The Village Book - Critical Reception

 

 

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Critical Reception:

 

The book was enthusiastically received, but as with some other of HW's books there is, rather oddly, a lack of copies of reviews from the mainstream newspapers in the literary archive. They must surely exist, and have evidently been lost over the years. HW left for his first visit to the United States fairly soon after publication of this book: it is possible that he took the review cuttings with him to show his American publisher and they were never returned. (If anyone would like to take the time and trouble to look these up it would make a very useful addition to our knowledge. The publication date was July 1930.)

 

Now and Then, Summer 1930, No. 36; this is a most interesting magazine published on an 'occasional' basis by Jonathan Cape, designed to highlight the authors and books that they were currently publishing. The review of The Village Book by Beach-Thomas is the one that was printed in the book's prospectus, and is given on the main page:

 

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Scots Observer (E.G.W.), 31 July 1930, 10½ column inches. First setting the scene, the reviewer continues:

 

These delights and the manifold manifestations of life in all its varied aspects characteristic of this village have been captured for our pleasure by the facile pen of Mr. Henry Williamson. . . .

 

In the descriptive passages and accounts of wild life Mr. Williamson displays all the literary power and knowledge which made of “Tarka the Otter” a literary success. He imparts interesting and out-of-the-way information concerning the habits of birds and beasts in that pleasing fashion which holds and delights the reader. And throughout the whole is that human touch which unites author and reader in a bond of sympathy.

 

The village gossip, old songs and customs, all find a place in this book. No aspect or detail of village life has escaped the keen observation of the author who has given us an interesting record of that part of English life [now disappeared].

 

The Church of England Newspaper, 1 August 1930, 6½ column inches:

 

. . . He lives, and has lived for a long time, in a simple way in Devonshire and most of the time he has lived there he has been writing his Village Book. It consists of observations on the life of the people who live about him and with whom, more or less, he comes into daily contact. With this he blends a study of Nature as it is seen in Devonshire . . .

 

Aberdeen Press and Journal, 1 August 1930:

 

There are few modern writers with Mr. Williamson’s skill in delineating life and character in the village and rural places. . . . The story he tells is delightful in its simplicity. He makes jewels of the commonplace, and finds humanity much better than it is generally given credit for. . . . Perhaps it is the general effect of the whole book that is most important, for it leaves one either with the desire to renew old associations or to learn a little better to understand those “country cousins” whose life and outlook seem so different from our own.

 

Punch, 6 August 1930 (short but pungent, as one might expect):

 

The work of Mr. HENRY WILLIAMSON is, allowing for disparities of time and place, a very close replica of the work of RICHARD JEFFERIES. Both are cases, I feel, for an instinctive preference or none; for, though both rural chroniclers are meditative as well as observant, their philosophies as such would hardly extort respect from an opponent. Like a certain great critic who found JEFFERIES’ outlook on life “wholly vague and partly gloomy”, I have regretfully little use for the pity which Mr. WILLIAMSON notes as his own characteristic. . . . It is not however, happily, the be-all and end-all of The Village Book whose records of natural life – the close patient labours of nine years – exhibit again and again the true Selborne solicitude and beauty. . . . and if Mr. WILLIAMSON’S philosophy has the effect of diminishing his bipeds without feathers to the status of bipeds with, he is at least a highly competent authority on their habits and habitats.

 

Methodist Times, 28 August 1930, 9 column inches:

 

. . . His work is stamped with the originality, the courage, the resource and the unsparing pains of genius. . . . it has the rich qualities of imagination and narrative skill which stamp the first-rate novelist. . . . The writing is less “precious” than that of “Tarka the Otter”. Effects are secured more simply, more directly. His prose is sensitive, virile, equally effective in many varying moods. . . . The book is not merely of ephemeral interest; its beauty, its detailed observation, its shrewd appraisal of country life, and above all, its prose style mark out for it a place on the shelf containing those volumes into which we never tire of dipping.

 

Cumberland News (J. Fairfax-Blakeborough, MC), 6 September 1930, 10½ column inches; after a longish introductory passage about country people and their rather defensive reactions:

 

. . . It is therefore refreshing to find a man like Mr. Williamson writing on the intimate things of village life . . .

 

. . . Mr Williamson has probed their very inward soul with a love, a sentiment, and understanding which is the secret of the charm of his book. . . . his altogether charming collection of sketches is different to any other work on rural life ever published, for it is an outpouring of the author’s heart, his intimate meditations, impressions, thoughts and observations. His is a kindly heart, too . . . [this book] is one of the most charming, delightful, and the truest descriptions of country life and Nature I have read.

 

Staffordshire Advertiser, 13 September 1930; ‘Random Notes’ – not signed, 24½ column inches. This is a very long (slightly rambling, but none the worse for that!) column, totalling 34½ column inches. The first part is devoted to Dr Samuel Johnson and the annual ‘Johnson [Birthday] Celebrations’ at Lichfield, the city of his birth, with an amusing reference to Johnson’s views on ‘conjugal fidelity’ which Boswell had removed! The opening sentence of the part on HW proves that the book had indeed been well reviewed nationally:

 

One of the best-praised books of its kind for some time past . . . What a gallery of curious old village characters the author gives us, and in each and every one of them there is some humorous and quaint feature that tells us of the days of the receding past . . . he is equally capable of describing the many aspects of country life . . . Richard Jefferies has left his deep influence on Mr. Williamson, as he readily admits, and the Story of the Village is a document that fascinates in a way akin to that exercised by the classic The Story of My Heart . . .

 

Most of the rest of this review picks out various passages that have particularly appealed to the reviewer – e.g. Billy Goldsworthy’s Barn, Grannie Parsons, and the use of local vernacular which is similar to country folk everywhere.

 

The Tatler, 17 September 1930; unsigned (at least not on this part of the cutting):

 

The True and the Untrue.

 

Alone with the rocks and cliffs, the moors, the flowers, and the animal and bird life of a West Country coast [this book] is enchanting. [But] Mr. Williamson is totally blind to any aspect of the truth . . . he gives us descriptions of cruelty, malice, drunkenness, and incredible silliness under a guise of a study of village life and village people. [The reviewer thinks the author must live in London!] However: His study of animal life, his description of scenery, are delightful. . . . It makes the book worth reading. A pity that the rest is so much like an urban literary “gent’s” study of rusticity. Startling, maybe, but all wrong.

 

One wonders if anyone ever told the reviewer of HW’s background!

 

The New Leader, 19 September 1930; ‘A Bookman’s Meals by Oliver Twist’:

 

Strong Young Writers: A Page of Good Books

 

. . . In the last few weeks I have been reading four important new books, the authors of which are entangled in the toils of this nightmare of humanity so that it breaks up their vision of the ancient beauty. But they have the vision as well as the strength to grapple with the hydra-head Gorgon of man’s inhumanity to man. . . . They share, consciously or not, a vision which has never died out since Piers Ploughman and they are bringing their art to the cause proclaimed by Blake in the apocalyptic song that swells into a divine wrath [Jerusalem].

 

. . . [HW’s book] is kaleidoscopic, presenting beautiful glimpses of wild life in the English village, and all kinds of glimpses of human life, from brutal stupidity and cruelty . . . to unconscious nobility. For there is nobility even in the often ugly behaviour of these simple village folk. Ugliness predominates. . . . Yet I think the ugliness is comparatively superficial. “The Village Book” is essentially a labour of love. The author learnt to love these people before writing about them. . . . [gives example of John Kift and the ‘Ackymals’].

 

The virtue of “The Village Book” is that its detailed pictures of country life are never distorted by explicit propaganda, but in effect the book is an indictment of a country, supposed to be civilised, for the persistence of so much savage cruelty and inexcusable ignorance.

 

To put the opening sentences into context: the other books reviewed here are: J. C. Grant, The Back-to-Backs (a first book about a mining village); Rhys Davies, Rings on Her Fingers (fails to be a masterpiece); and Caradoc Evans, Nothing to Pay (an accomplished and glowing novel of a Welsh miser which outweighs Arnold Bennett’s Riceyman’s Steps). Each writer gets about 4½ column inches.

 

Britannia and Eve, October 1930, unsigned:

 

This work reveals the folly of people who ask what a book is about before inquiring the name of the author. In a work of art, subject is an utterly minor consideration; nothing matters but the skill and personality of the artist. Mr. Williamson has written a book of arresting loveliness about the ordinary life of a village and the sights and sounds of the surrounding country, his ear for sounds is so exceptionally sensitive that it is surprising to find him occasionally dropping into blank verse. The decasyllabic line in prose is not, as some purists maintain, a species of crime; but it is an error, and faintly disturbing to the reader.

 

. . . It is chock full of passages and scenes which ask to be quoted. I will give you just one. “A dark Assyrian beard began to grow on one of the topmost twigs of the elm. The bees were clustering about a new queen. . . . Mr. Williamson is the type of bird-lover I can understand. His weapon is the field-glass not the gun.

 

The Adelphi, October 1930:

 

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The Countryman, October 1930, unsigned, 3 pages:

 

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Various of the stories are highlighted, and the review continues:

 

His studies of humanity are as impersonal and almost as good as his wondrous tales of bird and beast. [With further examples.] The book is as fresh and sweet as the description of the wayside celandines in a muddy lane . . . [and it ends with a reproduction of the blackbird’s song sketch].

 

Empire Review, November 1930, unsigned:

 

There is acute observation as well as a rather stark beauty of descriptive writing in this quiet symposium of country life. Country lives one should rather say, for Mr. Williamson relegates man to his proper place in the hierarchy of Nature, and his perceptions are equally sharpened for sea birds and hedgerows, simple village folk and ferrets. There is a compelling charm in these annals that deepens as we turn from the grimly thrilling . . . to peregrine falcons diving in the blue air of the first day of spring. . . . The chapter on village inns gives us a truly delightful village song of ancient descent [‘Will the Weaver’ – which HWS members recently sang under the direction of Tony Evans].

 

. . . [wherever this village is] the genius loci presides and distils its fine essence through the pages; emphatically a book to be recommended to those who are not afraid of trivialities, and precisely detailed ones at that, and who can “in focus their senses from the present” with their author, as they read what his outer and inner eyes record.

 

Freethinker (C-de-B), 9 November 1930; of a 20-inch column HW gets 10 inches:

 

The Book Shop

 

. . . Mr. Williamson, in the clear prose of Richard Jefferies and W.H. Hudson, has brought an intensity of feeling [and common sense] . . . The author states that he is a Free-thinker. . . . [notes various stories] . . . Mr. Williamson is a writer who reminds us of our kinship with animals and the earth; we cannot have too many like him at a time when seventy-five per cent of mankind is muddled and befuddled with mechanical contrivances, and when every other popular writer is so damnably afraid of writing the truth. . . . and fearful of offending religious susceptibilities. [The reviewer then diverts into these philosophical ideas.]

 

A scrap of unidentified paper (S.M.W.); this is obviously from a longish and interesting review: unfortunately there is nothing to match it to – and oddly the reverse side is blank:

 

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The Yorkshire Herald (J. Fairfax-Blakeborough, MC), 12 December 1930 (see also above in Cumberland News): this is an almost full-page feature column headed ‘Village Life in North Yorkshire’ in which the writer manages to get quite a large slice of HW! – 3 longish double-column paragraphs:

 

. . . It is therefore refreshing to find a man like Mr. Henry Williamson writing on the intimate things of village life, for he has long had close contact, has lived among country folk, eaten at their tables, sat with them in their little public houses, and learned their inwardness, knows all about their family differences, and so has his finger on the pulse of each day’s doings that he can stand on the church tower and tell you by the smoke smells, who is preparing for washing day, what they are lighting their fires with, and where the rubbish they are burning came from. . . .

 

Many others have written about them, but none in quite the same way as Mr. Williamson, who has probed their very inward soul with a love, a sentiment, and understanding which is the secret of the charm of his book. “The Village Book” as he calls his altogether charming collection of sketches, is different from any other work on rural life ever published, for it is an outpouring of the author’s heart, his intimate meditations, impressions, thoughts and observations. . . .

 

The Bookman (C. Henry Warren, himself a country writer of note), September 1930, 1½ folio-size pages; the feature gives details of the new edition of Dandelion Days as well as The Village Book:

 

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The first column continues:

 

“The Village Book” on the other hand, seems to me likely to give to future generations an even greater joy than it can give to us. [Progress, artificiality, are ruining the countryside] . . . Only from certain books of earlier days will they be able to gather that precious harvest. . . .

 

. . . [These stories tell] not so much of Ham or any particular village, as of all strongholds of rural England that are so rapidly disappearing. They are a lasting and most valuable monument to a dead or dying England.

 

Warren then moves on to Dandelion Days – and indeed other volumes of The Flax of Dream:

 

Here again Mr. Williamson’s sure hand has enabled him to do the impossible. . . . the same lovely writing that made “Tarka the Otter” a collector’s book directly it came out, is to be found here, illuminating the simple narrative as hedges of white hawthorn will illuminate a country walk in March.

 

Bromley District Times (‘Elvira’), 6 March 1931; a 26-inch column by of which HW is allotted nearly 12 inches (Bromley being the district in which HW spent his childhood):

 

‘Tea Time Gossip’

 

. . . [quotes a passage] Have you read “The Village Book”? If you are a country man you should do so at once. Ham (the book village) is precisely any village in southern England – in Kent. . . . Clever though Mr. Williamson is, I cannot believe these people and creatures are wholly fictitious. [There follows a paragraph on ‘The Badger Dig’] . . . The Village Book is full of humour, wholesome village humour. It also contains passages of pure poetry. . . .

 

There are four short rather nondescript reviews (each 4 inches) from Australia and New Zealand:

 

Sun, Sydney, NSW, 14 September 1930:

 

Henry Williamson writes poetry in prose and music. Nothing in nature escapes him. . . . To read this book is to foster a love of England.

 

Herald, Melbourne, Victoria, 18 August 1930:

 

. . . reads like a veracious chronicle of real people and real events.

 

Argus,Melbourne, Victoria, 19 September 1930: similar to the above!

 

Herald,Auckland, N.Z., 13 September 1930:

 

“The Village Book” is not a novel. The author seeks to interpret to the world the life of an English village, both the human and the wildlife . . .

 

 

Critical reception in the United States of the Dutton edition: the large number of these, many of which are very similar in tone, means I must be a little selective in inclusion.

 

HW left for a visit to America on 6 September 1930 on the steamship RMS Empress of France. He had been invited first to join a salmon-fishing trip at the Mastigouche Fishing Club in Quebec Province, Canada, by his American publisher, John Macrae. This holiday finished on the last day of September (the end of the fishing season) and he moved on to New York, where he was much lauded and a great deal about him appeared in the press. This period will be dealt with in detail under HW’s book title The Gold Falcon. The American edition of The Village Book, according to a Dutton broadsheet, was published on 21 October 1930.

 

Christian Science Monitor, Boston, Mass. (V. S. Pritchett), 16 August 1930, 15 column inches; this is Victor Sawdon Pritchett (1900-1997), CH (1993), CBE, knighted for services to literature in 1975, a writer mainly known for his short stories, and President of PEN, 1974-6. Pritchett is of course writing here of the English edition, and I have found no evidence that he was actually in the USA at this time.

 

Williamson’s Devonshire

 

There is essentially a strain of deep loneliness in the naturalist. . . . This strain of lonely rebellion and bitter pride may be seen in almost all our naturalists and historians of rural life. Hudson and Jefferies have it. . . . These men do not see themselves as dramatis personæ. They are THE personage of the natural drama, stalking, ruddy with praise or gaunt with lamentation, across a scene which is theirs and nobody else’s. . . .

 

If Mr. Williamson is a writer ill at ease with life and his material, his capacity for observation and poetic statement is considerable. “The Village Book” a stout miscellany of sketches of rustic scenes, customs, lives and changes written round a typical but imaginary Devonshire village, is packed with curious facts.

 

Pritchett goes through various scenes in the book:

 

This is to indicate but slightly the trends of Mr. Williamson’s curiosity. The book is packed with lore, talk and description which assure that the Devon Village as it now is may be certain of its measure of immortality. He has done well, in making his notes, in bathing them in the stream of air, sunlight and wind which gives them life and feeds his own solitary spirit.

 

Chicago Tribune (Frank Swinnerton), 20 September 1930; Swinnerton (1884-1982), English writer and friend of HW, writes from London as ‘Special Correspondent’ – 9½ column inches – the review is worth quoting at length for its intrinsic dry humour:

 

DEVON VILLAGE NEW WILLIAMSON THEME; CALLED VERY ENGLISH

 

All is quiet and calm in literary London. Our authors are taking summer holidays, visiting cricket matches, motoring, and resting from labour. The results of what they have been doing earlier will shortly burst upon the world, but at the moment there is a lull.

 

Few literary persons are to be seen in the Savoy Grill, and fewer still elsewhere; although H. G. Wells is in London settling into a new comfortable flat. . . .

 

Those who cannot take holidays have been, instead, reading Henry Williamson’s new book, which is not a novel, but a collection of sketches and tales concerning a Devonshire village. It is called “The Village Book” and it gives, I think, a better picture of English rural life, for better and for worse, than any other book of its kind since W. H. Hudson died.

 

In an hour when young writers are too much concerned with their own literary sets, Mr. Williamson shows courage as well as originality in following his bent, living far from the madding throng, and telling in his own poetical way the truth about simple forms of human nature. “The Village Book” is full of beauty, humor, and truth. And it is very English in its setting.

 

Swinnerton continues with a short sharp review of Wyndham Lewis’s ‘monstrous novel about the intelligentsia’ . . . rather unfriendly in tone’.

 

Montreal Star, Canada, 20 September 1930:

 

Henry Williamson is an important, if not a great writer. . . . now he has published a volume of essays which are in kind outstanding.

 

Mr. Williamson puts forth the plea in the beginning that the work is purely imaginary, that this village of Ham is non-existent in fact. Yet his characters are not creatures of the imagination; they have but undergone a kind of transmutation through a sensitive photographic pen.

 

Mr. Williamson’s prose is always clear: he writes directly, forcibly, with a true sense of the values of words. He is a faithful interpreter of the simple beauty of man and nature, of what Hardy has called “that purity of life upon which the well-being of society depends”.

 

Herald Despatch, New York, 12 October 1930; a short item – but mentioning here because it bears out those missing English mainstream newspaper reviews, quoting John Drinkwater as saying:

 

I find in Mr. Williamson’s sense of village character, in his scrupulously noted observations of nature, and in his prose, a delight that is repeated on every page. . . .

 

Mr. Williamson is expected to come to New York in October about the time of the publication of this book.

 

Saturday Review of Literature, New York City, 18 October 1930, reprinted two long sections from the book:

 

The First Day of Spring

 

The following sketches by Henry Williamson, author of “Tarka the Otter” and “The Pathway” will appear in “The Village Book” shortly to be issued by E.P. Dutton & Company.

 

There followed 'The Water Ousels' and 'The Peregrine Falcons', equalling 32 double (i.e. 3½-inch instead of the normal 2-inch) column inches in total. A pretty good advertisement for the book!

 

New York Tribune (Bruce Johns), 26 October 1930, 14 column inches:

 

Village Life in England

 

This is a book that will have an irresistible appeal to all those readers . . . and all those who can appreciate the cunning with which it is put together, a seemingly haphazard arrangement of material about the people and animals of an English village, which turns out on close examination to be a carefully worked out scheme that is all the more effective for its concealment. . . .

 

He has tried to explain them to let his readers know why they act as they do. There is both understanding and a subtle, dryly ironical humor in “The Village”; the latter easy enough to be missed. It is like a bit of deer tongue at the bottom of a tobacco jar giving the contents a delicate aroma [!] . . .

 

By this time it is well established that Mr. Williamson is an out-and-out pantheist . . . Everything that lives is his kin . . . This sensitivity . . . is not really sentimentality when it is wholly honest, the result of genuine feeling, as in Mr. Williamson’s case . . .

 

The book is not at all a patchwork, but . . . a thoughtfully arranged mosaic. There seems to me nothing finer than such a bit of impressionistic writing as “Night in the Estuary” . . . It is a night filled with the noises of birds; Mr. Williamson feels it as the stuff from which great music might be written. This is one of the finest things Mr. Williamson has done in my opinion, and I am one of his steadfast followers.

 

New York City Tribune (Isabel Paterson), 29 October 1930, 10 column inches:

 

English literature is peculiarly rich in pastorals, both prose and verse . . . Henry Williamson’s “The Village Book” is of this classic genre. It is a random natural history, including mankind as the strangest of all animals, the feral yet sentimental bi-ped . . . Within the limited range of a sleepy English village Mr. Williamson discovers an unlimited variety of character, illustrated by grim and humorous anecdotes. . . . [There follows several illustrations from the various stories.]

 

Mr. Williamson explores the same by-paths that W. H. Hudson loved, and his work bears the comparison creditably.

 

Public Ledger, Philadelphia (G. F. W. Shaw), 25 October 1930, 6½ column inches:

 

That intangible quality which might be called the soul of a community has been captured between the covers of this wholly delightful book . . . The very essence of English rural life is revealed with consummate artistry . . . . It is “an imaginative work. . .” . . . Precise, whimsical, character-revealing sketches of men and women at work and play come under the heading “The Spirit of the Village”; delicately beautiful observations of natural life are entitled “Air and Light of the Fields and Sea”.

 

. . . Mr. Williamson creates a mood, the permeating qualities of which are beauty and peace. He does so in prose that is consistently excellent and at times unforgettably beautiful. “The Village Book” is of that enduring quality that engenders literary permanence.

 

Sun, New York City (William McFee), 7 November 1930, 12 column inches:

 

Where Only Man is Vile

 

Some very peculiar reflections rise to the mind of the reviewer of this beautiful prose poem on an English village. [Mr. Williamson obviously loves the country – by implication he therefore dislikes urban life – but his country characters are not admirable human beings: various examples are given, and Arnold Bennett’s comments on HW’s war volume are referred to!] . . . No amount of lovely prose in praise of water ouzels and falcons can compensate us for the unlovely natures which seem to prosper exceedingly in such surroundings. . . .

 

Some civilising influence, such as Mr. Williamson himself, is necessary to make village life in England endurable to those who have emerged from the peasant state and have become recognisably human.

 

Telegram, New York City, 7 November 1930:

 

Soul of Rural Life in England is Here

Village Saga Full of Beauty, Truth and Humor

 

This saga of an English village reveals in panorama the existence of its inhabitants, wild and human. Here is the soul of that much-famed English rural life, disclosing the idosyncracies of animals as well as of humans.

 

In fastidious prose Williamson sets forth his philosophy and observations, fact and fiction, of nine years away from the madding throng. . . . Here, also, is contrasted the musical life of the countryside with metropolitan dissonances. . . .

 

It is an original book, which in itself is rare enough, and full of beauty, truth, and humour. The author has captured the true spirit.

 

Saturday Review of Literature, New York City, 6 December 1930:

 

A volume full of sunshine and wind and birds and small beasts, written with grace and distinction by . . . . Mr Williamson is at present ensconced in an eerie in a downtown apartment house, with drifting smoke clouds and the rumble of traffic as accompaniments to his writing. We hope Manhattan may prove as good a stimulant to his work as his native England.

 

Philadelphia Enquirer (S.W.), 1 November 1930, fronted by photograph; 8 column inches:

 

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“The Village Book”, a Sound Naturalist and a Poet’s Vision

 

One must love nature to understand her. . . . Since W. H. Hudson died Henry Williamson has been her truest interpreter among English writers. A sound naturalist with a poet’s vision. He has further the precious gift of luminous prose. Neither sentimental nor florid, he unfolds the inner life of field and hill and river with quiet beauty. And the English rustic inseparably attached to the soil yields his secrets to keen and kindly eyes. . . .

 

“Village Book”, a fine achievement in itself, shows elements that go to the making of Williamson the novelist, best promise of the post-war English writing generation.

 

Montreal Star, Canada, 22 November 1930, unsigned:

 

There is no working novelist of today whose books I can recommend with more confidence and more enthusiasm than Henry Williamson [enumerates his previous books with comments] the swiftly growing public who are enjoying his books constitute a real, if tardy, testimony to his genius.

 

In his latest . . . Mr. Williamson has translated the soul of an English village into prose as lovely, as rhythmical, as expressive, as any we have read for twenty years or more. He has done this with the delicacy of an artist who feels far more than he can express, and whose vision is not bounded by the covers of his book . . . This is prose of a rare and charming quality . . .

 

It is an epic of English rural life . . . panoramic view of its presentation [uncovers] a wealth of revelation. . . . You have the spiritual values of the people; the natural values of nature itself. The two are so deftly intermingled, so inevitably intertwined, that you will have learned much that you never knew before. I would urge all who love nature and the land to read this book. Its equal has not appeared for a long, long time. . . .

 

Portland Express (R.B.B.), 22 November 1930, 8 column inches:

 

The Soul Of Rural England

Williamson Catches The Music Of Life

 

In this book, as in all of his books, Mr. Williamson is concerned with people and natural life. [Lists some previous titles.] Mr. Williamson’s perfect prose, his keen observation of nature, his power of description and his human sympathy and understanding are distinguishing marks of all of his writings. All are at their best in “The Village Book”. . . . [and gives examples from text] . . .

 

“The Village Book” is for the man who tramps through the fields and woods on a slaughtering expedition, deaf to the music of birds, the tumbling streams, the swaying trees, blind to the loveliness of animals, of woodland and field, ignorant of the wonder and majesty of all that is of nature. It is for the man and woman who live and are not aware of the life they live, of people who daily spend their lives and never know what they are spending.

 

[I would personally doubt that such people would gain anything from such writing.]

 

Post District (? – the name stamp is blurred), Houston, Texas (Eleanor Wakefield), 14 December 1930, 16 column inches:

 

The Devonshire countryside seen through sun and wind, mist and rain, the idiosyncracies of old people who have lived all their lives in the little Devon village of Ham, their homely humour, superstitions, - and all through runs the undercurrent of wild life – vague scurrying in the underbrush, strange night sounds, the white flash of owls’ wings, the swoop of falcons and the consciousness of green things growing.

 

Only Williamson can do it. That marvellous power of observation, the permeating quality in his study of English rural life [comes from a lifetime of watching and learning] . . . .

 

It is said that everybody in England is reading “The Village Book”; everybody in America ought to read it. It has a soul; it is full of beauty, music, humor, and truth. It is written with the Williamson sensitiveness and fastidiousness; prose that sings and is aware.

 

Republic, Springfield, Mass. (H.K.), 25 January 1931, 16 column inches:

 

. . . is a series of short sketches of life in a Devonshire village . . . The village and its characters, while remaining typical, become also individual – perhaps the highest achievement of a book of this kind.

 

Mr. Williamson does not make the mistake of identifying himself with the village. He is always the observer standing apart. . . .

 

Mr. Williamson neither idealizes nor degrades. Country life for him is a delightful experience . . . but it is not based on a sentimental view. . . . Out of it all, by the cunning art of presentation and connection, grows an appreciation of that subtle sense . . . the creation of a delicate, complete and individual spirit of place . . . it is not too common in English books.

 

Harper’s Bazaar, U.S. edition (Frank Swinnerton), September 1930; in an article covering seven separate book reviews, Swinnerton gives HW decent coverage:

 

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The New York Times (Charles Johnston), 7 December 1930; over 40 column inches comparing HW and Archibald Rutledge (1883-1973: esteemed American writer and educator; author of over 50 books and many poems, mostly concerning his hunting and experiences in South Carolina). This considered article is worth quoting at some length as it has analysis of HW with W. H. Hudson.

 

A friendly novelist [presumably Frank Swinnerton as above] recommends “The Village Book” by comparing it as a picture of English country life to the many books of W. H. Hudson concerning rural England. And there are a good many points of comparison, and also of contrast. Both deeply love the countryside which they record; both are enthusiasts for the birds and flowers they know so well; both describe the men and women they meet as part of nature, equally with the seagulls and larks.[Mentions Hudson’s ‘unforgettable account’ of Cornwall as comparison: this is The Land’s End (1908).] The likeness runs into details. Both are greatly occupied with the white whirling of gulls’ wings above the wave borders of the Severn Sea, as the Bristol channel is named in those western wilds; both watch with excited joy the marvellous flight of the dark peregrine falcon which happily survives there, with its sable, human-voiced coeval, the raven; both speak of the crimson-faced goldfinches, a strip of yellow on their wings; both follow with bated breath the hazardous escape of a tiny pipit . . . Both feel as personal pain man’s inhumanity to his fellow animals, while both record instances of charming tenderness. . . .

 

There are contrasts, in verbal as well as spiritual style. Hudson, whose verse falls short as much of Thoreau’s, yet writes beautiful rhythmic prose. Williamson, his ear sensitive to rhythm, sometimes gives us three or four lines of blank verse instead of prose, but the true rhythms of prose, as Thoreau and Hudson compass them, are not verse rhythms. There is a like contrast in the way they paint the men and women who are a part of wild nature. They have the same observing eyes. Hudson has a richer, deeper consciousness. Williamson attains veracity by making notes, acute enough, with the fine old English words, remote survivors, like the ravens and the peregrines, of a richer past. It is true that Hudson often made notes too, but he had assimilated them and brooded over them till they came alive, before he wrote. As a result, while there is much in common between the gypsies, plowmen, blacksmith’s, kind-eyed women and sprite-like children whom they sojourned among in that west country, the people of Hudson are more humanly alive. Williamson has not yet attained the ripeness that went to the making of Hudson’s shepherd, or to those gray old men, lonely, though in each other’s company, who sat looking across the bleak headland toward the Land’s End. Yet these are natural differences between the veteran and the younger writer. The great thing about Henry Williamson is that at so many points he is fairly comparable to Hudson.

 

The text then moves on to Archibald Rutledge’s Peace in the Heart: ‘also an open-eyed observer of natural things and of men as a part of nature.’ The book would appear to be about stag hunting, which the reviewer says does not feature in HW’s book – he obviously had not come across The Old Stag.

 

Final mention must go to Dutton’s ‘Broadsheet’, Dutton Books for Christmas. Dutton’s produced these massive (I think the equivalent of our modern AO size) single-sided advertisements for their books at regular intervals. They really are quite amazing publications put together in irregular blocks rather like a jig-saw puzzle, and there are several of them in HW’s archive.

 

vb dutton

 

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An item of a more general literary nature from the Daily Mail might also be of interest:

 

vb daily mail

 

 

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