Memories of Walter De la Mare

By Manwaring, Randle | Contemporary Review, March 1994 | Go to article overview

Memories of Walter De la Mare


Manwaring, Randle, Contemporary Review


OTHERWISE cultured people often fight shy of poetry and although they will look at paintings or listen to music, it is difficult to get them to open a book of poems. Furthermore, a young would-be poet can often be a slight embarrassment to his elders and betters. My father knew that; as a naval historian he had certain regrets as to the literary tastes of his eldest son and although he was only too well aware of the small rewards for writing, he had some hopes that I would find a more practical way of expressing myself. However, my father gave me fair encouragement at times and suggested I should attend a series of lectures given at University College, London, by Walter de la Mare. I was one of those who queued up afterwards to introduce my young self (19) to the great poet. Immediately in front of me in the queue was a mother and her two daughters. De la Mare loved children and always showed a great interest in their names. On this occasion, when told the names of the girls, he expressed his approval and said they were 'beautiful names'.

My father worked at the London Library as an assistant librarian. He is mentioned in the recent discursive history of the Library, Rude Words by John Wells. The work was hard, but the shelves of the library provided him with most of the ammunition he required to fire off in his books of naval history. In the course of his work he met very many authors, helped them in their research and was, in consequence, mentioned in the prefaces of, perhaps, fifty books. Walter de la Mare was one such author and I was delighted when my father volunteered to write to him about my poetic aspirations. The following letter, dated April 1932, was received by my father:

Many thanks for your letter. I recall very clearly that few minutes' talk with your son after one of the lectures at Gower Street, though lectures are not by any means the best occasions for anything like real talk.

Do please tell him I'd be delighted to see some of his poems, and, of course, I would make any technical suggestion that occurred to me, if he would have no objection to that. I doubt if any other kind of comment can be of much service. In a queer sort of way poets (though easily depressed for a while) don't seem to need encouragement and flourish almost as well on the very reverse of it, being (so far as my experience goes) very seldom victims of what is called the artistic temperament, a phrase, I think, which needs 'pseudo' at its beginning. On the other hand, craftsmanship is another thing altogether, and I know myself that comments on that can be of real help -- the kind of help you were to me, for example, when I was island-hunting. Do please ask him to send the poems whenever he feels inclined.

'Island-hunting' resulted in Walter de la Mare's very attractive work entitled Desert Islands, published in 1930.

I sent my manuscript (incredibly it was not typed) to the poet at Hill House, Taplow, Bucks, and it will not be difficult to imagine my thrill at receiving a letter from him a few days later:

I haven't yet had time to read carefully the complete manuscript you sent me, but hope to do so shortly. Letters are rather unsatisfactory in discussing technical questions and so on in writing, and I am wondering if you could manage to come and have tea with me some day soon, when we could really talk the poems over. Are we too far from London for this? and if not, what would be your best day? possibly a Saturday or a Sunday. Just now I haven't very many free weekends, as my wife has been ill and has gone to Bournemouth where I shall probably be spending most of my free time. However, if you will let me know -- and if you are not actually using the manuscript you sent me -- we can easily fix on a day.

I replied immediately and it was arranged that I should go down to Taplow on the first Saturday in May, 1932. I remember how worried I was at the time because a few days beforehand I had lost my voice and I sucked an incredible number of sugar-coated pastilles in an effort to restore my voice in time for the great day. …

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