Monday, 13 January 2014

Forgotten Names

On consecutive pages of my treasured book of Eric Ravilious Wood Engravings are two commissions from 1935, both marking the Silver Jubilee of George V. One is for a Golden Cockerel Press volume called The Hansom Cab And The Pigeons, with a text by L.A.G. Strong, subtitled 'Being random reflections upon the Silver Jubilee of King George V'. It begins with a memory of sitting in the orchard of a Devon tea shop, in a corner of which was the body of an old hansom cab, now tenanted by pigeons - just the kind of subject Ravilious loved, as is evident in the brilliant engraving he cut for the frontispiece (above).
  The other 1935 commission was for a Curwen Press volume, Thrice Welcome, promoting Southern Railways (those were the days). Ravilious engraved three headpieces, the third for an essay, The Beauty of Southern England, by S.P.B. Mais.
  L.A.G. Strong, S.P.B. Mais... How evocative those names, with their strings of initials, are of a lost literary England in which now forgotten authors, popular and prolific, turned out novels, essays, travel books, history, biography, criticism, journalism, whatever was required, in prodigious quantities. The speed of  S.P.B. Mais's output was such that Churchill himself (no slouch at the word-churning) joked that it made him feel tired to think about it. And, on top of the writing, Mais was also a successful broadcaster, who originated the Letter From America some 13 years before Alastair Cooke made it famous.
 The still more prolific L.A.G. Strong was an extremely popular novelist and a successful poet, as well as turning out volume after volume of history, criticism, short stories, thrillers and belles lettres. But Strong was not quite the typical middle-brow man of letters: he was a friend of Yeats and of George Moore, and wrote about James Joyce, Synge and William Faulkner. What's more, his pamphlet A Defence Of Ignorance was the first title published by Louis Henry Cohn's decidedly cutting-edge House of Books in New York in 1930. Look on the endless list of his works in Wikipedia and marvel...

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