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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Monday, 16 October 2017

Pot Boiler

Monday, October 16th., 12B George Street, London.

Image result for S.P.B.Mais
S.P.B Mais
I am quite put out. The writer and critic S.P.B. Mais, in reviewing my novel "Lilian" referred to it as a 'pot boiler'. The OED defines a pot boiler as "a work of art or literature done merely to make a living." That is to say the writer of a pot boiler has venally contrived something for a purely commercial end, and solely for money. Nearly all writers write for money. Shakespeare did. But the serious writers do not write solely for money. Serious writers produce the best work they can, and hope to make a living out of it.

In fact I wrote "Lilian" as a sort of answer to a novel by Frank Swinnerton ("Coquette"); I felt the book was incomplete and the aim of "Lilian" was to show him what the end should be. Now I am not prepared to defend "Lilian" as my finest piece of literature, but nor is it negligible. I deeply resent Mais's implication that it is lightweight, of no consequence.

Literary critics seem to have fallen into the habit of describing as a pot boiler any novel which they do not like. They have not the least right to do so, and in doing so they presume upon the indifference of authors. Well I am not indifferent. Such a description is undoubtedly libellous. Not that I should ever dream of bringing a libel action! But some day some critic with more cheek than prudence will find himself in trouble. I have a long memory and am inclined to bear a grudge. I think it is in the Five Towns character to do so, as I have shown in some of my short stories. My opportunity for revenge will arise one day, and I shall not miss it.

If Mais knew the literary world as he should, he would know that the writing of a novel like "Lilian" involves a considerable financial to its author, in the matter of serial rights alone. It would have been easy for me to write a novel twice as remunerative as "Lilian". Only I wanted to write "Lilian".

So, I feel better for having got that off my chest. On with the work of making a living and, hopefully, thereby adding a little something to the total of artistic achievement.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

To Antwerp

Thursday, October 15th., Grand Hotel, Antwerp
Image result for Grand Hotel Antwerp postcard 

Last week I wrote the first of a series of short stories for the Cosmopolitan, "The Life of Nash Nicklin", 8000 words. Finished it Saturday. On Sunday the Atkinses, H. Sullivan and Oscar Raphael came for lunch, and we went to Sullivan's for dinner. On Monday we drove to London. I seem to spend such a lot of time in these sorts of social situations, and it usually feels like time wasted. In my way of life I need to cultivate the acquaintance and good opinion of important people, but I sometimes look round the table at a dinner and feel convinced that most of the people there, like myself, would in fact rather be somewhere else.

Image result for G.E.R. steamer viennaLast night we drove to Harwich, took G.E.R. steamer Vienna and arrived at Antwerp at 8.15 a.m. today. Grand Hotel. Room and bathroom, both large, 20 francs. Old fashioned and ugly, but seemingly good. Dreadful ride in hotel omnibus over cobbled froads from quay to the hotel. We drove out at 10 a.m. in closed cab round boulevards to Musee Plantin, where I searched for a particular room whose details I thought I had remembered for 16 years, and couldn't find - indeed was about convinced that such a room had never existed. Not the first time that this sort of thing has happened to me, and makes me wonder about the reliability of memory in general. Probably a lot of things we think we remember, if not actually invented, bear little resemblance to their original. I well remember waking up a year or so ago and lying in bed thinking about a situation which was troubling me; only gradually did I realise that it was imaginary, and I had some difficulty convincing myself that the things I thought I had remembered had never happened.

Saturday, 14 October 2017


Thursday, October 14th., Villa des Nefliers.

Headache, began yesterday. The camel's backbreaking straw was probably a Dutch cigar that Godebski gave me. I nearly cured the headache twice today and then brought it on again by working. The trouble is that if I stop work every time I have a headache I won't get much done. My inclination when suffering is to turn inwards, allow myself to be entirely self-absorbed, and to become uncommunicative, or sometimes surly. I know that the best thing is just to get on with things, but easier said than done. My wife copes brilliantly with headaches which she gets infrequently but which last for three days - she seems able just to ignore them.
Godebski's for tea yesterday.

Image result for wells ann veronicaI finished "Ann Veronica" yesterday. Wells sent me a copy with the inscription "The Young Mistresses' Tale, to Arnold B. with love from his nephew H.G." The last 30 pages are the best. But still, a minor work. Seems to me much too short; incidents not described in sufficient detail. But then again I have been accused of too much attention to detail. Mere writing impudently careless of dissonant effects, and full of extreme colloquialisms. Of course it occurs to me that my appreciation of the book may have been affected by my headache. Critics ought to take this into account and declare at the start of each review what the state of their health was when they were reading!

I finished a letter to a cousin of mine who lives on the Isle of Man today. She is a native of the "ancient borough" but has lived on Man for a long time and I asked her if she felt herself to be a manxwoman. I suspect not. You probably have to be born there to be Manx. When people ask me where I am from I say "the Potteries, but I don't live there at the moment". There is a sort of implication in the statement that I would live there if I could, and one day might. In fact I have no intention of doing so. I may well leave here one day, but I won't be going back to the Potteries.

Friday, 13 October 2017

The love of books

Friday, October 13th., At home.

The individual alone in London has a special need for books. It is only the solitary man who really appreciates the full significance of that extraordinary word book. Books he must have, books he must understand, and books he must love - or it will be better for him that he had never been born, or at least that he had stayed in Burslem and married the draper's pale daughter.

Having carefully considered, I take the view that the average young man alone in London, with an income of £120 a year can afford to spend £4 on books. "But", you will say, "what can be done with £4?" A great deal if you go the right way about it.

In the first place it is necessary to enlarge one's notions of the book market. The average man's notion of the book market is a beautiful shop window, with rows of beautiful new books in speckless and variegated bindings. If he enters the shop he is unlikely to find anything with a price less than six shillings - prohibitive; £4 will not last long here. This is the part of the book market which the book buyer of limited means, and the book lover who has a broad view of literature, should leave well alone. Our average young man must not enter a book shop to spend more than half a crown on a book, and not often to spend more than a shilling.

He must also get firmly fixed into his head the indubitable truth that it is advantageous to keep oneself quite a year behind contemporary literature; this rearwardness saves both time and money. And, further, he must continually dwell on the relative unimportance of contemporary literature compared to the whole of literature.

Image result for farringdon Road book barrows
Farringdon Road
As a violent contrast to the richness of the new bookshop, and by way of initiating him into the methods of the cheapest book buying, I will direct my young man eastwards. Let him visit Farringdon Road, Aldgate and Shoreditch, and gaze upon the thousands of books there displayed on barrows in the street. He will find that prices of books commence here at a halfpenny apiece, and go up to a shilling apiece; a shilling is princely. Now about 99% of these books will be useless to a man of literary taste, but the remaining 1% will not be useless and I reckon that at any one time there will be at least 50 books worth buying on Farringdon Road alone. Of course these books need to be carefully searched for, but what man who loves books will find time spent searching for them the least bit onerous? I calculate that my average man should be able to acquire at least fifty, and perhaps seventy five, books annually with his £4.

I should point out that the man who seriously takes to book buying, even inexpensive book buying, is seldom content to remain a purchaser of books for the purpose of reading. He develops into a purchaser of books as curiosities, and his library grows into a museum, as well as a storehouse of ideas. In other words he becomes a book collector. I am myself an incorrigible book collector.

Thursday, 12 October 2017


Wednesday, October 11th., R.M.S. Lusitania, At sea.

Image result for marconigram lusitaniaI have noticed before how easy it is to become extremely affectionate towards one's wife when separated from her. And at the moment I am very separated from her. The exhilaration of being a bachelor once more! I was feeling so exhilarated, and affectionate, this morning that I sent  my very first marconigram. It cost me 26 shillings - it will never catch on at that rate. I sent Marguerite 26 kisses, which will give her something to think about while I am away. I sent the telegram at noon London time (9 a.m. boat time). No idea when she will get it.

Image result for lusitaniaI had a most busy day yesterday. I was writing most of the morning, and at 2.30 the First Officer took Knoblock and me on a tour of the ship, all the navigating part and also into the engine rooms. This occupied nearly two hours. I t was absolutely astounding. I shall write an article about it. Then we came upon the Captain who invited us into his parlour and we smoked cigars and told stories there for another two hours. later I had a tremendous dinner, but suffered for it in the night. Still, I am all right this morning. There is such a strong breeze that, at the front of the boat, you literally cannot stand up against it. It would blow you down.  yet the boat is very steady. It is not yet certain whether we shall land tomorrow night or Friday morning. I hope it will be Friday as I should like to experience the arrival in New York.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Making acquaintances

Monday, October 11th., Victoria Grove, London.

At the Symonds' last evening. I first met them a year ago and try to renew the acquaintance when I can. I think they are the most interesting women I know. As I listened to mother and daughter recounting their deeds and wanderings since I last saw them, I was struck by their faculty for extracting from life pleasure and amusement. They read everything that appears, travel during several months in the year, gamble soberly when gambling is to be had, and generally make it a duty to go through life with as much pleasantness and change as will not fatigue them. Both are witty, and neither is afraid of criticising her friends, or of getting fun out of idols. Emily, the daughter, writes clever novels under the pen-name George Paston, and exhibits a good-humoured, railing tolerance for all 'missions', including her own. She is a few years older than me and rather plain but what an excellent companion for a man of intelligence if she could be got to believe that she had anything to gain from a marriage.

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H G Wells
Yesterday I wrote back to H.G.Wells who has honoured me by replying in a most friendly way to my recent letter seeking his acquaintance. He recently published a short story. "The Cone" which was set in the Potteries, and this fell in with my own developing idea that there are immense possibilities in the very romance of manufacture - not wonders of machinery and that sort of stuff - but in the tremendous altercation with nature that is continually going on. This is a passage from "The Cone" which exemplifies what I mean:

A blue haze, half dust, half mist, touched the long valley with mystery. Beyond were Hanley and Etruria grey and dark masses, outlined thinly by the rare golden dots of the street lamps.... Here and there a pallid patch and ghostly stunted beehive shapes showed the position of a pot-bank,, or a wheel, black and sharp against the hot lower sky, marked some colliery where they raise the iridescent coal of the place. Nearer at hand was the broad stretch of railway, and half invisible trains shunted... And to the left, between the railway and the dark mass of the low hill beyond, dominating the whole view, colossal, inky-black, and crowned with smoke and fitful flames, stood the great cylinders of the Jeddah Company Blast Furnaces.... They stood heavy and threatening, full of an incessant turmoil of flames and seething molten iron, and about the feet of them rattled the rolling mills, and the steam hammer beat heavily and splashed the white iron sparks hither and thither.

I am quite sure that there is an aspect of industrial districts which is really grandiose, full of dark splendours and which has been absolutely missed by all novelists to date. Wells seems to be the first man I have come across whom the Potteries has impressed emotionally. There are a number of good men in the Potteries, but I have never yet met one who could be got to see what I have 'seen' there; they were all inclined to scoff. I think Wells will understand me.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

On vacation

Sunday, October 10th., Sanclu Hotel, Ramsgate.
Image result for san clu hotel ramsgateYesterday I corrected two articles and a short story, and went for a walk in the morning, and felt that I had had an idle morning. I also read about 50 pages of Osbert Sitwell's first novel, "Before the Bombardment". It is inscribed to "dear, good, uncle Arnold from a nephew". Not an easy read, but then Osbert is not an 'easy' man. Still, nice of him to remember me.

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On Delf Street
Drove to Sandwich. A really antique feeling about this place. Streets such as Delf Street. Most curious the moment you begin really to think about it inquisitively. Happily a few barges get there still, up the stream, and seem to live in fields. All churches round here are closed on Sunday. We got into the one at Sandwich because some unfortunate children were imprisoned there for the afternoon service, but the fine church at Minster was closed; reminding me of my Sunday visit to Truro to see the monstrosity of a cathedral there: which was closed entirely.