John Collings Squire.

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Books Reviewed

Works by the Same Author


poems : first series Second Edition

A Collection of Poems written 1,905-1918


A Collection of Poems written 1918-1921


Poems written 1918-1919



Also in a Limited Autographed Edition on large



Limited Autographed Edition


books in general : first series Third Edition
By Solomon Eagle

books in general : second series

books in general : third series


collected parodies Second Edition

imaginary speeches

steps to Parnassus

tricks of the trade Seventh Edition

Edited, with an Introduction


The abo*pe are all published by Hodder and Stoughton
with the exception of "Flecker' s Poems" and "Selec-
tions from Modern Toets " (Sec far), and " Steps to
Parnassus," "Imaginary Speeches," and "The Sur-
vival of the Fittest" (Allen and JJnwin)

Books Reviewed

By J. C|Squire


Hodder and Stoughton, Limited
London New York Toronto

First Bdition printed November 1922, and this the
Second Edition, December 1922.

The Westminster Press

411a Harrow Road

London, W.9



51 7<&







THIS book contains a selection from papers
on new and old books which have been for
some time appearing weekly in the Observer, whose
editor I sincerely thank.

J. C. S.



John Clare


Miss Mansfield's Stories


A Book-Collector

l 7

Editing Shakespeare


William James's Letters






Austin Dobson's Essays


Mr. George Moore's Tapestry


Andrew Marvell


A Dictionary


Queen Victoria




A Critic


Mr. Gosse's Criticisms


The Art of Writing


A Metabiological Pentateuch




Mr. de la Mare's Romance


Croce on Shakespeare


The Poets and Childhood

J 52

The Classics in Translation

I 59



Lord Rosebery's Miscellanies


Minor Carolines


Medieval English Poetry


Mark Akenside


William Collins


Herman Melville


Stock Phrases





The Laureates






A Supplement to Whitman


The Elements of Poetry


The Prospects of English


Delicate Details


Christopher Smart




DURING the eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries there was something like a dynasty
of poets whom critics specially commended to the
public on the ground that they were of humble,
particularly rustic, origin. There was Stephen Duck
the thresher, Bloomfield the farmer's boy, Jones
the Derbyshire butler. Most of these prodigies
would never have been admired except as prodi-
gies. But there was one who was positively
handicapped by the manner in which critics and
the public approached him. John Clare, " the
Northamptonshire Peasant," a selection from whose
published and unpublished works has now been
competently edited and charmingly printed, was
taken up and trumpeted because he could write
good English and scannable lines (and had, to boot,
a refined and even noble face), although he had
spent his youth as a farm-labourer. Men were
astonished to find that he could remind them of
Thomson, Crabbe, and Burns ; but they never real-
ised that he was a better poet than Samuel Rogers,
who in that day was a sort of pope. His first book
went into four editions in a year — (it was published
in 1820, when he was twenty-seven), but once the
curiosity had grown stale Clare was neglected. Lord
Radstock, who early made himself Clare's financial
godfather, continued to look after him ; local land-
lords, clergymen, and doctors living near Helpston
intermittently remembered him ; he was often asked
for poems by second-rate editors ; his first publisher

1 B


( Keats 's Taylor) retained his interest. But long
before his death in 1864, after he had spent twenty-
seven years in asylums, he was almost forgotten,
and although several editors have since his death
attempted to secure him justice, he has never been
properly restored to public notice. Misfortune pro-
bably drove him mad (if he really did go mad), and
it has dogged him in death as in life. " The spirit of
fame," he wrote, " of living a little after life like a
noise on a conspicuous place, urges my blood up-
ward into unconscious melodies." But the force of
that impulse in him, the rare purity of his poetic
spirit, was never recognised, and interest in him
was so slight that until recently nobody cared to
know that he had written an enormous mass of un-
published poetry. After this new edition (Poems.
Selected and edited by Edmund Blunden and Alan
Porter) he will not again, I think, be dismissed with
a line in the histories and a page in the anthologies.
Clare was a sensitive man, and knew love, poverty,
disappointment, and madness. Inevitably something
of these experiences came into his verse. His great
lines, beginning " I am ; yet what I am none cares
or knows," commemorate his asylum years in almost
every anthology. During those years he was haunted
by the memory of an early love, Mary Joyce, and
wrote about her often and most affectionately. How
imaginative are his lines on " First Love " :

And then my blood rushed to my face

And took my sight away.
The trees and bushes round the place

Seemed midnight at noonday.


In " The Stranger " he wrote a very powerful re-
ligious poem, forgetting his own sufferings in the
contemplation of Christ's. And the remembrance
of things lost, one of the most constant subjects of
poetry, often moved him to poetry. Childhood was
gone :

The stream it is a common stream,

Where we on Sundays used to ramble,

The sky hangs o'er a broken dream,
The bramble's dwindled to a bramble.

At nearly forty he was moved by a benevolent land-
lord out of the village in which he had always lived,
and " The Flitting " is a very poignant expression
of his hankerings for a place every corner of which
was transfigured in retrospect. The green lanes shut
out the hot sun, the brook had a lovely little bridge,
there were old stiles to rest on :

And little footpaths sweet to see
Go seeking sweeter places still.

Clare did, to some extent, write (in the ordinary
sense of the word) autobiographically. But as a rule
he did not greatly concern himself with human
passions, nor (except when the pressure of circum-
stance was especially acute) with his own passions,
save only his dominant passion for his native land-

In the nature and persistence of his love for, and
his zeal to record, the commonest incidents of the
life of the country, he closely resembled the late


Edward Thomas, though his pictures were less often
tinged with the melancholy of his mind than were
Thomas's. His descriptive poems continually remind
one of the landscape painters of the time : some-
times of the water colourists, sometimes of Old
Crome and Constable, but most often of George
Morland, most rustic and most English of painters,
a man who loved the thing he saw anywhere on any
day, and was content to show it as it was. Lines like
those on the cowboy :

Whose sun-burnt skin and cheeks chuffed out with

Are dyed as rusty as his napless hat,

might have been written as inscriptions for a Mor-
land : and whatever Clare describes his exactitude
is the same. There is not a season, not a month, not
a common bird or beast or flower or bush or tree,
not a type of building, not a type of human being in
the Midlands that he knew, which is not faithfully
sketched in his pages ; and the wealth of his sub-
sidiary detail is extraordinary. There are things which
we daily see, and, in an unformulated way, like
daily, but which we scarcely ever find mentioned in
poetry, which is rather accustomed to select its
scenes and (too often) to be content with exploiting
the acknowledged beauty of forms, lights, and colours,
seas, hills, and sunsets, consecrated by many prece-
dents. But with Clare we look over a common farm-
yard gate or walk along an ordinary field path, fully
aware of all that we see : oaks, hazels, and brambles,
weeds under foot, mud, grasshoppers, ants, snails


on thorns, pine-needles, the remains of a gipsy camp,
barking dogs, louts watching sheep, children picking
cowslips (" and, aye, the youngest ever lags behind"),
ducks dabbling in ponds, dogs sunning themselves,
turkeys, geese, grunting hogs, and strutting cocks.
He does not tumble his details out without discrim-
ination. There is always cunning in his arrangement,
and he has a sound instinct for emotional signifi-
cance. Take these two brief examples from poems
on November and another on winter :

Where dead leaves rustle sweet and give alarm
To little birds that flirt and start away.

Moody crows beside the road forbear
To fly, though pelted by the passing swain.

Each of these phrases suggest far more than it says,
and they are characteristic of him. But he was largely
a poet of details, and it is for his details that one
likes him. His best whole poems are too long to
quote. But here is one of the short pieces discovered
by his present editors, " The Stonepit " :

The passing traveller with wonder sees
A deep and ancient stonepit full of trees ;
So deep and very deep the place has been,
The church might stand within and not be seen.
The passing stranger oft with wonder stops
And thinks he e'en could walk upon their tops,
And often stoops to see the busy crow,
And stands above and sees the eggs below ;
And while the wild horse gives its head a toss,
The squirrel dances up and runs across.


The boy that stands and kills the black-nosed bee
Dares down as soon as magpies' nests are found,
And wonders when he climbs the highest tree
To find it reaches scarce above the ground.

And how he loved to complete his pictures may be
illustrated with two stanzas from his long poem on
the spear thistle :

The sheep when hunger presses sore
May nip the clover round its nest ;

But soon the thistle wounding sore
Relieves it from each brushing guest,

That leaves a bit of wool behind,

The yellow-hammer loves to find.

The horse will set his foot and bite

Close to the ground-lark's guarded nest

And snort to meet the prickly sight ;
He fans the feathers of her breast —

Yet thistles prick so deep that he

Turns back and leaves her dwelling free.

Such a style, as straightforward and simple as Words-
worth's at its barest, leads inevitably to occasional
weakness of expression. You get in Clare couplets
such as :

And all expected such a rosy face
Would be her ruin — as was just the case.

But if you like Clare you do not mind that any more
than if you like Wordsworth you mind the excess-
ively plain statements of fact that you sometimes
find in him.



Mr. Blunden and Mr. Porter have begun their
work well. I say " begun " because they will be com-
pelled to do more. They state in their introduction
that they selected the hundred and fifty poems here
printed from two thousand which they examined,
of which two thousand three-quarters (I suppose)
have never been printed at all. Of the ninety new
poems which they print, at least forty are as good as
any of the old ones, and it is to be presumed that
there are many interesting ones amongst those which,
when making the present small collection, they had
to reject. If anything, the general level of the new
poems is higher than that of those printed in Clare's
four books. The reasons for this are not recondite.
Clare was at his best and most prolific in the latter
half of his life after he had lost close touch with pub-
lishers and editors. And it would appear that those
who published work by him preferred his least
characteristic work. The editors of Annuals between
1820 and 1840 did not want his loving and most in-
dividual transcripts of the English landscape. What
they wanted was poems proving that " the North-
amptonshire Peasant " could cherish sentiments as
refined and use abstractions as lofty as were enter-
tained and employed by the most highly educated
versifiers of the time. It is significant that almost all
the best of the Poems are of the sort quoted above,
poems which Clare could have written but which
neither Tom Moore nor Rogers could ever have
dreamed of. There are, I take it, more of these among
the two thousand ; but I believe the two thousand
are not all. I have heard that just as Mr. Blunden
and his colleague were pluming themselves at having


finished their laborious survey of the ground they
were surprised (I dare not say horrified) to learn
that a huge new hoard of Clare manuscripts, poems,
diaries, and letters, literally by the sack-full, had
been discovered in Northamptonshire. There is no
help for it : they must go on.

We must keep our sense of proportion. We have
enough of Clare's work to be certain that we shall
never think him a great poet. Even a " final " edition
of him must be a selection. Clare was not a Keats or
a Shelley that his feeblest fragments must be scoured
for and perpetuated ; an edition of him in ten volumes
would be a monument not to his genius but to an ad-
mirer's folly. But he was a far better poet than has
ever been realised ; he had talents peculiar to him-
self ; his best work is worth looking for indus-
triously ; and his character and career were suffi-
ciently remarkable to justify a biography far more
considerable than anything which has yet been done.
A large volume of intelligently-chosen poems and a
companion volume of life and letters would justify
themselves, and would leave him securely estab-
lished among the secondary English poets.



BOOKS of short stories are now rare ; books
of short stories in which one can be at all
interested are exceedingly rare. It is about ten years
since Mr. Wells, collecting the stories of his lamented
youth, commented on the fact that the short story
had declined. In the nineties, when he began writing,
all the most eminent, and all the most potentially
eminent of English prose-writers were energetically
writing short stories. Some of them may have been
writing to a formula. Others, like Mr. Wells, recog-
nised no definition, but were content to set down as
" jolly " and " vivid " a record of occurrences as
they could. '* It may," he said, " be horrible or
pathetic, or funny or beautiful, or profoundly illumi-
nating, having only this essential, that it should take
from fifteen to fifty minutes to read." But when Mr.
Wells wrote the preface to his collection, the serious
short story had almost disappeared, and (except for
the imported O. Henry) we have had little of any
interest since. The magazine writers have continued
to turn out stories for their public ; the refined
authors have published volumes of short pieces
difficult to write and difficult to read ; but nothing
has been published which has had more than an
ephemeral reputation, and few things which have
had even that. Stevenson and Henry James are
dead ; the authors of " The Man Who Came Back "
and " The Secret Sharer " seem to have exhausted
their veins in this kind ; and the little masterpieces
of Mr. Max Beerbohm refuse to be labelled under


any category, or to be used as illustrations of any
general tendency. When a respectable writer does
publish a volume of what look like short stories the
chances are that he calls them " studies," and that
the reader who does not regard art as the best means
of producing a headache will find them intolerably

Miss Mansfield's collection, Bliss, boldly labelled
" stories," is, therefore, remarkable for not being
tedious. It is far from tedious. She has so penetrating
a mind and such a talent for expression that she
would be interesting whatever form she were using
and whatever subject she were writing about. It is
not that she has a markedly personal view of things,
a passionate or a philosophical attitude ; she is re-
strained, and leaves her affections and her admira-
tions too much to be guessed and deduced. It is not
that she has a rich prose style ; she checks the natural
music in herself, and contents herself with a perpetual
stream of exact statements as terse as she can make
them. Every word counts to the intelligence and the
eye, but none to the ear. But the fabric of her writing
has no weak or dull places. She beats all the writers
of dyspeptic " economical " " realistic " " studies "
on their own ground. Every story is a tissue of
accurate observations accurately expressed. Miss
Mansfield has an extraordinary visual, and, if one
may say so, olfactory, memory ; her stories may
vary in reality, but her material settings — in which
one includes everything from vegetation to the
human garment of flesh — never. Almost every page
contains minor felicities which a man with the
pencilling habit would be inclined to mark.



The first few pages are crowded with them. Kezia,
left behind for a few hours in the house from which
her family have moved, " sat down on one of the
box borders. By pressing hard at first it made a nice
seat. But how dusty it was inside ! Kezia bent down
to look and sneezed and rubbed her nose." Soon
afterwards she is having tea with unkind and alien
children :

But Kezia bit a big piece out of her bread and
dripping, and then stood the piece up on her
plate. With the bite out it made a dear little sort
of gate. Pooh ! She didn't care ! A tear rolled down
her cheek, but she wasn't crying. She couldn't
have cried in front of those awful Samuel Josephs.
She sat with her head bent, and as the tear dripped
slowly down she caught it with a neat little whisk
of her tongue and ate it before any of them had

Later, she wanders over the deserted house. She
finds " a pill-box, black and shiny outside and red
in, holding a blob of cotton wool." " In the servant-
girl's room there was a stay-button stuck in a crack
of the floor, and in another crack some beads and a
needle." She went downstairs and looked at the
garden through a coloured glass door "at a blue
lawn with blue arum lilies growing at a gate, and
then at a yellow lawn with yellow lilies and a yellow
fence." Beryl Fairfield, after climbing the chair in
the kitchen, comes down with : " Have I got a
spider's web on my face, mother ? I've been poking
into that cupboard under the stairs and now some-
thing keeps tickling my nose." Raoul Duquette



makes use of " a morsel of pink blotting-paper, in-
credibly soft, limp, and almost moist, like the tongue
of a little dead kitten." Robert Salesby, imagining
snow in London, saw the houses in front with " their
window-boxes full of great sprays of white coral."

Miss Mansfield can bring before one's eyes any
visible object, from the perspiration marks on a
maid's bodice to the summer lightning fluttering
" like a broken bird that tries to fly and sinks again
and again struggles." And the accuracy and sim-
plicity of her statement extends beyond this to what-
ever non-material state she may wish to describe.
She continually delights with images such as that
in which she sets down the silence between bachelor
friend and spinster friend over teacup and fire in
" Psychology " : " That silence could be contained
in the circle of warm, delightful fire and lamplight.
How many times hadn't they flung something into
it just for the fun of watching the ripples break on
the easy shores ? " and that in which she shows a
woman's dreams reawaking when she meets the
exasperating, but much travelled, man to whom she
had been engaged six years before : " As he spoke,
so lightly, tapping the end of his cigarette against
the ashtray, she felt the strange beast that had
slumbered so long within her bosom stir, stretch
itself, yawn, prick up its ears, and suddenly bound
to its feet, and fix its longing, hungry stare upon
those far-away places. But all she said was, smiling
gently, ' How I envy you ! ' " How satisfying the
descriptions of mind and of matter are blended
might be illustrated from any of these stories. One
may take a few sentences from the picture of Beryl



Fairfield, an Anglo-Saxon — happily very Anglo-
Saxon — Madame, or Mademoiselle, Bovary :

In the dining-room, by the flicker of a wood
fire, Beryl sat on a hassock playing the guitar. She
had bathed and changed all her clothes. Now
she wore a white muslin dress with black spots
on it, and in her hair she had pinned a black silk

She played and sang half to herself, for she was
watching herself playing and singing. The fire-
light gleamed on her shoes, on the ruddy belly
of the guitar, and on her white fingers. . . .

" If I were outside the window and looked in
and saw myself I really would be rather struck,"
thought she. Still more softly she played the
accompaniment — not singing now but listening.

..." The first time that I ever saw you, little
girl — oh, you had no idea that you were not alone
— you were sitting with your little feet upon a
hassock, playing the guitar. God, I can never
forget. ..." Beryl flung up her head and began
to sing again :

" Even the moon is aweary ..."

But there came a loud bang at the door. The
servant girl's crimson face popped through.

" Please, Miss Beryl, I've got to come and lay."

" Certainly, Alice," said Beryl, in a voice of
ice. She put the guitar in a corner. Alice lunged
in with a heavy black iron tray.

" Well, I have had a job with that oving," said
she, " I can't get nothing to brown."

This scene lingers in the memory. And there are



others which will do that ; gardens, rooms full or
empty, firelit and glittering with candles and silver,
an oily singer at his piano, a decayed actress getting
out of bed, groups of wondering helpless children,
a Paris street, a train rattling a little frightened
governess through the night. The trouble is that,
generally speaking, one remembers little more than
pictures, large or small. One has looked at a series
of these. They have dawned on the darkness, grown
bright, and quietly faded. But very seldom has one
been moved. Very seldom has one felt the faintest
impulse to laugh, cheer, or cry. Why ? The people
are not quite real enough and not quite enough
happens to them.

It isn't that Miss Mansfield is naturally a mere
quiet note-taker, or that she belongs temperamentally
to that depressing class of people who think they
have done the finest thing in the world when they
have described several articles of furniture and ex-
hibited a phantom " he " or " she " incapably yearn-
ing, frustrate, or disillusioned. " Sun and Moon "
is a delicious, a pathetic, and beautiful story, which
might have resulted from a collaboration of Tchekov
and Hans Andersen. In " The Man Without a
Temperament " her detail is at its best, and she
uses the most inconspicuous " events " to produce
a beautiful and exalting impression. Generally, how-
ever, interested as one is, one doesn't much care
what happens, and very little does happen. In the
first long story, very remarkable as a series of
photographs, the people are, except at moments,
seen clear but out of contact with us, through a
glass. We leave them where they started. Either


this was meant to be the beginning of a novel, or
else the author was under the influence of the theory
that it is cheap and vulgar to let anything happen
in a narrative. Sometimes she seems to remember
the other theory that if anything does happen it
ought to be unpleasant. The conclusions of " Bliss"
and " The Little Governess " are illustrations of
that. It is not that the episodes are in themselves
unlikely or uncommon. Girls often are assaulted,
and husbands often are unfaithful ; but these stories
(the indications given of these characters) do not
prepare one for the endings. Had Miss Mansfield
changed the last page of each, and prevented the
catastrophes, we should never have suspected that
Harry was a disloyal husband, or the old German

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Online LibraryJohn Collings SquireBooks reviewed, by J. C. Squire → online text (page 1 of 18)