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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Tuesday, 1 September 2015


There is something about the first day of September, the end of summer and the start of autumn. Children are back at school, nights are drawing in, the air feels cooler, and I feel a mood of reflection come upon me. Not a bad time to look back over some previous Septembers.

So, in 1907 for example I wrote in my journal:
"Every night now the tree-toads (if they are tree-toads) sing from dusk till some unascertained hour in the middle of the night. One of them, near this garden or in it, makes a noise of absolute regularity - a long note and a very short pause - for hours and hours.
I notice that in building here in France - there is a house going up in the main street - when the workmen finish a chimney they do as is done in England, they stick a flag on it - the tricolour.
Yesterday morning at 6.30 when I looked out of the window the forest was half hidden in mist. In a few minutes the mist had rolled over the village, and in another few minutes all was clear. The day developed into heat."

At that time I was 40 years old, and yet in so many ways still a young man. I had, for example, only recently married, and my literary successes were still in the future. I felt that France was where I wanted to be, and expected to live there indefinitely. Yet, when success brought me wealth I returned to live in England.

I was pleased at that time in 1907 with a poem recently finished, and sent it to my friend Eden Phillpotts for an opinion.


God made the country and man made the town
And so man made the doctor, God the down. 
God made the mountain, and the ants their hill, 
Where grinding servitudes each day fulfil.
God doubtless made the flowers, while in the hive
Unnatural bees against their passions strive.
God made the jackass and the bounding flea;
I render thanks to God that man made me.

Let those who recognise God's shaping power
Here but not there, in tree but not in tower,
In lane and field, but, not in street and square,
And in man's work see nothing that is fair -
Bestir their fancy to the odd
Conception of a 'country' ruled by God;
Where birds perceive the wickedness of strife
Against the winds, and lead the simple life
Nestless on God's own twigs; and squirrels free
From carking care, exist through February
On nuts that God has stored. Pray let them give
The fields to God's kind hand for just a year,
And then of God's own harvest make good cheer.

This cant of God and man would turn me sick, 
Did I not deeply know the age was quick
With large conception of a prouder creed
Whereon we shall not feel the craven need
To count ourselves less noble than a weed.

For me a rural pond is not more pure
Nor more spontaneous than my city sewer.

Reading it again now it seems clumsy and over-contrived. I had a point to make about the world of nature as compared with the world of man, and it was a fair point, but I don't think that a poem was the best medium and, frankly, I don't think my gift lies in poetry. I am not Hardy who was as accomplished a poet as he was a novelist, maybe more so. I recently re-read Hardy's "Pair of Blue Eyes", full of fine things and immensely sardonic, and browsed in "The Dynasts", a work too ambitious for the general taste. In July 1917 I dined at Barrie's in London with Thomas Hardy and his wife. Hardy was very lively, talked like anything! He had all his faculties unimpaired. Quite modest and without the slightest pose. Later G.B. Shaw and the Wellses came and Hardy seemed to curl up from fatigue. He became quite silent. The spectacle of Wells and GBS talking firmly and strongly about the war, in their comparative youth, in front of this aged, fatigued and silent man - incomparably their superior as a creative artist - was very striking.

In 1912 I wrote to Mrs Herzog, an American friend, that "we now possess an early Queen Anne house near the Essex coast and in February are going to install ourselves there definitely for everlasting; our deaths will one day cause a sensation in the village which we shall dominate, and the English villagers and gentry will wonder, as they stroll through the deserted house, why the madman had three bathrooms in a home so small; they will not know that it was due solely to a visit to the USA ..." I was of course referring to Comarques, my house at Thorpe-le-Soken, in Essex. I took the opportunity whilst in the area a few days ago to take a look at the house and it doesn't seem to have changed very much. Regrettably, my talent as a clairvoyant was not nearly as great as my talent as a writer!

I took a month's holiday in August 1917. We went to spend two days at the Schusters during it, and I saw the first batch of the American Army from the windows of the Yacht ClubHealth not very good during it, but a distinct benefit as regards the outlook on work actually in progress. I made some advance in watercolours, and more still in monotypes. I didn't read a lot, but tried Murray on Euripides - formless but gradually getting at something. 

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