salar front1935   
First edition, Faber, 1935  

Publishing history




The book


Critical reception


UK editions


Overseas editions












To T. E. Lawrence


Seven Pillars of Wisdom


V. M. Yeates


Winged Victory



(Both had died in recent months: Yeates in December 1934, TEL in May 1935.)

Publishing history:


(This is an outline of the major editions. For further and fuller details, with scans of covers and other illustrations, please refer to the pages for UK editions and Overseas editions.)


First edition: Faber and Faber, 17 October 1935 (actual date taken from reviews), 7s 6d


The dust wrapper features a superb wrap around cover painting by C. F. Tunnicliffe; there is a striking vignette of a fishtail diving into water on the title page, and a new singular colophon design of a salmon with HW’s initials within its curve on the last page: both designed by Charles Tunnicliffe.


Shallowford Edition: HW had thirteen sets of page proofs of the book (far more than the usual two or three copies) bound in half morocco as a special edition. These are chunky volumes (as page proofs, they are printed on one side of the paper only, so doubling the number of pages to be bound). Each copy is individual, the morocco varying in colour (dark red, blue, green, brown, black), with four raised bands across the spine, and blending matching marbled boards, with gold lettering across the spine of title, author, and with ‘Shallowford Edition’ at the bottom. End papers are of a matching marbled design. Each copy has an extra typed correction page bound into the text at page 312. They were not illustrated, but had the fish-tail vignette and HW’s colophon at the end.


Little, Brown & Company, Boston, USA (an Atlantic Monthly Press book), published June 1936, illustrated with 32 black and white woodcuts (vignettes for the 25 chapter headings etc.) and 4 full-page black and white illustrations (one as the frontispiece) by Charles F. Tunnicliffe.


New illustrated edition, Faber and Faber, October 1936, with a new cover design by Charles F. Tunnicliffe and a total of 66 illustrations, including the previous black and white chapter headings (as in the USA edition), but with chapter endings now included, and also 16 superb colour plates, by Tunnicliffe. The endpapers have a design of a selection of the chapter-heading vignettes. The colour plates never appeared in any other edition (the cost would have been a major factor).


Limited edition, Putnam (under licence from Faber), 1946: produced to match a complete set of Henry Williamson’s nature books (see separate page for New editions published in the 1940s), with black & white Tunnicliffe illustrations: full-page frontispiece, chapter heads & tailpieces. Running chapter titles are set in the margins. It is not particularly striking for a limited edition!


Penguin Books, paperback, 1949: with the familiar classic orange cover design, no illustrations,1s 6d


Signet, New York, USA, paperback, 1965; by arrangement with Little Brown & Co. and published by the New American Library Inc.: 29 illustrations by Tunnicliffe, including 3 full page. (A note mentions a hard cover issue by Little Brown & Co. – no details available.)


New edition, Webb & Bower, 1987, £14.95; lavishly illustrated with the dust wrapper, 31 colour paintings, and 18 black and white drawings by Mick Loates; Foreword by Mick Loates; Introduction by Richard Williamson (HW’s son, also a naturalist and writer), which gives an ‘insider’ view of HW and his writing.


David R. Godine, Boston, USA: American edition of the 1987 Webb & Bower above


Little Toller Books, paperback, 2010, £10.00; Introduction by Michael Morpurgo


As can be seen from just the above, there are a large number of editions of Salar the Salmon, with various changes of text and the number of Tunnicliffe illustrations: a selection of those still held in HW’s archive is given here, but further information can be found in Hugoe Matthews, Henry Williamson: A Bibliography, 2004.


The literary archive holds several foreign editions (there are no doubt many others). Titles become interesting! Go to Overseas editions for details and illustrations.






The background:


salar shallowford
Shallowford as it was in the early 1900s



salar bray1

The River Bray (in spate) and the deer park in the 1930s, with the

railway viaduct across the valley in the background



It is clear that HW took over the lease on the Shallowford cottage in 1929 mainly because of the fishing rights over a two-mile stretch of the fine trout stream, the River Bray which wound its way through the adjoining Deer Park, part of the Castle Hill estate of the Fortescues at Filleigh. He had been interested in fishing from an early age. On those childhood visits to stay with his cousins in Aspley Guise, Bedfordshire, he recollects in A Clear Water Stream expeditions to the local fishponds and describes his first fish. He also did some fishing at Keston Ponds, one of his favourite areas near his childhood home in south-east London. And he took a fishing rod with him on that (prescient) first holiday spent at Georgeham in May 1914; although ithis is not mentioned in his ‘Nature Diary’ notes, he does include fishing in the fictionalised version in How Dear Is Life, where his holiday is transferred to Lynmouth.


Indeed, in much of HW’s writing water is never very far away. Several items in The Linhay on the Downs (1934) concern fishing and description of water; On Foot in Devon has several references to salmon fishing; while his introduction to Isaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler is also part of this watery dialogue. The Gold Falcon ends with tragedy in the sea and of course Tarka the Otter is imbued with water throughout. Water seemed to be his natural element and his descriptions of it are superb paintings in words.


Readers had been given a preview of the spirit of water-life of salmon in his most poignant short story ‘The Maiden Salmon’ which concludes Devon Holiday, published in June 1935, just a few months before Salar itself.


Once fully ensconced at Shallowford HW had set about studying the water, spending many hours improving the flow of his stretch of the Bray, making pools and dams, making his own hatchery areas, above all watching the fish, out in all weathers and at all hours, walking the river banks, observing every tiny detail needed for the authentic rendering of his subject matter. He also subscribed to Salmon and Trout magazine, which were obviously perused with dogged determination. (These magazines were still in a cupboard in the Studio at Ox’s Cross at the time of the 2014 sale of the property!)


Some of HW's fishing tackle, with his salmon and trout flies, is shown below:



salar tackle1      salar tackle2
salar tackle3   salar tackle4



HW's trout fishing licence for 1931, with a copy of the Taw and Torridge Fishery Board's byelaws:



salar licence


salar licence2



With no previous mention or hint whatsoever, HW’s diary entry for 25 February 1933 states:


Dick also offered me £600 on a 20% royalty for the salmon book.


(This was Richard de la Mare, Director at Faber and Faber, and HW’s personal friend – indeed, de la Mare was best man at his wedding in 1925.)


This project had obviously been discussed when HW stayed with de la Mare in London in early February (3rd–14th), when HW attended the funeral of John Galsworthy, who had died on 31 January 1933); on which visit he also got himself involved in the On Foot in Devon imbroglio with Alexander MacLehose and Jonathan Cape.


A letter from de la Mare, dated 24 February 1933, shows that he had given ‘considerable thought to your book on THE SALMON’ and that he was excited about publishing it ‘later on’. He had spoken to his fellow directors (these being Geoffrey Faber, C. W. Stewart, F. Morley, and T. S. Eliot).



salar faber



They wanted to make a definite bid of ‘an advance of £600 on a royalty of 20%’. A 20% royalty is incredibly high! However all was left in abeyance. HW evidently indicated that he was not yet ready to write this major work – which would take enormous energy, time, and skill – and there is no further mention of it until autumn 1934.


It should have become obvious how complicated HW’s life was during this period, both in his personal and professional writing life: the 1933 emotional problems arising because of Ann Edmonds; the birth of a daughter to Ann Thomas in September 1933; as well as the birth of a son within marriage that same week; his subsequent visit to the USA – all combined with the problems arising over the proposed The Sun in the Sands and his various other writing projects during this period.


However, it is equally obvious that he was all the time thinking about the ‘Atlantic Salmon’ book. His diary continuously records his various activities and observations, for example:


10 April 1933: To this date have taken 12 loads of stone from quarry, equals 4 tons. Saw 11 lb peal in pool above viaduct, & chased it downstream, 360 yards in one dash, & later tailed it in shallow water just above viaduct. It lay scared & still, curled round a stone, & flacked strongly. . . .


14 April: Saw big trout (?peal) in the Bridge Pool today. He looks like my big fellow returned. It’s a mystery where they go to. The large brown wild trout (reformed cannibal) vanished from above the bridge in Sept. last, for spawning, & was absent until April 1 when I gave him up for dead. On April 6 he was back again, a black mark on his neck. . . . Made various stone dams in the afternoon. . . .


15 April: Fished in afternoon with Peter Elmington & his cousin. Caught nil but had fun stoning empty cans. Fished in evening in Bridge Pool, & got 2 L.L. trout, 11 and 8 ounces, and 2 brown, ¼ lb each. [L.L. means ‘Loch Leven’ as HW had stocked the river with them in 1931. HW now starts to keep a total tally of fish caught – so 4 here.]


16 and 17 April: Made dams with A.T. at 2nd waterfall.


20 April: Saw the big trout in Bridge Pool take a trout across his mouth, sink down, & hold it there. Peculiar motion for a salmon or big trout.


21 April: Went with Mr & Mrs Eric Taverner to fish Yeo at Chelfham, Uncle George’s water. [Eric Taverner was a very well-known writer on fishing; the river Yeo runs into the Taw at Barnstaple; ‘Uncle George’ was George Chichester – his wife’s uncle by marriage who had lived at the stately Broadwater House just outside Barnstaple.] 1 trout, ¼ lb . . . E.T. says the big cannibal looks like a pike. Query, are there pike in the Castle Hill lakes & has one escaped. We must get him out. . . .


4 May: . . . Again I saw that damned cannibal fish (?pike) take trout across back in Bridge Pool . . . the fish may be trout – query, one of those 3lb Loch Levens I put down in 1931? But wouldn’t it take the food I throw in, or is it a confirmed cannibal now?


6 May: Watched 20 lb and 10 lb salmon rolling and leaping & playing just before twilight above Park bridge. Threw a fly, the grilse played with it twice, rolling up and nosing it.


And so such entries continue (all while he was writing On Foot in Devon). They will all appear, transmuted, in the book in due course!


In the autumn of 1934 HW visited London (19 September) and although he only recorded seeing Cape about The Linhay on the Downs (published in November 1934) he must also have seen Dick de la Mare and discussed the proposed salmon book, for a letter from Dick dated 24 September 1934 states definite terms: a total of £750 advance; £250 on signing contract, £250 on receipt of manuscript (this always means typescript!) and £250 on publication, with a royalty of 20% (as previously offered). He mentions HW’s proposal to hand over ‘your AUTOBIOGRAPHY as a security’ (to cover the first £250 advance only), which they would wish to do.


I am overjoyed that this point has been reached. I am sure you are going to write a classic.


He gently reminds HW that he has said the book will be finished by April next and ready for publication in the autumn. In a postscript he adds (a strong hint) that Faber (i.e. Geoffrey) is hoping that [the style of] the book will be similar to Tarka the Otter.


The ‘Autobiography’ was HW’s typescript for The Sun in the Sands which was written over the winter of 1933–34 and in Georgia, USA, in the spring of 1934, and which had been turned down by his USA publisher (and possibly by Cape too).


The contract for ‘ATLANTIC SALMON’ arrived directly (it is dated 29 September 1934). Ann Thomas left Shallowford on 1 October to return to Tenterden (where she was currently living with her sister), stopping off in London to see de la Mare and deliver the signed contract and the ‘manuscript’ of HW’s ‘autobiography’, which was put into Faber’s vault safe – where it was to stay for ten years.


A letter from Dick de la Mare dated 1 October acknowledges both items – ‘A thousand and one cheers’. On 3 October HW recorded: ‘Received cheque for £250, being 1/3rd advance for Atlantic Salmon on signing contract.’


However, on the day that Ann left for London HW actually began to write Devon Holiday (published by Jonathan Cape in June 1935), and continued until it was finished on 18 November. It is obvious with hindsight and the knowledge now available that HW wanted this book, destined for Cape, dealt with and got out of the way.


While writing this book, HW was also researching background material for the salmon book, as his immediate diary entries show:


Sunday 7 October (Summer Time ends): [That was early.] Went along Taw from Umberleigh to Junction Pool (Mole) & took notes of various weirs and stretches. Watched peal & salmon ascending at Head Weir & Fullabrook. Got many valuable notes. Later went there with Windles [his eldest son, Bill, now 8½ years old] & stayed at Head Weir until dark. I handled several peal which leapt and slithered on the weir face at the edge of the grass. Carried one small peal to the pool above. There were spotted sea-trout and peal – two distinct species. Too tired to write on my return [i.e. Devon Holiday].


8 October: Went with Gipsy to the weir. Broke nail of little finger on concrete weir grabbing a peal, very thin. It slipped through my fingers. Later, spun with 4 ft. Steel rod & Pfleuger reel in Bridge Pool in Deer Park [part of Castle Hill Estate at Shallowford], hooked & played for ½ hour a 8 lb salmon, which I tailed eventually with help of all the Shallowford folk, didn’t have a licence but didn’t blow the gaff on myself. Had a big yellow spinner & steel trace, 20 lbs breaking strain. The fish took slowly lazily under the alder on the side of the pool. I’ve always fished wrongly so far, I can see, spinning from the wrong bank. Later took but lost a 6 oz peal. Telegraphed for Tunnicliffe to come down & sketch. This is the first salmon I’ve taken in Devon. No writing today.


9 October: Tunnicliffe travelled all night & arrived 9.39 am at Filleigh Station. He loved the sight of water, me fishing etc, & he went down to Head Weir & saw some grand views of fish jumping.


10 October: Out with Tunny to Junction Pool of Mole-Taw & I left him at Barum Station to go home by train [i.e. to Filleigh, Shallowford]. Worked a little, about 3000 words [on Devon Holiday].


11 October: Took Tunny on the Taw & left him to find his own way back . . .


12 October: Tunny left today, having many terrific ideas & sketches. I started work again. 80,000 words [means total so far! – work on Devon Holiday is then continuous].


The Linhay on the Downs was published on 12 November: and then came the blow of the death of Victor Yeates on 15 December. HW redoubled his efforts on Yeates’ behalf, editing the posthumous ‘Family Life’ typescript; working on turning Winged Victory into a script suitable for play or film; and trying to procure an official income for the now bereaved family. He wrote an obituary for John O’London’s Weekly.


He spent Christmas at home but went back up to London for the New Year (taking Windles to see first his mother, but then to actually stay with Gipsy’s cousin Mary, her bridesmaid). He met Ann Thomas and they went to a New Year’s Eve party given by William Murdoch. HW and Windles returned to Shallowford on 7 January 1935.


To solve various immediate problems it had been arranged that HW’s wife Gipsy and Ann Thomas should exchange abodes and duties. On 15 January 1935 therefore Gipsy left for Tenterden (giving rise to an irritable burst from HW about her chaotic housekeeping methods) to take over from Ann. An additional concern was that Ann’s sister Bronwen, living in the house, was in an extremely nervous state (her husband was dead and she had a child to bring up), and it was felt that she should not be left alone.


The next day HW came out in a rash on his face and neck (he had been complaining of not feeling well for several days) which he treated with iodine: Annie Rawle, their housekeeper, pronounced shingles or measles.


Ann Thomas arrived on Saturday 19 January at South Molton station (the nearest small town to Filleigh) ‘where I met her with the olde Alvis’. On 23 January they:


Played badminton in S. Molton; enjoyable, sweated some; and on returning tubbed and changed, felt clear [or ‘clean’?] & fine, and began about 7.15 p.m. ATLANTIC SALMON.


So the writing began in earnest.


24 January 1935: Did another 850 words of Salar the Leaper. Slowing up. The purple passage is too thick, it sticks in my guts. [Note the change of title there. HW pointed out that ‘Salar’ was the Latin word for leaper: the verb is ‘salire’ to leap (for joy). ‘Salar the Leaper’ is still the title at the early proof stage of the book.]


25 January: Did another 700 words of Salmon Book. Frosty.


He notes that Ann is writing her own novel: he does not name it, but this was Women Must Love (Faber, 1937), which actually tells the story of her love affair with HW – though well disguised. (Interestingly the character modelled on HW’s wife is called ‘Alethea’, as proposed in HW’s MS for The Sun in the Sands.) HW continues with his own book. On 14 February a letter from Gipsy informed him that she was (four months) pregnant (to his total annoyance!) with ‘young Master Richard’. (How she could have known the baby was to be a boy is beyond me!)


His diary continues to note a few short details of writing and fishing, but mainly the diary is blank. There is nothing to tell when Gipsy returned or Ann left, but the latter was still certainly at Shallowford towards the end of February.


On 21 April (Easter Sunday) HW noted:


Watched a fish above bridge in water still high taking nymphs. About 9 lbs, this salmon. Rolls 3–4 times a minute. I fished various flies over him, he came up to look at one but then was not interested any more.


Then on 27 April there is a long entry – the fishing part of which he had entered wrongly on 19 April. His excitement is obvious:


Caught a 9 lb fresh-run salmon, about 10-14 days ex-sea, on small fly and stained cast (light grilse) in pool between waterfall and Viaduct. Had to walk in water, ¼ mile downstream, over waterfall and below Rocky Bridge (wooden suspension bridge) where I tailed him in 8 ins of water, John Heygate ready with ¼ lb light trout net. About ¾ hour playing. It leapt not at all, mostly deep-channel staying, pressing down (this helped to exhaust it) but flacked about on the surface. As in the other fish I caught in Islay 3 years ago, it hooked itself: I didn’t strike. Suddenly a weight on my line and half a tail breaking the water.



salar fish1   salar fish2   salar fish3
The 9 lb salmon with (l to r) HW, HW and John, John and Loetitia, outside Shallowford



This is the day on which a telegram arrived from Gipsy’s brother Frank, who had been living at Landcross looking after their father (the other brothers having left for Australia some time before), announcing the death of Charles Hibbert the night before. John Heygate and the Tunnicliffes came to lunch, and so he delayed telling his wife until after they had gone. (Tunny was evidently staying in the area to work on Salar illustrations.) Gipsy left for Landcross later that day.


Monday, 6 May was King George V’s Jubilee. It was also HW’s tenth wedding anniversary. All the family, plus Ann Thomas, ‘motored to the field with flag-flying trailer’ for a celebratory bonfire and supper (eggs and bacon). They saw ‘at 10pm. 27 beacons breaking into small red points of flame in the darkness below and around us’.


9 May: River very low and brown with algae on stones and blotched green with flannel weed. The salmon is still above bridge, lying in muddy alder roots, sometimes coming out towards noon, & idling awhile before pushing into cover again.


10 May: Cable from Weeks of Atlantic Monthly Press asking for salmon Tss for serial. The first time someone has wanted my stuff in earnest.


Saturday 11 May: Windles found a salmon lying belly upwards in pool & told me. I hauled it out. Fungus’d a bit, dead 14 days, about 20 lbs, two deep wound-bruises on its back. Stabbed by someone’s pitchfork, possibly in Embercombe Pool. It stank a bit. Fished for trout by Brayley, in vain: harsh dry east wind for days & days been blowing. Wrote to T. E. Lawrence at his cottage near Bovington Camp, asking if I could stay with him on Tuesday next.


That of course brought forth the fateful telegram from TEL, for while returning from sending it he had the motorcycle accident that led to his death (further details belong to the entry on Genius of Friendship: T. E. Lawrence to be covered in due course. There are almost no diary entries after TEL’s death other than a couple or so fishing details:


20 June: Hooked 10 lb salmon on spinner in rocky stretch in Deer Park but lost it owing to inefficient knot.


26 June: 3½ lb grilse on spinner in same place where I missed last one. Also missed a 10 lb salmon – short rise.


At this time all HW’s time and energy was directed towards writing the salmon book. Faber had written in early June to say they had decided to publish it on 10 October and were advertising in their autumn list. To get the book finished became a matter of urgency. As Ann typed up chapters they were being sent straight off to the publishers and thence to the printers.


There is nothing to note when HW took himself off to his Writing Hut at the Field to concentrate on finishing the book. He was still at Shallowford at the end of June (as above), but the diary is totally blank except for those two fishing entries. However, there is a description by Guy Priest, a rather thick-skinned would-be writer and fan, of a visit to the Field towards the end of July (he doesn't give the precise date). Having met HW the previous year and now on holiday in Georgeham, he presumed to intrude – this despite HW’s heavy previous hints not to visit (in ‘Remembering Henry Williamson’, HWSJ 6, November 1982):


Quietly opening the gate [of the Field at Ox’s Cross] I approached the hut along a narrow path through uncut grass. Before me was the door of weathered oak, studded with hand-forged nails, in its centre a tiny lattice like a porthole. . . . At that moment the door suddenly swung back, revealing in the opening an unshaven, wild-eyed creature whom I scarcely recognised. He studied me for a brief span through half-closed lids. Then he stepped back, bidding me enter. . . .


The loose pages of a manuscript lay on a table, beside a portable typewriter. I didn’t realise it then, but this was Salar the Salmon. There were charred embers of a wood fire in the open brick fireplace; a massive iron frying-pan hung beside the hearth, beside it a long twin-pronged poker. Propped up by a window was the Howard Coster photograph of T. E. Lawrence who had died on his Brough Superior motor-cycle earlier that summer. . . .


When presently I left, HW apologised for his lack of hospitality. All his energies must go into his work; he really had little else to give.


A letter from Dick de la Mare dated 31 July 1935 shows that proofs were already being set up: HW has previously had pages 1–64 and now pages 65–190. So he was correcting proofs even before he had actually finished writing the book. He was also irritably querying the proof copies as he had requested them to have wider margins than was usual (showing that he was already planning those special edition copies, where the extra width would be needed to accommodate binding) and these only had the normal width.


The printers are once again Robert MacLehose & Co. Ltd of Glasgow, who noted HW’s requirements in a letter dated 1 August 1935. This is the day that ‘young Master Richard’ was born in Ebberley Nursing Home, Barnstaple. The event was not noted by HW, who was still living up at his Field. He could never cope with baby chaos – and certainly not at that particularly fraught time.


A letter from de la Mare (6 August 1935) states: ‘You depress me when you write like that’; showing that HW was in a highly nervous state at that time. A further letter (13 August) states that Ann has now sent the last chapter, and that proofs will be provided as soon as possible. But de la Mare wants shortened chapter headings to use for the running page titles: HW misunderstood that and shortened all actual chapter headings. (The original headings can be found on the MS held at Exeter University.) De la Mare thought that an improvement. He also queried HW’s use of the word ‘Leaper’ in the title, suggesting that plain ‘Salar the Salmon’ would be clearer for prospective buyers.


But now another publishing contretemps is revealed. A letter from Jonathan Cape (13 August 1935) shows that HW had written him a letter mentioning this new book, or rather seems to have referred to it in passing and in a dismissive way: ‘I cannot understand your casual reference to your new book.’ Cape continues that he (Cape) ‘had been looking forward to this book about a salmon for years and now it seems you have rattled off something inferior and indeed have placed it elsewhere because of a promise made concerning Selwyn & Blount’ (which he does not understand! See below). Cape feels they are HW’s publishers since The Pathway, and ‘have shown every sympathy with you in your temperamental and financial difficulties’. He then slightingly refers to The Linhay on the Downs and Devon Holiday as ‘odds and ends’ and ‘scraps’ in the same sentence.


While appreciating how difficult HW was as a client, this letter is rather unfair. The contract made at the time of The Pathway committed HW for three books (which seemed to include The Pathway, but, to be generous, let’s say four books). Cape had published: The Pathway (1928); The Village Book (1930); The Labouring Life (1932); The Linhay on the Downs (1934); and Devon Holiday (1935)five books in total. HW’s contract commitment had been more than adequately met. (But one can see why HW hurried to write Devon Holiday before getting on with Salar: he must have foreseen trouble looming!)


In between Faber had published The Wet Flanders Plain (1929); The Wild Red Deer of Exmoor (1931); The Star-born (1933); The Gold Falcon (1933): Geoffrey Bles had published The Patriot’s Progress (1930) and Alexander MacLehose On Foot in Devon (1933). Jonathan Cape must have been aware of these other books, and so he could hardly claim to consider his publishing company as HW’s ‘sole publisher’.


The crux of the matter, of course, was that Cape obviously realised that Salar was a publishing plum akin to Tarka the Otter (which had been, and continued to be, published by Putnam.) Cape wanted this plum, and was very put out at not getting it. The letter from Richard de la Mare also written on 13 August, while dealing with important details of setting titles and headings etc., ends with a postscript revealing that an angry Cape had phoned him ‘asking impertinent questions’ and hoping Cape is not going to bother HW (but he already had).


HW kept a copy of his reply to Cape: basically he explains that in 1923 his friend Dick de la Mare had been working for Selwyn Blount and had been about to publish Tarka the Otter, but the firm floundered and HW went elsewhere – while de la Mare moved to Faber. By then the deal for Tarka the Otter had been fixed, and so apparently HW had promised Dick – at some point in the future – a similar book on a salmon. He includes various (unnecessary) publishing details. He says Faber have not read the salmon book, finished on 4 August and all sent straight to printer as written. (That was not strictly true, de la Mare would certainly have read all the earlier parts, but I think HW was trying now to protect Faber from flak.)


It was the hardest book I’ve written. I forced every word out more reluctantly, for I was and am exhausted. If it has ruined a good subject, I can’t help it, and don’t care. My mind is overstrained. As regards future books, if any, I have made, and will make, no arrangements . . . I would like to forget writing for a year or two, there’s been no rest or relaxation since 1919, when I began.


He picks up on ‘odds and ends’:


I am sorry but I do not see it that way. . . . I regard all the books you have published for me as proper books.


And he ends:


I would emphasise that I have no recollection of ever hinting even that one day I would write a salmon book for either Cape or Putnam.


This was signed in pencil: ‘Forgive pencil, all I have here [at Field]. Hut stripped and I’m carpentering and working all day before the rain comes.’


Jonathan Cape’s reply states: ‘It seems you have not one publisher but three publishers’ (which, as I’ve said, was obvious anyway.) He then quotes dismissive remarks made to him about HW’s writing by T. E. Lawrence and is generally disparaging about HW’s early books (The Flax of Dream, especially The Pathway), and then that The Gold Falcon has made him enemies. He ends by expressing horror that the salmon book has gone straight to the printer as it was written: ‘Good God!’


Cape was not to know just how exhausted HW was at this point, but even so it was an unkind letter to write, especially the remarks about TEL, whom HW practically worshipped and whose death had been a huge blow. Instead of ignoring the letter HW jumped to the defence of The Flax of Dream, explaining why he had revised the volumes (against Cape’s advice); and which of course had then been published by Faber. I doubt HW would ever ‘forgive and forget’ those remarks; or that Cape ever relinquished his grudge.


Meanwhile HW had also written to de la Mare about all this, whose reply states that he was quite clear about the origins of Salar (and his conscience is clear), and that he will be writing to Cape with an explanation. Further correspondence is purely about proofs. The situation with the proofs is complicated by the fact that some are arriving before others, and of course HW is correcting and returning pages while others are still arriving, thus creating some confusion (understandably!) as to clarity of thought and continuity.


On 27 August de la Mare wrote again about revised proofs, which he is hoping to get to HW before he leaves, ‘if you really intend to go away in a week’s time. What are you going to do about correcting the proofs of the remainder. Or was that threat to go away merely to frighten me. . . .’ He also asks if HW has fixed up with Viking Press, as they are interested in the book. Whatever this was, it does not seem to have come to anything. (Viking is today a subsidiary of the Penguin Group. The first Penguin edition of Salar the Salmon was in 1949.)


HW had been invited to visit Germany by his friend John Heygate, currently working for the UFA Film Studio in Berlin. He was exhausted from the writing of Salar and badly in need of a break, and very grateful for what promised to be an interesting – exciting even – holiday. Heygate insisted on paying his fare etc., saying he had ‘funds’. HW presumed that this was his way of saying thank you for all his own earlier help in getting Heygate’s books published. It is now clear that, unknown to HW (certainly at that point), the trip was actually funded officially.


HW duly sailed for Germany in the Bremen from Southampton on 5 September 1935, leaving Ann Thomas in charge of the final stages of the book. Ann wrote to de la Mare (letter dated 14 September) from Shallowford to say that she had had a letter from HW about the advertisement he wanted to place in the Times Literary Supplement for the thirteen special ‘Shallowford Edition’ copies of proofs of Salar which he had had bound up. This is the first mention of this venture. HW was offering them for sale in support of the widow and family of Victor Yeates – although he is not actually named in the advertisement (which was doubtless counter-productive).



salar thomas


salar advert


salar advert2



Dick de la Mare pointed out 2 inches was far too small a space for the given copy, so the advert would cost more; but if he placed it there would be a discount. According to Matthews (Henry Williamson: A Bibliography, 2004) HW stated in a letter (quoted without a reference) that only one of these copies was sold: but that HW also gave one to Fr Bruno Scott James (who lived in the Old Hall at Stiffkey when HW was farming).


HW returned from the visit to Germany after about three weeks at around the end of September, but this is not recorded. Salar the Salmon was published in mid-October: again this is not recorded. The book was very well received and sales were extremely good, as witnessed by Faber reprinting it the following month and again in December.






As a small aside, for many years a stuffed bream in a glass case stood in the Writing Hut, and HW would tell visitors that this was awarded to him by the Sitwells for the worst novel of the year – Salar the Salmon. I always thought this to be one of HW's tall stories, but while going through the reviews for The Story of a Norfolk Farm in August 2015 I found the following cutting:


salar sitwell



Although there was, therefore, some truth in HW's story, it is known that the cased bream in the Hut is not the fish in question, as he bought it in an antique shop – obviously to continue the joke against himself!






In some unbound incomplete proof pages for a proposed new Faber edition in 1961 HW had written a Foreword entitled ‘The Sun in Taurus’. (This phrase appears in the first chapter of the book. It indicates the time is mid-April (Taurus covers the period mid-April to mid-May.) There is no copy of this actual edition in the archive, but Matthews does not note that this Introduction appeared there. As it is, however, included in The Henry Williamson Animal Saga (Macdonald, 1960), there was perhaps a question of Macdonald’s rights to the piece, meaning that it had to be dropped by Faber. It is such an excellent piece of writing that it is reproduced here:



salar taurus1


salar taurus2


salar taurus3






The book


Critical reception


UK editions


Overseas editions





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