Recovering Publishing Histories: the Adam & Charles Black Letterbooks

By Amara Thornton (Research Officer, Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology)

The publishing house Adam and Charles Black was established in 1834 in Edinburgh. Now its archive is held in University of Reading Special Collections, and over the last few weeks I’ve been looking at one part of the collection – the Letterbooks containing delicate copies of “letters out” from the company to prospective and contracted authors and artists.

Much publishing and book history concentrates on fiction – novelists, short story writers and the publishers and editors with whom they worked. But there is also interest in non-fiction publishing history, particularly in relation to popular science and travel.  I’m interested in non-fiction publishing and book history too; my first book, Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL Press, 2018), focuses on works written by archaeologists for a general readership.

It was in researching for Archaeologists in Print that I first came across the A. & C. Black archive at Reading. The company acquired another publishing house, Ernest Benn Ltd, in 1984.  As Benn had published several popular archaeology books – including various archaeological volumes in its “Sixpenny Library” – I came to Reading initially in 2015 to see archives relating to these books.

But I’m currently concentrating on the firm of A. & C. Black and its non-fiction and reference books.  In the early 20th century, the company published various series of illustrated art, history, archaeology, science and travel books.  These ranged from pretty pricey twenty shilling “Colour Books” to smaller volumes for as little as one shilling and sixpence.

Two books, one blue, one red.

Picture of Peeps at Ancient Egypt and Peeps at Ancient Greece. (Photo: Amara Thornton)

During the early 20th century, the firm developed special series aimed particularly at children, “Peeps”.  In the “Peeps” A. & C. Black catered for young readers’ interest in diverse subjects – there were “Peeps at Many Lands and Cities”, “Peeps at History”, “Peeps at Great Railways”, “Peeps at Nature”, “Peeps at Industries” and individual “Peeps” for topics such as “Great Men”, “Postage Stamps”, “Heraldry”, and “Architecture”. The Scotsman considered the “Peeps” to be “as varied as the films in a cinema house and quite as entertaining.”

One of A. & C. Black’s “Peep” authors was a Scottish minister named James Baikie.  When he began writing for the firm he was based at the United Free Church in Ancrum, in the Scottish borders, and a popular lecturer.  He started as a science writer; his first book, Through the Telescope (1906), was a popular introduction to astronomy (his Times obituary noted he had been a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society from the age of 25).  On the strength of Telescope‘s success, Baikie pitched an idea for a new book – this time on Egyptology.

The response from A. & C. Black director W. W. Callender was hesitant at first. He would not accept the proposal outright, but asked for a specimen chapter.[1] On reviewing this and other articles Baikie had written on the subject, Callender offered terms for publication, which Baikie accepted.[2] Story of the Pharaohs was eventually published in A. & C. Black’s Autumn List for 1908.  A review copy was sent to the Egypt Exploration Fund among a few others.[3]  The publication was the start of a new archaeology series for A. & C. Black; Story was marketed alongside two other titles, George Cormack’s Egypt in Asia (about “pre-Biblical Syria and Palestine”), and Ethel Ross Barker’s Buried Herculaneum.

Story of the Pharaohs was an almost immediate success (despite eminent archaeologist Flinders Petrie‘s refusal to provide an introduction).[4]  While much of the correspondence on the book relates to image permissions, two letters sent post-publication relate to the efforts the company made to market the book in Egypt.  A letter from Callender to Baikie on 27 November 1908 noted “You will be pleased to hear that all the Cairo booksellers are stocking your book…” and outlined plans to send special copies to the city’s “six principal hotels” for hotel managers to place – prominently, of course – on Reading Room tables.  Although no list of the six hotels is extant it seems unlikely that Cairo’s famous Shepheard’s Hotel wasn’t one of them.  Only one letter to a manager is included in the Letterbooks; it went to the Ghezirah Palace Hotel.[5]

One of the reasons I’m looking into James Baikie is because I’m interested in his wife, Constance Newman (Smith) Baikie, an artist whose stunning illustrations contribute a definite ‘wow factor’ to accompany Baikie’s texts.  She provided in-text line drawings for Story of the Pharaohs, but it was really Baikie’s first “Peep” that enabled her to stretch her creative wings. This was Peep at the Heavens, another work on astronomy.

On submission of a sample illustration – a watercolour drawing of Saturn – Callender only had minor revisions to make to enable the work, when reproduced, to fit the physical size of the book.  He offered James Baikie terms of 20 shillings per drawing for his wife’s work and equal credit for her work on the book’s title page.[6]  Notably (and unfortunately), there is no correspondence in the Letterbooks directly to Constance Baikie on her work during this period – everything went to her husband.  But I’m hoping that as the Baikies relationship with A. & C. Black strengthened, she began to correspond directly with the firm herself.

When all eight of her illustrations were received in the spring of 1911, Callender was enthusiastic about the skill she demonstrated, declaring “The drawings are excellently done and most interesting…”.[7]  It’s not hard to see why – the frontispiece illustration for Peeps at the Heavens is a striking image of “The Moon in Eclipse” – the sphere is in red-tinted shadow barring a thin crescent, brilliantly illuminated.  She went on to provide colour illustrations to accompany most of her husband’s other books with A. & C. Black.

Beyond my special interest in the Baikies, a number of other interesting details emerge from the Letterbooks.  Each book begins with an Index, listing in roughly alphabet

A list of names, with Corelli's name in the centre.

Corelli’s name listed in the Index of Letterbooks (A/1/26 C)

ical order the names of those to whom letters were sent.  Perusing the Letterbook Indexes revealed the company’s efforts to solicit work from a number of well-known women.

The first woman whose name popped out at me in this way was Marie Corelli, a noted and very popular novelist of the period. In February 1907 the firm wrote to her at her home, Mason Croft, in Stratford-upon-Avon, to ask her to write text for a book on the town.  She must have responded positively. The next letter, sent a week later, sought to pin down firm details on the proposed book, suggesting Corelli could have a great deal of creative freedom:

“Your letter is so kind that we venture to trouble you again.  May we ask if you would write the letterpress were we able to secure an artist of whom you thoroughly approved & to whom you could give instructions as to the choice of subject, etc., & if so, what terms you would suggest.”[8]

This theme of soliciting notable women for text continues in subsequent letterbooks, as two years later the company wrote to Gertrude Jekyll, garden designer, writer and horticulturalist, to ask her to write the text for a “colour book” on gardens.[9] (There is no indication in the Letterbooks of whether or not Jekyll agreed.)

A typed letter in blue ink. Focusing on Marie Corelli's name and address at the top of the page. The address is listed as Mason Croft, Stratford Upon Avon.

A close up of Marie Corelli’s name and address at Mason Croft, Stratford upon Avon.

A. & C. Black’s Art Editor Gordon Home wrote to Countess Elizabeth Von Arnim (author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden) in spring 1911 to ask her to provide text for a “colour book” on Germany. Like Corelli, von Arnim was also offered great creative freedom:

“Should the project attract you we would not wish to restrict you as to the method or style you employed so long as the reader gathered an idea of German life, scenery, historic spots, medieval towns and so on.”

As with Jekyll, there is no evidence in the letterbooks that von Arnim agreed to the proposal.[10]

The letterbooks also provide insights into the diversity of contributors to A. & C. Black series.  I was fascinated to come across two letters to a Japanese artist named Wakana Utagawa.  The firm contracted her to create eight colour and twenty black and white illustrations for its “Peep at the History of Japan”.  The first letter was sent to her at the Baillie Gallery, located on Bruton Street in London, where in Spring 1911 she was exhibiting a series of her paintings to rave reviews.[11]

There is great potential for interesting research and analysis in the A. & C. Black archive in a variety of fields – but particularly the popular publishing of science, archaeology, art, and history, yielding further insights into the artist- and writer-contributors.  The possibilities to recover hidden histories (for lack of a better term) abound, even where the subjects are relatively well known.  I’m looking forward to continuing my own research into the Letterbooks during the course of my time at Reading. I hope that this post encourages others to dive in to the Letterbooks too.


The catalogue for the A. & C. Black archive held in University of Reading Special Collections can be found here. For further information, email

Dr Amara Thornton is Research Officer for the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology.


References/Further Reading

Adam & Charles Black Letterbooks A/1/26, 29, 30, 32, 36, 39.

The Scotsman, 1912. Christmas Gift Books. [British Newspaper Archive], 28 November.

The Sphere. 1911. A Talented Japanese Artist Now in England. [British Newspaper Archive] 18 March.

The Times, 1931. Dr James Baikie. Times Historical Archive. 7 February.


[1] ACB A/1/26/56 and 89, Callender to Baikie 23 and 28 Nov 1908.

[2] ACB A/1/26/598 Callender to Baikie 27 Mar 1907.

[3] ACB A/1/30/123 Callender to Baikie 3 Sep 1908.

[4] ACB A/1/29/835 and 882 Callender to Baikie 13 and 20 Jul 1908.

[5] ACB A/1/30/696 and 731 Callender to Baikie 27 Nov and 5 Dec 1908.

[6] ACB A/1/36/392 Callender to Baikie 21 Jan 1911.

[7] ACB A/1/36/694 Callender to Baikie 4 Mar 1911.

[8] ACB/1/26/427 and 444. A&C Black to Corelli, 15 and 21 Feb 1907.

[9] ACB/1/32/116 A&C Black to Jekyll, 5 Feb 1909.

[10] ACB/1/36/695 A&C Black to von Arnim 6 Mar 1911.

[11] ACB/1/39/774 and 819. Home to Utagawa 3 and 9 Aug 1911.

LGBT History Month: Publishing pacifism, ‘perversity’, and prosecution

Written by Anna Murdoch, Graduate Trainee Library Assistant.

You never quite know what you could find browsing the shelves in the rare book store, and how you could reach into the archives of both Special Collections and the MERL to find connections to a particular work. As a former English Literature student, I particularly enjoy the Reserve, the general rare books collection. Not everything has been catalogued yet so you could find an unknown gem sitting pretty, or plainly, on the shelf. Having done research into publications by lesbian and bisexual women, certain books were going to draw my eye. Last autumn, I discovered one such book.

A hidden gem

The unassuming blue cloth cover of Despised & Rejected

Despised & Rejected is a novel set amongst pacifists during World War I. It was published in 1918 under a pseudonym – A.T. Fitzroy – by Rose Allatini. Allatini was a young female author who had been published by Mills & Boon, and Allen & Unwin. In the case of Despised & Rejected a less high-profile publisher (at least in our contemporary consciousness) appears on the title page and the spine, unassumingly covered in blue cloth: C.W. Daniel.

An exciting moment came upon opening the book. The front endpaper is adorned with nothing less than the bookplate of Lytton Strachey, writer, critic and member of the Bloomsbury set.

The bookplate of Lytton Strachey found in the Special Collections copy of Despised & Rejected.

This in itself is pretty fascinating, proof of his, a gay man’s, ownership of a book with gay and lesbian characters. He has signed the front free endpaper, dating it with what I assume to be the month he read it. In pencil he has added an address: “The Mill House, Tidmarsh, Pangbourne, Berks”. This is famous as the location rented by Strachey and artist Dora Carrington and as place where they were visited by other figures of interest during LGBT history month: Duncan Grant and John Maynard Keynes.

A photograph of Tidmarsh Village taken by Philip Collier in the early 20th century.

‘Ishmaelites’ at Allen & Unwin

The story of how C.W. Daniel came to publish this novel can be traced in the archives of Allen & Unwin here at the University of Reading. Allatini had hoped to publish with them a second time as they had published her well-received Root and Branch in 1917.

The sequence of events began in the August of 1917 when Allatini sent in her manuscript provisionally entitled “Ismaelites”. She expressed to Mr. Reynolds, a solicitor hired by the company to act as secretary, she hopes it will find favour in his sight.

The next date of significance is that of Bernard Miall’s reader’s report, later in August. At five pages, full of comically outrageous expressions, it is quite a read. Miall opines that “music does not stimulate sex – except in Germans” and that “if Russian women can fight Germans surely sexual perverts can”. He feared that the “effect [of her work] will not be pleasant; the average female reader will ever after be filled with hectic jealousy of her fiancé’s or husband’s male friends”.

Publishers at the time were under the shadow of the Defence of the Realm Act (D.O.R.A.) and this is obvious reading Miall’s report. He wonders if the military censor reads novels and condemns Allatini – not for making her central character, Dennis, a pacifist, but an “illogical pacifist”. Additional condemnation is expressed for mixing up two subjects “both unpopular, and both under an official ban”. Dennis bears the brunt of Miall’s critique, but Antoinette, the central female character, is subject to a different angle of aggression. Miall espouses the idea that “once she has been subjected to a certain amount of masculine love-making, [she] becomes normal”. He describes Antoinette as having a “schoolgirl infatuation” and that “nine times out of ten it [same-sex desire] is due simply to immaturity and repression”. This recalls the contemporary concern about the school as a single-sex environment: that they were unhealthy and didn’t adequately enforce what we would now label ‘compulsory heterosexuality’. Yet Miall, towards the end, writes “it is too good to lose if you can publish it. Can you?” No, was the strong and firm message from higher authorities. Edgar L. Skinner, who was out on war service, read the manuscript and wrote in early October that he had

no hesitation in saying that if in a moment of madness you were to publish it, you would most certainly find yourself in Bow St [magistrates’ court]. I have seldom read anything so crudely improper.

He ended by begging them to “pray therefore return it hastily lest worse befall you”.

Stanley Unwin, in The Truth about a Publisher touches very briefly upon this episode. Unwin writes that C.A. Reynolds had indicated to the “authoress” (Allatini is unnamed) that they would be receptive to publishing her manuscript and he would therefore feel sorry having to deny her. Reynolds asked for a publisher to redirect her to. Unwin writes he expressed that, due to the subjects involved, the only name he had to suggest was that of C.W. Daniel. Daniel had already been prosecuted under D.O.R.A. for his own pamphlet which attacked Lloyd-George’s war policy.

In the correspondence found in the archive both Unwin and Reynolds kept their opinions on ‘Ishmaelites’ closely held. Reynolds only expressed that he believed the police would find Marie Stopes’ Married Love more objectionable in comparison. Indeed, the only critique one can find is the “geographical and topographical eccentricities” Unwin wrote to Allatini about in September. Later that month, they arranged to meet in person to discuss coming to a “mutually satisfying arrangement” regarding her manuscript. Nothing is to be seen of these discussions, or of the personal impression of her work that she sought from him in early October. Sadly, they do not wend their way into the letters.

Although it was clear Allen & Unwin would not be publishing her work Allatini continued to write to them until the end of the year. In early December she wrote that Edward Carpenter was coming to town on about the 18th. Carpenter was an activist for the rights of homosexuals, was himself gay, and someone Allatini consulted about her manuscript whilst he was in London.

Despised & rejected at C.W. Daniel

At the end of December, Allatini wrote to Mr Unwin that as a result of a “terrific upheaval” within her family, who she described as “very military + narrow-minded”, she would have to publish under a pseudonym due to her economic dependence upon them. By this point, her contact with C.W. Daniel had been established and she described Mr Daniel as “very much distressed” that he would be unable to use the positive publicity generated from Root and Branch. She mentions Edward Carpenter in this letter and she conveyed to Unwin that he believed it a good enough work to attract attention on its own merits and the unknown element would not make much difference. Allatini did confess to seeing the merits of a pseudonym if the book were a failure, or, she writes with foresight “suppressed by the police”.

C.W. Daniel advertised the new publication as being a “vigorous and original story” dealing well with both conscientious objectors and “so-called Uranians whose domestic attachments are more in the way of friendship than of ordinary marriage”. Subsequent advertisements used quotations from the Times Literary Supplement identifying the author’s sympathy as “plainly with the pacifists” and “her plea for more tolerant recognition of the fact that some people are, not of choice but by nature, abnormal in their affections is open and bold enough to rob the book of unpleasant suggestion”.

The Saturday Review published a brief, punchy review of Despised & Rejected on the 6th of July 1918. The reviewer proclaims that “the author’s standpoint is pitifully repellent. Her defence of homosexual feeling is based on misunderstanding [sic] of Edward Carpenter”, but states she has “power of observation and description” and that with “experience, and more love and respect for ordinary people the author may do well”. The mention of Carpenter is rather hilarious with the knowledge gleaned from the archives that he had already read the work himself and, in a fashion, given it his seal of approval.

As Allatini and Allen & Unwin foresaw, legal trouble did follow the publication of the book. The Times reports the day after a court appearance that C.W. Daniel and a director Charles William Daniel were

summoned for making statements in a book entitled ‘Despised and Rejected’ likely to prejudice the recruiting, training, and discipline of persons in his Majesty’s forces, and for having 234 copies in their possession

It seems the argument offered by the defence was that it was “a novel, not a tract or a pamphlet”. The question of obscenity was not being prosecuted but Alderman Sir Charles Wakefield described the book as “morally unhealthy and most pernicious”. This echoes the words of James Douglas, infamous for his earlier attacks on D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow and later Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness.

The defence did not prevail and Daniel was ordered to pay £460 in fines and court costs. Interestingly, Stanley Unwin contributed to the fund because he felt guilt for having enabled the publication. Daniel published a pamphlet after the legal troubles subsided proclaiming that he had not been aware the book contained such “depravity” and he would rather have a book burnt than “be party to lending support” to homosexuals. This claim may be believable to some but taking into consideration every individual who is documented to have read the manuscript was aware of the content it strains credulity. Taking the pre-publication advertisements into account stresses this even further.

Daniel had only printed 1,012 copies of Despised & Rejected. After the prosecution, in October 2018, 234 copies were seized, leaving 778 in circulation. Fortunately, the copy that now resides in the University of Reading’s Special Collections was formerly owned by Lytton Strachey, a gay conscientious objector and was therefore, one would think, at very little risk. The book found its way to the library at the University of Reading in roughly the late sixties after being donated by Lytton Strachey’s sister-in-law, the psychoanalyst Alix Strachey.



‘C.W. DANIEL’, The Times Literary Supplement, (London, England),Thursday, May 09, 1918; pg. 221; Issue 851.

‘Despised & Rejected’, The Times Literary Supplement, (London, England), Thursday, May 23, 1918; pg. 239; Issue 853.

‘Despised and Rejected’, The Times Literary Supplement, (London, England),Thursday, June 20, 1918; pg. 286; Issue 857.

‘Despised And Rejected’, The Times, (London, England), Friday, Oct 11, 1918; pg. 5; Issue 41918.

Fitzroy, A.T., Despised and rejected, London: C.W. Daniel, [1918] – Reserve—821.912-ALL, University of Reading Special Collections.

Parker, Peter, ‘Differently decent’, The Times Literary Supplement, (London, England), Friday, August 19, 1988; pg. 916; Issue 4455.

Rich, Adrienne, ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’, Signs, Vol. 5, No. 4, Women: Sex and Sexuality (Summer, 1980), 631 – 660.

Simmer, George, ‘C.W. Daniel, radical publisher’, Great War Fiction, (, [accessed 16th January 2019].

‘The Mill at Tidmarsh: bohemian days leave a rich legacy’, The Telegraph, 18th June 2010,
( [accessed 16th January 2019].

‘Tidmarsh Village (2906)’, P DX323 PH1/E191/4, Philip Osborne Collier Photographic Collection, The Museum of English Rural Life.

Reading Readers: Lost in Translation in George Bell and Macmillan Publishers Archives

This month’s blog comes from one of our ‘Reading Readers’, Anna Strowe, who’s been looking at the archives of the publishing companies of George Bell & Sons and Macmillan. George Bell & Sons consists of A woman is sat in the Reading Room, surrounded by documents, and a laptop. correspondence, ledgers & miscellaneous records from 1813–1976. The Archive of Macmillan at the University of Reading is vast and mainly consists of around 60,000 incoming letters, covering the period 1875 to 1967 with material also held at the British Library. We asked Anna about her research and about some of her favourite things she had found within the collections.

I’m working on translation in the archives of George Bell & Sons, covering items from 1890-1900. I started out initially just wanting to know what kind of materials there might be that would address issues of translation, and narrowed down pretty quickly to looking mostly at correspondence in and out. This is part of a larger project, where I’m also looking at Macmillan records in the same period.

Within these materials, I’m particularly interested in a couple of things. First, I want to know very generally what kinds of conversations happen around the issue of publishing translations. Who is involved and what do they write about to each other? What do proposals look like? What do reviews look like? How do translators and texts get chosen? Unsurprisingly, a lot of conversation is about whether things will sell, and about pricing and payment, but there’s also a lot of conversation about other issues: why people think a particular book would do well in translation, how people know the translators they are recommending, what various readers think is good or bad about particular translations.

I’m also interested in particular stories that come out of the archival materials. I’ve started to focus on one that involves a Dutch-born professor of English literature in Germany, his three-volume history of English literature and another volume of essays on Shakespeare, three publishers, seven translators (some just hopeful for more work!), a particularly harsh book review, some miscommunication about what the actual problem is, the professor’s wife, and an infringement of international copyright law… That story plays out over the course of around 50 letters back and forth between these various people, and 21 letters that must have existed but that I haven’t found. I’m also interested in the stories of particular translators who come up in the documents repeatedly. I’m trying to find out more about these translators through both their letters and outside research; they can be a bit hard to track though!

A table showing a pile of letters. Two letters are brought to the front.

Just some of the letters Anna worked with. In the forefront – MS 1640/223/255 and MS 291/255.

I love working in archives because there’s so much that is interesting or surprising. Things that are relevant to the work that you’re in the archive for in the first place, and just wonderful things you come across. So a few of each:

One of the things I like the most about the material that I’m getting on my topic is the sense of personality and the intimacy that you get from working with these types of materials. You get to follow people in so many ways: their work, their family lives, their travels. There’s a little of everything in the documents. A lot of the time in translation studies, we work with the texts themselves and maybe with a little biographical information. But holding in your hands a letter that someone wrote over a century ago is just so much more personal. And you start to feel like you’re meeting people: the business-like, the chatty and friendly

And then there are the random little things that you find: a rant from an outraged author who believes his work to be revolutionary, in which he suggests that they probably didn’t even read the manuscript, and offers as evidence the fact that they had misspelled his name in their reply (his signature in the previous letter was almost illegible!); a hint that several of the translators whose names keep coming up in the archives actually knew each other, when one of them writes that she saw “Miss Whoever” at a dinner party the other evening.

Maybe my favourite find (not relevant to my research) so far is a little card from 1921, from

A table showing a letter with a painting of some scenery.

The letter from the Tompkins’ sisters. MS 1640/49/1

two sisters in New Jersey. They write to George Bell & Sons essentially just to thank them for having published so many lovely books that the sisters own, and include a tiny watercolour done by one sister. The picture is a little scene with a meadow and a river with a couple little houses and some birds, and hills in the background. It’s about 4 x 6.75 cm, and it’s been sewn to the card (which is also quite small- about 8 x 9 cm) with six little stitches in white embroidery floss, in the corners and top and bottom centre. It’s signed by the sister, Abigail Brown Tompkins, and titled “A Misty Summer Morning in New Jersey U.S.A.” I don’t really know anything about it or the sisters, and it’s not actually part of what I’m supposed to be working on, but it’s such a wonderful random gesture.


I still have a huge amount of work to do though; my time in the archive was really just collecting images of all of these documents, so I’m only just starting to read through them in more detail and get a better sense of what’s there. I’m sure I’ll find many more interesting and surprising things.

To find out more about the above collections get in touch via email at or visit our website  Follow us on twitter @UniRdg_SpecColl and @unirdg_collections on Instagram for updates on services, events and collections.

‘What does a poet need to be successful?’: Alun Lewis (1915-1944) in the spotlight

This post comes from Brian Ryder, one of our volunteers here at Special Collections. Brian’s history with Reading collections is a long one; he used to be one of our project cataloguers and is now working his way through the Routledge & Kegan Paul archive. Here, upon the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alun Lewis, using examples from our special collections archives, Brian tells the fascinating tale of Welsh war poet Alun Lewis (1915-1944) and asks ‘what does a poet need to be successful?’. 

Alun Lewis material

Alun Lewis material

Alun Lewis, one of the foremost poets of World War II, was born one hundred years ago this month and his centenary was marked by the BBC with a dramatization of his short life on Radio 4. He was born into a family from a Welsh mining community in which his father was the only one of four brothers who did not spend his working life down the mines – becoming instead a schoolteacher and later Director of Education for Aberdare.  Alun won a scholarship to a boarding school where he was extremely unhappy but where he began to write poetry and remained determined to work hard and escape the pits as his father had done. After university he followed his father into teaching but in the spring of 1940, wanting “to experience life in as many phases as I’m capable of”, he enlisted in the army, writing to a friend that:

“I’m not going to kill. Be killed perhaps, instead”.

In May 1941 publisher George Allen & Unwin, whose archive is held by the university, having seen his poetry and short stories appear in newspapers and periodicals, wrote to Lewis saying that they would be interested in seeing his future work with a view to publication. He wrote back to them with enthusiasm, providing a full list of his published work and throwing in for good measure a copy of Caseg Press Broadsheet No. 1 (shown below), first of a series initiated by Lewis and his friend John Petts with poems by one and woodcuts by the other (AUC 117/7). The more they saw of his writing the more keen Allen & Unwin were to become his publisher and they began in 1942 with both Raiders’ dawn (poetry) and The last inspection (short stories).

Alun Lewis (AUC 117/7).

Alun Lewis (AUC 117/7).

In July 1941 Lewis married Gweno Ellis, also a school teacher.  After her husband’s war service moved him, late in 1942, from the home front to India with the prospect of active service in Burma against the Japanese, Gweno played a significant role in seeing her husband’s literary output pass smoothly through the publishing process.

When he became entitled to a few days’ leave in July 1943 Lewis presented himself at the home in the Nilgiri hills of Dr Wallace Aykroyd, Director of the Nutrition Research Laboratories in nearby Coonor, and his wife Freda who offered open house to British military and nursing personnel stationed in the area. Alun found that Dr Aykroyd was away at a Conference on Food and Agriculture in Hot Springs, Virginia but was none the less made welcome by his wife with whom he fell instantly in love. The two continued to meet when circumstances permitted and when they were apart exchanged frequent letters for the rest of that year and into 1944.

Early in 1944 Lewis was posted to the north Burma coast and prepared for action against the Japanese. He wrote his last letter to his publisher on 23 January 1944 with the post script: (AUC  197/6)

“If I should become a casualty, all proceeds from my books will go to my wife … Please send her the proofs: I doubt whether I’ll be here then.”

Alun Lewis (AUC  197/6).

Alun Lewis (AUC 197/6).

On March 5 he was shot in the head with a round from his own revolver; he died six hours later and was buried that day. An immediate court of enquiry concluded that the death had been accidental but it now seems to be widely accepted that it was suicide. Among the reasons for believing that this revised view was correct were that:  Alun had recently had a bout with malaria which had left him prone to depression; he and Freda are reported to have worried that their affair would cause distress to both spouses; his writings from that time suggest a rather desperate state of mind; and the prospect of his first experience of action at the front line conflicted badly with his pacifist inclinations.

Alun Lewis (AUC 117/7).

Alun Lewis (AUC 117/7).

Gweno grieved in the company of Alun’s parents but did not neglect the demands of her late husband’spublishing commitments, starting with Ha! Ha! Among the trumpets: poems in transit  (Allen & Unwin, 1945) which carried a foreword by World War I poet Robert Graves whose advice and encouragement Lewis had enjoyed although the two never actually met. After that she set to on the publication of Alun’s letters to her which became Letters from India (Penmark Press, 1946) followed by In the green tree (Allen & Unwin, 1948) containing short stories, a selection of his letters – mainly to Gweno but including some to his parents – and illustrations by John Petts.

The Aykroyds left India after the war ended and Wallace spent the rest of his working life in various academic posts in England. He wrote a number of books, the last of which was The conquest of famine (Chatto & Windus, 1974). This is another imprint whose archive is held by the university and the file for this title shows that Dr Aykroyd died in 1979 when he and his wife were living together in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Freda lived on to the age of ninety-five and a volume of Alun’s letters to her, which she had prepared for publication during her seventies, was issued the year after her death (A cypress walk: Enitharmon, 2006). Gweno Lewis is still listed as the copyright holder for Alun’s works.

What does a poet need to be successful? It must help to be good at seeking, and being prepared to accept, the advice of the leading poets of the day as Lewis showed he was, not just with Robert Graves but with Herbert Read, Stephen Spender, and others. He also met the challenges of versifying the great subjects of life, death, love and war. Perhaps most lucky of all he had both a widow and a lover keeping his flame alive over so many years.

See our Special Collections website for more information.

Favourite finds: Eric Partridge and his war of words

This post comes from Brian Ryder, one of our volunteers here at Special Collections. Brian’s history with Reading collections is a long one; he used to be one of our project cataloguers and is now working his way through the Routledge & Kegan Paul archive.

From September 1943 until January 1945 A/C [Aircraftman] Eric Partridge was a clerk in the RAF living and working in Wantage Hall, a hall of residence requisitioned from Reading University.

Eric Partridge, lexicographer, in 1971, on a visit to Devon (photo by G88keeper, Wikimedia)

Eric Partridge, lexicographer, in 1971, on a visit to Devon (photo by G88keeper, Wikimedia)

Born in 1894 in New Zealand, Eric moved with his family to Australia in 1907. In 1915 he joined the Australian army and saw active service with the Anzacs in Gallipoli and on the western front. In the 1920s he came to England and taught at a school in Lancashire and the universities of Manchester and London before abandoning teaching to become a ‘man of letters’ and owner of a publishing house with the imprint Scholartis Press. One of its early publications – with the liberal use of asterisks – was Songs and slang of the British soldier which he co-edited with John Brophy using material they had accumulated during their own war service. The publishing house foundered in the depression but by the outbreak of World War II Partridge had established a reputation as a lexicographer and etymologist only for his main publisher – George Routledge – to be taken aback when in September 1940 he enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

On 7 February 1941 he wrote to Cecil Franklin, managing director of Routledge, ‘I now have a commission in the Army Education Corps. … The enclosed pamphlet … concerns a subject dear to me; and it is needed. … If you’ll publish it before the end of March [it will] enable me to realize something on it in the [royalties] cheque you send me in May, for I badly need the money.’ To which Franklin replied, ‘I have read your pamphlet, ‘The teaching of English in His Majesty’s forces’, but I am very sorry that we cannot undertake its publication. We … cannot afford, at the present moment, to put money into … a pamphlet which is bound to be a failure.’

On 23 April 1941 Franklin felt obliged to write to Partridge again about his pamphlet: ‘May I congratulate you on The teaching of English in H.M forces? I presume you saw the leading article in The Times yesterday; and I understand there is an article on it in The Telegraph today. It is quite possible that we may get requests for copies.’ Indeed they did, for a couple of months’ later Routledge’s sales director was writing to Partridge to admit that ‘hardly a day goes by without an enquiry for your [pamphlet]. Have you any spare copies at all?’

This incident made no difference to the intransigence shown by Routledge in responding to Partridge’s suggestions for new books or for the reprinting of his back-list; all were declined, mainly on the grounds that they only had paper – which was rationed – for books they considered more important to the war effort. Almost every one of Partridge’s letters for the rest of the war protested his financial difficulties.

A letter from Partridge to his publishers asking that a new edition of his Dictionary of Cliches be issued

A letter from Partridge to his publishers asking that a new edition of his Dictionary of Cliches be issued

Partridge became a civilian again in January 1942, his reasons for this given to his publisher being health (he had recently told them of an operation for piles) and domestic. But on 31 August of that year he wrote to Franklin to say, ‘Are you perhaps forgetting that I must work for a living? Your rejection of my ideas renders it probable that, in three, or even two weeks’ time I shall be obliged to re-enlist in the Army (as a private) or to enlist in the RAF (ditto).’ War Office bureaucracy ensured that it took until December 1942 for him to be found in the RAF as a clerk, general duties.

During his later service when at Wantage Hall, Reading he would have been well-placed in any free time he had during the working week to check on Routledge’s claims to be unable to obtain paper for his works because the Paper Control Office of the Ministry of Supply was located in the Great Western Hotel near Reading railway station; however, his letters to Routledge contain no mention of his having done so. On leaving Reading, Partridge was to be found working in a Public Relations Office at the Air Ministry in Whitehall where he remained until demob in July 1945.

What good came from Partridge’s time in the forces? What made him enlist? Just one brief sentence in a letter to Routledge may give a clue – ‘My ears are open for R.A.F. slang and colloquialisms.’ In 1948 Secker & Warburg published A dictionary of Forces’ slang 1939-1945, edited, and the air force slang contributed by, Eric Partridge.

The University of Reading’s collections hold a great deal of Partridge’s correspondence. For more information, please see our catalogue or our records of British printing and publishing firms.

New Reading staff publication

Nicola Wilson, Patrick Parrinder and Andrew Nash write:

New Directions in the History of the Novel (Palgrave Macmillan, published March 2014)
edited by Patrick Parrinder, Andrew Nash and Nicola Wilson

We were excited to see our edited book, New Directions in the History of the Novel, appear in print this month. This is a collection of 15 essays that examine various aspects of the history of the novel and includes methodological reflections on the writing of literary history. It is grouped into four sections – ‘The Material Text’, ‘Literary Histories: Questions of Realism and Form’, ‘The Novel in National and Transnational Cultures’ and ‘The Novel Now’. The book comes out of a conference we co-organised at the Institute for English Studies in London in 2009 and includes chapters from Thomas Keymer, Nancy Armstrong, Max Saunders and Simon Gikandi.

New Directions

We also have chapters in it – Andrew Nash writes on ‘Textuality Instablity and the Contemporary Novel: Reading Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing On and Off the Page’ which draws on his teaching of Galloway in Modern Scottish Fiction and students’ increasing use of e-readers in class; Nicola Wilson’s chapter ‘Archive Fever: The Publishers’ Archive and the History of the Novel’ draws on her research here in Special Collections to question what ‘business’ archives can bring to literary history and our understanding of the novel form; and Patrick Parrinder’s chapter ‘Memory, Interiority and Historicity: Some Factors in the Early Novel’ considers the early development of the novel and the genre’s dependence on the idea of a silent reader.

The book is described by Professor Carolyn Steedman (Warwick) as ‘an important, accessible, and highly intelligent contribution to the history of the novel in a global perspective’.

We hope people enjoy reading it!

Favourite Finds: Benjamin Britten, Herbert Read & the anarchists

Brian Ryder is one of our volunteers here at Special Collections. Brian’s history with Reading collections is a long one; he used to be one of our project cataloguers and is now working his way through the Routledge & Kegan Paul archive.

On March 13th 1952 the composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) – on holiday in Austria – replied to two letters from Herbert Read (1893-1968) which had been sent on to him from his home in Aldeburgh. Read’s first letter came from the publisher Routledge & Kegan Paul, where Read was a director, and mentioned the possibility of meeting for lunch to discuss an idea of Britten’s for a book he was contemplating writing (carbon copy on file RKP 1951-1952 BER-BRO held in the Routledge archive, Special Collections Service, University of Reading).

The second letter letter holds more personal interest. It came from Read the anarchist rather than Read the publisher and, unlike Britten’s reply, was not lodged in the company’s files. The two men had known each other for some years and had been founding members of the Freedom Defence Committee, of which Read was chairman. Active from 1945 to 1949, its aim had been to ‘defend the civil liberties of all citizens’.

Britten to Read: RKP 1951-1952 BER-BRO 1 Britten to Read: RKP 1951-1952 BER-BRO 2

Britten’s reply to this second letter implied that it had contained an invitation to attend a public meeting, and he responded as follows:

‘I don’t see how I can possibly attend the protest meeting on 27th – I shall only just be back in England & must get down to Aldeburgh to work. But any message of mine, which may be useful to read out, I wish you would use – you know how interested I am, & how much I regret not being present personally to show my indignation.’

The last few words of this passage had been lightly underlined with a coloured crayon, presumably by Read with the idea that he might relay them to the meeting.

The protest concerned the assassination of five Spanish anarchists by Franco’s agents. A leaflet protesting at these executions reports that a large public meeting entitled ‘An appeal to the public conscience’ had been held in London on March 27 1952 at which the speakers included Herbert Read.  Read remained heavily involved in the anarchist movement, although he accepted a knighthood in 1953, and his writings on politics, art and culture totaled over 1,000 titles.

Random Penguin? Random House merges with Penguin

penguin random house logo

No, the name won’t be Random Penguin, nor does their (temporary) logo bring any excited penguin/house mashups. But frequent users of our publishers’ archives and those with an interest in the book trade may be interested to know that Random House and Penguin have negotiated the largest-ever publishing house merger to create Penguin Random House.

How the merger affects the publishing industry remains to be seen, though the combined entity is sure to have extraordinary influence with an approximately 27% share of the UK’s book publishing market and 25% share of the US market. The merger brings the new corporate strapline ‘The world’s first truly global trade book publishing company’.

Those with an interest in the changing world of contemporary publishing may also wish to take a historical look at the publishing industry. The University of Reading is home to the archives of several imprints currently owned by Random House, including Chatto & Windus, Jonathan Cape, Bodley Head, Secker & Warbug and Hogarth Press. Although the Penguin Archive is held by Bristol University, our readers are able to access Penguin material via the archives of Ladybird Books, as well as other affiliated collections such as the papers of literary personalities and staff.