Friday, October 26, 2012


Edward Thomas's  'Oxford', printed in 1903, saved the family from the 'gutter and bankruptcy.'

It was his first major commissioned work and came at a time when they were desperate for money after two years of living mainly from reviewing and single articles.

 Words or pictures first?  My copy, a rather expensive birthday present, privileged the John Fulleylove paintings above the text., and Edward Thomas was commissioned to accompany them.

Mine is the 'ordinary' edition, priced twenty shillings, and there was a limited Deluxe Edition, each copy numbered and signed by the artist, price two guineas.
There are sixty full-page illustrations, of which eleven are reproduced in Lucy Newlyn's 2005 reprint,Signal Books. (I have used her introduction  for most of the information in this blog.)
Lucy writes that Fulleylove was an establishment Victorian painter, his trademark being historically important buildings painted with everyday, homely touches,'with a skilful choice of the unexpected as well as the typical aspects.' Hence a cat in a quad, people on bikes, figures coming round the corners of building.
 As Edward Thomas was also  drawn to the unpretentious and everday, the two works suited each other, though they are entirely independant.
Over  a hundred years later the very peopled pictures look very Edwardian and dated to my eyes. So many chaps in black gowns, a rarer sight these days, and how different  from the French painters of the time, at least those we value most.
 I prefer the views of Oxford without people - Magdalen tower for example,(actually that is quite Impressionistic), the view from South Hinksey and the little churchyard of St Peter in the East.
I'm rather nervous of scanning the paintings but have tried  a few.
Saint Peter in the East
'It is sweet to enter that peacefullest and homeliest of churchyards, St Peter's in the East, overlooked by St Edmund Hall and Queen's College and the old city wall. There is a peace which only the thrush and blackbird break-'
The Text of 'Oxford'.

‘At sunset or dawn the city's place in the world, as a beautiful thing, is clearest. Few cities look other than sad at these hours; many, unless hid in their own smoke, look cheap. Oxford becomes part of the magic of sunset and dawn- is, as it were, gathered into the bosom of the power that is abroad. ‘

Oxford' is a strange book, peopled with semi-fictitious characters, half amalgamations of people he knew, half imaginary, and many reflecting himself as a visitor or undergraduate.. It is not everyone's cup of tea, although there is a good deal of humour in it.

It’s a  city with human influence of streets and architecture, the natural world everywhere intermingled with the buildings and the way the city 'steals out into the fields.'  That is as important to him as well as the culture of books and librairies.

He seems to have enjoyed looking back, but the book is not a personal account at all. Oxford gave him time to read and learn and make some friends, but his was not a typical student life because of the separate, secret life he had with Helen throughout.
If you are interested in Oxford it's worth buying Lucy Newlyn's book.
The poem? One of his best melancholy, looking-back poems. The lost one may be Edna.
Gone, gone again
Gone, gone again,
May, June, July,
And August gone,
Again gone by,

Not memorable
Save that I saw them go,
As past the empty quays
The rivers flow.

And now again,
In the harvest rain,
The Blenheim oranges
Fall grubby from the trees,

As when I was young—
And when the lost one was here—
And when the war began
To turn young men to dung.

Look at the old house,
Outmoded, dignified,
Dark and untenanted,
With grass growing instead

Of the footsteps of life,
The friendliness, the strife;
In its beds have lain
Youth, love, age, and pain:

I am something like that;
Only I am not dead,
Still breathing and interested
In the house that is not dark:—

I am something like that:
Not one pane to reflect the sun,
For the schoolboys to throw at—
They have broken every one.

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