared in Glasgow Evening Citizen on the same day. Bennett’s review was reprinted in Preface to The Patriot’s Progress (1968). Arnold Bennett, 1867-1931, esteemed novelist, short-story writer, playwright and journalist – mainly known for his ‘Pottery’ series of novels. He and HW corresponded and met up from time to time when HW was in London. HW pasted a cutting of the review in his own copy of the book.


pp ab review



Terrific Description and a Tremendous, Overwhelming Indictment


There have been so many war books, and so many good war books, and so many good English war books . . . An effort is being made to maintain that our soldiers, in addition to being heroes, were archangels. For myself I prefer them to have been what they were – men. . . .


. . . [the PP details] It is short, and it is not a novel . . . It is the account of the war career of a plain ordinary man, John Bullock, who entered the army with a dogged sense of duty and left it minus a leg. The author has not drawn John Bullock as an individual. John Bullock is Everysoldier. . . .


The account is simple and awful, absolutely awful. [meaning ‘inspiring awe; worthy of profound respect; solemnly impressive, reverential; notable of its kind’: NOT its degenerated modern usage – AB was of the old school!] Its power lies in the descriptions, which have not been surpassed in any other war book within my knowledge. I began by marking pages of terrific description. But I had to mark so many that I ceased to mark. [But] Henry Williamson was keeping resources in reserve for the supreme attack, in which Everysoldier lost a leg.


This description (p. 169), quite brief, is a marvel of inspired virtuosity. And it is as marvellous psychologically as physically. . . . No overt satire, sarcasm, sardonic irony in the book. Yet it amounts to a tremendous, an overwhelming, and unanswerable indictment of the institution of war -- . . .


A word as to Mr. Kermode’s drawings . . . [which he didn’t at first like but -] they are very good and just as much part of the book as the text itself . . . The two forms of expression are here, for once, evenly complementary. “The Patriot’s Progress” ought to have a large sale.


Within this same article AB reviews T. S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday – which he patently did not understand at all (too modernist for his taste).


John O’London’s Weekly, 31 May 1930 (unsigned). Unfortunately the cutting is torn and some portion missing, marked ‘–--’:


Mr. Williamson’s development as a writer has been remarkable sure and rapid. . . . In “The Patriot’s Progress” the style is simple and direct . . . There is no unravelling of ---- tangles, no mock heroism or ---- mock-mud-wallowing. There ---- agony and futility ---- of despair.


The book begins like a route march [quotes] . . .


The marching rhythm, relentless . . . It is this deadly steadiness which gives the book its convincing value. One feels the dogged intention of the author never to swerve. . . . He marches on through mess-room, mud-filled trench, ruined village, estaminet, brothel, and hospital, without the least deflection – so that the hopelessness of the individual caught in the war-toils is felt and endured by the reader, not as it is remembered and regretted now, but as it was in those days.


Mr. Williamson’s singleness of purpose does not allow him to speak his own opinion in so many words, but there is irony in the very directness of the style, irony and pity. Nobody is either blamed or praised: “The Patriot’s Progress” is a terrible experience, but it is an indictment of War, not of the men who brought it, nor of those who endured it, nor even of the gods that allowed it. There war is, a plain fact, and man a plain creature: it is the fidelity of the author’s vision which reveals the beauty, turns horror into tragedy.


The bare force of the book is supported by the remarkable series of lino-cuts by Mr. William Kermode, one to almost every page.


There are no copies of reviews from the mainline English newspapers of this first edition in the literary archive. There would certainly have been some, so one can only presume that at some point HW lost them – perhaps he sent them to someone and they were not returned. There was certainly one in the


Observer by Gerald Gould, as it is quoted elsewhere as stating:


. . . perhaps the most deadly, the most dreadful, and at the same time, most beautiful of the English war books.


St Martin’s Review (C.H.S.M.), December 1930. It was reviewed together with Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (Faber & Faber, 7/6d): the two so inter-bound that the whole piece is included here:


These two books are among the best of the immense torrent of war books which has flowed from the press during the last two years. They are both by authors of real distinction, as readers of ‘Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man’ and ‘The Pathway’ will know. Perhaps it was just the realisation of this that led me to close both these books with a slight sense of disappointment. Perhaps I had pitched my expectations in both cases too high – at least I am certain that if I had not read the earlier books of these two writers I should not have felt that vague, and perhaps unjustifiable, sense of disappointment. For in both cases the single-minded sincerity and the beauty of the writing are indisputable. It may be that I was already satiated with war books: it may be that the very limits imposed upon their subject gives to these books a less universal scope and appeal than that of the earlier books. In regard to Mr. Williamson’s book it is possible that the often brilliant, but horribly grim, lino-cuts by Mr. William Kermode too deeply depressed my spirits. Not that anyone who had experienced the war could complain of any exaggeration of the horrors of it in either of these books, or of any failure to do justice to the amazing spirit in men which enabled them to endure and in so many cases to triumph over those horrors. Compared with the purely superficial, and therefore false, romanticism of some war recollections, these are, both of them, great books. They make the war live, and they must reinforce in every reader the longing to make war for ever impossible in the future. They are both already famous, and there is no need to urge that they should be read.


Reviews from further afield, include the following interesting side-light on censorship in New South Wales (and the prejudices of the reviewer!).


Guardian, New South Wales, Australia (Colin Simpson), 24 August 1930:




If all that has lately been uttered on the subject of war books were written down, it would make a vast tome of shoutings, and of sorrow and anger, perhaps to be entitled, pleadingly, “All Quiet on the War Book Front”.


But here is another war book.


You could call it England’s “All Quiet”. [quotes a passage]


The ‘bloody’s’ and blanks of the above passage gives an idea of the fierce and physiological language of which the book has more than the banned “All Quiet on the Western Front” [Erich Maria Remarque] or the banned “A Farewell to Arms” [Ernest Hemingway] . . . [‘so the P.P. may get gagged’]


What is the worth of this book?


The estimate of Arnold Bennett, noted English writer [is that it is] a masterpiece. But . . . Mr. Bennett does little else these days but hail books as masterpieces.


“The Patriot’s Progress” is not a very important book. “All Quiet . . .” WAS a very important book. . . . It must have been an easy book for a good writer like Mr. Williamson to write.


Another review in the Bulletin, Sydney, 23 July 1930, unsigned, suggests HW copied Remarque in style and content.


Morning Herald, Sydney, New South Wales, 8 August 1930, (unsigned):




“The Patriot’s Progress” by Mr. Henry Williamson is still another war book. But such a war book! . . . none can surpass this for the terrific and almost intolerable force with which the senses are assailed. . . . It expresses the feelings of a man thrown into the turmoil in a state of mind that must have been the same as countless thousands.


Mercury, Hobart, Tasmania, 20 June 1930, (unsigned). The review first assesses the general glut of war books, pointing out that everyone’s experience has been similar, and therefore repetition is inevitable:


Mr. Williamson has written of the war before in The Wet Flanders Plain and sketchily in The Dream of Fair Women: but there is little doubt that he will want this publication to stand as his most important contribution towards the literature of the war. The Patriot’s Progress is a difficult book to appraise. One can say . . . that it has all been written before . . . [or] dismiss it as unimportant; but intelligent perusal will reveal the fact that Mr. Williamson has achieved an unusual feat. . . .


The very sincerity of the story would lift it above the rut, and this powerful sympathy is accompanied by an equal achievement in expression. [There is no indication of awareness of Kermode’s Tasmanian roots.]


But it was once again in the USA that the book was most discussed – there are 58 American reviews from across the continent in the file altogether; some are by default somewhat repetitive.


Express (Robert B. Beith), Portland, Ohio, 12 July 1930, 13” column:


Victims of the War

Henry Williamson’s Deadly Tale of the Ranks


The John Bullocks of the world went to war lightheartedly. They went to fight for freedom, to avenge crimes against civilization, to preserve ideas, to see a bit of fun, to swagger in a uniform, to get away from routine, to avoid missing the big show . . . They went for many reasons but they had little idea of what they were in for. . . .


Henry Williamson tells the simple story of these John Bullocks. It is an awful story, terrific in its simplicity. Williamson’s descriptive powers are supreme. He makes this book one of the greatest, a dreadful but beautiful book. . . .


Your heart will be touched by this plain story of an ordinary Tommy who dumbly went to war and as dumbly left it with only one leg.


Journal (W.T.S.), Providence, 13 July 1930:


A Restrained Account of War


. . . The implication of the name, John Bullock, indicates the direction of the author’s purpose. How amazingly well he has succeeded . . . even the earlier books of Mr. Williamson do not suggest the sort of performance here rendered. . . . [some discussion of The Lone Swallows, Dandelion Days, and The Pathway] For a writer so legitimately famous with his delicate nature descriptions to turn for his material to a barren and war-swept area is nothing short of audacious. . . .


What Williamson thought about the war was evident in “The Pathway”. “The Wet Flanders Plain” was a further revelation. . . . but neither scored so effectively against war as does this bare, unannotated document, impersonal as damnation itself.


A sustained high level of writing and the numerous black-and-white pictures are the two outstanding features of the book. . . . He has told a story with astonishing unity. . . .


Tribune (Herschel Brickell),New York City, 20 July 1920, 14” column:


“Patriot’s Progress” is the attempt of a finished literary artist who has full command of his medium, and who was in the mess himself, to portray Everyman at War. [Takes reader through the tale.]


The undercurrent that lies beneath the whole book seems to mean that wiser men than John bullock have no business to let him and his kind go dumbly and uncomprehendingly into wars. . . . Mr Williamson’s battle scenes are extraordinarily good. . . .


[“The Patriot’s Progress”] will be of especial interest to those who know the other work of its author, because it shows him in a changed mood as well as a changed manner. He has suppressed that sensitivity . . . that makes him seem sentimental at times; he writes with feelings so deeply harrowed, . . . and the effect is all the stronger.


News (Jane Judge), Savannah, California, 13 July 1930, covering area 8” x 11½”, including three of the lino cuts:


The immediacy of Henry Williamson’s account of the war experience of one young Englishman gives [the book] appalling intensity. It is a book of terrible honesty and hence of beauty. Unspeakably painful yet bearable because it is real.


[The tale is told – then compared with other ‘fictionalised narrative’] but seldom in so straight forward a fashion. . . .you actually move through this war story from moment to moment through the experience of John Bullock. . . . ‘Death of a Hero’ by Richard Aldington and the war novels of Ford Madox Ford lose some of the vitality [due to propaganda insinuated through them]. This is neither a novel nor propaganda but a record so essentially true . . . only Henry Williamson could tell it in this unaffected and poignant way.


Drawings cut in lino by William Kermode give the narrative greater force and vividness . . . the combination makes the book significant.


Times Herald, Dallas, Texas, 13 July 1930, 17” column:


. . . Here is your world war as was, minus all the glamour that official press agents created to make it look from afar like a Fourth of July picnic. Williamson himself was in the war four years and the story could be his own, but isn’t. It is a composite of several stories assembled and made that of a mythical John Bullock . . . [the book is] a synthesis of experiences, [as had by all soldiers - & gives a list of nationalities who took part] all the rest; on every front. With the prospect of repeating John Bullock’s experiences, there are few, very few, persons who would be willing to go to the front.


News (Clyde Beck), Detroit, Michigan, 20 July 1930:


Two New Novels of War and a Literary Mystery

Problem of “Private 19022”, Author, and Mr. Williamson’s Hero, Who Was Private 19023


The review puzzles over this coincidence (the only mention I found anywhere!) – but without conclusion.


Saturday Review of Literature (Basil Davenport), New York City, 13 September 1930, 7½” column:


War at its Bad Best


Mr. Williamson’s war book suffers less [from being at the tail end of a surplus of such – for his purpose is ‘to continue’ – which he does ‘a fortiori’ (more conclusively)]. His purpose is clearly to show the Western Front as it was, not at its worst, but at something close to its best, and to make the reader feel the sufferings of the sort of man who would suffer least. . . . Together the text and pictures rise in a crushing crescendo. . . .


Nation, New York City, 17 September 1930; short and to the point:


Mr. Williamson, in his luminous descriptive prose, has written a second fine war book. It is the story of a young English private who might well have been named Everyman. For we are not shown the inner life of John Bullock in those respects wherein he differed from his fellows but we recognise him at once because he typifies his fellows. The reader follows Everysoldier from the time he joins up with high hopes and inflamed spirits on through his terrible ordeals and into the Valley of the Shadow [note the nod to Bunyan and the Bible] of agony to his emergence, crippled, forever handicapped. The story is short, graphic and haunting. It belongs among the best of the increasing number of war memorials in literature.


Times Picayuns, New Orleans, 17 August 1930, 10” column:


[War books too numerous to mention BUT:] “The Patriots’s Progress” by Henry Williamson and William Kermode demands notice. These collaborators, Mr. Williamson writing the narrative, Mr. Kermode cutting the stark black and white drawings which seem really a part of the text, as if the tale were told partly in hieroglyphics, were comrades at arms. . . .


“The Patriot’s Progress is rich in excellent descriptive passages. No war book surpasses it. [Quotes here Gerald Gould, London critic:] “The most deadly, the most dreadful, and at the same time the most beautiful of the English war books.”


Press, Pittsburg, 20 July 1930. Reproduces (rather badly) 16 of the Kermode illustrations in 2 x 20” columns accompanied by 2” text:


The woodcuts on either side of this page are from . . . show the progress of John Bullock . . . ‘much the same dumb-driven Henry Dubb he was when he went away’.


But from the same paper another short cutting:


“The Patriot’s Progress” is another war novel; yet it is hardly right to damn it with that phrase, for it stands head and shoulders above such books and becomes, not only an excellent story about the war, but high-class literature as well. . . .


Call (James Gabelle), Paterson, New Jersey, 20 December 1930, 8” column:


The Patriot’s Progress Shows Remarkable Power


[Interesting because a) it also reviews The Story of San Michele, by Axel Munthe (14”) – ‘a delightful book . . . written in rich, tangy style . . . It will . . . bear reading again and again.’ And b) it makes some actual comparison of The Patriot’s Progress with its ‘parallels’:]


Perhaps the best [parallel] that could be found would be Waterloo by Victor Hugo, though that at times was rather heavy; or the descriptions of the Battle of Plassaus by Zola, especially the battle at the bridge. Some, perhaps, will prefer the descriptions in “All Quiet on the Western Front” or “Generals Die in Bed” but to us Mr. Williamson’s power to evoke the sights, sounds and smells of the battlefield is uncanny.


Tribune, Oakland, California, 13 July 1930, 14” column:


Henry Williamson Increases His Stature With “The Private’s Progress”

Courageous and Candid Book of a War Private


. . . His use of abruptly broken sentences, his forceful punctuation, tell so much more than even his own precise and brilliant verbage could otherwise. . . .


If more such narratives of the war are to be written, let them be by those of the greatness of soul and the literary equipment of Williamson.


News Times (Dorothy Konold), South Bend, Indiana, 13 July 1930:


One does not attempt to write a review of such a book . . . One hopes to write some sort of appreciation.  The entire work is so complete, so beautiful, so perfect – that one gropes for adequate expression . . . Greater than any war book to date . . . contains an accurate, diary-like account of one English private’s experiences in the world war . . . All in all, this is not to be missed.


Knickerbocker Press, Albany, 24 August 1930:






[Clicquennol obviously took part in the war but admits ‘with limited contact with the English soldier’] Rather hilarious all round, the writer tells us at length that John Bullock is not typical of the British Tommy (any more than All Quiet . . . was typical of a German one).


He is painted in hues too somber and against a background too monotonously drab.

[The purpose of war books – to put readers off war – has rebounded, encouraging] a love of combat that has made war a permanent institution. [However] Patriot’s Progress is above the average of war writings.


Outlook (Frances Lamont Robbins), Springfield, Mass. (a magazine), 16 July 1930, pp. 427-8:



pp outlook



pp outlook b


Star, Montreal, Canada, 12 July 1930:


. . . Here is description that lacks nothing . . . realism, vigour, force, and an air of overwhelming power of conviction. . . . You know that he is writing what is true, and that every word set down here is fact. . . . You cannot ignore this book. Neither can you set it aside. It grips . . . but it is not for the squeamish, or for those who prefer to have the truth gilded.


Mail & Empire,Toronto, Canada, 23 August 1930:


Method counts for more than matter in the latest English war book . . . Mr. Williamson achieves the appearance of originality by carrying to an extreme the bald narrative method . . . That is what lends it force as a reflection of reality. . . . This modification of the stream-of-consciousness technique like a duck to water . . .


The work is in monotone. . . . This deadly round is well emphasized by the device of omitting the usual paragraph arrangement. The sentences run end to end with ideal monotony . . . the effect is that of a driven cog in an endless machine.


[The heavy type and illustrations add] heaviness and hopelessness. Artist and author, between them, convey a decided impression of the dreariness and unintelligibility of the Great War to the ordinary British private which, presumably, is the object of the book.



Reviews of the 1968 Macdonald edition – the first re-issue of the book:


The Bookseller, 24 August 1968:


A new edition of Henry Williamson’s novel depicting the tragedy of World War I, The Patriot’s Progress is due from Macdonald on October 29 at 21s. The first edition since the original publication in 1930, it contains a new preface and “epigraph” by the author, as well as lino-cut illustrations by William Kermode. The blurb quotes the reactions of Arnold Bennett on reviewing it in 1930: “It amounts to a tremendous, an overwhelming, an unanswerable indictment of the institution of war.”


Daily Express (Peter Grosvenor), 31 October 1968:




[The review includes: Sir Gerald Nabarro, Breakthrough (Routledge, 28/-), ‘the army was his university’; and Lord Snow (C.P. Snow, 1905-80, scientist and novelist), The Sleep of Reason (Macmillan, 35/-), 10th volume of his Strangers and Brothers series.]


From City Desk to the Front Line


Viewed from an aircraft it was like a great livid wound stretching from the North Sea to the Alps. For four years “from dusk to gangrenous dawn, from sunrise to sunset” that wound never ceased to weep. That was the Western Front 1914-18.


. . . charts the story of a typical soldier John Bullock . . . From City desk to the mud and blood of Flanders . . .


This is a timely re-issue of a famous 1930 novel – words by Williamson, drawings by William Kermode.


How has it worn? There are no false heroics. The poetic image is sharp and stark. “Upon the skyline thin dark bristles stood up; these had been woods before the shelling.”


Williamson in retrospect thinks the book is too “anti-staff”. Most contemporary historians would disagree. So would Monty.


Western Times, 15 November 1968:


Henry Williamson, who has spent almost all his writing life in North Devon has provided us [in ACofAS] with some of literature’s most realistic recreations of a soldier’s life on the Western Front. An earlier book of his which also deserves to be ranked among the most important soldier’s books of the First World War is . . . .


“Patriot’s Progress” was published in 1930, when war books were already becoming a drug on the market, but it was soon recognised as an outstanding and original work by Arnold Bennett, . . . [quotes].


Derby Evening Telegraph, 28 December 1968, “BOOKSHELF” – mainly devoted to books on the ‘End of a Steam Empire’ [trains], then:


50 Years Back


And now it is 1968. Can it be 50 years ago that the Armistice on the Western Front was signed? [and continues with quote from HW’s ‘Epigraph’] . . .


It is a simple bitter tale, etched deeply with a wonderfully disciplined use of words and catching the spirit of futility, courage and horror of the 1914-18 war. . . .


Throughout the pages there are incredibly effective lino-cuts by the late William Kermode, who came over from Australia to fight.


They combine with the text matter to make a stark powerful book which a new generation will appreciate.


Books and Bookmen (John Smyth), October 1976, pp. 25-6:


pp bookman a

pp bookman b







Back to The Patriot’s Progress main page







Back to 'A Life's Work'

Shopping Cart


Cart empty