First edition, Jonathan Cape,
First published Jonathan Cape, 24 June 1935 (2500 copies), 7s 6d
(actual date deduced from review information)
On the title page:
Early American Saying
The narrator at work, at Shallowford – perhaps on this very book.
The self portrait hanging above the fireplace is by Leicester
Hibbert (1826-1909, Queen's Bays), Loetitia's grandfather.
The narrator (quite openly HW) and four friends wander about the lanes and moorland of Devon, talking and telling tales as they go, with a great deal of bantering fun. But it is so much more than just a hike over Exmoor and Dartmoor: it is a conversation, wide ranging and quirky, which HW leads, and to which we are all privileged to listen – and in so doing learn quite a lot about HW himself. It is coupled with six excellent (if somewhat barbaric) short stories. HW has used his skill to blend several events – real and imaginary – to provide a credible setting for a series of yarns to be taken in ‘the holiday spirit’.
That this book fits the original synopsis sent by Ann Thomas to Alexander MacLehose in January 1933 rather than the book commissioned by him (On Foot in Devon) will become obvious. (HW’s contract with Cape in 1928 for three ‘continuous prose’ works took precedence over the arrangement HW made with MacLehose.) The original synopsis read:
A personal account of many walks through Devon – along the north coast by the Severn Sea from the Somersetshire borders, down the Atlantic coast to the beginning of Cornwall, wanderings on Exmoor by Dunkery and the high hills, and along the marshy banks of the river Barle; and over the great range of the high downs to the valleys of the Taw and Torridge, and all the way up to Dartmoor and its lonely green wastes of enchantment. Three friends, whose peregrinations this book describes, provide a dialogue which is a commentary on themselves as well as the scenes they pass. One is a visiting American, the second a native Devonian, and the third is a visitor who has made Devon his home. The result is a lively book, and one full of the sort of information that is not usually found in more orthodox guide books.
Certainly a large amount of this present book was written originally in early 1933 at a rate of two or three thousand words a day: Ann Thomas noting in the diary on 29 January 1933 that the book was finished. That was the book intended for MacLehose for his ‘On Foot’ series, but which HW then handed over to Cape instead, with all the ensuing to-do; but which didn’t get published until two years later. (I regret that I have not studied the two sets of MS/TS deposited in the HW archive at Exeter University to check exactly the cross-over history of these two volumes, but that is the outline course of events.)
These two volumes should really be read in tandem: together they cover a very generous area of Devon, while the crossing over of the imaginary companions in Reel I of On Foot in Devon with those that actually accompany (albeit disguised) the narrator in Devon Holiday make an obvious connection.
HW’s diary records the sequence of events thus:
Ann Thomas returned to Shallowford (she has been living with her sister in Tenterden, Kent) and:
Monday, 1 October 1934: Began DEVON HOLIDAY: Tales of Moorland and Estuary this day. [That last part of the title becomes important several years later!] Wrote it over the skeleton pages relict from On Foot in Devon dictated to the faithful A.T. 2 years ago.
2 October: Wrote. Embodied short story TROUT. About 15000 words of book all rewritten & rearranged by the evening.
(‘Trout’ was obviously later deleted – there is here only a passing reference to trout in chapter II; a story entitled ‘Trout’ appeared in Chamber’s Journal, January 1951, but if this is the same story then it had been updated to include reference to the Second World War.)
3 October: 30,000 words of devon holiday done. New ideas; plenty of fun.
4 October: 45,000 words of D.H. done. It is funny & interesting. Quite warmed up to work, but tired with working 12 hours a day.
5 October: Wrote more of D.H.
6 October: About 60,000 words done. Tired.
On 8 October he caught an 8lb salmon amid great excitement, and sent a telegram to C. F. Tunnicliffe to come and work on drawings – ‘Tunny’ caught the overnight train, arriving at 8 a.m. the next morning! He stayed a couple of days and after he had gone –
12 October: I started work again, 80,000 words done.
13 October: Worked continuously.
14 October: Worked all day & half the night.
15 October: Worked all day & at 11.30 pm wrote the last words. I am sad it is over. I feel it is lovely, light, full of fun & joie de vivre, & just the right touch everywhere. A new sort of book: I feel it is the real me, outside of all old sadness & blight & retarding influences. About 110,000 words, with the short stories – maybe a bit longer. Read the end to Gipsy in her bath, & we both thought & said & felt it was lovely. . . .
18 November: This day finished the sixth revision of DEVON HOLIDAY, a book which I told myself during writing that I would not revise it.
At this time HW was rushing about going back and forth to see Ann Edmonds at her home in Bickley (S.E. London); also to visit Ann Thomas at Tenterden in mid-Kent; and often calling in to see Victor Yeates at his home at Mottingham (also S.E. London, just north of where the Edmonds lived). Then Yeates was taken into a nursing home on the coast. It was on one of these driving forays that when he visited Yeates, thinking to discuss Yeates’s current work, that he learned his friend had died two days before. He then spent considerable time and energy writing an obituary, and getting as much publicity as possible for his friend’s work.
A file copy of a letter from HW to Wren Howard, one of the directors of the publishers Jonathan Cape, dated 1 December 1934, shows that all was not well between author and publisher. HW complains first about The Linhay on the Downs, which Jonathan Cape had called ‘a miscellany’ and which HW felt was actually a personal record (that is, autobiographical). (Those following these bibliographical entries will be familiar with this background.) Then it was about Cape’s initial reaction to Yeates’s book Winged Victory, which had upset him; but particularly now it was to their reaction to Devon Holiday:
Here is the description of it. The enclosed is the gist of it; it aint a miscellany, nor be it a collection of short stories without a dull page; and revised carefully, and put out just right, it should be liked by at least half of those who love nickel, bevelled moons rising in the west.
This latter comment presumably refers to a point they are both aware of!
HW's synopsis reads:
In February 1935 HW sent a postcard to another close friend, T. E. Lawrence, first telling him about his work on Yeates’s typescript ‘fragment’ called ‘Family Life’ – then:
In my next book, potboiler, there is a long account of a meeting on the Berengaria between me, a nameless friend, and G.B. Everest, an ‘expert mechanic and authority on skycloclartactic impulses in supermarine craft.’ Garnett reported that it seemed dragged in to the book. So it was. The whole book was dragged in and dragged out also. . . . It is called DEVON HOLIDAY and I hope it will amuse 10% of readers, but doubt it.
The book, however, was having further problems. Cape took the advice of lawyers over possible libel actions on several points in the typescript, adding to the increasingly sour relationship between author and publisher. In another letter to T. E. Lawrence, dated 10 May 1935 (this is the famous ‘last’ letter), HW, all his joy in the book having evaporated, wrote:
Mr. Rubinstein [the lawyer] found 15 possible libels in D. Holiday, so the page proofs have been cut about awful, and will swallow up all profits if any I guess. [This refers to a standard contract clause whereby the author has to pay for any excessive changes at proof stage: which in those days of manual typesetting added considerably to costs.]
However, a list of Rubinstein’s queries shows only 12 points and most appear (to me!) to be rather nit-picking minor items of little consequence; HW obviously made some slight adjustments to the text. It would not seem that Jonathan Cape, a somewhat austere man, understood HW’s rather joking attitude. Of course, he might have been showing HW who was actually in charge!
HW went on to state that he would like TEL to see the proofs of this book, and also wanted advice on, and discuss, his further work on behalf of Victor Yeates (the film script he was preparing for Winged Victory and how to deal with the typescript of ‘Family Life’, unpublishable in its present form).
It was while returning from sending a telegram in reply to this letter that TEL met with his motorcycle accident and his subsequent death. This was a severe blow for HW. (Details of the relationship between these two men will be dealt under the entry for HW’s book Genius of Friendship.)
Apart from the trauma to HW’s sensitive emotions, the event caused a further problem over Devon Holiday, which by then was being printed, and which contained the section about Lawrence. HW hastily prepared a ‘Postscript’ to counteract his jocular remarks about ‘G. B. Everest’ – who would surely have been recognised from HW’s description anyway, and certainly became so now! This ‘Postscript’ was added to the front of the book and really, although it was not meant as such, acts as a dedication:
HW had now lost two close friends one after the other: Victor Yeates at the end of 1934 and now, six months later, T. E. Lawrence. His father-in-law, Charles Hibbert, had also died on 26 April 1935 which created its own problems within the Hibbert family, with which HW of course found it necessary to deal.
His 1935 diary is blank after the death of T. E. Lawrence – almost as if his own life had ceased – and the publication of, and, as will be seen from the Critical reception page, the very good reaction to, Devon Holiday is unrecorded.
The text of HW’s file copy of Devon Holiday has a considerable amount of manuscript revision, and at the front he has written ‘For New Edition’. As can be seen from the hand-corrected and revised list of books, he has inserted The Dark Lantern but not Donkey Boy; it would seem from this, therefore, that the revisions were made in around 1950-51. The original Postscript, at the beginning, has been torn out and crossed through (though still with the book); so clearly it was not to be used. Essentially, though, the revisions are minor ones – just tinkering with the text, such as HW so loved to do. My view is that Tales of Moorland and Estuary, published in 1953, was originally intended to be a new revised edition of Devon Holiday, but that he – or his publisher – decided that the ‘farce and knockabout’ (as HW categorised the book in his list of books) was no longer appropriate; and so Tales of Moorland and Estuary became a straightforward book of short stories. Sample pages showing some of HW's revisions are illustrated below:
Each chapter in the book is given a narrative subtitle. Each one is a gem of almost Victorian proportions and they are included here for your enjoyment.
Using this map the reader should be able to locate the places mentioned within the pages of Devon Holiday, including the special Lynton-Barnstaple railway.
A Stagnant Existence one Summer Morning is Interrupted by a Telephone Call, the arrival of Zeale and Scylla, the Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, and the Scribe, with whom we set out for a Holiday
(Some considerable detail is necessary here to explain these characters and put things into context.)
The reader is plunged headlong into this story, which is told in the first person: the narrator is ‘I’ – and ‘I’ is an undisguised Henry Williamson. On instructions of a telegram he interrupts his work on the river , where he is making dams and preparing egg-hatching pools for salmon (as indeed HW was in real life at this time), with
unshaven chin; my trousers wet to the knees from wading in the river, were tied up with string off the grocer’s weekly parcel delivered from the market town that morning.
His instruction was to make a telephone call from the village post-office at a particular time – this telephone being probably about half-a-mile distance across the fields from his house (as in real life). His ears are blasted with a ‘bright metallic New York voice’ which complains about lack of hotel amenities in England (no hot water, central heating, etc. etc.) and gives details of a whirlwind tour of the West Country (Glastonbury next stop), but demands to know more of the ‘real’ England, suggesting that HW write a ‘real’ book about the place. But what, muses our author, would these New York socialites make of ‘real’ Devon, knowing that their ideas were far from reality.
Two points to make here: firstly, HW is using an incident which relates to his stay in New York in 1930-31, when he knew a lady with just such a voice, who phoned him on several occasions; you can find her in The Gold Falcon.
Secondly – and more importantly – we have been given a cleverly hidden concept: What is reality? And the book proceeds to explore this elusive commodity, confounding and contradicting expectations and having a great deal of fun while so doing.
Our narrator returns to his work. But almost immediately he is interrupted again. Two friends arrive accompanied by three small children. The children are his own: Windles (Bill), aged 8; John, aged 6; and Margaret, aged 4. We soon learn that there is also a baby, Robert. This is exactly as the family was in 1934.
The two friends are, first, M. F. H. Zeale – Masterson Funicular Hengist Zeale: ‘Recognizable anywhere’. Indeed he would have been to anyone who knew HW’s background, but probably not to the average reader: he is, in fact, HW’s friend, S. P. B. (Petre) Mais, a prolific writer, who had proposed HW for the original MacLehose book, On Foot in Devon. And HW’s fictional name is a wonderful play on Petre’s long set of initials: M. F. H. is also short for ‘Master of Fox Hounds’, thus incorporating Mais’ enthusiasm for the sport of hunting. Mais has appeared in various previous books (and will in future ones!) – as had HW in his. (See Robert Walker, ‘S. P. B. Mais – Henry’s Longest Literary Relationship, HWSJ 49, 2013, pp. 35-53.)
Zeale has with him a person called ‘Scylla’. This fictional Scylla is a combination of Mais’ partner Jill (they were not man and wife) and his daughter by his actual (defunct) marriage, Priscilla (whom HW pursued at this time as an alternative to his thwarted love for the ambitious and unattainable Ann Edmonds), who patently was not interested in HW.
Masterson and Scylla have arrived for what we are told was a pre-arranged walking holiday. For our narrator it is an almost intolerable interruption of his writing-self life.
But Loetitia now arrives with another visitor. Loetitia is of course HW’s real-life wife and the mother of his children, as he tells us. The visitor with her is
dear old Herb, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the New England college . . .
In other words, Herbert Faulkner West from Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA, whom HW had met on his visit to America over the winter of 1930-31, and who had visited England the following year, staying at Shallowford from 7-14 March 1932, where he prepared and later published his short monograph The Dreamer of Devon, published later that year.
Then yet another person appears:
Her cheeks and neck and hands were browned by the sun, her fair hair was bleached fairer by summer light, deep blue eyes, and teeth like a film-star. She was slim, she looked strong and happy.
This person is apparently a freelance journalist who wants to interview HW. Masterson Zeale suggests she becomes HW’s secretary.
Pinning down the ‘Scribe’ (as she is called throughout the book) is more problematic. We know the actual scribe in real life is Ann Thomas; but, although there is much of Ann Thomas in this character, the description is certainly not of her: Ann had dark hair and features accordingly. It would seem that the ‘Scribe’ is actually a mixture of several women, including Barbara Sincere from his 1930-31 visit to New York (again dark) and Barbara Krebs (the German girl who stayed in Georgeham for a while and again with whom HW was briefly ‘in love’). Barbara Krebs fits that Scandinavian description and indeed she visited HW briefly around this time, as also did Barbara Sincere. Ann Edmonds is also a large part of the multi-faceted personage, but of course ACE (from her initials) – or ‘Barleybright’ as HW thought of her) – was never one of his scribes. It would seem that HW is paying tribute to all of them in one fell swoop. But the Scribe is actually a fairly shadowy creature without a very definite personality, and she does change in fact from one person to another in the middle of the book, as I will show in due course, which is an interesting psychological thought!
As they are all gathered, our narrator gives in and they set off on the proposed walking holiday, minus the younger children, who are to stay behind to look after Baby Robert (who was actually born September 1933). Windles is allowed to accompany the grown-ups.
It needs to be stated here that this walk – or series of walks – did not actually happen like this in real life. Walks were indeed taken with all the characters individually at various times but this particular group of people were never gathered together at one time. HW puts them together solely for the purpose of making his story lively, and to contrast their (his own) varying reactions to all they see and hear. So indeed the author is part of every one, each in their individual turn!
We walk up the Valley, practising Cruelty to Horseflies, discuss the ways of Trout and Men and Otters
The ‘Valley’ is that of the River Bray, which runs through a meadow adjoining Shallowford, and they are walking northwards upstream through the Deer Park belonging to Castle Hill, home of Lord Fortescue. They are plagued by horseflies as they walk and make switches from bracken to whisk them off: a true detail of country life which few writers would include. They do indeed discuss trout – and poachers.
Masterson Zeale has the role of ebullient truculent critic. We read: ‘Zeale and I had been friendly, with reservations, for the past eleven years.’ We are taken through this friendship, and are reminded of their first walk together, when the writer Michael Arlen was discussed (see On Foot in Devon – making a firm link here to that book). But – although it is all done in a spirit of fun and affection – HW does rather put his friend down here, which might have further strained their friendship when it appeared in print,
HW remembers seeing otters in the valley, but on this day they only see water-ousels (dippers) and kingfishers, and a sickly salmon.
Coming to the road they continue upwards (it is quite steep there) until they come to the quarries where stone is blasted. Strangely he says little about the grimness (still there) of that seemingly sunless grey area, but conveys the poisoned atmosphere with reference to dead salmon.
We Walk on the Moor, discuss Buzzards and an early version of Tarka the Otter, and descend upon a Farmhouse for a glorious repast
They watch buzzards, and HW tells a tale which involves making a grisly fire-shield from three bodies found on a gamekeeper’s gibbet and dried out (a total fiction), which then drifts into corrections made on an early draft of Tarka the Otter by a Master of Otter Hounds (William Rogers of the Cheriton Otter Hunt). They meander on to the Moor (Exmoor).
They continue to Challacombe and then take the path north which leads up to Pinkery (or Pinkworthy) Pond which is described ‘a tarn, a mere, a lake’ and continue on ‘across high wet ground where purple grass grew in large tufts, called The Chains.’ This wild area was one of HW’s favourite places for walking. They are now quite a long way from Shallowford (no wonder young Windles gets rather tired!): this walk would never have been taken in its entirety – the more usual procedure would have been to take the car to where one leaves the road for the Moor, but that would have spoilt the atmosphere he is creating.
They end up in a farm where they are given good wholesome farm fare (where the blueberries remind him of his trip to Mastigouche – a Canadian fishing trip made with his American publisher in autumn 1930 – and the wild cry of the loon), and a bed for the night.
We talk of Things which are because the God of Golden Song is not always Perceived as the God of the Golden Sun, with quotations from a Local Preacher’s Literary Efforts, ending with the Story of Piercing Eyes
We hear about the life of the farm hostess and her dead religious husband and other tales of religious peculiarities, which in turn leads to a pamphlet diatribe against the ‘Hartland Point Monster’, which is in fact the life-saving fog-horn. Then more pamphlet diatribe about treatment of children (rule with the rod) and that by changing our clocks we have displaced God’s own time and foreseeing worse to come: ‘these writings are not entirely in harmony with the modern world.’ This goes on into problems with cocks, hens, dogs fouling and/or fowling!
The final ‘yarn’ here concerns buying a picture at an auction, or rather a farm sale, which took place in a small crowded upstairs room, in competition with ‘Piercing Eyes’, with a preliminary spat over the opening of a window for air (by HW) and the immediate slamming it shut by Piercing Eyes, repeated several times. The bidding begins and rapidly escalates upwards from one shilling to an exorbitant three guineas. Meanwhile the room is gradually collapsing under the strain of weight and movement of people, until at the climax it gives way and all are deposited in the room below amid a pile of rubble. The picture hangs in his dining room today. But we get an insight into HW’s mind and modus operandi:
Of course you’ve realized that the story, except the atmosphere, is highly coloured, like the picture I bought – I am a chameleon, and take colour from my subjects.
There is also a moral sting to this little tale. Piercing Eyes was not an unpleasant villain – with the picture were some texts which turn out to have been the work of his brother, of whom he was very fond, from when he was a schoolboy. Our narrator gives them to the man and they part as friends. HW’s final last word is to casually admit that the floor had not collapsed – he had added it to make the tale more interesting – and notices that Masterson has fallen asleep!
It rains, and by way of a Dwarf Railroad, we travel home, where Greengages are Eaten, and the Meanest Story in the World is recounted
Our walking party have now reached the East Lyn River which runs so steeply down the north Devon coast to the Bristol Channel, or Severn Sea (and which features so strongly in the later Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight series). It starts to rain so they wait for the special narrow-gauge railway train from Lynton to take them back to Barnstaple. This delightful little train features in several of HW’s books. On arriving at Barnstaple another, London mainline, train would take them back to the little station of Filleigh near Shallowford: the viaduct across the northern end of the Park carried the railway in those days – today it is the main road.
Back home they gorge themselves on greengages, and HW continues to think his rambling thoughts aloud and gets to ‘My Meanest Story’, which is the tale of blackbirds stealing his hard-won fruit, or rather pecking enough holes in his pears to ruin them for winter storage. One bird, ‘Pieface’, was crafty and could not be frightened off. A gun was brought out and used several times, but Pieface escaped. Eventually only one pear was left, but Pieface got that too. Then he disappeared. But in the middle of winter he is there, suddenly singing his delightful song. The gun was brought out again – but here the story ends.
We eat a Ham cooked in the Virginian manner by Loetitia, and hear the Story of The Dog that Ate his Punishment
(This story was previously published in Windsor Magazine, December 1933 – see illustration below.)
They eat a meal of ham first boiled and then roasted with Demerera sugar as Loetitia had learned to do when she joined HW in America in the spring of 1931.
We ate with the ham crab-apple jelly, roast potatoes, and cabbage cooked at twenty pounds pressure to the square inch in the steam boiler. . . . We drank lemonade made by Loetitia from lemons – none of the boughten bottled stuff – and after a salad, we took turns to dig the scoop into a Stilton cheese . . . eaten with slightly sweetened biscuits . . . But it is company that makes food good to eat.
Our narrator reads them his story (typed up by the Scribe) about the dog that ate his punishment. Apparently the Assistant Professor had a Jack Russell terrier, a pup named Snapper, which is accused of killing the neighbouring farmer’s chickens – who brings the dead birds along as evidence and for which the Assistant Professor pays increasing amounts. The problem is that the Professor is busy writing, and so instead of taking the dog for a walk he lets it out to run where it will. He has been writing a book on the French Revolution, which is to be a masterpiece, for the last ten years; meanwhile adversely criticising every other book written on the subject. (HW is really sending himself up here about his own proposed ‘war and peace’ work which he cannot begin.)
Snapper is severely punished for killing these chickens and has a dead one tied round its neck. Again he is let out alone. Later he is found next to the chickens but surrounded by rats, many of which he has killed. It is these rats that have killed all the chickens. The farmer shoots the rest of them: and his wife cooks up a large amount of dead chicken for the canine hero to feast on.
This is all told over several pages with a great deal of detail and humour. But if you have paid attention to my tale you will recollect that the said Professor only stayed at Shallowford for one week – so no way can this story apply to him!
An entry in HW’s diary for 6 January 1933 – in Ann Thomas’s handwriting (HW was away) states:
Mr. Slee shows me a chicken killed presumably by Bill – later on investigation he finds another in our garden among the laurel-bushes by stables.
19 Jan (again AT’s hand): Paid Mr. Slee 17/6d for 2 laying pullets & one chicken killed by Bill recently. [‘Bill’ being HW’s terrier!]
A Scene on the S.S. ‘Berengaria’ at Southampton Docks one Winter Morning is dragged into this Book, following which we all visit the Free Fishing of South Molton, and hear some other Rogues Talking
Scylla remonstrates with our narrator for not telling the truth in his stories:
Dearest Scylla, an author’s stories are intended solely for entertainment.
This leads him to state that he has only one true reader.
Who is he? I am not certain that I know anything about him; we meet only on rare occasions . . . He is one of the best living prose writers in English, and also an expert mechanic and road-racing motor cyclist, an authority on Homer, old buildings, desert warfare, motorboats, a number of wisdom’s pillars, and the virtues of uncooked vegetable food in a cottage. His favourite nut is the pecan nut from Florida. He has several names, the least-known but not the least distinguished of which is G. B. Everest.
[This is, of course, T. E. Lawrence – HW had referred to TEL in a very early letter as ‘Mt. Everest to my Snowdon’: the initials G. B. refer both to the pseudonym ‘Shaw’ that TEL used and the fact that TEL was very friendly with the G. B. Shaw: quite a clever and complex little riddle!]
HW launches into a detailed description of being seen off on his voyage to southern USA by ‘G. B. Everest’ and another unidentified friend (this was John Heygate). Of course, as you can see, his description is so full of clues (as is his mea culpa style ‘Postscript’ explanation added after TEL’s death) that any discerning reader would have known exactly to whom he was referring. (Indeed, it was an open secret as soon as the book appeared.)
To lighten the mood they, all nine of them, set off in HW’s Silver Eagle Alvis for nearby South Molton, a market town still old-fashioned and ‘real’.
But even now he slips in a rather bitter passage about the state of England and what was being said in 1914:
It was unanswerable, it was true, the battalion roared its cheering; and most of the battalion is on that foreign soil today . . . but in 1934 the same sort of thought, coming from Mr. Baldwin, is merely chilling.
An awareness of things to come is beginning to creep into his mind.
They go to look at the weir below the town where they find two interestingly crafty characters who tell them this is the town’s free fishing. They are quite happy to relate the various ways of poaching salmon!
Rather than have tea there indoors they return to the valley for a picnic by the river at Shallowford with the children singing songs until it is time for them to go to bed.
We go to Barnstaple where M. F. H. Zeale interests himself in Fake Antique Furniture, before proceeding to Halsinger Down with its Drunken and other Autobiographical Memories, and Windwhistle Spinney where we Overhear some Authentic Local Speech, arriving at Ham village for food and the Story of Swagdagger Crossing a Field
(This story was published in Atlantic Monthly, July 1929, and Passing Show, April 1934.)
They take the bus into Barnstaple with another dig at Masterson Zeale en route, and again when they arrive: first about the prodigious amount of writing etc. that he gets through (implying that it is therefore of poor quality), and second about his enthusiasm for antique furniture, which HW suggests is fake.
They set off on their walk
up and down combe . . . onwards and upwards to Beara Down Cross – Beara means Little Wood – and so to a wild high place where many little tracks cross and disappear amidst ferns and thorns and sheep. The westering sun dazed and glorified us. This was Halsinger Down, a small cousin of Exmoor . . . [Halsinger Down is directly east of Georgeham, on the other side of the main Ilfracombe road.]
HW remembers the day his eldest son was born, when he got drunk with his brother-in-law Robin, and includes his somewhat apocryphal tale of nursing Windles for months when Loetitia was ill after the birth (her own version of this merely involved a couple of days at the most!) while he wrote Tarka the Otter.
Going west they go across the main Ilfracombe road, and what was then the railway bridge, and on up the lane to Spreycombe (Spreacombe) with a lovely paragraph of memories:
The galleries of the iron mines are still to be seen in the hillside; the long-eared owls and buzzards still nest in the pinewood and spruce plantations; pigeons still clap their wings as they fly in to roost; the stream still holds trout. But the mine buildings are gone, and with them the white owls that I found nesting there in the year of my first boyhood visit. A whole book could be written about that valley, memories of faces now vanished for evermore, when I used to come here with you and you and you, and we made fires to boil a kettle, and poached an occasional rabbit, and explored the mine galleries and – but enough – it is eternity now, it is all about me in the sunshine, as dear Jefferies wrote in his beautiful Story of My Heart [‘you and you and you’ refers to Mary Graham Stokes and her brother, and 1922 adventures].
They continue on up to the top of the hill and Windwhistle Spinney and the field. This is Ox’s Cross and HW’s own Field. A trapper appears with attendant tale. They continue on down the hill (into Georgeham) and Charley’s pub (Charley Ovey and the ‘Lower House’). A tale is told about (against) J. B. Priestley, who was not an admirer of HW’s books, especially after his portrayal in The Gold Falcon: and presumably even less so after this rather unnecessary little dig! (NB: HW did not burn his reviews scrapbook, as he states here.) This passage would no doubt have been one of those that concerned the publishers’ libel lawyer!
They have a happy time in the Lower House, where Charley tells a tale about pig-killing and subsequent supper, and they sing songs. Then we are told the story ‘Swagdagger Crosses a Field’: one of HW’s classic stories. Swagdagger is an white stoat and his adventures as he crosses a field next to HW’s own field are extreme as he is attacked by every bird of prey in the area, one after the other, including a buzzard which captures him but which he manages after a hard fight to kill, and also by Mr. Ovey (prominent in this tale), who is finally chased by Swagdagger’s entire (huge!) family right back down the hill into the village: while Swagdagger and family go off and enjoy their normal happy lives.
|HW's revisions to the Atlantic Monthly story for another version (though not that in Devon Holiday)|
A Tilt at the Largest Village in England on behalf of its Old Tree and young Salmon Parr, and the Story of the Heller is recounted
(‘The Heller’ was first published in Atlantic Monthly, May 1928; then Cassell’s, September 1928, and the Daily Express, 22 October 1935.)
‘The largest village in England’ is Braunton, shown here with it's 'old tree' – Slee's shop is still a presence in the village today:
After we have learned its story we continue to the sea-wall where we learn the tale of the marshman and the Heller, which is out to catch his ducklings. Strange noises are heard. The Heller is an otter and HW watches it playing. But the marshman is determined to catch this ‘Heller’: he traps and kills it. On the way back they find a huge conger eel – killed by the now dead otter. Cutting this eel open, the marshman finds his dead ducklings in its innards. A rather fierce and sad tale: another HW classic.
The next day we walk on the Santon Sands, explore the Lighthouse, and Consider Various Dangers in both Life and Literature
HW lies naked and (for once) happy on Saunton Sands but as his friends approach he sees the Scribe is not with them:
It seemed that I had known her always. She was the perfect companion with whom only the fewest words were necessary. So wild birds lived. Ah, if only she and I were alone with the sun in the sands.
They are disturbing a ring-plover (lovely little bird), so move away. But HW remembers an earlier summer when with two friends he had been there and seen a merlin’s nest: ‘Where are those two friends, I thought, and for a moment the sunlight seemed terrifyingly blank.’ (I think HW has to be referring here to Eve Fairfax (real name Mabs Baker) and Julian Warbeck (real name Frank Davis) – his friends from the immediate post-war era who feature in The Dream of Fair Women and the later Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight.)
They walk to Airy Point (the south-western edge of the sands) and out on to ‘The sandbank known as the North Tail; across the channel was the South Tail.’ It is a dangerous place, and we are treated to various escapades our narrator has survived. They explore the lighthouse (no longer there, but see HWSJ 33, 1997, p. 37 for details).
A walk out to the Dutchman's Wreck on Saunton Sands. The only positive identifications are
Petre Mais (3rd from right), with his partner Jill on his right. Second left may be HW's wife Loetitia.
Then the Scribe reappears. She recognises this as the place where Willie Maddison was drowned (in The Pathway). Our narrator explains his ideas expounded in that book. (Note here that when the Scribe comes back she is not actually the same person: it is very subtly done and needs to be read with great care to spot it. HW is playing games with his readers!)
They are then ferried across the estuary, by a fisherman’s boat which has to be signalled for, to Appledore, where the next day is the Regatta.
We encounter a Fearful Mystery, and Experience a Frightful Horror, which nearly ends this Awful Book
(This story, concerning an Orca Gladiator, or killer whale, first appeared as ‘Death of the Killer’ in Golden Book Magazine, USA, April 1933 – see illustration below.)
So our little group are in Appledore for the Regatta: we are given a potted history of Lord Northam who owns the area and again meet The Snowflake (as in On Foot in Devon where it is illustrated), but now Lord Northam’s ‘cream and scarlet yacht’. From the Regatta advert we learn there will be:
We learn that ‘Red Hake’ is the name for salmon taken in the close season (that is, illegally). We also meet again Jimmy Kift, who features in earlier stories, leading the banter in the pub. As they leave we are given one of HW’s superb verbal paintings:
It was a fine night, without wind, the tide on the ebb lapping the bottom of the quay wall. Voices came distinct across the estuary from the lighted houses on the shore across the water [the village of Instow].
Talk ceased in the group outside the chandler’s shop. Their lives were regulated by the tides; and the fishermen went out in their boats two hours before low tide and shot their drafts from the sand and gravel ridge until the tide was too strong for them to haul on their two hundred yards of weighted net. Tonight, however, the habit was disturbed by their thoughts of the Regatta tomorrow, and the fine night made them linger awhile. Other voices were audible along the length of the quay, above which rose the masts and rigging of ketches against the sky. The creak and knock of the ferry-boat’s sweeps could be heard with the noises of the tide.
But strange noises are heard; then chaos, as screams for help are heard: the ferry boat has suddenly sunk and one man has lost a leg. The recovered boat is seen to have been stove in. However, the next day the Regatta opens as planned, with its attendant noisy fun.
Having told us in advance, sotto voce, that the advertised performing sea creatures will ‘that very afternoon take part in the biggest fight in the history of the estuary since Hubba the Dane . . . perished in battle with Harold the king of the Saxons’, our author over several pages narrates the events that lead up to this primeval scene with the master hand of the seasoned story-teller.
Lord Northam, with all the panache and bravado of a circus trainer, has arrived and introduces his tame sea-creatures by pet name, which are allowed off the yacht down their special slipway and are desporting themselves in the water, occasionally returning for a thrown fish.
But ‘’erring ’ogs’ are spotted: a ‘herring-hog’ is a porpoise as we’ve been told in several stories in earlier books – a creature hated by the fishermen. Worse is to come:
a tall and sharp fin [drew] a straight line towards the boats. With awful suddenness it grew taller, and a black length of back was seen awash behind a blunt head as big round as a cartwheel. The head came out, shining smooth and black, with two patches of ghastly whiteness above and behind two tiny little eyes. . . .
The monstrous thing rose beside the vortex made by its rushing turn, within ten yards of our boat. We saw its belly and underparts of white, stretched inside a hide glistening with blubber. The great barrel of its blunt head split into a wide mouth, with twelve pairs of curved teeth set like marquee pegs in the bones of the jaw.
Lord Northam, while exhorting everyone to stay calm, is heard to say: ‘My God, it’s an Orca Gladiator!’
This monster kills and eats the porpoise and then spots the tame sea lions and gives chase. In turn, they face it and, twisting and turning, evade it in a scene of First World War dog-fight proportions. Eventually the walrus manages to bite and wound the whale’s flipper and hangs on to it in threshing water. All disappear under water. The walrus reappears dripping blood and exhausted; there is no sign of the tame sea lions.
As the tide goes out so they reappear one by one. With the next tide the body of Orca Gladiator is flung on to the pebble ridge (which protects the famous golf course). When it is cut up nine porpoises and two wild seals are found inside its bony framework. It is buried in the sandhills.
A fearsome tale! As the next chapter opens Scylla says in puzzled tone that she was at the Regatta, and hadn’t seen anything like that. Our story-teller is indeed a teller of stories!
We explore Hercules Promontory, and hear Various Stories, including one of a Very Famous Modern Writer, and the Mystery of the Scribe’s Identity is Solved, but not Revealed
The pace slows and the reader is allowed to recover after the gladiatorial excitement. The party have moved westwards: conversation over High Tea (ham, boiled eggs, cut-rounds – a plain traditional Devon dough-bun – and cream with jam) pokes fun (again) at J. B. Priestley (no wonder the lawyer was anxious!), who is said to have no sense of humour. Also we are told that Loetitia has a tale about a faithful and perfect housekeeper, Martha, but who, forever taken for granted, eventually ‘loses her cool’ and upends a plate of soup on the head of His Lordship, leaves his service and lives out her life in reasonable comfort.
Then we hear another story about a child dying for want of green vegetables, who then lived with a lady in Georgeham who ran a naturist’s boarding house. Our Scribe turns pink. We have been told who she (now) is supposed to be. If the present reader has followed with care all the links from the beginning of ‘A Life’s Work’, then they will be aware of the names of all the girls HW had known during this period. But to give you another clue: Barbara Krebs, who had lived with the Georgeham naturist and vegetarian Miss Johnson in 1929 and had done a certain amount of work for HW, made a visit to Shallowford in 1933!
We enter the Valley of Monks, and Observe much Water Beauty
In tandem with On Foot in Devon the scene has moved west to the area around Hartland. Our story-teller relates seeing ‘the most remarkable fish jump’ he has ever had the good luck to see. They are in the Valley of the Monks (Hartland Abbey – further details can be found in the On Foot in Devon entry), with its tiny stream. It is a lovely lyrical passage, ending with HW’s ideas about learning by imitation. The narrator hints at a story he is planning in his head but is not yet ready to tell – certainly not to Scribe as it concerns another maiden.
We fly in an Aeroplane, while the Assistant Professor gets a Bit Sick, but recovers later at an Inn, and we explore some Clay Mines, after which we fly to Dartmoor, endure a Bombardment of Live Shell, and reach Cranmere Pool
So our little group of walkers find themselves in an aeroplane flying over Lundy – the small uninhabited island that lies a short way off the coast (19 miles due west of Morte Point) and which can be seen from HW’s haunts around Ox’s Cross. During the flight the little man with a bowler hat (who has miraculously materialised) is thrown out – much as Mrs Ramrod is thrown off Morte Point in On Foot in Devon. Back over land and Bideford, they see the River Torridge ‘winding its way like a much-broken snake through wooded valleys’ and follow the line of the railway south. (Today this is known as ‘The Tarka Line’ in honour of HW.) Landing, they take up their walk again and visit the clay pits. (These clay pits feature in Tarka the Otter.) Returning to the plane, they continue southwards past Okehampton (on the north-west edge of Dartmoor). The plan is to walk to the famous Cranmere Pool (again featuring in Tarka). The route passes through an artillery range (it still does): and HW is immediately back in the war.
Womp-womp-womp-womp. The heavy detonations of the salvo smote the air of the valley. It was a strange sensation, that of being two personalities at the same time: one in the past, the other in the present. . . .
With a mild shock one realized that twenty years ago the British Expeditionary Force was falling back in exhaustion before the right wing of von Kluck’s army-group, and we were waiting orders to go overseas. . . . How hot was that August sun. . . . How we longed for that burning sun three months later, standing all day and all night in the flooded trenches of Ypres.
Now the whining of the shells almost drew the heart out of the breast for those vanished scenes and faces. Tears started to my eyes . . .
Our story-teller then remembers his last visit, eight years before, with Robin (Hibbert – his wife’s brother) and the problems of writing his great masterpiece (but once again exaggerating the number of drafts!).
HW’s 1926 visit to Cranmere Pool, from HWSJ 22, Sept. 1990, p. 38;
The entry is topped by HW's owl sign and tailed by a robin sketch
(for Robin Hibbert)
We visit Cranmere Pool, where the Assistant Professor recounts his Adventures while Riding the Rods and Driving a Team of Huskies, after which several Stories are told, we are Caught in Fog, we Proceed by Compass Bearings and imagine many soft-boiled eggs, we reach our Destination and we eat Hard-boiled Eggs
|Lydford is bottom left; Cranmere Pool to its east, circled in green|
With some difficulty (it is indeed quite hard going, and not for the faint-hearted) the party reach Cranmere Pool on Dartmoor, with its famous tin post-box and visitor’s book, and the author again remembers his previous visit. We are told of the various rivers that start their journey from the Great Kneeset and companion hills, running in many directions. But they must proceed west as their destination is Lydford, the way is difficult, and it is already 4 o’clock. As they walk the Assistant Professor tells of his daring adventures of train journeys (‘riding the rods’) and sledding with Eskimos (though neither tale should necessarily be believed!).
Our story-teller embarks on a wild tale involving a drunk man covered in ‘snartlegoggers’ (seemingly cockroaches!) and continues thinking up plots for short stories until they, with difficulty in fog and darkness, arrive at Lydford: longing for weak tea and ‘softly-boiled eggs’, only to be given strong tea and hard-boiled eggs, but with ‘Devonshire’ cream – the implication being that cream is cream is cream. (Lydford is the scene of HW’s impassioned visionary tale The Star-born.)
The Story of the Poisoned Hounds
(First appeared as ‘The Yellow Boots’ in The Old Stag, 1926, but was omitted from the 1933 edition – so evidently HW had already decided to move it to here: an example of the complicated crossover of time and events.)
A story has been promised and here it is told: the tale of the Inclefell Harriers, Convict Seventy-Six, and the Yellow Boots. Some of the characters in this tale are traceable to HW’s friends of his early Devon years who lived at Lydford. (For those unfamiliar with this background, see Tony Evans, ‘The Radfords of Ingo Brake’ HWSJ 36, 2000, pp.7-25, and also sketch map of Lydford on p. 27).
(One should remember here that The Star-born, set in Lydford, was actually published in 1933, and HW had taken C. F. Tunnicliffe there so that he could get material for his illustrations for that novel. This all adds to the complications of teasing out HW’s juggling of time and material.)
This tale is a magnificent example of the macabre, and its total reality puts it miles above Conan Doyle’s tale of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’! It also contains several moral undertones, as well as yet again highlighting HW’s inability to escape from the war.
The story opens by telling us that the meet has been cancelled: the reason reluctantly and circuitously revealed – the hounds have all been put down because they are said to have worried some sheep and are deemed dangerous. We are also told that the Master of the Hunt and his daughter will not attend the Ball that evening. This all seems very suspicious to some and we eventually arrive at the real story.
Escaped Convict Seventy-Six finds the clothes hidden by two young people who are out to confuse the hounds on the hunt planned for the following day. They have laced a pair of boots with aniseed; they plan to get up very early next day and use them to plant a false trail and lure the hounds away from their quarry. Convict Seventy-Six ignores the pleas of this pair to remove the boots when they discover him that morning. Inevitably the hounds pick up his scent, and finally after a long and exhausting run, when he thinks he has found refuge in ruined Redford Farm, they attack him. The convict is an ex-soldier of the First World War and he relives in his mind a fierce, graphically described, attack; and as he dies he also relives his own crime, equally graphically described – which was to kill his wife and her lover whom he found in bed when he arrived unexpectedly home on leave.
Two days later the girl, Miss Mollie Incleden, daughter of the Master of Hounds – and the young lady who instigated the false trail prank that had gone so disastrously wrong – gets lost out riding and ends up with a lame horse at the ruined farm. She goes over to look at a heap of stones:
Several red-muzzled hounds came to her and leapt up affectionately. They remained by her, two of them licking her face, while she lay pale and still in a fainting fit caused by the sight of two shinbones sticking out of a pair of yellow boots.
The Little Man joins the Story, we Discuss the Habits of Water, a Catastrophe is narrowly Averted, and the Party appears generally to Deliquesce.
The Little Man in a bowler hat has popped in and out of this book (as did the strident Mrs Ramrod in On Foot in Devon) and he is reprised here, having miraculously survived being thrown out of the aeroplane, as an ardent follower of our author’s books.
Little Man and Masterson Zeale start an impassioned argument about whether rivers which swing from side to side, in the past ‘swung’ or ‘swang’. HW here is poking fun at pedantic argument over grammar. These two fall one hundred feet off a bridge into Lydford Gorge (the stunning setting for The Star-born). Scylla plunges after them. The Scribe decides the fun is over and leaves. And the Assistant Professor has to catch the boat to return to the USA. But as the story-teller continues round the gorge alone, he sees, ‘below the great cauldron of the Bell Cavern’ (the Devil’s Cauldron), the three who have plunged to its depths, very wet but alive and well. ‘My friends, it is time to quit.’
But before he does, our author describes the gorge at its best, and in his best lyrical manner, and then he continues walking – out on to and over Dartmoor; and his words certainly make one want to follow in his footsteps.
Walk withersoever you will – the more intelligent you are, the happier you will be, so long as you walk: England is yours, if you behave, and remember that your neighbour is yourself.
This chapter ends with a farewell to his ‘dear Scribe’, whoever she is (and one suspects that each of the possible candidates would have taken that mantle onto herself – in actual fact it is Ann Edmonds, who never was his scribe!):
To you, my dear, I dedicate The Maiden Salmon, for you inspired it, you are Love.
THE MAIDEN SALMON
(This story was first published in Nash’s & Pall Mall Magazine, illustrated by C. F. Tunnicliffe, in December 1934. This prestigious literary magazine started out as Pall Mall Magazine in 1893, and amalgamated with Nash’s Magazine in 1914. There were various problems and it finally ceased publishing in 1937. Sadly, I have not found a copy of this magazine in HW’s archive. A letter from A. D. Peters (HW’s literary agent) dated 4 July 1934 states that Nash would pay forty guineas.)
‘The Maiden Salmon’ is a symbolic (allegoric) tale: once more death proves the only cathartic end for an unrequited love. It is the story of a poet, who carefully prepares a safe haven hatchery for salmon eggs, watches first one (a special one which he always recognises) and then many actually hatch, and the poet carefully protects them during the various stages of growth. Various vicissitudes overtake his special ‘first-born’ fish until its inevitable death, or rather, transformation to another (better) world.
The idea for this story had come to HW, as he recorded in his diary, while he was staying with Charles Tunnicliffe in early 1934 to sit for his portrait. He had just been made aware that his love for Ann Edmonds was not going to be allowed to flourish. In the Memoranda section at the beginning of his 1934 diary he wrote:
Story of salmon at Torcross
Salmon = poet’s soul = Bb
Marked by polt in river Dart. Smolt marked.
Fisherman = girl’s father
Then, soon after his return from the visit to Georgia, USA (as related in The Linhay on the Downs), by which time he had actually got over his ‘love anguish’ (although his hopes were fleetingly reignited on meeting again), he recorded:
26 May 1934: Began short story The Maiden Salmon.
28 May: Did some more of The Maiden Salmon.
29 May: Ditto
10 June: Motored with AT [Ann Thomas, having spent 10 days with HW, was returning home to Tenterden] . . . to see J.H., whose father is dying, at Salt Grass [the father’s home at Lymington, Hampshire]. We drank champagne, I read The Maiden Salmon . . .
The story carries elements of The Star-born, of Tarka the Otter, of The Gold Falcon, from the past and, of course, of the future, the next great book he is in fact constantly preparing in his mind – Salar the Salmon.
Over about two years the poet watches over his young fish. But they are stalked both by a cannibal trout, and a ‘mullhead’ (HW’s diary refers several times to having seen a cannibal trout in his stretch of the river), and eventually one night the mullhead gets into the safe haven and eats them.
Lying on the grass in grief, he notices a beautiful young girl who gazes sadly into the water, noting ‘they are gone’ before disappearing. Seeing something glinting in the water he dips in his hand and discovers it is a tiny gold star. Next to it he also notices a tiny fish, and knows that the ‘first-born’, which the poet always recognised and knew for itself, has survived the slaughter.
Two years pass: the poet visiting every day. The fish becomes a smolt, and when it is big enough he lifts it from the protected pool and attaches that tiny gold star with silver wire to its rear fin – and releases it into the stream to go off and find its destiny.
There was, he knew, in the salmon, a beautiful natural memory of place, pool, bend, fall, and quality of water – which to him was divine.
Another two years pass. All this time the poet has been writing, slowly and painfully, an epic.
The poet was almost to the climax of his epic, but he could write no further: he suffered mental anguish through doubt and confusion, which led to distrust of his inspiration, believing it to be self-delusion, his thoughts due to physical inactivity or frustration.
A line in his poem seemed to stand out on the page,
His tears are clouds these many centuries
and beyond that sorrowful truth he could find no pathway.
(That passage reveals to the reader HW’s naked thought about his own creative process with its self-doubts. It is of intense interest too that the ‘quotation’ of his own line are words that he carved into the lintel of his Writing Hut above the fireplace. ‘The Maiden Salmon’ is as much – perhaps more – an allegory about himself as a writer as it is about unrequited love.)
That night he dreams of his salmon and knows that the time for its return has come. He walks along the coast until he arrives at the shingle bank (guarding the river by which the fish left for the sea). The fish are certainly returning and men in their fishing boats are waiting for them. He waits and watches fearfully. A new boat and crew appears:
rowed by an old man, his two sons, and his daughter. The poet watched her . . . Her thick fair hair, bleached by the sun, was clustered short of her shoulders. Her arms and legs were bare, golden-brown in the sun, she laughed with her brothers, tossing back her hair, she was strong in her maiden grace. . . . he thought he had never seen a brow so candid, or eyes so direct and clear, as though with the sky’s clarity.
Readers of On Foot in Devon will recognise this as the girl HW met at Torcross on the south coast of Devon while researching his material for that volume, and with whom he fell immediately in love – Ann Edmonds.
Now we have a scene very reminiscent of Tarka the Otter as the old man (father of the girl) sees a salmon and gives a similar ‘Tally-ho’ betrayal, as he waves his hat in the air to direct attention to the fish. A single salmon gets caught in the net.
The poet saw a yellow sparkle in the sunlight, and his sight was instantly blackened.
. . . It was small-mouthed, silver-frosty, scarcely spotted – a maiden fish, said the fisherman, who did not notice the gold it bore on its pennon-like fin.
The death of the fish is graphically described.
The poet stood beside the salmon, waiting with bowed head during the agony and betrayal of the spirit’s innocence by forces of life which he knew were irresistible and inevitable . . .
The poet stood there, his eyes seeing not the steady glance of the maid beside him, nor anything mortal while he drowned in a sea deeper than any Atlantic.
The poet returns to his sanctuary:
On the hill above his hut stood the poet . . . His work was done, his life fulfilled, and now he might enter the everlasting stream of time beyond the end of the world.
He prepares his hut for his final departure:
He sat before the wan flames hovering out of the peat, heather of olden time, that was yet sunshine and air and salt of the earth, arising again in flame for the service of another form of life . . . he waited . . . The flame was sinking, and soon he would be free to go.
A pale visitant was now within the hut . . . the visitant was Dawn.
The poet arose, and turned to the door . . . which opened of itself . . . a form appeared before him. . . . [with] the eyes of a sky-maiden. She took his hand and pressed it warmly. . . . her other hand held open [and in it] the golden star and the silver link. . . .
In the eastern sky the Morning Star, Eosphoros the Lightbringer, glowed with its white fires. Joyfully the song of water arose in the valley. The poet looked at the maiden, and knew that his search was ended; for on that brow was sunrise.
The dust wrapper is a classic typographical design typical of Jonathan Cape's books published in the 1930s: