the supertramp - W.H.Davies - proseClick image for Davies home



HOWEVER much cause I may have at some future date to complain of severe criticism, I have certainly no complaint up to the present against any connected with the making of books. Some half a dozen lines of work were submitted to publishers, and three times I received letters with a view to publication, which, of course, failed through the want of friends to assist me. Knowing how rough and unequal the work was, and that critics could find-if so inclined-plenty to justify extreme severity, has undeceived me as to my former unreasonable opinion, that critics were more prone to cavil than to praise. I would like it to be understood that I say this without bidding for any future indulgence; for I am thankful to any man who will show me my faults, and am always open to advice.

As I have said, the first notice appeared in a leading daily paper, a full column, in which I saw myself described, a rough sketch of the ups and downs of my life, in short telling sentences, with quotations from my work. The effect of this was almost instantaneous, for correspondence immediately followed. Letters came by every post. Of course, all my thoughts had been concentrated on the reading world, so that I was much surprised when two young men came to the house and requested a photo for an illustrated paper. I could not oblige them at that moment, but with a heart overflowing with gratitude was persuaded to accompany them at once to the nearest photographer, now that interest was at its high point. 'Now,' said one of these young men, when I was on my way with them, delighted with this mission-'now, if you could give me a few lines on the war in the East, to go with your photograph, it would be of much greater interest to the public.' Not caring to blow the froth off my mind in this indifferent manner, and feeling too conscientious to take advantage of public interest by writing in such haste, which, to tell the truth, appeared a difficult task-I quickly turned the subject to other matters, thinking he would soon forget his request. But it was of no use; for, every other step or two, he wanted to be informed whether I was concentrating my mind on the war. At last, being under the impression that my natural reserve and feeble attempts at conversation would lead him to believe that something was being done in that direction, I made a great effort to become voluble, and, I believe, succeeded until the photograph was taken. When I left him, his last question was- 'What about the war?'

The next morning, after the last mentioned episode, being Sunday, I was enjoying a stroll through the city, which is so very quiet on this one morning of the week; and was thinking of nothing else but my own affairs, more especially of the photo that was soon to appear. The street was forsaken, with the exception -yes, there they were: two men with a camera, and both of them looking my way, anxiously awaiting my approach. 'This,' I said to myself, 'is fame with a vengeance.' I felt a little mortification at being expected to undergo this operation in the public streets. One of these photographers quickly stepped forward to meet me, and, smiling blandly, requested me kindly to stand for a moment where I was. It certainly shocked and mortified me more to learn that they desired to photograph an old fashioned dwelling of brick and mortar, and that they considered my presence as no adornment to the front.

A few days after this first review, a critic of fine literature, who had interested himself privately on my behalf, sent a notice to a weekly literary paper; and it was the respect due to this man's name that drew the attention of some other papers of good standing, for their representatives mentioned this man's name with every respect, knowing, at the same time, that he would not waste his hours on what was absolutely worthless.

What kind hearted correspondents I had, and what offers they made, what questions they asked! and all of them received grateful answers-with one exception. This gentleman, who did not require a book, presumably being more interested in the strange conditions under which I had lived and worked, offered me a pleasant home in the country, where I could cultivate my talents surrounded with a little more comfort and quieter scenes. The letter was long, delightful, poetical, and worked warmly on my imagination, sentence for sentence; until the last sentence came like a douche of cold water on a warm body-'Of course,' finished this gentleman, 'it is necessary to supply me with strict references as to honesty and respectability.' Where was I to get these? after having failed to get a library form signed, which would entitle me to borrow books. No doubt the manager of the Farmhouse would have willingly done the latter, as was afterwards done by him, but I was then under the impression that the keeper of a lodging house was ineligible for such a purpose, knowing this to have been the case elsewhere. Where could I obtain these references, seeing that I knew no one who would take the responsibility of doing such a petty kindness as signing a library form? This gentleman's letter, I need scarcely say, remained unanswered, for which, I believe, none will blame me.

Several other letters were received, which I found extremely difficult to answer. One addressed me familiarly in rhyme, be- ginning-'Dear brother poet, brother Will'; and went on to propose that we two should take a firm stand together, side by side, to the everlasting benefit of poetry and posterity.

Another had written verse, and would be glad to find a publisher, and another could, and would, do me many a good turn, if I felt inclined to correct his work, and to add lines here and there as needed. Not for a moment would I hold these people to ridicule, but it brought to mind that I was without a publisher for my own work, and I believed, in all sincerity, that better work than mine might go begging, as it often had.

In the main my correspondents were kind, sympathetic and sensible, making genuine offers of assistance, for which I thanked them with all my heart, but thought myself now beyond the necessity of accepting them.

As a matter of fact, no one man in a common lodging house is supposed to be regarded with any special favour. The common kitchen is his library, his dining room and his parlour, and better accommodation cannot be expected at the low price of four-pence per night. We are all equal, without a question of what a man's past may have been, or what his future is likely to realise. Any man who puts on superior airs is invariably subjected to this sarcastic enquiry-'How much do you pay?' or the incontrovertible remark that one man's fourpence is as good as another's. The Manager has to use great tact in not indulging in too long a conversation with one particular man, and a lodger must not jeopardise his popularity by an overweening anxiety to exchange civilities, or to repose confidence in those who are in authority; for these lodgers are in general distrustful and suspicious. If a fish porter-a good number of these men were here-was warned after any misconduct, he would turn to one of his pals and say-'Billingsgate, I see, is not favoured in this place.' And If a paper-seller-of which there were about an equal number-was called to account in the same way, his remark would be that had he been a fish porter the misconduct would have been overlooked. Such was the state of feeling in the Farmhouse, although the caretaker, time after time, almost daily, reiterated the remark that one man was as good as another, and that no distinction was made between the two classes. Knowing this state of feeling, and the childlike distrust and jealousy of these honest fellows, it was no wonder that I felt a little awkward at the change of circumstances; for, after all, I was still a lodger, and paying no more than them for the same conveniences. In spite of this, I don't believe I suffered the least in popularity when the Manager, determined that I should not suffer any longer for want of privacy to pursue my aims, threw open his own private rooms for my convenience. And, every time I took advantage of his kindness, the Manager's wife would take advantage of this by supplying a hot dinner or tea, as the hour might be, so that my studies might not be interrupted, or food postponed through an anxiety to perform a certain task.

The Manager was astonished at my success, and, after he had read several notices, it certainly must have made him bitter against those whom he had approached on my behalf. 'Yes,' he said, 'I must confess to failure, in your case, and I am left wondering as to what kind of cases these people consider worthy of assistance.' The man, being in a subordinate position, dare not openly speak his thoughts, or appear to force the hands of those rich visitors, but he certainly lost no opportunity in showing some honest Irish blood in his references to the Charity Organisation. 'Miss So and So has been here,' said he, one morning; 'and I lost no time in relating your experience with the Charity Organisation. She was very much offended and shocked, and she has now gone there to seek some explanation.' 'As for that,' I answered, knowing these people had all the power to make good their own case, and that I would not be called upon to sift the false from the true-'As for that, this lady will return satisfied, as you will see.' The Manager did not altogether believe this, saying that he thought the lady in question was not a blind believer in anything, and had an unusual amount of common sense. She certainly did return satisfied, saying that she thought they were justified in their conduct, to a certain extent. On being questioned by the Manager, who claimed it justice that the truth should be known, she said that she dare not make public the sayings and doings of the Society.

I am now giving my experiences honestly and truthfully, and thought for thought, if not word for word, as they happened. As a man whose ambition above all other things is to impress every one favourably, I have come to the conclusion that my work has been praised far more than its worth owing to having met the writers of some of those articles, and impressing them in a simple, honest way. I am writing these experiences with a full knowledge of human nature, knowing that many people will remark: 'Take no heed of that man, for he has not a good word for any one or anything'; but, as far as my knowledge and experience goes it is the truth, and, if that seems false and sensational, it is no fault of mine. Certainly I have led a worthless, wandering and lazy life, with, in my early days, a strong dislike to continued labour, and incapacitated from the same in later years. No person seemed inclined to start me on the road to fame, but, as soon as I had made an audacious step or two, I was taken up, passed quickly On from stage to stage, and given free rides farther than I expected.