Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

Conrad's "Patriotic Charitable" Donation: "An Outpost of Progress" in the Ladysmith Treasury

Academic journal article The Conradian : the Journal of the Joseph Conrad Society (U.K.)

Conrad's "Patriotic Charitable" Donation: "An Outpost of Progress" in the Ladysmith Treasury

Article excerpt

CONFESSING A FAULT of scholarly omission or commission may do the perpetrator's soul some good, perhaps some good for scholarship as well. On 2 April 1900, a previous request having gone astray, Conrad wrote to T. Fisher Unwin asking if he would "consent to Mr Nash using one of the stories in the Unrest vol for his patriotic charitable publication. I've given my consent." A note in the Collected Letters (CL2 259 n. 2) asserts that the book in question, The Ladysmith Treasury (London: Sands, 1900), a collection of stories (and one short play) edited by Eveleigh Nash, offers no such story by Conrad. But it does; it is the second longest piece in the book, indeed (pp. 25-64). ? The record deserves to be set straight not simply because that's the right thing to do, but because the record itself is intriguing. The story chosen was "An Outpost of Progress" - a story of Africa for an African occasion.

After many premonitory rumblings, the Boer War, or, to use its more precise name, the Second Anglo-Boer War, erupted in October 1899. Later, I shall comment briefly on some wider aspects of the war, but the immediate focus is on Ladysmith, a garrison town on the Klip River, in the Province of Natal. This was one of three towns besieged by Boer forces soon after the war began, the others being Kimberley and Mafeking. The last of these sieges, of course, is the most celebrated, having lasted nearly twice as long as the others, having yielded story after story about the resourcefulness and gallantry of the defenders, and having, when news of the relief came through, inspired a carnival of jingoism.

Conrad wrote to Unwin while Mafeking was still beleaguered. Ladysmith, meanwhile, had been relieved on 28 February. The ordeal, which had lasted 118 days, caused great suffering for soldiers, refugees, and townspeople alike. Food supplies ran very low; in the later stages, the main source of protein was "chevril," an improvised imitation of Bovril made by boiling down horses, which did little to help the more than 2,000 vegetarian Indians in and around the town (Nevinson 1900: 300-06) .2 As the summer advanced, dust sifted into everything, and the river, which was exposed to enemy fire, became a brown sludge too thick to filter Ibid., 191). What water could be had, mosdy from wheezy pumps, was grossly contaminated, so that dysentery and typhoid fever added to the misery, killing many and exhausting more. None of these problems vanished with the arrival of Sir Redvers Buller's relief expedition. As announced in The Ladysmith Treasury, the authors had waived their fees with the understanding that the profits would go to the Mayor of Ladysmith and "be devoted to relieving stress in the town" Ibid., S).

The volume's editor, (James) Eveleigh Nash (1873-1956), already had considerable experience of the book trade. He had worked for John Menzies, the Edinburgh bookseller, and the London publishers Frederick Warne and William Henry Bethune Sands (who brought out the Treasury), and also worked for himself, as a literary agent. At some point in 1900, he became literary adviser to Constable & Co. In 1902, he was to acquire his own imprint, and his name is familiar to Conradians as the publisher of Some Reminiscences (1912) .3 Since memoir was one of his special lines Nash would have been an obvious choice, and Conrad sent him the book without consulting Pinker CLA 477). Nash's own memoir, I Liked the Life I Lived: Some Reminiscences, intimates that their acquaintance had started long before. Though, like Ford Madox Ford, another of his authors, he was more raconteur (and champion name-dropper) than accurate chronicler, the circumstantial details suggest that in this claim, Nash was right. According to his account, he had been introduced to Conrad by T. P. O'Connor, the Irish MP and journalist (1941: 64), and certainly O'Connor was among Conrad's earliest admirers (CLl 228). In late August or September 1 898, when Nash saw Neil Munro in Glasgow, the latter sang the praises of "Youth," published in the latest number of Blackwood's. …

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