Other Writing
MR Society

A LONDON BOOKMAN By Frank Swinnerton

London, Martin Secker, 1928


A VERY interesting announcement is made by Fisher Unwin. He has for years held the rights in the novels of "Mark Rutherford," and it is good news that he intends to bring out a new edition,augmented by Hale White's book on Bunyan (another volume in that series of "Literary Lives" to which I referred just now in speaking of Thomas Seccombe's projected volume upon Meredith), and containing a preface by H. W. Massingham. Massingham's preface will be a most illuminating picture of Hale White the man, and only incidentally a commendation of his novels. The edition, I hear, will not include the two volumes of Journals which were published some years ago by one of the University Presses. This is a pity, as they were of importance. But at least we are to have the novels again, and as these novels are among the best novels written in the last half of the nineteenth century, and as they are far too little known, I hope that the new edition will arouse interest in a writer who, merely, as a stylist, deserves to be read wherever the English language can be read at all. The two books best known are The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford and its sequel, Mark Rutherford's Deliverance, but the one to which I would draw special attention is The Revolution in Tanner's Lane, which is masterly. It is very appropriate that Massingham should be the introducer of a new edition, for Hale White was a friend of his, a contributor to The Nation under Massingham's editorship, and a man with whom Massingham has always been thoroughly in sympathy (as it can be said of few men !). Moreover, Massingham can write himself. Even his journalism has always shown that, and even those who could not stand the politics and general opinions of The Nation will admit that under his editorship it was the best-written paper in London. I can only hope that the new edition will be presented in a format worthy of the author's quality. My own edition, which is a cheap one published just before the war, in a black cloth binding, is almost exquisitely ugly. Some English publishers seem to take a delight in ugliness for its own sake. They feel, I believe, that an ugly thing is a good thing. It is a survival of puritanism, and an ugly one!


A COUPLE of pages back I referred to the new edition of the novels of Mark Rutherford which was to be published by Fisher Unwin. My paragraph expressed regret that the Pages from a Journal had not been included in the new edition, and added, rather vaguely, that this book had been published some years ago by one of the University Presses. My paragraph gave the impression that I thought the book was out of print, which I did not intend; but if every ambiguity of mine had reward so handsome the expression of my opinions would be continuously vague, for I am now the possessor of four books which I shall always prize. Humphrey Milford, the manager of the Oxford University Press, and a brother-in-law of Mark Rutherford (William Hale White), reminds me in the most charming way that Pages from a Journal, More Pages from a Journal, and Last Pages from a Journal are all published by the Oxford University Press; and he draws my attention to a little book of which I had never even heard, The Early Life of Mark Rutherford (by himself). All four books are full of beauty. Mark Rutherford had a fine spirit, and just as his novels are distinguished by their nobility of understanding and the beauty of their sensitiveness to life, so are these little Pages from a Journal. The author wrote one of the purest and best prose styles I know. It was the fit emblem of his nature. Apart from some singular timidity which one sees in all his work, and which, in that fine novel (which would not please the mandarins in the matter of form) The Revolution in Tanner's Lane, leads to a sort of hostility to one or two of the characters, Mark Rutherford had that most profound of all the novelist's gifts, humaneness, in the highest degree. His canvases were small, and the life which they depicted was often narrow. At times, minor characters failed quite to hold the eye. But the simplicity with which in say The Early Life, The Autobiography, and The Deliverance, and most strongly of all in The Revolution in Tanner's Lane he draws the spirit of the first half of the nineteenth century in England is incomparable. There is a picture toward the end of The Revolution in Tanner's Lane of a village off the London-York road, of its inhabitants, and of its moral atmosphere, which I know of nothing in the same line to beat. I think Mark Rutherford's weakness was in the hatred of evil. He disliked the evil characters which he was compelled to draw, and his illustrations of their weaknesses do not therefore quite convince us. He does not seem to have had any very first-hand knowledge of the things that wicked folk really do. On the other hand, his good people, unlike the good people in almost all English novels, are delightful. They live, they please us, they are interesting. Can such things be ?